The Curmudgeon


Friday, January 11, 2013

11 January 1569

It was approximately the hour of closing at the Gallows and Glockenspiel. Hooligan Motts was re-clogging the tap of Hoocher's Bane, because if the tap was too clear the Hoocher's Bane would start eating it away from the inside, and Hooligan Motts believed in looking after one's equipment. Every few weeks, therefore, at about closing time, he would take the scrapings from all the other taps, carefully soaked and softened to maximise their adhesive qualities, and pound them with a pestle until they became a sort of rusty putty. This substance he would then mould carefully to the inside of the Hoocher's Bane barrel and its spigot, spreading it as evenly as possible to prevent leaks. The Hoocher's Bane itself, while this procedure was being carried out, resided in another barrel which Hooligan Motts kept specially and for no other purpose; it would be restored to its proper home when six hours had elapsed and the putty had attained the consistency of dry, superannuated porridge.

Just as Hooligan Motts fixed the tap and glanced at the cuckoo-clock over the card-players' table, a man came in. He wore a soiled doublet and a pointed beard, the sharp end of which was blunted from long ill-use; and a ruff of grey lace hung at his throat like a perfunctory hug from a parent who would really rather not.

"Eleventh of January, fifteen sixty-nine," announced Hooligan Motts. "Nearly closing time."

The man approached him and placed some coins on the bar. "Ale, if you please," he said, "and also, methinks, a ticket for the lotto."

Hooligan Motts took one of the coins and served him Punter's Ghastly Pale in a pewter mug. "Now, what was the rest of it again?" he said.
"A ticket, good sir," said the man, "a ticket for the lotto. I have been meaning to buy one these past several months, but have fallen on evil times through gaming and marriage and such. But now I am resolved to be virtuous, and help our good Queen with her public works."
"You propose to dash to the aid of your queen," pondered Malvolio Quabbage, "by purchasing a lottery ticket?"
"Indeed, sir," said the man. "Have you not seen the scrolls, posted throughout the kingdom, concerning the worthy causes which are to be helped and portraying the great prizes which are to be had?"
"No," said Malvolio Quabbage, unashamed.
"Why, there are many fine baubles to be won. A top prize of five thousand pounds, then silver plate, wine-cups, entrance to libraries without the need of payment, and freedom from arrest for a week, though on selected crimes only: public drunkenness and tax-dodging and the like, I presume."
"Sounds delightful," said Malvolio Quabbage.
"The people have been much enthused," said the man. "One can hardly walk the streets without hearing talk of it, and every man with ten shillings to spare has bought a ticket."
"Very public-spirited of them," said Malvolio Quabbage.
"The revenues raised from this lotto will be spent upon public works of the highest importance," said the man. "The Queen's charter provides for the reparation of the harbours and the strength of the realm."
"What does she want to do," asked Malvolio Quabbage; "build an armada?"

The man looked at him coldly. "The realm must be strengthened," he said; "I am of the race of King Henry the Fifth, and if I can augment the kingdom's strength for the price of ten shillings, without the evil of public taxation, then as an Englishman and a Christian I shall do so." He emptied his mug of Punter's Ghastly Pale and banged it repeatedly on the bar. From their enigmatic corner, Mr Blodgett and Mr Boggust looked up with expressions of mild surprise.

Hooligan Motts, for whose attention the banging was designed and beneath whose nose it was largely occurring, said: "A ticket for the lotto, you said, sir?"
"I have said it twice already, fellow," said the man impatiently; "now kindly provide me with the same, else I shall be forced to subject you to an act of disapprobation." He pushed more coins across the bar. "Ten shillings."
"I do apologise for any misunderstanding, sir," said Hooligan Motts, "but lotto tickets are not available at this establishment. Everything available is written on the blackboard there."
The lace at the man's throat seemed to go even limper. Uncomprehending, he stared at the blackboard. "Not available?"
"That's right, sir," said Hooligan Motts. "We don't serve them here."
"But, but - " The man gibbered for a moment, then gestured wildly at the card-players. "But this is a house of gaming, is it not?"
"It is," said Hooligan Motts serenely.
"Tax free," added Malvolio Quabbage.
"But not for the strengthening of harbours and realms," said Hooligan Motts. "Our gambling has a purpose of its own, and now, if you please, sir, it's closing time."
"It is a disgrace," said the man. "I doubt the French and Genovese have to tolerate this sort of thing. Mark you, 'twill be the end of the kingdom one day." He gave a quick tug at his chin, attempting to marshal his beard into the sort of thing that made for the glory of Agincourt; but his beard refused to submit to the discipline. Taking back his ten shillings, the man turned on his heel and left.

"Closing time," said Hooligan Motts.


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