The driver reiterated his former statement. Mr. Pickwick looked very hard at the man's face, but his features were immovable, so he noted down the fact forthwith. 'And how long do you keep him out at a time?'inquired Mr. Pickwick, searching for further information.
'Two or three veeks,' replied the man.
'Weeks!' said Mr. Pickwick in astonishment, and out came the note-book again.
'He lives at Pentonwil when he's at home,' observed the driver coolly, 'but we seldom takes him home, on account of his weakness.'
'On account of his weakness!' reiterated the perplexed Mr. Pickwick.
'He always falls down when he's took out o' the cab,' continued the driver, 'but when he's in it, we bears him up werry tight, and takes him in werry short, so as he can't werry well fall down; and we've got a pair o' precious large wheels on, so ven he does move, they run after him, and he must go on--he can't help it.'
Mr. Pickwick entered every word of this statement in his note- book, with the view of communicating it to the club, as a singular instance of the tenacity of life in horses under trying circumstances. The entry was scarcely completed when they reached the Golden Cross. Down jumped the driver, and out got Mr. Pickwick. Mr. Tupman, Mr. Snodgrass, and Mr. Winkle, who had been anxiously waiting the arrival of their illustrious leader, crowded to welcome him.
'Here's your fare,' said Mr. Pickwick, holding out the shilling to the driver.
What was the learned man's astonishment, when that unaccountable person flung the money on the pavement, and requested in figurative terms to be allowed the pleasure of fighting him (Mr. Pickwick) for the amount!
'You are mad,' said Mr. Snodgrass.
'Or drunk,' said Mr. Winkle.
'Or both,' said Mr. Tupman.
'Come on!' said the cab-driver, sparring away like clockwork. 'Come on--all four on you.'
'Here's a lark!' shouted half a dozen hackney coachmen. 'Go to vork, Sam!--and they crowded with great glee round the party.
'What's the row, Sam?' inquired one gentleman in black calico sleeves.
'Row!' replied the cabman, 'what did he want my number for?' 'I didn't want your number,' said the astonished Mr. Pickwick.
'What did you take it for, then?' inquired the cabman.
'I didn't take it,' said Mr. Pickwick indignantly.
'Would anybody believe,' continued the cab-driver, appealing to the crowd, 'would anybody believe as an informer'ud go about in a man's cab, not only takin' down his number, but ev'ry word he says into the bargain' (a light flashed upon Mr. Pickwick--it was the note-book).
'Did he though?' inquired another cabman.
'Yes, did he,' replied the first; 'and then arter aggerawatin' me to assault him, gets three witnesses here to prove it. But I'll give it him, if I've six months for it. Come on!' and the cabman dashed his hat upon the ground, with a reckless disregard of his own private property, and knocked Mr. Pickwick's spectacles off, and followed up the attack with a blow on Mr. Pickwick's nose, and another on Mr. Pickwick's chest, and a third in Mr. Snodgrass's eye, and a fourth, by way of variety, in Mr. Tupman's waistcoat, and then danced into the road, and then back again to the pavement, and finally dashed the whole temporary supply of breath out of Mr. Winkle's body; and all in half a dozen seconds.
'Where's an officer?' said Mr. Snodgrass.
'Put 'em under the pump,' suggested a hot-pieman.
'You shall smart for this,' gasped Mr. Pickwick.
'Informers!' shouted the crowd.
'Come on,' cried the cabman, who had been sparring without cessation the whole time.
The mob hitherto had been passive spectators of the scene, but as the intelligence of the Pickwickians being informers was spread among them, they began to canvass with considerable vivacity the propriety of enforcing the heated pastry-vendor's proposition: and there is no saying what acts of personal aggression they might have committed, had not the affray been unexpectedly terminated by the interposition of a new-comer.