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Transcribed from the 1894 Chapman and Hall "Christmas Stories" edition by
David Price, email [email protected]



The writer of these humble lines being a Waiter, and having come of a
family of Waiters, and owning at the present time five brothers who are
all Waiters, and likewise an only sister who is a Waitress, would wish to
offer a few words respecting his calling; first having the pleasure of
hereby in a friendly manner offering the Dedication of the same unto
_Joseph_, much respected Head Waiter at the Slamjam Coffee-house, London,
E.C., than which a individual more eminently deserving of the name of
man, or a more amenable honour to his own head and heart, whether
considered in the light of a Waiter or regarded as a human being, do not

In case confusion should arise in the public mind (which it is open to
confusion on many subjects) respecting what is meant or implied by the
term Waiter, the present humble lines would wish to offer an explanation.
It may not be generally known that the person as goes out to wait is
_not_ a Waiter. It may not be generally known that the hand as is called
in extra, at the Freemasons' Tavern, or the London, or the Albion, or
otherwise, is _not_ a Waiter. Such hands may be took on for Public
Dinners by the bushel (and you may know them by their breathing with
difficulty when in attendance, and taking away the bottle ere yet it is
half out); but such are _not_ Waiters. For you cannot lay down the
tailoring, or the shoemaking, or the brokering, or the green-grocering,
or the pictorial-periodicalling, or the second-hand wardrobe, or the
small fancy businesses, - you cannot lay down those lines of life at your
will and pleasure by the half-day or evening, and take up Waitering. You
may suppose you can, but you cannot; or you may go so far as to say you
do, but you do not. Nor yet can you lay down the gentleman's-service
when stimulated by prolonged incompatibility on the part of Cooks (and
here it may be remarked that Cooking and Incompatibility will be mostly
found united), and take up Waitering. It has been ascertained that what
a gentleman will sit meek under, at home, he will not bear out of doors,
at the Slamjam or any similar establishment. Then, what is the inference
to be drawn respecting true Waitering? You must be bred to it. You must
be born to it.

Would you know how born to it, Fair Reader, - if of the adorable female
sex? Then learn from the biographical experience of one that is a Waiter
in the sixty-first year of his age.

