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The Pickwick Papers 54







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The Pickwick Papers

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her head, Tom, cried the host; and away they went, down the narrow lanes; jolting in and out of the cart-ruts, and bumping up against the hedges on either side, as if they would go to pieces every moment. How much are they ahead? shouted Wardle, as they drove up to the door of the Blue Lion, round which a little crowd had collected, late as it was. Not above three-quarters of an hour, was everybodys reply. Chaise-and-four directly!--out with em! Put up the gig afterwards. Now, boys! cried the landlord--chaise-and-four out--make haste--look alive there! Away ran the hostlers and the boys. The lanterns glimmered, as the men ran to and fro; the horses hoofs clattered on the uneven paving of the yard; the chaise rumbled as it was drawn out of the coach-house; and all was noise and bustle. Now then!--is that chaise coming out to-night? cried Wardle. Coming down the yard now, Sir, replied the hostler. Out came the chaise--in went the horses--on sprang the boys --in got the travellers. Mind--the seven-mile stage in less than half an hour! shouted Wardle. Off with you! The boys applied whip and spur, the waiters shouted, the hostlers cheered, and away they went, fast and furiously. Pretty situation, thought Mr. Pickwick, when he had had a moments time for reflection. Pretty situation for the general chairman of the Pickwick Club. Damp chaise--strange horses-- fifteen miles an hour--and twelve oclock at night! For the first three or four miles, not a word was spoken by either of the gentlemen, each being too much immersed in his own reflections to address any observations to his companion. When they had gone over that much ground, however, and the horses getting thoroughly warmed began to do their work in really good style, Mr. Pickwick became too much exhilarated with the rapidity of the motion, to remain any longer perfectly mute. Were sure to catch them, I think, said he. Hope so, replied his companion. Fine night, said Mr. Pickwick, looking up at the moon, which was shining brightly. So much the worse, returned Wardle; for theyll have had all the advantage of the moonlight to get the start of us, and we shall lose it. It will have gone down in another hour. It will be rather unpleasant going at this rate in the dark, wont it? inquired Mr. Pickwick. I dare say it will, replied his friend dryly. Mr. Pickwicks temporary excitement began to sober down a little, as he reflected upon the inconveniences and dangers of the expedition in which he had so thoughtlessly embarked. He was roused by a loud shouting of the post-boy on the leader. Yo-yo-yo-yo-yoe! went the first boy. Yo-yo-yo-yoe! went the second. Yo-yo-yo-yoe! chimed in old Wardle himself, most lustily, with his head and half his body out of the coach window. Yo-yo-yo-yoe! shouted Mr. Pickwick, taking up the burden of the cry, though he had not the slightest notion of its meaning or object. And amidst the yo-yoing of the whole four, the chaise stopped. Whats the matter? inquired Mr. Pickwick. Theres a gate here, replied old Wardle. We shall hear something of the fugitives. After a lapse of five minutes, consumed in incessant knocking and shouting, an old man in his shirt and trousers emerged from the turnpike-house, and opened the gate. How long is it since a post-chaise went through here? inquired Mr. Wardle. How long? ah! Why, I dont rightly know. It wornt a long time ago, nor it wornt a short time ago--just between the two, perhaps. Has any chaise been by at all? Oh, yes, theres been a Shay by. How long ago, my friend, interposed Mr. Pickwick; an hour? Ah, I dare say it might be, replied the man. Or two hours? inquired the post--boy on the wheeler. Well, I shouldnt wonder if it was, returned the old man doubtfully. Drive on, boys, cried the testy old gentleman; dont waste any more time with that old idiot! Idiot! exclaimed the old man with a grin, as he stood in the middle of the road with the gate half-closed, watching the chaise which rapidly diminished in the increasing distance. No--not much o that either; youve lost ten minutes here, and gone away as wise as you came, arter all. If every man on the line as has a guinea give him, earns it half as well, you wont catch tother shay this side Michlmas, old short-and-fat. And with another prolonged grin, the old man closed the gate, re-entered his house, and bolted the door after him. Meanwhile the chaise proceeded, without any slackening of pace, towards the conclusion of

The Pickwick Papers page 53        The Pickwick Papers page 55