Chapter 11. Making a Night of it

by Charles Dickens

As to Mr. Thomas Potter, he would keep laughing out loud, and volunteering inarticulate declarations that he was ‘all right;’ in proof of which, he feebly bespoke the evening paper after the next gentleman, but finding it a matter of some difficulty to discover any news in its columns, or to ascertain distinctly whether it had any columns at all, walked slowly out to look for the moon, and, after coming back quite pale with looking up at the sky so long, and attempting to express mirth at Mr. Robert Smithers having fallen asleep, by various galvanic chuckles, laid his head on his arm, and went to sleep also.  When he awoke again, Mr. Robert Smithers awoke too, and they both very gravely agreed that it was extremely unwise to eat so many pickled walnuts with the chops, as it was a notorious fact that they always made people queer and sleepy; indeed, if it had not been for the whiskey and cigars, there was no knowing what harm they mightn’t have done ’em.  So they took some coffee, and after paying the bill,—twelve and twopence the dinner, and the odd tenpence for the waiter—thirteen shillings in all—started out on their expedition to manufacture a night.

It was just half-past eight, so they thought they couldn’t do better than go at half-price to the slips at the City Theatre, which they did accordingly.  Mr. Robert Smithers, who had become extremely poetical after the settlement of the bill, enlivening the walk by informing Mr. Thomas Potter in confidence that he felt an inward presentiment of approaching dissolution, and subsequently embellishing the theatre, by falling asleep with his head and both arms gracefully drooping over the front of the boxes.

Such was the quiet demeanour of the unassuming Smithers, and such were the happy effects of Scotch whiskey and Havannahs on that interesting person!  But Mr. Thomas Potter, whose great aim it was to be considered as a ‘knowing card,’ a ‘fast-goer,’ and so forth, conducted himself in a very different manner, and commenced going very fast indeed—rather too fast at last, for the patience of the audience to keep pace with him.  On his first entry, he contented himself by earnestly calling upon the gentlemen in the gallery to ‘flare up,’ accompanying the demand with another request, expressive of his wish that they would instantaneously ‘form a union,’ both which requisitions were responded to, in the manner most in vogue on such occasions.

‘Give that dog a bone!’ cried one gentleman in his shirt-sleeves.

‘Where have you been a having half a pint of intermediate beer?’ cried a second.  ‘Tailor!’ screamed a third.  ‘Barber’s clerk!’ shouted a fourth.  ‘Throw him o—ver!’ roared a fifth; while numerous voices concurred in desiring Mr. Thomas Potter to ‘go home to his mother!’  All these taunts Mr. Thomas Potter received with supreme contempt, cocking the low-crowned hat a little more on one side, whenever any reference was made to his personal appearance, and, standing up with his arms a-kimbo, expressing defiance melodramatically.

The overture—to which these various sounds had been an ad libitum accompaniment—concluded, the second piece began, and Mr. Thomas Potter, emboldened by impunity, proceeded to behave in a most unprecedented and outrageous manner.  First of all, he imitated the shake of the principal female singer; then, groaned at the blue fire; then, affected to be frightened into convulsions of terror at the appearance of the ghost; and, lastly, not only made a running commentary, in an audible voice, upon the dialogue on the stage, but actually awoke Mr. Robert Smithers, who, hearing his companion making a noise, and having a very indistinct notion where he was, or what was required of him, immediately, by way of imitating a good example, set up the most unearthly, unremitting, and appalling howling that ever audience heard.  It was too much.  ‘Turn them out!’ was the general cry.  A noise, as of shuffling of feet, and men being knocked up with violence against wainscoting, was heard: a hurried dialogue of ‘Come out?’—‘I won’t!’—‘You shall!’—‘I shan’t!’—‘Give me your card, Sir?’—‘You’re a scoundrel, Sir!’ and so forth, succeeded.  A round of applause betokened the approbation of the audience, and Mr. Robert Smithers and Mr. Thomas Potter found themselves shot with astonishing swiftness into the road, without having had the trouble of once putting foot to ground during the whole progress of their rapid descent.

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