Charles Dickens.

The mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories online

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at all, under any circumstances), I advocated
moisture, and begged the Sovereign of the Bill-
Stickers to name his usual liquor, and to con-
cede to me the privilege of paying for it. After
some delicate reluctance on his part, we were
provided, through the instrumentaHty of the
attendant charioteer, with a can of cold rum-
and-water, flavoured with sugar and lemon. We
were also furnished with a tumbler, and I was
provided with a pipe. His Majesty, then, ob-
serving that we might combine business with
conversation, gave the word for the car to pro-
ceed ; and, to my great delight, we jogged away
at a foot-pace.

I say to my great delight, because I am very
fond of novelty, and it was a new sensation to
be jolting through the tumult of the City in that
Edwin Drood, Etc, io.

secluded Temple, partly open to the sky, sur-
rounded by the roar without, and seeing nothing
but the clouds. Occasionally, blows from whips
fell heavily on the Temple's walls, when, by
stopping up the road longer than usual, we irri-
tated carters and coachmen to madness ; but,
they fell harmless upon us within, and disturbed
not the serenity of our peaceful retreat. As I
looked upward, I felt, I should imagine, like the
Astronomer Royal. I was enchanted by the
contrast between the freezing nature of our ex-
ternal mission on the blood of the populace, and
the perfect composure reigning within those
sacred precincts ; where his Majesty, reclining
easily on his left arm, smoked his pipe and
drank his rum-and-water from his own side of
the tumbler, which stood impartially between
us. As I looked down from the clouds and
caught his royal eye, he understood my reflec-
tions. " I have an idea," he observed, with an
upward glance, " of training scarlet runners
across in the season, — making a arbour of it, —
and sometimes taking tea in the same, according
to the song."

I nodded approval.

" And here you repose and think?" said I.

" And think," said he, " of posters — walls —
and hoardings."

We were both silent, contemplating the vast-
ness of the subject. I remembered a surprising
fancy of dear Thomas Hood's, and wondered
whether this monarch ever sighed to repair to
the great wall of China, and stick bills all
over it.

" And so," said he, rousing himself, " it's facts
as you collect ? "

" Facts," said I.

" The facts of bill-sticking," pursued his Ma-
jesty, in a benignant manner, "as known to
myself, air as following. When my father was-
Engineer, Beadle, and Bill-Sticker to the parish
of St. Andrew's, Holborn, he employed women
to post bills for him. He employed women to
post bills at the time of the riots of London.
He died at the age of seventy-five year, and was
buried by the murdered Eliza Grimwood, over
in the Waterloo Road."

As this was somewhat in the nature of a royal
speech, I listened with deference and silently.
His Majesty, taking a scroll from his pocket,
proceeded, with great distinctness, to pour out
the following flood of information : —

" ' The bills being at that period mostly pro-
clamations and declarations, and which were
only a demy size, the manner of posting the bills
(as they did not use brushes) was by means of
a piece of wood which they called a " dabber."



Thus things continued till such time as the State
Lottery was passed, and then the printers began
to print larger bills, and men were employed
instead of women, as the State Lottery Commis-
sioners then began to send men all over England
to post bills, and would keep them out for six
or eight months at a time, and they were called
by the London bill-stickers trampers, their wages
at the time being ten shillings per day, besides
expenses. They used sometimes to be stationed in
large towns for five or six months together, distri-
buting the schemes to all the houses in the town.
And then there were more caricature wood-block
engravings for posting-bills than there are at the
present time, the principal printers, at that time,
of posting-bills being INIessrs. Evans and Rufty,
of Budge Row ; Thoroughgood and Whiting, of
the present day; and Messrs. Gye and Balne,
Gracechurch Street, City. The largest bills
printed at that period were a two-sheet double-
crown ; and when they commenced printing
four-sheet bills, two bill-stickers would work to-
gether. They had no settled wages per week,
but had a fixed price for their work, and the
London bill-stickers, during a lottery week, have
been known to earn each eight or nine pounds
per week, till the day of drawing ; likewise the
men who carried boards in the street used to have
one pound per week, and the bill-stickers at that
time would not allow any one to willuUy cover
or destroy their bills, as they had a society
amongst themselves, and very frequently dined
together at some public-house, where they used
to go of an evening to have their work delivered
out untoe 'em.' "

All this his Majesty delivered in a gallant
manner ; posting it, as it were, before me, in a
great proclamation. I took advantage of the
pause he now made, to inquire what a " two-
sheet double-crown " might express ?

