A discovery and a chase
THE supper was ready laid, the chairs were drawn round the table, bottles, jugs, and glasses were arranged upon the side-board, and everything betokened the approach of the most convivial period in the whole four-and-twenty hours.
"Where's Rachael?" said Mr. Wardle.
"Ay, and Jingle?" added Mr. Pickwick.
"Dear me," said the host, "I wonder I haven't missed him before. Why, I don't think I've heard his voice for two hours at least. Emily, my dear, ring the bell."
The bell was rung, and the fat boy appeared.
"Where's Miss Rachael?" He couldn't say.
"Where's Mr. Jingle, then?" He didn't know.
Everybody looked surprised. It was late--past eleven o'clock. Mr. Tupman laughed in his sleeve. They were loitering somewhere, talking about him. Ha, ha! capital notion that--funny.
"Never mind," said Wardle, after a short pause, "they'll turn up presently, I dare say. I never wait supper for anybody."
"Excellent rule, that," said Mr. Pickwick, "admirable."
"Pray, sit down," said the host.
"Certainly," said Mr. Pickwick: and down they sat.
There was a gigantic round of cold beef on the table, and Mr. Pickwick was supplied with a plentiful portion of it. He had raised his fork to his lips, and was on the very point of opening his mouth for the reception of a piece of beef, when the hum of many voices suddenly arose in the kitchen. He paused, and laid down his fork. Mr. Wardle paused too, and insensibly released his hold of the carving-knife, which remained inserted in the beef. He looked at Mr. Pickwick, Mr. Pickwick looked at him.
Heavy footsteps were heard in the passage; the parlour door was suddenly burst open; and the man who had cleaned Mr. Pickwick's boots on his first arrival, rushed into the room, followed by the fat boy, and all the domestics.
"What the devil's the meaning of this?" exclaimed the host.
"The kitchen chimney ain't a-fire, is it, Emma?" inquired the old lady.
"Lor', grandma! No," screamed both the young ladies.
"What's the matter?" roared the master of the house.
The man gasped for breath, and faintly ejaculated--
"They ha' gone, Mas'r!--gone right clean off, sir!" (At this juncture Mr. Tupman was observed to lay down his knife and fork, and to turn very pale.)
"Who's gone?" said Mr. Wardle, fiercely.
"Mus'r Jingle and Miss Rachael, in a po'-chay, from Blue Lion, Muggleton. I was there; but I couldn't stop 'em; so I run off to tell'ee."
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