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The Pickwick Papers 307







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The Pickwick Papers

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you take a glass of wine? Youre wery good, Sir, replied Mr. Roker, accepting the proffered glass. Yours, sir. Thank you, said Mr. Pickwick. Im sorry to say that your landlords wery bad to-night, Sir, said Roker, setting down the glass, and inspecting the lining of his hat preparatory to putting it on again. What! The Chancery prisoner! exclaimed Mr. Pickwick. He wont be a Chancery prisoner wery long, Sir, replied Roker, turning his hat round, so as to get the makers name right side upwards, as he looked into it. You make my blood run cold, said Mr. Pickwick. What do you mean? Hes been consumptive for a long time past, said Mr. Roker, and hes taken wery bad in the breath to-night. The doctor said, six months ago, that nothing but change of air could save him. Great Heaven! exclaimed Mr. Pickwick; has this man been slowly murdered by the law for six months? I dont know about that, replied Roker, weighing the hat by the brim in both hands. I suppose hed have been took the same, wherever he was. He went into the infirmary, this morning; the doctor says his strength is to be kept up as much as possible; and the wardens sent him wine and broth and that, from his own house. Its not the wardens fault, you know, sir. Of course not, replied Mr. Pickwick hastily. Im afraid, however, said Roker, shaking his head, that its all up with him. I offered Neddy two six-pennorths to one upon it just now, but he wouldnt take it, and quite right. Thankee, Sir. Good-night, sir. Stay, said Mr. Pickwick earnestly. Where is this infirmary? Just over where you slept, sir, replied Roker. Ill show you, if you like to come. Mr. Pickwick snatched up his hat without speaking, and followed at once. The turnkey led the way in silence; and gently raising the latch of the room door, motioned Mr. Pickwick to enter. It was a large, bare, desolate room, with a number of stump bedsteads made of iron, on one of which lay stretched the shadow of a man --wan, pale, and ghastly. His breathing was hard and thick, and he moaned painfully as it came and went. At the bedside sat a short old man in a cobblers apron, who, by the aid of a pair of horn spectacles, was reading from the Bible aloud. It was the fortunate legatee. The sick man laid his hand upon his attendants arm, and motioned him to stop. He closed the book, and laid it on the bed. Open the window, said the sick man. He did so. The noise of carriages and carts, the rattle of wheels, the cries of men and boys, all the busy sounds of a mighty multitude instinct with life and occupation, blended into one deep murmur, floated into the room. Above the hoarse loud hum, arose, from time to time, a boisterous laugh; or a scrap of some jingling song, shouted forth, by one of the giddy crowd, would strike upon the ear, for an instant, and then be lost amidst the roar of voices and the tramp of footsteps; the breaking of the billows of the restless sea of life, that rolled heavily on, without. These are melancholy sounds to a quiet listener at any time; but how melancholy to the watcher by the bed of death! There is no air here, said the man faintly. The place pollutes it. It was fresh round about, when I walked there, years ago; but it grows hot and heavy in passing these walls. I cannot breathe it. We have breathed it together, for a long time, said the old man. Come, come. There was a short silence, during which the two spectators approached the bed. The sick man drew a hand of his old fellow- prisoner towards him, and pressing it affectionately between both his own, retained it in his grasp. I hope, he gasped after a while, so faintly that they bent their ears close over the bed to catch the half-formed sounds his pale lips gave vent to--I hope my merciful Judge will bear in mind my heavy punishment on earth. Twenty years, my friend, twenty years in this hideous grave! My heart broke when my child died, and I could not even kiss him in his little coffin. My loneliness since then, in all this noise and riot, has been very dreadful.

The Pickwick Papers page 306        The Pickwick Papers page 308