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The Fat Knight At The Boar's Head







From: The Panchronicon

When Francis Bacon, having evaded Rebecca's mistaken pursuit, reached
the deserted grove in which the Panchronicon still rested, he found to
his dismay that Droop was absent.

Copernicus was not the man to let the grass grow under his feet, and he
had set off that morning with his letter of introduction to seek Sir
Percevall Hart, the Queen's knight harbinger.

He had determined to begin with moderation, or in other words to ask at
first for only two patents. The first of these was to cover the
phonograph. The second was to give him a monopoly of bicycles.

Accordingly he set forth fully equipped, carrying a box of records over
his shoulder by a strap and his well-oiled bicycle trundling along
beside him, with a phonograph and small megaphone hung on the
handle-bar. He thought it best to avoid remark by not riding his wheel,
being shrewdly mindful of the popular prejudice against witchcraft.
Thanks to his exchange with Master Bacon, he feared no comment upon his
garb. A pint flask, well filled, was concealed within his garments, and
thus armed against even melancholy itself, he set forth fearlessly upon
his quest.

Droop had set out from the Panchronicon in the middle of the forenoon,
but, as he was obliged to distribute a large number of photographs among
his customers before going to London, it was not until some time after
Bacon had crossed the river and Rebecca had departed with the Queen that
he found himself on London Bridge.

On reaching the London side, he stood awhile in the ill-smelling street
near the fish markets gazing about him in quest of someone from whom he
might ask his way.

"Let's see!" he mused. "Bacon said Sir Percevall Hart, Boar's Head
Tavern, Eastcheap. First thing to find is Eastcheap, I guess. Hullo
there, forsooth!" he cried, addressing a baker's boy who was shuffling
by with his basket on his head. "Hullo there, boy--knave! What's the
shortest cut to Eastcheap?"

The lad stopped and stared hard at the bright wheels. He seemed thinking
hard.

"What mean you, master, by a cut?" he said, at length.

"Oh, pshaw--bother!" Droop exclaimed. "Jest tell me the way to
Eastcheap, wilt thee?"

The boy pointed straight north up New Fish Street.

"Eastcheap is yonder," he said, and turned away.

"Well, that's somethin'," muttered Droop. "Gives me a start, anyway."

Following the route pointed out, he retraced the very course along which
earlier in the day Rebecca had proceeded in the opposite direction,
thinking she saw him ahead of her. By dint of making numerous inquiries,
he found himself at length in a region of squalid residences and
second-rate shops and ale-houses, in the midst of which he finally
discovered the Boar's Head Tavern.

The entrance was by a dark archway, overhung by the upper stories of the
building, down which he could see a reddish glow coming and going, now
faint now bright, against the dead wall to the left. Passing cautiously
down this passage, he soon found that the glow was projected through a
half-curtained window to the right, and was caused by the dancing light
of a pleasant fire of logs within.

He thought it wise to reconnoitre before proceeding farther, and,
peeping through the small leaded panes, he found he could survey the
entire apartment.

The room into which Droop stood gazing was the common tap-room of the
inn, at that moment apparently the scene of a brisk altercation.

To the left of the great brick fireplace, a large pewter mug in his
right hand, an immensely fat man was seated. He was clad as became a
cavalier, although in sober colors, and his attitude was suggestive of
defence, his head being drawn far back to avoid contact with a closed
fist held suggestively before his face. The fist was that of a woman
who, standing before the fire with her other hand resting on her hip,
was evidently delivering her sentiments in no gentle terms.

A long table, black with age and use, stood parallel to the right-hand
wall, and behind this three men were sitting with mugs before them,
eying the disputants with evident interest. To the left a large space
was devoted to three or four bulky casks, and here an aproned drawer sat
astride of a rush-bottomed chair, grinning delightedly and exchanging
nods and winks from time to time with an impish, undersized lad who lay
on his stomach on a wine-butt with his head craning forward over the
edge.

Only an occasional word reached the watcher at the window, but among
these few he recognized a number which were far more forcible than
decent. He drew back, shook his head, and then slowly returned to the
door and looked up.

Yes--he had made no mistake. Above his head there swung the sign of the
Boar's Head. And yet--was it likely or even possible that Sir Percevall
Hart could make such a vulgar haunt as this his headquarters? Sir
Percevall--the Queen's harbinger and the friend of the Prime Minister!

With a sinking heart and a face clouded with anxiety, Droop propped his
bicycle against the wall within the passage and resolutely raised the
heavy latch.

To his surprise, instead of the torrent of words which he had expected
to hear when he opened the door, complete silence reigned as he
entered. The fat man in the chair by the fire was still leaning
backward, but his tankard was now inverted above his head, and a glance
showed that his companions at the long table were similarly employed.

