I was a listening.'

'Was you, indeed?' said Mr Wegg, dubiously.

'Not in a dishonourable way, Wegg, because you was singing to the butcher; and you wouldn't sing secrets to a butcher in the street, you know.'

'It never happened that I did so yet, to the best of my remembrance,' said Mr Wegg, cautiously. 'But I might do it. A man can't say what he might wish to do some day or another.' (This, not to release any little advantage he might derive from Mr Boffin's avowal.)

'Well,' repeated Boffin, 'I was a listening to you and to him. And what do you--you haven't got another stool, have you? I'm rather thick in my breath.'

'I haven't got another, but you're welcome to this,' said Wegg, resigning it. 'It's a treat to me to stand.'

'Lard!' exclaimed Mr Boffin, in a tone of great enjoyment, as he settled himself down, still nursing his stick like a baby, 'it's a pleasant place, this! And then to be shut in on each side, with these ballads, like so many book-leaf blinkers! Why, its delightful!'

'If I am not mistaken, sir,' Mr Wegg delicately hinted, resting a hand on his stall, and bending over the discursive Boffin, 'you alluded to some offer or another that was in your mind?'

'I'm coming to it! All right. I'm coming to it! I was going to say that when I listened that morning, I listened with hadmiration amounting to haw. I thought to myself, "Here's a man with a wooden leg--a literary man with--"'

'N--not exactly so, sir,' said Mr Wegg.

'Why, you know every one of these songs by name and by tune, and if you want to read or to sing any one on 'em off straight, you've only to whip on your spectacles and do it!' cried Mr Boffin. 'I see you at it!'

'Well, sir,' returned Mr Wegg, with a conscious inclination of the head; 'we'll say literary, then.'

'"A literary man--WITH a wooden leg--and all Print is open to him!" That's what I thought to myself, that morning,' pursued Mr Boffin, leaning forward to describe, uncramped by the clotheshorse, as large an arc as his right arm could make; '"all Print is open to him!" And it is, ain't it?'

'Why, truly, sir,' Mr Wegg admitted, with modesty; 'I believe you couldn't show me the piece of English print, that I wouldn't be equal to collaring and throwing.'

'On the spot?' said Mr Boffin.

'On the spot.'

'I know'd it! Then consider this. Here am I, a man without a wooden leg, and yet all print is shut to me.'

'Indeed, sir?' Mr Wegg returned with increasing self-complacency. 'Education neglected?'

'Neg--lected!' repeated Boffin, with emphasis. 'That ain't no word for it. I don't mean to say but what if you showed me a B, I could so far give you change for it, as to answer Boffin.'

'Come, come, sir,' said Mr Wegg, throwing in a little encouragement, 'that's something, too.'

'It's something,' answered Mr Boffin, 'but I'll take my oath it ain't much.'

'Perhaps it's not as much as could be wished by an inquiring mind, sir,' Mr Wegg admitted.

'Now, look here. I'm retired from business. Me and Mrs Boffin-- Henerietty Boffin--which her father's name was Henery, and her mother's name was Hetty, and so you get it--we live on a compittance, under the will of a diseased governor.'

'Gentleman dead, sir?'

'Man alive, don't I tell you? A diseased governor? Now, it's too late for me to begin shovelling and sifting at alphabeds and grammar-books. I'm getting to be a old bird, and I want to take it easy. But I want some reading--some fine bold reading, some splendid book in a gorging Lord-Mayor's-Show of wollumes' (probably meaning gorgeous, but misled by association of ideas); 'as'll reach right down your pint of view, and take time to go by you. How can I get that reading, Wegg? By,' tapping him on the breast with the head of his thick stick, 'paying a man truly qualified to do it, so much an hour (say twopence) to come and do it.'

'Hem! Flattered, sir, I am sure,' said Wegg, beginning to regard himself in quite a new light. 'Hew! This is the offer you mentioned, sir?'


Charles Dickens
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