Dickens' encounter with a polite young draper in Hull
AS THE young draper wrapped up the six pairs of silk stockings in brown paper, and tied the parcel with string, Dickens questioned him.
"And what is it you like to do in your spare time?"
Most people liked to talk about themselves. You only needed an opening.
"Why sir, I like dramatic performances at the theatre very much myself. And the musicals."
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The young man blushed, as if he had given too much away. Dickens was aware of his curiosity when the older man held the stockings up to the light, examining their mesh, and talking about the different grades of silk. What would an old man want with such things, he would be thinking. Was he not long past passion? But the young man was polite and attentive, without that obsequiousness which sometimes afflicted those of the serving classes in the more exclusive London stores.
"I would have liked to have obtained tickets to see Mr Dickens. I have heard such good things of him. But alas, all the tickets had been sold."
"And what are your favourites, may I ask?"
"I love Mr Pickwick, for his bonhomie. My favourite is the trial scene. And I do believe that Mr Dickens was to read from it. I also very much admire his portrayal of villains such as Sikes. And Mrs Gamp, why I have come across such characters myself in my work. Mr Dickens has a most acute insight into people. Still, it cannot be helped. Will that be all sir? I hope everything is to your satisfaction."
"Indeed. Thank you, my young man, most helpful. And you may find a use for these, I trust. Good day."
He tipped his hat, and marched smartly out of the wood-panelled shop. The young man fingered the ticket in his hand. "Admit the bearer.
Farewell Reading, Mr Charles Dickens. Assembly Rooms, Hull."
After Dickens left the silk merchants in Whitefriar- gate, clutching the parcel he would give to Nelly, he realised that for a few pleasant minutes, he had forgotten about the thing that was eating at his heart: the death of his good friend Tennent. He shivered. And with Tennent only eight years older than him. Such a sad journey he would have to make to London, cutting short his Hull readings. He was enjoying his time here. They were a fine people, with cultured and fashionable strata of society of whom those who did not venture out of London would be unaware.
And the people on the street were open and direct. One of the more pleasant aspects of giving readings was the way ordinary working people would come up and shake your hand, say they admired your work and knew it well. Only this morning, a railway labourer with a terrible turn in his eye, but such a pleasant and equable manner as to make you do him the honour of forgetting his affliction, stopped him in the street and praised the writing in Oliver Twist, and hoped that "you would be reading from that directly."
"Indeed I am," he answered. Dickens breathed in. A tang of sewers and fish, and rabbit and beef, the smell of sweat. A most agreeable afternoon was in store. How he loved to perform.