There were insects, too, hideous crawling things, with eyes that stared upon him, and filled the very air around, glistening horribly amidst the thick darkness of the place. The walls and ceiling were alive with reptiles--the vault expanded to an enormous size--frightful figures flitted to and fro--and the faces of men he knew, rendered hideous by gibing and mouthing, peered out from among them; they were searing him with heated irons, and binding his head with cords till the blood started; and he struggled madly for life.
'At the close of one of these paroxysms, when I had with great difficulty held him down in his bed, he sank into what appeared to be a slumber. Overpowered with watching and exertion, I had closed my eyes for a few minutes, when I felt a violent clutch on my shoulder. I awoke instantly. He had raised himself up, so as to seat himself in bed--a dreadful change had come over his face, but consciousness had returned, for he evidently knew me. The child, who had been long since disturbed by his ravings, rose from its little bed, and ran towards its father, screaming with fright--the mother hastily caught it in her arms, lest he should injure it in the violence of his insanity; but, terrified by the alteration of his features, stood transfixed by the bedside. He grasped my shoulder convulsively, and, striking his breast with the other hand, made a desperate attempt to articulate. It was unavailing; he extended his arm towards them, and made another violent effort. There was a rattling noise in the throat--a glare of the eye--a short stifled groan--and he fell back--dead!'
It would afford us the highest gratification to be enabled to record Mr. Pickwick's opinion of the foregoing anecdote. We have little doubt that we should have been enabled to present it to our readers, but for a most unfortunate occurrence.
Mr. Pickwick had replaced on the table the glass which, during the last few sentences of the tale, he had retained in his hand; and had just made up his mind to speak--indeed, we have the authority of Mr. Snodgrass's note-book for stating, that he had actually opened his mouth--when the waiter entered the room, and said--
'Some gentlemen, Sir.'
It has been conjectured that Mr. Pickwick was on the point of delivering some remarks which would have enlightened the world, if not the Thames, when he was thus interrupted; for he gazed sternly on the waiter's countenance, and then looked round on the company generally, as if seeking for information relative to the new-comers.
'Oh!' said Mr. Winkle, rising, 'some friends of mine--show them in. Very pleasant fellows,' added Mr. Winkle, after the waiter had retired--'officers of the 97th, whose acquaintance I made rather oddly this morning. You will like them very much.'
Mr. Pickwick's equanimity was at once restored. The waiter returned, and ushered three gentlemen into the room.
'Lieutenant Tappleton,' said Mr. Winkle, 'Lieutenant Tappleton, Mr. Pickwick--Doctor Payne, Mr. Pickwick--Mr. Snodgrass you have seen before, my friend Mr. Tupman, Doctor Payne--Doctor Slammer, Mr. Pickwick--Mr. Tupman, Doctor Slam--'
Here Mr. Winkle suddenly paused; for strong emotion was visible on the countenance both of Mr. Tupman and the doctor.
'I have met THIS gentleman before,' said the Doctor, with marked emphasis.
'Indeed!' said Mr. Winkle.
'And--and that person, too, if I am not mistaken,' said the doctor, bestowing a scrutinising glance on the green-coated stranger. 'I think I gave that person a very pressing invitation last night, which he thought proper to decline.' Saying which the doctor scowled magnanimously on the stranger, and whispered his friend Lieutenant Tappleton.
'You don't say so,' said that gentleman, at the conclusion of the whisper.
'I do, indeed,' replied Doctor Slammer.
'You are bound to kick him on the spot,' murmured the owner of the camp-stool, with great importance.
'Do be quiet, Payne,' interposed the lieutenant. 'Will you allow me to ask you, sir,' he said, addressing Mr.