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THE BOTTLE OF HAY.
I AM a retired publican, and date from the days when publicans were publicans.
I kept the Bottle of Hay, in Leather Lane, when public-houses were worth
keeping. I have a tidy penny in the funds now, a neat little box at Hoxton, am
an elder of my chapel, one of the committee of my Literary and Scientific
Institution, and a governor of the Licensed Victuallers' Association. If I had
kept my house as houses are kept now I might have a villa at Ealing, and be a
Middlesex magistrate, perhaps; or, just as probably, I should be occupying
apartments in the Licensed Victuallers' Alms-houses. I prefer my tidy funded
penny and my box to both. Altogether I may claim to be a respectable man, for I
have a very snug little trap (under tax) and my pony, Barrett (he was a
butcher's before he was mine, and a swell's before he was a butcher's), can do
something considerable in the trotting line.
My trap and I and my friend Spyle, who has a neat superannuation on the Customs, go about a goodish deal among public-houses now. You see I have a kind of liking for the old trade; and there is no amusement I like so much as tasting the beer at a new house, or dropping in at stated [-123-] times, and in rotation on an old one, or looking about as to the next probable owner of a shut-up house, or attending public-house auctions and the like. Something might turn up some day, you know, where a party could invest his little savings profitably; and that is why I like to keep in with my distillers, Porcus and Grains, and with my old brewers, Spiggot, Buffle, and Bung, for business reasons, over and above the drop of something comfortable that they are sure to ask me if I will take this morning. In fact, if you could put me tip to any snug concern drawing a reasonable number of butts a month, that a party could drop in to reasonable, I think I might hear of a bidder.
This doesn't interfere a tittle, however, with my firm and settled opinion that the public line is going to ruin. To rack and ruin. The teetotallers, of course, have done a deal of harm; but still they take a decent quantity medicinally, and the very fierce ones, they generally break out very fierce about once a month, and make up for lost time. It's the publicans themselves that do the injury by introducing all sorts of innovations and new-fangled enticements to drink to their customers. As if a man wanted leading on to drink! He never did in my time. The landlords themselves are their own enemies, and with their plate glass and gilding and rosewood fittings and the rest of it, they are making the line disrespectable. At least, I think so. A public-house isn't a public-house, now, but something quite different.
Now, there's my old house in Leather Lane - the Bottle of Hay. I sold the lease, stock, goodwill, and fixtures to old Berrystack. He was one of the old school, as I am, and if he hadn't taken it into his senses to go out of them, and to be now in a lunatic asylum and a padded room, he would have carried the house on in the old, and my manner, to this day, I have no doubt. Before he went mad, however, he had sense enough to sell the house to young Bowley, whose father was a gauger in the docks. The licence and Berrystack's pretty daughter Louisa were transferred to Bowley at the same time; and as man and wife (Louisa was the prettiest hand at mixing a twopenn'orth, hot, and saying a civil word to the old gentlemen that used the house, that ever you saw) they went on for a year or two as comfortable as may be. But what did young Bowley but go to cards, and then to horse-racing and betting, and to wearing a horseshoe pin in his neckerchief, and trousers much too tight for him about the legs? And [-124-] where did he go afterwards but into Whitecross Street, and afterwards to the Insolvent Court; and where did Mrs. Bowley go but off to Boulogne with the cash-box and the military chap (I never could abide him with his mustachoes and his airs that was always hanging about the bar-parlour. A pretty piece of business this for a respectable house! But, bad as Bowley was, the next tenant was worse. He had plenty of money, and all that; but I have no hesitation in saying that he was a fellow. A fellow. He was ashamed of his apron. Nothing but a full suit of black would suit my gentleman; and he would stand behind the bar twiddling his Albert guard-chain, and, if he were asked for change, pull it out of a thing like a lady's reticule, which he called his 'port-money.' He'd better have looked to his port wine. He shut his house up all day Sunday, and actually tried to put his pot-boy into a white neckcloth; but he, being a pot-boy that knew his business, and wasn't above it, told him plainly that he wasn't used to it, and that he had better look out for another young man.
