The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, by Charles Dickens

CHAPTER XXXIII

Mr. Weller the elder delivers some Critical Sentiments respecting Literary Composition; and, assisted by his Son Samuel, pays a small Instalment of Retaliation to the Account of the Reverend Gentleman with the Red Nose

The morning of the thirteenth of February, which the readers of this authentic narrative know, as well as we do, to have been the day immediately preceding that which was appointed for the trial of Mrs. Bardell’s action, was a busy time for Mr. Samuel Weller, who was perpetually engaged in travelling from the George and Vulture to Mr. Perker’s chambers and back again, from and between the hours of nine o’clock in the morning and two in the afternoon, both inclusive. Not that there was anything whatever to be done, for the consultation had taken place, and the course of proceeding to be adopted, had been finally determined on; but Mr. Pickwick being in a most extreme state of excitement, persevered in constantly sending small notes to his attorney, merely containing the inquiry, ‘Dear Perker. Is all going on well?’ to which Mr. Perker invariably forwarded the reply, ‘Dear Pickwick. As well as possible’; the fact being, as we have already hinted, that there was nothing whatever to go on, either well or ill, until the sitting of the court on the following morning.

But people who go voluntarily to law, or are taken forcibly there, for the first time, may be allowed to labour under some temporary irritation and anxiety; and Sam, with a due allowance for the frailties of human nature, obeyed all his master’s behests with that imperturbable good-humour and unruffable composure which formed one of his most striking and amiable characteristics.

Sam had solaced himself with a most agreeable little dinner, and was waiting at the bar for the glass of warm mixture in which Mr. Pickwick had requested him to drown the fatigues of his morning’s walks, when a young boy of about three feet high, or thereabouts, in a hairy cap and fustian overalls, whose garb bespoke a laudable ambition to attain in time the elevation of an hostler, entered the passage of the George and Vulture, and looked first up the stairs, and then along the passage, and then into the bar, as if in search of somebody to whom he bore a commission; whereupon the barmaid, conceiving it not improbable that the said commission might be directed to the tea or table spoons of the establishment, accosted the boy with —

‘Now, young man, what do you want?’

‘Is there anybody here, named Sam?’ inquired the youth, in a loud voice of treble quality.

‘What’s the t’other name?’ said Sam Weller, looking round.

‘How should I know?’ briskly replied the young gentleman below the hairy cap. ‘You’re a sharp boy, you are,’ said Mr. Weller; ‘only I wouldn’t show that wery fine edge too much, if I was you, in case anybody took it off. What do you mean by comin’ to a hot-el, and asking arter Sam, vith as much politeness as a vild Indian?’

‘‘Cos an old gen’l’m’n told me to,’ replied the boy.

‘What old gen’l’m’n?’ inquired Sam, with deep disdain.

‘Him as drives a Ipswich coach, and uses our parlour,’ rejoined the boy. ‘He told me yesterday mornin’ to come to the George and Wultur this arternoon, and ask for Sam.’

‘It’s my father, my dear,’ said Mr. Weller, turning with an explanatory air to the young lady in the bar; ‘blessed if I think he hardly knows wot my other name is. Well, young brockiley sprout, wot then?’

‘Why then,’ said the boy, ‘you was to come to him at six o’clock to our ‘ouse, ‘cos he wants to see you — Blue Boar, Leaden’all Markit. Shall I say you’re comin’?’

‘You may wenture on that ‘ere statement, Sir,’ replied Sam. And thus empowered, the young gentleman walked away, awakening all the echoes in George Yard as he did so, with several chaste and extremely correct imitations of a drover’s whistle, delivered in a tone of peculiar richness and volume.

Mr. Weller having obtained leave of absence from Mr. Pickwick, who, in his then state of excitement and worry, was by no means displeased at being left alone, set forth, long before the appointed hour, and having plenty of time at his disposal, sauntered down as far as the Mansion House, where he paused and contemplated, with a face of great calmness and philosophy, the numerous cads and drivers of short stages who assemble near that famous place of resort, to the great terror and confusion of the old-lady population of these realms. Having loitered here, for half an hour or so, Mr. Weller turned, and began wending his way towards Leadenhall Market, through a variety of by-streets and courts. As he was sauntering away his spare time, and stopped to look at almost every object that met his gaze, it is by no means surprising that Mr. Weller should have paused before a small stationer’s and print-seller’s window; but without further explanation it does appear surprising that his eyes should have no sooner rested on certain pictures which were exposed for sale therein, than he gave a sudden start, smote his right leg with great vehemence, and exclaimed, with energy, ‘if it hadn’t been for this, I should ha’ forgot all about it, till it was too late!’

