This part is by Marian (and is also posted here). I'm up next. Let us know if you want to write the part after mine!
“It was yesterday evening when it all happened. I had just been over to visit Caddy—Mrs Turveydrop—and I had taken my leave at about half-past seven, much later than I’d intended. I walked down to the end of the street directly and waited there a moment, ready to hail the first cab I saw. I’d not been standing five minutes, however, when a boy in a ragged top hat appeared very suddenly, from out of nowhere, as it seemed. He came up to me in a cautious, fugitive sort of way, and startled me further by speaking my name.
“‘Yes, I am Esther Summerson,’ I said. ‘And you—’
“‘Feller by the name of Allan Woodcourt sent me. Said I’d find you here.’
“‘Hush! it ain’t the time for small talk. Come on—if we don’t get out of here sharp, we’ll find ourselves in a pretty pickle!’
“Within seconds, and without another word, he had darted off again round the corner, having first seized my hand and compelled me to follow him. I had little choice but to trust him; indeed, I followed willingly and as quickly as I could, for at first I was sure some acquaintance of this boy’s had taken ill or was hurt, and that my assistance was wanted. Yet, the frantic pace, the constant stealth, and winding, oft-repetitive route my guide was taking, all began to point to some other reason for urgency; and, though rough and stoic his appearance was, there was a glimmer of fear in that boy’s eyes, a strange kind of fear, as if he were unused to running away. On we ran and he made no remark, but his thoughts were spoken in his face. My surmises were affirmed and myself more alarmed, when, upon looking over my shoulder as we raced down one of those countless alleys, I saw that we were being followed.
“He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, with light brown hair and a face terribly pale—this was all I could see of him; the boy had turned abruptly off our course and dived into another side street, keenly watching the man as he ran past us and disappeared into the hazy darkness ahead. It was here, too, that I could see the boy plainly, in the light of a battered lamp post on the opposite side of the street: his eyes had an extraordinary intensity to them which I have never seen before in a person, and even after the man had apparently lost us, the boy scarcely moved from the shadow of the brick building, keeping the deserted street under a close scrutiny.
“We waited there for what felt like an hour. The boy stood close to the edge of the street, half-obscured by the cover of a dilapidated white awning; I was not sure what he intended to do, but so confused and uneasy had I become in the course of our flight, that I hardly knew which would be worse: to stay in the murky shadows and wait for the unpredictable, or to resume navigating through the lamplit maze of the city. I finally ventured to whisper:
“‘Do you think we have lost him?’
“‘You might think that,’ replied the boy, without turning his head.
“‘Why did Mr Woodcourt ask for me?’ I persisted, yet still in a whisper. ‘And who was that following us?’
“‘Woodcourt told me to take you to Pickwick’s, said it was urgent and you’d understand when we got there. He didn’t know nothin’ about this gentleman following us—I didn’t know nothin’ about him either, till I was well on my way.’
“‘And…what’s your name?’
“The boy turned around a moment. He looked at me, and then said, with a little stiff hesitance, ‘Dodger.’
“He turned sharply round again, and looked up and down the street and alley once more; then he summoned me to follow him. As hastily as before, perhaps more so, we made our way through the city; myself becoming more and more lost as we went on, and more afraid of losing sight of him, but Dodger increasingly more confident in the directions he took. And, though the first quarter of an hour was an anxious one for me, by the end of it, most of my uneasiness had gone away. It was further allayed when, about an hour since I had first met Dodger, I heard the solid, reassuring voice of Big Ben, looming over our heads at a distance not too far away.
“‘Westminster Bridge,’ he stated, pausing to let us catch our breath. We had come upon it all of a sudden, it seemed; but now everything began to look more familiar. ‘Come on. Cross this and we’ll get a cab for the rest of the way.’
“The bridge was somewhat quiet, though not empty. We crossed it in haste. It was on the other side, and just as we were turning away from the bridge, that we heard another sound; it was a shot, ringing out over our heads.