"A two -sheet double -crown," replied the
King, " is a bill thirty-nine inches wide by thirty
inches high."

" Is it possible," said I, my mind reverting to
the gigantic admonitions we were then display-
ing to the multitude — which were as infants to
some of the posting-bills on the rotten old ware-
house — " that some few years ago the largest
bill was no larger than that ? "

" The fact," returned the King, " is undoubt-
edly so." Here he instantly rushed again into
the scroll.

" ' Since the abohshing of the State Lottery
all that good feeling has gone, and nothing but
jealousy exists, through the rivalry of each other.
Several bill-sticking companies have started, but
have failed. The first party that started a com-

pany was twelve year ago ; but what was left of
die old school and their dependants joined to-
gether and opposed them. And for some time
we were quiet again, till a printer of Hatton
Garden formed a company by hiring the sides
of houses ; but he was not supported by the
public, and he left his wooden frames fixed up
for rent. The last company that started took
advantage of the New Police Act, and hired of
Messrs. Grisell and Peto the hoarding of Tra-
falgar Square, and established a bill-sticking
office in Cursitor Street, Chancery Lane, and
engaged some of the new bill-stickers to do their
work, and for a time got the half of all our work,
and \\-ith such spirit did they carry on their
opposition towards us, that they used to give us
in charge before the magistrate, and get us
fined ; but they found it so expensive, that they
could not keep it up, for they were always em-
ploying a lot of ruffians from the Seven Dials to
come and fight us ; and on one occasion the old
bill-stickers went to Trafalgar Square to attempt
to post bills, when they were given in custody
by the watchman in their employ, and fined at
Queen Scjuare five pounds, as they would not
allow any of us to speak in the office ; but when
they were gone, we had an interview with the
magistrate, who mitigated the fine to fifteen
shillings. During the time the men were wait-
ing for the fine, this company started off to a
public-house that Ave were in the habit of using,
and waited for us coming back, where a fight-
ing scene took place that beggars description.
Shortly after this, the principal one day came
and shook hands with us, and acknowledged
that he had broken up the company, and that
he himself had lost five hundred pound in trying
to overthrow us. We then took possession 01
the hoarding in Trafalgar Square ; but Messrs.
Grisell and Peto would not allow us to post our
bills on the said hoarding without paying them
— and from first to last we paid upwards of two
hundred ]jounds for that hoarding, and likewise
the hoarding of the Reform Club-house, Pall
Mall.' "

His Majesty, being now completely out of
breath, laid down his scroll (which he appeared
to have finished), pufled at his pipe, and took
some rum-and-water. I embraced the oppor-
tunity of asking how many divisions the art and
mystery of bill-sticking comprised ? He replied,
three— auctioneers' bill-sticking, theatrical bill-
sticking, general bill-sticking.

" The auctioneers' porters," said the King,
" who do their bill-sticking, are mostly respect-
able and intelligent, and generally well paid for
their work, whether in town or country. The



price paid by tlie principal auctioneers lor coun-
try work is nine shillings per day ; that is, seven
shillings for day's work, one shilling for lodging,
and one for ])aste. Town work is five shillings
a day, including paste."

" Town work must be rather hot work," said
I, " if there be many of those fighting scenes
that beggar description among the bill-stickers?"

" Well," replied the King, " I ain't a stranger,
I assure you, to black eyes ; a bill-sticker ought
to know how to handle his fists a bit. As to
that row I have mentioned, that grew out of
competition, conducted in an uncompromising
spirit. Besides a man in a horse-and-shay con-
tinually following us about, the company had a
watchman on duty, night and day, to prevent
us sticking bills upon the hoarding in Trafalgar
Square. We went there, early one morning, to
stick bills and to black-wash their bills if we
were interfered with. We wo-e interfered with,
and I gave the word for laying on the wash. It
li'as laid on — pretty brisk — and we were all
taken to Queen Square : but they couldn't fine
me. /knew that," — with a bright smile, — " I'd
only given directions — I was only the General."

