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The Pickwick Papers 282







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smoke, were engaged in noisy and riotous conversation over half-emptied pots of beer, or playing at all-fours with a very greasy pack of cards. In the adjoining room, some solitary tenant might be seen poring, by the light of a feeble tallow candle, over a bundle of soiled and tattered papers, yellow with dust and dropping to pieces from age, writing, for the hundredth time, some lengthened statement of his grievances, for the perusal of some great man whose eyes it would never reach, or whose heart it would never touch. In a third, a man, with his wife and a whole crowd of children, might be seen making up a scanty bed on the ground, or upon a few chairs, for the younger ones to pass the night in. And in a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth, and a seventh, the noise, and the beer, and the tobacco smoke, and the cards, all came over again in greater force than before. In the galleries themselves, and more especially on the stair- cases, there lingered a great number of people, who came there, some because their rooms were empty and lonesome, others because their rooms were full and hot; the greater part because they were restless and uncomfortable, and not possessed of the secret of exactly knowing what to do with themselves. There were many classes of people here, from the labouring man in his fustian jacket, to the broken-down spendthrift in his shawl dressing-gown, most appropriately out at elbows; but there was the same air about them all--a kind of listless, jail-bird, careless swagger, a vagabondish whos-afraid sort of bearing, which is wholly indescribable in words, but which any man can understand in one moment if he wish, by setting foot in the nearest debtors prison, and looking at the very first group of people he sees there, with the same interest as Mr. Pickwick did. It strikes me, Sam, said Mr. Pickwick, leaning over the iron rail at the stair-head-it strikes me, Sam, that imprisonment for debt is scarcely any punishment at all. Think not, sir? inquired Mr. Weller. You see how these fellows drink, and smoke, and roar, replied Mr. Pickwick. Its quite impossible that they can mind it much. Ah, thats just the wery thing, Sir, rejoined Sam, they dont mind it; its a reglar holiday to them--all porter and skittles. Its the tother vuns as gets done over vith this sort o thing; them down-hearted fellers as cant svig avay at the beer, nor play at skittles neither; them as vould pay if they could, and gets low by being boxed up. Ill tell you wot it is, sir; them as is always a-idlin in public-houses it dont damage at all, and them as is alvays a-workin wen they can, it damages too much. "Its unekal," as my father used to say wen his grog wornt made half- and-half: "its unekal, and thats the fault on it." I think youre right, Sam, said Mr. Pickwick, after a few moments reflection, quite right. Praps, now and then, theres some honest people as likes it, observed Mr. Weller, in a ruminative tone, but I never heerd o one as I can call to mind, cept the little dirty-faced man in the brown coat; and that was force of habit. And who was he? inquired Mr. Pickwick. Wy, thats just the wery point as nobody never knowd, replied Sam. But what did he do? Wy, he did wot many men as has been much better knowd has done in their time, Sir, replied Sam, he run a match agin the constable, and vun it. In other words, I suppose, said Mr. Pickwick, he got into debt. Just that, Sir, replied Sam, and in course o time he come here in consekens. It warnt much--execution for nine pound nothin, multiplied by five for costs; but howsever here he stopped for seventeen year. If he got any wrinkles in his face, they were stopped up vith the dirt, for both the dirty face and the brown coat wos just the same at the end o that time as they wos at the beginnin. He wos a wery peaceful, inoffendin little creetur, and wos alvays a-bustlin about for somebody, or playin rackets and never vinnin; till at last the turnkeys they got quite fond on him, and he wos in the lodge evry night, a-chattering vith em, and tellin stories, and all that ere. Vun night he wos in there as usual, along vith a wery old friend of

The Pickwick Papers page 281        The Pickwick Papers page 283