Chapter 19 Deep-Laid Plans for Checkmating Mr Bones.
Now it chanced that the Post-Office Message-boys’ Literary Association ha_ixed to hold its first grand soirée on the night of the 15th.
It was a great occasion. Of course it was held in Pegaway Hall, the shed i_ear of Solomon Flint’s dwelling. There were long planks on trestles fo_ables, and school forms to match. There were slabs of indigestible cake, bun_n abundance, and tea, with milk and sugar mixed, in illimitable quantities.
There were paper flowers, and illuminated texts and proverbs round the walls,
the whole being lighted up by two magnificent paraffin lamps, which als_erved to perfume the hall agreeably to such of the members and guests a_appened to be fond of bad smells.
On this particular evening invitations had been issued to several friends o_he members of the Association, among whom were Mr Enoch Blurt and Mr Sterlin_he missionary. No ladies were invited. A spirited discussion had taken plac_n this point some nights before the soirée, on which occasion the bashfu_oker opposed the motion “that invitations should be issued to ladies,” on th_round that, being himself of a susceptible nature, the presence of the fai_ex would tend to distract his attention from the business on hand. Big Jac_lso opposed it, as he thought it wasn’t fair to the fair sex to invite the_o a meeting of boys, but Big Jack was immediately called to order, an_eminded that the Society was composed of young men, and that it wa_nmanly—not to say unmannerly—to make puns on the ladies. To this sentimen_ittle Grigs shouted “Hear! hear!” in deafening tones, and begged leave t_upport the motion. This he did in an eloquent but much interrupted speech,
which was finally cut short by Macnab insisting that the time of the Societ_hould not be taken up with an irrelevant commentary on ladies by littl_rigs; whereupon Sandy Tod objected to interruptions in general—except whe_ade by himself—and was going on to enlarge on the inestimable blessing o_ree discussion when he was in turn called to order. Then Blunter an_croggins, and Fat Collins and Bobby Sprat, started simultaneously to thei_eet, but were put down by Peter Pax, who rose, and, with a calm dignifie_ave of his hand, remarked that as the question before the meeting was whethe_adies should or should not be invited to the soirée, the simplest plan woul_e to put it to the vote. On this being done, it was found that the meetin_as equally divided, whereupon the chairman—Phil Maylands—gave his castin_ote in favour of the amendment, and thus the ladies were excluded from th_oirée amid mingled groans and cheers.
But although the fair sex were debarred from joining in the festivities, the_ere represented on the eventful evening in question by a Mrs Square, a_ngular washer-woman with only one eye (but that was a piercingly black one),
who dwelt in the same court, and who consented to act the double part of tea-
maker and doorkeeper for that occasion. As most of the decorations and wreath_ad been made and hung up by May Maylands and two of her telegraphic friends,
there was a pervading influence of woman about Pegaway Hall, in spite o_hil’s ungallant and un-Irish vote.
When Tottie Bones arrived at the General Post-Office in search of Peter Pax,
she was directed to Pegaway Hall by those members of the staff whose dutie_revented their attendance at the commencement of the soirée.
Finding the hall with difficulty, she was met and stopped by th_ncompromising and one-eyed stare of Mrs Square.
“Please, ma’am, is Mr Peter Pax here?” asked Tottie.
“Yes, he is, but he’s engaged.”
Tottie could not doubt the truth of this, for through the half-open door o_he hall she saw and heard the little secretary on his little legs addressin_he house.
“Please may I wait till he’s done?” asked Tottie.
“You may, if you keep quiet, but I doubt if he’ll ’ave time to see you eve_’en he _is_ done,” said the one-eyed one, fiercely.—“D’you like buns or cak_est?”
Tottie was much surprised by the question, but stated at once her decide_reference for cake.
“Look here,” said Mrs Square, removing a towel from a large basket.
Tottie looked, and saw that the basket was three-quarters full of buns an_akes.
“That,” said the washer-woman, “is their leavin’s. One on ’em called it th_ebree of the feast, though what that means is best known to hisself. For on_our by the clock these literairies went at it, tooth an’ nail, but the_ailed to get through with all that was purwided, though they stuffe_hemselves to their muzzles.—There, ’elp yourself.”
Tottie selected a moderate slab of the indigestible cake, and sat down on _tool to eat it with as much patience as she could muster in th_ircumstances.
Peter Pax’s remarks, whatever else they might have been considered, possesse_he virtue of brevity. He soon sat down amid much applause, and Mr Sterlin_ose to speak.
At this point Tottie, who had cast many anxious glances at a small clock whic_ung in the outer porch or vestibule of the hall, entreated Mrs Square to tel_ax that he was wanted very much indeed.
“I durstn’t,” said Mrs Square; “it’s as much as my sitooation’s worth. I wa_old by Mr Maylands, the chairman, to allow of no interruptions nor anythin_f the kind.”
“But please, ma’am,” pleaded Tottie, with such an earnest face that the woma_as touched, “it’s a matter of—of—life an’ death—at least it _may_ be so. Oh!
do-o-o-o tell ’im he’s wanted—by Tottie Bones. Only say Tottie Bones, that’l_e _sure_ to bring ’im out.”
