The first of these humming compounds was a speciality of the Porters, which, through an inscription on its door-posts, gently appealed to your feelings as, 'The Early Purl House'. For, it would seem that Purl must always be taken early; though whether for any more distinctly stomachic reason than that, as the early bird catches the worm, so the early purl catches the customer, cannot here be resolved. It only remains to add that in the handle of the flat iron, and opposite the bar, was a very little room like a three-cornered hat, into which no direct ray of sun, moon, or star, ever penetrated, but which was superstitiously regarded as a sanctuary replete with comfort and retirement by gaslight, and on the door of which was therefore painted its alluring name: Cosy.
Miss Potterson, sole proprietor and manager of the Fellowship Porters, reigned supreme on her throne, the Bar, and a man must have drunk himself mad drunk indeed if he thought he could contest a point with her. Being known on her own authority as Miss Abbey Potterson, some water-side heads, which (like the water) were none of the clearest, harboured muddled notions that, because of her dignity and firmness, she was named after, or in some sort related to, the Abbey at Westminster. But, Abbey was only short for Abigail, by which name Miss Potterson had been christened at Limehouse Church, some sixty and odd years before.
'Now, you mind, you Riderhood,' said Miss Abbey Potterson, with emphatic forefinger over the half-door, 'the Fellowship don't want you at all, and would rather by far have your room than your company; but if you were as welcome here as you are not, you shouldn't even then have another drop of drink here this night, after this present pint of beer. So make the most of it.'
'But you know, Miss Potterson,' this was suggested very meekly though, 'if I behave myself, you can't help serving me, miss.'
'CAN'T I!' said Abbey, with infinite expression.
'No, Miss Potterson; because, you see, the law--'
'I am the law here, my man,' returned Miss Abbey, 'and I'll soon convince you of that, if you doubt it at all.'
'I never said I did doubt it at all, Miss Abbey.'
'So much the better for you.'
Abbey the supreme threw the customer's halfpence into the till, and, seating herself in her fireside-chair, resumed the newspaper she had been reading. She was a tall, upright, well-favoured woman, though severe of countenance, and had more of the air of a schoolmistress than mistress of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters. The man on the other side of the half-door, was a waterside-man with a squinting leer, and he eyed her as if he were one of her pupils in disgrace.
'You're cruel hard upon me, Miss Potterson.'
Miss Potterson read her newspaper with contracted brows, and took no notice until he whispered:
'Miss Potterson! Ma'am! Might I have half a word with you?'
Deigning then to turn her eyes sideways towards the suppliant, Miss Potterson beheld him knuckling his low forehead, and ducking at her with his head, as if he were asking leave to fling himself head foremost over the half-door and alight on his feet in the bar.
'Well?' said Miss Potterson, with a manner as short as she herself was long, 'say your half word. Bring it out.'
'Miss Potterson! Ma'am! Would you 'sxcuse me taking the liberty of asking, is it my character that you take objections to?'
'Certainly,' said Miss Potterson.
'Is it that you're afraid of--'
'I am not afraid OF YOU,' interposed Miss Potterson, 'if you mean that.'
'But I humbly don't mean that, Miss Abbey.'
'Then what do you mean?'
'You really are so cruel hard upon me! What I was going to make inquiries was no more than, might you have any apprehensions-- leastways beliefs or suppositions--that the company's property mightn't be altogether to be considered safe, if I used the house too regular?'
'What do you want to know for?'
'Well, Miss Abbey, respectfully meaning no offence to you, it would be some satisfaction to a man's mind, to understand why the Fellowship Porters is not to be free to such as me, and is to be free to such as Gaffer.'
The face of the hostess darkened with some shadow of perplexity, as she replied: 'Gaffer has never been where you have been.'
'Signifying in Quod, Miss? Perhaps not.