Sunday, 5 October 2008

Pickwick Papers II - Return to Dingley Dell

My dear friends (I trust I may call you thus, since we are now fully acquainted), you will excuse me for addressing you in so direct a manner, but I beg leave to point out that the Festive Season is approaching with alacrity. I am mindful of the fact that it is but October; however only last Friday I noticed that the shelves of Mr. Sainsbury's Emporium were positively groaning with nuts and oranges, and I even thought I saw a turkey-cock, dissected into his component parts, placed within a capacious cooling device. These I have taken to be signs and portents of the imminent arrival of Dear Old Christmas.

This being the case, I trust you will indulge an ageing gentleman's fancy in presenting to you a newly penned chapter in the adventures of Mr. Pickwick. This chapter, which I believe would be referred to as a "posting" by our younger readers, is given below. I must warn you that it is rather long, and you may need to pause at some convenient time to refresh yourself with a glass of something - brandy and warm water is my particular favourite.

Dear friends, read on. I hope this affords you some little amusement.

Chapter Four - In which the Pickwickians journey to Dingley Dell to spend the festive season with old Wardle, Mr. Pickwick is introduced to the mysteries of the plum trade, and is re-acquainted with the repentant Mr. Jingle.

On the twenty-fourth day of December of the year in which these perambulations are faithfully recorded, Mr. Pickwick, well wrapped against the cold in woollen comforter, great-coat and fur lined gaiters, stood at the coach-stand at Golden Cross, stamping his feet upon the ground to warm them. The ever-faithful Sam Weller stood a respectful distance from his master, keeping watch over his leathern portmanteau. The pale sun bathed Mr. Pickwick in her wintry light, struggling to raise her head above the smoky clouds which hung gloomily about the lofty spires and dirty offices. The shops were dressed with Christmas cheer; the poulterers’ windows were replete with recently-deceased turkeys and geese, and the green-grocers likewise were overflowing with the bounty of the harvest. Surveying this seasonal panorama with the illustrious man were his steadfast companions. First, there was Mr. Nathaniel Winkle, dressed in a dog-toothed jacket and closely-fitted indescribables, and carrying a loaded firearm in a somewhat futile attempt to instil in those few passengers in the streets that he was an all-round sportsman. Next, the poetic and sensitive Mr. Augustus Snodgrass, who, even now, was composing in his mind a eulogy of gratitude to Mr. Wardle and family, at whose house they were to spend the festive season. Last, there was Mr. Tracy Tupman. Mr. Tupman, the incurable romantic, the eternal optimist, the abject failure in all matters amatorial, stood in not inconsiderable discomfort as his rather large frame essayed to escape from a rather small whale-bone corset. He tried to divert himself from his strictures by counting the plump women who sold flowers in the neighbourhood of the coach-stand, and he sighed.

“Sam,” Mr. Pickwick said, “I have a wish for a glass of brandy and water warm, to take away the chill. Will you get me one, Sam? And a bumper of the same, for our friends here.”

“Vy, sir, I’ll be back in two shakes, as the incontinent gen’l’m’n said to his cohorts, ven he vas taken short,” said Sam. He took Mr. Pickwick’s proffered florin and betook himself to a nearby tavern of his particular acquaintance.

“Now then, gen’l’m’n,” said a very corpulent being in a rusty black cloak and leather boots, who was none other than the coachman, “vich of you is for Rochester?”

“Why, all of us, my good fellow,” said Mr. Pickwick, beaming benignly from behind his round spectacles.

“Vell then, my good fellow,” said the being, adopting a sarcastic tone, “this ‘ere’s your coach, and I hope you may surwive the journey!”

“Thank you, my man,” said Mr. Pickwick, that trusting and unsuspecting soul upon whom sarcasm was wasted. “Pray accept this token with our seasonal felicitations.” So saying, he pressed a coin into the huge hand of the derisive coachman.

“You vasn’t joking, vas you, sir, ven you said it vas a toking! Werry vell, sirs, mount up and don’t a-come down again until I tells you, as the young ‘ooman said to the young gent as she was partial to!” With this rejoinder, the coachman glared horribly at the minuscule denomination of Mr. Pickwick’s coin, spat upon it with great vehemence, and consigned it to the inmost depths of a capacious leathern wallet, from whence it could not escape.

