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Chapter 14


CHAPTER XIV
COMPRISING A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE COMPANY
  AT THE PEACOCK ASSEMBLED; AND A TALE TOLD BY A
  BAGMAN


It is pleasant to turn from contemplating the strife and
turmoil of political existence, to the peaceful repose of
private life.  Although in reality no great partisan of either side,
Mr. Pickwick was sufficiently fired with Mr. Pott's enthusiasm,
to apply his whole time and attention to the proceedings, of
which the last chapter affords a description compiled from his
own memoranda.  Nor while he was thus occupied was Mr.
Winkle idle, his whole time being devoted to pleasant walks and
short country excursions with Mrs. Pott, who never failed, when
such an opportunity presented itself, to seek some relief from the
tedious monotony she so constantly complained of.  The two
gentlemen being thus completely domesticated in the editor's
house, Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass were in a great measure
cast upon their own resources.  Taking but little interest in public
affairs, they beguiled their time chiefly with such amusements as
the Peacock afforded, which were limited to a bagatelle-board in
the first floor, and a sequestered skittle-ground in the back yard.
In the science and nicety of both these recreations, which are far
more abstruse than ordinary men suppose, they were gradually
initiated by Mr. Weller, who possessed a perfect knowledge of
such pastimes.  Thus, notwithstanding that they were in a great
measure deprived of the comfort and advantage of Mr. Pickwick's
society, they were still enabled to beguile the time, and to
prevent its hanging heavily on their hands.

It was in the evening, however, that the Peacock presented
attractions which enabled the two friends to resist even the
invitations of the gifted, though prosy, Pott.  It was in the evening
that the 'commercial room' was filled with a social circle, whose
characters and manners it was the delight of Mr. Tupman to
observe; whose sayings and doings it was the habit of Mr.
Snodgrass to note down.

Most people know what sort of places commercial rooms
usually are.  That of the Peacock differed in no material respect
from the generality of such apartments; that is to say, it was a
large, bare-looking room, the furniture of which had no doubt
been better when it was newer, with a spacious table in the centre,
and a variety of smaller dittos in the corners; an extensive
assortment of variously shaped chairs, and an old Turkey carpet,
bearing about the same relative proportion to the size of the
room, as a lady's pocket-handkerchief might to the floor of a
watch-box.  The walls were garnished with one or two large
maps; and several weather-beaten rough greatcoats, with
complicated capes, dangled from a long row of pegs in one
corner.  The mantel-shelf was ornamented with a wooden inkstand,
containing one stump of a pen and half a wafer; a road-
book and directory; a county history minus the cover; and the
mortal remains of a trout in a glass coffin.  The atmosphere was
redolent of tobacco-smoke, the fumes of which had communicated
a rather dingy hue to the whole room, and more especially
to the dusty red curtains which shaded the windows.  On the
sideboard a variety of miscellaneous articles were huddled
together, the most conspicuous of which were some very cloudy
fish-sauce cruets, a couple of driving-boxes, two or three whips,
and as many travelling shawls, a tray of knives and forks, and
the mustard.

Here it was that Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass were seated
on the evening after the conclusion of the election, with several
other temporary inmates of the house, smoking and drinking.

'Well, gents,' said a stout, hale personage of about forty, with
only one eye--a very bright black eye, which twinkled with a
roguish expression of fun and good-humour, 'our noble selves,
gents.  I always propose that toast to the company, and drink
Mary to myself.  Eh, Mary!'

'Get along with you, you wretch,' said the hand-maiden,
obviously not ill-pleased with the compliment, however.

'Don't go away, Mary,' said the black-eyed man.

'Let me alone, imperence,' said the young lady.

'Never mind,' said the one-eyed man, calling after the girl as
she left the room.  'I'll step out by and by, Mary.  Keep your
spirits up, dear.'  Here he went through the not very difficult
process of winking upon the company with his solitary eye, to
the enthusiastic delight of an elderly personage with a dirty face
and a clay pipe.

'Rum creeters is women,' said the dirty-faced man, after a pause.

'Ah! no mistake about that,' said a very red-faced man,
behind a cigar.

After this little bit of philosophy there was another pause.

'There's rummer things than women in this world though,
mind you,' said the man with the black eye, slowly filling a large
Dutch pipe, with a most capacious bowl.

'Are you married?' inquired the dirty-faced man.

