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Chapter 8

The Inconsiderate Waiter

They were the family of William, one of our club waiters who had
been disappointing me grievously of late. Many a time have I
deferred dining several minutes that I might have the attendance
of this ingrate. His efforts to reserve the window-table for me
were satisfactory, and I used to allow him privileges, as to
suggest dishes; I have given him information, as that someone had
startled me in the reading-room by slamming a door; I have shown
him how I cut my finger with a piece of string. William was none
of your assertive waiters. We could have plotted a murder safely
before him. It was one member who said to him that Saucy Sarah
would win the Derby and another who said that Saucy Sarah had no
chance, but it was William who agreed with both. The excellent
fellow (as I thought him) was like a cheroot which may be smoked
from either end.

I date his lapse from one evening when I was dining by the
window. I had to repeat my order "Devilled kidney," and instead
of answering brightly, "Yes, sir," as if my selection of devilled
kidney was a personal gratification to him, which is the manner
one expects of a waiter, he gazed eagerly out at the window, and
then, starting, asked, "Did you say devilled kidney, sir?" A few
minutes afterward I became aware that someone was leaning over
the back of my chair, and you may conceive my indignation on
discovering that this rude person was William. Let me tell, in
the measured words of one describing a past incident, what next
took place. To get nearer the window he pressed heavily on my
shoulder. "William," I said, "you are not attending to me!"

To be fair to him, he shook, but never shall I forget his
audacious apology, "Beg pardon, sir, but I was thinking of
something else."

And immediately his eyes resought the window, and this burst from
him passionately, "For God's sake, sir, as we are man and man,
tell me if you have seen a little girl looking up at the club-
windows."

Man and man! But he had been a good waiter once, so I pointed
out the girl to him. As soon as she saw William she ran into the
middle of Pall Mall, regardless of hansoms (many of which seemed
to pass over her), nodded her head significantly three times and
then disappeared (probably on a stretcher). She was the
tawdriest little Arab of about ten years, but seemed to have
brought relief to William. "Thank God!" said he fervently, and
in the worst taste.

I was as much horrified as if he had dropped a plate on my toes.
"Bread, William," I said sharply.

"You are not vexed with me, sir?" he had the hardihood to
whisper.

"It was a liberty," I said.

"I know, sir, but I was beside myself."

"That was a liberty again."

"It is my wife, sir, she--"

So William, whom I had favoured in so many ways, was a married
man. I felt that this was the greatest liberty of all.

I gathered that the troublesome woman was ailing, and as one who
likes after dinner to believe that there is no distress in the
world, I desired to be told by William that the signals meant her
return to health. He answered inconsiderately, however, that the
doctor feared the worst.

"Bah, the doctor," I said in a rage.

"Yes, sir," said William.

"What is her confounded ailment?"

"She was allus one of the delicate kind, but full of spirit, and
you see, sir, she has had a baby-girl lately--"

"William, how dare you," I said, but in the same moment I saw
that this father might be useful to me. "How does your baby
sleep, William?" I asked in a low voice, "how does she wake up?
what do you put in her bath?"

I saw surprise in his face, so I hurried on without waiting for
an answer. "That little girl comes here with a message from your
wife?"

"Yes, sir, every evening; she's my eldest, and three nods from
her means that the missus is a little better."

"There were three nods to-day?"

"Yes, sir.

"I suppose you live in some low part, William?"

The impudent fellow looked as if he could have struck me. "Off
Drury Lane," he said, flushing, "but it isn't low. And now," he
groaned, "she's afeared she will die without my being there to
hold her hand."

"She should not say such things."

"She never says them, sir. She allus pretends to be feeling
stronger. But I knows what is in her mind when I am leaving the
house in the morning, for then she looks at me from her bed, and
I looks at her from the door--oh, my God, sir!"

"William!"

At last he saw that I was angry, and it was characteristic of him
to beg my pardon and withdraw his wife as if she were some
unsuccessful dish. I tried to forget his vulgar story in
billiards, but he had spoiled my game, and next day to punish him
I gave my orders through another waiter. As I had the window-
seat, however, I could not but see that the little girl was late,
and though this mattered nothing to me and I had finished my
dinner, I lingered till she came. She not only nodded three
times but waved her hat, and I arose, having now finished my
dinner.

William came stealthily toward me. "Her temperature has gone
down, sir," he said, rubbing his hands together.

"To whom are you referring?" I asked coldly, and retired to the
billiard-room, where I played a capital game.

I took pains to show William that I had forgotten his
maunderings, but I observed the girl nightly, and once, instead
of nodding, she shook her head, and that evening I could not get
into a pocket. Next evening there was no William in the
dining-room, and I thought I knew what had happened. But,
chancing to enter the library rather miserably, I was surprised
to see him on a ladder dusting books. We had the room
practically to ourselves, for though several members sat on
chairs holding books in their hands they were all asleep, and
William descended the ladder to tell me his blasting tale. He
had sworn at a member!

