The O'Ruddy/Chapter 19
ON my way to my chamber I met the innkeeper and casually asked him after Paddy and Jem. He said that he would send to have word of them and inform me as soon as possible. Later a drawer came to my door and told me that Paddy and Jem, with three men-servants of gentlemen sleeping at the inn, had sallied out to a mug-house.
"Mug-house?" said I. "What in the devil's name is a mug-house?"
"Mug-house, sir?" said the man, staring. "Mug-house? Why, sir, 't is—'t is a form of amusement, sir."
"It is, is it?" said I. "Very good. And does any one here know to what mug-house they went?"
"The 'Red Slipper,' I think, sir," said the man.
"And how do I get to it?" said I.
"Oh, sir," he cried, "'t is impossible!"
"Is it? " said I. "And why is it? The innkeeper said the same to me, and I would like to hear all the reasons."
"Sir," said the man, "when it becometh dark in London there walk abroad many men of evil minds who are no respecters of persons, but fall upon whomsoever they may, beating them sorely, having no regard for that part of the Holy Book in which it is written——"
"Let go," said I. "I see what you mean." I then bade him get for me a stout lad with a cudgel and a lantern and a knowledge of the whereabouts of the "Red Slipper."
I, with the stout lad, had not been long in the street before I understood what the landlord and the waiter had meant. In fact we were scarce out of the door before the man was menacing with his cudgel two human vultures who slunk upon us out of the shadow. I saw their pale, wicked, snarling faces in the glow of the lantern.
A little later a great shindy broke out in the darkness, and I heard voices calling loudly for a rally in the name of some guild or society. I moved closer, but I could make out little save that it was a very pretty fight in which a company of good citizens were trying to put to flight a band of roughs and law-breakers. There was a merry rattling of sticks. Soon enough, answering shouts could be heard from some of the houses, and with a great slamming of doors men rushed out to do battle for the peace of the great city. Meanwhile all the high windows had been filled with night-capped heads, and some of these people even went so far as to pour water down upon the combatants. They also sent down cat-calls and phrases of witty advice. The sticks clattered together furiously; once a man with a bloody face staggered past us; he seemed to have been whacked directly on the ear by some uneducated person. It was as fine a shindy as one could hope to witness, and I was deeply interested.
Then suddenly a man called out hoarsely that he had been stabbed—murdered. There were yells from the street and screams from the windows. My bearer plucked me madly by the sleeve. I understood him, and we hastily left the neighbourhood.
I may tell now what had happened and what followed this affair of the night. A worthy citizen had been stabbed to death indeed. After further skirmishes his comrade citizens had taken several wretches into custody. They were tried for the murder and all acquitted save one. Of this latter it was proven that the brawl had started through his attempt to gain the purse of a passing citizen, and forthwith he was sentenced to be hanged for murder. His companion rascals were sent to prison for long terms on the expectation that one of them really might have been the murderer.
We passed into another street, where each well-lighted window framed one or more painted hussies who called out in jocular obscenity, but when we marched stiffly on without replying their manner changed, and they delivered at us volley after volley of language incredibly foul. There were only two of these creatures who paid no heed, and their indifference to us was due to the fact that they were deeply engaged in a duel of words, exchanging the most frightful, blood-curdling epithets. Confident drunken men jostled us from time to time, and frequently I could see small, ashy-faced, ancient-eyed youths dodging here and there with food and wine. My lantern-bearer told me that the street was not quite awake; it was waiting for the outpourings from the taverns and mug-houses. I bade him hurry me to the "Red Slipper" as soon as possible, for never have I had any stomach for these tawdry evils, fit as they are only for clerks and sailors.
We came at length to the creaking sign of the "Red Slipper." A great noise came from the place. A large company was roaring out a chorus. Without many words I was introduced into the room in which the disturbance was proceeding. It was blue with smoke, and the thundering chorus was still unfinished. I sank unnoticed into a quiet corner.