Copernicus turned about and closed the door very carefully, unwilling to
break the profound silence. Then he tiptoed his way to the fire, and
leaning forward rubbed his hands before the crackling logs, nervously
conscious of six pairs of eyes concentrated upon his back. Droop was not
unfamiliar with the bar-rooms of such a city as Boston, but he found an
Elizabethan tavern a very different sort of place. So, although already
warmer than desirable, he could only stand half bent before a fire all
too hot and wonder what he should do next.

Finally he mustered courage enough to turn about and survey with
shamefaced mien the tavern interior. As he turned the four guests
dropped their eyes with painful unanimity and the drawer fell to
scouring a pewter mug with his apron. Only the boy perched on the cask
kept his eyes obstinately fixed on the stranger.

Droop now noticed for the first time that behind the casks there was a
snug recess containing a table and two well-worn benches, evidently
intended for the entertainment of guests desirous of a tete-a-tete.

Thither he at once directed his steps, and seating himself upon one of
the benches, looked about him for a bell. He could hear the three men at
the long table whispering busily, and could see that they had their
heads together.

The fat man stirred in his chair with a rolling motion.

"Drawer!" he called.

"Here!" cried the drawer, bustling up to the fire.

"A second tankard of that same sack, boy. Bustle, bustle!"

"I must first to my mistress, sir," was the reply. "Nothing for credit,
sir, save by permission."

"A pox upon thee!" growled the thirsty man. "On thee and thy mistress,
too!"

Muttering and shaking his head, the ponderous guest stretched forth his
legs, closed his eyes, and composed himself for a nap.

The drawer tipped a wink to the grinning pot-boy on the cask, and then
bustled over to Droop's table, which he proceeded to wipe vigorously
with his apron.

"Did you call, sir?" he said.

"Yes," said Copernicus. "Bring me a schooner of light lager."

The drawer's busy apron hand stopped at once and its owner leaned hard
on the table.

"What command gave you, sir?" he said.

"Marry--a schooner of lager--light, forsooth!" Droop repeated.

"Cry you mercy, sir," said the drawer, straightening up, "this be the
Boar's Head Tavern, sir. What may your worship require by way of food
and drink?"

"These old-timers beat all creation for ignorance," muttered Droop.
Then, looking up into the man's face, he called for one drink after
another, watching hopefully for some sign of answering intelligence.

"Give me a Scotch high-ball. No? Then a gin sling. Hot Tom and Jerry,
then. Marry, an egg flip, i' faith! Ain't got 'em? Get me a brandy
smash--a sherry cobbler--a gin rickey--rock and rye--a whisky sour--a
mint julep! What! Nothin'? What in thunder do ye sell, then?"

The drawer scratched his head, and then grinned suddenly and gave vent
to a dry laugh.

"Well said! Well said, master! The jest is a merry one--call me a Jew
else!" Then, sobering as briskly as he had taken to laughing: "Will you
have a cup of sack, master, to settle the stomach after fasting--or a
drop of Canary or Xeres or a mug of ale, perchance----"

"That's right, by my halidom!" Droop broke in. "Bring me some ale,
waiter."

The drawer whisked away and returned in a few moments with a huge power
tankard topped with a snowy foam.

"That's the stuff!" said Droop, smacking his lips. He half-emptied the
beaker, and then, turning to the drawer:

"Can you tell me," he said, "if I can find a man by the name of Hart
here--Sir Percevall Hart?"

"Sir Percevall," said the drawer, in an undertone. "Why, there's your
man, master. The fat knight snoring by yon fire."

"What!" exclaimed Droop. "The man who--" He broke off and stared awhile
in silence. Finally, shaking his head: "Never would have thought it!" he
said.

Copernicus lapsed into meditation and the drawer withdrew. At length
Droop roused himself with a shake.

"Won't do no good to set here doin' nothin'," he muttered. Then,
swallowing the remainder of his ale, he drew his letter of introduction
from his pocket and walked back to the fireplace.

The knight, who was not sleeping very soundly, slightly opened one eye,
and to his surprise, beheld a letter which Droop held almost under his
nose.

Sitting up straight and now fully awake, Sir Percevall stared first at
Copernicus and then at the letter.

"A letter!" he exclaimed. "For me?"

"Verily, yea," Droop replied, very politely.

The knight opened the letter slowly and turned so that the light from a
window fell full upon it.

"What's here!" he exclaimed. "This direction is to my Lord Burleigh."

"Yep--oh, yes, yea!" said Droop, confusedly. "But you was to read
it--peruse it, you wot--Bacon said as much. He said you knew the lord
and could take me around, forsooth, and sorter interduce me, ye see."

