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"What ho, there!"
At this feudal summons I turned, and spied the Bashaw elbowing his way towards me through the Fleet Street crowd, his hat and tie askew and his big face a red beacon of goodwill. He fell on my neck, and we embraced.
"Is me recreant child returned? Is he tired at last av annihilatin' all that's made to a green thought in a green shade? An' did he homesickun by the Cornish Coast for the Street that Niver Sleeps, an' the whirroo an' stink av her, an' the foomum et opase strepitumke--to drink delight av battle with his peers, an' see the great Achilles whom he knew--meanin' meself?" The Bashaw's style in conversation, as in print, bristles with allusion.
I shook my head.
"I go back to-morrow, I hope. Business brought me up, and as soon as it's settled I pack."
"Too quick despairer--but I take it ye'll be bound just now for the Cheese. Right y'are; and I'll do meself the honour to lunch wid ye, at your expense."
Everyone knows and loves the Bashaw, alias the O'Driscoll, that genial failure. Generations of Fleet Street youths have taken advice and help from him: have prospered, grown reputable, rich, and even famous: and have left him where he stood. Nobody can remember the time when O'Driscoll was not; though, to judge from his appearance, he must have stepped upon the town from between the covers of an illustrated keepsake, such as our grandmothers loved--so closely he resembles the Corsair of that period, with his ripe cheeks, melting eyes, and black curls that twist like the young tendrils of a vine. The curls are dyed now-a-days, and his waist is not what it used to be in the picture-books; but time has worn nothing off his temper. He is perennially enthusiastic, and can still beat any journalist in London in describing a Lord Mayor's Show.
"You behould in me," he went on, with a large hand on my shoulder, "the victum av a recent eviction--a penniless outcast. 'Tis no beggar's petition that I'll be profferin', however, but a bargun. Give me a salad, a pint av hock, an' fill me pipe wid the Only Mixture, an' I'll repay ye across the board wid a narrative--the sort av God-forsaken, ord'nary thrifle that you youngsters turn into copy--may ye find forgiveness! 'Tis no use to me whatever. Ted O'Driscoll's instrument was iver the big drum, and he knows his limuts."
"Yes, me boy," he resumed, five minutes later, as he sat in the Cheshire Cheese, beneath Dr. Johnson's portrait, balancing a black-handled knife between his first and second fingers, and nodding good-fellowship to every journalist in the room, "the apartment in Bloomsbury is desolut; the furnichur'--what was lift av ut--disparsed; the leopard an' the lizard keep the courts where O'Driscoll gloried an' drank deep; an' the wild ass--meanin' by that the midical student on the fourth floor--stamps overhead, but cannot break his sleep. I've been evicted: that's the long and short av ut. Lord help me!--I'd have fared no worse in the ould country--here's to her! Think what immortal copy I'd have made out av the regrettable incident over there!" His voice broke, but not for self-pity. It always broke when he mentioned Ireland.
"Is it comfort ye'd be speakin'?" he began again, filling his glass. "Me dear fellow, divvle a doubt I'll fetch round tight an' safe. Ould Mick Sullivan--he that built the Wild Girl, the fastest vessel that iver put out av Limerick--ould Mick Sullivan used to swear he'd make any ship seaworthy that didn' leak worse than a five-barred gate. An' that's me, more or less. I'm an ould campaigner. But listen to this. Me feelin's have been wrung this day, and that sorely. I promised ye the story, an' I must out wid ut, whether or no."
It was the hour when the benches of the Cheese begin to empty. My work was over for the day, and I disposed myself to listen.
"The first half I spent at the acadimy where they flagellated the rudiments av polite learnin' into me small carcuss, I made a friend. He was the first I iver made, though not the last, glory be to God! But first friendship is like first love for the sweet taste it puts in the mouth. Niver but once in his life will a man's heart dance to that chune. 'Twas a small slip of a Saxon lad that it danced for then: a son av a cursed agint, that I should say it. But sorra a thought had I for the small boccawn's nationality nor for his own father's trade. I only knew the friendship in his pretty eyes an' the sweetness that knit our two sowls togither, like David's an' Jonathan's. Pretty it was to walk togither, an' discourse, an' get the strap togither for heaven knows what mischief, an' consowl each other for our broken skins. He'd a wonderful gift at his books, for which I reverenced um, and at the single-stick, for which I loved um. Niver to this day did I call up the ould play-ground widout behowldin' that one boy, though all the rest av the faces (the master's included) were vague as wather--wather in which that one pair av eyes was reflected.
"The school was a great four-square stone buildin' beside a windy road, and niver a tree in sight; but pastures where the grass would cut your boot, an' stone walls, an' brown hills around, like the rim av a saucer. All belonged to the estate that Jemmy Nichol's father managed--a bankrupt property, or next door to that. It's done better since he gave up the place; but when I've taken a glance at the landscape since (as I have, once or twice) I see no difference. To me 'tis the naked land I looked upon the last day av the summer half, when I said good-bye to Jemmy; for he was lavin' the school that same afternoon for Dublin, to cross over to England wid his father.
"Sick at heart was I, an' filled already wid the heavy sense of solitariness, as we stood by the great iron gate wishin' one another fare-ye-well.
"'Jemmy avick,' says I, 'dull, dull will it be widout ye here. And, Jemmy--send some av my heart back to me when ye write, as ye promise to do.'
"'Wheniver I lay me down, Ned,' he answered me (though by nature a close-hearted English boy), 'I'll think o' ye; an' wheniver I rise up I'll think o' ye. May the Lord do so to me, an' more also, if I cease from lovin' ye till my life's end.'
"So we kissed like a pair av girls, and off he was driven, leavin' a great hollow inside the rim av the hills. An' I ran up to the windy dormitory, stumblin' at ivery third step for the blindin' tears, and watched um from the window there growin' small along the road. 'Ye Mountains av Gilboa,' said I, shakin' my fist at the hills, 'let there be no dew, neither let there be rain upon ye;' for I hated the place now that Jemmy was gone.
"Well, 'twas the ould story--letters at first in plenty, then fewer, then none at all. Long before I came over to try my luck I'd lost all news of Jem: didn't know his address, even. Nor till to-day have I set eyes on um. He's bald-headed, me boy, and crooked-faytured, to-day; but I knew him for Jemmy in the first kick av surprise.
"I was evicted this mornin', as I've towld ye. Six years I've hung me hat up in those same apartments in Bloomsbury; and, till last year, aisy enough I found me landlord over a quarter's rent or two overjue. But last midsummer year the house changed hands; and bedad it began to be 'pay or quit.' This day it was 'quit.' The new landlord came up the stairs at the head av the ejectin' army: I got up from breakfast to open the door to um. I'd never set eyes on um since I'd been his tenant. Bedad, it was Jemmy!"
O'Driscoll paused, and poured himself another glass of hock.
"So I suppose," I said, "you ran into each other's arms, and kissed again with tears?"
"Then you suppose wrong," said he, and sat for a moment or two silent, fingering the stem of his glass. Then he added, more gently--
"I looked in the face av um, and said to meself, 'Jemmy doesn't remember me. If I introduce meself, I wonder what'll he do? Will he love me still, or will he turn me out?' An' by the Lord I didn't care to risk ut! I couldn't dare to lose that last illusion; an' so I put on me hat an' walked out, tellin' him nothing at all."
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