“I cannot help noticing,” said Mr. Pickwick to the coachman, “that you are a transposer of consonants. W becomes V, and V becomes W, a most interesting phenomenon. My young manservant has an identical impediment to his speech. So, why does this occur with such regularity among the lower classes in London?” Mr. Pickwick asked innocently.

“Vell, I can tell you vun thing, my slap-headed friend,” said the coachman, “I find your questions werry insulting, and vill have satisfaction of you!” And so saying, the portly coachman introduced his clenched fist first to Mr. Pickwick’s face, then to his waistcoat, and finally, by way of variety, to a portion of the anatomy more proximate to the ground. Mr. Pickwick, minus his spectacles and his beaver hat, with his cravat somewhat ruffled, regained his feet with as much composure as the situation would allow. With a calmness befitting the dignity of that great man, Mr. Pickwick lost no time in taking his notebook and pencil from a pocket.

“I am presently preparing a paper, for presentation to my fellow Pickwickians, on the uncontrollability of animal spirits among the working peoples of the metropolis, and their propensity for violence,” Mr. Pickwick informed the coachman. “Will you allow me to note down this occasion as an example of this singular subject?”

The coachman stared at Mr. Pickwick in disbelief, cocking his head to one side like an ancient bull-dog. “You’ll pardon my asking, sir, but are you still set upon taking the viddle from me?” he said, but noting that Mr. Pickwick’s countenance betrayed no such purpose, he softened. “Werry vell then, sir, note avay. I hope you’ll not take my wiolence amiss. Us vorking people alvays resorts to such methods ven lost for vords, vich is most of the time.
D--n my lungs and liver if it isn’t so!”

“I pray you von’t mention it,” said Mr. Pickwick, rejoindered Mr. Pickwick, unconsciously lapsing into the transpositional vernacular with which the coachman had so recently regaled him. No sooner had the words escaped his lips than the coachman, his face suffused with such a violent hue that it seemed likely he would burst a blood-vessel at any moment, spoke out at this seeming (but unintentional) insult.

“Does you have any idea vot a vanker is, sir?” said the coachman, belligerently, “because if not, I vould be werry glad, not only to explain that ‘ere term, but also to show you vot we does to the species in my profession!” He adopted that position much beloved by the amateur pugilist, and stepped forward in a threatening attitude. Mr. Winkle turned very pale, the loaded firearm shaking rather dangerously in his hands. Mr. Snodgrass fled in search of a constable. Poor Mr. Tupman, his movements curtailed by the mortal remains of the great sea mammal that had perished to provide his corset, could do nothing but look on and feebly cry “murder!” as the coachman announced his intention to use Mr. Pickwick’s august head as a foot-ball. This martial tableau suddenly froze as Sam Weller, bearing the Pickwickians’ refreshments, returned to the coach-stand and, seeing his master’s situation, regaled the pugnacious coachman in filial terms.

“Vy, my dear old father, as ever vos!” said Sam. “How are you, you irritable old barrel of veasels? And vy are you a-treating my master Mr. Pickvick to such a display of wiolence?”

“Samivel, my boy!” said the coachman, who was none other than Tony Weller, Sam’s father, coachman, and landlord of the Marquis of Granby, Dorking. He lowered his fists, and his face returned to its accustomed colour. “Mr. Pickvick! It ha’ been so long that I didn’t recognise you, sir. And my old eyes isn’t vot they vos. I pray you’ll not see reason to discharge my Samivel from your serwice, on account of his old father’s wicious propensities?”

“Certainly not, Mr. Weller,” said Mr. Pickwick, “no master ever had a better servant. A little unorthodox sometimes, perhaps, but I would not part with him for worlds!” He thought for a moment. “By the bye, Mr. Weller,” he said, “you mentioned your failing eyesight. And yet you are still driving the Rochester coach. Does it not make the journey a little dangerous?”

“Vy, bless your dear old heart, sir, no!” laughed Weller senior. I could make the journey blindfold. And vill today, if you have a sense of adwenture.”

“The offer is tempting, sir, but I will forego that undoubted pleasure on this occasion,” replied Mr. Pickwick, as images of a spilt coach and dying Pickwickians forced themselves upon his mind.

“Father, how’s mother-in-law?” enquired Mr. Weller, junior.

“She’s in the werry best of health, Sammy,” said Mr. Weller senior, “and that’s the trouble. Vould any man ha’ thought that an old widder, as is closer to three score and ten than vun-and-tventy, vould vork a poor old coachman so hard at night? I tell you, Samivel, driwin this ‘ere coach is a pic-nic, ven you looks at vot she makes me do ven ve retires.”