His bar, instead of being covered with the decent piles of halfpence and trays full of silver, that a right-minded publican loves to accumulate towards Saturday, was tricked out with all sorts of bulbs and roots, and trumpery-nasturtiums, heliotropes, ranunculuses, and the like; and there wasn't an Italian image-man out of Leather Lane that came in to take a drop but he'd buy a Venus, or a Jenny Lind, or a Holy Family of; and these he'd stick up on gim-crack brackets under his tubs, and ask me with a simpering grin if I didn't think the rubbish classical? Classical! What business has a licensed victualler with the classics? I could not stand this; I turned to Pruffwell (this was the classical gentleman's name), and said I to him - 'Mr. Pruffwell, it's my belief that you're not acting becoming. If you're a landlord, say so; if you're not, the sooner you say so, or go out of the business, the better;' and thereupon I paid for what I had had and walked out. He said I was an old fool; but Mr. Batts, of Liquorpond Street, and Mr. Crapper, of Gray's Inn Lane, and little Shoulderblade, the sheriff's officer - all respectable warm men, who used the house - went out with me, and all said I had done the thing that was right. I never set my foot in Pruffwell's house again till he left it; but I heard that he went on from bad to worse afterwards: that he took a wife who was all curls and conceit, and was nervous and musical, [-125-] bless us.; and that the choruses at the Wednesday Evening Free and Easy in the tap-room used to be drowned by Madam's piano-forte up-stairs jangling such variations upon Auld Robin Gray that his mother would'nt have known him. At last he got a fellow with long hair and spectacles, and a turn-down collar, and a tuft, to lecture upon the 'Od force,' and 'Things not Seen,' or things never heard of in his coffee-room; and another (in a cloak and more spectacles, green this time) to demonstrate the 'theory of the earth's movement,' with a piece of string, a copper disc, like the bottom of a stew-pan knocked out, and an old clock dial-plate. He couldn't demonstrate it, it seemed, without a great deal of gin and water first, and turning off the gas afterwards; and there were two great-coats and seven spoons missing the next morning. When I heard Pruffwell was countenancing such proceedings as these, I thought he was coming to a bad end; and, sure enough, to a very bad one he came shortly afterwards. He got into some scrape about defrauding the gas-company out of their dues, falsifying the meter and tapping the main himself; but somehow he was too clever, and the gas got into the gin, and the water into that, and the sewer into that; and the gas-company came in and tore up the flooring, and spoilt the beer-engines, and sued him dreadfully. He ran away very quickly did Mr. Pruffwell after this, Albert chain, port-money, and all. I did hear that he went to America, where he turned schoolmaster, lecturer, and got into some trouble about the notes of a bank that had stopped payment; and, besides that, Mrs. Pruffwell was not Mrs. Pruffwell after all, and after P.'s disappearance, had taken to drinking dreadfully.
All this while the Bottle of Hay was becoming dingier and dingier, and more dilapidated in appearance every day. The pots had lost their brightness, and the pewter-covered bar counter, which should have been clean and glistening, became stained and discoloured with sticky rings of treacly porter. When the handles of the taps got loose and unscrewed they were never replaced; the glasses lost half their feet, and the pewter measures half their capacity of containing by dinting and battering. The letters and numbers wore off the gin-tubs; the till contained nothing but broken tobacco pipes, and pock-marked, defaced, advertisement-branded and perforated halfpence, which even the neediest of the customers had indignantly refused; and little Ruggs, the tipstaff of the Sheriff's Court, now pretty nearly the only regular customer [-126-] that remained, declared that really he must use some other house, for that on three separate days the Bottle of Hay had been out of gin and bitters. The harp, piano, and violin that used to come regularly every Saturday night and give a musical performance in front of the door, removed to the Coach and Horses up the lane; and really if it had not been for the sign, and the old portrait of myself in the coffee-room (kitcat, half length, three-quarter face, representing me with my hand in my waistcoat, backed by a crimson velvet curtain and a Grecian column, and flanked by an inkstand, a hat and gloves, four books and an orange cut in halves) I really should not have recognised my old house, where I had worked hard for so many years, and realised such a neat little bit of property. Then the sheriff came in with his levy and his men in possession; and, for a week or so what little beer was required was drawn by hooked-nosed men of the Israelitish persuasion. Then they hung the carpets out of the window, and had a sale; and three weeks afterwards I recognised my old arm-chair, bar-flap and beer-engine at a second-hand shop in Brokers' Row, Long Acre, higgledy-piggledy with tin tea-canisters, sham bookshelves, dummy chemists' drawers, bandy- legged counting-house desks and empty jars, labelled 'tamarinds' and 'leeches.'
