'Up to, indeed!' said Mrs. Weller, 'Oh, he has a hard heart. Night after night does this excellent man — don't frown, Mr. Stiggins; I WILL say you ARE an excellent man — come and sit here, for hours together, and it has not the least effect upon him.' 'Well, that is odd,' said Sam; 'it 'ud have a wery considerable effect upon me, if I wos in his place; I know that.'
'The fact is, my young friend,' said Mr. Stiggins solemnly, 'he has an obderrate bosom. Oh, my young friend, who else could have resisted the pleading of sixteen of our fairest sisters, and withstood their exhortations to subscribe to our noble society for providing the infant negroes in the West Indies with flannel waistcoats and moral pocket-handkerchiefs?'
'What's a moral pocket-ankercher?' said Sam; 'I never see one o' them articles o' furniter.'
'Those which combine amusement With instruction, my young friend,' replied Mr. Stiggins, 'blending select tales with wood-cuts.'
'Oh, I know,' said Sam; 'them as hangs up in the linen-drapers' shops, with beggars' petitions and all that 'ere upon 'em?'
Mr. Stiggins began a third round of toast, and nodded assent. 'And he wouldn't be persuaded by the ladies, wouldn't he?' said Sam.
'Sat and smoked his pipe, and said the infant negroes were — what did he say the infant negroes were?' said Mrs. Weller.
'Little humbugs,' replied Mr. Stiggins, deeply affected.
'Said the infant negroes were little humbugs,' repeated Mrs. Weller. And they both groaned at the atrocious conduct of the elder Mr. Weller.
A great many more iniquities of a similar nature might have been disclosed, only the toast being all eaten, the tea having got very weak, and Sam holding out no indications of meaning to go, Mr. Stiggins suddenly recollected that he had a most pressing appointment with the shepherd, and took himself off accordingly.
The tea-things had been scarcely put away, and the hearth swept up, when the London coach deposited Mr. Weller, senior, at the door; his legs deposited him in the bar; and his eyes showed him his son.
'What, Sammy!' exclaimed the father.
'What, old Nobs!' ejaculated the son. And they shook hands heartily.
'Wery glad to see you, Sammy,' said the elder Mr. Weller, 'though how you've managed to get over your mother-in-law, is a mystery to me. I only vish you'd write me out the receipt, that's all.'
'Hush!' said Sam, 'she's at home, old feller.' 'She ain't vithin hearin',' replied Mr. Weller; 'she always goes and blows up, downstairs, for a couple of hours arter tea; so we'll just give ourselves a damp, Sammy.'
Saying this, Mr. Weller mixed two glasses of spirits-and-water, and produced a couple of pipes. The father and son sitting down opposite each other; Sam on one side of the fire, in the high-backed chair, and Mr. Weller, senior, on the other, in an easy ditto, they proceeded to enjoy themselves with all due gravity.
'Anybody been here, Sammy?' asked Mr. Weller, senior, dryly, after a long silence.
Sam nodded an expressive assent.
'Red-nosed chap?' inquired Mr. Weller.
Sam nodded again.
'Amiable man that 'ere, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, smoking violently.
'Seems so,' observed Sam.
'Good hand at accounts,' said Mr. Weller. 'Is he?' said Sam.
'Borrows eighteenpence on Monday, and comes on Tuesday for a shillin' to make it up half-a-crown; calls again on Vensday for another half-crown to make it five shillin's; and goes on, doubling, till he gets it up to a five pund note in no time, like them sums in the 'rithmetic book 'bout the nails in the horse's shoes, Sammy.'
Sam intimated by a nod that he recollected the problem alluded to by his parent.
'So you vouldn't subscribe to the flannel veskits?' said Sam, after another interval of smoking.
'Cert'nly not,' replied Mr. Weller; 'what's the good o' flannel veskits to the young niggers abroad? But I'll tell you what it is, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, lowering his voice, and bending across the fireplace; 'I'd come down wery handsome towards strait veskits for some people at home.'
As Mr. Weller said this, he slowly recovered his former position, and winked at his first-born, in a profound manner.
'It cert'nly seems a queer start to send out pocket-'ankerchers to people as don't know the use on 'em,' observed Sam.
'They're alvays a-doin' some gammon of that sort, Sammy,' replied his father. 'T'other Sunday I wos walkin' up the road, wen who should I see, a-standin' at a chapel door, with a blue soup-plate in her hand, but your mother-in-law! I werily believe there was change for a couple o' suv'rins in it, then, Sammy, all in ha'pence; and as the people come out, they rattled the pennies in it, till you'd ha' thought that no mortal plate as ever was baked, could ha' stood the wear and tear. What d'ye think it was all for?'