Charmed with this monarch's aftability, I
inquired if he had ever hired a hoarding him-

" Hired a large one," he replied, " opposite
the Lyceum Theatre when the buildings was
there. Paid thirty pound for it ; let out places
on it, and called it ' The External Paper Hang-
ing Station.' But it didn't answer. Ah ! " said
his Majesty thoughtfully, as he filled the glass,
*' bill-stickers have a deal to contend with. The
bill-sticking clause was got into the Police Act
by a member of parliament that employed me
at his election. The clause is pretty stiff re-
specting where bills go ; but he didn't mind
where his bills went. It was all right enough,
so long as they was his bills ! "

Fearful that I observed a shadow of misan-
thropy on the King's cheerful face, I asked
whose ingenious invention that was, which I
greatly admired, of sticking bills under the
arches of the bridges.

" Mine ! " said his Majesty. " I was the first
that ever stuck a bill un.der a bridge ! Imi-
tators soon rose up, of course. When don't
they ? But they stuck 'em at low water, and
the tide came and swept the bills clean away,
/knew that ! " The King laughed.

" What may be the name of that instrument,
like an immense fishing-rod," I inquired, " with
which bills are posted on high places ? "

" The joints," returned his Majesty. "Now,
we use the joints Avhere formerly we used ladders

— as they do still in country places. Once,
when Madame" (Vestris, understood) "was
playing in Liverpool, another bill-sticker and
me were at it together on the wall outside the
Clarence Dock — me with the joints — him on a
ladder. Lord ! I had my bill up, right over
his head, yards above him, ladder and all, while
he was crawling to his work. The people going
in and out of the docks stood and laughed. —
It's about thirty years since the joints come in."

"Are there any bill-stickers who can't read?"
I took the liberty of inquiring.

" Some," said the King. " But they know
which is the right side up'ards of their work.
They keep it as it's given out to 'em. I have
seen a bill or so stuck wrong side up'ards. But
it's very rare."

Our discourse sustained some interruption at
this point, by the procession of cars occasioning
a stoppage of about three-quarters of a mile in
length, as nearly as I could judge. His Ma-
jesty, however, entreating me not to be discom-
posed by the contingent uproar, smoked with
great placidity, and surveyed the firmament.

When we were again in motion, I begged to
be informed what was the largest poster his
Majesty had ever seen. The King replied,
"A thirty-six sheet poster." I gathered, also,
that there were about a hundred and fifty bill-
stickers in London, and that his Majesty con-
sidered an average hand equal to the posting of
one hundred bills (single sheets) in a day. The
King was of opinion that, although posters had
much increased in size, they had not increased
in number; as the abolition of the State Lot-
teries had occasioned a great falling oft", espe-
cially in the country. Over and above which
change, I bethought myself that the custom of
advertising in newspapers had greatly increased.
The completion of many London improvements,
as Trafalgar Square (I particularly observed
the singularity of his Majesty's calling that an
improvement), the Royal Exchange, (Sec, had
of late years reduced the number of advan-
tageous posting-places. Bill-stickers at present
rather confine themselves to districts than to
particular descriptions of Avork. One man
would strike over Whitechapel, another would
take round Houndsditch, Shoreditch, and the
City Road ; one (the King said) would stick to
the Surrey side ; another would make a beat of
the West-end.

His Majesty remarked, with some approach
to severity, on the neglect of delicacy and taste
gradually introduced into the trade by the new
school : a profligate and inferior race of im-
postors who took jobs at almost any price, to



the detriment of the old school, and the con-
fusion of their own misguided employers. He
considered thai the trade was overdone with
competition, and observed, speaking of his sub-
jects, " There are too many of 'em." He be-
lieved, still, that things were a little better than
they had been ; adducing, as a proof, the fact,
that particular posting-places were now reserved,
by common consent, for particular posters ;
those places, however, must be regularly occu-
pied by those posters, or they lapsed and fell
into other hands. It was of no use giving a
man a Drury-Lane bill this week, and not next.
Where was it to go? He was of opinion that
going to the expense of putting up your own
board, on which your sticker could display your
own bills, was the only complete way of posting
yourself at the present time ; but, even to effect
this, on payment of a shilling a week to the
keepers of steamboat piers and other such
places, you must be able, besides, to give
orders for theatres and public exhibitions, or
you v/ould be sure to be cut out by somebody.
His Majesty regarded the passion for orders as
one of the most inappeasable appetites of human
nature. If there v^•ere a building, or if there
were repairs, going on anywhere, you could
generally stand something and make it right
with the foreman of the works ; but, orders
would be expected from you, and the man who
could give the most orders was the man who
would come off best. There was this other
objectionable ])oint in orders, that workmen
sold them for drink, and often sold them to
persons who were likewise troubled with the
weakness of thirst: which led (his Majesty
said) to the presentation of your orders at
theatre doors by individuals who were "too
shakery" to derive intellectual profit from the
entertainments, and who brought a scandal on
you. Finally, his Majesty said that you could
hardly put loo little in a poster; what you
wanted was, two or three good catch-lines for
the eye to rest on — then, leave it alone — and
there you were !