"I hardly knew what I was doing all day, sir, for I had left her
so weakly that--"

I stamped my foot.

"I beg your pardon for speaking of her," he had the grace to say.
"But Irene had promised to come every two hours; and when she
came about four o'clock and I saw she was crying, it sort of
blinded me, sir, and I stumbled against a member, Mr. B----, and he
said, 'Damn you!' Well, sir, I had but touched him after all,
and I was so broken it sort of stung me to be treated so and I
lost my senses, and I said, 'Damn you!'"

His shamed head sank on his chest, and I think some of the
readers shuddered in their sleep.

"I was turned out of the dining-room at once, and sent here until
the committee have decided what to do with me. Oh, sir, I am
willing to go on my knees to Mr. B----"

How could I but despise a fellow who would be thus abject for a
pound a week?

"For if I have to tell her I have lost my place she will just
fall back and die."

"I forbid your speaking to me of that woman," I cried wryly,
"unless you can speak pleasantly," and I left him to his fate and
went off to look for B----. "What is this story about your
swearing at one of the waiters?" I asked him.

"You mean about his swearing at me," said B----, reddening.

"I am glad that was it," I said, "for I could not believe you
guilty of such bad form. The version which reached me was that
you swore at each other, and that he was to be dismissed and you
reprimanded."

"Who told you that?" asked B----, who is a timid man.

"I am on the committee," I replied lightly, and proceeded to talk
of other matters, but presently B----, who had been reflecting,
said: "Do you know I fancy I was wrong in thinking that the
waiter swore at me, and I shall withdraw the charge to-morrow."

I was pleased to find that William's troubles were near an end
without my having to interfere in his behalf, and I then
remembered that he would not be able to see the girl Irene from
the library windows, which are at the back of the club. I was
looking down at her, but she refrained from signalling because
she could not see William, and irritated by her stupidity I went
out and asked her how her mother was.

"My," she ejaculated after a long scrutiny of me, "I b'lieve you
are one of them!" and she gazed at me with delighted awe. I
suppose William tells them of our splendid doings.

The invalid, it appeared, was a bit better, and this annoying
child wanted to inform William that she had took all the
tapiocar. She was to indicate this by licking an imaginary plate
in the middle of Pall Mall. I gave the little vulgarian a
shilling, and returned to the club disgusted.

"By the way, William," I said, "Mr. B---- is to inform the
committee that he was mistaken in thinking you used improper
language to him, so you will doubtless be restored to the
dining-room to- morrow."

I had to add immediately, "Remember your place, William."

"But Mr. B---- knows I swore," he insisted.

"A gentleman," I replied stiffly, "cannot remember for many hours
what a waiter has said to him."

"No, sir, but--"

To stop him I had to say, "And--ah--William, your wife is decidedly
better. She has eaten the tapioca--all of it."

"How can you know, sir?"

"By an accident."

"Irene signed to the window?"

"No."

"Then you saw her and went out and--"

"How dare you, William?"

"Oh, sir, to do that for me! May God bl--"

"William."

He was reinstated in the dining-room, but often when I looked at
him I seemed to see a dying wife in his face, and so the
relations between us were still strained. But I watched the
girl, and her pantomime was so illuminating that I knew the
sufferer had again cleaned the platter on Tuesday, had attempted
a boiled egg on Wednesday (you should have seen Irene chipping it
in Pall Mall, and putting in the salt), but was in a woful state
of relapse on Thursday.

"Is your mother very ill to-day, Miss Irene?" I asked, as soon as
I had drawn her out of range of the club-windows.

"My!" she exclaimed again, and I saw an ecstatic look pass
between her and a still smaller girl with her, whom she referred
to as a neighbour.

I waited coldly. William's wife, I was informed, had looked like
nothing but a dead one till she got the brandy.

"Hush, child," I said, shocked. "You don't know how the dead
look."

"Bless yer!" she replied.

Assisted by her friend, who was evidently enormously impressed by
Irene's intimacy with me, she gave me a good deal of
miscellaneous information, as that William's real name was Mr.
Hicking, but that he was known in their street, because of the
number of his shirts, as Toff Hicking. That the street held he
should get away from the club before two in the morning, for his
missus needed him more than the club needed him. That William
replied (very sensibly) that if the club was short of waiters at
supper-time some of the gentlemen might be kept waiting for their
marrow- bone. That he sat up with his missus most of the night,
and pretended to her that he got some nice long naps at the club.
That what she talked to him about mostly was the kid. That the
kid was in another part of London (in charge of a person called
the old woman), because there was an epidemic in Irene's street.

"And what does the doctor say about your mother?"

"He sometimes says she would have a chance if she could get her
kid back."

"Nonsense."

"And if she was took to the country."

"Then why does not William take her?"

"My! And if she drank porty wine."

"Doesn't she?"

"No. But father, he tells her 'bout how the gentlemen drinks
it."

I turned from her with relief, but she came after me.

