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one more attempt might be made to get the keys from Mrs. Bull, or if not throttle her outright, and force the lock. But no Bob was to be heard of for some time, though Bob was not far off. “ He'll be raising mushrooms on his dunghill,” said the indignant Prince Rusty; and when poor Silly Billy, after great sweat and toil, scented him out at last, now he was at his prayers, and must not be disturbed ; and again flagellating himself for his late grievous sin in the affair of Pat's children, trying to work on the compassion of the old gentlewoman, John's mother, with whom he had long been so prodigious a favourite ; and who, as the claret trickled down to his heels, would wipe her eyes, and whimper, My poor dear simple Bobby, and this is what you called a healing measure! Were I like that scarlet w-re, my husband's first wife, I would lock up this cat-o'-nine-tails in my work-box now, with my netting-needles, and other trinkams, and make a sacred keepsake of it.”
But Atty minded none of Bob's bam, "Whatever he may be after, 'tis plain he gives me the go-by," quoth he. “ But ere I close my eyes, I'll be at the bottom of this." Ind throwing his manly leg over Donkey, off he canters for Bob's alley. The activity of the old sinner was surprising ; but his pride and his heart were in getting Greysteel out, and John's management into his own hands : besides, he would have felt himself for ever disgraced in the eyes of the landlord of the Black Bear, Don Pedro, and all the wenches far and near, unless he could bring this about.
The slattern serving-wench at Bob's stammers out a denial of her master, as usual ; but without heeding this, Hookey dismounts, fastens Donkey by the left leg to the right leg of the stall of the green grocer at the head of Bob's Alley, moralizing on the frail nature of all human ties; but Atty was not given to consume time in moralizing: “ Ile was," as Bags said, “a man of action ;-now I am a man of reflection;" and up the garret dark stairs he tramps, tumbling over the ashbucket, and breaking his shins on one of Tim's scouts, who lay perdue under a wash-tub. Tramp, tramp, hurry-scurry, and that awful sound nears Bob's sanctuary ; and well did he know the thunder of that ascending cuddy..heel, which made his heart flichter at this time like that of a young lass when her sweetheart is approaching. Never had Bob been in such extremity; for well he knew Hookey's business ;-and no evading of him, not a mouse-hole, not to speak of a rat-hole, for that might have served the turn well enough. So down he drops on his marrow-bones, and begins forthwith to rattle over his Pater Noster as fast as fire, thus hoping to gain a little time ; and also that Hookey, though so long among the Pagans and Turks, had still so much of the fear of the Old Gentlewoman before him, as not to interrupt such rare devotion.
For full three minutes Hookey stood it out, his castor before his eyes, marvelling in his own mind if this could be real; for though he still believed John's servants might be fairly divided into fools and knaves, he now began to guess, that there were many more varieties of both these grand classes than he had once suspected. But there was no end to Bob's prayers, so he gives the devotee a gentle poke with his birch riding switch, which Bob knew the taste of before now. “ Lord, Bob !” cries Atty, in a jeering way, “ is it really true, then, that you are a Jesuit after all? A pretty premunire, as Bags would say, I have caught you in.” Bob drew to his legs, and pretended to laugh, glad to find his guest in this merry pin, and seeing that whatever sham he made, prayers would serve him no longer. “Give ye good e'en, Master Hookey-proud to see you in my
small place,”—and placing Atty on the tall three-legged stool, he despatches the wench for a quartern of gin, as he knew that Hookey, though no glass-breaker, liked the vanity of a grand shew of entertainment wherever he came, and the best pewter and delf on the board; and Bob wished to do the genteel thing in his own house. Hookey, meantime, instead of accepting the high stool, makes--all as if half in fun-a great many flourishes, lounges, and passes with his switch, till he fairly pinions poor Bob up to the wall, with his face exactly opposite the bit of lookingglass—a rueful spectacle. “Can't guess what I'm here for, dear Inno. cent?" Hookey at last said, fixing his mad doctor eyes on poor Bob, till they pierced his marrow, and he began to wonder aloud when the wench would return. But this would not long do with the old dragoon, once he was fairly in the stirrups ; so Bob sings forth a most lackadaisical ditty about his conscience—what Chronie, and Tims, and Specky would say
of him, after what “ those eaves-dropping rascals” had heard him say only last week of Madam, and before he could divine the right-about wheel the brave Hookey had thought proper to make. To give the old drill his due, he was not a bushfighter, though he dearly loved to lay an ambush or spring a mine, and would have given “ Soldier's Joy’s” best blue eye to have hoisted the precious Bob at this same time.
