Bob Pretty wouldn’t believe it; he said ’e couldn’t. And even when it was pointed out to ’im that Keeper Lewis was follering of ’im he said that it just ’appened he was going the same way, that was all. And sometimes ’e’d get up in the middle of the night and go for a fifteen-mile walk ’cos ’e’d got the toothache, and Mr. Lewis, who ’adn’t got it, had to tag along arter ‘im till he was fit to drop. O’ course, it was one keeper the less to look arter the game, and by-and-by the squire see that and took ’im off.
All the same they kept a pretty close watch on Bob, and at last one arternoon they sprang out on ’im as he was walking past Gray’s farm, and asked him wot it was he ’ad in his pockets.
“That’s my bisness, Mr. Lewis,” ses Bob Pretty.
Mr. Smith, the other keeper, passed ’is hands over Bob’s coat and felt something soft and bulgy.
“You take your ’ands off of me,” ses Bob; “you don’t know ’ow partikler I am.”
He jerked ’imself away, but they caught ’old of ’im agin, and Mr. Lewis put ‘is hand in his inside pocket and pulled out two brace o’ partridges.
“You’ll come along of us,” he ses, catching ’im by the arm.
“We’ve been looking for you a long time,” ses Keeper Smith, “and it’s a pleasure for us to ’ave your company.”
Bob Pretty said ’e wouldn’t go, but they forced ’im along and took ’im all the way to Cudford, four miles off, so that Policeman White could lock ’im up for the night. Mr. White was a’most as pleased as the keepers, and ’e warned Bob solemn not to speak becos all ’e said would be used agin ’im.
“Never mind about that,” ses Bob Pretty. “I’ve got a clear conscience, and talking can’t ’urt me. I’m very glad to see you, Mr. White; if these two clever, experienced keepers hadn’t brought me I should ’ave looked you up myself. They’ve been and stole my partridges.”
Them as was standing round laughed, and even Policeman White couldn’t ’elp giving a little smile.
“There’s nothing to laugh at,” ses Bob, ’olding his ’ead up. “It’s a fine thing when a working man—a ’ardworking man—can’t take home a little game for ’is family without being stopped and robbed.”
“I s’pose they flew into your pocket?” ses Police-man White.
“No, they didn’t,” ses Bob. “I’m not going to tell any lies about it; I put ’em there. The partridges in my inside coat-pocket and the bill in my waistcoat-pocket.”
“The bill?” ses Keeper Lewis, staring at ’im.
“Yes, the bill,” ses Bob Pretty, staring back at ’im; “the bill from Mr. Keen, the poulterer, at Wick-ham.”
He fetched it out of ’is pocket and showed it to Mr. White, and the keepers was like madmen a’most ’cos it was plain to see that Bob Pretty ’ad been and bought them partridges just for to play a game on ’em.
“I was curious to know wot they tasted like,” he ses to the policeman. “Worst of it is, I don’t s’pose my pore wife’ll know ’ow to cook ’em.”