“What ho, there!”
At this feudal summons I turned, and spied the Bashaw elbowing his way towards me through the Fleet Street crowd, his hat and tie askew and his big face a red beacon of goodwill. He fell on my neck, and we embraced.
“Is me recreant child returned? Is he tired at last av annihilatin’ all that’s made to a green thought in a green shade? An’ did he homesickun by the Cornish Coast for the Street that Niver Sleeps, an’ the whirroo an’ stink av her, an’ the foomum et opase strepitumke–to drink delight av battle with his peers, an’ see the great Achilles whom he knew–meanin’ meself?” The Bashaw’s style in conversation, as in print, bristles with allusion.
I shook my head.
“I go back to-morrow, I hope. Business brought me up, and as soon as it’s settled I pack.”
“Too quick despairer–but I take it ye’ll be bound just now for the Cheese. Right y’are; and I’ll do meself the honour to lunch wid ye, at your expense.”
Everyone knows and loves the Bashaw, alias the O’Driscoll, that genial failure. Generations of Fleet Street youths have taken advice and help from him: have prospered, grown reputable, rich, and even famous: and have left him where he stood. Nobody can remember the time when O’Driscoll was not; though, to judge from his appearance, he must have stepped upon the town from between the covers of an illustrated keepsake, such as our grandmothers loved–so closely he resembles the Corsair of that period, with his ripe cheeks, melting eyes, and black curls that twist like the young tendrils of a vine. The curls are dyed now-a-days, and his waist is not what it used to be in the picture-books; but time has worn nothing off his temper. He is perennially enthusiastic, and can still beat any journalist in London in describing a Lord Mayor’s Show.
“You behould in me,” he went on, with a large hand on my shoulder, “the victum av a recent eviction–a penniless outcast. ‘Tis no beggar’s petition that I’ll be profferin’, however, but a bargun. Give me a salad, a pint av hock, an’ fill me pipe wid the Only Mixture, an’ I’ll repay ye across the board wid a narrative–the sort av God-forsaken, ord’nary thrifle that you youngsters turn into copy–may ye find forgiveness! ‘Tis no use to me whatever. Ted O’Driscoll’s instrument was iver the big drum, and he knows his limuts.”
“Yes, me boy,” he resumed, five minutes later, as he sat in the Cheshire Cheese, beneath Dr. Johnson’s portrait, balancing a black-handled knife between his first and second fingers, and nodding good-fellowship to every journalist in the room, “the apartment in Bloomsbury is desolut; the furnichur’–what was lift av ut–disparsed; the leopard an’ the lizard keep the courts where O’Driscoll gloried an’ drank deep; an’ the wild ass–meanin’ by that the midical student on the fourth floor–stamps overhead, but cannot break his sleep. I’ve been evicted: that’s the long and short av ut. Lord help me!–I’d have fared no worse in the ould country–here’s to her! Think what immortal copy I’d have made out av the regrettable incident over there!” His voice broke, but not for self-pity. It always broke when he mentioned Ireland.
“Is it comfort ye’d be speakin’?” he began again, filling his glass. “Me dear fellow, divvle a doubt I’ll fetch round tight an’ safe. Ould Mick Sullivan–he that built the Wild Girl, the fastest vessel that iver put out av Limerick–ould Mick Sullivan used to swear he’d make any ship seaworthy that didn’ leak worse than a five-barred gate. An’ that’s me, more or less. I’m an ould campaigner. But listen to this. Me feelin’s have been wrung this day, and that sorely. I promised ye the story, an’ I must out wid ut, whether or no.”
It was the hour when the benches of the Cheese begin to empty. My work was over for the day, and I disposed myself to listen.