I wish they had pulled down my old house after this. I wish they had built a Methodist Chapel, or Baths and Wash-houses, or a Temperance Hall upon its site. Anything rather than it should have become what it is now. It was shut up a long time; and I certainly had a slight twinge of melancholy when, passing it occasionally, I saw its doors fast closed and bolted and barred with the doors that had been for so many years on the swing, and of which the paint about the handles had been worn off by the hands of no many good fellows who had got 'comfortable' in my house so many Monday mornings and so many Saturday nights. At last the Bottle of Hay was let.
The new landlord was a young, beardless man, in a coloured shirt and a wide-awake hat. He was one of three brothers, and they had public-houses all over London: one at Bermondsey, one large gin-palace somewhere over the water at a corner where six crowded thoroughfares met; one in a suburban neighbourhood, very new and very improving, which was an omnibus house; and an establishment in the City in a dark alley down Dockway, where prime ports and sherries [-127-] were drawn from the wood, and sold at an extraordinarily low price per imperial quart, and white-headed old gentlemen whose only occupation it seemed to be to drink (I do a good deal in that way), went to taste the prime wines and eat nuts and cheese-crumbs. Fishtail was this new young landlord's name, and his wide-awake hat was a green one. No other symptom of that colour was there in him, however, for he was as wide awake as his hat or a detective policeman, as cunning as a fox, as pert as a magpie, and as avaricious as a Jew. He wasn't above his business. He and the wide-awake were scudding, poking, peeping, scampering morning noon and night about the house during its renovation (doing up, I should call it). He began by pulling the house half down. Then he threw the ground and first floor into one, and filled the window with plate glass and tremendous gilt gas burners. Then he raised an ornamental balustrade above the coping of the roof, and a van, above that, and a statue of Hercules or somebody defying something above that, and a huge flag above all - to say nothing of a big gilt clock surrounded with stucco cornucopias and emblems, and which had an illuminated dial, the letters of 'B.O.T.T.L.E. O.F. H.A.Y..' instead of numerals, and hands like ornamental fire shovels. Not content with this, the second floor front middle window wan blocked up with a large gas star with V.R. and the crown, and the rose, shamrock, and thistle, and Heaven knows what besides, all in gas. The house was painted from top to bottom in as gaudy colours as could be procured, and wherever it was feasible plastered over with compo mouldings and flourishing ornaments. His name, Fishtail, was painted upon almost every imaginable part of the building, in all sorts of colours, and in letters so big that it was almost impossible to read them. The inside of the house was as much transmogrified as the outside.
