The Pickwick Papers
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own memoranda. Nor while he was thus occupied was Mr.
Winkle idle, his whole time being devoted to pleasant walks and
short country excursions with Mrs. Pott, who never failed, when
such an opportunity presented itself, to seek some relief from the
tedious monotony she so constantly complained of. The two
gentlemen being thus completely domesticated in the editor's
house, Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass were in a great measure
cast upon their own resources. Taking but little interest in public
affairs, they beguiled their time chiefly with such amusements as
the Peacock afforded, which were limited to a bagatelle-board in
the first floor, and a sequestered skittle-ground in the back yard.
In the science and nicety of both these recreations, which are far
more abstruse than ordinary men suppose, they were gradually
initiated by Mr. Weller, who possessed a perfect knowledge of
such pastimes. Thus, notwithstanding that they were in a great
measure deprived of the comfort and advantage of Mr. Pickwick's
society, they were still enabled to beguile the time, and to
prevent its hanging heavily on their hands.
It was in the evening, however, that the Peacock presented
attractions which enabled the two friends to resist even the
invitations of the gifted, though prosy, Pott. It was in the evening
that the 'commercial room' was filled with a social circle, whose
characters and manners it was the delight of Mr. Tupman to
observe; whose sayings and doings it was the habit of Mr.
Snodgrass to note down.
Most people know what sort of places commercial rooms
usually are. That of the Peacock differed in no material respect
from the generality of such apartments; that is to say, it was a
large, bare-looking room, the furniture of which had no doubt
been better when it was newer, with a spacious table in the centre,
and a variety of smaller dittos in the corners; an extensive
assortment of variously shaped chairs, and an old Turkey carpet,
bearing about the same relative proportion to the size of the
room, as a lady's pocket-handkerchief might to the floor of a
watch-box. The walls were garnished with one or two large
maps; and several weather-beaten rough greatcoats, with
complicated capes, dangled from a long row of pegs in one
corner. The mantel-shelf was ornamented with a wooden inkstand,
containing one stump of a pen and half a wafer; a road-
book and directory; a county history minus the cover; and the
mortal remains of a trout in a glass coffin. The atmosphere was
redolent of tobacco-smoke, the fumes of which had communicated
a rather dingy hue to the whole room, and more especially
to the dusty red curtains which shaded the windows. On the
sideboard a variety of miscellaneous articles were huddled
together, the most conspicuous of which were some very cloudy
fish-sauce cruets, a couple of driving-boxes, two or three whips,
and as many travelling shawls, a tray of knives and forks, and
Here it was that Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass were seated
on the evening after the conclusion of the election, with several
other temporary inmates of the house, smoking and drinking.
'Well, gents,' said a stout, hale personage of about forty, with
only one eye--a very bright black eye, which twinkled with a
roguish expression of fun and good-humour, 'our noble selves,
gents. I always propose that toast to the company, and drink
Mary to myself. Eh, Mary!'
'Get along with you, you wretch,' said the hand-maiden,
obviously not ill-pleased with the compliment, however.
'Don't go away, Mary,' said the black-eyed man.
'Let me alone, imperence,' said the young lady.
'Never mind,' said the one-eyed man, calling after the girl as
she left the room. 'I'll step out by and by, Mary. Keep your
spirits up, dear.' Here he went through the not very difficult
process of winking upon the company with his solitary eye, to
the enthusiastic delight of an elderly personage with a dirty face
and a clay pipe.
'Rum creeters is women,' said the dirty-faced man, after a pause.
'Ah! no mistake about that,' said a very red-faced man,
behind a cigar.
After this little bit of philosophy there was another pause.
'There's rummer things than women in this world though,
mind you,' said the man with the black eye, slowly filling a large
Dutch pipe, with a most capacious bowl.
'Are you married?' inquired the dirty-faced man.
'Can't say I am.'
'I thought not.' Here the dirty-faced man fell into ecstasies of
mirth at his own retort, in which he was joined by a man of
bland voice and placid countenance, who always made it a point
to agree with everybody.
'Women, after all, gentlemen,' said the enthusiastic Mr.
Snodgrass, 'are the great props and comforts of our existence.'