The particular picture on which Sam Weller’s eyes were fixed, as he said this, was a highly-coloured representation of a couple of human hearts skewered together with an arrow, cooking before a cheerful fire, while a male and female cannibal in modern attire, the gentleman being clad in a blue coat and white trousers, and the lady in a deep red pelisse with a parasol of the same, were approaching the meal with hungry eyes, up a serpentine gravel path leading thereunto. A decidedly indelicate young gentleman, in a pair of wings and nothing else, was depicted as superintending the cooking; a representation of the spire of the church in Langham Place, London, appeared in the distance; and the whole formed a ‘valentine,’ of which, as a written inscription in the window testified, there was a large assortment within, which the shopkeeper pledged himself to dispose of, to his countrymen generally, at the reduced rate of one-and-sixpence each.

‘I should ha’ forgot it; I should certainly ha’ forgot it!’ said Sam; so saying, he at once stepped into the stationer’s shop, and requested to be served with a sheet of the best gilt-edged letter-paper, and a hard-nibbed pen which could be warranted not to splutter. These articles having been promptly supplied, he walked on direct towards Leadenhall Market at a good round pace, very different from his recent lingering one. Looking round him, he there beheld a signboard on which the painter’s art had delineated something remotely resembling a cerulean elephant with an aquiline nose in lieu of trunk. Rightly conjecturing that this was the Blue Boar himself, he stepped into the house, and inquired concerning his parent.

‘He won’t be here this three-quarters of an hour or more,’ said the young lady who superintended the domestic arrangements of the Blue Boar.

‘Wery good, my dear,’ replied Sam. ‘Let me have nine-penn’oth o’ brandy-and-water luke, and the inkstand, will you, miss?’

The brandy-and-water luke, and the inkstand, having been carried into the little parlour, and the young lady having carefully flattened down the coals to prevent their blazing, and carried away the poker to preclude the possibility of the fire being stirred, without the full privity and concurrence of the Blue Boar being first had and obtained, Sam Weller sat himself down in a box near the stove, and pulled out the sheet of gilt-edged letter-paper, and the hard-nibbed pen. Then looking carefully at the pen to see that there were no hairs in it, and dusting down the table, so that there might be no crumbs of bread under the paper, Sam tucked up the cuffs of his coat, squared his elbows, and composed himself to write.

To ladies and gentlemen who are not in the habit of devoting themselves practically to the science of penmanship, writing a letter is no very easy task; it being always considered necessary in such cases for the writer to recline his head on his left arm, so as to place his eyes as nearly as possible on a level with the paper, and, while glancing sideways at the letters he is constructing, to form with his tongue imaginary characters to correspond. These motions, although unquestionably of the greatest assistance to original composition, retard in some degree the progress of the writer; and Sam had unconsciously been a full hour and a half writing words in small text, smearing out wrong letters with his little finger, and putting in new ones which required going over very often to render them visible through the old blots, when he was roused by the opening of the door and the entrance of his parent.

‘Vell, Sammy,’ said the father.

‘Vell, my Prooshan Blue,’ responded the son, laying down his pen. ‘What’s the last bulletin about mother-in-law?’

‘Mrs. Veller passed a very good night, but is uncommon perwerse, and unpleasant this mornin’. Signed upon oath, Tony Veller, Esquire. That’s the last vun as was issued, Sammy,’ replied Mr. Weller, untying his shawl.

‘No better yet?’ inquired Sam.

‘All the symptoms aggerawated,’ replied Mr. Weller, shaking his head. ‘But wot’s that, you’re a-doin’ of? Pursuit of knowledge under difficulties, Sammy?’

‘I’ve done now,’ said Sam, with slight embarrassment; ‘I’ve been a-writin’.’

‘So I see,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘Not to any young ‘ooman, I hope, Sammy?’

‘Why, it’s no use a-sayin’ it ain’t,’ replied Sam; ‘it’s a walentine.’

‘A what!’ exclaimed Mr. Weller, apparently horror-stricken by the word.