“Well—I never!” exclaimed Mrs Square, sticking her fists in her waist an_eaning her head to one side in critical scrutiny of her small petitioner.
“You do seem cock-sure o’ your powers. H’m! p’r’aps you’re not far ou_either. Well, I’ll try it on, though it _may_ cost me a deal of abuse. Yo_it there an’ see that cats don’t get at the wittles, for the cats in thi_ourt are a sharper set than or’nar.”
Mrs Square entered the hall, and begged one of the members near the door t_ass up a message—as quietly as possible—to the effect that Mr Pax was wanted.
This was immediately done by the member shouting, irreverently, that th_ecretary’s mother “’ad come to take ’im ’ome.”
“Order, order! Put ’im out!” from several of the members.
“Any’ow, ’e’s wanted by some one on very partikler business,” growled th_rreverent member, and the secretary made his way to the door.
“W’y, Tottie!” exclaimed Pax, taking both the child’s hands patronisingly i_is, “what brings you here?”
With a furtive glance at Mrs Square, Tottie said, “Oh! please, I want to spea_bout something very partikler.”
“Indeed! come out to the court then,” said little Pax, leading the way;
“you’ll be able to air the subject better there, whatever it is, and the cat_on’t object. Sorry I can’t take you into the hall, little ’un, but ladie_in’t admitted.”
When the child, with eager haste, stated the object of her visit, and wound u_er discourse with the earnest remark that her father _must_ be stopped, an_mustn’t_ be took, her small counsellor looked as perplexed and anxious a_erself. Wrinkling up his smooth brow, he expressed the belief that it was _ifficult world to deal with, and he had had some trouble already in findin_ut how to manage it.
“You see, Tot,” he said, “this is a great evenin’ with the literary message-
boys. Not that I care a rap for that, but I’ve unfortunately got to move _ote of thanks to our lecturer to-night, and say somethin’ about the lecture,
which I couldn’t do, you know, unless I remained to hear it. To be sure, _ight get some one else to take my place, but I’m not easily spared, for hal_he fun o’ the evenin’ would be lost if they hadn’t got me to make game of an_ir their chaff upon. Still, as you say, your dad must have his little gam_topped. He must be a great blackg— I beg pardon, Tot, I mean that he must b_ great disregarder of the rights of man—woman, as it happens, in this case.
However, as you said, with equal truth, he must not be took, for if he was,
he’d probably be hanged, and I couldn’t bear to think of your father bein’
scragged. Let me see. When did you say he meant to start?”
“He said to mother that he’d leave at nine, and might ’ave to be out al_ight.”
“At nine—eh? That would just give ’im time to get to Charing Cross to catc_he 9:30 train. Solomon Flint’s lecture will be over about eight. I coul_olish ’im off in ten minutes or so, and ’ave plenty of time to catch the sam_rain. Yes, that will do. But how am I to know your father, Tot, for you kno_ haven’t yet had the pleasure of makin’ his acquaintance?”
“Oh, you _can’t_ mistake him,” replied the child confidently. “He’s a big,
tall, ’andsome man, with a ’ook nose an’ a great cut on the bridge of it al_own ’is left cheek. You’ll be sure to know ’im. But how will you stop ’im?”
“That is more than I can tell at present, my dear,” replied Pax, with _areworn look, “but I’ll hatch a plot of some sort durin’ the lecture.—Let m_ee,” he added, with sudden animation, glancing at the limited portion of sk_hat roofed the court, “I might howl ’im down! That’s not a bad idea. Yellin’
is a powerful influence w’en brought properly to bear. D’you mind waitin’ i_he porch till the lecture’s over?”
“O no! I can wait as long as ever you please, if you’ll only try to sav_ather,” was Tottie’s piteous response.
“Well, then, go into the porch and sit by the door, so that you can hear an_ee what’s goin’ on. Don’t be afraid of the one-eyed fair one who guards th_ortals. She’s not as bad as she looks; only take care that you don’t tread o_er toes; she can’t stand _that_.”
Tottie promised to be careful in this respect, and expressed a belief that sh_as too light to hurt Mrs Square, even if she did tread on her toe_ccidentally.
“You’re wrong, Tottie,” returned Pax; “most females of your tender years ar_pt to jump at wrong conclusions. As you live longer you’ll find out that som_eople’s toes are so sensitive that they can’t bear a feather’s weight on ’em.
W’y, there’s a member of our Society who riles up directly if you even look a_is toes. We keep that member’s feet in hot water pretty continuously, w_o.—There now, I’ll be too late if I keep on talkin’ like this. You’ll no_eel tired of the lecture, for Solomon’s sure to be interesting, whatever hi_ubject may be. I don’t know what it is—he hasn’t told us yet. You’ll soo_ear it if you listen.”
Pax re-entered the hall, and Tottie sat down by the door beside Mrs Square,
just as Solomon Flint rose to his legs amid thunders of applause.