The exclamation 'Dear me' which irresistibly escaped my lips caused him to sit upright, and survey me. I found him to be a good-looking little man of about fifty, with a shining face, a tight head, a bright eye, a moist wink, a quick speech, and a ready air. He had something of a sporting way with him.
He looked at me, and I looked at him, until the driver displaced me by handing in a pint of beer, a pipe, and what I understand is called 'a screw' of tobacco - an object which has the appearance of a curl-paper taken off the barmaid's head, with the curl in it.
'I beg your pardon,' said I, when the removed person of the driver again admitted of my presenting my face at the portal. 'But - excuse my curiosity, which I inherit from my mother - do you live here?'
'That's good, too!' returned the little man, composedly laying aside a pipe he had smoked out, and filling the pipe just brought to him.
'Oh, you DON'T live here then?' said I.
He shook his head, as he calmly lighted his pipe by means of a German tinder-box, and replied, 'This is my carriage. When things are flat, I take a ride sometimes, and enjoy myself. I am the inventor of these wans.'
His pipe was now alight. He drank his beer all at once, and he smoked and he smiled at me.
'It was a great idea!' said I.
'Not so bad,' returned the little man, with the modesty of merit.
'Might I be permitted to inscribe your name upon the tablets of my memory?' I asked.
'There's not much odds in the name,' returned the little man, ' - no name particular - I am the King of the Bill-Stickers.'
'Good gracious!' said I.
The monarch informed me, with a smile, that he had never been crowned or installed with any public ceremonies, but that he was peaceably acknowledged as King of the Bill-Stickers in right of being the oldest and most respected member of 'the old school of bill-sticking.' He likewise gave me to understand that there was a Lord Mayor of the Bill-Stickers, whose genius was chiefly exercised within the limits of the city. He made some allusion, also, to an inferior potentate, called 'Turkey-legs;' but I did not understand that this gentleman was invested with much power. I rather inferred that he derived his title from some peculiarity of gait, and that it was of an honorary character.
'My father,' pursued the King of the Bill-Stickers, 'was Engineer, Beadle, and Bill-Sticker to the parish of St. Andrew's, Holborn, in the year one thousand seven hundred and eighty. My father stuck bills at the time of the riots of London.'
'You must be acquainted with the whole subject of bill-sticking, from that time to the present!' said I.
'Pretty well so,' was the answer.
'Excuse me,' said I; 'but I am a sort of collector - '
''Not Income-tax?' cried His Majesty, hastily removing his pipe from his lips.
'No, no,' said I.
'Water-rate?' said His Majesty.
'No, no,' I returned.
'Gas? Assessed? Sewers?' said His Majesty.
'You misunderstand me,' I replied, soothingly. 'Not that sort of collector at all: a collector of facts.'
'Oh, if it's only facts,' cried the King of the Bill-Stickers, recovering his good-humour, and banishing the great mistrust that had suddenly fallen upon him, 'come in and welcome! If it had been income, or winders, I think I should have pitched you out of the wan, upon my soul!'
Readily complying with the invitation, I squeezed myself in at the small aperture. His Majesty, graciously handing me a little three- legged stool on which I took my seat in a corner, inquired if I smoked.
'I do; - that is, I can,' I answered.
'Pipe and a screw!' said His Majesty to the attendant charioteer. 'Do you prefer a dry smoke, or do you moisten it?'
As unmitigated tobacco produces most disturbing effects upon my system (indeed, if I had perfect moral courage, I doubt if I should smoke at all, under any circumstances), I advocated moisture, and begged the Sovereign of the Bill-Stickers to name his usual liquor, and to concede to me the privilege of paying for it.