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Chapter 8 The Inconsiderate Waiter

They were the family of William, one of our club waiters who had been disappointing me grievously of late. Many a time have I deferred dining several minutes that I might have the attendance of this ingrate. His efforts to reserve the window-table for me were satisfactory, and I used to allow him privileges, as to suggest dishes; I have given him information, as that some one had startled me in the reading-room by slamming a door; I have shown him how I cut my finger with a piece of string. William was none of your assertive waiters. We could have plotted a murder safely before him. It was one member who said to him that Saucy Sarah would win the Derby and another who said that Saucy Sarah had no chance, but it was William who agreed with both. The excellent fellow (as I thought him) was like a cheroot which may be smoked from either end.

I date his lapse from one evening when I was dining by the window. I had to repeat my order “Devilled kidney,” and instead of answering brightly, “Yes, sir,” as if my selection of devilled kidney was a personal gratification to him, which is the manner one expects of a waiter, he gazed eagerly out at the window, and then, starting, asked, “Did you say devilled kidney, sir?” A few minutes afterward I became aware that some one was leaning over the back of my chair, and you may conceive my indignation on discovering that this rude person was William. Let me tell, in the measured words of one describing a past incident, what next took place. To get nearer the window he pressed heavily on my shoulder. “William,” I said, “you are not attending to me!”

To be fair to him, he shook, but never shall I forget his audacious apology, “Beg pardon, sir, but I was thinking of something else.”

And immediately his eyes resought the window, and this burst from him passionately, “For God’s sake, sir, as we are man and man, tell me if you have seen a little girl looking up at the club-windows.”

Man and man! But he had been a good waiter once, so I pointed out the girl to him. As soon as she saw William she ran into the middle of Pall Mall, regardless of hansoms (many of which seemed to pass over her), nodded her head significantly three times and then disappeared (probably on a stretcher). She was the tawdriest little Arab of about ten years, but seemed to have brought relief to William. “Thank God!” said he fervently, and in the worst taste.

I was as much horrified as if he had dropped a plate on my toes. “Bread, William,” I said sharply.

“You are not vexed with me, sir?” he had the hardihood to whisper.

“It was a liberty,” I said.

“I know, sir, but I was beside myself.”

“That was a liberty again.”

“It is my wife, sir, she--”

So William, whom I had favoured in so many ways, was a married man. I felt that this was the greatest liberty of all.

I gathered that the troublesome woman was ailing, and as one who likes after dinner to believe that there is no distress in the world, I desired to be told by William that the signals meant her return to health. He answered inconsiderately, however, that the doctor feared the worst.

“Bah, the doctor,” I said in a rage.

“Yes, sir,” said William.

“What is her confounded ailment?”

“She was allus one of the delicate kind, but full of spirit, and you see, sir, she has had a baby-girl lately--”

“William, how dare you,” I said, but in the same moment I saw that this father might be useful to me. “How does your baby sleep, William?” I asked in a low voice, “how does she wake up? what do you put in her bath?”

I saw surprise in his face, so I hurried on without waiting for an answer. “That little girl comes here with a message from your wife?”

“Yes, sir, every evening; she’s my eldest, and three nods from her means that the missus is a little better.”

“There were three nods to-day?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I suppose you live in some low part, William?”

The impudent fellow looked as if he could have struck me. “Off Drury Lane,” he said, flushing, “but it isn’t low. And now,” he groaned, “she’s afeared she will die without my being there to hold her hand.”

“She should not say such things.”

“She never says them, sir. She allus pretends to be feeling stronger. But I knows what is in her mind when I am leaving the house in the morning, for then she looks at me from her bed, and I looks at her from the door--oh, my God, sir!”


At last he saw that I was angry, and it was characteristic of him to beg my pardon and withdraw his wife as if she were some unsuccessful dish. I tried to forget his vulgar story in billiards, but he had spoiled my game, and next day to punish him I gave my orders through another waiter. As I had the window-seat, however, I could not but see that the little girl was late, and though this mattered nothing to me and I had finished my dinner, I lingered till she came. She not only nodded three times but waved her hat, and I arose, having now finished my dinner.

William came stealthily toward me. “Her temperature has gone down, sir,” he said, rubbing his hands together.

“To whom are you referring?” I asked coldly, and retired to the billiard-room, where I played a capital game.

I took pains to show William that I had forgotten his maunderings, but I observed the girl nightly, and once, instead of nodding, she shook her head, and that evening I could not get into a pocket. Next evening there was no William in the dining-room, and I thought I knew what had happened. But, chancing to enter the library rather miserably, I was surprised to see him on a ladder dusting books. We had the room practically to ourselves, for though several members sat on chairs holding books in their hands they were all asleep, and William descended the ladder to tell me his blasting tale. He had sworn at a member!

“I hardly knew what I was doing all day, sir, for I had left her so weakly that--”

I stamped my foot.

“I beg your pardon for speaking of her,” he had the grace to say. “But Irene had promised to come every two hours; and when she came about four o’clock and I saw she was crying, it sort of blinded me, sir, and I stumbled against a member, Mr. B----, and he said, ‘Damn you!’ Well, sir, I had but touched him after all, and I was so broken it sort of stung me to be treated so, and I lost my senses, and I said, ‘Damn you!’”

His shamed head sunk on his chest, and I think some of the readers shuddered in their sleep.

“I was turned out of the dining-room at once, and sent here until the committee have decided what to do with me. Oh, sir, I am willing to go on my knees to Mr. B----”

How could I but despise a fellow who would be thus abject for a pound a week?

“For if I have to tell her I have lost my place she will just fall back and die.”

“I forbid your speaking to me of that woman,” I cried wryly, “unless you can speak pleasantly,” and I left him to his fate and went off to look for B----. “What is this story about your swearing at one of the waiters?” I asked him.

“You mean about his swearing at me,” said B----, reddening.

“I am glad that was it,” I said, “for I could not believe you guilty of such bad form. The version which reached me was that you swore at each other, and that he was to be dismissed and you reprimanded.

“Who told you that?” asked B----, who is a timid man.

“I am on the committee,” I replied lightly, and proceeded to talk of other matters, but presently B----, who had been reflecting, said: “Do you know I fancy I was wrong in thinking that the waiter swore at me, and I shall withdraw the charge to-morrow.”

I was pleased to find that William’s troubles were near an end without my having to interfere in his behalf, and I then remembered that he would not be able to see the girl Irene from the library windows, which are at the back of the club. I was looking down at her, but she refrained from signalling because she could not see William, and irritated by her stupidity I went out and asked her how her mother was.

“My,” she ejaculated after a long scrutiny of me, “I b’lieve you are one of them!” and she gazed at me with delighted awe. I suppose William tells them of our splendid doings.

The invalid, it appeared, was a bit better, and this annoying child wanted to inform William that she had took all the tapiocar. She was to indicate this by licking an imaginary plate in the middle of Pall Mall. I gave the little vulgarian a shilling, and returned to the club disgusted.

“By the way, William,” I said, “Mr. B---- is to inform the committee that he was mistaken in thinking you used improper language to him, so you will doubtless be restored to the dining-room to-morrow.”

I had to add immediately, “Remember your place............

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