"Ain't yer going to do it this time?" she demanded with a falling
face. "You done it last time. I tell her you done it"--she
pointed to her friend who was looking wistfully at me--"ain't you
to let her see you doing of it?"

For a moment I thought that her desire was another shilling, but
by a piece of pantomime she showed that she wanted me to lift my
hat to her. So I lifted it, and when I looked behind she had her
head in the air and her neighbour was gazing at her awestruck.
These little creatures are really not without merit.

About a week afterward I was in a hired landau, holding a
newspaper before my face lest anyone should see me in company of
a waiter and his wife. William was taking her into Surrey to
stay with an old nurse of mine, and Irene was with us, wearing
the most outrageous bonnet.

I formed a mean opinion of Mrs. Hicking's intelligence from her
pride in the baby, which was a very ordinary one. She created a
regrettable scene when it was brought to her, because "she had
been feared it would not know her again." I could have told her
that they know no one for years had I not been in terror of
Irene, who dandled the child on her knees and talked to it all
the way. I have never known a bolder little hussy than this
Irene. She asked the infant improper questions, such as "Oo know
who gave me this bonnet?" and answered them herself. "It was the
pretty gentleman there," and several times I had to affect sleep,
because she announced, "Kiddy wants to kiss the pretty
gentleman."

Irksome as all this necessarily was to a man of taste, I suffered
still more acutely when we reached our destination, where
disagreeable circumstances compelled me to drink tea with a
waiter's family. William knew that I regarded thanks from
persons of his class as an outrage, yet he looked them though he
dared not speak them. Hardly had he sat down at the table by my
orders than he remembered that I was a member of the club and
jumped up. Nothing is in worse form than whispering, yet again
and again he whispered to his poor, foolish wife, "How are you
now? You don't feel faint?" and when she said she felt like
another woman already, his face charged me with the change. I
could not but conclude from the way she let the baby pound her
that she was stronger than she pretended.

I remained longer than was necessary because I had something to
say to William which I feared he would misunderstand, but when he
announced that it was time for him to catch a train back to
London, at which his wife paled, I delivered the message.

"William," I said, backing away from him, "the head-waiter asked
me to say that you could take a fortnight's holiday. Your wages
will be paid as usual."

Confound him.

"William," I cried furiously, "go away."

Then I saw his wife signing to him, and I knew she wanted to be
left alone with me.

"William," I cried in a panic, "stay where you are."

But he was gone, and I was alone with a woman whose eyes were
filmy. Her class are fond of scenes. "If you please, ma'am!" I
said imploringly.

But she kissed my hand; she was like a little dog.

"It can be only the memory of some woman," said she, "that makes
you so kind to me and mine."

Memory was the word she used, as if all my youth were fled. I
suppose I really am quite elderly.

"I should like to know her name, sir," she said, "that I may
mention her with loving respect in my prayers."

I raised the woman and told her the name. It was not Mary. "But
she has a home," I said, "as you have, and I have none. Perhaps,
ma'am, it would be better worth your while to mention me."

It was this woman, now in health, whom I intrusted with the
purchase of the outfits, "one for a boy of six months," I
explained to her, "and one for a boy of a year," for the painter
had boasted to me of David's rapid growth. I think she was a
little surprised to find that both outfits were for the same
house; and she certainly betrayed an ignoble curiosity about the
mother's Christian name, but she was much easier to brow-beat
than a fine lady would have been, and I am sure she and her
daughter enjoyed themselves hugely in the shops, from one of
which I shall never forget Irene emerging proudly with a
commissionaire, who conducted her under an umbrella to the cab
where I was lying in wait. I think that was the most celestial
walk of Irene's life.

I told Mrs. Hicking to give the articles a little active ill-
treatment that they might not look quite new, at which she
exclaimed, not being in my secret, and then to forward them to
me. I then sent them to Mary and rejoiced in my devilish cunning
all the evening, but chagrin came in the morning with a letter
from her which showed she knew all, that I was her Mr. Anon, and
that there never had been a Timothy. I think I was never so
gravelled. Even now I don't know how she had contrived it.

Her cleverness raised such a demon in me that I locked away her
letter at once and have seldom read it since. No married lady
should have indited such an epistle to a single man. It said,
with other things which I decline to repeat, that I was her good
fairy. As a sample of the deliberate falsehoods in it, I may
mention that she said David loved me already. She hoped that I
would come in often to see her husband, who was very proud of my
friendship, and suggested that I should pay him my first visit
to- day at three o'clock, an hour at which, as I happened to
know, he is always away giving a painting-lesson. In short, she
wanted first to meet me alone, so that she might draw the
delicious, respectful romance out of me, and afterward repeat it
to him, with sighs and little peeps at him over her
pocket-handkerchief.

She had dropped what were meant to look like two tears for me
upon the paper, but I should not wonder though they were only
artful drops of water.

I sent her a stiff and tart reply, declining to hold any
communication with her.


James M. Barrie

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