Somebody's Luggage
by Charles Dickens

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This etext was prepared from the 1894 Chapman and Hall "Christmas Stories"
edition by David Price, email



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 exist.

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