The O'Ruddy/Chapter 16
PADDY was for opening his mouth wide immediately, but I checked him. "I would see this great man," said I to the landlord, "but I am so timid by nature I fear to meet his eagle eye. Is there no way by which we could observe him in secret at our leisure?"
"There be one way," remarked the landlord after deliberation. I had passed him a silver coin. He led us to a little parlour back of the taproom. Here a door opened into the tap itself, and in this door was cut a large square window so that the good man of the inn could sometimes sit at his ease in his great chair in the snug parlour and observe that his customers had only that for which they were paying. It is a very good plan, for I have seen many a worthy man become a rogue merely because nobody was watching him. My father often was saying that if he had not been narrowly eyed all his young life, first by his mother and then by his wife, he had little doubt but what he might have been engaged in dishonest practices sooner or later.
A confident voice was doing some high talking in the taproom. I peered through the window, but at first I saw only a collection of gaping yokels, poor bent men with faces framed in straggly whiskers. Each had a pint pot clutched with a certain air of determination in his right hand.
Suddenly upon our line of vision strode the superb form of Jem Bottles. A short pipe was in his mouth, and he gestured splendidly with a pint pot. "More of the beer, my dear," said he to a buxom maid. "We be all rich in Ireland. And four of them set upon me," he cried again to the yokels. "All noblemen, in fine clothes and with sword-hilts so flaming with jewels an ordinary man might have been blinded. 'Stop!' said I. 'There be more of your friends somewhere. Call them.' And with that——"
"'And with that'?" said I myself, opening the door and stepping in upon him. "'And with that'?" said I again. Whereupon I smote him a blow which staggered him against the wall, holding his crown with both hands while his broken beer-pot rolled on the floor. Paddy was dancing with delight at seeing some other man cuffed, but the landlord and the yokels were nearly dead of terror. But they made no sound; only the buxom girl whimpered.
"There is no cause for alarm," said I amiably. "I was only greeting an old friend. 'T is a way I have. And how wags the world with you, O'Ruddy?"
"I am not sure for the moment," replied Jem Bottles ruefully. "I must bide till it stops spinning."
"Truth," cried I. "That would be a light blow to trouble the great O'Ruddy. Come now; let us have the pots filled again, and O'Ruddy shall tell us more of his adventures. What say you, lads?"
The yokels had now recovered some of their senses, and they greeted my plan with hoarse mutterings of hasty and submissive assent.
"Begin," said I sternly to the highwayman. He stood miserably on one foot. He looked at the floor; he looked at the wall; from time to time he gave me a sheep's glance. "Begin," said I again. Paddy was wild with glee. "Begin," said I for the third time and very harshly.
"I——" gulped out the wretched man, but he could get no further.
"I am seeing I must help you," said I. "Come now, when did you learn the art of sticadoro proderodo sliceriscum fencing?"
Bottles rolled the eyes of despair at me, but I took him angrily by the shoulder. "Come now; when did you learn the art of sticadoro proderodo sliceriscum fencing?"
Jem Bottles staggered, but at last he choked out: "My mother taught me." Here Paddy retired from the room, doubled in a strong but soundless convulsion.
"Good," said I. "Your mother taught you. We are making progress any how. Your mother taught you. And now tell me this: When you slew Cormac of the Cliffs, what passado did you use? Don't be stuttering. Come now; quick with you; what passado did you use? What passado?"
With a heroism born of a conviction that in any event he was a lost man, Jem Bottles answered: "A blue one."
"Good," I cried cheerfully. "'A blue one'! We are coming on fine. He killed Cormac with a blue passado. And now I would be asking you——"
"Master," interrupted the highwayman with sudden resolution. "I will say no more. I have done. You may kill me an it pleases you."
Now I saw that enough was enough. I burst into laughter and clapped him merrily on the shoulder. "Be cheery, O'Ruddy," I cried. "Sure an Irishman like you ought to be able to look a joke in the face." He gave over his sulks directly, and I made him buy another pint each for the yokels. "'T was dry work listening to you and your exploits, O'Ruddy," said I.
Later I went to my chamber, attended by my followers, having ordered roast fowls and wine to be served as soon as possible. Paddy and Jem Bottles sat on stools one at each side of the fireplace, and I occupied a chair between them.
Looking at my two faithful henchmen, I was suddenly struck by the thought that they were not very brisk servants for a gentleman to take to fashionable London. I had taken Paddy out of his finery and dressed him in a suit of decent brown; but his hair was still unbarbered, and I saw that unless I had a care his appearance would greatly surprise and please London. I resolved to have him shorn at the first large town.
As for Jem Bottles, his clothes were well enough, and indeed he was passable in most ways unless it was his habit, when hearing a sudden noise, to take a swift dark look to the right and to the left. Then, further, people might shrewdly note his way of always sitting with his back to the wall and his face to the door. However, I had no doubt of my ability to cure him of these tricks as soon as he was far enough journeyed from the scenes of his earlier activity.
