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The Pickwick Papers 291







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The Pickwick Papers

The Sea Wolf




Lord! why didnt you say at first that you was willing to come down handsome? The matter was soon arranged, as the turnkey had foretold. The Chancery prisoner had been there long enough to have lost his friends, fortune, home, and happiness, and to have acquired the right of having a room to himself. As he laboured, however, under the inconvenience of often wanting a morsel of bread, he eagerly listened to Mr. Pickwicks proposal to rent the apartment, and readily covenanted and agreed to yield him up the sole and undisturbed possession thereof, in consideration of the weekly payment of twenty shillings; from which fund he furthermore contracted to pay out any person or persons that might be chummed upon it. As they struck the bargain, Mr. Pickwick surveyed him with a painful interest. He was a tall, gaunt, cadaverous man, in an old greatcoat and slippers, with sunken cheeks, and a restless, eager eye. His lips were bloodless, and his bones sharp and thin. God help him! the iron teeth of confinement and privation had been slowly filing him down for twenty years. And where will you live meanwhile, Sir? said Mr. Pickwick, as he laid the amount of the first weeks rent, in advance, on the tottering table. The man gathered up the money with a trembling hand, and replied that he didnt know yet; he must go and see where he could move his bed to. I am afraid, sir, said Mr. Pickwick, laying his hand gently and compassionately on his arm--I am afraid you will have to live in some noisy, crowded place. Now, pray, consider this room your own when you want quiet, or when any of your friends come to see you. Friends! interposed the man, in a voice which rattled in his throat. if I lay dead at the bottom of the deepest mine in the world; tight screwed down and soldered in my coffin; rotting in the dark and filthy ditch that drags its slime along, beneath the foundations of this prison; I could not be more forgotten or unheeded than I am here. I am a dead man; dead to society, without the pity they bestow on those whose souls have passed to judgment. Friends to see me! My God! I have sunk, from the prime of life into old age, in this place, and there is not one to raise his hand above my bed when I lie dead upon it, and say, "It is a blessing he is gone!" The excitement, which had cast an unwonted light over the mans face, while he spoke, subsided as he concluded; and pressing his withered hands together in a hasty and disordered manner, he shuffled from the room. Rides rather rusty, said Mr. Roker, with a smile. Ah! theyre like the elephants. They feel it now and then, and it makes em wild! Having made this deeply-sympathising remark, Mr. Roker entered upon his arrangements with such expedition, that in a short time the room was furnished with a carpet, six chairs, a table, a sofa bedstead, a tea-kettle, and various small articles, on hire, at the very reasonable rate of seven-and-twenty shillings and sixpence per week. Now, is there anything more we can do for you? inquired Mr. Roker, looking round with great satisfaction, and gaily chinking the first weeks hire in his closed fist. Why, yes, said Mr. Pickwick, who had been musing deeply for some time. Are there any people here who run on errands, and so forth? Outside, do you mean? inquired Mr. Roker. Yes. I mean who are able to go outside. Not prisoners. Yes, there is, said Roker. Theres an unfortunate devil, who has got a friend on the poor side, thats glad to do anything of that sort. Hes been running odd jobs, and that, for the last two months. Shall I send him? If you please, rejoined Mr. Pickwick. Stay; no. The poor side, you say? I should like to see it. Ill go to him myself. The poor side of a debtors prison is, as its name imports, that in which the most miserable and abject class of debtors are confined. A prisoner having declared upon the poor side, pays neither rent nor chummage. His fees, upon entering and leaving the jail, are reduced in amount, and he becomes entitled to a share of some small quantities of food: to provide which, a few charitable persons have, from time to time, left

The Pickwick Papers page 290        The Pickwick Papers page 292