Mr. Quince frowned, and in order to think more deeply closed his eyes. Taking advantage of this three of his auditors, with remarkable unanimity, each closed one.
“It’s your stable,” said Mr. Quince, opening his eyes and speaking with great deliberation, “and you have a right to lock it up when you like.”
“There you are,” said Mr. Hogg; “what did I tell you?”
“If anybody’s there that’s got no business there, that’s his look-out,” continued Mr. Quince. “You didn’t induce him to go in?”
“Certainly not,” replied the farmer.
“I told him he can keep him there as long as he likes,” said the jubilant Mr. Hogg, “and pass him in bread and water through the winder; it’s got bars to it.”
“Yes,” said Mr. Quince, nodding, “he can do that. As for his folks knocking the place about, if you like to tie up one or two of them nasty, savage dogs of yours to the stable, well, it’s your stable, and you can fasten your dogs to it if you like. And you’ve generally got a man about the yard.”
Mr. Hogg smacked his thigh in ecstasy.
“But—” began the farmer.
“That’s the law,” said the autocratic Mr. Quince, sharply. “O’ course, if you think you know more about it than I do, I’ve nothing more to say.”
“I don’t want to do nothing I could get into trouble for,” murmured Mr. Rose.
“You can’t get into trouble by doing as I tell you,” said the shoemaker, impatiently. “However, to be quite on the safe side, if I was in your place I should lose the key.”
“Lose the key?” said the farmer, blankly.
“Lose the key,” repeated the shoemaker, his eyes watering with intense appreciation of his own resourcefulness. “You can find it any time you want to, you know. Keep him there till he promises to give up your daughter, and tell him that as soon as he does you’ll have a hunt for the key.”
Mr. Rose regarded him with what the shoemaker easily understood to be speechless admiration.
“I—I’m glad I came to you,” said the farmer, at last.
“You’re welcome,” said the shoemaker, loftily. “I’m always ready to give advice to them as require it.”
“And good advice it is,” said the smiling Mr. Hogg. “Why don’t you behave yourself, Joe Garnham?” he demanded, turning fiercely on a listener.
Mr. Garnham, whose eyes were watering with emotion, attempted to explain, but, becoming hysterical, thrust a huge red handkerchief to his mouth and was led away by a friend. Mr. Quince regarded his departure with mild disdain.
“Little things please little minds,” he remarked.
“So they do,” said Mr. Hogg. “I never thought—What’s the matter with you, George Askew?”
Mr. Askew, turning his back on him, threw up his hands with a helpless gesture and followed in the wake of Mr. Garnham. Mr. Hogg appeared to be about to apologise, and then suddenly altering his mind made a hasty and unceremonious exit, accompanied by the farmer.