Chapter 29

The greeting - Queer figure - Cheer up - The cheerful fire - It will do - The sally forth - Trepidation - Let him come in.

‘ONE-AND-NINEPENCE, sir, or the things which you have brought with you will be taken away from you!’

Such were the first words which greeted my ears, one damp misty morning in March, as I dismounted from the top of a coach in the yard of a London inn.

I turned round, for I felt that the words were addressed to myself. Plenty of people were in the yard - porters, passengers, coachmen, hostlers, and others, who appeared to be intent on anything but myself, with the exception of one individual, whose business appeared to lie with me, and who now confronted me at the distance of about two yards.

I looked hard at the man - and a queer kind of individual he was to look at - a rakish figure, about thirty, and of the middle size, dressed in a coat smartly cut, but threadbare, very tight pantaloons of blue stuff, tied at the ankles, dirty white stockings and thin shoes, like those of a dancing-master; his features were not ugly, but rather haggard, and he appeared to owe his complexion less to nature than carmine; in fact, in every respect, a very queer figure.

‘One-and-ninepence, sir, or your things will be taken away from you!’ he said, in a kind of lisping tone, coming yet nearer to me.

I still remained staring fixedly at him, but never a word answered. Our eyes met; whereupon he suddenly lost the easy impudent air which he before wore. He glanced, for a moment, at my fist, which I had by this time clenched, and his features became yet more haggard; he faltered; a fresh ‘one-and-ninepence,’ which he was about to utter, died on his lips; he shrank back, disappeared behind a coach, and I saw no more of him.

‘One-and-ninepence, or my things will be taken away from me!’ said I to myself, musingly, as I followed the porter to whom I had delivered my scanty baggage; ‘am I to expect many of these greetings in the big world? Well, never mind! I think I know the counter-sign!’ And I clenched my fist yet harder than before.

So I followed the porter, through the streets of London, to a lodging which had been prepared for me by an acquaintance. The morning, as I have before said, was gloomy, and the streets through which I passed were dank and filthy; the people, also, looked dank and filthy; and so, probably, did I, for the night had been rainy, and I had come upwards of a hundred miles on the top of a coach; my heart had sunk within me, by the time we reached a dark narrow street, in which was the lodging.

‘Cheer up, young man,’ said the porter, ‘we shall have a fine afternoon!’

And presently I found myself in the lodging which had been prepared for me. It consisted of a small room, up two pair of stairs, in which I was to sit, and another still smaller above it, in which I was to sleep. I remember that I sat down, and looked disconsolate about me - everything seemed so cold and dingy. Yet how little is required to make a situation - however cheerless at first sight - cheerful and comfortable. The people of the house, who looked kindly upon me, lighted a fire in the dingy grate; and, then, what a change! - the dingy room seemed dingy no more! Oh the luxury of a cheerful fire after a chill night’s journey! I drew near to the blazing grate, rubbed my hands, and felt glad.

And, when I had warmed myself, I turned to the table, on which, by this time, the people of the house had placed my breakfast; and I ate and I drank; and, as I ate and drank, I mused within myself, and my eyes were frequently directed to a small green box, which constituted part of my luggage, and which, with the rest of my things, stood in one corner of the room, till at last, leaving my breakfast unfinished, I rose, and, going to the box, unlocked it, and took out two or three bundles of papers tied with red tape,

  By PanEris using Melati.

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