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Foggerty's Fairy and Other Tales/Creatures of Impulse

CREATURES OF IMPULSE.

 


 

Mistress Dorothy Trabbs was the buxom landlady of the "Three Pigeons," a pretty country inn on the road from London to Norwich, and Mistress Dorothy was held by competent judges to be the pleasantest landlady on that road, for she was very pretty, and very round, and very plump—too plump, some people said, but that was envy. She had a pretty daughter, Jenny, and a clumsy, cowardly, ill-conditioned, gawky nephew, named Peter; and these two, with a chamber-maid and a nondescript "odd-man," constituted her staff of assistants.

Jenny was a very pretty little girl, but so absurdly shy that her prettiness went for nothing. I suppose it was this very shyness of hers that emboldened Peter to fall in love with her; for he was such a timid donkey that an ordinarily self-possessed woman frightened him into fits. At all events he did fall in love with her, and he told her so. And when he told her so, Jenny forgot, for the moment, her shyness and boxed his ears soundly. He felt this blow so much that he never opened the subject again. In fact, Jenny had a proper contempt for cowards, and like all women, shy or otherwise, adored manly courage. And Sergeant Brice, of Her Majesty Queen Anne's Foot Guards, who had just returned from Malplaquet with a bullet in his right leg, but otherwise well and hearty, and who had received a billet on the "Three Pigeons," was as brave as a man need be. So Jenny fell in love with him, but nobody knew anything about it.

At the time when my story opens. Mistress Dorothy was in a terrible state of perplexity. A strange Old Lady, who declined to give any name or any reference as to her respectability, and who had no luggage whatever, had taken up her abode at the "Three Pigeons," and steadily refused to pay any rent at all. This state of things had continued for three months, and seemed likely to continue for three more months, or three years for that matter, for the Old Lady was a fairy of a malignant description, and had it in her power to inflict all sorts of punishment on anybody who displeased her. At first Mistress Dorothy declined to supply her with food, but the Old Lady explained that she could live quite comfortably without any food at all, and indeed would much prefer not to have any refreshment of any kind set before her. So, as I said before, Mistress Dorothy was in a terrible state of perplexity, and a council of war was held in the bar-parlour, in which council Sergeant Brice, Jenny, and the abject Peter assisted, together with a wealthy, but very disreputable, old miser named Verditter, who was collecting rents in the neighbourhood, and who had made the "Three Pigeons" his head-quarters because it was the cheapest as well as the best inn in the village.

Peter, abject coward as he was, had one redeeming virtue—he was not superstitious. He declined to believe in fairies at all, and especially in the particular fairy under discussion. He had, on one occasion, seen the Old Lady cleaning her teeth with a tooth-brush, and he argued, with some show of reason, that this proved she was not a fairy, as fairies did everything with a wand. So, as the Old Lady was a very weak and tottering old lady, he thought that he might venture to tackle her without incurring any serious risk. Moreover, as all the others most firmly believed in her supernatural character, he would no doubt acquire a cheap reputation for courage if he offered to undertake to get her out of the house. So he walked boldly into her room with the firm intention of bullying her out of it.

"Now, Old Lady," said Peter, "we've put up with you long enough. Pack up your tooth-brush, and be off, for your room is wanted, and your company is not."

"Take care, Peter," said the Old Lady.

"Take care! What have I to take care of? Why, I could manage two old women like you any day in the week!" and he stalked about like a swashbuckler.

"Take care, Peter," answered she, "or I shall give you a sound thrashing,"

But Peter didn't care any longer, indeed he was so rude as to put out his tongue at her, and by his general demeanour he expressed the most marked contempt for her physical strength.

"Now, Old Lady, enough of this," said he; "you talk of thrashing me. Me? Come on!" And Peter took off his coat, and squared-up to her with great bravery.

"Peter," said she, "you have thought fit to square-up to me. You will continue to square-up at everybody you meet, until further notice."

