The old man showed no resentment, but was borne along bewildered, gripping his bowl to his breast. On the quay’s edge he seemed to find his feet, and shuffled off towards the town, without once looking back at the ship.
“Mill—mill! A mill!”
At the entrance of Dean’s Yard, Westminster, a small King’s Scholar, waving his gown and yelling, collided with an old gentleman hobbling round the corner, and sat down suddenly in the gutter with a squeal, as a bagpipe collapses. The old gentleman rotated on one leg like a dervish, made an ineffectual stoop to clutch his gouty toe and wound up by bringing his rattan cane smartly down on the boy’s shoulders.
“Owgh! Owgh! Stand up, you young villain! My temper’s hasty, and here’s a shilling-piece to cry quits. Stand up and tell me now—is it Fire, Robbery, or Murder?”
The youngster pounced at the shilling, shook off the hand on his collar, and darted down Little College Street to Hutton’s Boarding House, under the windows of which he pulled up and executed a derisive war-dance.
Put up your buttons,
Hutton’s are rottenly Whigs—”
“Mill—mill! Come out and carry home your Butcher Randall! You’ll be wanted when Wesley has done with him.”
He was speeding back by this time, and flung this last taunt from a safe distance. The old gentleman collared him again by the entry.
“Stop, my friend—here, hold hard for a moment! A fight, you said: and Wesley—was it Wesley?”
The boy nodded.
“Well, it wouldn’t be Samuel—at his age: now would it?” The boy grinned. The Reverend Samuel Wesley was the respected Head Usher of Westminster School.
“And what will Charles Wesley be fighting about?”
“How should I know? Because he wants to, belike. But I was told it began up school, with Randall’s flinging a book at young Murray for a lousy Scotch Jacobite.”
“H’m: and where will it be?”
The boy dropped his voice to a drawl. “In Fighting-green, I believe, sir: they told me Poets’ Corner was already bespoke for a turn-up between the Dean and Sall the charwoman, with the Head Verger for bottle-holder—”
“Now, look here, young jackanapes—” But young jackanapes, catching sight of half a dozen boys—the vanguard of Hutton’s—at the street corner, ducked himself free and raced from vengeance across the yard.
The old gentleman followed; and the crowd from Hutton’s, surging past, showed him the way to Fighting-green where a knot of King’s Scholars politely made room for him, perceiving that in spite of his small stature, his rusty wig and countrified brown suit, he was a person of some dignity and no little force of character. They read it perhaps in the set of his mouth, perhaps in the high aquiline arch of his nose, which he fed with snuff as he gazed round the ring while the fighters rested, each in his corner, after the first round: for a mill at Westminster was a ceremonious business, and the Head Master had been known to adjourn school for one.