Charles Dickens: The posthumous Papers
of the Pickwick Club.
About this time, and when he had been existing for upwards of a year
no one knew how, I had a short engagement at one of the theatres on the
Surrey side of the water, and here I saw this man whom I had lost sight
of for some time; for I had been travelling in the provinces, and he had
been skulking in the lanes and alleys of London. I was dressed to leave
the house, and was crossing the stage on my way out, when he tapped me
on the shoulder. Never shall I forget the repulsive sight that met my
eye when I turned round. He was dressed for the pantomime, in all the
absurdity of a clown's costume. The spectral figures in the Dance of Death,
the most frightful shapes that the ablest painter ever portrayed on canvas,
never presented an appearance half so ghastly. His bloated body and shrunken
legs - their deformity enhanced a hundred fold by the fantastic dress
- the glassy eyes, contrasting fearfully with the thick white paint with
which the face was besmeared; the grotesquely ornamented head, trembling
with paralysis, and the long, skinny hands, rubbed with white chalk -
all gave him a hideous and unnatural appearance, of which no description
could convey an adequate idea, and which, to this day, I shudder to think
of. His voice was hollow and tremulous, as he took me aside, and in broken
words recounted a long catalogue of sickness and privations, terminating
as usual with an urgent request for the loan of a trifling sum of money.
I put a few shillings in his hand, and as I turned away I heard the roar
of laughter which followed his first tumble on to the stage.
A few nights afterwards, a boy put a dirty scrap of paper in my hand,
on which were scrawled a few words in pencil, intimating that the man
was dangerously ill, and begging me, after the performance, to see him
at his lodging in some street - I forget the name of it now - at no great
distance from the theatre. I promised to comply, as soon as I could get
away; and, after the curtain fell, sallied forth on my melancholy errand.