'So they are,' said the placid gentleman.
'When they're in a good humour,' interposed the dirty-faced man.
'And that's very true,' said the placid one.
'I repudiate that qualification,' said Mr. Snodgrass, whose
thoughts were fast reverting to Emily Wardle. 'I repudiate it
with disdain--with indignation. Show me the man who says
anything against women, as women, and I boldly declare he is
not a man.' And Mr. Snodgrass took his cigar from his mouth,
and struck the table violently with his clenched fist.
'That's good sound argument,' said the placid man.
'Containing a position which I deny,' interrupted he of the
'And there's certainly a very great deal of truth in what you
observe too, Sir,' said the placid gentleman.
'Your health, Sir,' said the bagman with the lonely eye,
bestowing an approving nod on Mr. Snodgrass.
Mr. Snodgrass acknowledged the compliment.
'I always like to hear a good argument,'continued the bagman,
'a sharp one, like this: it's very improving; but this little argument
about women brought to my mind a story I have heard an
old uncle of mine tell, the recollection of which, just now, made
me say there were rummer things than women to be met with, sometimes.'
'I should like to hear that same story,' said the red-faced man
with the cigar.
'Should you?' was the only reply of the bagman, who
continued to smoke with great vehemence.
'So should I,' said Mr. Tupman, speaking for the first time.
He was always anxious to increase his stock of experience.
'Should YOU? Well then, I'll tell it. No, I won't. I know you
won't believe it,' said the man with the roguish eye, making that
organ look more roguish than ever.
'If you say it's true, of course I shall,' said Mr. Tupman.
'Well, upon that understanding I'll tell you,' replied the
traveller. 'Did you ever hear of the great commercial house of
Bilson & Slum? But it doesn't matter though, whether you did or
not, because they retired from business long since. It's eighty
years ago, since the circumstance happened to a traveller for
that house, but he was a particular friend of my uncle's; and
my uncle told the story to me. It's a queer name; but he used to
THE BAGMAN'S STORY
and he used to tell it, something in this way.
'One winter's evening, about five o'clock, just as it began to
grow dusk, a man in a gig might have been seen urging his tired
horse along the road which leads across Marlborough Downs, in
the direction of Bristol. I say he might have been seen, and I have
no doubt he would have been, if anybody but a blind man had
happened to pass that way; but the weather was so bad, and the
night so cold and wet, that nothing was out but the water, and
so the traveller jogged along in the middle of the road, lonesome
and dreary enough. If any bagman of that day could have caught
sight of the little neck-or-nothing sort of gig, with a clay-
coloured body and red wheels, and the vixenish, ill tempered,
fast-going bay mare, that looked like a cross between a butcher's
horse and a twopenny post-office pony, he would have known at
once, that this traveller could have been no other than Tom
Smart, of the great house of Bilson and Slum, Cateaton Street,
City. However, as there was no bagman to look on, nobody
knew anything at all about the matter; and so Tom Smart and
his clay-coloured gig with the red wheels, and the vixenish mare
with the fast pace, went on together, keeping the secret among
them, and nobody was a bit the wiser.
'There are many pleasanter places even in this dreary world,
than Marlborough Downs when it blows hard; and if you throw
in beside, a gloomy winter's evening, a miry and sloppy road, and
a pelting fall of heavy rain, and try the effect, by way of experiment,
in your own proper person, you will experience the full
force of this observation.
'The wind blew--not up the road or down it, though that's
bad enough, but sheer across it, sending the rain slanting down
like the lines they used to rule in the copy-books at school, to
make the boys slope well. For a moment it would die away, and
the traveller would begin to delude himself into the belief that,
exhausted with its previous fury, it had quietly laid itself down
to rest, when, whoo! he could hear it growling and whistling in
the distance, and on it would come rushing over the hill-tops, and
sweeping along the plain, gathering sound and strength as it
drew nearer, until it dashed with a heavy gust against horse and
man, driving the sharp rain into their ears, and its cold damp
breath into their very bones; and past them it would scour, far,
far away, with a stunning roar, as if in ridicule of their weakness,
and triumphant in the consciousness of its own strength and power.