‘A walentine,’ replied Sam. ‘Samivel, Samivel,’ said Mr. Weller, in reproachful accents, ‘I didn’t think you’d ha’ done it. Arter the warnin’ you’ve had o’ your father’s wicious propensities; arter all I’ve said to you upon this here wery subject; arter actiwally seein’ and bein’ in the company o’ your own mother-in-law, vich I should ha’ thought wos a moral lesson as no man could never ha’ forgotten to his dyin’ day! I didn’t think you’d ha’ done it, Sammy, I didn’t think you’d ha’ done it!’ These reflections were too much for the good old man. He raised Sam’s tumbler to his lips and drank off its contents.

‘Wot’s the matter now?’ said Sam.

‘Nev’r mind, Sammy,’ replied Mr. Weller, ‘it’ll be a wery agonisin’ trial to me at my time of life, but I’m pretty tough, that’s vun consolation, as the wery old turkey remarked wen the farmer said he wos afeerd he should be obliged to kill him for the London market.’

‘Wot’ll be a trial?’ inquired Sam. ‘To see you married, Sammy — to see you a dilluded wictim, and thinkin’ in your innocence that it’s all wery capital,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘It’s a dreadful trial to a father’s feelin’s, that ‘ere, Sammy —’

‘Nonsense,’ said Sam. ‘I ain’t a-goin’ to get married, don’t you fret yourself about that; I know you’re a judge of these things. Order in your pipe and I’ll read you the letter. There!’

We cannot distinctly say whether it was the prospect of the pipe, or the consolatory reflection that a fatal disposition to get married ran in the family, and couldn’t be helped, which calmed Mr. Weller’s feelings, and caused his grief to subside. We should be rather disposed to say that the result was attained by combining the two sources of consolation, for he repeated the second in a low tone, very frequently; ringing the bell meanwhile, to order in the first. He then divested himself of his upper coat; and lighting the pipe and placing himself in front of the fire with his back towards it, so that he could feel its full heat, and recline against the mantel-piece at the same time, turned towards Sam, and, with a countenance greatly mollified by the softening influence of tobacco, requested him to ‘fire away.’

Sam dipped his pen into the ink to be ready for any corrections, and began with a very theatrical air —

‘“Lovely —”’

‘Stop,’ said Mr. Weller, ringing the bell. ‘A double glass o’ the inwariable, my dear.’

‘Very well, Sir,’ replied the girl; who with great quickness appeared, vanished, returned, and disappeared.

‘They seem to know your ways here,’ observed Sam.

‘Yes,’ replied his father, ‘I’ve been here before, in my time. Go on, Sammy.’

‘“Lovely creetur,”’ repeated Sam.

‘‘Tain’t in poetry, is it?’ interposed his father.

‘No, no,’ replied Sam.

‘Wery glad to hear it,’ said Mr. Weller. ‘Poetry’s unnat’ral; no man ever talked poetry ‘cept a beadle on boxin’-day, or Warren’s blackin’, or Rowland’s oil, or some of them low fellows; never you let yourself down to talk poetry, my boy. Begin agin, Sammy.’

Mr. Weller resumed his pipe with critical solemnity, and Sam once more commenced, and read as follows:

‘“Lovely creetur I feel myself a damned —”’ ‘That ain’t proper,’ said Mr. Weller, taking his pipe from his mouth.

‘No; it ain’t “damned,”’ observed Sam, holding the letter up to the light, ‘it’s “shamed,” there’s a blot there —“I feel myself ashamed.”’

‘Wery good,’ said Mr. Weller. ‘Go on.’

‘“Feel myself ashamed, and completely cir —’ I forget what this here word is,’ said Sam, scratching his head with the pen, in vain attempts to remember.

‘Why don’t you look at it, then?’ inquired Mr. Weller.

‘So I am a-lookin’ at it,’ replied Sam, ‘but there’s another blot. Here’s a “c,” and a “i,” and a “d.”’

‘Circumwented, p’raps,’ suggested Mr. Weller.

‘No, it ain’t that,’ said Sam, ‘“circumscribed”; that’s it.’

‘That ain’t as good a word as “circumwented,” Sammy,’ said Mr. Weller gravely.

‘Think not?’ said Sam.

‘Nothin’ like it,’ replied his father.

‘But don’t you think it means more?’ inquired Sam.

‘Vell p’raps it’s a more tenderer word,’ said Mr. Weller, after a few moments’ reflection. ‘Go on, Sammy.’