'Can't say I am.'

'I thought not.'  Here the dirty-faced man fell into ecstasies of
mirth at his own retort, in which he was joined by a man of
bland voice and placid countenance, who always made it a point
to agree with everybody.

'Women, after all, gentlemen,' said the enthusiastic Mr.
Snodgrass, 'are the great props and comforts of our existence.'

'So they are,' said the placid gentleman.

'When they're in a good humour,' interposed the dirty-faced man.

'And that's very true,' said the placid one.

'I repudiate that qualification,' said Mr. Snodgrass, whose
thoughts were fast reverting to Emily Wardle.  'I repudiate it
with disdain--with indignation.  Show me the man who says
anything against women, as women, and I boldly declare he is
not a man.'  And Mr. Snodgrass took his cigar from his mouth,
and struck the table violently with his clenched fist.

'That's good sound argument,' said the placid man.

'Containing a position which I deny,' interrupted he of the
dirty countenance.

'And there's certainly a very great deal of truth in what you
observe too, Sir,' said the placid gentleman.

'Your health, Sir,' said the bagman with the lonely eye,
bestowing an approving nod on Mr. Snodgrass.

Mr. Snodgrass acknowledged the compliment.

'I always like to hear a good argument,'continued the bagman,
'a sharp one, like this: it's very improving; but this little argument
about women brought to my mind a story I have heard an
old uncle of mine tell, the recollection of which, just now, made
me say there were rummer things than women to be met with, sometimes.'

'I should like to hear that same story,' said the red-faced man
with the cigar.

'Should you?' was the only reply of the bagman, who
continued to smoke with great vehemence.

'So should I,' said Mr. Tupman, speaking for the first time.
He was always anxious to increase his stock of experience.

'Should YOU?  Well then, I'll tell it.  No, I won't.  I know you
won't believe it,' said the man with the roguish eye, making that
organ look more roguish than ever.
'If you say it's true, of course I shall,' said Mr. Tupman.

'Well, upon that understanding I'll tell you,' replied the
traveller.  'Did you ever hear of the great commercial house of
Bilson & Slum?  But it doesn't matter though, whether you did or
not, because they retired from business long since.  It's eighty
years ago, since the circumstance happened to a traveller for
that house, but he was a particular friend of my uncle's; and
my uncle told the story to me.  It's a queer name; but he used to
call it


  THE BAGMAN'S STORY

and he used to tell it, something in this way.


'One winter's evening, about five o'clock, just as it began to
grow dusk, a man in a gig might have been seen urging his tired
horse along the road which leads across Marlborough Downs, in
the direction of Bristol.  I say he might have been seen, and I have
no doubt he would have been, if anybody but a blind man had
happened to pass that way; but the weather was so bad, and the
night so cold and wet, that nothing was out but the water, and
so the traveller jogged along in the middle of the road, lonesome
and dreary enough.  If any bagman of that day could have caught
sight of the little neck-or-nothing sort of gig, with a clay-
coloured body and red wheels, and the vixenish, ill tempered,
fast-going bay mare, that looked like a cross between a butcher's
horse and a twopenny post-office pony, he would have known at
once, that this traveller could have been no other than Tom
Smart, of the great house of Bilson and Slum, Cateaton Street,
City.  However, as there was no bagman to look on, nobody
knew anything at all about the matter; and so Tom Smart and
his clay-coloured gig with the red wheels, and the vixenish mare
with the fast pace, went on together, keeping the secret among
them, and nobody was a bit the wiser.

'There are many pleasanter places even in this dreary world,
than Marlborough Downs when it blows hard; and if you throw
in beside, a gloomy winter's evening, a miry and sloppy road, and
a pelting fall of heavy rain, and try the effect, by way of experiment,
in your own proper person, you will experience the full
force of this observation.

'The wind blew--not up the road or down it, though that's
bad enough, but sheer across it, sending the rain slanting down
like the lines they used to rule in the copy-books at school, to
make the boys slope well.  For a moment it would die away, and
the traveller would begin to delude himself into the belief that,
exhausted with its previous fury, it had quietly laid itself down
to rest, when, whoo! he could hear it growling and whistling in
the distance, and on it would come rushing over the hill-tops, and
sweeping along the plain, gathering sound and strength as it
drew nearer, until it dashed with a heavy gust against horse and
man, driving the sharp rain into their ears, and its cold damp
breath into their very bones; and past them it would scour, far,
far away, with a stunning roar, as if in ridicule of their weakness,
and triumphant in the consciousness of its own strength and power.