You were conveyed, - ere yet your dawning powers were otherwise developed
than to harbour vacancy in your inside, - you were conveyed, by
surreptitious means, into a pantry adjoining the Admiral Nelson, Civic
and General Dining-Rooms, there to receive by stealth that healthful
sustenance which is the pride and boast of the British female
constitution. Your mother was married to your father (himself a distant
Waiter) in the profoundest secrecy; for a Waitress known to be married
would ruin the best of businesses, - it is the same as on the stage. Hence
your being smuggled into the pantry, and that - to add to the
infliction - by an unwilling grandmother. Under the combined influence of
the smells of roast and boiled, and soup, and gas, and malt liquors, you
partook of your earliest nourishment; your unwilling grandmother sitting
prepared to catch you when your mother was called and dropped you; your
grandmother's shawl ever ready to stifle your natural complainings; your
innocent mind surrounded by uncongenial cruets, dirty plates,
dish-covers, and cold gravy; your mother calling down the pipe for veals
and porks, instead of soothing you with nursery rhymes. Under these
untoward circumstances you were early weaned. Your unwilling
grandmother, ever growing more unwilling as your food assimilated less,
then contracted habits of shaking you till your system curdled, and your
food would not assimilate at all. At length she was no longer spared,
and could have been thankfully spared much sooner. When your brothers
began to appear in succession, your mother retired, left off her smart
dressing (she had previously been a smart dresser), and her dark ringlets
(which had previously been flowing), and haunted your father late of
nights, lying in wait for him, through all weathers, up the shabby court
which led to the back door of the Royal Old Dust-Bin (said to have been
so named by George the Fourth), where your father was Head. But the Dust-
Bin was going down then, and your father took but little, - excepting from
a liquid point of view. Your mother's object in those visits was of a
house-keeping character, and you was set on to whistle your father out.
Sometimes he came out, but generally not. Come or not come, however, all
that part of his existence which was unconnected with open Waitering was
kept a close secret, and was acknowledged by your mother to be a close
secret, and you and your mother flitted about the court, close secrets
both of you, and would scarcely have confessed under torture that you
know your father, or that your father had any name than Dick (which
wasn't his name, though he was never known by any other), or that he had
kith or kin or chick or child. Perhaps the attraction of this mystery,
combined with your father's having a damp compartment, to himself, behind
a leaky cistern, at the Dust-Bin, - a sort of a cellar compartment, with a
sink in it, and a smell, and a plate-rack, and a bottle-rack, and three
windows that didn't match each other or anything else, and no
daylight, - caused your young mind to feel convinced that you must grow up
to be a Waiter too; but you did feel convinced of it, and so did all your
brothers, down to your sister. Every one of you felt convinced that you
was born to the Waitering. At this stage of your career, what was your
feelings one day when your father came home to your mother in open broad
daylight, - of itself an act of Madness on the part of a Waiter, - and took
to his bed (leastwise, your mother and family's bed), with the statement
that his eyes were devilled kidneys. Physicians being in vain, your
father expired, after repeating at intervals for a day and a night, when
gleams of reason and old business fitfully illuminated his being, "Two
and two is five. And three is sixpence." Interred in the parochial
department of the neighbouring churchyard, and accompanied to the grave
by as many Waiters of long standing as could spare the morning time from
their soiled glasses (namely, one), your bereaved form was attired in a
white neckankecher, and you was took on from motives of benevolence at
The George and Gridiron, theatrical and supper. Here, supporting nature
on what you found in the plates (which was as it happened, and but too
often thoughtlessly, immersed in mustard), and on what you found in the
glasses (which rarely went beyond driblets and lemon), by night you
dropped asleep standing, till you was cuffed awake, and by day was set to
polishing every individual article in the coffee-room. Your couch being
sawdust; your counterpane being ashes of cigars. Here, frequently hiding
a heavy heart under the smart tie of your white neckankecher (or
correctly speaking lower down and more to the left), you picked up the
rudiments of knowledge from an extra, by the name of Bishops, and by
calling plate-washer, and gradually elevating your mind with chalk on the
back of the corner-box partition, until such time as you used the
inkstand when it was out of hand, attained to manhood, and to be the
Waiter that you find yourself.

I could wish here to offer a few respectful words on behalf of the
calling so long the calling of myself and family, and the public interest
in which is but too often very limited. We are not generally understood.
No, we are not. Allowance enough is not made for us. For, say that we
ever show a little drooping listlessness of spirits, or what might be
termed indifference or apathy. Put it to yourself what would your own
state of mind be, if you was one of an enormous family every member of
which except you was always greedy, and in a hurry. Put it to yourself
that you was regularly replete with animal food at the slack hours of one
in the day and again at nine p.m., and that the repleter you was, the
more voracious all your fellow-creatures came in. Put it to yourself
that it was your business, when your digestion was well on, to take a
personal interest and sympathy in a hundred gentlemen fresh and fresh
(say, for the sake of argument, only a hundred), whose imaginations was
given up to grease and fat and gravy and melted butter, and abandoned to
questioning you about cuts of this, and dishes of that, - each of 'em
going on as if him and you and the bill of fare was alone in the world.
Then look what you are expected to know. You are never out, but they
seem to think you regularly attend everywhere. "What's this,
Christopher, that I hear about the smashed Excursion Train? How are they
doing at the Italian Opera, Christopher?" "Christopher, what are the
real particulars of this business at the Yorkshire Bank?" Similarly a
ministry gives me more trouble than it gives the Queen. As to Lord
Palmerston, the constant and wearing connection into which I have been
brought with his lordship during the last few years is deserving of a
pension. Then look at the Hypocrites we are made, and the lies (white, I
hope) that are forced upon us! Why must a sedentary-pursuited Waiter be
considered to be a judge of horseflesh, and to have a most tremendous
interest in horse-training and racing? Yet it would be half our little
incomes out of our pockets if we didn't take on to have those sporting
tastes. It is the same (inconceivable why!) with Farming. Shooting,
equally so. I am sure that so regular as the months of August,
September, and October come round, I am ashamed of myself in my own
private bosom for the way in which I make believe to care whether or not
the grouse is strong on the wing (much their wings, or drumsticks either,
signifies to me, uncooked!), and whether the partridges is plentiful
among the turnips, and whether the pheasants is shy or bold, or anything
else you please to mention. Yet you may see me, or any other Waiter of
my standing, holding on by the back of the box, and leaning over a
gentleman with his purse out and his bill before him, discussing these
points in a confidential tone of voice, as if my happiness in life
entirely depended on 'em.

