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Summary Chapter 21

Mr. Pickwick’s presence in Mr. Lowten’s company has had sobering effect on the party: No one is willing to sing lest he embarrass himself before a stranger. So to put them at ease, Mr. Pickwick mentions his temporary lodgings at a London inn, compelling Jack Bamber, who is an old man of Mr. Lowten’s company and whose modus operandi is perpetual silence, to break his silence and speak at length.

Jack Bamber begins with a couple of anecdotes about men whose penury drove them to despair and suicide. Then he relates a tale of a man who rents a cheap room in an unpromising looking inn only to find that it is haunted by a ghost. Subsequently, the man and the ghost carry on a conversation in which the man persuades the ghost to haunt a more cheerful place, after all the limitations of space are hardly issues for a ghost, are they?

When one of Mr. Lowten’s friends expresses his doubts about the last tale, Jack Bamber begins a story about the queer client which he states occurred while he was an attorney.

“The Old Man’s Tale About The Queer Client” revolves around a man named Heyling who is languishing in debtor’s prison while his wife and son are doing worse outside. Indeed, it isn’t long before his son dies. When his wife dies soon thereafter, Heyling resolves to exact revenge on the man who is responsible. Indeed, his thirst for revenge is so all-consuming that he falls into a delirium during which he witnesses the death of a ship’s crew which capsizes before a furious storm only to see one lone survivor, an old man, rise to the surface and struggle for survival. Determined to deny the old man his salvation, Heyling, who is on a trailing ship, dives into the water and drowns the old man.

Heyling’s delirium continues with him trudging through a desert on the verge of death when he comes across a water spring. Heyling is thus revitalized when an old man in a similar plight tries to revitalize himself on the water spring. Alas, Heyling prevents the old man from revitalizing himself and the old man dies.

When Heyling’s fever breaks and he awakes from his delirium, he learns that his father, who was willing to leave his own son Heyerling languishing in debtor’s prison, has died. Moreover, he learns that he has inherited his father’s wealth. Thus Heyling repairs himself to a house in a seacoast to convalesce. He hopes to convalesce to have the strength to exact revenge on his father-in-law, who was the man who had incarcerated Heyling in a debtor’s prison in the first the place and who could have easily saved his wife and son but didn’t.

One evening, Heyling goes out on the beach when he hears shouts of distress. There is a man drowning. Heyling prepares to plunge into the water to save the man when an old man urges Heyling to hurry. Suddenly, Heyling stops, and despite the old man’s entreaties, Heyling allows the man in distress to drown to death. As it turns out, the old man is Heyling’s father-in-law, and the drowning the man is his father-in-law’s son.

Three years later, a stranger walks into an attorney’s office and commissions an attorney to do all he can to punish a man, who is defaulted on his debts, to the utmost which the law allows. When the attorney wonders if this wise, considering the costs involved, the stranger assures the attorney not to spare any expense as he—the stranger—will cover the costs no matter how high. Thus the attorney does all he can to make the debtor’s life miserable only to inform the stranger of bad news: the debtor has fled and is nowhere to be found.

A half year passes when the stranger, Heyling, comes to tell the attorney that he himself has found the debtor, Heyling’s father-in-law. Together they arrive at a course of action that would imprison the debtor in a debtor’s prison. Heyling himself does the honor of informing the debtor. Alas, when the Heyling confronts his father-in-law, the debtor is so dispirited that he dies there and then.

Charles Dickens