It was all mahogany - at least, what wasn't mahogany, was gilt carving and ground glass, with flourishing patterns on it. The bar was cut up into little compartments like pawnbrokers' boxes; and there was the wholesale entrance, and the jug and bottle department, the retail bar, the snuggery, the private bar, the ladies' bar, the wine and liqueur entrance, and the lunch bar. The handles of the taps were painted porcelain, and green, and yellow glass. There were mysterious glass columns, in which the bitter ale, instead of being drawn up comfortably from the cask in the cellar below, remained [-128-] always on view above ground to show its clearness, and was drawn out into glasses by a mysterious engine like an air- pump with something wrong in its inside. There were carved benches in the private bar, with crimson plush cushions aerated and elastic. There were spring duffers, working in a tunnel in the wall, which you were to strike with your fist to try your muscular strength. There were machines to test your lifting power, and a weighing-machine, and a lung- testing machine, or 'vital-power determinator.' There were plates full of nasty compounds of chips, saw-dust, and grits, called Scotch bannocks, which were to be eaten with butter, and washed down by the Gregarach Staggering old Claymore or Doch an' Dorroch ale; but which never should have shown its face in my old house, I warrant you. There were sausages, fried in a peculiar manner, with barbecued parsley, and a huge, brazen sausage chest, supported on two elephants, with a furnace beneath, from which sausages and potatoes were served out hot and hot all day long. There were sandwiches cut into strange devices; and cakes and tarts that nobody ever heard of before; and drinks and mixtures concocted that, in my day, would have brought the exciseman about a landlord pretty soon, I can assure you. The soda-water bottles had spiral necks like glass corkscrews. and zigzag labels. The ginger-beer was all colours-blue, green, and violet. Every inch of the walls that was not be-plastered with ornaments and gilding, or bedizened with gilt announcements of splendid ales and unrivalled quadruple stouts I never heard of, was covered with ridiculously gaudy-coloured prints, puffing the 'Cead Mille Failthe Whisky,' the 'Phthisis Curing Bottled Beer,' recommended by the entire faculty; the Imperial Kartoffelnsfell-hopfbrunnen Waters bottled at the celebrated mineral springs of Kartoffelnsfell, under the immediate superintendence of the Kartoffelnsfell Government, all of which were to be had in splendid condition, and for which J. Fishtail was the sole agent. This was a nice beginning. But the worst was to come. The house was opened, and J. Fishtail was as busy as a bee with an opening dinner, which he bragged and boasted a great deal of having reported in the press. He did, to be sure, get a seedy chap with an umbrella and a hat full of old newspapers and red comforters, who did fires and murders, and the Lord Mayor's state footmen's liveries at three-halfpence a line; and he certainly came to the dinner, and, when the toast of the press' was [-129-] given, prefaced by the appropriate glee of 'When winds breathe soft,' made a neat speech, rendered rather indistinct by hot liquids, in acknowledgment; but, though he borrowed half a pound and stuck up an unlimited score, and though Fishtail became a quarterly subscriber to 'The Weekly Murder Sheet,' price threepence, stamped, I never heard of any account of his grand initiatory banquet being published therein, or in any other newspaper. Meanwhile, his business went on apace. The harp, flute, and violin would have been glad to come back and played outside; but they were far too low for the Bottle of Hay, now. Nothing would suit Fishtail but a real German green baize band, composed of six dumpy, tawney-haired musicians from Frankfort, all with cloth caps, like shovels of mud, thrown on their heads, and falling over on the other side; all with rings in their ears and on their thumbs; and all born barons, at least, in their own country.
These gentry put their fists into their horns, and drew out their trombones to amazing lengths, playing such wonderfully complicated tunes, and singing, meanwhile, such long-winded choruses, all ending with 'tra la la, tra la Ia, tra la-a-a-a!' that a dense crowd would gather round them during their performances, and the very policeman would refrain from ordering them to move on, to the great disgust of the Alabama Ethiopian Serenaders (from Cork Buildings, Gray's Inn Lane) Who were, in truth, only the harp, flute, and violin fallen into evil days, and disguised in lamp-black, pomatum, Welsh wigs dyed black, paper shirt collars, white calico neckcloths, banjoes, tambourines, and bones. The gas star, too, and the illuminated clock, brought a great many customers - but what sort of customers were they? Italian image-men and organ- grinders, and Irish hodmen, and basket-women. The Irish and the Italians fell to fighting immediately (of course about the Pope), which was bad for themselves; and then they complained that the bar had been so altered that they hadn't room to fight, which was worse for the house; for the Italians you see, when fighting, were accustomed to tramp in a circle, their knives pointing towards the centre, ready for a lunge, whereas the Irish always wanted a clear stage and no favour - at least plenty of space convenient for a spring, and ample room to jump upon a man, or beat his head in with a quart pot, or bite his nose off. The nooks and corners into which the bar had been cut up, rendered this very difficult of accomplishment; and the consequeuce was, that the fine [-130-] ground-glass panels and lustres, the porcelain tap-handles, the crystal ale columns, the gold-fish fountain (I don't think I mentioned that), the fine gilt and rosewood mouldings, soon came to be knocked off, smashed, and spoilt past mending. J. Fishtail was very savage at this, you may be sure, and, striving to turn the noisy customers out, the wide-awake hat was perpetually being flattened on his head with pewter measures, and his cut-away coat ripped up with clasp knives - for he was full of pluck, and did his best to keep order. The police naturally appeared on the scene in these disturbances, and a great deal of expense was entailed upon him in 'squaring' these functionaries, particularly when the Italians, being prevented from fighting, took to gambling on the tubs, at dominoes, moro, or 'buck-buck, how many fingers do I hold up?' and stabbing each other quietly when they lost. The police had to be 'squared' so often under these circumstances, that the little court by the side door was half-lined with pots of half-and-half, which the municipals slipped off their beat to drink on the sly; and as it was, Fishtail - albeit, as harmlessly inclined as any landlord - was always in trouble with the magistrates, and having his licence endorsed, and being fined. He grew into awful disfavour with the licensing authorities at Clerkenwell Green, where Major Blueblasis, of Tottenham, once stated his conviction that the Bottle of Hay was an 'infamous den;' and if Inspector Buffles had not stood Fishtail's friend he would have lost his licence, and the spite of his enemy Ditcher, who keeps the Italian Stores beer-shop in the lane, and has been trying after a spirit licence these five years, would have been gratified.