“Stuff, my dear Bob !” cried he, in brief answer to Bob's doleful ditty, as he had prosed on with “ Sergeant-my conscience--and dear Corporal—my consistency, and my honest name.”
“ Nobody by, Bob,” quoth Hookey, switching his spatterdashes, with an air Bob thought mighty provoking, though he durst say nothing. -“Will you join me, yea or no-join stakes, and go the vole, the throttling of Mrs. Bull included ; or will you go to the devil in your own sneaking pitiful way?" And with this Hookey jerked out his ticker." Just three minutes I allow you to make up that ingenuous mind of yours.”—“ Would you but give five,” stammered Bob; and more volubly he sung out the praises of Hookey, larding him with his best buttery touches, about his brave, disinterested friendship for Bill Boswain, and his gallantry to Bill's wife ; which at other times went down well enough, but would scarce do now. Hookey's eyes were still fixed on his ticker; the time was up to a second ; he raised his boot-toe significantly; dropped it, and wheeled round. “ The short and the long is, Bob, that I deserve to be sainted for what you, ay, even you, would be damned ere you did yourself. A’n't that it, spalpeen ?"--and off he clattered downstairs at a fearful rate; the green-grocer below swearing his feet must be cloven hoofs. But this was a mistake, and so probably was the story that went, that for three days after this the alley smelt of brimstone, though the green-grocer offered to make her oath of it before Sir Richard. Bob followed hard, thrusting his finger through Atty's buttonhole after he first caught him by the skirts, imploring him for another three minutes; or at least till the wench came back from the gin-spinner's. “ Too old a bird to be caught with chaff, my good lad. And think ye John Bull, and Mrs. Bull, the jade ! will wait your turnings and windings?-Hands off Donkey, pray.”—And Donkey, on whom Hookey mounted with his best dragoon air, kicked and flung, and brayed, till the alley rung again, as if in contempt of Bob's shillyshallying. Round Bob flies to the other side, and begins to tickle the old drill on his cock-fighting exploits, and what he had done for John, and how surely his merciful nature could not desert the mad Squire in his
present plight. Tip me no more of your blarney, Squire Bob. If I'm half what you say, why not take service with me? Catch me asking you twice ; remember Huskey ?” Poor Bob !-his neighbour, the greengrocer,—though they were not on the best of terms, owing to an old quarrel about the handle of the pump in the back-yard, -being a woman of a compassionate disposition, truly pitied him, when Donkey, flinging and rearing, fled out of his desperate clutches, leaving a good handful of the longest hairs of his tail, • Ruined and undone,” cried Bob, “ by that old, stupid, pig-headed tyrant's obstinate humour; as pretty a piece of work botched as ever I set eyes on. Could he, by my advice, have but managed for a week or two, I should have come in Under-steward with flying colours ; but I'll down to the hall and blarney him there. He'll hear it at second hand ; and like all the red-coat coxcombs, he has still a power to say among the women—and in Bill's house—but no matter.” And down he came, and flourished away upon the virtues of Hookey, till Mrs. Bull and the whole family were like to split their sides ; and when put to it, he said right was right in one sense for an old trooper, but in quite another for a plain, pains-taking lad like himself, who had a conscience to keep, and a wife and children to maintain. John Bull laughed the louder.
