Weller was so overpowered by this picture that he straightway fell into a most alarming fit of coughing, which must certainly have been attended with some fatal result but for the dexterity and promptitude of Sam, who, taking a firm grasp of the shawl just under his father's chin, shook him to and fro with great violence, at the same time administering some smart blows between his shoulders. By this curious mode of treatment Mr. Weller was finally recovered, but with a very crimson face, and in a state of great exhaustion.
'He'll do now, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, who had been in some alarm himself.
'He'll do, sir!' cried Sam, looking reproachfully at his parent. 'Yes, he WILL do one o' these days, - he'll do for his-self and then he'll wish he hadn't. Did anybody ever see sich a inconsiderate old file, - laughing into conwulsions afore company, and stamping on the floor as if he'd brought his own carpet vith him and wos under a wager to punch the pattern out in a given time? He'll begin again in a minute. There - he's a goin' off - I said he would!'
In fact, Mr. Weller, whose mind was still running upon his precocious grandson, was seen to shake his head from side to side, while a laugh, working like an earthquake, below the surface, produced various extraordinary appearances in his face, chest, and shoulders, - the more alarming because unaccompanied by any noise whatever. These emotions, however, gradually subsided, and after three or four short relapses he wiped his eyes with the cuff of his coat, and looked about him with tolerable composure.
'Afore the governor vith-draws,' said Mr. Weller, 'there is a pint, respecting vich Sammy has a qvestion to ask. Vile that qvestion is a perwadin' this here conwersation, p'raps the genl'men vill permit me to re-tire.'
'Wot are you goin' away for?' demanded Sam, seizing his father by the coat-tail.
'I never see such a undootiful boy as you, Samivel,' returned Mr. Weller. 'Didn't you make a solemn promise, amountin' almost to a speeches o' wow, that you'd put that 'ere qvestion on my account?'
'Well, I'm agreeable to do it,' said Sam, 'but not if you go cuttin' away like that, as the bull turned round and mildly observed to the drover ven they wos a goadin' him into the butcher's door. The fact is, sir,' said Sam, addressing me, 'that he wants to know somethin' respectin' that 'ere lady as is housekeeper here.'
'Ay. What is that?'
'Vy, sir,' said Sam, grinning still more, 'he wishes to know vether she - '
'In short,' interposed old Mr. Weller decisively, a perspiration breaking out upon his forehead, 'vether that 'ere old creetur is or is not a widder.'
Mr. Pickwick laughed heartily, and so did I, as I replied decisively, that 'my housekeeper was a spinster.'
'There!' cried Sam, 'now you're satisfied. You hear she's a spinster.'
'A wot?' said his father, with deep scorn.
'A spinster,' replied Sam.
Mr. Weller looked very hard at his son for a minute or two, and then said,
'Never mind vether she makes jokes or not, that's no matter. Wot I say is, is that 'ere female a widder, or is she not?'
'Wot do you mean by her making jokes?' demanded Sam, quite aghast at the obscurity of his parent's speech.
'Never you mind, Samivel,' returned Mr. Weller gravely; 'puns may be wery good things or they may be wery bad 'uns, and a female may be none the better or she may be none the vurse for making of 'em; that's got nothing to do vith widders.'
'Wy now,' said Sam, looking round, 'would anybody believe as a man at his time o' life could be running his head agin spinsters and punsters being the same thing?'
'There an't a straw's difference between 'em,' said Mr. Weller. 'Your father didn't drive a coach for so many years, not to be ekal to his own langvidge as far as THAT goes, Sammy.'
Avoiding the question of etymology, upon which the old gentleman's mind was quite made up, he was several times assured that the housekeeper had never been married. He expressed great satisfaction on hearing this, and apologised for the question, remarking that he had been greatly terrified by a widow not long before, and that his natural timidity was increased in consequence.