They drew near the house. The ladies were at the garden gate, waiting for their arrival and their breakfast. The spinster aunt appeared; she smiled, and beckoned them to walk quicker. 'Twas evident she knew not of the disaster. Poor thing! there are times when ignorance is bliss indeed.
They approached nearer.
'Why, what is the matter with the little old gentleman?' said Isabella Wardle. The spinster aunt heeded not the remark; she thought it applied to Mr. Pickwick. In her eyes Tracy Tupman was a youth; she viewed his years through a diminishing glass.
'Don't be frightened,' called out the old host, fearful of alarming his daughters. The little party had crowded so completely round Mr. Tupman, that they could not yet clearly discern the nature of the accident.
'Don't be frightened,' said the host.
'What's the matter?' screamed the ladies.
'Mr. Tupman has met with a little accident; that's all.'
The spinster aunt uttered a piercing scream, burst into an hysteric laugh, and fell backwards in the arms of her nieces.
'Throw some cold water over her,' said the old gentleman.
'No, no,' murmured the spinster aunt; 'I am better now. Bella, Emily--a surgeon! Is he wounded?--Is he dead?--Is he-- Ha, ha, ha!' Here the spinster aunt burst into fit number two, of hysteric laughter interspersed with screams.
'Calm yourself,' said Mr. Tupman, affected almost to tears by this expression of sympathy with his sufferings. 'Dear, dear madam, calm yourself.'
'It is his voice!' exclaimed the spinster aunt; and strong symptoms of fit number three developed themselves forthwith.
'Do not agitate yourself, I entreat you, dearest madam,' said Mr. Tupman soothingly. 'I am very little hurt, I assure you.'
'Then you are not dead!' ejaculated the hysterical lady. 'Oh, say you are not dead!'
'Don't be a fool, Rachael,' interposed Mr. Wardle, rather more roughly than was consistent with the poetic nature of the scene. 'What the devil's the use of his saying he isn't dead?'
'No, no, I am not,' said Mr. Tupman. 'I require no assistance but yours. Let me lean on your arm.' He added, in a whisper, 'Oh, Miss Rachael!' The agitated female advanced, and offered her arm. They turned into the breakfast parlour. Mr. Tracy Tupman gently pressed her hand to his lips, and sank upon the sofa.
'Are you faint?' inquired the anxious Rachael.
'No,' said Mr. Tupman. 'It is nothing. I shall be better presently.' He closed his eyes.
'He sleeps,' murmured the spinster aunt. (His organs of vision had been closed nearly twenty seconds.) 'Dear--dear--Mr. Tupman!'
Mr. Tupman jumped up--'Oh, say those words again!' he exclaimed.
The lady started. 'Surely you did not hear them!' she said bashfully.
'Oh, yes, I did!' replied Mr. Tupman; 'repeat them. If you would have me recover, repeat them.' 'Hush!' said the lady. 'My brother.' Mr. Tracy Tupman resumed his former position; and Mr. Wardle, accompanied by a surgeon, entered the room.
The arm was examined, the wound dressed, and pronounced to be a very slight one; and the minds of the company having been thus satisfied, they proceeded to satisfy their appetites with countenances to which an expression of cheerfulness was again restored. Mr. Pickwick alone was silent and reserved. Doubt and distrust were exhibited in his countenance. His confidence in Mr. Winkle had been shaken--greatly shaken--by the proceedings of the morning. 'Are you a cricketer?' inquired Mr. Wardle of the marksman.
At any other time, Mr. Winkle would have replied in the affirmative. He felt the delicacy of his situation, and modestly replied, 'No.'
'Are you, sir?' inquired Mr. Snodgrass.
'I was once upon a time,' replied the host; 'but I have given it up now. I subscribe to the club here, but I don't play.'
'The grand match is played to-day, I believe,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'It is,' replied the host. 'Of course you would like to see it.'
'I, sir,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'am delighted to view any sports which may be safely indulged in, and in which the impotent effects of unskilful people do not endanger human life.' Mr. Pickwick paused, and looked steadily on Mr.