Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/How to steal a feather-bed

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Stopping for a glass of cider at a village public in East Devon, I heard a story in connection with the above recondite subject, which amused me much, and may interest some of the readers of Once a Week.

A rustic, who had spent all his money in getting tipsy at the rival establishment, came up to the landlord of the Crooked Billet, and asked him to give him some liquor—about the height of all possible insult to a publican, and so he of the Crooked Billet seemed to think—but the tipsy one was not to be put off in a hurry; he continued his importunities, and for a pint of cider, he said, he would impart—a most valuable secret. The landlord seemed rather to prick up his ears at this, and at length consented to bestow a half-pint; on condition of “hearing something to his advantage;” and the liquor was handed over, and drained by the applicant.

“Now,” said he, with a confidential air, and in a stentorian whisper, “Next time you da steal a veather-bed, Masr, mind you goo down stairs wi’ un backwards.”

Great was the host’s indignation at this second affront, but greater was my curiosity to know the meaning of the phrase employed, and inquiring of a farmer in the inn, I obtained the following explanation:

There was, it seemed, at a village some distance off, a surgeon who prided himself upon his acuteness, and continually boasted that he had never been done.

Now it happened one day, that a scamp who lived by his wits was lurking about the house, on the look-out for plunder, and having noticed the surgeon’s wife set off for market, saw presently the surgeon himself go out, as he supposed, to visit his patients. Him, likewise, he watched off the premises, and then, finding the coast clear, stole in through the front door, and walked up-stairs to lay hands on whatever seemed most eligible: the booty selected was the best feather-bed; this he took on his back, and began descending the stairs, with the precaution of coming down backwards; he had got about half-way down when in came the surgeon again.

“Hallo! my man, where are you going with that bed?”

“Goan up-stairs wi’ un, sur. There’s a genlmn down to th’ Rose and Crown, sur, as says ’is old friend o’ yours, just come from Inger; and comun to stop wi’ you, sur—and comun up hisself presently wi’s luggage—and he’ve sent I up, sur, wi’ these yer bed.”

“I shall not admit it. I shall not admit it. I don’t know any such person, and I’m not going to be imposed upon,—likely thing, indeed—d’you suppose any stranger can come and quarter himself on me with a tale like that? No, no, you go back, and take the bed along, too, and give my compliments to the gentleman, and say he’s made some mistake, and I don’t know him.”

“Well, sur, ’tis warm day, sur; and make so bold, sur, I hope you’ll allow me somat to drink.”

“Very well, I don’t mind giving you a glass, to be rid of the business—there—now you go back, and say as I’ve told you.”

Off walked the rascal with his burden.

By and by, returned Mrs. Surgeon, and went up-stairs to take off her bonnet; down she came again.

“Now, my dear, always making some alteration without consulting me, and what have you done with that new feather-bed?”

“O Lord!” said the wretched man. “I see it all.”

“Pray what do you see, my dear?

But enough. Of course the surgeon’s reputation for sharpness was gone, and that was the approved way to steal a feather-bed in this neighbourhood.

L. B. C.