Then he got into trouble about his dry skittle-ground. When my old house was near, I had as neat, and as good, and as dry a skittle-alley as any in Clerkenwell parish. Many and many have been the respectable tradesmen that have played there - good warm men - moral men, and ex-churchwardens. The 'setter-up' made fifteen shillings a week clear, all the year round. Many, too, have been the ramps and dozen ordered in my house after matches, aye, and paid for. J. Fishtail of course was too go-ahead a young gentleman to be contented with a dry skittle-ground with plenty of sawdust and one gas jet, and the pins and balls (like wooden Dutch cheeses) painted on the door-jambs. Oh no! he must have an American Bowling Alley, with more mahogany, more gilding, more ground-glass shades to the gas-burners, more [-131-] crimson-covered benches, a scorer or marker, who played tricks with a grand mahogany board like a railway time-table instead of using the old legitimate chalk, and a flaring transparency outside, representing General Washington playing skittles with Doctor Franklin. Of course there was an additional bar for the use of the skittle-players, where the scorer, who wore a very large shirt collar and a straw hat, and was at least a General in America-mixed and sold 'American Drinks:' brandy cock-tails, gin-slings, egg-noggs, timber-doodles, and mint-juleps, which last tasted like very bad gin and water, with green stuff in it, which you were obliged to suck through a straw instead of swigging in the legitimate manner. A fine end for my dry skittle-ground to come to!
It hadn't been open a month before Dick the Brewer, Curly Jem Simmons and Jew Josephs, all notorious skittle-sharps, found it out and made it a regular rendezvous for picking up flats. They soon picked up young Mr. Poppinson, the rich pawnbroker's son, who had twenty thousand pounds and water on the brain, and has since gone through the Court. They picked him up to some tune. It wasn't the games he lost on the square (which were few), or the games he lost on the cross (which were many), or the sums he was cheated of at the fine slate billiard table up stairs, or the bottles of champagne he stood (champagne at my old house in Leather Lane!); it was the dreadful deal of money he lost at betting - fifties that Dick the Brewer couldn't cross the alley in three jumps, ponies that Curly Jem couldn't name the winners of the Derby and Oaks for ten years running - even fives that Jew Josephs couldn't turn up a Jack four times out of four. Poor young Mr. Poppinson! He ruined himself and his poor child of a wife (a little delicate thing you might blow away with a puff at most) and his poor old widowed mother who sold herself up, and pawned her comfortable little annuity for her wayward son. I met him the other day - he is but a boy still-flying in rags; and said I to myself there are not many people who pass this scarecrow who would believe, were they told it, that in two or three years he managed to squander away twenty thousand golden pounds, not in horse-racing, not at Crockford's, not on actresses and dancing-girls, not even in foreign travel, but between the skittle-alleys and billiard-tables and tap-rooms of three or four low public-houses. I have seen life and a many [-132-] phases of it, and know how common these cases are. It is astonishing how often those who spend the most enjoy and see the least for their money. I met a man the other day ragged, forlorn, with no more fat upon him than would grease a cobbler's bradawl. Now I had known this man when he was worth ten thousand pounds. He had spent every penny of it. 'How on earth did you manage it?' I asked him, for I knew that he never drank, or had any ambition to be what you call a swell. 'Ah,' said he, with a sigh, 'I played.' 'What at?' I asked again, thinking of rouge-et-noir, roulette, or chicken hazard. 'Bagatelle,' says he. Ten thousand pounds at bagatelle - at a twopenny-halfpenny game of knocking a ball about with a walking-stick, and that a child could play at! Yet I dare say he told the truth. Just similarly young Mr. Poppinson went to ruin in J. Fishtail's American Bowling Alley; and when in desperation he gave Curly Jem Simmons and Jew Josephs in charge for swindling him (and they were discharged, of course), people did say that J. Fishtail was in league with Jew Josephs; stood in with the whole gang, and had as much to do with cheating Mr. Poppinson as anybody. At all events he got a very bad name by the transaction.
