Imágenes de páginas

tempor in their ineffectual efforts to find their way home, mistaking the turnings of streets, groping on one of the bridges when they were bound to Somers' Town—walking into strange houses, and getting themselves collared as thieves, or committing some ab»urd error of a like nature. Very funny to hear afterwards recounted, but by no means agreeable at the time of sufferance to the actually concerned individual.

('ity lanes—courts—alleys—dark recesses, where dingy counting-houses are packed away—how impenetrable were these that afternoon! You might as well have sought to get at the interior of Africa. Vessrs. Denham and C'lapperton had easy work of it, compared with that of the old clerk who had grown grey-headed on our othce stool, and who, having gone forth to get his dinner, at a tavern hard by, spent two whole mortal hours in an ineffectual scarch after his desk-much to the discomposure of his ordinarily umrullled disposition, for his shins were nearly raw from encounters with scrapers and doorsteps; and an angel with an abraded epidermis would be petulant. But what shall be said of the bully sailor, who, fancying that he was crossing the threshold of the “ Jolly Launch” walked into the river off Wapping Stairs, and made the heavily laden air undulate with the concussion of his oaths ? What shall be said of vehicle-drivers,—cads and cabbies, who, with smashed panels, were dolorously and splenetically misleading themselves and cattle, in vain and frantic attempts to get to home quarters ? Let us rather attend to the old clerk, for we shall see, in the sequel, how he had reason to remember the fog for the remainder of his life.

Not yet. Very like the street, but not the street, though it can't be far off. Not yet again—No, nor nothing like it this time, for, as true as the monument is a monument, he is groping around its iron railings. London Bridge is nigh at hand, and the river, — what if he should go astray in that direction, and get drowned ? Such things, it is said, have happened in a fog.

Not yet—and now he thinks he has got it. Yes. A few steps along the passage, and then a staircase to mount. How cheerful the lighted apartment looks, in contrast to the choking murkiness of the strect, outside. Yet not quite like itself either. A portion of the fog must have penetrated through crannies, or the clerks, coming in from dinner, must have introduced it with their damp garments. Certainly, there was a prevalent haziness that seemed . to metamorphose things a little. There were his desk and stool

yet the stool had a feeling unlike itself—wasn't worn as his was, -lie had sat on his for twenty years, and should know it well, he thought. There was a difference, for which he could not account. The fog must have confused him, or was his dinner ale stronger than usual ? The landlord had mentioned something about a new tap. "Mr. Dodypol,” said a voice, "you have mistaken your desk.”

· Dear me, have I, indeed ?” the clerk replied. “ It must be the fog that has affected my eyes. There was just such a fog twenty-six years ago—the year of the great comet.

• Why, Nr. Dodypol,” said another speaker, “how hoarse you are, — your voice is quite altered.”

“Is it, indeed ? It must be the effects of the fog. Oh, it's a terrible fog. I am afraid that we shall hear of a great many accidents.”

“Yes. I never encountered such a fog, but then I am not so old as Mr. Dodypol,” said a pert young clerk, gesticulating as if he had intended to balance his pen across his nose, but had suddenly changed his mind.

Here arose a new source of confusion. The voices, features, apparel, of the individuals who were at work around him, were not as they should have been, if he was amongst his fellow-clerks.Yet there could be no mistake, for had they not called him by his name? IIe stood gazing around him, like one stupified. He heard one junior clerk whisper another, that “Dodypol was drunk !"

Could it be true ? Oh, that ale, and that treacherous landlord !

• Why, Mr. Dodypol, your face is so changed, that I hardly know

you—you have bruised your nose,” said the voice that had first spoken.

“I ran against a lamp-post," answered our friend. Four o'clock struck, amidst the half-suppressed titter that followed this confession, and at the instant every desk was vacated, and the clerks, seizing their coats and hats, bowed to the firm, in the person of Twiggers, the principal, and to him—to him, Dodypol, their fellow-clerk, and withdrew.

“You will be particular about the hour to-morrow, Mr. Dodypol, if you please,” said Mr. Twiggers—who could it be but Twiggers, though it didn't look much like him? but that, as Dodypol thought, was the fog. You will be particular about the hournot that we shall make much ceremony.

You will dine with us,

of course, and we may get a little merry afterwards. Bless your soul," and Twivvers smiled blandly, "I shall be as delighted in seeing your name added to the firm, as you will be in becoming one of 18. (ioord bro, ciod bless you."

The-praker quitted the office, waving his hand to the clerk, and leaving the intellect of the latter as foggy as the street outside. A little serubby boy alone remained to sweep the office.

l'lease, Mr. Bodypol, I shall make you all over dust,” said the ladl, respectfully.

Oh--VIS-Ah, ear me," replied Dodypol, thoughtfully, and mutte.iny that it was very strange, and that he couldn't comprehend it, he took his hat and left the boy to his vocation. The foy was as dense as ever, and how he got home, he never rightly knew ; but in his greater perplexity about matters at the office, it seemed comparatively easy to him to find his way. Certainly the links that were moving about like will-o'-the-wisps hurrying to a rendezvous-maile the task less clitficult than it would have proved an hour earlier, for the streets were partially lighted by the evershifting glare of flambeaux. Before five o'clock he was snugly scated in luis little Islington parlour, and listening with patience to his landlauly's experience of London fogs since the year of grace 1791, being the precise year in which her memory began to chronicle events.