The Old Lady hobbled away into her bed-room, and Peter, to his extreme dismay, found himself compelled to be continually squaring-up, in an undaunted manner, at a roomful of invisible enemies. He retired in great confusion to his loft, shouting down to his friends in the bar-parlour, that he had altogether failed in his mission.

It was now Jenny's turn to try her luck with the Old Lady. The poor little timid girl set about her work with great reluctance.

"Well, my dear," said the Old Lady, "what do you want?"

Jenny, finding the Old Lady in an amiable mood, thought that she could not do better than endeavour to coax her out of the place.

"Dear Old Lady," said she, "you are so kind, and so good, and so amiable, that I am sure it is only necessary to tell you that we want your room or your rent, and you will immediately humour our little wishes in this respect. Now do, there's a dear, kind, pretty Old Lady."

And Jenny began to kiss and coax the Old Lady, as no Old Lady was ever kissed and coaxed before.

"My dear," said the Old Lady, "this show of affection for one you don't care twopence about, is very disgusting, and, as a punishment, you will be so good as to kiss and coax everybody you meet until further notice."

And Jenny retired in great confusion to her room, calling downstairs to her friends in the bar-parlour, that she had altogether failed in her mission.

The brave Sergeant Brice's turn came next.

"Well, Old Lady," said he.

"Go away, soldier," said she. "I hate soldiers!"

"But—"

"Go away; you're a bold, bad man!"

And she struck so hard at the brave Sergeant with her crutched stick, that he was obliged to dodge and duck all over the room in order to ward off her blows.

"As a punishment for your impertinence in entering my room without permission," said the Old Lady, "you will be so obliging to dodge and duck, as you are dodging and ducking now, before everybody you meet."

And the bold Sergeant retreated in great amazement to his room, dodging and ducking at an imaginary foe all the way, and shouting downstairs to his friends in the bar-parlour, that he had altogether failed in his mission.

Old Verditter, the miser, had, in the meantime, been getting on very well with plump Mistress Dorothy, and having looked round the comfortable bar-parlour, and noticed the silver spoons and the silver tea-pot, and the large silver salver on the sideboard, he had settled in his own mind that Dorothy would make him a very comfortable and remunerative wife. Indeed he had got so far as to make two or three very broad hints on the subject, when Mistress Dorothy cut him short by begging him to be so good as to try what he could do to get the tiresome Old Lady out of the house. Verditter had a firm faith in the power of gold to work out any social problem, and readily undertook to get rid of Mistress Dorothy's unremunerative lodger.

So taking the big bag of gold, which he had collected from his tenants during the day, he walked fearlessly into the Old Lady's room.

"Now, ma'am," said he, "Mistress Dorothy wishes you to go, and I presume that you do not comply with her request, because you have no money with which to pay your travelling expenses to another town. Allow me to present you with this guinea, which I have no doubt will enable you to reach your destination."

"You are an impertinent old scamp to dare to offer me money," said the Old Lady; "and, as a punishment, you will be good enough to offer guineas out of that bag to everyone you meet, until further notice."

And the wretched miser retreated in great amazement to the smoking-room (which he knew was empty), offering guineas right and left to imaginary applicants, and screaming downstairs to Mistress Dorothy in the bar-parlour, that he had altogether failed in his mission.

Peter was getting hungry in his cock-loft, so he ventured to descend, squaring at nobody, with a great show of valour. His only hope was that he should not meet the Sergeant, and this hope was gratified, for the only person he met was Jenny, who had ventured downstairs in order to consult her mother as to the best means of breaking the very compromising spell that the Old Lady had thrown over her. But the mother had gone out to consult the village schoolmaster, who was a celebrated witch-finder, and a great authority on all matters connected with the Powers of Darkness.

The shy and prudish Jenny, as soon as she saw the abhorred Peter, ran up to him, and, to her extreme consternation, endeavoured to throw her arms round his neck and kiss him. Peter, who was delighted at this proof of affection from a girl who had hitherto detested him, would have offered her every encouragement if he had not felt himself unfortunately compelled to hit out right and left at her in unyielding compliance with the request of the mischievous Old Lady upstairs.

