Tale 11. The Bloomsbury Christening

by Charles Dickens

Mr. Nicodemus Dumps, or, as his acquaintance called him, ‘long Dumps,’ was a bachelor, six feet high, and fifty years old: cross, cadaverous, odd, and ill-natured.  He was never happy but when he was miserable; and always miserable when he had the best reason to be happy.  The only real comfort of his existence was to make everybody about him wretched—then he might be truly said to enjoy life.  He was afflicted with a situation in the Bank worth five hundred a-year, and he rented a ‘first-floor furnished,’ at Pentonville, which he originally took because it commanded a dismal prospect of an adjacent churchyard.  He was familiar with the face of every tombstone, and the burial service seemed to excite his strongest sympathy.  His friends said he was surly—he insisted he was nervous; they thought him a lucky dog, but he protested that he was ‘the most unfortunate man in the world.’  Cold as he was, and wretched as he declared himself to be, he was not wholly unsusceptible of attachments.  He revered the memory of Hoyle, as he was himself an admirable and imperturbable whist-player, and he chuckled with delight at a fretful and impatient adversary.  He adored King Herod for his massacre of the innocents; and if he hated one thing more than another, it was a child.  However, he could hardly be said to hate anything in particular, because he disliked everything in general; but perhaps his greatest antipathies were cabs, old women, doors that would not shut, musical amateurs, and omnibus cads.  He subscribed to the ‘Society for the Suppression of Vice’ for the pleasure of putting a stop to any harmless amusements; and he contributed largely towards the support of two itinerant methodist parsons, in the amiable hope that if circumstances rendered any people happy in this world, they might perchance be rendered miserable by fears for the next.

Mr. Dumps had a nephew who had been married about a year, and who was somewhat of a favourite with his uncle, because he was an admirable subject to exercise his misery-creating powers upon.  Mr. Charles Kitterbell was a small, sharp, spare man, with a very large head, and a broad, good-humoured countenance.  He looked like a faded giant, with the head and face partially restored; and he had a cast in his eye which rendered it quite impossible for any one with whom he conversed to know where he was looking.  His eyes appeared fixed on the wall, and he was staring you out of countenance; in short, there was no catching his eye, and perhaps it is a merciful dispensation of Providence that such eyes are not catching.  In addition to these characteristics, it may be added that Mr. Charles Kitterbell was one of the most credulous and matter-of-fact little personages that ever took to himself a wife, and for himself a house in Great Russell-street, Bedford-square.  (Uncle Dumps always dropped the ‘Bedford-square,’ and inserted in lieu thereof the dreadful words ‘Tottenham-court-road.’)

‘No, but, uncle, ’pon my life you must—you must promise to be godfather,’ said Mr. Kitterbell, as he sat in conversation with his respected relative one morning.

‘I cannot, indeed I cannot,’ returned Dumps.

‘Well, but why not?  Jemima will think it very unkind.  It’s very little trouble.’

‘As to the trouble,’ rejoined the most unhappy man in existence, ‘I don’t mind that; but my nerves are in that state—I cannot go through the ceremony.  You know I don’t like going out.—For God’s sake, Charles, don’t fidget with that stool so; you’ll drive me mad.’  Mr. Kitterbell, quite regardless of his uncle’s nerves, had occupied himself for some ten minutes in describing a circle on the floor with one leg of the office-stool on which he was seated, keeping the other three up in the air, and holding fast on by the desk.

‘I beg your pardon, uncle,’ said Kitterbell, quite abashed, suddenly releasing his hold of the desk, and bringing the three wandering legs back to the floor, with a force sufficient to drive them through it.

‘But come, don’t refuse.  If it’s a boy, you know, we must have two godfathers.’

If it’s a boy!’ said Dumps; ‘why can’t you say at once whether it is a boy or not?’

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