Mr. Pickwick could scarcely forbear smiling, but managing to preserve his gravity, he drew forth the coin, and placed it in Mr. Smangle’s palm; upon which, that gentleman, with many nods and winks, implying profound mystery, disappeared in quest of the three strangers, with whom he presently returned; and having coughed thrice, and nodded as many times, as an assurance to Mr. Pickwick that he would not forget to pay, he shook hands all round, in an engaging manner, and at length took himself off.
‘My dear friends,’ said Mr. Pickwick, shaking hands alternately with Mr. Tupman, Mr. Winkle, and Mr. Snodgrass, who were the three visitors in question, ‘I am delighted to see you.’
The triumvirate were much affected. Mr. Tupman shook his head deploringly, Mr. Snodgrass drew forth his handkerchief, with undisguised emotion; and Mr. Winkle retired to the window, and sniffed aloud.
‘Mornin’, gen’l’m’n,’ said Sam, entering at the moment with the shoes and gaiters. ‘Avay vith melincholly, as the little boy said ven his schoolmissus died. Velcome to the college, gen’l’m’n.’
‘This foolish fellow,’ said Mr. Pickwick, tapping Sam on the head as he knelt down to button up his master’s gaiters—’this foolish fellow has got himself arrested, in order to be near me.’
‘What!’ exclaimed the three friends.
‘Yes, gen’l’m’n,’ said Sam, ‘I’m a—stand steady, sir, if you please—I’m a prisoner, gen’l’m’n. Con-fined, as the lady said.’
‘A prisoner!’ exclaimed Mr. Winkle, with unaccountable vehemence.
‘Hollo, sir!’ responded Sam, looking up. ‘Wot’s the matter, Sir?’
‘I had hoped, Sam, that—Nothing, nothing,’ said Mr. Winkle precipitately.
There was something so very abrupt and unsettled in Mr. Winkle’s manner, that Mr. Pickwick involuntarily looked at his two friends for an explanation.
‘We don’t know,’ said Mr. Tupman, answering this mute appeal aloud. ‘He has been much excited for two days past, and his whole demeanour very unlike what it usually is. We feared there must be something the matter, but he resolutely denies it.’
‘No, no,’ said Mr. Winkle, colouring beneath Mr. Pickwick’s gaze; ‘there is really nothing. I assure you there is nothing, my dear sir. It will be necessary for me to leave town, for a short time, on private business, and I had hoped to have prevailed upon you to allow Sam to accompany me.’
Mr. Pickwick looked more astonished than before.
‘I think,’ faltered Mr. Winkle, ‘that Sam would have had no objection to do so; but, of course, his being a prisoner here, renders it impossible. So I must go alone.’
As Mr. Winkle said these words, Mr. Pickwick felt, with some astonishment, that Sam’s fingers were trembling at the gaiters, as if he were rather surprised or startled. Sam looked up at Mr. Winkle, too, when he had finished speaking; and though the glance they exchanged was instantaneous, they seemed to understand each other.
‘Do you know anything of this, Sam?’ said Mr. Pickwick sharply.
‘No, I don’t, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller, beginning to button with extraordinary assiduity.
‘Are you sure, Sam?’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Wy, sir,’ responded Mr. Weller; ‘I’m sure so far, that I’ve never heerd anythin’ on the subject afore this moment. If I makes any guess about it,’ added Sam, looking at Mr. Winkle, ‘I haven’t got any right to say what ‘It is, fear it should be a wrong ‘un.’
‘I have no right to make any further inquiry into the private affairs of a friend, however intimate a friend,’ said Mr. Pickwick, after a short silence; ‘at present let me merely say, that I do not understand this at all. There. We have had quite enough of the subject.’
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