I have mentioned our little incomes. Look at the most unreasonable point
of all, and the point on which the greatest injustice is done us! Whether
it is owing to our always carrying so much change in our right-hand
trousers-pocket, and so many halfpence in our coat-tails, or whether it
is human nature (which I were loth to believe), what is meant by the
everlasting fable that Head Waiters is rich? How did that fable get into
circulation? Who first put it about, and what are the facts to establish
the unblushing statement? Come forth, thou slanderer, and refer the
public to the Waiter's will in Doctors' Commons supporting thy malignant
hiss! Yet this is so commonly dwelt upon - especially by the screws who
give Waiters the least - that denial is vain; and we are obliged, for our
credit's sake, to carry our heads as if we were going into a business,
when of the two we are much more likely to go into a union. There was
formerly a screw as frequented the Slamjam ere yet the present writer had
quitted that establishment on a question of tea-ing his assistant staff
out of his own pocket, which screw carried the taunt to its bitterest
height. Never soaring above threepence, and as often as not grovelling
on the earth a penny lower, he yet represented the present writer as a
large holder of Consols, a lender of money on mortgage, a Capitalist. He
has been overheard to dilate to other customers on the allegation that
the present writer put out thousands of pounds at interest in
Distilleries and Breweries. "Well, Christopher," he would say (having
grovelled his lowest on the earth, half a moment before), "looking out
for a House to open, eh? Can't find a business to be disposed of on a
scale as is up to your resources, humph?" To such a dizzy precipice of
falsehood has this misrepresentation taken wing, that the well-known and
highly-respected OLD CHARLES, long eminent at the West Country Hotel, and
by some considered the Father of the Waitering, found himself under the
obligation to fall into it through so many years that his own wife (for
he had an unbeknown old lady in that capacity towards himself) believed
it! And what was the consequence? When he was borne to his grave on the
shoulders of six picked Waiters, with six more for change, six more
acting as pall-bearers, all keeping step in a pouring shower without a
dry eye visible, and a concourse only inferior to Royalty, his pantry and
lodgings was equally ransacked high and low for property, and none was
found! How could it be found, when, beyond his last monthly collection
of walking-sticks, umbrellas, and pocket-handkerchiefs (which happened to
have been not yet disposed of, though he had ever been through life
punctual in clearing off his collections by the month), there was no
property existing? Such, however, is the force of this universal libel,
that the widow of Old Charles, at the present hour an inmate of the
Almshouses of the Cork-Cutters' Company, in Blue Anchor Road (identified
sitting at the door of one of 'em, in a clean cap and a Windsor
arm-chair, only last Monday), expects John's hoarded wealth to be found
hourly! Nay, ere yet he had succumbed to the grisly dart, and when his
portrait was painted in oils life-size, by subscription of the
frequenters of the West Country, to hang over the coffee-room chimney-
piece, there were not wanting those who contended that what is termed the
accessories of such a portrait ought to be the Bank of England out of
window, and a strong-box on the table. And but for better-regulated
minds contending for a bottle and screw and the attitude of drawing, - and
carrying their point, - it would have been so handed down to posterity.

I am now brought to the title of the present remarks. Having, I hope
without offence to any quarter, offered such observations as I felt it my
duty to offer, in a free country which has ever dominated the seas, on
the general subject, I will now proceed to wait on the particular

At a momentous period of my life, when I was off, so far as concerned
notice given, with a House that shall be nameless, - for the question on
which I took my departing stand was a fixed charge for waiters, and no
House as commits itself to that eminently Un-English act of more than
foolishness and baseness shall be advertised by me, - I repeat, at a
momentous crisis, when I was off with a House too mean for mention, and
not yet on with that to which I have ever since had the honour of being
attached in the capacity of Head, {1} I was casting about what to do
next. Then it were that proposals were made to me on behalf of my
present establishment. Stipulations were necessary on my part,
emendations were necessary on my part: in the end, ratifications ensued
on both sides, and I entered on a new career.