I was astonished at the appearance of the company. There were many men who looked like venerable prelates, and many men who looked like the heads of old and noble houses. I laughed in my sleeve when I remembered I had thought to find Paddy and Jem here. And at the same time I saw them up near the head of the table, if it please you. Paddy had his hand on the shoulder of a bishop, and Jem was telling some tale into the sympathetic ear of a marquis. At least this is the way matters appeared to my stupefied sense.
The singing ceased, and a distinguished peer at my elbow resumed a talk which evidently had been broken by the chorus:
"And so the Duke spoke with somewhat more than his accustomed vigour," said the distinguished peer.
My worst suspicions were confirmed. Here was a man talking of what had been said by a duke. I cast my eye toward my happy pair of rogues and wondered how I could ever extricate them from their position.
Suddenly there was a loud pounding upon the table, and in the ensuing quiet the grave and dignified voice of the chairman could be heard:
"Gentlemen," he said, "we crave your attention to a song by Mr. John Snowden."
Whereupon my very own Jem Bottles arose amid a burst of applause, and began to sing a ballad which had been written in Bristol or Bath in celebration of the notorious scoundrel Jem Bottles.
Here I could see that if impudence could serve us we would not lack success in England. The ballad was answered with wild cheers of appreciation. It was the great thing of the evening. Jem was strenuously pressed to sing again, but he buried his face in his mug and modestly refused. However, they devoted themselves to his chorus and sang it over and over with immense delight. I had never imagined that the nobility were so free and easy.
During the excitement over Jem's ballad I stole forward to Paddy. "Paddy," I whispered, "come out of this now. 'T is no place for you here among all these reverend fathers and gentlemen of title. Shame on you!"
He saw my idea in a flash.
"Whist, sir," he answered. "There are being no reverend fathers or gentlemen of title here. They are all after being footmen and valets."
I was extremely vexed with myself. I had been in London only a brief space; and Paddy had been in the city no longer. However, he had already managed his instruction so well that he could at once tell a member of the gentry from a servant. I admired Paddy's cleverness, but at the same time I felt a certain resentment against the prelates and nobles who had so imposed upon me.
But, to be truthful, I have never seen a finer display of manners. These menials could have put courtiers to the blush. And from time to time somebody spoke out loud and clear an opinion pilfered verbatim from his master. They seldom spoke their own thoughts in their own way; they sent forth as their own whatever they could remember from the talk of their masters and other gentlemen. There was one man who seemed to be the servant of some noted scholar, and when he spoke the others were dumfounded into quiet.
"The loriot," said he with a learned frown, "is a bird. If it is looked upon by one who has the yellow jaundice, the bird straightway dies, but the sick person becomes well instantly. 'T is said that lovage is used, but I would be luctuous to hear of anybody using this lothir weed, for 't is no pentepharmacon, but a mere simple and not worth a caspatory."
This utterance fairly made their eyes bulge, and they sat in stunned silence. But I must say that there was one man who did not fear.
"Sir," said Paddy respectfully, but still with his own dignity, "I would be hearing more of this bird, and we all would be feeling honoured for a short description."
"In color he is ningid," said the learned valet.
"Bedad!" cried Paddy. "That 's strange!"
"'T is a question full of tenebrosity," remarked the other leaning back in his chair. "We poor scholars grow madarosis reflecting upon it. However, I may tell you that the bird is simous; yblent in the sunlight, but withal strenuous-eyed; its blood inclined to intumescence. However, I must be breviloquent, for I require an enneadecaterides to enumerate the true qualities of the loriot."
"By gor!" said Paddy, "I 'll know that bird if I see him ten years from now. Thank you kindly, sir. But we would be late for breakfast if you took the required time; and that 's true for me."
Afterward I reflected that I had attended the meetings of two scholarly bodies in this one evening, but for the life of me I could n't decide which knew the least.