'The bay mare splashed away, through the mud and water,
with drooping ears; now and then tossing her head as if to
express her disgust at this very ungentlemanly behaviour of the
elements, but keeping a good pace notwithstanding, until a gust
of wind, more furious than any that had yet assailed them,
caused her to stop suddenly and plant her four feet firmly against
the ground, to prevent her being blown over.  It's a special mercy
that she did this, for if she HAD been blown over, the vixenish
mare was so light, and the gig was so light, and Tom Smart such
a light weight into the bargain, that they must infallibly have all
gone rolling over and over together, until they reached the
confines of earth, or until the wind fell; and in either case the
probability is, that neither the vixenish mare, nor the clay-
coloured gig with the red wheels, nor Tom Smart, would ever
have been fit for service again.

'"Well, damn my straps and whiskers," says Tom Smart
(Tom sometimes had an unpleasant knack of swearing)--
"damn my straps and whiskers," says Tom, "if this ain't
pleasant, blow me!"

'You'll very likely ask me why, as Tom Smart had been pretty
well blown already, he expressed this wish to be submitted to the
same process again.  I can't say--all I know is, that Tom Smart
said so--or at least he always told my uncle he said so, and it's
just the same thing.

"'Blow me," says Tom Smart; and the mare neighed as if she
were precisely of the same opinion.

"'Cheer up, old girl," said Tom, patting the bay mare on the
neck with the end of his whip.  "It won't do pushing on, such a
night as this; the first house we come to we'll put up at, so the
faster you go the sooner it's over.  Soho, old girl--gently--gently."

'Whether the vixenish mare was sufficiently well acquainted
with the tones of Tom's voice to comprehend his meaning, or
whether she found it colder standing still than moving on, of
course I can't say.  But I can say that Tom had no sooner finished
speaking, than she pricked up her ears, and started forward at a
speed which made the clay-coloured gig rattle until you would
have supposed every one of the red spokes were going to fly out
on the turf of Marlborough Downs; and even Tom, whip as he
was, couldn't stop or check her pace, until she drew up of her
own accord, before a roadside inn on the right-hand side of the
way, about half a quarter of a mile from the end of the Downs.
'Tom cast a hasty glance at the upper part of the house as he
threw the reins to the hostler, and stuck the whip in the box.  It
was a strange old place, built of a kind of shingle, inlaid, as it
were, with cross-beams, with gabled-topped windows projecting
completely over the pathway, and a low door with a dark porch,
and a couple of steep steps leading down into the house, instead
of the modern fashion of half a dozen shallow ones leading up to
it.  It was a comfortable-looking place though, for there was a
strong, cheerful light in the bar window, which shed a bright ray
across the road, and even lighted up the hedge on the other side;
and there was a red flickering light in the opposite window, one
moment but faintly discernible, and the next gleaming strongly
through the drawn curtains, which intimated that a rousing fire
was blazing within.  Marking these little evidences with the eye of
an experienced traveller, Tom dismounted with as much agility
as his half-frozen limbs would permit, and entered the house.

'In less than five minutes' time, Tom was ensconced in the
room opposite the bar--the very room where he had imagined
the fire blazing--before a substantial, matter-of-fact, roaring
fire, composed of something short of a bushel of coals, and wood
enough to make half a dozen decent gooseberry bushes, piled
half-way up the chimney, and roaring and crackling with a
sound that of itself would have warmed the heart of any reasonable
man.  This was comfortable, but this was not all; for a
smartly-dressed girl, with a bright eye and a neat ankle, was
laying a very clean white cloth on the table; and as Tom sat with
his slippered feet on the fender, and his back to the open door, he
saw a charming prospect of the bar reflected in the glass over the
chimney-piece, with delightful rows of green bottles and gold
labels, together with jars of pickles and preserves, and cheeses
and boiled hams, and rounds of beef, arranged on shelves in the
most tempting and delicious array.  Well, this was comfortable
too; but even this was not all--for in the bar, seated at tea at the
nicest possible little table, drawn close up before the brightest
possible little fire, was a buxom widow of somewhere about
eight-and-forty or thereabouts, with a face as comfortable as the
bar, who was evidently the landlady of the house, and the
supreme ruler over all these agreeable possessions.  There was
only one drawback to the beauty of the whole picture, and that
was a tall man--a very tall man--in a brown coat and bright
basket buttons, and black whiskers and wavy black hair, who
was seated at tea with the widow, and who it required no great
penetration to discover was in a fair way of persuading her to be
a widow no longer, but to confer upon him the privilege of
sitting down in that bar, for and during the whole remainder of
the term of his natural life.