"Peter," said the retiring girl, "I hate and detest you." And so saying she once more threw her arms round his neck, and he, delighted at her change of manner towards him, and attributing her angry words to the disappointment she felt at his rebuffing her, hit out from his shoulder so violently that she had the greatest difficulty in escaping the blow.

"Peter, you brute," said she, "I don't want to kiss you, but somehow I can't help it."

And again she tried to embrace him, and again he struck out at her.

"Peter," said she, "I tell you I am doing this because I can't help it. Please don't hit me, because I am only obeying an irresistible impulse."

And as she made a third attempt to get at him, the Sergeant walked into the room, dodging and ducking, as he dodged and ducked when the Old Lady ran after him with her stick. Peter, hearing the Sergeant coming, ran out of the room as fast as his legs could carry him.

"What!" said the Sergeant, "do I see my shy and timid Jenny endeavouring to embrace that gawky nincompoop, and do I hear her excusing herself by attributing her behaviour to an irresistible impulse?"

And he dodged and ducked about the room in a wholly irrational and unaccountable manner.

"Sergeant, do not hastily condemn me," said Jenny, rushing at the Sergeant, and endeavouring to embrace him as she before endeavoured to embrace Peter.

"Jenny, I'm ashamed of you—shocked,—disgusted!" said he, dodging and ducking, as she tried to throw her arms round his neck. "I loved you for your remarkable and unexampled modesty: but really—"

"Don't, don't be hard on me, Sergeant," said she; "indeed, I am as timid and modest as ever, but an irrepressible impulse compels me to kiss every man I meet."

And she once more threw her arms around him and embraced him. The Sergeant (who had been very carefully brought up) was horrified, and rushed from the room into the street in utter disgust, dodging and ducking all the way, Jenny following him with a most demonstrative show of affection.

In the street the Sergeant met Peter. Peter was in a terrible state of mind, and encountering the Sergeant, would willingly have run away: but the spell the Old Lady had thrown over him compelled him to square up at the Sergeant in the most reckless manner imaginable.

The Sergeant, who was furious at having discovered Jenny's apparent love for Peter, desired nothing better than to give Peter a sound thrashing, but to his own intense annoyance, and to Peter's unspeakable surprise and relief, the fairy's spell compelled the Sergeant to duck and dodge as Peter struck at him as if he (the Sergeant) were in a state of the most abject fear.

"Sergeant," said Peter, "please don't be angry; but indeed I can't help it."

And he hit the Sergeant straight between the eyes.

"I sincerely trust that this will not hurt you much!"

And he struck the Sergeant full upon his military nose.

"I earnestly hope that you will derive no inconvenience from this round-hander."

And he planted a round-hander just on the Sergeant's left ear, as that officer ducked and dodged about, apparently in a great state of terror, but really boiling with indignation and thirsting for his adversary's blood.

"Well," said Jenny, hugging the odd-man (who was the only other person within sight, and who did not resist as the Sergeant and Peter had resisted, but who, on the contrary, patiently allowed her to do what she pleased)—"Well," said she, "I did think the Sergeant was a brave man; and see how Peter is giving it to him—Peter, who is such a coward!"

And she ran into the house, determined to have nothing to do with either of them.

In the house she met Verditter the miser, whom she heartily detested, the more so because there was every prospect that he would some day be her step-father; but nevertheless she ran up to him, and explaining that he was not to misinterpret the compliment as she was acting under an irresistible impulse, threw her arms round his neck and began to kiss him as she had kissed the others. Verditter was delighted (for he was a dreadful old Turk), but it was not on that account that he presented her with a succession of guineas from his long bag; he did that in compliance with the whim of the strange Old Lady.

