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The Pickwick Papers 134







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Theres Samkin and Greens managing- clerk, and Smithers and Prices chancery, and Pimkin and Thomass out o doors--sings a capital song, he does--and Jack Bamber, and ever so many more. Youre come out of the country, I suppose. Would you like to join us? Mr. Pickwick could not resist so tempting an opportunity of studying human nature. He suffered himself to be led to the table, where, after having been introduced to the company in due form, he was accommodated with a seat near the chairman and called for a glass of his favourite beverage. A profound silence, quite contrary to Mr. Pickwicks expectation, succeeded. You dont find this sort of thing disagreeable, I hope, sir? said his right hand neighbour, a gentleman in a checked shirt and Mosaic studs, with a cigar in his mouth. Not in the least, replied Mr. Pickwick; I like it very much, although I am no smoker myself. I should be very sorry to say I wasnt, interposed another gentleman on the opposite side of the table. Its board and lodgings to me, is smoke. Mr. Pickwick glanced at the speaker, and thought that if it were washing too, it would be all the better. Here there was another pause. Mr. Pickwick was a stranger, and his coming had evidently cast a damp upon the party. Mr. Grundys going to oblige the company with a song, said the chairman. No, he aint, said Mr. Grundy. Why not? said the chairman. Because he cant, said Mr. Grundy. You had better say he wont, replied the chairman. Well, then, he wont, retorted Mr. Grundy. Mr. Grundys positive refusal to gratify the company occasioned another silence. Wont anybody enliven us? said the chairman, despondingly. Why dont you enliven us yourself, Mr. Chairman? said a young man with a whisker, a squint, and an open shirt collar (dirty), from the bottom of the table. Hear! hear! said the smoking gentleman, in the Mosaic jewellery. Because I only know one song, and I have sung it already, and its a fine of "glasses round" to sing the same song twice in a night, replied the chairman. This was an unanswerable reply, and silence prevailed again. I have been to-night, gentlemen, said Mr. Pickwick, hoping to start a subject which all the company could take a part in discussing, I have been to-night, in a place which you all know very well, doubtless, but which I have not been in for some years, and know very little of; I mean Grays Inn, gentlemen. Curious little nooks in a great place, like London, these old inns are. By Jove! said the chairman, whispering across the table to Mr. Pickwick, you have hit upon something that one of us, at least, would talk upon for ever. Youll draw old Jack Bamber out; he was never heard to talk about anything else but the inns, and he has lived alone in them till hes half crazy. The individual to whom Lowten alluded, was a little, yellow, high-shouldered man, whose countenance, from his habit of stooping forward when silent, Mr. Pickwick had not observed before. He wondered, though, when the old man raised his shrivelled face, and bent his gray eye upon him, with a keen inquiring look, that such remarkable features could have escaped his attention for a moment. There was a fixed grim smile perpetually on his countenance; he leaned his chin on a long, skinny hand, with nails of extraordinary length; and as he inclined his head to one side, and looked keenly out from beneath his ragged gray eyebrows, there was a strange, wild slyness in his leer, quite repulsive to behold. This was the figure that now started forward, and burst into an animated torrent of words. As this chapter has been a long one, however, and as the old man was a remarkable personage, it will be more respectful to him, and more convenient to us, to let him speak for himself in a fresh one.

CHAPTER XXI

IN WHICH THE OLD MAN LAUNCHES FORTH INTO HIS FAVOURITE THEME, AND RELATES A STORY ABOUT A QUEER CLIENT

Aha! said the old man, a brief description of whose manner and appearance concluded the last chapter, aha! who was talking about the inns? I was, Sir, replied Mr. Pickwick--I was observing what singular old places they are. YOU! said the old man contemptuously. What do YOU know of the time when young men shut themselves up in those lonely rooms, and read and read, hour after hour,

The Pickwick Papers page 133        The Pickwick Papers page 135