With leisurely gravity, Sir Percevall slowly read the note, and then,
returning it with a polite gesture:

"This letter hath reference to certain monopolies," he said. "My cousin
Bacon doth write in high terms of your skill and high merit,
Master--Master----"

"Droop, sir. Copernicus Droop's my name."

"Ah, yes! And the service you require--? I beg your indulgence, but,
sooth to say, being nigh starved of late in this tavern of ill repute,
my poor wits have grown fat. I am slow of apprehension, Master
Wither----"

"Droop, sir--Droop."

"Nay--cry you mercy--Master Droop."

"Why, now, Sir Percy," said Copernicus, with oily grace, "ef you
wouldn't mind, I'd be proud ef you'd set down over yonder, perchance,
and have a glass with me. We'd be more private then, and I could make
this hull business clear to ye. What say ye, sir?"

"Why, there's my hand, Master Dupe--Droop," said the knight, his face
brightening mightily. "Five yards are a mile for a man of my girth,
Master Droop, but praise God such words as these of yours cheer my heart
to still greater deeds than faring a mile afoot."

Slowly and painfully the corpulent knight drew himself to his feet, and
with one hand bearing affectionately but heavily on Droop's shoulder, he
shuffled over to the recess and seated himself.

"What ho, there! Drawer!" he shouted, as soon as they were comfortably
disposed face to face.

"Anon, sir, anon!" came the familiar reply, and the drawer, who had just
served two new guests at the long table, now hurried over to the nook
behind the casks.

"A quart of sack, villain!" said Sir Percevall.

"And for you, sir?" said the drawer, turning to Droop.

"Yes, yea, bring me the same." He had no idea what sack was, but he felt
that in all probability it was a mild beverage, or no one would order a
quart at once.

"And this same letter, now," Sir Percevall began. "To warn you truly,
friend, this matter of monopolies hath something of an ill savor in the
public mind. What with sweet wines, salt, hides, vinegar, iron, oil,
lead, yarn, glass, and what not in monopoly, men cry out that they are
robbed and the Queen's advisers turn pale at the very word."

He interrupted himself to give his attention to the wine which had just
been placed before him.

"To better acquaintance!" he said, and the two drank deep together.

Droop smacked his lips critically and turned up his eyes for greater
abstraction. The wine was pleasant to the palate, he thought,
but--well--it wasn't whiskey.

"Of this letter, now," the knight resumed, anxious to discover his own
advantage in Droop's plans. "'Twere vain for you, a stranger to the
Lord High Treasurer, to accost him with it. A very circumspect and
pragmatical old lord, believe me. Not every man hath admittance to him,
I promise ye. As for me, why, God 'ild you, man! 'twas but yesterday a
fortnight Burleigh slapped me o' the shoulder and said: 'Percevall, ye
grow fat, you rogue--on the word of a Cecil!' Oh, trust me, Master
Droop; my lord much affects my conversation!"

"Is that a fact?" said Droop, admiringly. "It certainly ain't done your
conversation any harm to be affected that way."

"Oh, then, an you jest, Master----"

"Not a mite!" exclaimed Copernicus, anxiously. "Verily, nay, friend.
Trust me--never!"

"Or never trust thee!" quoth the knight, with a twinkle in his eye.

Droop took refuge in his wine, and Sir Percevall imitating him, the two
emptied their cups together and sighed with a simultaneous content.

"That's not bad swizzle," said Droop, patronizingly. "But, as fer me,
give me whiskey every time!"

"Whiskey!" said the knight with interest. "Nay, methought I knew every
vintage and brew, each label and brand from Rhine to the Canaries. But
this name, Master Droop, I own I never heard. Whiskey, say you?"

"Well, now, do tell!" said Droop, drawing forth his flask of
nineteenth-century rye, "never heerd o' whiskey, eh? Never tasted it,
either, I s'pose?"

"How should I taste it, man, not knowing its very name?"

"Verily, thou sayest sooth!" said Droop. Then, glancing all about him:
"Ain't there any smaller glasses 'round here?"

"Drawer--ho, drawer, I say!" roared the knight.

"Here, sir--here! What is your pleasure?"

"The pleasure is to come, rogue! Fetch hither two of yon scurvy glass
thimbles you wot of. Hostess calls them cordial glasses. Haste now!
Scramble, varlet!"

When the two small glasses were brought, Droop uncorked his flask and
poured each full to the brim.

"Th' ain't any seltzer in this one-hoss town," he said, "so I can't make
ye a high-ball. We'll jest hev to drink it straight, Sir Knight. Here's
luck! Drink hearty!" and with a jerk of hand and head he tossed the
spirits down his throat at a gulp and smacked his lips as he set down
his glass.

Sir Percevall followed his friend's movements with a careful eye and
imitated him as exactly as possible, but he did not escape a coughing
fit, from which he emerged with a purple face and tear-filled eyes.