'Tom Smart was by no means of an irritable or envious
disposition, but somehow or other the tall man with the brown
coat and the bright basket buttons did rouse what little gall he
had in his composition, and did make him feel extremely indignant,
the more especially as he could now and then observe, from
his seat before the glass, certain little affectionate familiarities
passing between the tall man and the widow, which sufficiently
denoted that the tall man was as high in favour as he was in size.
Tom was fond of hot punch--I may venture to say he was VERY
fond of hot punch--and after he had seen the vixenish mare well
fed and well littered down, and had eaten every bit of the nice
little hot dinner which the widow tossed up for him with her
own hands, he just ordered a tumbler of it by way of experiment.
Now, if there was one thing in the whole range of domestic art,
which the widow could manufacture better than another, it was
this identical article; and the first tumbler was adapted to Tom
Smart's taste with such peculiar nicety, that he ordered a second
with the least possible delay.  Hot punch is a pleasant thing,
gentlemen--an extremely pleasant thing under any circumstances
--but in that snug old parlour, before the roaring fire, with the
wind blowing outside till every timber in the old house creaked
again, Tom Smart found it perfectly delightful.  He ordered
another tumbler, and then another--I am not quite certain
whether he didn't order another after that--but the more he
drank of the hot punch, the more he thought of the tall man.

'"Confound his impudence!" said Tom to himself, "what
business has he in that snug bar?  Such an ugly villain too!" said
Tom.  "If the widow had any taste, she might surely pick up some
better fellow than that."  Here Tom's eye wandered from the glass
on the chimney-piece to the glass on the table; and as he felt
himself becoming gradually sentimental, he emptied the fourth
tumbler of punch and ordered a fifth.

'Tom Smart, gentlemen, had always been very much attached
to the public line.  It had been long his ambition to stand in a bar
of his own, in a green coat, knee-cords, and tops.  He had a great
notion of taking the chair at convivial dinners, and he had often
thought how well he could preside in a room of his own in the
talking way, and what a capital example he could set to his
customers in the drinking department.  All these things passed
rapidly through Tom's mind as he sat drinking the hot punch by
the roaring fire, and he felt very justly and properly indignant
that the tall man should be in a fair way of keeping such an
excellent house, while he, Tom Smart, was as far off from it as
ever.  So, after deliberating over the two last tumblers, whether he
hadn't a perfect right to pick a quarrel with the tall man for
having contrived to get into the good graces of the buxom widow,
Tom Smart at last arrived at the satisfactory conclusion that he
was a very ill-used and persecuted individual, and had better go
to bed.

'Up a wide and ancient staircase the smart girl preceded Tom,
shading the chamber candle with her hand, to protect it from the
currents of air which in such a rambling old place might have
found plenty of room to disport themselves in, without blowing
the candle out, but which did blow it out nevertheless--thus
affording Tom's enemies an opportunity of asserting that it was
he, and not the wind, who extinguished the candle, and that
while he pretended to be blowing it alight again, he was in fact
kissing the girl.  Be this as it may, another light was obtained, and
Tom was conducted through a maze of rooms, and a labyrinth
of passages, to the apartment which had been prepared for his
reception, where the girl bade him good-night and left him alone.

'It was a good large room with big closets, and a bed which
might have served for a whole boarding-school, to say nothing of
a couple of oaken presses that would have held the baggage of a
small army; but what struck Tom's fancy most was a strange,
grim-looking, high backed chair, carved in the most fantastic
manner, with a flowered damask cushion, and the round knobs
at the bottom of the legs carefully tied up in red cloth, as if it
had got the gout in its toes.  Of any other queer chair, Tom would
only have thought it was a queer chair, and there would have
been an end of the matter; but there was something about this
particular chair, and yet he couldn't tell what it was, so odd and
so unlike any other piece of furniture he had ever seen, that it
seemed to fascinate him.  He sat down before the fire, and stared
at the old chair for half an hour.--Damn the chair, it was such
a strange old thing, he couldn't take his eyes off it.

