Today we’re going on a picnic with Mr. Pickwick, the humorous and knowledgeable protagonist of Dickens’s first novel. Mr. Pickwick has recently had an attack of rheumatism, and he himself can’t join in on the partridge-hunt in which Mr. Wardle and the others are preparing to partake; so Sam Weller offers to push him round in a wheelbarrow.
But Mr. Pickwick is concerned about his friend Mr. Winkle’s skill with a gun (and not without good reason).
“I won’t suffer this barrow to be moved another step,” said Mr. Pickwick, resolutely, “unless Winkle carries that gun of his, in a different manner.”
“How am I to carry it?” said the wretched Winkle.
“Carry it with the muzzle to the ground,” replied Mr. Pickwick.
“It’s so unsportsman-like,” reasoned Winkle.
“I don’t care whether it’s unsportsman-like or not,” replied Mr. Pickwick; “I am not going to be shot in a wheelbarrow, for the sake of appearances, to please anybody.”
And then, of course, Mr. Pickwick’s suspicions are confirmed. Mr. Winkle is a regular butter-fingers when it comes to his loaded firearm.
. . . On they crept, and very quietly they would have advanced, if Mr. Winkle, in the performance of some very intricate evolutions with his gun, had not accidentally fired, at the most critical moment, over the boy’s head, exactly in the very spot where the tall man’s brain would have been, had he been there instead.
“Why, what on earth did you do that for?” said old Wardle, as the birds flew unharmed away.
“I never saw such a gun in my life,” replied poor Mr. Winkle, looking at the lock, as if that would do any good. “It goes off of its own accord. It will do it.”
“Will do it!” echoed Wardle, with something of irritation in his manner. “I wish it would kill something of its own accord.”
“It’ll do that afore long, sir,” observed the tall man, in a low, prophetic voice.
“What do you mean by that observation, sir?” inquired Mr. Winkle, angrily.
“Never mind, sir, never mind,” replied the long gamekeeper; “I’ve no family myself, sir; and this here boy’s mother will get something handsome from Sir Geoffrey, if he’s killed on his land. Load again, sir, load again.”
“Take away his gun,” cried Mr. Pickwick from the barrow, horror-stricken at the long man’s dark insinuations. “Take away his gun, do you hear, somebody?”
Nobody, however, volunteered to obey the command; and Mr. Winkle, after darting a rebellious glance at Mr. Pickwick, reloaded his gun, and proceeded onwards with the rest.
Yikes! But never fear; no one actually dies. The trekkers merely go on to a comfortable spot in the shade of a great tree, where they stop to have lunch. It might be said, that Mr. Pickwick’s favorite part was the cold punch.
“Well, that certainly is most capital cold punch,” said Mr. Pickwick, looking earnestly at the stone bottle; “and the day is extremely warm, and — Tupman, my dear friend, a glass of punch?”
“With the greatest delight,” replied Mr. Tupman; and having drank that glass, Mr. Pickwick took another, just to see whether there was any orange peel in the punch, because orange peel always disagreed with him; and finding that there was not, Mr. Pickwick took another glass to the health of their absent friend, and then felt himself imperatively called upon to propose another in honour of the punch-compounder, unknown.
The constant succession of glasses produced considerable effect upon Mr. Pickwick; his countenance beamed with the most sunny smiles, laughter played around his lips, and good-humoured merriment twinkled in his eye. Yielding by degrees to the influence of the exciting liquid, rendered more so by the heat, Mr. Pickwick expressed a strong desire to recollect a song which he had heard in his infancy, and the attempt proving abortive, sought to stimulate his memory with more glasses of punch, which appeared to have quite a contrary effect; for, from forgetting the words of the song, he began to forget how to articulate any words at all; and finally, after rising to his legs to address the company in an eloquent speech, he fell into the barrow, and fast asleep, simultaneously.
But that’s hardly the end of Mr. Pickwick’s adventure, I’m afraid. For, you see, although his friends leave him there in the barrow, so as to go off on their hunt again, he’s quickly stumbled upon by Captain Boldwig, the owner of the land on which his sleepy barrow is resting.
“Who are you, you rascal?” said the Captain, administering several pokes to Mr. Pickwick’s body with his thick stick. “What’s your name?”
“Cold punch,” murmured Mr. Pickwick, as he sunk to sleep again.
“What?” demanded Captain Boldwig.
“What did he say his name was?” asked the Captain.
“Punch, I think, sir,” replied Wilkins.
“That’s his impudence, that’s his confounded impudence,” said Captain Boldwig.
If you remember the comical characters of Punch and Judy, you’ll understand what Captain Boldwig means.
“He’s only feigning to be asleep now,” said the Captain, in a high passion. “He’s drunk; he’s a drunken plebeian. Wheel him away, Wilkins, wheel him away directly.”
“Where shall I wheel him to, sir?” inquired Wilkins, with great timidity.
“Wheel him to the Devil,” replied Captain Boldwig.
“Very well, sir,” said Wilkins . . .
Inexpressible was the astonishment of the little party (Mr. Pickwick’s party) when they returned, to find that Mr. Pickwick had disappeared, and taken the wheelbarrow with him. It was the most mysterious and unaccountable thing that was ever heard of.
So Mr. Pickwick’s friends are forced to leave without him; and meanwhile, Mr. Pickwick is wheeled to jail, where he wakes from his punch-induced stupor, to find himself alone, albeit surrounded by people who proceed to throw turnips, potatoes and eggs at him. But, thankfully — soon Mr. Wardle arrives, and bails him out of his strange predicament.
And with that, ladies and gentlemen — Mr. Pickwick’s picnic is at an end. But we’ll be back soon with more Pickwickian adventures!