‘“Feel myself ashamed and completely circumscribed in a-dressin’ of you, for you are a nice gal and nothin’ but it.”’

‘That’s a wery pretty sentiment,’ said the elder Mr. Weller, removing his pipe to make way for the remark.

‘Yes, I think it is rayther good,’ observed Sam, highly flattered.

‘Wot I like in that ‘ere style of writin’,’ said the elder Mr. Weller, ‘is, that there ain’t no callin’ names in it — no Wenuses, nor nothin’ o’ that kind. Wot’s the good o’ callin’ a young ‘ooman a Wenus or a angel, Sammy?’

‘Ah! what, indeed?’ replied Sam.

‘You might jist as well call her a griffin, or a unicorn, or a king’s arms at once, which is wery well known to be a collection o’ fabulous animals,’ added Mr. Weller.

‘Just as well,’ replied Sam.

‘Drive on, Sammy,’ said Mr. Weller.

Sam complied with the request, and proceeded as follows; his father continuing to smoke, with a mixed expression of wisdom and complacency, which was particularly edifying.

‘“Afore I see you, I thought all women was alike.”’

‘So they are,’ observed the elder Mr. Weller parenthetically.

‘“But now,”’ continued Sam, ‘“now I find what a reg’lar soft-headed, inkred’lous turnip I must ha’ been; for there ain’t nobody like you, though I like you better than nothin’ at all.” I thought it best to make that rayther strong,’ said Sam, looking up.

Mr. Weller nodded approvingly, and Sam resumed.

‘“So I take the privilidge of the day, Mary, my dear — as the gen’l’m’n in difficulties did, ven he valked out of a Sunday — to tell you that the first and only time I see you, your likeness was took on my hart in much quicker time and brighter colours than ever a likeness was took by the profeel macheen (wich p’raps you may have heerd on Mary my dear) altho it DOES finish a portrait and put the frame and glass on complete, with a hook at the end to hang it up by, and all in two minutes and a quarter.”’

‘I am afeerd that werges on the poetical, Sammy,’ said Mr. Weller dubiously.

‘No, it don’t,’ replied Sam, reading on very quickly, to avoid contesting the point —

‘“Except of me Mary my dear as your walentine and think over what I’ve said. — My dear Mary I will now conclude.” That’s all,’ said Sam.

‘That’s rather a Sudden pull-up, ain’t it, Sammy?’ inquired Mr. Weller.

‘Not a bit on it,’ said Sam; ‘she’ll vish there wos more, and that’s the great art o’ letter-writin’.’

‘Well,’ said Mr. Weller, ‘there’s somethin’ in that; and I wish your mother-in-law ’ud only conduct her conwersation on the same gen-teel principle. Ain’t you a-goin’ to sign it?’

‘That’s the difficulty,’ said Sam; ‘I don’t know what to sign it.’

‘Sign it —“Veller”,’ said the oldest surviving proprietor of that name.

‘Won’t do,’ said Sam. ‘Never sign a walentine with your own name.’

‘Sign it “Pickwick,” then,’ said Mr. Weller; ‘it’s a wery good name, and a easy one to spell.’ ‘The wery thing,’ said Sam. ‘I COULD end with a werse; what do you think?’

‘I don’t like it, Sam,’ rejoined Mr. Weller. ‘I never know’d a respectable coachman as wrote poetry, ‘cept one, as made an affectin’ copy o’ werses the night afore he was hung for a highway robbery; and he wos only a Cambervell man, so even that’s no rule.’

But Sam was not to be dissuaded from the poetical idea that had occurred to him, so he signed the letter —

‘Your love-sick
Pickwick.’

And having folded it, in a very intricate manner, squeezed a downhill direction in one corner: ‘To Mary, Housemaid, at Mr. Nupkins’s, Mayor’s, Ipswich, Suffolk’; and put it into his pocket, wafered, and ready for the general post. This important business having been transacted, Mr. Weller the elder proceeded to open that, on which he had summoned his son.

‘The first matter relates to your governor, Sammy,’ said Mr. Weller. ‘He’s a-goin’ to be tried to-morrow, ain’t he?’

‘The trial’s a-comin’ on,’ replied Sam.