We are a bed business, and a coffee-room business. We are not a general
dining business, nor do we wish it. In consequence, when diners drop in,
we know what to give 'em as will keep 'em away another time. We are a
Private Room or Family business also; but Coffee-room principal. Me and
the Directory and the Writing Materials and cetrer occupy a place to
ourselves - a place fended of up a step or two at the end of the Coffee-
room, in what I call the good old-fashioned style. The good
old-fashioned style is, that whatever you want, down to a wafer, you must
be olely and solely dependent on the Head Waiter for. You must put
yourself a new-born Child into his hands. There is no other way in which
a business untinged with Continental Vice can be conducted. (It were
bootless to add, that if languages is required to be jabbered and English
is not good enough, both families and gentlemen had better go somewhere

When I began to settle down in this right-principled and well-conducted
House, I noticed, under the bed in No. 24 B (which it is up a angle off
the staircase, and usually put off upon the lowly-minded), a heap of
things in a corner. I asked our Head Chambermaid in the course of the

"What are them things in 24 B?"

To which she answered with a careless air, "Somebody's Luggage."

Regarding her with a eye not free from severity, I says, "Whose Luggage?"

Evading my eye, she replied,

"Lor! How should _I_ know!"

- Being, it may be right to mention, a female of some pertness, though
acquainted with her business.

A Head Waiter must be either Head or Tail. He must be at one extremity
or the other of the social scale. He cannot be at the waist of it, or
anywhere else but the extremities. It is for him to decide which of the

On the eventful occasion under consideration, I give Mrs. Pratchett so
distinctly to understand my decision, that I broke her spirit as towards
myself, then and there, and for good. Let not inconsistency be suspected
on account of my mentioning Mrs. Pratchett as "Mrs.," and having formerly
remarked that a waitress must not be married. Readers are respectfully
requested to notice that Mrs. Pratchett was not a waitress, but a
chambermaid. Now a chambermaid _may_ be married; if Head, generally is
married, - or says so. It comes to the same thing as expressing what is
customary. (N.B. Mr. Pratchett is in Australia, and his address there is
"the Bush.")

Having took Mrs. Pratchett down as many pegs as was essential to the
future happiness of all parties, I requested her to explain herself.

"For instance," I says, to give her a little encouragement, "who is

"I give you my sacred honour, Mr. Christopher," answers Pratchett, "that
I haven't the faintest notion."

But for the manner in which she settled her cap-strings, I should have
doubted this; but in respect of positiveness it was hardly to be
discriminated from an affidavit.

"Then you never saw him?" I followed her up with.

"Nor yet," said Mrs. Pratchett, shutting her eyes and making as if she
had just took a pill of unusual circumference, - which gave a remarkable
force to her denial, - "nor yet any servant in this house. All have been
changed, Mr. Christopher, within five year, and Somebody left his Luggage
here before then."

Inquiry of Miss Martin yielded (in the language of the Bard of A.1.)
"confirmation strong." So it had really and truly happened. Miss Martin
is the young lady at the bar as makes out our bills; and though higher
than I could wish considering her station, is perfectly well-behaved.

Farther investigations led to the disclosure that there was a bill
against this Luggage to the amount of two sixteen six. The Luggage had
been lying under the bedstead of 24 B over six year. The bedstead is a
four-poster, with a deal of old hanging and valance, and is, as I once
said, probably connected with more than 24 Bs, - which I remember my
hearers was pleased to laugh at, at the time.

