'Beg your pardon, sir,' said the stranger, 'bottle stands--pass it round--way of the sun--through the button-hole--no heeltaps,' and he emptied his glass, which he had filled about two minutes before, and poured out another, with the air of a man who was used to it.
The wine was passed, and a fresh supply ordered. The visitor talked, the Pickwickians listened. Mr. Tupman felt every moment more disposed for the ball. Mr. Pickwick's countenance glowed with an expression of universal philanthropy, and Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass fell fast asleep.
'They're beginning upstairs,' said the stranger--'hear the company--fiddles tuning--now the harp--there they go.' The various sounds which found their way downstairs announced the commencement of the first quadrille.
'How I should like to go,' said Mr. Tupman again.
'So should I,' said the stranger--'confounded luggage,--heavy smacks--nothing to go in--odd, ain't it?'
Now general benevolence was one of the leading features of the Pickwickian theory, and no one was more remarkable for the zealous manner in which he observed so noble a principle than Mr. Tracy Tupman. The number of instances recorded on the Transactions of the Society, in which that excellent man referred objects of charity to the houses of other members for left-off garments or pecuniary relief is almost incredible. 'I should be very happy to lend you a change of apparel for the purpose,' said Mr. Tracy Tupman, 'but you are rather slim, and I am--'
'Rather fat--grown-up Bacchus--cut the leaves--dismounted from the tub, and adopted kersey, eh?--not double distilled, but double milled--ha! ha! pass the wine.'
Whether Mr. Tupman was somewhat indignant at the peremptory tone in which he was desired to pass the wine which the stranger passed so quickly away, or whether he felt very properly scandalised at an influential member of the Pickwick Club being ignominiously compared to a dismounted Bacchus, is a fact not yet completely ascertained. He passed the wine, coughed twice, and looked at the stranger for several seconds with a stern intensity; as that individual, however, appeared perfectly collected, and quite calm under his searching glance, he gradually relaxed, and reverted to the subject of the ball.
'I was about to observe, Sir,' he said, 'that though my apparel would be too large, a suit of my friend Mr. Winkle's would, perhaps, fit you better.'
The stranger took Mr. Winkle's measure with his eye, and that feature glistened with satisfaction as he said, 'Just the thing.'
Mr. Tupman looked round him. The wine, which had exerted its somniferous influence over Mr. Snodgrass and Mr. Winkle, had stolen upon the senses of Mr. Pickwick. That gentleman had gradually passed through the various stages which precede the lethargy produced by dinner, and its consequences. He had undergone the ordinary transitions from the height of conviviality to the depth of misery, and from the depth of misery to the height of conviviality. Like a gas-lamp in the street, with the wind in the pipe, he had exhibited for a moment an unnatural brilliancy, then sank so low as to be scarcely discernible; after a short interval, he had burst out again, to enlighten for a moment; then flickered with an uncertain, staggering sort of light, and then gone out altogether.