"'Well," said Tom, slowly undressing himself, and staring at
the old chair all the while, which stood with a mysterious aspect
by the bedside, "I never saw such a rum concern as that in my
days.  Very odd," said Tom, who had got rather sage with the hot
punch--'very odd."  Tom shook his head with an air of profound
wisdom, and looked at the chair again.  He couldn't make
anything of it though, so he got into bed, covered himself up
warm, and fell asleep.

'In about half an hour, Tom woke up with a start, from a
confused dream of tall men and tumblers of punch; and the first
object that presented itself to his waking imagination was the
queer chair.

'"I won't look at it any more," said Tom to himself, and he
squeezed his eyelids together, and tried to persuade himself he
was going to sleep again.  No use; nothing but queer chairs
danced before his eyes, kicking up their legs, jumping over each
other's backs, and playing all kinds of antics.

"'I may as well see one real chair, as two or three complete
sets of false ones," said Tom, bringing out his head from under
the bedclothes.  There it was, plainly discernible by the light of
the fire, looking as provoking as ever.

'Tom gazed at the chair; and, suddenly as he looked at it, a
most extraordinary change seemed to come over it.  The carving
of the back gradually assumed the lineaments and expression of
an old, shrivelled human face; the damask cushion became an
antique, flapped waistcoat; the round knobs grew into a couple
of feet, encased in red cloth slippers; and the whole chair looked
like a very ugly old man, of the previous century, with his arms
akimbo.  Tom sat up in bed, and rubbed his eyes to dispel the
illusion.  No.  The chair was an ugly old gentleman; and what
was more, he was winking at Tom Smart.

'Tom was naturally a headlong, careless sort of dog, and he
had had five tumblers of hot punch into the bargain; so, although
he was a little startled at first, he began to grow rather indignant
when he saw the old gentleman winking and leering at him with
such an impudent air.  At length he resolved that he wouldn't
stand it; and as the old face still kept winking away as fast as
ever, Tom said, in a very angry tone--

'"What the devil are you winking at me for?"

'"Because I like it, Tom Smart," said the chair; or the old
gentleman, whichever you like to call him.  He stopped winking
though, when Tom spoke, and began grinning like a
superannuated monkey.

'"How do you know my name, old nut-cracker face?"
inquired Tom Smart, rather staggered; though he pretended to
carry it off so well.

'"Come, come, Tom," said the old gentleman, "that's not the
way to address solid Spanish mahogany.  Damme, you couldn't
treat me with less respect if I was veneered."  When the old
gentleman said this, he looked so fierce that Tom began to
grow frightened.

'"I didn't mean to treat you with any disrespect, Sir," said
Tom, in a much humbler tone than he had spoken in at first.

'"Well, well," said the old fellow, "perhaps not--perhaps
not.  Tom--"

'"sir--"

'"I know everything about you, Tom; everything.  You're
very poor, Tom."

'"I certainly am," said Tom Smart.  "But how came you to
know that?"

'"Never mind that," said the old gentleman; "you're much
too fond of punch, Tom."

'Tom Smart was just on the point of protesting that he hadn't
tasted a drop since his last birthday, but when his eye encountered
that of the old gentleman he looked so knowing that Tom
blushed, and was silent.

'"Tom," said the old gentleman, "the widow's a fine woman--
remarkably fine woman--eh, Tom?" Here the old fellow
screwed up his eyes, cocked up one of his wasted little legs, and
looked altogether so unpleasantly amorous, that Tom was quite
disgusted with the levity of his behaviour--at his time of life, too!
'"I am her guardian, Tom," said the old gentleman.

'"Are you?" inquired Tom Smart.

'"I knew her mother, Tom," said the old fellow: "and her
grandmother.  She was very fond of me--made me this waistcoat, Tom."

'"Did she?" said Tom Smart.

'"And these shoes," said the old fellow, lifting up one of the
red cloth mufflers; "but don't mention it, Tom.  I shouldn't like to
have it known that she was so much attached to me.  It might
occasion some unpleasantness in the family."  When the old
rascal said this, he looked so extremely impertinent, that, as
Tom Smart afterwards declared, he could have sat upon him
without remorse.