But the idea I entertained at this moment was more to train them to be fine grand servants, such as I had seen waiting on big people in Bath. They were both willing enough, but they had no style to them. I decided to begin at once and see what I could teach them.
"Paddy," said I, taking off my sword and holding it out to him. "My sword!"
Paddy looked at it. "It is, sir," he answered respectfully.
"Bad scran to you, Paddy!" I cried angrily. "I am teaching you your duties. Take the sword! In both hands, mind you! Now march over and lay it very tenderly on the stand at the head of the bed. There now!"
I now turned my attention to Jem Bottles.
"Bottles," said I peremptorily, "my coat and waist-coat."
"Yes, sir," replied Bottles quickly, profiting by Paddy's lesson.
"There now," said I, as Bottles laid the coat and waistcoat on a dresser. "'T is a good beginning. When supper comes I shall teach you other duties."
The supper came in due course, and after the inn's man had gone I bid Jem and Paddy stand one on either side of my chair and a little way back. "Now," said I, "stand square on your feet, and hold your heads away high, and stick your elbows out a little, and try to look as if you don't know enough to tell fire from water. Jem Bottles has it. That 's it! Bedad! look at the ignorance on him! He 's the man for you, Paddy! Wake up now, and look stupid. Am I not telling you?"
"Begor!" said Paddy dejectedly, "I feel like the greatest omadhaun in all the west country, and if that is not being stupid enough for your honour I can do no better."
"Shame to you, Paddy, to let an Englishman beat you so easily," said I. "Take that grin off your face, you scoundrel! Now," I added, "we are ready to begin. Wait, now. You must each have something to hold in your fist. Let me be thinking. There 's only one plate and little of anything else. Ah, I have it! A bottle! Paddy, you shall hold one of the bottles. Put your right hand underneath it, and with your left hand hold it by the neck. But keep your elbows out. Jem, what the devil am I to give you to hold? Ah, I have it! Another bottle! Hold it the same as Paddy. Now! Stand square on your feet, and hold your heads away high, and stick your elbows out a little, and look stupid. I am going to eat my supper."
I finished my first and second bottles with the silence only broken by the sound of my knife-play and an occasional restless creaking of boots as one of my men slyly shifted his position. Wishing to call for my third bottle, I turned and caught them exchanging a glance of sympathetic bewilderment. As my eye flashed upon them, they stiffened up like grenadier recruits.
But I was not for being too hard on them at first. "'T is enough for one lesson," said I. "Put the bottles by me and take your ease."
With evident feelings of relief they slunk back to the stools by the fire, where they sat recovering their spirits.
After my supper I sat in the chair toasting my shins and lazily listening to my lads finishing the fowls. They seemed much more like themselves, sitting there grinding away at the bones and puffing with joy. In the red firelight it was such a scene of happiness that I misdoubted for a moment the wisdom of my plan to make them into fine grand numskulls.
I could see that all men were not fitted for the work. It needed a beefy person with fat legs and a large amount of inexplicable dignity, a regular God-knows-why loftiness. Truth, in those days, real talent was usually engaged in some form of rascality, barring the making of books and sermons. When one remembers the impenetrable dulness of the great mass of the people, the frivolity of the gentry, the arrogance and wickedness of the court, one ceases to wonder that many men of taste took to the highway as a means of recreation and livelihood. And there I had been attempting to turn my two frank rascals into the kind of sheep-headed rubbish whom you could knock down a great staircase, and for a guinea they would say no more. Unless I was the kicker, I think Paddy would have returned up the staircase after his assailant. Jem Bottles probably would have gone away nursing his wrath and his injury, and planning to waylay the kicker on a convenient night. But neither would have taken a guinea and said no more. Each of these simple-hearted reprobates was too spirited to take a guinea for a kick down a staircase.
Any how I had a mind that I could be a gentleman true enough without the help of Jem and Paddy making fools of themselves. I would worry them no more.
As I was musing thus my eyes closed from a sense of contented weariness, but I was aroused a moment later by hearing Paddy address Jem Bottles in a low voice. "'T is you who are the cool one, Jem!" said he with admiration, "trying to make them think you were him!" Here I was evidently indicated by a sideways bob of the head. "Have you not been seeing the fine ways of him? Sure, be looking at his stride and his habit of slatting people over the head, and his grand manners with his food. You are looking more like a candlestick than you are looking like him. I wonder at you."
"But I befooled them," said Bottles proudly. "I befooled them well. It was Mr. O'Ruddy here, and Mr. O'Ruddy there, and the handsome wench she gave me many a glance of her eye, she did."
"Sorrow the day for her, then," responded Paddy, "and if you would be cozening the girls in the name of him there, he will be cozening you, and I never doubt it."
"'T was only a trick to make the time go easy, it was," said Bottles gloomily. "If you remember, Master Paddy, I have spent the most of my new service waiting under oak-trees; and I will not be saying that it rained always, but oft-times it did rain most accursedly."