The Curmudgeon


Saturday, June 08, 2013

8 June 1607

It was practically the hour of closing at the Gallows and Glockenspiel, and Ten Gallon Harry was trying to wheedle his way out of the latest forfeit imposed on him by Limbless Fred, which involved Mr Boggust and Mr Blodgett and a packet of pork scratchings. Pippa Twelve Toes and Malvolio Quabbage were loitering at the card-players' table, listening to the argument and not helping in the least.

"Eighth of June, sixteen hundred and seven," announced Hooligan Motts. "Nearly closing time."

The doors opened, admitting noises of affray and a burly specimen of the servant class. He wore a liveried gambeson, padded and pleated in yellow and puce; he wore a chain of office around his neck and a chain of enforcement around his arm; and he wore a facial expression of self-satisfaction that betokened a virtuous pleasure in recent nastiness well executed.

"Beer," said the burly specimen succinctly to Hooligan Motts; and Hooligan Motts drew and served him a pint of Hinge and Whortleberry's Nearly Drinkable. The burly specimen drank long and deep and then slammed the pewter mug vigorously down on the bar, while a relatively modest degree of discomfort registered upon his weathered and walloped face.

"I trust, fellow," he said to Hooligan Motts, once the last ructions had made their way south of his oesophagus and into roomier territory, "I trust that this is a respectable establishment, with all due fear of God, the king and the law, and that cheese is not served with undue license, to be made illegitimate use of by the upstart peasantry."
"Cheese?" said Malvolio Quabbage.
"We serve what's on the blackboard," said Hooligan Motts. The bill of fare on the blackboard did, in fact, include cheeses of numerous varieties and varying degrees of digestibility; and Hooligan Motts was known to be in possession of several further varieties obtainable only by recognised patrons and only on condition that they were used for non-belligerent purposes.

However, the burly specimen glared at the blackboard and saw nothing he cared to recognise; so he glared at Hooligan Motts and took another drink. "I am a servant of the family Tresham of Newton," he said, "whose lordship hereabouts is wise and absolute."
"Very convenient all round, I'm sure," said Hooligan Motts.
"A most delicate business," the burly specimen said; "particularly where cheese is involved."
"Cheese?" said Malvolio Quabbage.
"Not that I have any objection to cheese in its proper place," the burly specimen said; "but when 'tis made to stand in the way of progress and enterprise, when the peasantry are roused against the legal enclosure of uncultivated ground, when the king's own laws are subject to open defiance," the burly specimen drained the pewter mug and gazed about him with stern aspect, "then, sir, we must look to our cheese and beware."
"Cheese?" said Malvolio Quabbage.
"Aye, sirrah, cheese," the burly specimen said, as Hooligan Motts refilled the pewter mug. "The peasantry of which I speak were roused by a Captain Pouch, so called because he carried with him a pouch containing a secret piece of prophetic cheese, which he claimed would bring the Lord's protection upon himself and the seditious rabble which he led."
"And did it?" asked Malvolio Quabbage.
"Who can say?" the burly specimen replied. "Despite the king's proclamation for sharp remedies, the militia refused to put down the rising, which meant that the servants of the local gentry were forced into battle with the mob. 'Tis true that we managed to subdue the revolt and kill between forty and fifty, not all of them women and children; nevertheless, it is hardly labour suited to our station."

The burly specimen shook his head, and took another swig of Hinge and Whortleberry's Nearly Drinkable. Malvolio Quabbage just shook his head. "You may shake your head, sir," said the burly specimen, so Malvolio Quabbage shook his head again. "You may shake your head, sir, as much as you please," the burly specimen said rashly; "but the question remains: did this Captain Pouch misunderstand the prophecies of the cheese, or was he deliberately deceived, in order to undermine the king's peace and bring bodily inconvenience to various loyal and hard-working members of the servile community? Was it God's cheese, or the devil's?"
"Did anyone think to taste it?" asked Malvolio Quabbage.
"Indeed they did not," responded the burly specimen, with umbrage. "If 'twere the devil's cheese, the consequences could be fatal, and if 'twere God's cheese, the eating of it would savour of Popery. It has by now, I trust, been conveyed to some holy place, where persons immune to any malefic influences may decide how to deal with it. In the meantime, we can do little but pray for guidance and for a successful and efficient conclusion to the enclosure of Rockingham Forest."
"That'll help," said Malvolio Quabbage.
"Closing time," said Hooligan Motts.


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