These are the minutes of my conversation
with his Majesty, as I noted them down shortly
afterwards. I am not aware that I have been
betrayed into any alteration or suppression.
The manner of the King was frank in the ex-
treme ; and he seemed to me to avoid at once
that slight tendency to repetition which may
have been observed in the conversation of his
Majesty King George the Third, and that slight
undercurrent of egotism which the curious ob-
server may perhaps detect in the conversation of
Napoleon Bonaparte.

I must do the King the justice to say that it:
was I, and not he, who closed the dialogue. At
this juncture, I became the subject of a remark-
able optical delusion ; the legs of my stool ap-
peared to me to double up; the car to spin
round and round with great violence; and a
mist to arise between myself and his Majesty.
In addition to these sensations, I felt extremely
unwell. I refer these unpleasant effects either
to the paste with which the posters were affixed
to the van : which may have contained some
small portion of arsenic ; or to the printer's ink,
which may have contained some equally delete-
rious ingredient. Of this I cannot be sure. I
am only sure that I was not affected either by
the smoke or the rum-and-water. I was assisted
out of the vehicle, in a state of mind which I
have only experienced in two other places — I
allude to the Pier at Dover, and to the corre-
sponding portion of the town of Calais — and sat
upon a door-stei3 until I recovered. The pro-
cession had then disappeared. I have since
looked anxiously for the King in several other
cars, but I have not yet had the happiness of
seemg his Majesty.


^( IM{ ^ "^^"is is Meek. I am, m fact, Mr.
Meek. That son is mine and Mrs.
Meek's. When I saw the announce-

ment in the Times, I dropped the

jr^'i? paper. I had put it in myself, and
'"i/^'i paid for it, but it looked so noble that it
2^;:^ overpowered me.

^S'L As soon as I could compose my feelings,.
I took the paper up to Mrs. Meek's bedside.
" Maria Jane," said I (I allude to Mrs. :\Ieek),
" you are now a public character." '\\'e read
the review of our child several times, with feel-
ings of the strongest emotion ; and I sent the
boy who cleans the boots and shoes to the office
for fifteen copies. No reduction was made on
taking that quantity.

It is scarcely necessary for me to say, that
our child had been expected. In fact, it had
been expected, with comparative confidence^
for some months. Mrs. Meek's mother, who
resides with us — of the name of Bigby — had
made every preparation for its admission to our

I hope and believe I am a quiet man. I will
go farther. I know I am a quiet man. My
constitution is tremulous, my voice was never



loud, and, in point of stature, I have been, from
infancy, small. I have the greatest respect for
Maria Jane's mamma. She is a most remark-
able woman. I honour Maria Jane's mamma.
In my opinion she would storm a town, single-
handed, with a hearth-broom, and carry it. I
have never known her to yield any point what-
ever to mortal man. She is calculated to terrify
the stoutest heart.

Still Eut I will not anticipate.

The first intimation I had of any preparations
being in progress, on the part of Maria Jane's
mamma, was one afternoon, several months ago.
I came home earlier than usual from the oflice,
and, proceeding into the dining-room, found an
obstruction behind the door, which prevented it
from opening freely. It was an obstruction of
a soft nature. On looking in, I found it to be a

The female in question stood in the corner



behind the door, consuming Sherry Wine. From
the nutty smell of that beverage pervading the
apartment, I have no doubt she was consuming
a second glassful. She wore a black bonnet of
large dimensions, and was copious in figure.
The expression of her countenance was severe
and discontented. The words to which she gave
utterance, on seeing me, were these, " Oh, git
along with you, sir, if you please ; me and Mrs.
Bigby don't want no male parties here ! "
That female was Mrs. Prodgit.