“There was a start and commotion amongst the various people in the crowds around us, but Dodger lost not an instant. He hurried us away again, along the Thames, away from the lights and scene. I then heard a second shot, and saw him fall.
“‘Take this,’ he exclaimed, almost instantly, as he weakly pulled a leaf of paper from his pocket. ‘The address—go at once. Never mind me.’
“‘I won’t leave you here,’ I told him earnestly; but I felt helpless and, for the moment, afraid. There was no way to get him away from that place, or to stop the bleeding which soon drenched his shirt.
“It was about at this time that I heard footsteps, coming up quickly behind me. With a great deal of apprehension, I turned round, but it was not the man who’d fired the shot; no, it was a dark-haired, middle-aged gentleman with a walking stick. He looked very serious and concerned, and had evidently witnessed what had happened.
“‘He needs a doctor, and as soon as possible,’ said the gentleman, addressing me, but surveying the darkness around us with a sharp stare. ‘Are you hurt?’
“‘No, sir, but I do not know what to do. A friend sent this boy to lead me to this address—here on the note—but he cannot be left here.’
“‘Samuel Pickwick? I know him. It must be important…here, let me get you a cab, and you go on to Mr Pickwick’s, Miss—?’
“‘My name’s Nicholas Nickleby; my wife and I live close by. We’ll send for a doctor straight away.’”
Here Esther Summerson stopped her narrative, and, taking Richard’s proffered handkerchief, dried her eyes. It was not until she had done so, that she added:
“I have the note here with me, Mr Pickwick. It was wrong of me, I know, but I could not help but read the message written beneath your address.”
She handed the note over to him, and he took it, assuring her it was perfectly all right. Glancing suddenly at all the people in that room, with the intent of either encouraging them to be quiet or not to hover over his shoulder, Mr Pickwick adjusted his spectacles and read the message aloud:
After a deal of hunting, and consulting with informed persons, we have reason to believe that we have at last discovered the exact meeting place of Pecksniff, Heep, et al. It is the second tavern on Tarpaulin Lane. We also observed that that Tulkinghorn fellow has also joined their crew. Mr Woodcourt, Mr Venus, and I are considering how we might sabotage their plans. I will inform you of any new developments.
“They cannot do this, Mr Pickwick,” said Esther, as soon as he had finished. “We must stop them. We can’t let them walk into this kind of danger, and outnumbered!”
Mr Pickwick, Richard, and Ada all spoke up at once, and tried to offer words of reassurance, but somehow their words fell flat. They could not help but feel uneasy, and see that what she said was true. It was at this moment that Mr Guppy—who, for the last half hour, had been feeling increasingly uncomfortable and unheroic—cleared his throat and announced quickly:
“Miss Summerson, consider it done.”
Everybody turned to him in surprise.
“What do you mean by that?” cried Jenny, looking up sharply.
“Exactly that. That is, what I mean is,” replied Mr Guppy uneasily, inching towards the door. “I have decided to take it upon myself to find this Mr Carton, that the present company may rest easy on their minds as to the conclusion of this…unfortunate case. In short, I am going alone, and in a matter of mere moments.” He hesitated, intending to mournfully add some epilogue of what his heroism might bring upon him, and (to himself) all because of that Mr Woodcourt. But poetry was not his forte; so instead he added, “That’s all. I wish you all a very good morning—good-bye.”
Immediately, Mr William Guppy threw open the door and bolted out, leaving behind him a shower of protestations and exclamations, eclipsed only by the confusion of his thoughts, racing along like a steam engine. He would have wondered if he was quite sane, had he the ability to think of anything except the perilous mission he was about to carry out, as well as the general perplexity he had, as to how he was going to do it. And, indeed, it was in this confuzzled state that he came, stumbling, running, riding in a swerving cab, to the very door of the sinister tavern. Here it was that, at last, he would meet those characters, who had hitherto seemed like nothing but wisps of legend, but whom he would very soon meet, as real as life.
It was little wonder that he stood there for a moment, staring at that door.