The Curmudgeon


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

30 April 1803

It was almost closing time at the Gallows and Glockenspiel. At the card-players' table, the losers were giving Limbless Fred some intimately detailed investment advice, while Granny Forbus sat nodding approval. Mr Boggust and Mr Blodgett sat in their enigmatic corner, doing enigmatic things with three small spanners and a curlew; and Throaty Gubbins had been propped against a nearby wall in order to conceal a stain on the skirting board. Most likely Hooligan Motts had propped him there; it was certainly not Malvolio Quabbage, for Throaty Gubbins' mouth had been closed and his head considerately lowered, so that nobody could use him for an ashtray without a modicum of effort.

"Thirtieth of April, eighteen hundred and three," announced Hooligan Motts. "Nearly closing time."

He had barely finished speaking when the doors were thrown noisily open and three persons waddled in. They waddled in single file, for the doorway was only seven feet wide. The newcomers were all of imposing mien and impressive girth; their boot-buckles gleamed and their jowls shone like the shaven backsides of freshly polished pigs. Their lips were purple and blue, and curled down at the edges with a scorn that was automatic and universal; their eyes were flat and watchful and, according to physique and seniority, either small and sunken or bloodshot and boggling or, in the case of the second fattest, one of each.

The three waddled up to the bar, and the fattest addressed Hooligan Motts. "Wines, landlord," he said; "the finest wines you have stored in this benighted establishment, else we call in our bullies to smash up the place. We are bankers from Baring's, and we deserve only the best."
"Rah," said the second fattest, to nobody in particular; while the third fattest smirked sebaciously at Pippa Twelve Toes.

The fattest of the bankers from Baring's produced a piece of paper and threw it down on the bar. "That will serve to pay," he said.

Hooligan Motts unfolded the paper and read the few lines of copperplate writing which surmounted the scrawled X at the bottom; then he folded it again and pushed it back beneath the now alarming boggle of the candidate for customerhood.

"It is a promissory note from a respected tradesman," that worthy protested, his face beginning to blotch ultramarine; "if you but serve us well, his establishment and all the chattels and moveables within shall be yours, not excepting the virtue of his wife, daughters and mother."
"That may be so," said Hooligan Motts; "but it ain't legal tender."
"Legal?" spluttered the fattest of the bankers from Barings. "Tender? What has that to do with it? I tell you we are bankers."
"From Baring's," elaborated the second fattest.
"And we deserve only the best," said the third fattest.
"Why is that, then?" asked Melon Head Myrtle. "Not even Granny Forbus over there gets only the best, and she deserves it if anyone does, because she terrifies everybody."

At this implied aspersion upon his professional standards, it is possible that the imperturbability of Hooligan Motts may have undergone a small, anomalous blip, in the form of a momentary twitch in one eyelid; but reliable witnesses are lacking.

"We deserve only the best," explained the fattest of the bankers from Baring's, "because our esteemed colleague, Alexander Baring, is in Paris at this very moment, concluding a transaction of historical import between the Governments of France and the United States."
"It will be a master-stroke of wealth creation," said the second fattest of the bankers from Baring's, "and will benefit all of humanity."
"It will promote peace, freedom, family values and the Empire," said the third fattest of the bankers from Baring's, "and if we don't get what we deserve we shall call the bullies in."
"Not while Granny's sitting there, you won't," said Melon Head Myrtle.

The three bankers from Baring's looked across at Granny Forbus seated between them and the doors, as grim and spiky as the enchanted forest of a malignant mage, but somewhat more in need of fumigation. She leered at them all, displaying her lower teeth and lowering gums, and the third fattest waddled off rather quickly to the bathroom.

"Well, we can't break up the place ourselves," protested the second fattest of the bankers from Baring's. "Bodily exertion has been prohibited all of us, for decades of public service have made all our constitutions exceptionally delicate."
"Don't you have any real money?" said Melon Head Myrtle.
"Of course we have," snapped the fattest of the bankers from Baring's; "but we don't carry it about with us. We are not common loafers and shirkers, who acquire money only to spend it again."
"Why don't you buy us a drink?" the second fattest inquired of Melon Head Myrtle. "It seems the least you can do, given what we and our esteemed colleague, Alexander Baring, have done for you."
"And what might that be?" said Melon Head Myrtle.
"The purchase of Louisiana, of course," said the second fattest.
"That sounds very generous, dearie," said Melon Head Myrtle; "but I don't think I need one of those at the moment. Can't you get yourselves a refund?"
"Ignorant woman," fulminated the fattest of the bankers from Baring's; "we did not make the purchase ourselves. The government of the United States bought the territory from France, through the offices of our establishment."
"Precisely," said the second fattest; "and as a result the United States has doubled in size while France is richer by some fifty million francs. Given England's special relationship with both Napoleon and the rebels of '76, the service which we have done our country is doubtless self-evident."
"And we deserve nothing but the best," said the third fattest, returning from the bathroom and rejoicing to find that he hadn't lost the thread of the discussion.
"So why don't you buy us a drink?" inquired the second fattest again.
"Well, if you put it that way," said Melon Head Myrtle, and started rifling through her handbag in search of liquifiable assets.
"About time too," said the fattest of the bankers from Baring's; and his companions nodded agreement, causing their chins to bulge and squelch like mating blancmanges. Throaty Gubbins who, awake or asleep, could detect someone agreeing to buy a round of drinks at a distance of several hundred yards, stood up with a creaking of knees and ambled over to the bar.

"I'm ever so sorry, dearies," said Melon Head Myrtle at last; "but I'm a bit short of funds at the moment. I can't possibly afford to pay for what you deserve, and anyway it's nearly - "
"Closing time," said Hooligan Motts; whereupon Throaty Gubbins picked up and ate the promissory note from the respectable tradesman and, without having troubled to open his eyes, ambled back to where he had been sitting.


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