It was to Sweet Home Hookey hied on leaving Bob's Alley, where Silly Billy and some others waited his arrival, one airing the slippers, another holding the pipe, and a third with the spitoon of the old Turk; each with a view to some small job of his own, were it but driving John's geese to the common. “ Hark ye, Billy, my poor lad, fetch me hither Ally Croaker, neck and crop; he won't bother me with his conscience:”
- And chai with so important a hest, no grass grew at the long heels of Billy ; though some said he looked flustered when he returned with “ Ally Croaker's compliments to Hookey, the Indomitable and Magnifi. cent the three-tailed Hookey—now, he understood, Squire Bull's sole servant; his man-servant and his maid-servant, his washer and his wringer, and the assurances of his (Ally's) highest consideration; but upon his conscience as an honest man- But here poker, tongs, snuff-horn, bootjack, spitoon, and all, saluted the foozy head of poor trembling Billy, who ducking to avoid each well-aimed missile, called out, in a plaintive voice, “but hear me, hear me out !-cannot consistently with his honour, or as an honest man, wear your livery, till he better sees how he is to be paid.” Something between a grin and smile ran along the tough cordage of Hookey's face.
“ And farther, for the Talking Potato," quoth Billy, revived by this sudden gleam of sunshine, “ he begs to advise your honour that Squire Bull, a testy, skittish brute at all times, is in a doubly fractious humour now,—a kittle colt to shoe behind, as Sister Peg says in her classic way."
Billy thought it wisdom to conceal that Ally had cried “ Zounds! does his pig-head fancy the blood of the Croakers will swallow what the scum of a weaver has strained at !” and had vapoured about « his honour being sullied." Hookey grinned this last, like a clown at a fair through a horse-collar for a wager, and tossed a fippenny bit to Billy, as earnest of better ; who looking at it carefully on both sides, and rubbing it on his sleeve, next whispers mysteriously, that if his honour will give him his fist, he could read him a bit of his fortune.
“ Lauk, Billy, who ever took thee for a conjurer and reader of the signs of these troubled times?" quoth Atty, grinning again, and holding out his hard paw, into which Billy poked with due solemnity, making a visage as long as a moderate horse's head. “ Pettifogger, or some such knave has put him up to this now,” thinks Hookey; “ but I'll let him hold forth.”
“ A fool may give a wise man counsel, my grandmother was wont to say,” quoth Billy. “ There's more cross, crabbed, crank lines than enow in your honour's bountiful palm,” and he poked and nuzzled like a puppy opening the hand on the bone held from him. “ I would warn your worship, of all loves, to beware of a dark-browed, stern, elderly fellow, who has his eye upon you; ay, there he is as plain as a pike-staff, with a Mont Blanc of periwig, and a very Schauffhausen of cravat. He has crossed your honour in the wars before now :- not in the House of Mars though, your honour's present danger lies. But dickens and daisies ! what be's here? under Venus ; a giglet of the sanguine complexion, chestnutcoloured hair,—by which I take it is meant hair the colour of chestnuts; but whether raw chestnuts or roasted chestnuts, which makes a monstrous difference, my art (in which we must allow for the wind) does not shew, which may in my prediction cause a few shades of " But here Hookey whisks away his fist, and lends Billy a smack on the jaws made the fire start from his eyes. “Keep that, Billy, my dear, till you can pay it over to those wise heads who set you on to this same fortunetelling; and that for yourself as a small first specimen of my skill in palmistry; and now trudge, bustle, follow my heels with that pockmantle in the corner.”
“ Lord,” quoth Billy, “ catch setting me up to this again, ay, for a whole half-crown, if she should call me Too-late-to-dinner, ever after : But what have we got here?” and Billy peeps into the portmanteau as knowingly curious as ever you saw a magpie peep into a marrow-bone. “ As I'm a sinner, a bolster! He does then really mean to smother Mrs. Bull, poor lady, in her bed this night, as the Black-moor does the gentlewoman in the play ? Lud a' mercy what a Turk! His blood be on his own head! I'm an innocent lad looking after a bit of bread, and, moreover, but a servant. I wonder what Gaffer would give me now, if I 'peached and turned King's evidence.” And with such salvoes for his tender conscience, Billy trudged after his master, thinking with himself, “ If Brummagem Tom meet me now with my bolster, the corpus delicti, as we said at Lincoln's, I were as good be a Squaw found by the other tribe with a diamond necklace of fresh, green scalps" and he crept closer and closer to Hookey's cuddy-heels.
