mr paddington having gone for his fateful walk - the fatefulness of which had not yet been made manifest - the routine of his establishment was little disturbed.
the rain continued to fall. perhaps sal, desultorily chopping a potato for the evening meal, yawned a little wider than usual as she did so.
perhaps bill bikes, with a slight premonition of the changes about to be made to his comfortable existence, sat a little closer to the fire as he stuffed his master's best tobacco in his pipe. but perhaps not.
in any case their reveries were broken by a loud banging on the kitchen's back door.
neither bill nor sal moved to answer it. it continued.
"are you going to open the door, my lady?"
"no, are you?"
the pounding continued for a while. then it stopped, and only the rain beating on the window could be heard.
bill stared at the door. "he'll be back."
"indeed he will."
"he will be back with a stick, to half break the door down.
"that's a fact."
"maybe we should just let him in."
"you always do."
the perspicacious reader may have deduced from the brevity of this dialogue that it was one long practiced and often repeated.
"if you are so keen to let him in," sal contnued, "go open the door and call him back."
but bill did not move. "maybe it wasn't dennis."
"it was dennis."
bill now had the pipe filled to his liking. he took a piece of straw off the floor and stuck it in the fireplace. he was lighting the pipe with the burning straw when the pounding on the door began again, louder than before.
"didn't take him long to find a stick."
bill did not answer, being occupied in lighting the pipe.
the pounding continued, and with a sigh, sal put down her knife and went to the door. it opened with a fearful creak, letting in the wind, the rain, a foully blackened bowler hat, and a mass of patched clothing brandishing a stick.
sal dodged the stick and roughly pushed the mass of clothing aside. "no need to be so loud, dennis. you know we'll let you in, you're more bother out than in." she closed the door, which groaned even louder than when it had been opened.
"where's me seat?"
"on the floor," bikes answered. "where it always is."
dennis pushed his bowler up a notch on his head, revealing a bit of smashed red nose and face. "i thought yez was getting me a chair. when i was last here, yer said yez was getting me a chair." he looked around the four corners of the kitchen.
"oh?" sal went back to her table and resumed her chopping. "i don't think so."
"yez was getting an old chair of the master's, especially for me."
bikes laughed. "that must have been in some other great house you come around and sponge in. not here."
"and what other 'great house' is there, i ask you? this is the only 'great house' in thirty miles around of bog."
"what's thirty miles to you, eh?" bikes answered. "a traveling man like you? i thought you went to the north pole and back every day."
"only with the wind at me back, and only in a manner of speaking." dennis began to sit down in front of the fireplace.
"here, here," cried bikes. "not so close to the fire, you will use up the warmth. over by the window, if you please."
"but there is rain coming through the window."
"not so much as all that. and you needn't sit directly under it, you know. make yourself comfortable.
"ahh - but before i make meself comfortable maybe i could have a drop - just the weest of wee drops - to warm my insides."
"a drop!" exclaimed bikes. "why, we thought you was bringing the drops with you!"
"yes," added sal. "why do you think we let you in?"
"we thought you had a bottle of malt, at least, on your person," bikes went on. "do you mean to tell us there is nothing under those rags but your misshapen and unwashed body?"
"ah, yer a fine couple of wits, yez are. a fine couple of wits." dennis took a small handful of the straw that the window was stuffed with and spread it on the floor. "yer should be ornamenting and lighting up a drawing room in fair dublin city, not tormenting a poor bard and son of the wind by a low fire in the middle of the devil's own bog." he lowered himself down on the straw he had spread beside the window. "in a manner of speaking."
"myself, i don't speak in a manner of speaking," bikes answered. "i'm a plain-spoken englishman, i am, and i speak my mind, with no manner about it." and he laughed at his own wit and waved his pipe.
"bully for you, squire, bully for you."
"well, dennis," said sal, "now that you are here, do you have any news?"
"no, what news would i have? the world is going to hell, but that's no news."
"you bogtrotters," said bikes. "always complaining. you'd complain if someone beat you with a brand new stick."
"here," said sal. "this will stop your gob for a while." and she tossed dennis half of a potato, which he caught smartly.
"for sure, this isn't the best piece of a potato i've ever seen."
"why do you think i gave it to you?"
dennis turned the potato over in his hand. "maybe i will make a poem about it - the song of the bad potato."
"no, dennis, no!" sal cried, and bikes nodded. "we have told you before! we will let you in here sometimes. we might throw you a scrap, let you sit in front of the fire, even give you a drink. but we draw the line -"
"indeed!" added bikes.
"we will not listen to your poems."
"oh, that's a hard condition, mistress, for a son of the wind like meself. a hard condition - it strikes at my very soul."
the wind rattled the window, and a bit of the rain of seeped through and ran down the wall.