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.
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.
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.”