'For another tea-drinkin', perhaps,' said Sam.
'Not a bit on it,' replied the father; 'for the shepherd's water-rate, Sammy.'
'The shepherd's water-rate!' said Sam.
'Ay,' replied Mr. Weller, 'there was three quarters owin', and the shepherd hadn't paid a farden, not he — perhaps it might be on account that the water warn't o' much use to him, for it's wery little o' that tap he drinks, Sammy, wery; he knows a trick worth a good half-dozen of that, he does. Hows'ever, it warn't paid, and so they cuts the water off. Down goes the shepherd to chapel, gives out as he's a persecuted saint, and says he hopes the heart of the turncock as cut the water off, 'll be softened, and turned in the right vay, but he rayther thinks he's booked for somethin' uncomfortable. Upon this, the women calls a meetin', sings a hymn, wotes your mother-in-law into the chair, wolunteers a collection next Sunday, and hands it all over to the shepherd. And if he ain't got enough out on 'em, Sammy, to make him free of the water company for life,' said Mr. Weller, in conclusion, 'I'm one Dutchman, and you're another, and that's all about it.'
Mr. Weller smoked for some minutes in silence, and then resumed —
'The worst o' these here shepherds is, my boy, that they reg'larly turns the heads of all the young ladies, about here. Lord bless their little hearts, they thinks it's all right, and don't know no better; but they're the wictims o' gammon, Samivel, they're the wictims o' gammon.'
'I s'pose they are,' said Sam.
'Nothin' else,' said Mr. Weller, shaking his head gravely; 'and wot aggrawates me, Samivel, is to see 'em a-wastin' all their time and labour in making clothes for copper-coloured people as don't want 'em, and taking no notice of flesh-coloured Christians as do. If I'd my vay, Samivel, I'd just stick some o' these here lazy shepherds behind a heavy wheelbarrow, and run 'em up and down a fourteen-inch-wide plank all day. That 'ud shake the nonsense out of 'em, if anythin' vould.'
Mr. Weller, having delivered this gentle recipe with strong emphasis, eked out by a variety of nods and contortions of the eye, emptied his glass at a draught, and knocked the ashes out of his pipe, with native dignity.
He was engaged in this operation, when a shrill voice was heard in the passage.
'Here's your dear relation, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller; and Mrs. W. hurried into the room.
'Oh, you've come back, have you!' said Mrs. Weller.
'Yes, my dear,' replied Mr. Weller, filling a fresh pipe.
'Has Mr. Stiggins been back?' said Mrs. Weller.
'No, my dear, he hasn't,' replied Mr. Weller, lighting the pipe by the ingenious process of holding to the bowl thereof, between the tongs, a red-hot coal from the adjacent fire; and what's more, my dear, I shall manage to surwive it, if he don't come back at all.'
'Ugh, you wretch!' said Mrs. Weller.
'Thank'ee, my love,' said Mr. Weller. 'Come, come, father,' said Sam, 'none o' these little lovin's afore strangers. Here's the reverend gen'l'm'n a-comin' in now.' At this announcement, Mrs. Weller hastily wiped off the tears which she had just begun to force on; and Mr. W. drew his chair sullenly into the chimney-corner.
Mr. Stiggins was easily prevailed on to take another glass of the hot pine-apple rum-and-water, and a second, and a third, and then to refresh himself with a slight supper, previous to beginning again. He sat on the same side as Mr. Weller, senior; and every time he could contrive to do so, unseen by his wife, that gentleman indicated to his son the hidden emotions of his bosom, by shaking his fist over the deputy-shepherd's head; a process which afforded his son the most unmingled delight and satisfaction, the more especially as Mr. Stiggins went on, quietly drinking the hot pine-apple rum-and-water, wholly unconscious of what was going forward.
The major part of the conversation was confined to Mrs. Weller and the reverend Mr. Stiggins; and the topics principally descanted on, were the virtues of the shepherd, the worthiness of his flock, and the high crimes and misdemeanours of everybody beside — dissertations which the elder Mr. Weller occasionally interrupted by half-suppressed references to a gentleman of the name of Walker, and other running commentaries of the same kind.
At length Mr. Stiggins, with several most indubitable symptoms of having quite as much pine-apple rum-and-water about him as he could comfortably accommodate, took his hat, and his leave; and Sam was, immediately afterwards, shown to bed by his father. The respectable old gentleman wrung his hand fervently, and seemed disposed to address some observation to his son; but on Mrs. Weller advancing towards him, he appeared to relinquish that intention, and abruptly bade him good-night.