Timberleg Toe Trap by Anonymous

As I mentioned Pierce Veogh,'while ago, when I was telling you of Mick Maguire—'twas he gave Mick the gun—himself it was then—and as I may mention him again two or three times, or may be oftener, before I've done telling you of my Neighbours, I'll just let you know a little who and what Pierce was. At three-and-twenty, he came into a fine fortune; his father died then; he'd neither chick nor child but Pierce, and a fine boy he was, but too wild from his cradle to come to much good, 'twas thought. The father was a miserly curmudgeon in many things, and wouldn't live among us much; but kept Pierce here, with a private tutor and a few people, as long as Pierce would let him: but when the boy grew big, he'd no mind to be staying at home all his days,—and no blame to him,—so he wint off; and the father came back then, and lived at The Beg,—so we call his place,—till he died.

Many's the tale they tell of ould James Veogh;—how he'd give a feast fit for a prince, once now and then, just to make the great folks in Dublin have an idea of his wealth, and what not, and then whip the cat for a year after, to make up for it. No man was prouder; and it's thought he was wrong in cooping up Pierce at home all his young days;—but that's no matter for my meddling. And it's said, his heart grudged the expense of maintaining Pierce abroad in the world, like the rest of the young sirs; and his pride wouldn't let his only son and heir be looked down upon: so to save both money and pride at once, Pierce was a caged bird until he grew up;—then he flew off, and a wild flight he had too.

It's said by his servants, that the father—and this is one of the million stories we have about him—once entertained the great lords and ladies at his house, in Dublin, with a fine masquerade, which cost him a mint of money,—no doubt it did;—and there was himself, in the disguise of the goddess they call Ceres, whose name you have heard before—though I hadn't when they first tould me the joke;—and while his guests were drinking down wine worth its weight in gold,—and it was all galore and glory with them,—Jimmy was seen skulking about, gathering up the scraps, out o' the way o' the strange servants, in a thing he carried, they call something that manes in English, a horn of plenty. That wasn't a bad joke of him, it's said, by them that knows. But there's no doubt, though he'd stoop to pick up a farthing, while Pierce would sooner be skimming guineas over a pond, ould Jim Veogh did more real good than Pierce did at first; for he payed all he owed,—though not a penny more, while Pierce often wouldn't—no, not when he could; and he didn't harry the poor tenants for rent,—which couldn't be said of Pierce,—but gave them time, though he made them pay up at last. And the ould man never did harm to any one in the way of pranks,—not when he was a boy even; and there's more than me recollects his sending Luke Sweeny a cow, when the one he had died.—-To be sure, the cow he sent wasn't worth much; but he gave Luke a long day to pay for her, and took lawful interest only on the price,—which was three pounds ten shillings,—until it was paid. And paid it was, to the day: for Luke was as honest a man as ever broke bread, and wouldn't harm a mouse, unless he caught the crature nibbling his loaf,—and then, what harm?—My blessing on Luke!—it's many's the piggin of milk we got from him, in the bad times, when he'd a right to hould his head higher than he can now,—worse luck!—I could tell you a story of Luke, too; but as you're longing, I dare say, to know about Timberleg, I won't baulk you, by giving you dry bread when you're longing for sweetmeats. Luke's isn't a bad story though, for all that; and I'll tell it you, by-and-by, when I've none better left.

Pierce, as I said, wint off, nobody knows where but himself; and being a wild bird, came into bad hands, and got plucked; so that, when the father died—and there's some people don't scruple to say, Pierce, by his conduct, lent him a spur on the road to the grave—when he died, I repate, all the ready money was ate up by paying off post-obits, which Pierce had been giving at the maddest rate ever was known. The day before he heard that his ould dad was just dying, Pierce was in much distress, and so foolish to boot, that he gave some blackguard a bond for five hundred pounds, payable a month after his father's death, for nothing in the world but a good dinner and oceans of wine, for himself and a friend, every day for a week. That's what they call giving a post-obit; and a bad thing it is, as Pierce found.—He just reached home in time to get the father's forgiveness; and when it came to the last, a fine sorrowful parting they made, it's said, as one could wish to see;—for both o' them seemed sorry for the course they'd taken in life, and came to a resolution, if they'd their time to go over again, they'd not act as they had acted: but that could do no good. The father died the same evening; and, by that day month, Pierce was pestered to pay up his post-obits.

There wasn't so much money in hand left by Mr. James Veogh, as Pierce expected; and many of the poor tenants suffered; for he pinched them close, and did what he could to get clear o' the world. But all wouldn't do; and at last the bailiffs were after him night and day. It's said, that then it was Pierce Veogh learned to sleep with his eyes open;—a thing he does to this day, though there's no call for it.