Mr. Pickwick, that unsuspecting soul, had not the slightest idea of the multifarious tasks set by the third Mrs. Tony Weller to her husband at the close of the day. Sam, however, was a great deal more worldly than his master.

“Aged parent, you don’t mean...”

“Oh, but I do, Sammy,” said the illustrious Tony Weller. “But ven a man ties the knot vith a super-annuated circus tumbler, vot does he expect? I can live vith the juggling and tightrope valking, but ven she vants me to sing comic songs into the bargain...vell, Sammy, it’s more than flesh and blood can stand.” So saying, he brushed away a small tear and assisted Mr. Pickwick and his party into the Rochester coach. Mr. Snodgrass, having just returned from his expedition to find a constable (and having failed to do so, as is generally the case when one is needed), was in a highly emotional state, and wept copious tears to see his beloved Mr. Pickwick safe and sound, and apparently now upon friendly terms with the driver.

As Mr. Pickwick entered the coach, he saw that he and his companions were not the only passengers. Seated in one corner was an exceptionally hirsute man, dressed in garb that betokened his recent return from some tropical region. His face was as red as a berry; and his one remaining eye directed its steady gaze at Mr. Pickwick.

“Good day to you, sir,” said the hairy one-eyed gentleman.

“Good day to you, sir,” Mr. Pickwick replied. “Are you going to Rochester, sir?”

“I am, sir, I am,” said the stranger.

“What an extraordinary circumstance,” said Mr. Pickwick, “I too am going to Rochester, as are my companions here.” He indicated the rest of his party to the stranger.

“There is nothing extraordinary about it, sir, since this is the Rochester coach,” said the stranger, in a peremptory tone. “But, as we are to be companions on the journey, sir, I will forgive your astonishment at so pedestrian a coincidence. My card, sir, my card.”

Mr. Pickwick took the proffered piece of pasteboard, which read:

Bunchworth Nubbles
Plum Importer
Mincing Lane

“The importation of plums must be a singularly gratifying employment, sir,” ventured Mr. Pickwick.

“You don’t know the least part of it, sir,” said Mr. Nubbles. “Dashed fine things, plums.”
“I have not the slightest doubt of it,” said Mr. Pickwick

“Forty-six varieties of plum grow in the Cape Colony alone,” said Mr. Nubbles, warming to his subject, “forty-seven, if you consider the Boola Boola Monster Purple. Some men say the Purple is nothing but a damson, sir, but to those men I say, ‘stuff and nonsense.’ Stuff and nonsense, sir.”

“Indeed, sir?” said Mr. Pickwick who, although a little confused by his new companion’s conversation, decided that it must be worth noting down, for later transmission to the Club.

“Indeed, sir,” said Mr. Nubbles. “I see you are noting this down, sir. Well, sir, I could tell you stories about my plums that would make your blood run cold, sir, but I can also relate many which would afford you no little amusement. It is a curious thing, sir, that there is both great tragedy and great drollery in the plum trade.”

“Is it a remunerative business, sir” enquired Mr. Pickwick.

“Exceedingly remunerative, sir,” said Mr. Nubbles. “There are green-grocers in London who will pay in gold to get their hands upon my plums. By the bye, sir, I have just returned from Van Diemen’s Land. Did you know that only seven varieties of plum can survive in its inordinately harsh climate?”

“I was not aware of that fact, sir,” said Mr. Pickwick, “but it is most gratifying to be in receipt of such fascinating information.”

During the course of the next twenty seven and a half miles, Mr. Pickwick became intimately acquainted with the Plum Trade, and, according to Mr. Snodgrass, he must have found it a matter of no little fascination. For (as Mr. Snodgrass observed in his own journal) Mr. Pickwick’s eyes took on a far-away look, and his mouth, the smallest vestige of a smile, as if he were contemplating the Boola Boola Monster Purple in its tropic habitat.

Many were the little villages, wreathed all about in winter mists and hung with icicles, that the coach rattled through; and many were the old men and women, either deaf or blind, who were obliged to jump for their very lives as Tony Weller skilfully drove his four-in-hand between the narrow hedges and ditches of that dear old county of Kent. The sight of these ancients endeavouring to preserve the existence that the iron-shod wheels of the coach were equally intent on snuffing out, afforded the senior Mr. Weller much amusement, and enabled him to make the fullest use of his peculiar sense of humour.