I don't know why, - when DO we know why? - but this Luggage laid heavy on
my mind. I fell a wondering about Somebody, and what he had got and been
up to. I couldn't satisfy my thoughts why he should leave so much
Luggage against so small a bill. For I had the Luggage out within a day
or two and turned it over, and the following were the items: - A black
portmanteau, a black bag, a desk, a dressing-case, a brown-paper parcel,
a hat-box, and an umbrella strapped to a walking-stick. It was all very
dusty and fluey. I had our porter up to get under the bed and fetch it
out; and though he habitually wallows in dust, - swims in it from morning
to night, and wears a close-fitting waistcoat with black calimanco
sleeves for the purpose, - it made him sneeze again, and his throat was
that hot with it that it was obliged to be cooled with a drink of
Allsopp's draft.

The Luggage so got the better of me, that instead of having it put back
when it was well dusted and washed with a wet cloth, - previous to which
it was so covered with feathers that you might have thought it was
turning into poultry, and would by-and-by begin to Lay, - I say, instead
of having it put back, I had it carried into one of my places
down-stairs. There from time to time I stared at it and stared at it,
till it seemed to grow big and grow little, and come forward at me and
retreat again, and go through all manner of performances resembling
intoxication. When this had lasted weeks, - I may say months, and not be
far out, - I one day thought of asking Miss Martin for the particulars of
the Two sixteen six total. She was so obliging as to extract it from the
books, - it dating before her time, - and here follows a true copy:

1856. No. 4. Pounds s. d.
Feb. 2d, Pen and Paper 0 0 6
Port Negus 0 2 0
Ditto 0 2 0
Pen and paper 0 0 6
Tumbler broken 0 2 6
Brandy 0 2 0
Pen and paper 0 0 6
Anchovy toast 0 2 6
Pen and paper 0 0 6
Bed 0 3 0
Feb. 3d, Pen and paper 0 0 6
Breakfast 0 2 6
Broiled ham 0 2 0
Eggs 0 1 0
Watercresses 0 1 0
Shrimps 0 1 0
Pen and paper 0 0 6
Blotting-paper 0 0 6
Messenger to Paternoster
Row and back 0 1 6
Again, when No Answer 0 1 6
Brandy 2s., Devilled
Pork chop 2s. 0 4 0
Pens and paper 0 1 0
Messenger to Albemarle
Street and back 0 1 0
Again (detained), when
No Answer 0 1 6
Salt-cellar broken 0 3 6
Large Liquour-glass
Orange Brandy 0 1 6
Dinner, Soup, Fish,
Joint, and bird 0 7 6
Bottle old East India
Brown 0 8 0
Pen and paper 0 0 6
Pounds 2 16 6

Mem.: January 1st, 1857. He went out after dinner, directing luggage to
be ready when he called for it. Never called.

* * * * *

So far from throwing a light upon the subject, this bill appeared to me,
if I may so express my doubts, to involve it in a yet more lurid halo.
Speculating it over with the Mistress, she informed me that the luggage
had been advertised in the Master's time as being to be sold after such
and such a day to pay expenses, but no farther steps had been taken. (I
may here remark, that the Mistress is a widow in her fourth year. The
Master was possessed of one of those unfortunate constitutions in which
Spirits turns to Water, and rises in the ill-starred Victim.)

My speculating it over, not then only, but repeatedly, sometimes with the
Mistress, sometimes with one, sometimes with another, led up to the
Mistress's saying to me, - whether at first in joke or in earnest, or half
joke and half earnest, it matters not:

"Christopher, I am going to make you a handsome offer."

(If this should meet her eye, - a lovely blue, - may she not take it ill my
mentioning that if I had been eight or ten year younger, I would have
done as much by her! That is, I would have made her a offer. It is for
others than me to denominate it a handsome one.)

"Christopher, I am going to make you a handsome offer."

"Put a name to it, ma'am."

"Look here, Christopher. Run over the articles of Somebody's Luggage.
You've got it all by heart, I know."

"A black portmanteau, ma'am, a black bag, a desk, a dressing-case, a
brown-paper parcel, a hat-box, and an umbrella strapped to a

"All just as they were left. Nothing opened, nothing tampered with."

"You are right, ma'am. All locked but the brown-paper parcel, and that

The Mistress was leaning on Miss Martin's desk at the bar-window, and she
taps the open book that lays upon the desk, - she has a pretty-made hand

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