The man that Pierce most feared in the world was one Nick Forester,—a bailiff, who lived in the nearest town to The Beg, on any side. Nick was a fine tall fellow,—six feet, if not more; and few could match him. He'd a nickname, like most of us, and was called "Timberleg;" why, I need not tell you:—but supposing you don't guess—it was, because his left leg was a wooden one. The other, as most wooden-legged men's are, was as stout a bit of material as you'll see anywhere, and Nick was proud of it,—as well he might. Though he'd scarce a word to throw to a dog, he was as 'cute as a fox, as well as being strong as a lion; and it was few escaped him. Spaking of animals, Nick had a dog, that always wint with him, and Nick called him Benjie. Benjie was black as coal; but you wouldn't notice him, for he was neither ugly enough to make any one fall into fits at the sight of him, nor good-looking enough for you to admire him:—he wasn't big or little, good-tempered or cross but middling every way. Benjie, though, was of great use to his master: and we accounted a man to be clever if he could outwit Nick and his dog. But outwitted they certainly were, now and then, though: and before I go further, I'll tell you how Nick was served by a surgeon by the name of Anderson, that set up in the next street to Nick's;—and it's many's the time Nick nabbed him, though you wouldn't think it, to see how great a man Surgeon Anderson is at this time. You must know that Nick had a wife, and a fine family, too; and one night a son of his—I think it was Jack, that's now married to Thady Purcell's widow—got taken ill with something sudden and dangerous: so Nick buckled on his leg and threw something over him, and wint and knocked at Surgeon Anderson's door. This was in the middle of the night: so when the surgeon put his head out of window and heard who it was, he wouldn't come down, thinking it was a make-believe of Nick's to nab him again. Nick couldn't blame him; for it's true Nick had often played tricks to get a sight o' the surgeon, when he wanted to take him; for he was almost a match for Nick himself, and not aisily had. So Nick stumped off to another surgeon, but he was out to a man five miles away; and to a third, but he was sick himself; and no one in the wide world could Nick get in the 'town, to come and see his son, that was a'most dying at home. Back he wint to Surgeon Anderson's again,—so he did;—and after he'd bate the door with his leg a little, the surgeon popped out his head, and says he, "Who's that below there?"

"It's me," says Nick, mighty civil; "it's me, sir, again."

"Oho!—And what story have you now, Nick?"

"The same I had 'while ago, sir my son's sick—"

"Divil's cure to him, Nick!—for he's not bad at all, and it's only a trick of yours to delude me."

"Upon my honour and conscience, sir, it isn't," says Nick; "I couldn't get a doctor any where, for I've tried, or I wouldn't trouble you. It's my belief, Jack will die if you don't come at once."

"Go away," says Surgeon Anderson; "go away, Nick; get out of that entirely!—Wasn't I sent for last winter, to a gentleman at the Roebuck, who had broken his leg?—and wasn't it yourself there, and the dirty bit of stick you stand upon tied up with a piece of rope?—and didn't you capture me that time, you blackguard?"

"I did, I did: I'm sorry for that; but pray—"

"And didn't you get a boy to bring me out o' my bed once, to a woman he said was at death's door?—and didn't I go, Nick?"

"You did, you did."

"Ah! you facetious rogue! I know you're laughing at me now if I could see you:—and who should I meet, at the corner of the street, but your own sweet self, waiting for me?—And didn't you show me a woman lying asleep and drunk at the door of little Paddy Death, that keeps the whiskey shop, in Patrick street?—and, says you, with a grin, 'There's the woman at Death's door I'—didn't you, Nick?"

"I know I did; but as I'm a living soul, sir—"

"Go away, Nick go home and read the story of the boy and the wolf; and if harm happens your son, as it did him, it's your own doings, Nick! so good night! for I'm not to be had,—don't you see?"

With that he shut the window, and wouldn't come; but, as luck would have it, when Timberleg got home, Jack was better, and didn't want physic till morning. It's often Nick threatened Surgeon Anderson, but he never had the luck to get him again; for when the surgeon heard that Nick's story was true, and was told of his threats, some say he strove hand and foot to keep out of Nick's clutches for fear, and so got on in the world dating his rise from the night Jack Forester wanted physic, and he wouldn't get up to give it him.

But we mustn't forget Pierce Veogh,—though 'tisn't he is my hero exactly, but Timberleg still I can't go on without him, no more than the man in the book could play on the organ but for the boy that blowed the bellows. Well, Pierce, as I tould you, had the bailiffs about for him and as Timberleg seemed to have taken up his abode by The Beg,—which was Pierce's place, you'll recollect,—why, Pierce thought he couldn't do better than sneak off, if he could, to the town Nick came from, and stay there for a day or two: for Pierce was trying his utmost to raise money, and hoped to receive letters, post after post, to tell him things were settled; and a day's delay was worth everything to him;—to say nothing of the horror he felt, in common with most of us, to being shut up between four walls.—Not that a prison, when you're used to it, is the worst place in the world perhaps; for I know a man that hated the name of it, and after he got into one at last, he liked it so well, that when he could, he wouldn't come out of it, but turned turnkey, and kept his post behind the gate, with the key in his hand, doing nothing but opening and shutting the door, and never stirring out of the place, which had grown a world to him, till death came one day, and removed him to closer confinement within six boards, nailed together,—and that manes a coffin.—Now, a coffin's a thing, allow me to remark, that we all hate the sight of; and yet there's not one in ten thousand of us but hopes to come to it at last;—for who'd like to be buried any way but in a box?—And that's a feeling that's laughable to one who looks two inches below the surface of things; for what is it, but a fear of letting the cold clay come to us for a few years?—And come it will, you know, at last, whether a man's buried in a large 'sheet of paper, a big hollow stone, or a lead coffin. And what matters time to the dead?—Or where's the difference, let me ask, between two minutes and twenty thousand years, to them that's under the turf?—Do what we will, the blackguard worms ates us all up at last; and they that takes pains to preserve their bodies, don't do well, as I think: for, while all that remains of me, after being buried in a dacent and ordinary way, some time hence, becomes a part of the big earth, and can't be distinguished from what it's mixed up with,—the visible and touchable nose of a pickled emperor, a thousand years after he's dead, gets pulled by some puppy that opens his grave, and don't happen to approve of what he did when alive: or, what's worse, the bones of the arm that awed multitudes, gets cut into drunken men's dominos; or the boys and girls of a tenth generation plays with them for sugar-plums, in the shape of two a-penny tetotums, and so forth. Therefore, let me, when I die, have no armour about me; let the worms come, and good luck to them, say I;—the sooner they walk away with every inch of me, the better.

