In reply to his questions on this point, Mr. Snodgrass was about to offer an historical account of the circumstances just now detailed, when he was suddenly checked by observing that there were present, not only Mr. Tupman and their stage-coach companion of the preceding day, but another stranger of equally singular appearance. It was a careworn-looking man, whose sallow face, and deeply-sunken eyes, were rendered still more striking than Nature had made them, by the straight black hair which hung in matted disorder half-way down his face. His eyes were almost unnaturally bright and piercing; his cheek-bones were high and prominent; and his jaws were so long and lank, that an observer would have supposed that he was drawing the flesh of his face in, for a moment, by some contraction of the muscles, if his half-opened mouth and immovable expression had not announced that it was his ordinary appearance. Round his neck he wore a green shawl, with the large ends straggling over his chest, and making their appearance occasionally beneath the worn button-holes of his old waistcoat. His upper garment was a long black surtout; and below it he wore wide drab trousers, and large boots, running rapidly to seed.

It was on this uncouth-looking person that Mr. Winkle's eye rested, and it was towards him that Mr. Pickwick extended his hand when he said, 'A friend of our friend's here. We discovered this morning that our friend was connected with the theatre in this place, though he is not desirous to have it generally known, and this gentleman is a member of the same profession. He was about to favour us with a little anecdote connected with it, when you entered.'

'Lots of anecdote,' said the green-coated stranger of the day before, advancing to Mr. Winkle and speaking in a low and confidential tone. 'Rum fellow--does the heavy business--no actor--strange man--all sorts of miseries--Dismal Jemmy, we call him on the circuit.' Mr. Winkle and Mr. Snodgrass politely welcomed the gentleman, elegantly designated as 'Dismal Jemmy'; and calling for brandy-and-water, in imitation of the remainder of the company, seated themselves at the table. 'Now sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'will you oblige us by proceeding with what you were going to relate?'

The dismal individual took a dirty roll of paper from his pocket, and turning to Mr. Snodgrass, who had just taken out his note-book, said in a hollow voice, perfectly in keeping with his outward man--'Are you the poet?'

'I--I do a little in that way,' replied Mr. Snodgrass, rather taken aback by the abruptness of the question. 'Ah! poetry makes life what light and music do the stage-- strip the one of the false embellishments, and the other of its illusions, and what is there real in either to live or care for?'

'Very true, Sir,' replied Mr. Snodgrass.

'To be before the footlights,' continued the dismal man, 'is like sitting at a grand court show, and admiring the silken dresses of the gaudy throng; to be behind them is to be the people who make that finery, uncared for and unknown, and left to sink or swim, to starve or live, as fortune wills it.'

'Certainly,' said Mr. Snodgrass: for the sunken eye of the dismal man rested on him, and he felt it necessary to say something.

'Go on, Jemmy,' said the Spanish traveller, 'like black-eyed Susan--all in the Downs--no croaking--speak out--look lively.' 'Will you make another glass before you begin, Sir ?' said Mr. Pickwick.

The dismal man took the hint, and having mixed a glass of brandy-and-water, and slowly swallowed half of it, opened the roll of paper and proceeded, partly to read, and partly to relate, the following incident, which we find recorded on the Transactions of the Club as 'The Stroller's Tale.'

THE STROLLER'S TALE

'There is nothing of the marvellous in what I am going to relate,' said the dismal man; 'there is nothing even uncommon in it. Want and sickness are too common in many stations of life to deserve more notice than is usually bestowed on the most ordinary vicissitudes of human nature.

Charles Dickens
Classic Literature Library
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