I immediately withdrew, of course. I ^^as
rather hurt, but I made no remark. Whether it
was that I showed a lowness of spirits after
dinner, in consequence of feeling that I seemed
to intrude, I cannot say. But Maria Jane's
mamma said to me, on her retiring for the night,
in a low distinct voice, and with a look of re-
proach that completely subdued me : " George
Meek, Mrs. Prodgit is your wife's nurse!"

I bear no ill-will towards Mrs. Prodgit. Is it
likely that I, writing this with tears in my eyes,



should be capable of deliberate animosity to-
wards a female so essential to the welfare of
Maria Jane ? I am willing to admit that Fate
may have been to blame, and not Mrs. Prodgit ;
but, it is undeniably true, that the latter female
brought desolation and devastation into my
lowly dwelling.

We were happy after her first appearance : we
were sometimes exceedingly so. But, whenever
the parlour door was opened, and " Mrs.
Prodgit ! " announced (and she was very often
announced), misery ensued. I could not bear
Mrs. Prodgit's look. I felt that I was far from
wanted, and had no business to exist in Mrs.
Prodgit's presence. Between Maria Jane's
mamma and Mrs. Prodgit there was a dreadful,
secret understanding — a dark mystery and con-
spiracy, pointing me out as a being to be
shunned. I appeared to have done something
that was evil. Whenever Mrs. Prodgit called,
after dinner I retired to my dressing-room —
where the temperature is very low indeed in
the wintry time of the year — and sat looking at
my frosty breath as it rose before me, and at my
rack of boots : a serviceable article of furniture,
but never, in my opinion, an exhilarating ob-
ject. The length ot the councils that were held
wilh ISIrs. Prodgit, under these circumstances,
I will not attempt to describe. I will merely
remark, that Mrs. Prodgit always consumed
Sherry Wine while the deliberations were in
progress; that they always ended in Maria
Jane's being in wretched spirits on the sofa;
and that INIaria Jane's mamma always received
me, v.hen I was recalled, with a look of desolate
triumph that too plainly said, '^Ncnc, George
Meek ! You see my child, Maria Jane, a ruin,
and I hope you are satisfied ! "

I pass, generally, over the period that inter-
vened between the day when Mrs. Prodgit
entered her protest against male parties, and the
ever-memorable midnight when I brought her to
my unobtrusive home in a cab, with an ex-
tremely large box on the roof, and a bundle, a
bandbox, and a basket between the driver's legs.
I have no objection to Mrs. Prodgit (aided and
abetted by Mrs. Bigby, who I never can forget
is the parent of Maria Jane) taking entire pos-
session of my unassuming establishment. In
the recesses of my own breast, the thought may
linger that a man in possession cannot be so
dreadful as a woman, and that woman Mrs.
Prodgit; but, I ought to bear a good deal, and
I hope I can, and do. Hufiing and snubbing
prey upon my feelings ; but, I can bear them
without complaint. They may tell in the long-
run ; I may be hustled about, from post to

pillar, beyond my strength ; nevertheless, I wish
to avoid giving rise to v/ords in the family.

The voice of Nature, however, cries aloud in
behalf of Augustus George, my infant son. It
is for him that I wish to utter a few plaintive
household words. I am not at all angry ; I am
mild — but miserable.

I wish to know why, when my child, Augustus
George, was expected in our circle, a provision
of pins was made, as if the little stranger were a
criminal who was to be put to the torture imme-
diately on his arrival, instead of a holy babe ?
I wish to know why haste was made to stick
those pins all over his innocent form, in every
direction ? I wish to be informed why light
and air are excluded from Augustus George, like
poisons ? Wh}', I ask, is my unoffending infant
so hedged into a basket-bedstead with dimity
and calico, with miniature sheets and blankets,
that I can only hear him snuffie (and no wonder I)
deep down under the pink hood of a little
bathing machine, and can never peruse even so
much of his lineaments as his nose ?

Was I expected to be the father of a French
Roll, that the brushes of All Nations were laid
in to rasp Augustus George ? Am I to be told
that his sensitive skin was ever intended by
Nature to have rashes brought out upon it, by
the premature and incessant use of those for-
midable little instruments ?

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe mystery of Edwin Drood, Reprinted pieces, and other stories → online text (page 28 of 103)