'A very good expression, Johnny. You'll be a tackling somebody presently. You're in twig to-night, I see.'
'Take care,' said Mr Willet, not at all grateful for the compliment, 'that I don't tackle you, sir, which I shall certainly endeavour to do, if you interrupt me when I'm making observations.-- That chap, I was a saying, though he has all his faculties about him, somewheres or another, bottled up and corked down, has no more imagination than Barnaby has. And why hasn't he?'
The three friends shook their heads at each other; saying by that action, without the trouble of opening their lips, 'Do you observe what a philosophical mind our friend has?'
'Why hasn't he?' said John, gently striking the table with his open hand. 'Because they was never drawed out of him when he was a boy. That's why. What would any of us have been, if our fathers hadn't drawed our faculties out of us? What would my boy Joe have been, if I hadn't drawed his faculties out of him?--Do you mind what I'm a saying of, gentlemen?'
'Ah! we mind you,' cried Parkes. 'Go on improving of us, Johnny.'
'Consequently, then,' said Mr Willet, 'that chap, whose mother was hung when he was a little boy, along with six others, for passing bad notes--and it's a blessed thing to think how many people are hung in batches every six weeks for that, and such like offences, as showing how wide awake our government is--that chap that was then turned loose, and had to mind cows, and frighten birds away, and what not, for a few pence to live on, and so got on by degrees to mind horses, and to sleep in course of time in lofts and litter, instead of under haystacks and hedges, till at last he come to be hostler at the Maypole for his board and lodging and a annual trifle--that chap that can't read nor write, and has never had much to do with anything but animals, and has never lived in any way but like the animals he has lived among, IS a animal. And,' said Mr Willet, arriving at his logical conclusion, 'is to be treated accordingly.'
'Willet,' said Solomon Daisy, who had exhibited some impatience at the intrusion of so unworthy a subject on their more interesting theme, 'when Mr Chester come this morning, did he order the large room?'
'He signified, sir,' said John, 'that he wanted a large apartment. Yes. Certainly.'
'Why then, I'll tell you what,' said Solomon, speaking softly and with an earnest look. 'He and Mr Haredale are going to fight a duel in it.'
Everybody looked at Mr Willet, after this alarming suggestion. Mr Willet looked at the fire, weighing in his own mind the effect which such an occurrence would be likely to have on the establishment.
'Well,' said John, 'I don't know--I am sure--I remember that when I went up last, he HAD put the lights upon the mantel-shelf.'
'It's as plain,' returned Solomon, 'as the nose on Parkes's face'-- Mr Parkes, who had a large nose, rubbed it, and looked as if he considered this a personal allusion--'they'll fight in that room. You know by the newspapers what a common thing it is for gentlemen to fight in coffee-houses without seconds. One of 'em will be wounded or perhaps killed in this house.'
'That was a challenge that Barnaby took then, eh?' said John.
'--Inclosing a slip of paper with the measure of his sword upon it, I'll bet a guinea,' answered the little man. 'We know what sort of gentleman Mr Haredale is. You have told us what Barnaby said about his looks, when he came back. Depend upon it, I'm right. Now, mind.'
The flip had had no flavour till now. The tobacco had been of mere English growth, compared with its present taste. A duel in that great old rambling room upstairs, and the best bed ordered already for the wounded man!
'Would it be swords or pistols, now?' said John.
'Heaven knows. Perhaps both,' returned Solomon. 'The gentlemen wear swords, and may easily have pistols in their pockets--most likely have, indeed. If they fire at each other without effect, then they'll draw, and go to work in earnest.'
A shade passed over Mr Willet's face as he thought of broken windows and disabled furniture, but bethinking himself that one of the parties would probably be left alive to pay the damage, he brightened up again.