‘Vell,’ said Mr. Weller, ‘Now I s’pose he’ll want to call some witnesses to speak to his character, or p’rhaps to prove a alleybi. I’ve been a-turnin’ the bis’ness over in my mind, and he may make his-self easy, Sammy. I’ve got some friends as’ll do either for him, but my adwice ’ud be this here — never mind the character, and stick to the alleybi. Nothing like a alleybi, Sammy, nothing.’ Mr. Weller looked very profound as he delivered this legal opinion; and burying his nose in his tumbler, winked over the top thereof, at his astonished son. ‘Why, what do you mean?’ said Sam; ‘you don’t think he’s a-goin’ to be tried at the Old Bailey, do you?’

‘That ain’t no part of the present consideration, Sammy,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘Verever he’s a-goin’ to be tried, my boy, a alleybi’s the thing to get him off. Ve got Tom Vildspark off that ‘ere manslaughter, with a alleybi, ven all the big vigs to a man said as nothing couldn’t save him. And my ‘pinion is, Sammy, that if your governor don’t prove a alleybi, he’ll be what the Italians call reg’larly flummoxed, and that’s all about it.’

As the elder Mr. Weller entertained a firm and unalterable conviction that the Old Bailey was the supreme court of judicature in this country, and that its rules and forms of proceeding regulated and controlled the practice of all other courts of justice whatsoever, he totally disregarded the assurances and arguments of his son, tending to show that the alibi was inadmissible; and vehemently protested that Mr. Pickwick was being ‘wictimised.’ Finding that it was of no use to discuss the matter further, Sam changed the subject, and inquired what the second topic was, on which his revered parent wished to consult him.

‘That’s a pint o’ domestic policy, Sammy,’ said Mr. Weller. ‘This here Stiggins —’

‘Red-nosed man?’ inquired Sam.

‘The wery same,’ replied Mr. Weller. ‘This here red-nosed man, Sammy, wisits your mother-in-law vith a kindness and constancy I never see equalled. He’s sitch a friend o’ the family, Sammy, that wen he’s avay from us, he can’t be comfortable unless he has somethin’ to remember us by.’

‘And I’d give him somethin’ as ’ud turpentine and beeswax his memory for the next ten years or so, if I wos you,’ interposed Sam.

‘Stop a minute,’ said Mr. Weller; ‘I wos a-going to say, he always brings now, a flat bottle as holds about a pint and a half, and fills it vith the pine-apple rum afore he goes avay.’

‘And empties it afore he comes back, I s’pose?’ said Sam.

‘Clean!’ replied Mr. Weller; ‘never leaves nothin’ in it but the cork and the smell; trust him for that, Sammy. Now, these here fellows, my boy, are a-goin’ to-night to get up the monthly meetin’ o’ the Brick Lane Branch o’ the United Grand Junction Ebenezer Temperance Association. Your mother-in-law wos a-goin’, Sammy, but she’s got the rheumatics, and can’t; and I, Sammy — I’ve got the two tickets as wos sent her.’ Mr. Weller communicated this secret with great glee, and winked so indefatigably after doing so, that Sam began to think he must have got the TIC DOLOUREUX in his right eyelid.

‘Well?’ said that young gentleman. ‘Well,’ continued his progenitor, looking round him very cautiously, ‘you and I’ll go, punctiwal to the time. The deputy-shepherd won’t, Sammy; the deputy-shepherd won’t.’ Here Mr. Weller was seized with a paroxysm of chuckles, which gradually terminated in as near an approach to a choke as an elderly gentleman can, with safety, sustain.

‘Well, I never see sitch an old ghost in all my born days,’ exclaimed Sam, rubbing the old gentleman’s back, hard enough to set him on fire with the friction. ‘What are you a-laughin’ at, corpilence?’

‘Hush! Sammy,’ said Mr. Weller, looking round him with increased caution, and speaking in a whisper. ‘Two friends o’ mine, as works the Oxford Road, and is up to all kinds o’ games, has got the deputy-shepherd safe in tow, Sammy; and ven he does come to the Ebenezer Junction (vich he’s sure to do: for they’ll see him to the door, and shove him in, if necessary), he’ll be as far gone in rum-and-water, as ever he wos at the Markis o’ Granby, Dorkin’, and that’s not sayin’ a little neither.’ And with this, Mr. Weller once more laughed immoderately, and once more relapsed into a state of partial suffocation, in consequence.

Nothing could have been more in accordance with Sam Weller’s feelings than the projected exposure of the real propensities and qualities of the red-nosed man; and it being very near the appointed hour of meeting, the father and son took their way at once to Brick Lane, Sam not forgetting to drop his letter into a general post-office as they walked along.