"Have another?" said Droop, cheerfully.

"A plague on queezy gullets!" growled the knight. "Your spirits sought
two ways at once, Master Droop, and like any other half-minded equivocal
transaction, contention was the outcome. But for the whiskey, mind
you--why, it hath won old Sir Percevall's heart. Zounds, man! Scarce two
fingers of it, and yet I feel the wanton laugh in me a'ready. Good
fellows need good company, my master! So pour me his fellow! So--so!"

They drank again, and this time the more cautious knight escaped all
painful consequences.

"Look you, Master Droop," said the delighted old toper, leaning back
against the wall as he beamed across the table at his companion, "look
you! An you have a butt of this same brew, Sir Percevall Hart is your
slave, your scullion, your foot-boy! Why, man, 'tis the elixir of life!
It warms a body like a maid's first kiss! Whence had you it?"

"Oh, they make it by the million gallons a year where I come from,"
Droop replied. "Have another. Take it with hot water and sugar--I mean
honey."

The advice was followed, and while they sipped the enlivening decoction,
Copernicus explained his plans touching the patenting of his phonograph
and bicycle. When he concluded his relation, the knight leaned back and
gazed at him with an affectionate squint.

"See, now, bully rook, if I take you," he said. "It behooves you to have
fair inductance at court. For this ye come to Sir Percevall Hart, her
Majesty's harbinger and--though he says so himself--a good friend to
Cecil. Now, mark me, lad. Naught do I know or care of thy 'funny craft'
or 'bicycle.' Master Bacon is a philosopher and you have here his
certificate. Say I well--what?"

He paused and Droop nodded.

"Good--and so to better. Naught care I, or know I, or should or could I
trow, being a man of poetical turn and no base mechanic--no offence
meant to yourself, Master Droop. But this I do say--and now mark me
well--I say--and dare maintain it (and all shall tell ye that is a fair
maintenance and a good champion), that for a sure and favorable
inductance to the favors of the court there's no man living takes the
wall o' Percevall Hart, Knight!"

"Bacon told me as much," said Droop.

"And he told thee well, my master. Frank is a good lad, though vain, and
his palm itcheth. So to terms, eh? Now, methinks 'twere but equity and
good fellowship for two such as we are to go snacks, eh? Cut through the
middle--even halves, bully--even halves! How say you?"

"You don't mean," said Droop, "that you'd want half the profits, jest
fer introducin' me to Lord What's-is-name, do ye?"

"With a small retainer, of course, to bind fast. Say--oh, a matter of
twenty gold angels or so."

"Why, blame your confounded overstretched skin!" cried Droop, hotly,
"I'd sooner drop the hull darn thing! You must take me fer a nat'ral
born fool, I guess!"

"Nay, then--'twixt friends," said the knight, soothingly. "'Twixt
friends, say we remit one half the profits. Procure me but the angels,
Master Droop, and drop the remainder."

"As many devils sooner!" said Droop, indignantly. "I'll take my pigs to
another market."

He rose and beckoned to the drawer.

"Nay, then, why so choleric!" pleaded the knight, leaning anxiously
across the table. "What terms do ye offer, Master Droop? Come, man, give
a show of reason now--name your terms."

It was to this point that Copernicus had counted upon bringing the
helpless knight, who was far from a match for a Yankee. He had driven
his own bargain with Bacon, and he now resolved that Bacon's friend
should fare no better. In pursuit of this plan, he moved from his seat
with a sour face.

"I don't feel much like takin' up with a man who tries to do me," he
grumbled, shaking his head and beckoning again to the drawer.

"Do thee, man--do thee!" cried the knight. "Why, an I do thee good, what
cause for grief?" Spreading forth his two fat hands, he continued:
"Spake I not fairly? An my offer be not to thy taste--say thine own say.
What the devil, man; must we quarrel perforce?"

Droop scratched his head and seemed to hesitate. Finally he slapped the
table with his open hand and cried with a burst of generosity:

"I'll tell ye what I will do. I've got two quart bottles of that same
ripe whiskey, and I'll give 'em both to ye the day the Queen gives me my
patents!"

"Nay--nay!" said the knight, straightening himself with dignity. "'Twere
a mere fool's prank at such terms!"

"Oh, all right!" cried Droop, turning away.

"Hold--hold! Not so fast!" cried Sir Percevall. But Copernicus merely
slapped his hat on his head and started toward the door.

Sir Percevall leaned over the table in flushed desperation.

"Listen, friend!" he cried. "Wilt make a jolly night of it in the
bargain?"

Droop stopped and turned to his companion.

"D'ye mean right now?"

A nod was the reply.

"And you'll take my offer if I do?"

The knight sat upright and slapped the table.

"On my honor!" he cried.

"Then it's a go!" said Droop.





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