Page:Pieces People Ask For.djvu/32

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dent by her falling up against the rushlight shade; that she persuaded herself it must have been the effect of imagination, was equally clear, for when Mr. Pickwick, under the impression that she had fainted away, stone dead from fright, ventured to peep out again, she was gazing pensively on the fire as before.

"Most extraordinary female this," thought Mr. Pickwick, popping in again. "Ha—hum."

These last sounds, so like those in which, as legends inform us, the ferocious giant Blunderbore was in the habit of expressing his opinion that it was time to lay the cloth, were too distinctly audible to be again mistaken for the workings of fancy.

"Gracious Heaven!" said the middle-aged lady, "what's that?"

"It's—it's—only a gentleman, ma'am," said Mr. Pickwick from behind the curtains.

"A gentleman!" said the lady with a terrific scream.

"It's all over," thought Mr. Pickwick.

"A strange man!" shrieked the lady. Another instant, and the house would be alarmed. Her garments rustled as she rushed towards the door.

"Ma'am"— said Mr. Pickwick, thrusting out his head, in the extremity of his desperation, "ma'am." Now, although Mr. Pickwick was not actuated by any definite object in putting out his head, it was instantaneously productive of a good effect. The lady, as we have already stated, was near the door. She must pass it to reach the staircase; and she would most undoubtedly have done so, by this time, had not the sudden apparition of Mr. Pickwick's nightcap driven her back, into the remotest corner of the apartment, where she stood staring wildly at Mr. Pickwick, while Mr. Pickwick in his turn stared wildly at her.

"Wretch," said the lady, covering her eyes with her hands, "what do you want here?"

"Nothing, ma'am,—nothing whatever, ma'am," said Mr. Pickwick earnestly.

"Nothing!" said the lady looking up.

"Nothing, ma'am, upon my honor," said Mr. Pickwick, nodding his head so energetically, that the tassel of his nightcap danced again. "I am almost ready to sink, ma'am, beneath the confusion of addressing a lady in my nightcap