Just at this time, I think, I was taken very bad with the rheumatism, and, lying up at Hoxton, lost sight of J. Fishtail. I expected to find him in 'The Gazette' by the time I was able to be on my feet and about again; hut the next time I looked in at my old house I found him still in Leather Lane, and heard that he was carrying on worse than ever. He had been satisfied with barmaids for some time, and saucy minxes they were too, all ribbons and airs, together with a very fast young barman who was always making up his betting-book when he should have been attending to the customers; and had run matches, so I heard - the wretch - upon a turnpike-road in pink drawers, with a ribbon tied round his head. But what do you think J. Fishtail's next move was? To have a Giant as a barman! As I live, a Giant.
He was a great, shambling, awkward, bow-legged, splay-footed brute, considerably more than seven feet high, and as great a fool as he was a creature. He had a head like an ill-made slack-baked half-quartern loaf, inclining to the sugar-loaf form at the top; or perhaps a bladder of lard would be a better comparison. His little lack-lustre eyes were like two of No. 6 shot poked into the dough anyhow. His mouth [-133-] was a mere gash, and he slobbered. His voice was a shrill squeak, with one gruff bass note that always turned up when it wasn't wanted, and oughtn't to have been heard. He had at least four left hands, and spilt half the liquids that he drew, and was always breaking his long shins over stools or anything that came handy - as almost everything seemed to do, in that sense. To see him in his huge shirtsleeves, with his awkward beefy hands hanging inanely by his side, and his great foolish mouth open, was disgusting: he was a pillar of stupidity, a huge animated pump with two handles, and not worth pumping. He took to wearing a little boy's cloth cap at the back of his monstrous ill-shaped head, which made him look supremely ridiculous. What his name was I never knew or cared to inquire; but he was generally known as 'Big Bill,' or the 'Giant Barman.' Of course he had been exhibited before the Queen and the principal Courts of Europe, and was patronised by all the royal families extant; and a gigantic lithographic representation of him in a full suit of black with a white neckcloth, exhibiting his bigness in the private parlour of Windsor Castle, before her Majesty and a select assembly, all the ladies of which wore feathers and all the gentlemen stars and garters, was framed and glazed in J. Fishtail's bar; while a copy of it in coarse wood engraving was placarded half over London. He had been Professor Somebody once on a time I believe; and had squeezed up quart pots, lifted hundred weights of iron with his little finger, and held bars of lead in his teeth; but where Fishtail picked him up was not known: some said in a caravan at a fair, some sweeping a crossing, some in a ferry steamboat at Liverpool where he amused the company who crossed from the landing stage at Birkenhead. He drew - as the play acting people say - rather satisfactorily, at first, and was goaded on by J. Fishtail to ask everybody to treat him to sixpenn'orth of brandy and water for the good of the house - the consumption of which sixpenn'orths made him maudlin drunk; staggering on his long legs, crying to go home to Worcestershire (where he came from originally, I suppose), and at last falling all of a huge heap in a corner. His admirers, however, were soon confined to people who had half a pint of beer and stared stupidly at him for half an hour together; and as he was totally useless as a barman, and broke more glasses than he was worth, J. Fishtail soon gave him his travelling ticket and started him.
