The Curmudgeon


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

11 December 1688

It was nearly closing time at the Gallows and Glockenspiel. At the card-players' table, Limbless Fred was arguing feet with Pippa Twelve Toes, while Granny Forbus dozed and twitched near the entrance. In their enigmatic corner, Mr Blodgett and Mr Boggust hissed and mumbled, doubtless to their mutual profit. Hooligan Motts hung a cloth over the tap of Old Groveller's, and was just about to announce, "Eleventh of December, sixteen eighty-eight. Nearly closing time," when the doors slammed open and admitted several wealthy-looking persons, each of whom seemed to have a great deal of hair. The hair of the men was long and fell over their shoulders, while the hair of the women was piled high atop their heads. Awakened by the noise, Granny Forbus glared about and scratched her meagre scalp.

"Nearly closing time," repeated Hooligan Motts, as the party approached the bar.
"Never mind that, my good man," said the male whose hair hung lowest; "we may be in the grip of revolution, but you would do well to remember your place."
Pippa Twelve Toes pirouetted with fright. "Revolution?" she squeaked, revolving.
"A most great and glorious revolution," said one of the other males, "which will free us from the Stuart tyrant, James the Second and Seventh, and the so-called Sun King who shines from his fleeing fundament."
"And which, in freeing us, will place us in bondage to a Dutchman," said the first. "Was it for this that Admiral Blake swept Van Tromp from the seas?"
"I thought that was Nelson," said Pippa Twelve Toes, whereupon a temporal anomaly began to loom; but Malvolio Quabbage flicked a pistachio nut in her eye before any real damage was done. She pirouetted again, even less elegantly, and sat down rather hard.

"Anything but gin," the man with the low-hanging hair said to Hooligan Motts, "and spare the turpentine, if you please." Shrugging imperturbably, Hooligan Motts began serving pints of Old Groveller's, partly because that was the nearest tap and partly because the man with the low-hanging hair didn't look like a beer drinker.

"You are too harsh on King James," one of the women was saying. "True, he is the greatest ogler in the kingdom, but he is surely no tyrant."
"No tyrant to some, indeed," said someone else. "He grants tolerance to popish traitors and locks up English bishops in the Tower."
"Nothing wrong with a bit of tolerance here and there," said Pippa Twelve Toes, rubbing her eye. "And why James the Second and Seventh? Wouldn't it be simpler just to call him number nine?"
"Simpler still to crush the Scots and amalgamate the crowns into one," opined a large woman whose own coiffured crown appeared to include several emphatically dissenting factions. "But we can hardly expect such simplicity from a king who flees from an army smaller than his own."
"Size isn't everything, you know," said Limbless Fred.
"It is rumoured that even now he is sailing for France," said the large woman, peering and squinting at Limbless Fred's seductive wriggle, "and has thrown the Great Seal of the Realm into the River Thames, in order to confound the doings of government."
"Confoundedly clever of him," flirted Limbless Fred shamelessly; but the large woman turned and retreated to the other end of the bar, as people often did when Limbless Fred came into focus. Of course, the other end of the bar was not without its characters; notably Mr Boggust and Mr Blodgett, who flirted more quietly than Limbless Fred and had a subtler sense of humour, if not necessarily a pleasanter one.

"A glorious revolution, indeed," mourned the man with the low-hanging hair. "It will turn us into a nation of shopkeepers and gin-drinkers. It will alter the very nature of Englishness as we know it."
"What's wrong with gin?" demanded Granny Forbus.
"It is an unhealthy and distasteful beverage," replied the man with the low-hanging hair; "unsuited to the English temperament and, as I have observed before, prone to adulteration with turpentine and the like."
"What's wrong with turpentine?" demanded Granny Forbus, who had drunk worse whenever she could get it. "Keeps your insides clean, especially with paint."

"Past closing time," interposed Hooligan Motts hastily, "unless you want to dredge up that Great Seal of yours and change the law yourself."

The man with the low-hanging hair looked as if he might be about to argue, but he contented himself with gulping the last of his Old Groveller's and favouring Hooligan Motts with a patrician sneer, which expended most of its force in a futile frontal assault on the barman's small but infinitely experienced eyeballs before dropping away in defeat. Others of the company were making for the doors, and the man turned and followed them out.

"Great tulip," snarled Granny Forbus, who disliked long hair on men.


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