'"I have been a great favourite among the women in my time,
Tom," said the profligate old debauchee; "hundreds of fine
women have sat in my lap for hours together.  What do you think
of that, you dog, eh!" The old gentleman was proceeding to
recount some other exploits of his youth, when he was seized
with such a violent fit of creaking that he was unable to proceed.

'"Just serves you right, old boy," thought Tom Smart; but he
didn't say anything.

'"Ah!" said the old fellow, "I am a good deal troubled with
this now.  I am getting old, Tom, and have lost nearly all my rails.
I have had an operation performed, too--a small piece let into
my back--and I found it a severe trial, Tom."

'"I dare say you did, Sir," said Tom Smart.

'"However," said the old gentleman, "that's not the point.
Tom! I want you to marry the widow."

'"Me, Sir!" said Tom.

'"You," said the old gentleman.

'"Bless your reverend locks," said Tom (he had a few scattered
horse-hairs left)--"bless your reverend locks, she wouldn't have
me."  And Tom sighed involuntarily, as he thought of the bar.

'"Wouldn't she?" said the old gentleman firmly.

'"No, no," said Tom; "there's somebody else in the wind.  A
tall man--a confoundedly tall man--with black whiskers."

'"Tom," said the old gentleman; "she will never have him."

'"Won't she?" said Tom.  "If you stood in the bar, old
gentleman, you'd tell another story."
'"Pooh, pooh," said the old gentleman.  "I know all about that.  "

'"About what?" said Tom.

'"The kissing behind the door, and all that sort of thing,
Tom," said the old gentleman.  And here he gave another
impudent look, which made Tom very wroth, because as you all
know, gentlemen, to hear an old fellow, who ought to know
better, talking about these things, is very unpleasant--nothing
more so.

'"I know all about that, Tom," said the old gentleman.  "I
have seen it done very often in my time, Tom, between more
people than I should like to mention to you; but it never came to
anything after all."

'"You must have seen some queer things," said Tom, with an
inquisitive look.

'"You may say that, Tom," replied the old fellow, with a very
complicated wink.  "I am the last of my family, Tom," said the
old gentleman, with a melancholy sigh.

'"Was it a large one?" inquired Tom Smart.

'"There were twelve of us, Tom," said the old gentleman;
"fine, straight-backed, handsome fellows as you'd wish to see.
None of your modern abortions--all with arms, and with a
degree of polish, though I say it that should not, which it would
have done your heart good to behold."

'"And what's become of the others, Sir?" asked Tom Smart--

'The old gentleman applied his elbow to his eye as he replied,
"Gone, Tom, gone.  We had hard service, Tom, and they hadn't
all my constitution.  They got rheumatic about the legs and arms,
and went into kitchens and other hospitals; and one of 'em, with
long service and hard usage, positively lost his senses--he got
so crazy that he was obliged to be burnt.  Shocking thing that, Tom."

'"Dreadful!" said Tom Smart.

'The old fellow paused for a few minutes, apparently struggling
with his feelings of emotion, and then said--

'"However, Tom, I am wandering from the point.  This tall
man, Tom, is a rascally adventurer.  The moment he married the
widow, he would sell off all the furniture, and run away.  What
would be the consequence?  She would be deserted and reduced
to ruin, and I should catch my death of cold in some broker's shop."

'"Yes, but--"

'"Don't interrupt me," said the old gentleman.  "Of you, Tom,
I entertain a very different opinion; for I well know that if you
once settled yourself in a public-house, you would never leave it,
as long as there was anything to drink within its walls."

'"I am very much obliged to you for your good opinion, Sir,"
said Tom Smart.

'"Therefore," resumed the old gentleman, in a dictatorial
tone, "you shall have her, and he shall not."

'"What is to prevent it?" said Tom Smart eagerly.

'"This disclosure," replied the old gentleman; "he is already married."

'"How can I prove it?" said Tom, starting half out of bed.

'The old gentleman untucked his arm from his side, and having
pointed to one of the oaken presses, immediately replaced it, in
its old position.

'"He little thinks," said the old gentleman, "that in the right-
hand pocket of a pair of trousers in that press, he has left a letter,
entreating him to return to his disconsolate wife, with six--mark
me, Tom--six babes, and all of them small ones."