Tea tinished, he reached a book from his scantily-furnished shelves, and commenced to read. For the fiftieth time he had become interested in the “ Adventures of Tom Jones, a Foundling,” when his landlady announced a visitor.

Ben Rawlings, his fellow of the desk, and nearly as old as himself ; hair a little grizzled, but not entirely grey, as Ben used to boast.

“Dodypol, I am glad to see you,” said Ben, with much warmth of feeling: “We got alarmed about


this afternoon ; thought some accident must have happened to you in the fog. What a fog it was! But it's cleared off now.' - Got alarmed about me,” said Dodypol.

Yes, as you didn't return to the office after dinner, and accidents are likely to happen in such a fog,” said Rawlings.

“ Didn't return to the office !” echocd his friend. 6. What do you mean? I came back, certainly."

“ You came back," Rawlings replied, returning Dodypol's look of astonishment. “I wasn't out of the office once during the

[ocr errors]


» said

[ocr errors]

afternoon ; and I am a newly-breeched boy, if you made your appearance amongst us, after you went out to get your dinner.”

“ As surely as that you are now sitting in that chair, Dodypol, solemnly, “and I am speaking to you, sitting where I do,-mind, I say, as surely as that we are now seated face to face, and talking in a friendly manner, I was at the office when we broke up. More. I was the last person in the office, except the boy, and he was sweeping it when I left.”

My dear Dodypol, what can be the matter with you? The boy hasn't been there at all this afternoon. IIe had a halfholiday given him, because his mother is ill. I locked the office up myself, and remained half-an-hour after all the rest had gone, to sort some papers before I quitted it.”

“ The fog has done it all,” murmured Dodypol, completely staggered by his friend's positive manner, " or the ale,” he added, internally, " or the ale. "

“You are certainly not yourself, to-night,” observed Rawlings, musing

“No, I can't be, now I think of it," assented Dodypol, blankly, for Twiggers said something about adding my name to the firm,--it sounded as if I was to become a partner. I am certainly not myself--you are right, my friend.” “ Tell me,” said Rawlings, coaxingly.—" You are

a sober man, and a very little indulgence might

play the devil with youdid you take anything stronger than usual with your dinner to-day ? "

I don't think I did—I had my usual glass of ale—it didn't seem stronger than what I am accustomed to take—it might have been, answered Dodypol.

“ That was it-deleterious stuff, tavern ale. That did it, my friend. You hav’n’t been to the office—you have been dreaming," said Rawlings.

" It may be as you say," assented Dodypol, regarding his fellow clerk with a rueful countenance.

"It must be so-take my word for it,” and Rawlings laughed gently, but seemed to sympathise with his friend's perplexity.

Dodypol was not so easily convinced. How long it was before he fell asleep that night! Ilow be lay tossing in his bed, and pondering the events of that afternoon! A dream ! What marvellous distinctness of incident for a dream ! Was the fog on his way homewards a dream ? Were the links, erratic


planets traversing the mist, a dream? Was the office lighted up, at an earlier hour than usual, a dream? Were Twiggers’s bland smile, and familiar “God bless you at leave-taking, a dream? No—n0—10—Rawlings was the dream, if he had dreamt at all.

The next morning afforded no elucidation. At the office, every one, Twiggers included, assured him that he was labouring under a delusion, in supposing that he had returned to his desk during the fog. IIe had, of course, to endure much bantering, which he underwent good-humouredly enough. “If you

didn't fall asleep in the tavern parlour, and dream it all," observed Rawlings, as they walked together along Cheapside on their way homewards, "you must have mistaken some other office for ours-that might happen in a fog."

“But the name,” replied Dodypol. “Ilow should they have known my name at another office? Unless, indeed

“Unless what?” said Rawlings, noting that his companion had suddenly become sad and thoughtful, “ unless what?”

“ D'ye think that romance writers invent all their incidents ?” inquired Dodypol, waking as from a brief fit of abstraction; “or do they ever borrow from real life? Somebody—Byron, isn't it?“ says that truth is stranger than fiction.' Now, is that true, Rawlings, eh?”

“Come home with me," said the other, abruptly, laying his hand on his friend's arm, “and take a cup of tea in the old elbowchair you

know so well, and I will relate it.” “Relate what?” asked Dodypol, at fault.

“Why—a romance of real life that I picked up to-day in the strangest manner, replied Rawlings, with emotion. “A romance which, strange as any fiction, is true as the work-a-day world around us.

Come and hear it. I have an interest in getting you home along with me; I have, indeed.”

The speaker's voice liad grown husky, of a sudden. Complaining that his eyes watered, he said it was the wind,—and that his eyes were weak. Pausing, as though he would admire a magnificent salver in a jeweller's window, he drew forth his handkerchief, to rid them of the unpleasant moisture.

“ This romance,” said Dodypol, when he had rejoined him, “I am eager to hear it told.” * Not more

eager than I am to tell it,” replied Rawlings. “It mayn't interest


much. I believe that it will, but it mayn't.

« AnteriorContinuar »