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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.