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The Pickwick Papers 55







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The Pickwick Papers

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the stage. The moon, as Wardle had foretold, was rapidly on the wane; large tiers of dark, heavy clouds, which had been gradually overspreading the sky for some time past, now formed one black mass overhead; and large drops of rain which pattered every now and then against the windows of the chaise, seemed to warn the travellers of the rapid approach of a stormy night. The wind, too, which was directly against them, swept in furious gusts down the narrow road, and howled dismally through the trees which skirted the pathway. Mr. Pickwick drew his coat closer about him, coiled himself more snugly up into the corner of the chaise, and fell into a sound sleep, from which he was only awakened by the stopping of the vehicle, the sound of the hostlers bell, and a loud cry of Horses on directly! But here another delay occurred. The boys were sleeping with such mysterious soundness, that it took five minutes a-piece to wake them. The hostler had somehow or other mislaid the key of the stable, and even when that was found, two sleepy helpers put the wrong harness on the wrong horses, and the whole process of harnessing had to be gone through afresh. Had Mr. Pickwick been alone, these multiplied obstacles would have completely put an end to the pursuit at once, but old Wardle was not to be so easily daunted; and he laid about him with such hearty good-will, cuffing this man, and pushing that; strapping a buckle here, and taking in a link there, that the chaise was ready in a much shorter time than could reasonably have been expected, under so many difficulties. They resumed their journey; and certainly the prospect before them was by no means encouraging. The stage was fifteen miles long, the night was dark, the wind high, and the rain pouring in torrents. It was impossible to make any great way against such obstacles united; it was hard upon one oclock already; and nearly two hours were consumed in getting to the end of the stage. Here, however, an object presented itself, which rekindled their hopes, and reanimated their drooping spirits. When did this chaise come in? cried old Wardle, leaping out of his own vehicle, and pointing to one covered with wet mud, which was standing in the yard. Not a quarter of an hour ago, sir, replied the hostler, to whom the question was addressed. Lady and gentleman? inquired Wardle, almost breathless with impatience. Yes, sir. Tall gentleman--dress-coat--long legs--thin body? Yes, sir. Elderly lady--thin face--rather skinny--eh? Yes, sir. By heavens, its the couple, Pickwick, exclaimed the old gentleman. Would have been here before, said the hostler, but they broke a trace. Tis them! said Wardle, it is, by Jove! Chaise-and-four instantly! We shall catch them yet before they reach the next stage. A guinea a-piece, boys-be alive there--bustle about-- theres good fellows. And with such admonitions as these, the old gentleman ran up and down the yard, and bustled to and fro, in a state of excitement which communicated itself to Mr. Pickwick also; and under the influence of which, that gentleman got himself into complicated entanglements with harness, and mixed up with horses and wheels of chaises, in the most surprising manner, firmly believing that by so doing he was materially forwarding the preparations for their resuming their journey. Jump in--jump in! cried old Wardle, climbing into the chaise, pulling up the steps, and slamming the door after him. Come along! Make haste! And before Mr. Pickwick knew precisely what he was about, he felt himself forced in at the other door, by one pull from the old gentleman and one push from the hostler; and off they were again. Ah! we are moving now, said the old gentleman exultingly. They were indeed, as was sufficiently testified to Mr. Pickwick, by his constant collision either with the hard wood-work of the chaise, or the body of his companion. Hold up! said the stout old Mr. Wardle, as Mr. Pickwick dived head foremost into his capacious waistcoat. I never did feel such a jolting in my life, said Mr. Pickwick. Never mind, replied his companion, it will soon be over. Steady, steady. Mr. Pickwick planted himself into his own corner, as firmly as he could; and on whirled the chaise faster than ever. They had travelled in this way about three miles, when Mr. Wardle, who had been looking out of the Window for two or three minutes, suddenly drew in his face, covered with splashes, and exclaimed in breathless eagerness-- Here they are! Mr. Pickwick thrust his

The Pickwick Papers page 54        The Pickwick Papers page 56