“Vy don’t you look vere you’re a-goin, you sightless willain!” he ejaculated, as a frail centenarian was summarily precipitated into an icy pond, “You must ha’ put your legs on all wrong this mornin’!”

“Your parent is in an extremely jocular frame of mind, Sam,” said Mr. Pickwick to his faithful servitor.

“That ‘ere’s the werry truth on it, sir, and no lie votsoever, as the gen’l’m’n said, ven someone telled him something as vos correct,” said Sam. “It does my heart good to see an old ‘un at his time o’ life, rewiling others as his less fortunate than himself!”

“Indeed so, Sam, indeed so,” said Mr. Pickwick.

Mr. Pickwick and Sam ended their discourse as the guard blew his key-bugle and the coach turned in from the High-Street and under the low arch which led to the yard of the Bull Inn, Rochester. Mr. Weller senior descended from the box with an agility astonishing for one of such corpulent aspect and, with the air of a man who was used to such behaviour, assisted his passengers into the parlour with many festive oaths.

“Last vun into the parler is a Christmas pudden!” He said, jovially, and slapped Mr. Tupman heartily upon the back. Tracy Tupman, still in extreme discomfort, endeavoured in the spirit of the season to raise a smile in answer to this practical demonstration of good will, but there was no disguising the look of murder in his eye. To Mr. Winkle, who was endeavouring to negotiate the cobbled yard with his firearm, Mr. Weller said, “You looks as comfortable vith that veapon as a sturgeon vould vith a microscope. Make haste, sir, afore I finds a vunderful new use for a branch of holly!”

“I am making haste, coachman, but the yard is slippery and my gun is loaded,” said Mr. Winkle.
“The votch you don’t go bang too soon, as the ‘ooman said to her spouse as vos prone to doing such things,” said Mr. Weller junior.

The good host of the Bull Inn, a jovial man in black top-boots and a mulberry waist-coat, was well acquainted with Mr. Pickwick and his friends, and he welcomed that gentleman and his party as honoured guests. As they made themselves comfortable, the maids bustled in and out with hot towels, buttered toast, brandy-and-water-warm, and all manner of other blandishments. The sight of a plump Kentish girl, carrying before her a basket of live eels, produced a curious effect on the still corseted Mr. Tupman. He was heard to moan very loudly, as he loosened his neckerchief with alacrity and began to fan himself with the force of a hurricane. These exertions performed, he attempted to cram his entire left hand into his quivering mouth, and was only saved from further discomforts by the host’s administration of smelling-salts to his nose and a cool cloth to his forehead.

Mr. Tupman having been thus relieved, Mr. Pickwick’s countenance, which during the incident had been etched with concern at his old friend’s predicament, resumed its usual benign appearance , until he chanced to glance in the direction of his new companion, Mr. Nubbles. That hirsute gentleman was busy examining the contents of a fruit bowl, and appeared less than pleased.

“Why, whatever’s the matter, Mr. Nubbles, sir?” said Mr. Pickwick. “I am alarmed to see you so ill at ease.”

“Indeed I am, sir,” said Mr. Nubbles. “I have just spent the last few minutes perusing the contents of this fruit bowl. Not a single plum can I find, sir! Just these apples!”

“But surely, Mr. Nubbles, the plum tree is not fructiferous in December,” reasoned Mr. Pickwick, who seemed to have gained some little knowledge of the life-cycle of that fruit upon the journey to Rochester.

“The Tangyanikan Small Blusher travels very well by sea at this time of year, sir!” said Mr. Nubbles. “Any inn worth its salt would have a hoard of them in anticipation of the festive season! Or failing that, the South Sea Royal Juicy.”

“I vish you vos in the South Seas now, sir,” said the elder Mr. Weller. “P’r’aps ve should all be spared from a-hearing about your plums!”

“Sir, you are nothing but a coachman, and should remember your place!” ejaculated Mr. Nubbles. “I have made many firm acquaintances as a consequence of my plums, sir! Ladies of delicate constitution have swooned at the size and colour of my Mauve Edibles!”

“It’s a poor vorld as judges a man by the size of his plums,” retorted Mr. Weller. “Vere I lives in Dorking, ve judges a man by the size of his vallet, and his appertite for oysters and stout!”

