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The Pickwick Papers 108







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establishment was roused. He made up his mind to remain where he was, until the alarm had subsided; and then by a supernatural effort, to get over the wall, or perish in the attempt. Like all Mr. Pickwicks determinations, this was the best that could be made under the circumstances; but, unfortunately, it was founded upon the assumption that they would not venture to open the door again. What was his discomfiture, when he heard the chain and bolts withdrawn, and saw the door slowly opening, wider and wider! He retreated into the corner, step by step; but do what he would, the interposition of his own person, prevented its being opened to its utmost width. Whos there? screamed a numerous chorus of treble voices from the staircase inside, consisting of the spinster lady of the establishment, three teachers, five female servants, and thirty boarders, all half-dressed and in a forest of curl-papers. Of course Mr. Pickwick didnt say who was there: and then the burden of the chorus changed into--Lor! I am so frightened. Cook, said the lady abbess, who took care to be on the top stair, the very last of the group--cook, why dont you go a little way into the garden? Please, maam, I dont like, responded the cook. Lor, what a stupid thing that cook is! said the thirty boarders. Cook, said the lady abbess, with great dignity; dont answer me, if you please. I insist upon your looking into the garden immediately. Here the cook began to cry, and the housemaid said it was a shame! for which partisanship she received a months warning on the spot. Do you hear, cook? said the lady abbess, stamping her foot impatiently. Dont you hear your missis, cook? said the three teachers. What an impudent thing that cook is! said the thirty boarders. The unfortunate cook, thus strongly urged, advanced a step or two, and holding her candle just where it prevented her from seeing at all, declared there was nothing there, and it must have been the wind. The door was just going to be closed in consequence, when an inquisitive boarder, who had been peeping between the hinges, set up a fearful screaming, which called back the cook and housemaid, and all the more adventurous, in no time. What is the matter with Miss Smithers? said the lady abbess, as the aforesaid Miss Smithers proceeded to go into hysterics of four young lady power. Lor, Miss Smithers, dear, said the other nine-and-twenty boarders. Oh, the man--the man--behind the door! screamed Miss Smithers. The lady abbess no sooner heard this appalling cry, than she retreated to her own bedroom, double-locked the door, and fainted away comfortably. The boarders, and the teachers, and the servants, fell back upon the stairs, and upon each other; and never was such a screaming, and fainting, and struggling beheld. In the midst of the tumult, Mr. Pickwick emerged from his concealment, and presented himself amongst them. Ladies--dear ladies, said Mr. Pickwick. Oh. he says were dear, cried the oldest and ugliest teacher. Oh, the wretch! Ladies, roared Mr. Pickwick, rendered desperate by the danger of his situation. Hear me. I am no robber. I want the lady of the house. Oh, what a ferocious monster! screamed another teacher. He wants Miss Tomkins. Here there was a general scream. Ring the alarm bell, somebody! cried a dozen voices. Dont--dont, shouted Mr. Pickwick. Look at me. Do I look like a robber! My dear ladies--you may bind me hand and leg, or lock me up in a closet, if you like. Only hear what I have got to say--only hear me. How did you come in our garden? faltered the housemaid. Call the lady of the house, and Ill tell her everything, said Mr. Pickwick, exerting his lungs to the utmost pitch. Call her-- only be quiet, and call her, and you shall hear everything . It might have been Mr. Pickwicks appearance, or it might have been his manner, or it might have been the temptation-- irresistible to a female mind--of hearing something at present enveloped in mystery, that reduced the more reasonable portion of the establishment (some four individuals) to a state of comparative quiet. By them it was proposed, as a test of Mr. Pickwicks sincerity, that he should immediately submit to personal restraint; and that gentleman having consented to hold a conference with Miss Tomkins, from the interior of a closet in which the day boarders hung their bonnets and sandwich-bags, he at once stepped into it, of his own accord, and was securely locked

The Pickwick Papers page 107        The Pickwick Papers page 109