Charles Dickens

What do you make of one and eightpence and two shillings?'

Totally unable to make anything of one and eightpence and two shillings, the waiter went out to try if anybody else could; merely casting a helpless backward glance at Bullfinch, in acknowledgement of his pathetic entreaties for our soup-tureen. After a pause, during which Mr. Indignation Cocker read a newspaper and coughed defiant coughs, Bullfinch arose to get the tureen, when the waiter reappeared and brought it,--dropping Mr. Indignation Cocker's altered bill on Mr. Indignation Cocker's table as he came along.

'It's quite impossible to do it, gentlemen,' murmured the waiter; 'and the kitchen is so far off.'

'Well, you don't keep the house; it's not your fault, we suppose. Bring some sherry.'

'Waiter!' from Mr. Indignation Cocker, with a new and burning sense of injury upon him.

The waiter, arrested on his way to our sherry, stopped short, and came back to see what was wrong now.

'Will you look here? This is worse than before. DO you understand? Here's yesterday's sherry, one and eightpence, and here we are again two shillings. And what the devil does ninepence mean?'

This new portent utterly confounded the waiter. He wrung his napkin, and mutely appealed to the ceiling.

'Waiter, fetch that sherry,' says Bullfinch, in open wrath and revolt.

'I want to know,' persisted Mr. Indignation Cocker, 'the meaning of ninepence. I want to know the meaning of sherry one and eightpence yesterday, and of here we are again two shillings. Send somebody.'

The distracted waiter got out of the room on pretext of sending somebody, and by that means got our wine. But the instant he appeared with our decanter, Mr. Indignation Cocker descended on him again.


'You will now have the goodness to attend to our dinner, waiter,' said Bullfinch, sternly.

'I am very sorry, but it's quite impossible to do it, gentlemen,' pleaded the waiter; 'and the kitchen--'

'Waiter!' said Mr. Indignation Cocker.

'--Is,' resumed the waiter, 'so far off, that--'

'Waiter!' persisted Mr. Indignation Cocker, 'send somebody.'

We were not without our fears that the waiter rushed out to hang himself; and we were much relieved by his fetching somebody,--in graceful, flowing skirts and with a waist,--who very soon settled Mr. Indignation Cocker's business.

'Oh!' said Mr. Cocker, with his fire surprisingly quenched by this apparition; 'I wished to ask about this bill of mine, because it appears to me that there's a little mistake here. Let me show you. Here's yesterday's sherry one and eightpence, and here we are again two shillings. And how do you explain ninepence?'

However it was explained, in tones too soft to be overheard. Mr. Cocker was heard to say nothing more than 'Ah-h-h! Indeed; thank you! Yes,' and shortly afterwards went out, a milder man.

The lonely traveller with the stomach-ache had all this time suffered severely, drawing up a leg now and then, and sipping hot brandy-and-water with grated ginger in it. When we tasted our (very) mock-turtle soup, and were instantly seized with symptoms of some disorder simulating apoplexy, and occasioned by the surcharge of nose and brain with lukewarm dish-water holding in solution sour flour, poisonous condiments, and (say) seventy-five per cent. of miscellaneous kitchen stuff rolled into balls, we were inclined to trace his disorder to that source. On the other hand, there was a silent anguish upon him too strongly resembling the results established within ourselves by the sherry, to be discarded from alarmed consideration. Again, we observed him, with terror, to be much overcome by our sole's being aired in a temporary retreat close to him, while the waiter went out (as we conceived) to see his friends. And when the curry made its appearance he suddenly retired in great disorder.

In fine, for the uneatable part of this little dinner (as contradistinguished from the undrinkable) we paid only seven shillings and sixpence each. And Bullfinch and I agreed unanimously, that no such ill-served, ill-appointed, ill-cooked, nasty little dinner could be got for the money anywhere else under the sun.