Page:Hopkinson Smith--In Dickens's London.djvu/27

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There was a maid, of course, who might, and possibly did, cajole all the subsequent Sam Wellers of her time; and there was a landlady—a most cheery and comforting landlady, as I afterward discovered—who on hearing the sound of wheels peered at me through the quaint panes of a low-sashed window, her hand busy with a pewter mug held close to a wooden spigot; and there was the usual collection of thirsty men lounging outside the tap-room door, awaiting their turns—all charming and delightful reminders of what could have been found in this same old hostelry when gigs and chaise-carts were wheeled up in the courtyard, and boys in smock frocks lay asleep on the straw, but not entirely convincing to a man who had crossed three thousand miles of water to make real a dream of his boyhood.

What did interest me—interest me enormously—was the hostelry itself—particularly that part of the sleeping gallery from which the musical chambermaid shouted to the boot cleaner in the sleeve waistcoat with blue-glass buttons. But for a coat of paint applied every twenty years or so, and the bracing up of a snaggle-toothed balustrade, it is precisely as Mr. Dickens saw and described it seventy-five years ago in his immortal "Pickwick." "There are in London," he says, "several old inns, once the headquarters of Celebrated Coaches in the days when coaches performed their journeys in a graver and more solemn manner than they do in these times." Whereupon he gave to a listening and uproarious world—and they are still laughing over it—a full and unabridged account of the scene with which this chapter opens.

And a wonderful old inn it is even now, its front in two connecting sections—each bracing the other, their shoulders