They were the family of William,
one of our club waiters who had
been disappointing me grievously
of late. Many a time have I deferred
dining several minutes that I
might have the attendance of
this ingrate. His efforts to
reserve the window-table for
me were satisfactory, and I used
to allow him privileges, as to
suggest dishes; I have given
him information, as that someone
had startled me in the reading-room
by slamming a door; I have shown
him how I cut my finger with
a piece of string. William was
none of your assertive waiters.
We could have plotted a murder
safely before him. It was one
member who said to him that Saucy
Sarah would win the Derby and
another who said that Saucy Sarah
had no chance, but it was William
who agreed with both. The excellent
fellow (as I thought him) was
like a cheroot which may be smoked
from either end.
I date his
lapse from one evening when
I was dining by the window.
I had to repeat my order "Devilled
kidney," and instead of answering
brightly, "Yes, sir," as if my
selection of devilled kidney
was a personal gratification
to him, which is the manner one
expects of a waiter, he gazed
eagerly out at the window, and
then, starting, asked, "Did you
say devilled kidney, sir?" A
few minutes afterward I became
aware that someone was leaning
over the back of my chair, and
you may conceive my indignation
on discovering that this rude
person was William. Let me tell,
in the measured words of one
describing a past incident, what
next took place. To get nearer
the window he pressed heavily
on my shoulder. "William," I
said, "you are not attending
To be fair
to him, he shook, but never
shall I forget his
audacious apology, "Beg pardon,
sir, but I was thinking of something
his eyes resought the window,
and this burst from
him passionately, "For God's
sake, sir, as we are man and
man, tell me if you have seen
a little girl looking up at the
Man and man!
But he had been a good waiter
once, so I pointed
out the girl to him. As soon
as she saw William she ran into
the middle of Pall Mall, regardless
of hansoms (many of which seemed
to pass over her), nodded her
head significantly three times
and then disappeared (probably
on a stretcher). She was the
tawdriest little Arab of about
ten years, but seemed to have
brought relief to William. "Thank
God!" said he fervently, and
in the worst taste.
I was as much
horrified as if he had dropped
a plate on
my toes. "Bread, William," I
"You are not vexed with me,
sir?" he had the hardihood to
"It was a liberty," I
"I know, sir,
but I was beside myself."
"That was a
"It is my wife,
So William, whom I had favoured
in so many ways, was a married
man. I felt that this was the
greatest liberty of all.
I gathered that the troublesome
woman was ailing, and as one
who likes after dinner to believe
that there is no distress in
the world, I desired to be told
by William that the signals meant
her return to health. He answered
inconsiderately, however, that
the doctor feared the worst.
"Bah, the doctor," I
said in a rage.
"Yes, sir," said
"What is her
"She was allus
one of the delicate kind, but
full of spirit, and
you see, sir, she has had a baby-girl
"William, how dare you," I
said, but in the same moment
I saw that this father might
be useful to me. "How does your
baby sleep, William?" I asked
in a low voice, "how does she
wake up? what do you put in her
I saw surprise
in his face, so I hurried on
for an answer. "That little girl
comes here with a message from
every evening; she's my eldest,
and three nods from
her means that the missus is
a little better."
three nods to-day?"
you live in some low part,
fellow looked as if he could
have struck me. "Off
Drury Lane," he said, flushing, "but
it isn't low. And now," he groaned, "she's
afeared she will die without
my being there to hold her hand."
not say such things."
says them, sir. She allus pretends
to be feeling
stronger. But I knows what is
in her mind when I am leaving
the house in the morning, for
then she looks at me from her
bed, and I looks at her from
the door--oh, my God, sir!"
At last he saw that I was angry,
and it was characteristic of
him to beg my pardon and withdraw
his wife as if she were some
unsuccessful dish. I tried to
forget his vulgar story in billiards,
but he had spoiled my game, and
next day to punish him I gave
my orders through another waiter.
As I had the window- seat, however,
I could not but see that the
little girl was late, and though
this mattered nothing to me and
I had finished my dinner, I lingered
till she came. She not only nodded
three times but waved her hat,
and I arose, having now finished
stealthily toward me. "Her temperature has gone
down, sir," he said, rubbing
his hands together.
"To whom are you referring?" I
asked coldly, and retired to
the billiard-room, where I played
a capital game.
I took pains to show William
that I had forgotten his maunderings,
but I observed the girl nightly,
and once, instead of nodding,
she shook her head, and that
evening I could not get into
a pocket. Next evening there
was no William in the dining-room,
and I thought I knew what had
happened. But, chancing to enter
the library rather miserably,
I was surprised to see him on
a ladder dusting books. We had
the room practically to ourselves,
for though several members sat
on chairs holding books in their
hands they were all asleep, and
William descended the ladder
to tell me his blasting tale.
He had sworn at a member!
"I hardly knew
what I was doing all day, sir,
for I had left
her so weakly that--"
I stamped my foot.
