TALES:

by Charles Dickens

THE BOARDING-HOUSE

CHAPTER I.

Mrs. Tibbs was, beyond all dispute, the most tidy, fidgety, thrifty little personage that ever inhaled the smoke of London; and the house of Mrs. Tibbs was, decidedly, the neatest in all Great Coram-street.  The area and the area-steps, and the street-door and the street-door steps, and the brass handle, and the door-plate, and the knocker, and the fan-light, were all as clean and bright, as indefatigable white-washing, and hearth-stoning, and scrubbing and rubbing, could make them.  The wonder was, that the brass door-plate, with the interesting inscription ‘Mrs. Tibbs,’ had never caught fire from constant friction, so perseveringly was it polished.  There were meat-safe-looking blinds in the parlour-windows, blue and gold curtains in the drawing-room, and spring-roller blinds, as Mrs. Tibbs was wont in the pride of her heart to boast, ‘all the way up.’ The bell-lamp in the passage looked as clear as a soap-bubble; you could see yourself in all the tables, and French-polish yourself on any one of the chairs.  The banisters were bees-waxed; and the very stair-wires made your eyes wink, they were so glittering.

Mrs. Tibbs was somewhat short of stature, and Mr. Tibbs was by no means a large man.  He had, moreover, very short legs, but, by way of indemnification, his face was peculiarly long.  He was to his wife what the 0 is in 90—he was of some importance with her—he was nothing without her.  Mrs. Tibbs was always talking.  Mr. Tibbs rarely spoke; but, if it were at any time possible to put in a word, when he should have said nothing at all, he had that talent.  Mrs. Tibbs detested long stories, and Mr. Tibbs had one, the conclusion of which had never been heard by his most intimate friends.  It always began, ‘I recollect when I was in the volunteer corps, in eighteen hundred and six,’—but, as he spoke very slowly and softly, and his better half very quickly and loudly, he rarely got beyond the introductory sentence.  He was a melancholy specimen of the story-teller.   He was the wandering Jew of Joe Millerism.

Mr. Tibbs enjoyed a small independence from the pension-list—about 43l. 15s. 10d. a year.  His father, mother, and five interesting scions from the same stock, drew a like sum from the revenue of a grateful country, though for what particular service was never known.  But, as this said independence was not quite sufficient to furnish two people with all the luxuries of this life, it had occurred to the busy little spouse of Tibbs, that the best thing she could do with a legacy of 700l., would be to take and furnish a tolerable house—somewhere in that partially-explored tract of country which lies between the British Museum, and a remote village called Somers-town—for the reception of boarders.  Great Coram-street was the spot pitched upon.  The house had been furnished accordingly; two female servants and a boy engaged; and an advertisement inserted in the morning papers, informing the public that ‘Six individuals would meet with all the comforts of a cheerful musical home in a select private family, residing within ten minutes’ walk of’—everywhere.  Answers out of number were received, with all sorts of initials; all the letters of the alphabet seemed to be seized with a sudden wish to go out boarding and lodging; voluminous was the correspondence between Mrs. Tibbs and the applicants; and most profound was the secrecy observed.  ‘E.’ didn’t like this; ‘I.’ couldn’t think of putting up with that; ‘I. O. U.’ didn’t think the terms would suit him; and ‘G. R.’ had never slept in a French bed.  The result, however, was, that three gentlemen became inmates of Mrs. Tibbs’s house, on terms which were ‘agreeable to all parties.’  In went the advertisement again, and a lady with her two daughters, proposed to increase—not their families, but Mrs. Tibbs’s.

‘Charming woman, that Mrs. Maplesone!’ said Mrs. Tibbs, as she and her spouse were sitting by the fire after breakfast; the gentlemen having gone out on their several avocations.  ‘Charming woman, indeed!’ repeated little Mrs. Tibbs, more by way of soliloquy than anything else, for she never thought of consulting her husband.  ‘And the two daughters are delightful.  We must have some fish to-day; they’ll join us at dinner for the first time.’

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