'Wanted!' said Mr. Winkle, hastily jumping out of bed, and putting on a few articles of clothing; 'wanted! at this distance from town--who on earth can want me?'
'Gentleman in the coffee-room, sir,' replied the Boots, as Mr. Winkle opened the door and confronted him; 'gentleman says he'll not detain you a moment, Sir, but he can take no denial.'
'Very odd!' said Mr. Winkle; 'I'll be down directly.'
He hurriedly wrapped himself in a travelling-shawl and dressing-gown, and proceeded downstairs. An old woman and a couple of waiters were cleaning the coffee-room, and an officer in undress uniform was looking out of the window. He turned round as Mr. Winkle entered, and made a stiff inclination of the head. Having ordered the attendants to retire, and closed the door very carefully, he said, 'Mr. Winkle, I presume?'
'My name is Winkle, sir.'
'You will not be surprised, sir, when I inform you that I have called here this morning on behalf of my friend, Doctor Slammer, of the 97th.'
'Doctor Slammer!' said Mr. Winkle.
'Doctor Slammer. He begged me to express his opinion that your conduct of last evening was of a description which no gentleman could endure; and' (he added) 'which no one gentleman would pursue towards another.'
Mr. Winkle's astonishment was too real, and too evident, to escape the observation of Doctor Slammer's friend; he therefore proceeded--'My friend, Doctor Slammer, requested me to add, that he was firmly persuaded you were intoxicated during a portion of the evening, and possibly unconscious of the extent of the insult you were guilty of. He commissioned me to say, that should this be pleaded as an excuse for your behaviour, he will consent to accept a written apology, to be penned by you, from my dictation.'
'A written apology!' repeated Mr. Winkle, in the most emphatic tone of amazement possible.
'Of course you know the alternative,' replied the visitor coolly.
'Were you intrusted with this message to me by name?' inquired Mr. Winkle, whose intellects were hopelessly confused by this extraordinary conversation.
'I was not present myself,' replied the visitor, 'and in consequence of your firm refusal to give your card to Doctor Slammer, I was desired by that gentleman to identify the wearer of a very uncommon coat--a bright blue dress-coat, with a gilt button displaying a bust, and the letters "P. C."'
Mr. Winkle actually staggered with astonishment as he heard his own costume thus minutely described. Doctor Slammer's friend proceeded:--'From the inquiries I made at the bar, just now, I was convinced that the owner of the coat in question arrived here, with three gentlemen, yesterday afternoon. I immediately sent up to the gentleman who was described as appearing the head of the party, and he at once referred me to you.'
If the principal tower of Rochester Castle had suddenly walked from its foundation, and stationed itself opposite the coffee-room window, Mr. Winkle's surprise would have been as nothing compared with the profound astonishment with which he had heard this address. His first impression was that his coat had been stolen. 'Will you allow me to detain you one moment?' said he.
'Certainly,' replied the unwelcome visitor.
Mr. Winkle ran hastily upstairs, and with a trembling hand opened the bag. There was the coat in its usual place, but exhibiting, on a close inspection, evident tokens of having been worn on the preceding night.
'It must be so,' said Mr. Winkle, letting the coat fall from his hands. 'I took too much wine after dinner, and have a very vague recollection of walking about the streets, and smoking a cigar afterwards. The fact is, I was very drunk;--I must have changed my coat--gone somewhere--and insulted somebody--I have no doubt of it; and this message is the terrible consequence.' Saying which, Mr. Winkle retraced his steps in the direction of the coffee-room, with the gloomy and dreadful resolve of accepting the challenge of the warlike Doctor Slammer, and abiding by the worst consequences that might ensue.