"I beg your pardon for speaking
of her," he had the grace to
say. "But Irene had promised
to come every two hours; and
when she came about four o'clock
and I saw she was crying, it
sort of blinded me, sir, and
I stumbled against a member,
Mr. B----, and he said, 'Damn
you!' Well, sir, I had but touched
him after all, and I was so broken
it sort of stung me to be treated
so and I lost my senses, and
I said, 'Damn you!'"
His shamed head sank on his
chest, and I think some of the
readers shuddered in their sleep.
"I was turned
out of the dining-room at once,
and sent here until
the committee have decided what
to do with me. Oh, sir, I am
willing to go on my knees to
How could I but despise a fellow
who would be thus abject for
a pound a week?
"For if I have
to tell her I have lost my
place she will
just fall back and die."
"I forbid your speaking to
me of that woman," I cried wryly, "unless
you can speak pleasantly," and
I left him to his fate and went
off to look for B----. "What
is this story about your swearing
at one of the waiters?" I asked
"You mean about his swearing
at me," said B----, reddening.
"I am glad that was it," I
said, "for I could not believe
you guilty of such bad form.
The version which reached me
was that you swore at each other,
and that he was to be dismissed
and you reprimanded."
"Who told you that?" asked
B----, who is a timid man.
"I am on the committee," I
replied lightly, and proceeded
to talk of other matters, but
presently B----, who had been
reflecting, said: "Do you know
I fancy I was wrong in thinking
that the waiter swore at me,
and I shall withdraw the charge
I was pleased to find that
William's troubles were near
an end without my having to interfere
in his behalf, and I then remembered
that he would not be able to
see the girl Irene from the library
windows, which are at the back
of the club. I was looking down
at her, but she refrained from
signalling because she could
not see William, and irritated
by her stupidity I went out and
asked her how her mother was.
"My," she ejaculated after
a long scrutiny of me, "I b'lieve
you are one of them!" and she
gazed at me with delighted awe.
I suppose William tells them
of our splendid doings.
The invalid, it appeared, was
a bit better, and this annoying
child wanted to inform William
that she had took all the tapiocar.
She was to indicate this by licking
an imaginary plate in the middle
of Pall Mall. I gave the little
vulgarian a shilling, and returned
to the club disgusted.
"By the way, William," I said, "Mr.
B---- is to inform the committee
that he was mistaken in thinking
you used improper language to
him, so you will doubtless be
restored to the dining-room to-
I had to add
your place, William."
"But Mr. B---- knows I swore," he
"A gentleman," I replied stiffly, "cannot
remember for many hours what
a waiter has said to him."
"No, sir, but--"
To stop him
I had to say, "And--ah--William,
your wife is decidedly better.
She has eaten the tapioca--all
"How can you
"By an accident."
to the window?"
"Then you saw
her and went out and--"
"How dare you,
"Oh, sir, to
do that for me! May God bl--"
He was reinstated in the dining-room,
but often when I looked at him
I seemed to see a dying wife
in his face, and so the relations
between us were still strained.
But I watched the girl, and her
pantomime was so illuminating
that I knew the sufferer had
again cleaned the platter on
Tuesday, had attempted a boiled
egg on Wednesday (you should
have seen Irene chipping it in
Pall Mall, and putting in the
salt), but was in a woful state
of relapse on Thursday.
"Is your mother very ill to-day,
Miss Irene?" I asked, as soon
as I had drawn her out of range
of the club-windows.
"My!" she exclaimed
again, and I saw an ecstatic
between her and a still smaller
girl with her, whom she referred
to as a neighbour.
I waited coldly. William's
wife, I was informed, had looked
like nothing but a dead one till
she got the brandy.
"Hush, child," I said, shocked. "You
don't know how the dead look."
"Bless yer!" she
Assisted by her friend, who
was evidently enormously impressed
by Irene's intimacy with me,
she gave me a good deal of miscellaneous
information, as that William's
real name was Mr. Hicking, but
that he was known in their street,
because of the number of his
shirts, as Toff Hicking. That
the street held he should get
away from the club before two
in the morning, for his missus
needed him more than the club
needed him. That William replied
(very sensibly) that if the club
was short of waiters at supper-time
some of the gentlemen might be
kept waiting for their marrow-
bone. That he sat up with his
missus most of the night, and
pretended to her that he got
some nice long naps at the club.
That what she talked to him about
mostly was the kid. That the
kid was in another part of London
(in charge of a person called
the old woman), because there
was an epidemic in Irene's street.
"And what does
the doctor say about your mother?"
says she would have a chance
if she could get
her kid back."
"And if she
was took to the country."
"Then why does
not William take her?"
"My! And if
she drank porty wine."
"No. But father,
he tells her 'bout how the
I turned from her with relief,
but she came after me.
"Ain't yer going to do it this
time?" she demanded with a falling
face. "You done it last time.
