“Well, boy, what do you want?”
These words were uttered in a no pleasant tone by an old gentleman with a brownish complexion, a yellowish brown scratch wig, somewhat awry, a decidedly brown coat, breeches, and waistcoat, a neckcloth, once white, but now partaking of the sombre hue of his other garments; brown stockings and brownish shoes, ornamented by a pair of silver buckles, the last-mentioned articles being the only part of his costume on which the eye could rest with satisfaction.
On his lap was placed a pocket handkerchief, of a nondescript tint, brown, predominating, in consequence of its frequent application to a longish nose, made the recipient of huge quantities of snuff. Altogether there was a dry, withered-leaf-like look about the old man which was not prepossessing. His little grey eyes were sunk deeply in his head, his sight being aided by a large pair of tortoiseshell spectacles, which he had now shoved up over his forehead.
He was seated on a high stool at a desk in a little back dingy office, powerfully redolent of odours nautical and unsavoury, emanating from coils of rope, casks of salt butter, herrings, Dutch cheese, whale oil, and similar unaromatic articles of commerce. It was in that region made classical by Dibdin—Wapping. The back office in which the old gentleman sat opened out of one of much larger proportions, though equally dull and dingy, full of clerks, old and young, on high stools, busily moving their pens, or rapidly casting up accounts—evidence that no idleness was allowed in the establishment. On one side was a warehouse, in which large quantities of the above named and similar ship’s stores were collected. In front was a shop, the ceiling hung with tallow candles, brushes, mats, iron pots, and other things more useful than ornamental. From one end to the other of it ran a long, dark-coloured counter, behind which stood a man in a brown apron, and sleeves tucked up, ready to serve out, in small quantities, tea, sugar, coffee, tallow candles, brushes, twine, tin kettles, and the pots which hung over his head, within reach of a long stick, placed ready for detaching them from the hooks on which they were suspended. In the windows, and on the walls outside, were large placards in red and black letters, announcing the sailing of various ships of wonderful sea qualities, and admirable accommodation for passengers, with a statement that further information would be afforded within.
“Speak, boy; what do you want?” repeated the old gentleman, in a testy and still harsher tone than before, as he turned round on his stool with an angry glance under his spectacles. “Eh?”
The person he addressed was a fair complexioned boy, about twelve years old, with large blue eyes, and brown hair in wavey curls, a broad forehead, and an open, frank, intelligent countenance. He was dressed in a jacket and trousers of black cloth, not over well made perhaps, nor fresh looking, although they did not spoil his figure; his broad shirt collar turned back and fastened by a ribbon showed to advantage his neck and well-set-on head....