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ALL alone in the public room of the house
of entertainment known as the Old Rodney
Arms. I never felt so dismal in my life. It
had been sleeting in this part of the town
since yesterday morning the waiter said;—
might change to snow that night, or go on
with sleet for a week more. On the whole,
he rather thought it was as good as set in.

There was nothing to cheer a man in
this. There was nothing to cheer one in
the room; which was of the penitentiary
and silent system order, with its chilling
whitewash, sawdust, spittoons, pipes laid
saltierwise over the chimney-piece, and
other fittings of the true tavern order.
Nothing to cheer one in the prospect
from the window, of the stable-yard fast
turning into a pond; of ducks paddling
riotously; of the little heaps of straw floating
down the current of thawed sleet; of the poor
cur whose house was now being invaded by
the flood. Nothing to cheer one in the dripping
ostler, exercising his functions on a
dripping horse just come in. Nothing in the
overcharged spouts, all now dripping, now
pouring into the yard. Nothing cheering in
all this. Put to it, finally, that he who was
so looking from the window of the Old
Rodney Arms was an exile newly returned,
without a friend in the wide world beyond
the captain of the ship that brought him
home, and you have as cheerless a picture of
solitary wretchedness as need be.

Still sleeting on languidly; but with a
purpose that shows it to be in good heart
for worka fitting accompaniment for the
high festival now approaching. For this is the
vigil of Christmas Eve; and as all the world
has learnt in its nursery, Christmas comes
but once a-year, And when it comes it brings
good cheer. There were famous elements in
my case to render this a truly inspiring
anniversary;—that is to say, twenty-one hard
years in a foreign land, parents dead, wife
dead, two elder brothers dropping off one
after another, leaving behind them the old
family heritage of Mytton Grange, now
fallen to me Nicholas Sherburne, last of an
old line. No one that knew me as a child
left; all gone, scattered and passed away!

About this time there appeared at the
door of the public room the old waiter,
muttering something in thin wheezy accents;
the same who had given such doubtful testimony
as to the sleet. There was a sea-captain
below, he said, wanting me. No doubt, this
was Captain Sharon, of the William Clay, (set
down, in the bills of the ship's sailing as that
well-known and experienced commander) who
had appointed to meet me at the Old Rodney
Arms; a favourite house of call with gentlemen
of his profession. A rough man, and a
ready man, this well-known and experienced
commander, with his heart in the right
place, people said. He entered with a great
stamp, bringing in the sleet along with

"Hallo, my hearty," says Captain Sharon
from afar off; he might have been on his
own quarter-deck, speaking through his
trumpet. "How is the tide with you now?
Heavy-hearted still? Bad, bad to give into
those lows; bad for soul and body. I never
knew good come of it."

"I am not in the lows, Captain Sharon,"
I said, affecting a sort of jollity of manner;
"I am getting quite into spirits."

"So best," said Captain Sharon, "I never
knew good come of the dumps. Now, what I
have to say is this: will you come aboard
with me to-night, and bear me company
down the river? A good berth and rations
accordingly. 'For the ship shall sail and
the wind is fair,'" added Captain Sharon,

"No sooner come home than sent abroad
again," I said. "What a queer world
this is."

"Aye," said Captain Sharon, "take it as you
find it. Will you come? Drop down to-night;
and I'll put you ashore to-morrow evening in
time for Christmas day and plum-pudding
with your friends."

I laughed bitterly. "Friends! I like that;
why, my good Captain, I have not a friend
in the world."

Captain Sharon gnawed his under lip
reflectively. "I am not going to deny," he
said at length, "that this is a poor way for
a man to be in. But I tell you plainly, if it
was my case, I'd not stay growling in my
hammock. I'd get up and work, and look
about me. And, if I had not a friend in the
world," said that well-known and experienced