The monthly meetings of the Brick Lane Branch of the United Grand Junction Ebenezer Temperance Association were held in a large room, pleasantly and airily situated at the top of a safe and commodious ladder. The president was the straight-walking Mr. Anthony Humm, a converted fireman, now a schoolmaster, and occasionally an itinerant preacher; and the secretary was Mr. Jonas Mudge, chandler’s shopkeeper, an enthusiastic and disinterested vessel, who sold tea to the members. Previous to the commencement of business, the ladies sat upon forms, and drank tea, till such time as they considered it expedient to leave off; and a large wooden money-box was conspicuously placed upon the green baize cloth of the business-table, behind which the secretary stood, and acknowledged, with a gracious smile, every addition to the rich vein of copper which lay concealed within.

On this particular occasion the women drank tea to a most alarming extent; greatly to the horror of Mr. Weller, senior, who, utterly regardless of all Sam’s admonitory nudgings, stared about him in every direction with the most undisguised astonishment.

‘Sammy,’ whispered Mr. Weller, ‘if some o’ these here people don’t want tappin’ to-morrow mornin’, I ain’t your father, and that’s wot it is. Why, this here old lady next me is a-drowndin’ herself in tea.’ ‘Be quiet, can’t you?’ murmured Sam.

‘Sam,’ whispered Mr. Weller, a moment afterwards, in a tone of deep agitation, ‘mark my vords, my boy. If that ‘ere secretary fellow keeps on for only five minutes more, he’ll blow hisself up with toast and water.’

‘Well, let him, if he likes,’ replied Sam; ‘it ain’t no bis’ness o’ yourn.’

‘If this here lasts much longer, Sammy,’ said Mr. Weller, in the same low voice, ‘I shall feel it my duty, as a human bein’, to rise and address the cheer. There’s a young ‘ooman on the next form but two, as has drunk nine breakfast cups and a half; and she’s a-swellin’ wisibly before my wery eyes.’

There is little doubt that Mr. Weller would have carried his benevolent intention into immediate execution, if a great noise, occasioned by putting up the cups and saucers, had not very fortunately announced that the tea-drinking was over. The crockery having been removed, the table with the green baize cover was carried out into the centre of the room, and the business of the evening was commenced by a little emphatic man, with a bald head and drab shorts, who suddenly rushed up the ladder, at the imminent peril of snapping the two little legs incased in the drab shorts, and said —

‘Ladies and gentlemen, I move our excellent brother, Mr. Anthony Humm, into the chair.’

The ladies waved a choice selection of pocket-handkerchiefs at this proposition; and the impetuous little man literally moved Mr. Humm into the chair, by taking him by the shoulders and thrusting him into a mahogany-frame which had once represented that article of furniture. The waving of handkerchiefs was renewed; and Mr. Humm, who was a sleek, white-faced man, in a perpetual perspiration, bowed meekly, to the great admiration of the females, and formally took his seat. Silence was then proclaimed by the little man in the drab shorts, and Mr. Humm rose and said — That, with the permission of his Brick Lane Branch brothers and sisters, then and there present, the secretary would read the report of the Brick Lane Branch committee; a proposition which was again received with a demonstration of pocket-handkerchiefs.

The secretary having sneezed in a very impressive manner, and the cough which always seizes an assembly, when anything particular is going to be done, having been duly performed, the following document was read:

‘REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE OF THE BRICK LANE BRANCH OF THE UNITED GRAND JUNCTION EBENEZER TEMPERANCE ASSOCIATION

‘Your committee have pursued their grateful labours during the past month, and have the unspeakable pleasure of reporting the following additional cases of converts to Temperance.

‘H. Walker, tailor, wife, and two children. When in better circumstances, owns to having been in the constant habit of drinking ale and beer; says he is not certain whether he did not twice a week, for twenty years, taste “dog’s nose,” which your committee find upon inquiry, to be compounded of warm porter, moist sugar, gin, and nutmeg (a groan, and ‘So it is!’ from an elderly female). Is now out of work and penniless; thinks it must be the porter (cheers) or the loss of the use of his right hand; is not certain which, but thinks it very likely that, if he had drunk nothing but water all his life, his fellow-workman would never have stuck a rusty needle in him, and thereby occasioned his accident (tremendous cheering). Has nothing but cold water to drink, and never feels thirsty (great applause).

