'That's a pint o' domestic policy, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller. 'This here Stiggins — '
'Red-nosed man?' inquired Sam.
'The wery same,' replied Mr. Weller. 'This here red-nosed man, Sammy, wisits your mother-in-law vith a kindness and constancy I never see equalled. He's sitch a friend o' the family, Sammy, that wen he's avay from us, he can't be comfortable unless he has somethin' to remember us by.'
'And I'd give him somethin' as 'ud turpentine and beeswax his memory for the next ten years or so, if I wos you,' interposed Sam.
'Stop a minute,' said Mr. Weller; 'I wos a-going to say, he always brings now, a flat bottle as holds about a pint and a half, and fills it vith the pine-apple rum afore he goes avay.'
'And empties it afore he comes back, I s'pose?' said Sam.
'Clean!' replied Mr. Weller; 'never leaves nothin' in it but the cork and the smell; trust him for that, Sammy. Now, these here fellows, my boy, are a-goin' to-night to get up the monthly meetin' o' the Brick Lane Branch o' the United Grand Junction Ebenezer Temperance Association. Your mother-in-law wos a-goin', Sammy, but she's got the rheumatics, and can't; and I, Sammy — I've got the two tickets as wos sent her.' Mr. Weller communicated this secret with great glee, and winked so indefatigably after doing so, that Sam began to think he must have got the TIC DOLOUREUX in his right eyelid.
'Well?' said that young gentleman. 'Well,' continued his progenitor, looking round him very cautiously, 'you and I'll go, punctiwal to the time. The deputy-shepherd won't, Sammy; the deputy-shepherd won't.' Here Mr. Weller was seized with a paroxysm of chuckles, which gradually terminated in as near an approach to a choke as an elderly gentleman can, with safety, sustain.
'Well, I never see sitch an old ghost in all my born days,' exclaimed Sam, rubbing the old gentleman's back, hard enough to set him on fire with the friction. 'What are you a-laughin' at, corpilence?'
'Hush! Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, looking round him with increased caution, and speaking in a whisper. 'Two friends o' mine, as works the Oxford Road, and is up to all kinds o' games, has got the deputy-shepherd safe in tow, Sammy; and ven he does come to the Ebenezer Junction (vich he's sure to do: for they'll see him to the door, and shove him in, if necessary), he'll be as far gone in rum-and-water, as ever he wos at the Markis o' Granby, Dorkin', and that's not sayin' a little neither.' And with this, Mr. Weller once more laughed immoderately, and once more relapsed into a state of partial suffocation, in consequence.
Nothing could have been more in accordance with Sam Weller's feelings than the projected exposure of the real propensities and qualities of the red-nosed man; and it being very near the appointed hour of meeting, the father and son took their way at once to Brick Lane, Sam not forgetting to drop his letter into a general post-office as they walked along.
The monthly meetings of the Brick Lane Branch of the United Grand Junction Ebenezer Temperance Association were held in a large room, pleasantly and airily situated at the top of a safe and commodious ladder. The president was the straight-walking Mr. Anthony Humm, a converted fireman, now a schoolmaster, and occasionally an itinerant preacher; and the secretary was Mr. Jonas Mudge, chandler's shopkeeper, an enthusiastic and disinterested vessel, who sold tea to the members. Previous to the commencement of business, the ladies sat upon forms, and drank tea, till such time as they considered it expedient to leave off; and a large wooden money-box was conspicuously placed upon the green baize cloth of the business-table, behind which the secretary stood, and acknowledged, with a gracious smile, every addition to the rich vein of copper which lay concealed within.
On this particular occasion the women drank tea to a most alarming extent; greatly to the horror of Mr. Weller, senior, who, utterly regardless of all Sam's admonitory nudgings, stared about him in every direction with the most undisguised astonishment.
'Sammy,' whispered Mr. Weller, 'if some o' these here people don't want tappin' to-morrow mornin', I ain't your father, and that's wot it is. Why, this here old lady next me is a-drowndin' herself in tea.' 'Be quiet, can't you?' murmured Sam.
'Sam,' whispered Mr. Weller, a moment afterwards, in a tone of deep agitation, 'mark my vords, my boy. If that 'ere secretary fellow keeps on for only five minutes more, he'll blow hisself up with toast and water.'
'Well, let him, if he likes,' replied Sam; 'it ain't no bis'ness o' yourn.'
'If this here lasts much longer, Sammy,' said Mr. Weller, in the same low voice, 'I shall feel it my duty, as a human bein', to rise and address the cheer. There's a young 'ooman on the next form but two, as has drunk nine breakfast cups and a half; and she's a-swellin' wisibly before my wery eyes.'
