Somebody's Luggage by Charles Dickens


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Page 1

You were conveyed,--ere yet your dawning powers were otherwise developed
than to harbour vacancy in your inside,--you were conveyed, by
surreptitious means, into a pantry adjoining the Admiral Nelson, Civic
and General Dining-Rooms, there to receive by stealth that healthful
sustenance which is the pride and boast of the British female
constitution. Your mother was married to your father (himself a distant
Waiter) in the profoundest secrecy; for a Waitress known to be married
would ruin the best of businesses,--it is the same as on the stage. Hence
your being smuggled into the pantry, and that--to add to the
infliction--by an unwilling grandmother. Under the combined influence of
the smells of roast and boiled, and soup, and gas, and malt liquors, you
partook of your earliest nourishment; your unwilling grandmother sitting
prepared to catch you when your mother was called and dropped you; your
grandmother's shawl ever ready to stifle your natural complainings; your
innocent mind surrounded by uncongenial cruets, dirty plates,
dish-covers, and cold gravy; your mother calling down the pipe for veals
and porks, instead of soothing you with nursery rhymes. Under these
untoward circumstances you were early weaned. Your unwilling
grandmother, ever growing more unwilling as your food assimilated less,
then contracted habits of shaking you till your system curdled, and your
food would not assimilate at all. At length she was no longer spared,
and could have been thankfully spared much sooner. When your brothers
began to appear in succession, your mother retired, left off her smart
dressing (she had previously been a smart dresser), and her dark ringlets
(which had previously been flowing), and haunted your father late of
nights, lying in wait for him, through all weathers, up the shabby court
which led to the back door of the Royal Old Dust-Bin (said to have been
so named by George the Fourth), where your father was Head. But the Dust-
Bin was going down then, and your father took but little,--excepting from
a liquid point of view. Your mother's object in those visits was of a
house-keeping character, and you was set on to whistle your father out.
Sometimes he came out, but generally not. Come or not come, however, all
that part of his existence which was unconnected with open Waitering was
kept a close secret, and was acknowledged by your mother to be a close
secret, and you and your mother flitted about the court, close secrets
both of you, and would scarcely have confessed under torture that you
know your father, or that your father had any name than Dick (which
wasn't his name, though he was never known by any other), or that he had
kith or kin or chick or child. Perhaps the attraction of this mystery,
combined with your father's having a damp compartment, to himself, behind
a leaky cistern, at the Dust-Bin,--a sort of a cellar compartment, with a
sink in it, and a smell, and a plate-rack, and a bottle-rack, and three
windows that didn't match each other or anything else, and no
daylight,--caused your young mind to feel convinced that you must grow up
to be a Waiter too; but you did feel convinced of it, and so did all your
brothers, down to your sister. Every one of you felt convinced that you
was born to the Waitering. At this stage of your career, what was your
feelings one day when your father came home to your mother in open broad
daylight,--of itself an act of Madness on the part of a Waiter,--and took
to his bed (leastwise, your mother and family's bed), with the statement
that his eyes were devilled kidneys. Physicians being in vain, your
father expired, after repeating at intervals for a day and a night, when
gleams of reason and old business fitfully illuminated his being, "Two
and two is five. And three is sixpence." Interred in the parochial
department of the neighbouring churchyard, and accompanied to the grave
by as many Waiters of long standing as could spare the morning time from
their soiled glasses (namely, one), your bereaved form was attired in a
white neckankecher, and you was took on from motives of benevolence at
The George and Gridiron, theatrical and supper. Here, supporting nature
on what you found in the plates (which was as it happened, and but too
often thoughtlessly, immersed in mustard), and on what you found in the
glasses (which rarely went beyond driblets and lemon), by night you
dropped asleep standing, till you was cuffed awake, and by day was set to
polishing every individual article in the coffee-room. Your couch being
sawdust; your counterpane being ashes of cigars. Here, frequently hiding
a heavy heart under the smart tie of your white neckankecher (or
correctly speaking lower down and more to the left), you picked up the
rudiments of knowledge from an extra, by the name of Bishops, and by
calling plate-washer, and gradually elevating your mind with chalk on the
back of the corner-box partition, until such time as you used the
inkstand when it was out of hand, attained to manhood, and to be the
Waiter that you find yourself.

I could wish here to offer a few respectful words on behalf of the
calling so long the calling of myself and family, and the public interest
in which is but too often very limited. We are not generally understood.
No, we are not. Allowance enough is not made for us. For, say that we
ever show a little drooping listlessness of spirits, or what might be
termed indifference or apathy. Put it to yourself what would your own
state of mind be, if you was one of an enormous family every member of
which except you was always greedy, and in a hurry. Put it to yourself
that you was regularly replete with animal food at the slack hours of one
in the day and again at nine p.m., and that the repleter you was, the
more voracious all your fellow-creatures came in. Put it to yourself
that it was your business, when your digestion was well on, to take a
personal interest and sympathy in a hundred gentlemen fresh and fresh
(say, for the sake of argument, only a hundred), whose imaginations was
given up to grease and fat and gravy and melted butter, and abandoned to
questioning you about cuts of this, and dishes of that,--each of 'em
going on as if him and you and the bill of fare was alone in the world.
Then look what you are expected to know. You are never out, but they
seem to think you regularly attend everywhere. "What's this,
Christopher, that I hear about the smashed Excursion Train? How are they
doing at the Italian Opera, Christopher?" "Christopher, what are the
real particulars of this business at the Yorkshire Bank?" Similarly a
ministry gives me more trouble than it gives the Queen. As to Lord
Palmerston, the constant and wearing connection into which I have been
brought with his lordship during the last few years is deserving of a
pension. Then look at the Hypocrites we are made, and the lies (white, I
hope) that are forced upon us! Why must a sedentary-pursuited Waiter be
considered to be a judge of horseflesh, and to have a most tremendous
interest in horse-training and racing? Yet it would be half our little
incomes out of our pockets if we didn't take on to have those sporting
tastes. It is the same (inconceivable why!) with Farming. Shooting,
equally so. I am sure that so regular as the months of August,
September, and October come round, I am ashamed of myself in my own
private bosom for the way in which I make believe to care whether or not
the grouse is strong on the wing (much their wings, or drumsticks either,
signifies to me, uncooked!), and whether the partridges is plentiful
among the turnips, and whether the pheasants is shy or bold, or anything
else you please to mention. Yet you may see me, or any other Waiter of
my standing, holding on by the back of the box, and leaning over a
gentleman with his purse out and his bill before him, discussing these
points in a confidential tone of voice, as if my happiness in life
entirely depended on 'em.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 15th Dec 2019, 20:57