‘Betsy Martin, widow, one child, and one eye. Goes out charing and washing, by the day; never had more than one eye, but knows her mother drank bottled stout, and shouldn’t wonder if that caused it (immense cheering). Thinks it not impossible that if she had always abstained from spirits she might have had two eyes by this time (tremendous applause). Used, at every place she went to, to have eighteen-pence a day, a pint of porter, and a glass of spirits; but since she became a member of the Brick Lane Branch, has always demanded three-and-sixpence (the announcement of this most interesting fact was received with deafening enthusiasm).

‘Henry Beller was for many years toast-master at various corporation dinners, during which time he drank a great deal of foreign wine; may sometimes have carried a bottle or two home with him; is not quite certain of that, but is sure if he did, that he drank the contents. Feels very low and melancholy, is very feverish, and has a constant thirst upon him; thinks it must be the wine he used to drink (cheers). Is out of employ now; and never touches a drop of foreign wine by any chance (tremendous plaudits).

‘Thomas Burton is purveyor of cat’s meat to the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, and several members of the Common Council (the announcement of this gentleman’s name was received with breathless interest). Has a wooden leg; finds a wooden leg expensive, going over the stones; used to wear second-hand wooden legs, and drink a glass of hot gin-and-water regularly every night — sometimes two (deep sighs). Found the second-hand wooden legs split and rot very quickly; is firmly persuaded that their constitution was undermined by the gin-and-water (prolonged cheering). Buys new wooden legs now, and drinks nothing but water and weak tea. The new legs last twice as long as the others used to do, and he attributes this solely to his temperate habits (triumphant cheers).’

Anthony Humm now moved that the assembly do regale itself with a song. With a view to their rational and moral enjoyment, Brother Mordlin had adapted the beautiful words of ‘Who hasn’t heard of a Jolly Young Waterman?’ to the tune of the Old Hundredth, which he would request them to join him in singing (great applause). He might take that opportunity of expressing his firm persuasion that the late Mr. Dibdin, seeing the errors of his former life, had written that song to show the advantages of abstinence. It was a temperance song (whirlwinds of cheers). The neatness of the young man’s attire, the dexterity of his feathering, the enviable state of mind which enabled him in the beautiful words of the poet, to

‘Row along, thinking of nothing at all,’

all combined to prove that he must have been a water-drinker (cheers). Oh, what a state of virtuous jollity! (rapturous cheering). And what was the young man’s reward? Let all young men present mark this:

‘The maidens all flocked to his boat so readily.’

(Loud cheers, in which the ladies joined.) What a bright example! The sisterhood, the maidens, flocking round the young waterman, and urging him along the stream of duty and of temperance. But, was it the maidens of humble life only, who soothed, consoled, and supported him? No!

‘He was always first oars with the fine city ladies.’

(Immense cheering.) The soft sex to a man — he begged pardon, to a female — rallied round the young waterman, and turned with disgust from the drinker of spirits (cheers). The Brick Lane Branch brothers were watermen (cheers and laughter). That room was their boat; that audience were the maidens; and he (Mr. Anthony Humm), however unworthily, was ‘first oars’ (unbounded applause).

‘Wot does he mean by the soft sex, Sammy?’ inquired Mr. Weller, in a whisper.

‘The womin,’ said Sam, in the same tone.

‘He ain’t far out there, Sammy,’ replied Mr. Weller; ‘they MUST be a soft sex — a wery soft sex, indeed — if they let themselves be gammoned by such fellers as him.’

Any further observations from the indignant old gentleman were cut short by the announcement of the song, which Mr. Anthony Humm gave out two lines at a time, for the information of such of his hearers as were unacquainted with the legend. While it was being sung, the little man with the drab shorts disappeared; he returned immediately on its conclusion, and whispered Mr. Anthony Humm, with a face of the deepest importance. ‘My friends,’ said Mr. Humm, holding up his hand in a deprecatory manner, to bespeak the silence of such of the stout old ladies as were yet a line or two behind; ‘my friends, a delegate from the Dorking Branch of our society, Brother Stiggins, attends below.’

Out came the pocket-handkerchiefs again, in greater force than ever; for Mr. Stiggins was excessively popular among the female constituency of Brick Lane.

‘He may approach, I think,’ said Mr. Humm, looking round him, with a fat smile. ‘Brother Tadger, let him come forth and greet us.’