'As the old gentleman solemnly uttered these words, his
features grew less and less distinct, and his figure more shadowy.
A film came over Tom Smart's eyes.  The old man seemed
gradually blending into the chair, the damask waistcoat to
resolve into a cushion, the red slippers to shrink into little red
cloth bags.  The light faded gently away, and Tom Smart fell
back on his pillow, and dropped asleep.

'Morning aroused Tom from the lethargic slumber, into
which he had fallen on the disappearance of the old man.  He sat
up in bed, and for some minutes vainly endeavoured to recall the
events of the preceding night.  Suddenly they rushed upon him.
He looked at the chair; it was a fantastic and grim-looking piece
of furniture, certainly, but it must have been a remarkably
ingenious and lively imagination, that could have discovered any
resemblance between it and an old man.

'"How are you, old boy?" said Tom.  He was bolder in the
daylight--most men are.

'The chair remained motionless, and spoke not a word.

'"Miserable morning," said Tom.  No.  The chair would not be
drawn into conversation.

'"Which press did you point to?--you can tell me that," said
Tom.  Devil a word, gentlemen, the chair would say.

'"It's not much trouble to open it, anyhow," said Tom,
getting out of bed very deliberately.  He walked up to one of the
presses.  The key was in the lock; he turned it, and opened the
door.  There was a pair of trousers there.  He put his hand into the
pocket, and drew forth the identical letter the old gentleman
had described!

'"Queer sort of thing, this," said Tom Smart, looking first at
the chair and then at the press, and then at the letter, and then at
the chair again.  "Very queer," said Tom.  But, as there was
nothing in either, to lessen the queerness, he thought he might as
well dress himself, and settle the tall man's business at once--
just to put him out of his misery.

'Tom surveyed the rooms he passed through, on his way
downstairs, with the scrutinising eye of a landlord; thinking it
not impossible, that before long, they and their contents would
be his property.  The tall man was standing in the snug little
bar, with his hands behind him, quite at home.  He grinned
vacantly at Tom.  A casual observer might have supposed he did
it, only to show his white teeth; but Tom Smart thought that a
consciousness of triumph was passing through the place where
the tall man's mind would have been, if he had had any.  Tom
laughed in his face; and summoned the landlady.

'"Good-morning ma'am," said Tom Smart, closing the door
of the little parlour as the widow entered.

'"Good-morning, Sir," said the widow.  "What will you take
for breakfast, sir?"

'Tom was thinking how he should open the case, so he made
no answer.

'"There's a very nice ham," said the widow, "and a beautiful
cold larded fowl.  Shall I send 'em in, Sir?"

'These words roused Tom from his reflections.  His admiration
of the widow increased as she spoke.  Thoughtful creature!
Comfortable provider!

'"Who is that gentleman in the bar, ma'am?" inquired Tom.

'"His name is Jinkins, Sir," said the widow, slightly blushing.

'"He's a tall man," said Tom.

'"He is a very fine man, Sir," replied the widow, "and a very
nice gentleman."

'"Ah!" said Tom.

'"Is there anything more you want, Sir?" inquired the widow,
rather puzzled by Tom's manner.
'"Why, yes," said Tom.  "My dear ma'am, will you have the
kindness to sit down for one moment?"

'The widow looked much amazed, but she sat down, and Tom
sat down too, close beside her.  I don't know how it happened,
gentlemen--indeed my uncle used to tell me that Tom Smart said
he didn't know how it happened either--but somehow or other
the palm of Tom's hand fell upon the back of the widow's hand,
and remained there while he spoke.

'"My dear ma'am," said Tom Smart--he had always a great
notion of committing the amiable--"my dear ma'am, you
deserve a very excellent husband--you do indeed."

'"Lor, Sir!" said the widow--as well she might; Tom's mode
of commencing the conversation being rather unusual, not to
say startling; the fact of his never having set eyes upon her
before the previous night being taken into consideration.  "Lor, Sir!"

'"I scorn to flatter, my dear ma'am," said Tom Smart.  "You
deserve a very admirable husband, and whoever he is, he'll be a
very lucky man."  As Tom said this, his eye involuntarily wandered
from the widow's face to the comfort around him.

'The widow looked more puzzled than ever, and made an effort
to rise.  Tom gently pressed her hand, as if to detain her, and she
kept her seat.  Widows, gentlemen, are not usually timorous, as
my uncle used to say.