[-134-] J. Fishtail had not done enough to degrade my old house yet. Not a bit of it. 'You'd better have a dwarf, Fishtail,' I said to him in my quiet chaffing way (I always bad a turn for satire). 'P'raps a Miss Biffin would suit you, or a pig-faced lady for a barmaid. What do you think of a "What is it ?" or a spotted girl? You had better have a Rumtifoozle, and put my old house on wheels, and hang my old portrait outside for a placard, and stand at the door yourself and cry, "Walk in, walk in and see the Rumtifoozle, two thousand spots on his body, no two alike; two thousand spots on his tail, no two alike; grows a inch and a half every hanimal year, and has never yet come to his full growth; the Rumtifoozle which the proprietor would'nt sell to George the Fourth, saying: "No, George the Fourth, you shall not have our Rumtifoozle; for the Rumtifoozle has a foot like a warming-pan, and a body like the keel of a vessel, and a tail that would astonish a donkey."' 'Try that, Fishtail.' 'Wait a bit,' says be. Three days afterwards be came out with the fat barmaid.
Ugh! the monster. She was a lump of suet. She was a dollop of dripping, a splodge of grease. The poor thing was so helplessly fat that she could neither stand nor walk without difficulty; and all she could do was to crouch languidly in a wide chair, baring her horribly fat arms to the curious customers. She drew at first a little, and was profitable, and people turned faint directly they saw her layers and creases of fat and her quintuple chin, and were obliged to have three penn'orths of brandy; but they never came again, oh, no! and the fat barmaid soon followed the giant.
After this there came a bit of a lull in the way of monsters: but J. Fishtail was not tired. The cholera was very bad, and Leather Lane being a nice, teeming, no-washing neighbourhood, they just died off in it and about it like sheep. Out comes J. Fishtail with an infallible specific for the cholera - brandy and something, which took wonderfully and paid, for it made people very ill immediately, and compelled them to have more brandy, without anything to set them all right again. The cholera died away, and Fishtail was hesitating between another giant who could sing beautifully, and a bearded lady, and an innocent-looking young lady, with pink eyes and long flaxen hair like floss silk, and was reported to have killed a man with a chopper, and would have been a great catch, if she would have come down to his terms, when the Bloomer costume came out. Straightway, Fishtail put [-135-] his two barmaids into variegated satin trousers and broad-brimmed hats. I rejoice to say that this move turned out an egregious failure. The increase of frequenters to the Bottle of Hay was confined to blackguard boys, who blocked up the doorways, whooping, and performing on the bones or pieces of slate; but, as they could see no more of the costume than the broad-brimmed hats, they grew disgusted, and made irreverent remarks, till the poor girls did nothing but take refuge in the bar-parlour and cry, and Fishtail was compelled, sorely against his will, to allow them to assume their proper attire.
More monsters; and such a monster this time. James Fishtail had the audacity, the impiety, the indecency, to engage and set up in a Christian bar a painted savage. Whether the wretch was a Caffre, or a Zooloo something, or a Hottentot, or a Krooman, or an Ashantee, it matters not; but there he was, all dirt and cock's feathers, and paint and leopard skin. He was a miserable, deformed creature, with bones through his nose, and ears, and chin, of course, and eyes which he was instructed to roll, and teeth to chatter continually. At first he was allowed to go through his national performances of the chace, war, &c., before the bar, with a hatchet, and a bow and arrows, and a string of beads; but he lost his temper so frequently, and tried to bite Fishtail, and to make ferocious love to the barmaids, that his sphere of action was limited. So J. Fishtail had him penned up in a corner of the bar with stools and pots, where he subsided into a state of helpless stupidity; but he was wont, at times, to howl so piteously, and to make such frantic efforts to escape, that people cried shame, and Fishtail sent him back to the showman who called himself his guardian, and had bought him for two cows and a yard of red cloth somewhere out at the Cape of Good Hope.
I was so out of patience with this last want of common propriety on the part of Fishtail, that I solemnly discarded him, and have never entered his house since.