I tell her you done it"--she
pointed to her friend who was
looking wistfully at me--"ain't
you to let her see you doing
For a moment I thought that
her desire was another shilling,
but by a piece of pantomime she
showed that she wanted me to
lift my hat to her. So I lifted
it, and when I looked behind
she had her head in the air and
her neighbour was gazing at her
awestruck. These little creatures
are really not without merit.
About a week afterward I was
in a hired landau, holding a
newspaper before my face lest
anyone should see me in company
of a waiter and his wife. William
was taking her into Surrey to
stay with an old nurse of mine,
and Irene was with us, wearing
the most outrageous bonnet.
I formed a
mean opinion of Mrs. Hicking's
her pride in the baby, which
was a very ordinary one. She
created a regrettable scene when
it was brought to her, because "she
had been feared it would not
know her again." I could have
told her that they know no one
for years had I not been in terror
of Irene, who dandled the child
on her knees and talked to it
all the way. I have never known
a bolder little hussy than this
Irene. She asked the infant improper
questions, such as "Oo know who
gave me this bonnet?" and answered
them herself. "It was the pretty
gentleman there," and several
times I had to affect sleep,
because she announced, "Kiddy
wants to kiss the pretty gentleman."
all this necessarily was to
a man of taste, I suffered
still more acutely when we reached
our destination, where disagreeable
circumstances compelled me to
drink tea with a waiter's family.
William knew that I regarded
thanks from persons of his class
as an outrage, yet he looked
them though he dared not speak
them. Hardly had he sat down
at the table by my orders than
he remembered that I was a member
of the club and jumped up. Nothing
is in worse form than whispering,
yet again and again he whispered
to his poor, foolish wife, "How
are you now? You don't feel faint?" and
when she said she felt like another
woman already, his face charged
me with the change. I could not
but conclude from the way she
let the baby pound her that she
was stronger than she pretended.
I remained longer than was
necessary because I had something
to say to William which I feared
he would misunderstand, but when
he announced that it was time
for him to catch a train back
to London, at which his wife
paled, I delivered the message.
"William," I said, backing
away from him, "the head-waiter
asked me to say that you could
take a fortnight's holiday. Your
wages will be paid as usual."
"William," I cried furiously, "go
Then I saw his wife signing
to him, and I knew she wanted
to be left alone with me.
"William," I cried in a panic, "stay
where you are."
But he was
gone, and I was alone with
a woman whose eyes
were filmy. Her class are fond
of scenes. "If you please, ma'am!" I
But she kissed my hand; she
was like a little dog.
"It can be only the memory
of some woman," said she, "that
makes you so kind to me and mine."
Memory was the word she used,
as if all my youth were fled.
I suppose I really am quite elderly.
"I should like to know her
name, sir," she said, "that I
may mention her with loving respect
in my prayers."
I raised the
woman and told her the name.
It was not Mary. "But
she has a home," I said, "as
you have, and I have none. Perhaps,
ma'am, it would be better worth
your while to mention me."
It was this
woman, now in health, whom
I intrusted with the purchase
of the outfits, "one for a boy
of six months," I explained to
her, "and one for a boy of a
year," for the painter had boasted
to me of David's rapid growth.
I think she was a little surprised
to find that both outfits were
for the same house; and she certainly
betrayed an ignoble curiosity
about the mother's Christian
name, but she was much easier
to brow-beat than a fine lady
would have been, and I am sure
she and her daughter enjoyed
themselves hugely in the shops,
from one of which I shall never
forget Irene emerging proudly
with a commissionaire, who conducted
her under an umbrella to the
cab where I was lying in wait.
I think that was the most celestial
walk of Irene's life.
I told Mrs. Hicking to give
the articles a little active
ill- treatment that they might
not look quite new, at which
she exclaimed, not being in my
secret, and then to forward them
to me. I then sent them to Mary
and rejoiced in my devilish cunning
all the evening, but chagrin
came in the morning with a letter
from her which showed she knew
all, that I was her Mr. Anon,
and that there never had been
a Timothy. I think I was never
so gravelled. Even now I don't
know how she had contrived it.
Her cleverness raised such
a demon in me that I locked away
her letter at once and have seldom
read it since. No married lady
should have indited such an epistle
to a single man. It said, with
other things which I decline
to repeat, that I was her good
fairy. As a sample of the deliberate
falsehoods in it, I may mention
that she said David loved me
already. She hoped that I would
come in often to see her husband,
who was very proud of my friendship,
and suggested that I should pay
him my first visit to- day at
three o'clock, an hour at which,
as I happened to know, he is
always away giving a painting-lesson.
In short, she wanted first to
meet me alone, so that she might
draw the delicious, respectful
romance out of me, and afterward
repeat it to him, with sighs
and little peeps at him over
She had dropped what were meant
to look like two tears for me
upon the paper, but I should
not wonder though they were only
artful drops of water.
I sent her a stiff and tart
reply, declining to hold any
communication with her.