There is little doubt that Mr. Weller would have carried his benevolent intention into immediate execution, if a great noise, occasioned by putting up the cups and saucers, had not very fortunately announced that the tea-drinking was over. The crockery having been removed, the table with the green baize cover was carried out into the centre of the room, and the business of the evening was commenced by a little emphatic man, with a bald head and drab shorts, who suddenly rushed up the ladder, at the imminent peril of snapping the two little legs incased in the drab shorts, and said —
'Ladies and gentlemen, I move our excellent brother, Mr. Anthony Humm, into the chair.'
The ladies waved a choice selection of pocket-handkerchiefs at this proposition; and the impetuous little man literally moved Mr. Humm into the chair, by taking him by the shoulders and thrusting him into a mahogany-frame which had once represented that article of furniture. The waving of handkerchiefs was renewed; and Mr. Humm, who was a sleek, white-faced man, in a perpetual perspiration, bowed meekly, to the great admiration of the females, and formally took his seat. Silence was then proclaimed by the little man in the drab shorts, and Mr. Humm rose and said — That, with the permission of his Brick Lane Branch brothers and sisters, then and there present, the secretary would read the report of the Brick Lane Branch committee; a proposition which was again received with a demonstration of pocket-handkerchiefs.
The secretary having sneezed in a very impressive manner, and the cough which always seizes an assembly, when anything particular is going to be done, having been duly performed, the following document was read:
'REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE OF THE BRICK LANE BRANCH OF THE UNITED GRAND JUNCTION EBENEZER TEMPERANCE ASSOCIATION
'Your committee have pursued their grateful labours during the past month, and have the unspeakable pleasure of reporting the following additional cases of converts to Temperance.
'H. Walker, tailor, wife, and two children. When in better circumstances, owns to having been in the constant habit of drinking ale and beer; says he is not certain whether he did not twice a week, for twenty years, taste "dog's nose," which your committee find upon inquiry, to be compounded of warm porter, moist sugar, gin, and nutmeg (a groan, and 'So it is!' from an elderly female). Is now out of work and penniless; thinks it must be the porter (cheers) or the loss of the use of his right hand; is not certain which, but thinks it very likely that, if he had drunk nothing but water all his life, his fellow-workman would never have stuck a rusty needle in him, and thereby occasioned his accident (tremendous cheering). Has nothing but cold water to drink, and never feels thirsty (great applause).
'Betsy Martin, widow, one child, and one eye. Goes out charing and washing, by the day; never had more than one eye, but knows her mother drank bottled stout, and shouldn't wonder if that caused it (immense cheering). Thinks it not impossible that if she had always abstained from spirits she might have had two eyes by this time (tremendous applause). Used, at every place she went to, to have eighteen-pence a day, a pint of porter, and a glass of spirits; but since she became a member of the Brick Lane Branch, has always demanded three-and-sixpence (the announcement of this most interesting fact was received with deafening enthusiasm).
'Henry Beller was for many years toast-master at various corporation dinners, during which time he drank a great deal of foreign wine; may sometimes have carried a bottle or two home with him; is not quite certain of that, but is sure if he did, that he drank the contents. Feels very low and melancholy, is very feverish, and has a constant thirst upon him; thinks it must be the wine he used to drink (cheers). Is out of employ now; and never touches a drop of foreign wine by any chance (tremendous plaudits).
'Thomas Burton is purveyor of cat's meat to the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, and several members of the Common Council (the announcement of this gentleman's name was received with breathless interest). Has a wooden leg; finds a wooden leg expensive, going over the stones; used to wear second-hand wooden legs, and drink a glass of hot gin-and-water regularly every night — sometimes two (deep sighs). Found the second-hand wooden legs split and rot very quickly; is firmly persuaded that their constitution was undermined by the gin-and-water (prolonged cheering). Buys new wooden legs now, and drinks nothing but water and weak tea. The new legs last twice as long as the others used to do, and he attributes this solely to his temperate habits (triumphant cheers).'
Anthony Humm now moved that the assembly do regale itself with a song. With a view to their rational and moral enjoyment, Brother Mordlin had adapted the beautiful words of 'Who hasn't heard of a Jolly Young Waterman?' to the tune of the Old Hundredth, which he would request them to join him in singing (great applause). He might take that opportunity of expressing his firm persuasion that the late Mr. Dibdin, seeing the errors of his former life, had written that song to show the advantages of abstinence. It was a temperance song (whirlwinds of cheers). The neatness of the young man's attire, the dexterity of his feathering, the enviable state of mind which enabled him in the beautiful words of the poet, to
'Row along, thinking of nothing at all,'
all combined to prove that he must have been a water-drinker (cheers). Oh, what a state of virtuous jollity! (rapturous cheering). And what was the young man's reward? Let all young men present mark this:
'The maidens all flocked to his boat so readily.'
(Loud cheers, in which the ladies joined.) What a bright example! The sisterhood, the maidens, flocking round the young waterman, and urging him along the stream of duty and of temperance. But, was it the maidens of humble life only, who soothed, consoled, and supported him? No!
'He was always first oars with the fine city ladies.'