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The Omnibus
by [?]

All that follows was spoken in a small tavern, a stone’s throw from Cheapside, the day before I left London. It was spoken in a dull voice, across a greasy table-cloth, and amid an atmosphere so thick with the reek of cooking that one longed to change it for the torrid street again, to broil in an ampler furnace. Old Tom Pickford spoke it, who has been a clerk for fifty-two years in Tweedy’s East India warehouse, and in all that time has never been out of London, but when he takes a holiday spends it in hanging about Tweedy’s, and observing that unlovely place of business from the outside. The dust, if not the iron, of Tweedy’s has entered into his soul; and Tweedy’s young men know him as “the Mastodon.” He is a thin, bald septuagenarian, with sloping shoulders, and a habit of regarding the pavement when he walks, so that he seems to steer his way by instinct rather than sight. In general he keeps silence while eating his chop; and on this occasion there was something unnatural in his utterance, a divorce of manner between the speaker and his words, such as one would expect in a sibyl disclaiming under stress of the god. I fancied it had something to do with a black necktie that he wore instead of the blue bird’s-eye cravat familiar to Tweedy’s, and with his extraordinary conduct in refusing to-day the chop that the waiter brought, and limiting his lunch to cheese and lettuce.

Having pulled the lettuce to pieces, he pushed himself back a little from the table, looked over his spectacles at me, then at the table-cloth, and began in a dreamy voice:

“Old Gabriel is dead. I heard the news at the office this morning, and went out and bought a black tie. I am the oldest man in Tweedy’s now–older by six years than Sam Collins, who comes next; so there is no mistake about it. Sam is looking for the place; I saw it in his eye when he told me, and I expect he’ll get it. But I’m the oldest clerk in Tweedy’s. Only God Almighty can alter that, and it’s very satisfactory to me. I don’t care about the money. Sam Collins will be stuck up over it, like enough; but he’ll never write a hand like Gabriel’s, not if he lives to be a hundred; and he knows it, and knows I’ll be there to remind him of it. Gabriel’s was a beautiful fist–so small, too, if he chose. Why, once, in his spare hours, he wrote out all the Psalms, with the headings, on one side of a folio sheet, and had it framed and hung up in his parlour, out at Shepherd’s Bush. He died in the night–oh yes, quite easily. He was down at the office all yesterday, and spoke to me as brisk as a bird. They found him dead in his bed this morning.

“I seem cut up about it? Well, not exactly. Ah, you noticed that I refused my chop to-day. Bless your soul, that’s not on Gabriel’s account. I am well on in years, and I suppose it would be natural of me to pity old men, and expect pity. But I can’t; no, it’s only the young that I pity. If you must know, I didn’t take the chop to-day because I haven’t the money in my pocket to pay for it. You see, there was this black tie that I gave eighteenpence for; but something else happened this morning that I’ll tell you about.

“I came down in a ‘bus, as usual. You remember what muggy weather it was up to ten o’clock–though you wouldn’t think it, to feel the heat now. Well, the ‘bus was packed, inside and out. At least, there was just room for one more inside when we pulled up by Charing Cross, and there he got in–a boy with a stick and a bundle in a blue handkerchief.