Having awakened, Mr. Samuel Pickwick resolves to get at the truth which lies beyond the scene outside his window. He quickly shaves, dresses, and has coffee before going out to hail a cab which is to take him to the Golden Cross where he is to meet his fellow Pickwickians: namely, Mr. Snodgrass, Mr. Tupman, and Mr. Winkle.
On his way to the Golden Cross, Mr. Pickwick engages the cab driver about the business of cab driving, all the while documenting the cab driver’s answers in writing. Little does Mr. Pickwick realize that his note taking is being construed as an act of betrayal by the cab driver. Indeed, when they arrive at the Golden Cross and Mr. Pickwick attempts to pay, the cab driver rejects the fare and challenges Mr. Pickwick to a fight. Mr. Pickwick’s friends come to Mr. Pickwick’s aid but to no avail. The cab driver challenges them all to a fight, drawing a crowd which is by and large sympathetic to the cab driver whose contention is that Mr. Pickwick is an informant, a spy working for a higher authority whose goal is ultimately to discredit the cab driver and possibly to run him out of business. With the crowd staunchly behind him, the cab driver begins to physically assault Mr. Pickwick and his friends. The assault would have ended badly for Mr. Pickwick and his friends but for a stranger, “a tall thin young man in a green coat,” who intervenes and drags Mr. Pickwick and his friends into the relative safety of a travelers’ waiting room. There they share a drink and administer to Mr. Snodgrass’ black eye with a beefsteak when a coachman enters to announce the impending departure of a coach destined for Rochester. As he is headed for Rochester, the stranger gets up to leave only to be joined by Mr. Pickwick and his friends who are likewise headed for Rochester.
During the journey to Rochester, the stranger learns that Mr. Pickwick is a philosopher of sorts, that Mr. Snodgrass is a poet of sorts, that Mr. Winkle is a sportsman of sorts, and that Mr. Tupman is a playboy of sorts. In turn, the Pickwickians learn that the stranger had had a romance with a Spanish lady with whom he had eventually married before she had prematurely died. The Pickwickians note all this down in their notebooks. Indeed, they are so delighted to be in the stranger’s company that when they arrive at Rochester, the Pickwickians manage to have the stranger agree to meet them in the evening for dinner.
At dinner, the combination of wine drinking and the stranger’s loquacity lull Mr. Snodgrass, Mr. Winkle, and Mr. Pickwick into a slumber. Meanwhile, due to a ball which is underway upstairs and which Mr. Tupman is eager to attend, Mr. Tupman is wide awake. He is unable to attend, however, as the stranger with whom he hoped to attend, doesn’t’ have the proper clothing, and as what clothes Mr. Tupman could lend the stranger wouldn’t fit (Mr. Tupman is fat; the stranger is thin) when it occurs to Mr. Tupman that the stranger would fit into Mr. Winkle’s clothes. Thus they borrow a suit belonging to Mr. Winkle, who is asleep, and they attend the ball.
At the ball, the stranger and Mr. Tupman observe and listen as the great personages of Rochester enter, preceded by their names which are announced by the man at the door. (At the stranger’s insistence, Mr. Tupman and the stranger had entered anonymously.) By and by, spotting a wealthy widow and a doctor who is especially keen on the widow, the stranger decides to have some fun by insinuating himself between them. Mr. Tupman watches in shock as the stranger ignores the doctor’s indignation and captivates the widow who is only too glad to dance with the stranger. Mr. Tupman then takes his turn dancing with the widow.
Eventually, the doctor, whose name is Slammer, accosts the stranger and challenges him to a duel. But the stranger dismisses Doctor Slammer, who promises the stranger that he won’t be denied, as someone who is not in his right mind on account of the crowd, the noise, and excessive wine.
The next morning, a knock on his door awakens Mr. Pickwick. Mr. Pickwick is asked about a coat and to whom the coat belongs—a coat which is a “a bright blue dress coat, with a gilt button with P.C. on it.” Mr. Pickwick identifies the owner of the coat to be Mr. Winkle. By and by, Mr. Winkle is awakened and is asked to report to the coffee room on an urgent matter. Mr. Winkle obliges and finds himself face to face with an officer who identifies himself as Dr. Slammer’s representative. The officer informs Mr. Winkle that Dr. Slammer has a grudge to settle vis-a-vis Mr. Winkle but that he would be willing to overlook the offense done unto him if Mr. Winkle would submit a written apology. The officer further informs Mr. Winkle, who can’t imagine how, that Dr. Slammer knows him by name upon inquiring into the owner of “blue dress coat with the gilt button with P.C. on it” which was only discovered this morning to have belonged to Mr. Winkle and which according to Dr. Slammer had been worn by the very man who had had the gall to offend Dr. Slammer the previous night. Subsequently, Mr. Winkle goes to check the condition of his blue dress coat as the officer waits.
To Mr. Winkle’s horror, the blue dress coat shows signs of having been worn the previous night. He incorrectly surmises that account of too much wine he must’ve changed into it last without knowing it and while wearing it offended the man who is currently seeking retribution, again without knowing it because of too much drink.
However, rather than write a written apology, Mr. Winkle decides to accept the challenge to a duel. He accepts it because 1) he’s afraid to lose face and be labeled a coward by his Pickwickian peers, 2) he’s under the false impression that duel facilitators often omit loading the pistols with bullets on purpose, and 3) he’s sure when Mr. Pickwick gets wind of the duel he’ll have the authorities involved—authorities who will put a stop to the affair before it gets deadly.
During breakfast, Mr. Winkle waits for his opportunity to apprise the Pickwickians of his predicament and thinks he has found it when Mr. Snodgrass proposes a walk to a Rochester landmark which no one but Mr. Winkle agrees to partake in. As they walk, counting on Mr. Snodgrass’ inability to keep a secret, which Mr. Winkle thinks is as certain as night follows day, he has Mr. Snodgrass vow to never tell anyone what he—Mr. Winkle—is about to tell Mr. Snodgrass now. To Mr. Winkle’s chagrin, Mr. Snodgrass promises to do just that. To scare Mr. Snodgrass into babbling, Mr. Winkle reminds Mr. Snodgrass that a duel is actually unlawful and that Mr. Snodgrass may be charged in a court of law as an accessory to a crime should he agree to be Mr. Winkle’s second in this affair. Alas, Mr. Snodgrass is steadfast and vows to be faithful to Mr. Winkle to the end.
When Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass arrive at the scene of the duel, they are met by Dr. Slammer’s second, the officer, whose name is revealed to be Tappleton, Lieutenant Tappleton. As seconds Lieutenant Tappleton and Mr. Snodgrass confide, and when the two express satisfaction with the conditions under which the duel is to be conducted, the duelist are asked to take their places. Mr. Winkle and Dr. Slammer do so. However, as the duel is about to begin Dr. Slammer, arguing that Mr. Winkle is not the man who had offended him, cancels the proceedings. Sensing an opportunity to enhance his reputation, Mr. Winkle steps forward to admit that he is indeed not the man, i.e. he ahd agreed to the duel knowing full well that he wasn’t the man who had offended Dr. Slammer. When asked to explain himself, Mr. Winkle claims that he was defending what his coat represented regardless of whether he had offended Dr. Slammer or not.
Hoodwinked into believing that Mr. Winkle’s false gallantry is the genuine article, Dr. Slammer offers Mr. Winkle his friendship. Mr. Winkle accepts, and they agree to an evening social where they and their friends can mingle and share a laugh.