“When I say that I know who did it,” he said, slowly, “I mean that I have my suspicions.”
“Don’t call on me as a witness, that’s all,’ continued Mr. Drill.”
“Ah,” said Mr. Drill, “that’s a very different thing.”
“Nothing like the same,” said Mr. Gunnill, pouring the constable a glass of ale.
Mr. Jenkins drank it and smacked his lips feebly.
“Sims needn’t know anything about that helmet being repaired,” he said at last.
“Certainly not,” said everybody.
Mr. Jenkins sighed and turned to Drill.
“It’s no good spoiling the ship for a ha’porth o’ tar,” he said, with a faint suspicion of a wink. “No,” said Drill, looking puzzled.
“Anything that’s worth doing at all is worth doing well,” continued the constable, “and while I’m drinking another glass with Mr. Gunnill here, suppose you go into the kitchen with that useful bag o’ yours and finish repairing my truncheon?”
The old man sat on his accustomed bench outside the Cauliflower. A generous measure of beer stood in a blue and white jug by his elbow, and little wisps of smoke curled slowly upward from the bowl of his churchwarden pipe. The knapsacks of two young men lay where they were flung on the table, and the owners, taking a noon-tide rest, turned a polite, if bored, ear to the reminiscences of grateful old age.
Poaching, said the old man, who had tried topics ranging from early turnips to horseshoeing—poaching ain’t wot it used to be in these ’ere parts. Nothing is like it used to be, poaching nor anything else; but that there man you might ha’ noticed as went out about ten minutes ago and called me “Old Truthfulness” as ’e passed is the worst one I know. Bob Pretty ’is name is, and of all the sly, artful, deceiving men that ever lived in Claybury ’e is the worst—never did a honest day’s work in ’is life and never wanted the price of a glass of ale.
[Illustration: “Poaching,” said the old man, “ain’t wot it used to be in these ’ere parts.”]
Bob Pretty’s worst time was just after old Squire Brown died. The old squire couldn’t afford to preserve much, but by-and-by a gentleman with plenty o’ money, from London, named Rockett, took ’is place and things began to look up. Pheasants was ’is favourites, and ‘e spent no end o’ money rearing of ’em, but anything that could be shot at suited ’im, too.
He started by sneering at the little game that Squire Brown ’ad left, but all ’e could do didn’t seem to make much difference; things disappeared in a most eggstrordinary way, and the keepers went pretty near crazy, while the things the squire said about Claybury and Claybury men was disgraceful.
Everybody knew as it was Bob Pretty and one or two of ’is mates from other places, but they couldn’t prove it. They couldn’t catch ’im nohow, and at last the squire ’ad two keepers set off to watch ’im by night and by day.