But we'll never get through at this rate; and such grave discourse as I've led myself into, turns the edge of one's appetite for fun,—doesn't it?—But, na bocklish,—forget what I've said, and listen to what Pierce Veogh did. Like the goose that took refuge near the fox's den, when the fox himself was watching for her near her nest, Pierce got away one night, and wint off to the town: there he remained in great safety for some days, as Timberleg didn't know he'd escaped, and so wouldn't raise the legal siege of The Beg House,—why should he?

No letters came; and, at last, Pierce determined to get away altogether, and cut the country for a time, if he could: so one morning, at day-break, he left the little lodgings he had hired for the sake of being private, and was walking off, the nearest way out of town, when just as he came within five feet of a corner, what should he see but Nick Forester's dog,—the dog I described to you, that was always a few feet before, or oftener a yard or so behind, Nick himself.—"Oho!" says Pierce, turning back and taking to his heels; for well enough he knew the dog it's himself that did then;—for often he saw him, bating round The Beg, and Nick not far behind him. "Oho!" says he; and "Bowwow!" says the dog; and "My grief!" says Timberleg, who just then came round the corner, and saw the young legs of Pierce carrying him off five miles an hour faster than Nick could run. Nick wasn't fool enough to go after Pierce;—no, no,—not he, then! He turned on his heel, and walked back the way he came,—giving the game up for lost, out-and-out; and he struck his dog Benjie two or three times, with his leg, for not keeping to his heel.

Now what did Pierce do, think you?—Why, he ran as if he'd everything fearful behind him, and fancied he heard the stump of Nick's wooden leg keeping time with the gallop of his own pulse. Running seemed to be safety to him, no matter which way he ran; for "if Timberleg and Benjie's behind me, it matters not what's before me, so that the way's clear," thinks he;—or rather, he didn't think at all, but wint on, and you'll hear how it ended.

By-and-by, Pierce came to a corner again, with one leg before and the other behind him, as if he'd little Powsett's seven-leagued boots on; or, to spake within compass, the foot that was forward the whole length of his leg more advanced than his body. Now here's the point of my story:—Nick Forester was much nearer Pierce than Pierce expected; to spake out at once, he was close to the corner, only the other side of it; and, as one may say, in a right direction to cross his course. Well, just as Pierce had put his foot that was forward to the ground, about four inches beyond the corner, Nick Forester, quite unconscious of his good luck, was, at that instant, going to put his timber-toe on the flags in a transverse direction. Down it came, pat upon Pierce's foot; the whole weight of Nick's body followed directly after; and the next moment, Pierce found himself within an inch and a half of Nick's nose, staring his enemy full in the face, who looked quite as wonder-struck, but not half so grievous, as himself; for the end of Nick's leg covered a couple of Pierce's worst corns.

This wasn't the first time in the world a man ran into the lion's mouth. Nick put out his paw upon Pierce, and from that day, people called him "Timberleg Toe-Trap."

Pierce lay in Nick's custody for above a month; he then got out by scraping together all he could, and flew off to England for safety: but it was just out of the frying-pan into the fire with him; for,—though a man's good deeds have wings of lead, or just none at all, and travel like the tortoise,—such things as make against him, go at the rate of twelve knots an hour, to every point of the compass at once; or, at least, to all the points he wouldn't have them go, if he could help it; and, by this rule, the news of Pierce's being taken for debt by Timberleg, got to England, before he reached it himself; and he wasn't well landed and recovered from his sea-sickness, when one of his creditors had a bailiff to give him a grip by the shoulder. As soon as a man gets clawed, long bills generally come pouring in upon him from all quarters:—it was just this way with Pierce; and his prospects in perspective were almost as unpleasant as his enemies could wish. We'll leave him now though, if you please; and I'll tell you what more happened him by-and-by, and how it all ended; if you don't fall asleep, and by your snoring, give me a hint that it isn't quite so entertaining you find me, as may be I think you ought. But, we'll see.