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'Why, the fact is,' said that unhappy gentleman, stepping forward, 'when we alighted at this door, a dispute arose with the driver of the cabrioily--' A loud scream from his wife, at the mention of this word, rendered all further explanation inaudible.
'You'd better leave us to bring her round, Raddle,' said Mrs. Cluppins. 'She'll never get better as long as you're here.'
All the ladies concurred in this opinion; so Mr. Raddle was pushed out of the room, and requested to give himself an airing in the back yard. Which he did for about a quarter of an hour, when Mrs. Bardell announced to him with a solemn face that he might come in now, but that he must be very careful how he behaved towards his wife. She knew he didn't mean to be unkind; but Mary Ann was very far from strong, and, if he didn't take care, he might lose her when he least expected it, which would be a very dreadful reflection for him afterwards; and so on. All this, Mr. Raddle heard with great submission, and presently returned to the parlour in a most lamb-like manner.
'Why, Mrs. Rogers, ma'am,' said Mrs. Bardell, 'you've never been introduced, I declare! Mr. Raddle, ma'am; Mrs. Cluppins, ma'am; Mrs. Raddle, ma'am.'
'Which is Mrs. Cluppins's sister,' suggested Mrs. Sanders.
'Oh, indeed!' said Mrs. Rogers graciously; for she was the lodger, and her servant was in waiting, so she was more gracious than intimate, in right of her position. 'Oh, indeed!'
Mrs. Raddle smiled sweetly, Mr. Raddle bowed, and Mrs. Cluppins said, 'she was sure she was very happy to have an opportunity of being known to a lady which she had heerd so much in favour of, as Mrs. Rogers.' A compliment which the last-named lady acknowledged with graceful condescension.
'Well, Mr. Raddle,' said Mrs. Bardell; 'I'm sure you ought to feel very much honoured at you and Tommy being the only gentlemen to escort so many ladies all the way to the Spaniards, at Hampstead. Don't you think he ought, Mrs. Rogers, ma'am?' 'Oh, certainly, ma'am,' replied Mrs. Rogers; after whom all the other ladies responded, 'Oh, certainly.'
'Of course I feel it, ma'am,' said Mr. Raddle, rubbing his hands, and evincing a slight tendency to brighten up a little. 'Indeed, to tell you the truth, I said, as we was a-coming along in the cabrioily--'
At the recapitulation of the word which awakened so many painful recollections, Mrs. Raddle applied her handkerchief to her eyes again, and uttered a half-suppressed scream; so that Mrs. Bardell frowned upon Mr. Raddle, to intimate that he had better not say anything more, and desired Mrs. Rogers's servant, with an air, to 'put the wine on.'
This was the signal for displaying the hidden treasures of the closet, which comprised sundry plates of oranges and biscuits, and a bottle of old crusted port--that at one-and-nine--with another of the celebrated East India sherry at fourteen-pence, which were all produced in honour of the lodger, and afforded unlimited satisfaction to everybody. After great consternation had been excited in the mind of Mrs. Cluppins, by an attempt on the part of Tommy to recount how he had been cross-examined regarding the cupboard then in action (which was fortunately nipped in the bud by his imbibing half a glass of the old crusted 'the wrong way,' and thereby endangering his life for some seconds), the party walked forth in quest of a Hampstead stage. This was soon found, and in a couple of hours they all arrived safely in the Spaniards Tea-gardens, where the luckless Mr. Raddle's very first act nearly occasioned his good lady a relapse; it being neither more nor less than to order tea for seven, whereas (as the ladies one and all remarked), what could have been easier than for Tommy to have drank out of anybody's cup--or everybody's, if that was all--when the waiter wasn't looking, which would have saved one head of tea, and the tea just as good!
However, there was no help for it, and the tea-tray came, with seven cups and saucers, and bread-and-butter on the same scale. Mrs. Bardell was unanimously voted into the chair, and Mrs. Rogers being stationed on her right hand, and Mrs. Raddle on her left, the meal proceeded with great merriment and success.
'How sweet the country is, to be sure!' sighed Mrs. Rogers; 'I almost wish I lived in it always.'
'Oh, you wouldn't like that, ma'am,' replied Mrs. Bardell, rather hastily; for it was not at all advisable, with reference to the lodgings, to encourage such notions; 'you wouldn't like it, ma'am.'
'Oh! I should think you was a deal too lively and sought after, to be content with the country, ma'am,' said little Mrs. Cluppins.
'Perhaps I am, ma'am. Perhaps I am,' sighed the first-floor lodger.
'For lone people as have got nobody to care for them, or take care of them, or as have been hurt in their mind, or that kind of thing,' observed Mr. Raddle, plucking up a little cheerfulness, and looking round, 'the country is all very well. The country for a wounded spirit, they say.'
Now, of all things in the world that the unfortunate man could have said, any would have been preferable to this. Of course Mrs. Bardell burst into tears, and requested to be led from the table instantly; upon which the affectionate child began to cry too, most dismally.
'Would anybody believe, ma'am,' exclaimed Mrs. Raddle, turning fiercely to the first-floor lodger, 'that a woman could be married to such a unmanly creetur, which can tamper with a woman's feelings as he does, every hour in the day, ma'am?'
'My dear,' remonstrated Mr. Raddle, 'I didn't mean anything, my dear.'
'You didn't mean!' repeated Mrs. Raddle, with great scorn and contempt. 'Go away. I can't bear the sight on you, you brute.'
'You must not flurry yourself, Mary Ann,' interposed Mrs. Cluppins. 'You really must consider yourself, my dear, which you never do. Now go away, Raddle, there's a good soul, or you'll only aggravate her.'
'You had better take your tea by yourself, Sir, indeed,' said Mrs. Rogers, again applying the smelling-bottle.
Mrs. Sanders, who, according to custom, was very busy with the bread-and-butter, expressed the same opinion, and Mr. Raddle quietly retired.
After this, there was a great hoisting up of Master Bardell, who was rather a large size for hugging, into his mother's arms, in which operation he got his boots in the tea-board, and occasioned some confusion among the cups and saucers. But that description of fainting fits, which is contagious among ladies, seldom lasts long; so when he had been well kissed, and a little cried over, Mrs. Bardell recovered, set him down again, wondering how she could have been so foolish, and poured out some more tea.
It was at this moment, that the sound of approaching wheels was heard, and that the ladies, looking up, saw a hackney-coach stop at the garden gate.
'More company!' said Mrs. Sanders.
'It's a gentleman,' said Mrs. Raddle.
'Well, if it ain't Mr. Jackson, the young man from Dodson and Fogg's!' cried Mrs. Bardell. 'Why, gracious! Surely Mr. Pickwick can't have paid the damages.'
'Or hoffered marriage!' said Mrs. Cluppins.
'Dear me, how slow the gentleman is,'exclaimed Mrs. Rogers. 'Why doesn't he make haste!'
As the lady spoke these words, Mr. Jackson turned from the coach where he had been addressing some observations to a shabby man in black leggings, who had just emerged from the vehicle with a thick ash stick in his hand, and made his way to the place where the ladies were seated; winding his hair round the brim of his hat, as he came along. 'Is anything the matter? Has anything taken place, Mr. Jackson?' said Mrs. Bardell eagerly.
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The Pickwick Papers -- by Charles Dickens