Jenny was very much annoyed indeed, not only at having behaved in such a forward manner to old Verditter, but also because she considered his presenting her with guineas an act of extremely bad taste. However, she did not wish to offend him by refusing his guineas, for he was a vicious old man who always resented an insult, so she pocketed them with a very bad grace, and spent them the next day with extreme reluctance on a handsome brooch and earrings, which she wore ever afterwards as a kind of punishment upon herself for having taken the old man's money at all.

As old Verditter was handing over his guineas, with a most piteous expression of countenance, to Jenny, who could scarcely conceal her annoyance at having to take them, who should come in but Mistress Dorothy. Mistress Dorothy had been trying her hand to get rid of the Old Lady, and having fairly lost her temper, endeavoured to push the Old Lady by main force out of the house. So the Old Lady compelled her to go on pushing everybody away from her until further notice.

As soon as Mistress Dorothy entered, Jenny ran away in great confusion, so old Verditter turned his attention to the buxom landlady and began, to his intense dismay and to her intense delight and astonishment, to offer her guineas from his long bag. But to her intense dismay, and to his intense delight and astonishment, she felt herself compelled to push him and his guineas away, although she would have liked to have pocketed the whole bagful.

"Ma'am," said he, handing her a guinea, "do not misunderstand me. I give you this money under an irresistible impulse."

"Sir," said she, "you are extremely good, but an irresistible impulse compels me to reject it."

Here the Sergeant entered, dodging and ducking as before.

"Sir," said old Verditter, "do not be alarmed. I am not going to hurt you. I feel myself compelled to offer you a guinea."

"Sir," said the Sergeant, pocketing the money, "I never yet was alarmed in my life. I dodge and duck like this because I am acting under an irresistible impulse."

At this point Peter entered, squaring-up in the fiercest manner at everybody.

"Sir," said old Verditter, "I hope you will not be offended, but an irresistible impulse compels me to offer you a guinea."

"Sir," said Peter, pocketing the money, "I am far from being offended, and I sincerely trust you will take this in good part."

And he knocked old Verditter down to the great astonishment of everybody. Jenny, hearing Mistress Dorothy scream, ran in to see what was the matter. By this time the state of affairs a as as follows:

The miserly old Verditter, with tears in his eyes and the worst of language on his lips, was handing guineas to everyone as fast as he could get them out of his bag.

The hospitable Mistress Dorothy was trying to turn him and everybody else out of her inn.

The cowardly Peter was squaring-up at everybody, and particularly at the Sergeant, in an utterly reckless manner.

The valiant Sergeant was ducking and dodging from Peter and everybody else who came near him, as if he had been the most timid soul on the face of the earth.

And Jenny—the shy, modest, prudish, bashful, blushing Jenny—was kissing everybody right and left, as if her life depended on it. In short, there never was a more extraordinary scene in a bar-parlour since bar-parlours first became an institution in Great Britain and Ireland.

In the midst of this scene the Old Lady entered, for she was curious to see how the spell that she had thrown over the inmates of the "Three Pigeons" was working.

Directly she entered, the attention of everyone was directed to her.

The Miser gave her gold.

The Landlady tried to push her out.

The Sergeant ducked and dodged at her.

The bashful Jenny kissed her.

And the cowardly Peter squared-up to her in such a determined manner, if she had not been surrounded by the others, he would have done her a serious injury.

In short, the Old Lady, who was much more than a match for each of them taken singly, was overpowered by numbers. She never thought of this when she entered the room, which was stupid in the Old Lady.

So she at once withdrew the spell she had over them, and they all resumed their natural attributes. Then the Old Lady, who felt very foolish at the error she had committed, hobbled out of the inn for good and all.

The really curious part of this story is that, after everything had been explained, and all had been restored to their normal courses of action, none of the personages in it married each other. They were all so annoyed at having made such fools of themselves that they walked out of the inn in different directions, and were never seen or heard of again.

Except Peter, who, seeing nothing to be ashamed of in having shown such undaunted courage, remained and kept the "Three Pigeons," and prospered remarkably to the end of his days.