When Noodle, and Doodle, and Don, and all formerly mentioned in this veritable history of the pure blood and porcelain clay of That Most Mighty and Potent Prince, &c. learned that neither Sly Bob nor yet Ally would venture to serve with Hookey, and that even Goldie had “his scruples” forsooth! they were in a pitiable taking.
" I have an inordinate reverence for That Most Mighty and Potent Prince, &c. fc.” quoth Sir Dismal, “my most noble cousin, in whose entail my own name is enrolled; but though near is my shirt, nearer is my skin ;” and some of them pretended to be aghast at the idea of murdering Mrs. Bull in cold blood.
“ John, in his present humour, would cut her up like the Levite's concubine, and send a limb of her to every quarter of the parish to raise the neighbours on us," said the Welshman. “ And he'd be sure to take another wife, a worse spit-fire than the present," said Pettifoger; though it was clear to Billy there where he stood, his arms aching under his bolster, that there would have been no scruple about smothering Mrs.
Bull, save for enraging John, and for fear of what was to be done with the body. To be sure Tempestoso Bullyrook swore “ he would eat it, for the general good, and make no bones of it,” but he said many things he did not always do, and swore more. There were still great doubts. The old gentlewoman's friends told that she was shockingly alarmed. “ Great doubts,” said Heckelpins; and Old Bags next “doubted,” which looked so like doubting till doomsday, that Billy saw no hope for himself. And so they snapped and worried away, and every minute the scouts came in with woful tidings; Peg, Pat, Tom, Madam's admirer the Paisley weaver, all were at it! The COVENANT had been as a spell to raise Peg's blood ; besides, as she honestly owned, she had set her heart on having a husband. “ I have now monstrous doubts,” quoth Swaggerer ; Braggadocio owned that he feared Greysteel must have his way. “I too have now great doubts, quoth the Raw Duckling. “I have none !" shouted Hookey ; and snatching the bolster from his henchman, he lets it fly in the face of the learned clerk of Oxenforde for a few good reasons of his
Cowardly curs !” he cried, “ send for Gaffer or for Beelzebub, if ye list, and hear ye my parting words,-May John Bull henceforth use That Most Mighty and Potent Mule, as That Most Mighty and Potent Ass has hitherto used him. There's my departing legacy,—trudge Billy-” The Dons swelled like the Baltic in a north-easter; but little cared Hookey, he was off like a whirlwind; and Bill's wenches, Jenny Driver, Soldier's Joy, and the rest, that night sung the song of Willow, meant for poor innocent Mrs. Bull. “ He'll never enter John's hall again," said the wenches; “ this is the last the ungrateful wretches will see of the brave Hookey!” But not three nights were over when the old itching came on him, and back he was in the teeth of the Squire. Some thought the devil and the wenches had driven Atty off the hooks before this. Certain it is, he has not been the same man for a long time back as in his days of cock-fighting.
Bill Boswain, I may tell you, had no great relish for the spot of work left for him to finish after this fine kick-up; nor yet for laying all the imps Hookey had madly raised. Yet necessity has no law, and sadly down in the mouth he sends for Greysteel, secretly wishing him far enough. It was clear that Gaffer was John's man, and John's only. New days at the hall now; but back comes Greysteel, as soon and no sooner, than properly and respectfully invited ; “ as pokerish as ever," Jenny Driver said, who hung over the bannisters, swearing she would heave the slop-pail over his pate, if Bill brought him back to the place, But of what passed in the Steward's room at this time, I can only relate a few particulars; though some got a cold, and a buzzing in their ears that day, with which they ring till now.
“ What sneezing is that behind ?" quoth Gaffer. “ My wife's tortoiseshell kitten in the cupboard," answers Bill. “ Her sneezing betokens change of weather-don't it-eh, Gaff? Scotch Joe would grudge her keep in John's house,-that's a kitten catches no mice-ha! ha! ha!" cried Bill; and as a joke usually puts the maker of it in good humour with himself at any rate, Greysteel thought this was the time to mention Madam's passport or certificate. Bill looked glum. “ This confounded whitloe of mine! My wenches say I write such a crabbed hand, there is no good of it. You must get her back in some way, Gaff. I shall make the tailor write to all my cousins to make way for her, with a pox! For I must own I don't much like her now—my wife never did :-women sharp, Gaff-"