Mr. Nubbles was at a loss for words. He contented himself with modifying his face until it closely resembled the colour of the Mauve Edible aforesaid, then turned upon his heel and ventured forth into the High-Street to seek accommodation elsewhere.

“Vell, sir, ve should be glad to see the back on him, as the gent said to another gent ven a third gent as they didn’t like vent avay,” said Sam to Mr. Pickwick.

“I reluctantly echo your sentiments, Sam,” said Mr. Pickwick. “It is fortunate that one seldom meets fruit importers with such affectations.”

“Ho! Pickwick - Winkle - Tuppy - Weller - What’s-his-name!” said a familiar voice. Mr. Pickwick and his friends turned in the direction from which it emanated, and to their great astonishment saw that the person who had thus hailed them was none other than Mr. Alfred Jingle, former strolling actor and perfidious trifler with the affections of ladies both young and old. Mr. Jingle’s former transgressions had been forgiven, at Mr. Pickwick’s insistence, but the Pickwick Club had heard nothing of that gentleman since he had encountered Mr. Pickwick himself in the Fleet. On that occasion, Mr. Pickwick had been much moved by Mr. Jingle’s pitiable situation. It was only an act of selfless generosity by that excellent old gentleman that had preserved Mr. Jingle’s life, since he would otherwise have gone to a pauper’s grave within the walls of that debtors’ prison.

“Why, Mr. Jingle, this is indeed a happy meeting!” said Mr. Pickwick, shaking Mr. Jingle by the hand.

“Pickwick - excellent fellow - saved life - grateful -very - words can’t convey!” said Mr. Jingle, in the curious manner of speech he was wont to use, his eyes moistening.

Mr. Pickwick observed Mr. Jingle closely. The cheeks that were once hollow were now well filled, bespeaking a more adequate diet. The face was browned, probably by some tropical sun, and the now much rounder body was encased in clothes of a superior quality.

“It seems you are now a man of substance, sir,” observed Mr. Pickwick.

“Fat, sir - fat - Say the words - Don’t be shy - Plump - Just like Tuppy - Droll - Very!” Mr. Jingle laughed heartily and clapped his hand upon the shoulder of that very Mr. Tupman, who stumbled under this manual greeting. He tried for Mr. Pickwick’s sake to feel magnanimous towards Mr. Jingle, but could not forget his former enemy’s description of him as “Bacchus dismounted from the tub”, and his very ungentlemanly behaviour in respect of Miss Wardle. And how he hated the cognomen “Tuppy.”

“Where have you been, Mr. Jingle?” enquired Mr. Tupman, attempting unsuccessfully to form his mouth into a smile.

“Jamaica - Plantations - Sugar - Tobacco - Profitable - Very!” Mr. Jingle replied. “Ambition fulfilled - Pine-apple rum - Gallons - Ladies - Thousands! One thing - Missed Old England - Back for good - Glad - Very!”

“Are you a married man, sir?” asked Mr. Tupman, hopefully.

“Never, sir - Never! Free spirit - Never tie knot - Love ‘em and leave ‘em - One eye on woman and one on door - Keep boots on - Casanova - Naught like it!” said Mr. Jingle.

Mr. Tupman sighed heavily. Aside from the alteration in his outward appearance, Mr. Jingle’s inward amorous propensities remained unaltered. He ventured a final question.
“Where are you bound, Mr. Jingle?”

“Bound, sir? Why - Dingley Dell - Invitation - Old Wardle - Animosities forgotten - Family Christmas - Looking forward - Festive - Very!”

Mr. Tupman ground his teeth secretly. He resolved to keep watch on Mr. Jingle, and to do anything which lay within his power to prevent that gentleman from trifling with the affections of Miss Rachel Wardle, her nieces, or any other creature of the feminine gender.

And there you have it, dear reader. It is my earnest hope that you gather your family about you, put another coal upon the fire, fill your glasses with punch, and raise a toast to the season. And may this Humble Author be the first to wish you A Merry Christmas.


Stevyn Colgan said...

Oh Sir, I do so hope that you will continue with these adventures. It is so dull here in the work house and your organ is all that stimulates us poor orphans through the day.

O. Twist (12)

chris hale said...

What's this? Asking for more? Yes, Stevyn, I shall continue to recount the multifarious adventures of the bespectacled gentleman in due course of time. Be patient, and remember - there's okum to be picked, and tar water to be drunk. These activities will not complete themselves!