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The Pickwick Papers 376







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a fat boy wore. Whats the matter with the boy? exclaimed Wardle. Nothens the matter with me, replied Joe nervously. Have you been seeing any spirits? inquired the old gentleman. Or taking any? added Ben Allen. I think youre right, whispered Wardle across the table. He is intoxicated, Im sure. Ben Allen replied that he thought he was; and, as that gentleman had seen a vast deal of the disease in question, Wardle was confirmed in an impression which had been hovering about his mind for half an hour, and at once arrived at the conclusion that the fat boy was drunk. Just keep your eye upon him for a few minutes, murmured Wardle. We shall soon find out whether he is or not. The unfortunate youth had only interchanged a dozen words with Mr. Snodgrass, that gentleman having implored him to make a private appeal to some friend to release him, and then pushed him out with the snuff-box, lest his prolonged absence should lead to a discovery. He ruminated a little with a most disturbed expression of face, and left the room in search of Mary. But Mary had gone home after dressing her mistress, and the fat boy came back again more disturbed than before. Wardle and Mr. Ben Allen exchanged glances. Joe! said Wardle. Yes, sir. What did you go away for? The fat boy looked hopelessly in the face of everybody at table, and stammered out that he didnt know. Oh, said Wardle, you dont know, eh? Take this cheese to Mr. Pickwick. Now, Mr. Pickwick being in the very best health and spirits, had been making himself perfectly delightful all dinner-time, and was at this moment engaged in an energetic conversation with Emily and Mr. Winkle; bowing his head, courteously, in the emphasis of his discourse, gently waving his left hand to lend force to his observations, and all glowing with placid smiles. He took a piece of cheese from the plate, and was on the point of turning round to renew the conversation, when the fat boy, stooping so as to bring his head on a level with that of Mr. Pickwick, pointed with his thumb over his shoulder, and made the most horrible and hideous face that was ever seen out of a Christmas pantomime. Dear me! said Mr. Pickwick, starting, what a very--Eh? He stopped, for the fat boy had drawn himself up, and was, or pretended to be, fast asleep. Whats the matter? inquired Wardle. This is such an extremely singular lad! replied Mr. Pickwick, looking uneasily at the boy. It seems an odd thing to say, but upon my word I am afraid that, at times, he is a little deranged. Oh! Mr. Pickwick, pray dont say so, cried Emily and Arabella, both at once. I am not certain, of course, said Mr. Pickwick, amidst profound silence and looks of general dismay; but his manner to me this moment really was very alarming. Oh! ejaculated Mr. Pickwick, suddenly jumping up with a short scream. I beg your pardon, ladies, but at that moment he ran some sharp instrument into my leg. Really, he is not safe. Hes drunk, roared old Wardle passionately. Ring the bell! Call the waiters! Hes drunk. I aint, said the fat boy, falling on his knees as his master seized him by the collar. I aint drunk. Then youre mad; thats worse. Call the waiters, said the old gentleman. I aint mad; Im sensible, rejoined the fat boy, beginning to cry. Then, what the devil did you run sharp instruments into Mr. Pickwicks legs for? inquired Wardle angrily. He wouldnt look at me, replied the boy. I wanted to speak to him. What did you want to say? asked half a dozen voices at once. The fat boy gasped, looked at the bedroom door, gasped again, and wiped two tears away with the knuckle of each of his forefingers. What did you want to say? demanded Wardle, shaking him. Stop! said Mr. Pickwick; allow me. What did you wish to communicate to me, my poor boy? I want to whisper to you, replied the fat boy. You want to bite his ear off, I suppose, said Wardle. Dont come near him; hes vicious; ring the bell, and let him be taken downstairs. Just as Mr. Winkle caught the bell-rope in his hand, it was arrested by a general expression of astonishment; the captive lover, his face burning with confusion, suddenly walked in from the bedroom, and made a comprehensive bow to the company. Hollo! cried Wardle, releasing the fat boys collar, and staggering

The Pickwick Papers page 375        The Pickwick Papers page 377