Several dozen of 'How-are-you's?' hailed the old gentleman's arrival; and a general raising of the straw hats, and bending forward of the flannel jackets, followed his introduction of his guests as gentlemen from London, who were extremely anxious to witness the proceedings of the day, with which, he had no doubt, they would be greatly delighted.
'You had better step into the marquee, I think, Sir,' said one very stout gentleman, whose body and legs looked like half a gigantic roll of flannel, elevated on a couple of inflated pillow-cases.
'You'll find it much pleasanter, Sir,' urged another stout gentleman, who strongly resembled the other half of the roll of flannel aforesaid.
'You're very good,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'This way,' said the first speaker; 'they notch in here--it's the best place in the whole field;' and the cricketer, panting on before, preceded them to the tent.
'Capital game--smart sport--fine exercise--very,' were the words which fell upon Mr. Pickwick's ear as he entered the tent; and the first object that met his eyes was his green-coated friend of the Rochester coach, holding forth, to the no small delight and edification of a select circle of the chosen of All-Muggleton. His dress was slightly improved, and he wore boots; but there was no mistaking him.
The stranger recognised his friends immediately; and, darting forward and seizing Mr. Pickwick by the hand, dragged him to a seat with his usual impetuosity, talking all the while as if the whole of the arrangements were under his especial patronage and direction.
'This way--this way--capital fun--lots of beer--hogsheads; rounds of beef--bullocks; mustard--cart-loads; glorious day-- down with you--make yourself at home--glad to see you-- very.'
Mr. Pickwick sat down as he was bid, and Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass also complied with the directions of their mysterious friend. Mr. Wardle looked on in silent wonder.
'Mr. Wardle--a friend of mine,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Friend of yours!--My dear sir, how are you?--Friend of my friend's--give me your hand, sir'--and the stranger grasped Mr. Wardle's hand with all the fervour of a close intimacy of many years, and then stepped back a pace or two as if to take a full survey of his face and figure, and then shook hands with him again, if possible, more warmly than before.
'Well; and how came you here?' said Mr. Pickwick, with a smile in which benevolence struggled with surprise. 'Come,' replied the stranger--'stopping at Crown--Crown at Muggleton--met a party--flannel jackets--white trousers-- anchovy sandwiches--devilled kidney--splendid fellows--glorious.'
Mr. Pickwick was sufficiently versed in the stranger's system of stenography to infer from this rapid and disjointed communication that he had, somehow or other, contracted an acquaintance with the All-Muggletons, which he had converted, by a process peculiar to himself, into that extent of good-fellowship on which a general invitation may be easily founded. His curiosity was therefore satisfied, and putting on his spectacles he prepared himself to watch the play which was just commencing.
All-Muggleton had the first innings; and the interest became intense when Mr. Dumkins and Mr. Podder, two of the most renowned members of that most distinguished club, walked, bat in hand, to their respective wickets. Mr. Luffey, the highest ornament of Dingley Dell, was pitched to bowl against the redoubtable Dumkins, and Mr. Struggles was selected to do the same kind office for the hitherto unconquered Podder. Several players were stationed, to 'look out,' in different parts of the field, and each fixed himself into the proper attitude by placing one hand on each knee, and stooping very much as if he were 'making a back' for some beginner at leap-frog. All the regular players do this sort of thing;--indeed it is generally supposed that it is quite impossible to look out properly in any other position.
The umpires were stationed behind the wickets; the scorers were prepared to notch the runs; a breathless silence ensued. Mr.