The little man in the drab shorts who answered to the name of Brother Tadger, bustled down the ladder with great speed, and was immediately afterwards heard tumbling up with the Reverend Mr. Stiggins.

‘He’s a-comin’, Sammy,’ whispered Mr. Weller, purple in the countenance with suppressed laughter.

‘Don’t say nothin’ to me,’ replied Sam, ‘for I can’t bear it. He’s close to the door. I hear him a-knockin’ his head again the lath and plaster now.’

As Sam Weller spoke, the little door flew open, and Brother Tadger appeared, closely followed by the Reverend Mr. Stiggins, who no sooner entered, than there was a great clapping of hands, and stamping of feet, and flourishing of handkerchiefs; to all of which manifestations of delight, Brother Stiggins returned no other acknowledgment than staring with a wild eye, and a fixed smile, at the extreme top of the wick of the candle on the table, swaying his body to and fro, meanwhile, in a very unsteady and uncertain manner.

‘Are you unwell, Brother Stiggins?’ whispered Mr. Anthony Humm.

‘I am all right, Sir,’ replied Mr. Stiggins, in a tone in which ferocity was blended with an extreme thickness of utterance; ‘I am all right, Sir.’

‘Oh, very well,’ rejoined Mr. Anthony Humm, retreating a few paces.

‘I believe no man here has ventured to say that I am not all right, Sir?’ said Mr. Stiggins.

‘Oh, certainly not,’ said Mr. Humm. ‘I should advise him not to, Sir; I should advise him not,’ said Mr. Stiggins.

By this time the audience were perfectly silent, and waited with some anxiety for the resumption of business.

‘Will you address the meeting, brother?’ said Mr. Humm, with a smile of invitation.

‘No, sir,’ rejoined Mr. Stiggins; ‘No, sir. I will not, sir.’

The meeting looked at each other with raised eyelids; and a murmur of astonishment ran through the room.

‘It’s my opinion, sir,’ said Mr. Stiggins, unbuttoning his coat, and speaking very loudly —‘it’s my opinion, sir, that this meeting is drunk, sir. Brother Tadger, sir!’ said Mr. Stiggins, suddenly increasing in ferocity, and turning sharp round on the little man in the drab shorts, ‘YOU are drunk, sir!’ With this, Mr. Stiggins, entertaining a praiseworthy desire to promote the sobriety of the meeting, and to exclude therefrom all improper characters, hit Brother Tadger on the summit of the nose with such unerring aim, that the drab shorts disappeared like a flash of lightning. Brother Tadger had been knocked, head first, down the ladder.

Upon this, the women set up a loud and dismal screaming; and rushing in small parties before their favourite brothers, flung their arms around them to preserve them from danger. An instance of affection, which had nearly proved fatal to Humm, who, being extremely popular, was all but suffocated, by the crowd of female devotees that hung about his neck, and heaped caresses upon him. The greater part of the lights were quickly put out, and nothing but noise and confusion resounded on all sides.

‘Now, Sammy,’ said Mr. Weller, taking off his greatcoat with much deliberation, ‘just you step out, and fetch in a watchman.’

‘And wot are you a-goin’ to do, the while?’ inquired Sam.

‘Never you mind me, Sammy,’ replied the old gentleman; ‘I shall ockipy myself in havin’ a small settlement with that ‘ere Stiggins.’ Before Sam could interfere to prevent it, his heroic parent had penetrated into a remote corner of the room, and attacked the Reverend Mr. Stiggins with manual dexterity.

‘Come off!’ said Sam.

‘Come on!’ cried Mr. Weller; and without further invitation he gave the Reverend Mr. Stiggins a preliminary tap on the head, and began dancing round him in a buoyant and cork-like manner, which in a gentleman at his time of life was a perfect marvel to behold.

Finding all remonstrances unavailing, Sam pulled his hat firmly on, threw his father’s coat over his arm, and taking the old man round the waist, forcibly dragged him down the ladder, and into the street; never releasing his hold, or permitting him to stop, until they reached the corner. As they gained it, they could hear the shouts of the populace, who were witnessing the removal of the Reverend Mr. Stiggins to strong lodgings for the night, and could hear the noise occasioned by the dispersion in various directions of the members of the Brick Lane Branch of the United Grand Junction Ebenezer Temperance Association.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dickens/charles/d54pp/chapter33.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:30