'"I am sure I am very much obliged to you, Sir, for your good
opinion," said the buxom landlady, half laughing; "and if ever I
marry again--"

'"IF," said Tom Smart, looking very shrewdly out of the right-
hand corner of his left eye.  "IF--"
"'Well," said the widow, laughing outright this time, "WHEN
I do, I hope I shall have as good a husband as you describe."

'"Jinkins, to wit," said Tom.

'"Lor, sir!" exclaimed the widow.

'"Oh, don't tell me," said Tom, "I know him."

'"I am sure nobody who knows him, knows anything bad of
him," said the widow, bridling up at the mysterious air with
which Tom had spoken.

'"Hem!" said Tom Smart.

'The widow began to think it was high time to cry, so she took
out her handkerchief, and inquired whether Tom wished to
insult her, whether he thought it like a gentleman to take away
the character of another gentleman behind his back, why, if he
had got anything to say, he didn't say it to the man, like a man,
instead of terrifying a poor weak woman in that way; and
so forth.

'"I'll say it to him fast enough," said Tom, "only I want you
to hear it first."

'"What is it?" inquired the widow, looking intently in Tom's
countenance.

'"I'll astonish you," said Tom, putting his hand in his pocket.

'"If it is, that he wants money," said the widow, "I know that
already, and you needn't trouble yourself."
'"Pooh, nonsense, that's nothing," said Tom Smart, "I want
money.  'Tain't that."

'"Oh, dear, what can it be?" exclaimed the poor widow.

'"Don't be frightened," said Tom Smart.  He slowly drew
forth the letter, and unfolded it.  "You won't scream?" said Tom
doubtfully.

'"No, no," replied the widow; "let me see it."

'"You won't go fainting away, or any of that nonsense?"
said Tom.

'"No, no," returned the widow hastily.

'"And don't run out, and blow him up," said Tom; "because
I'll do all that for you.  You had better not exert yourself."

'"Well, well," said the widow, "let me see it."

'"I will," replied Tom Smart; and, with these words, he placed
the letter in the widow's hand.

'Gentlemen, I have heard my uncle say, that Tom Smart said
the widow's lamentations when she heard the disclosure would
have pierced a heart of stone.  Tom was certainly very tender-
hearted, but they pierced his, to the very core.  The widow rocked
herself to and fro, and wrung her hands.

'"Oh, the deception and villainy of the man!" said the widow.

'"Frightful, my dear ma'am; but compose yourself," said
Tom Smart.

'"Oh, I can't compose myself," shrieked the widow.  "I shall
never find anyone else I can love so much!"

'"Oh, yes you will, my dear soul," said Tom Smart, letting fall
a shower of the largest-sized tears, in pity for the widow's
misfortunes.  Tom Smart, in the energy of his compassion, had
put his arm round the widow's waist; and the widow, in a passion
of grief, had clasped Tom's hand.  She looked up in Tom's face,
and smiled through her tears.  Tom looked down in hers, and
smiled through his.

'I never could find out, gentlemen, whether Tom did or did not
kiss the widow at that particular moment.  He used to tell my
uncle he didn't, but I have my doubts about it.  Between ourselves,
gentlemen, I rather think he did.

'At all events, Tom kicked the very tall man out at the front
door half an hour later, and married the widow a month after.
And he used to drive about the country, with the clay-coloured
gig with the red wheels, and the vixenish mare with the fast pace,
till he gave up business many years afterwards, and went to
France with his wife; and then the old house was pulled down.'


'Will you allow me to ask you,' said the inquisitive old gentleman,
'what became of the chair?'

'Why,' replied the one-eyed bagman, 'it was observed to creak
very much on the day of the wedding; but Tom Smart couldn't
say for certain whether it was with pleasure or bodily infirmity.
He rather thought it was the latter, though, for it never spoke
afterwards.'

'Everybody believed the story, didn't they?' said the dirty-
faced man, refilling his pipe.

'Except Tom's enemies,' replied the bagman.  'Some of 'em
said Tom invented it altogether; and others said he was drunk
and fancied it, and got hold of the wrong trousers by mistake
before he went to bed.  But nobody ever minded what THEY said.'

'Tom Smart said it was all true?'

'Every word.'

'And your uncle?'

'Every letter.'

'They must have been very nice men, both of 'em,' said the
dirty-faced man.

'Yes, they were,' replied the bagman; 'very nice men indeed!'


Charles Dickens