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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Charles Reade (1814–1884)

A Bad Shilling

From “Rus,” in “Good Stories”

MY brother left Oxfordshire and settled in a milder climate. During his long sojourn there a vague report reached him that bad money had been passed on Moore, and he had made the district ring.

When after seven years my brother returned to his native woods, he looked in at Scott’s farm, and there was Moore, the only familiar face about which did not seem a day older. After other friendly inquiries my brother said:

“But how about the bad money that was passed on you? Tell me all about it.”

“That I wool,” said Moore, delighted to find a good listener to a grievance which to him was ever new, though the circumstance was five years old. “I was at dung-cart most of that day, and then I washed and tried to get a minute to milk the cow; but bless your heart, they never will let me milk her afore sunset. It’s Moore here, and Moore there, from half a dozen of ’em; and Mr. Moore here, and Mr. Moore there, from the one or two as have learned manners, which very few of ’em have in these parts; and between ’em they allus contrive to keep me from my own cow till dusk. Well, sir, I had got leave to milk her, hurry-scurry as usual, and night coming on, when a man I had sold a fat hog to came into the yard to pay. ‘Wait a minute,’ says I. But no, he was like the rest, couldn’t let me milk her in peace; wanted to settle and drive the baacon home. So I took my head out o’ the cow, and I went to him without so much as letting my smock down, and he gave me the money, £6 17s. I took the gold in one hand so, and the silver in t’other so, and I went across the yard to the house, and I asked the missus to get a light, and then I told the money before her, six sovereigns and seventeen shillings, and left her to scratch him a receipt, while I went back to my cow, and I thought to milk her in peace at last. But before I had drained her as should be, out comes my missus, and screams fit to wake the dead, ‘George! George!’ ‘I be coming,’ says I. So I up with the milk-pail and goes to her. ‘Whose cat’s dead now?’ says I, ‘for mercy’s sake.’

“‘Come in, come in,’ says she. ‘George, whoever is that man? He have paid us a bad shilling. Look at that.’ Well, we tried that there shilling on the table first, and then on the hearth. ’Twas bad; couldn’t be wus. ‘Run after him,’ says she; ‘run this moment.’ ‘Lard,’ says I, ‘they be half way to Wallingford by this time. Here, give me a scrap of paper. I’ll carry it about in my fob; he goes to all the markets; he will change it, you may be sure.’

“Well, the very next Friday as ever was I met him at Wallingford market, pulls out the paper, shows him the shilling, tells him it warn’t good. He looks at it and agreed with me. ‘Then change it, if you please,’ says I. ‘What for?’ says he. ‘I don’t want no bad shillings no more nor you do.’ ‘But,’ says I, ‘price of hog was six seventeen, and you only paid six sixteen in money.’ ‘Yes, I did,’ says he; ‘I gave you six seventeen.’ ‘No, ye didn’t.’ ‘Yes, I did.’ ‘No, ye didn’t; you gave me six sixteen, and this. Now, my man,’ says I, ‘act honest and pay me t’other shilling.’ No, he wouldn’t. There was a crowd by this time, so I said, ‘Look here, gentlemen, I sold this man a hog, and he gave me this in part pay, which it ain’t a real shilling, and mine was a genuine hog.’ So they all said it warn’t a shilling at all. When the man heard that he was for slipping off, but I stepped after him, with half the market at my heels. ‘Will you pay me my shilling?’ ‘I don’t owe you no shilling,’ says he. ‘You do,’ says I; ‘and pay me my shilling you shall.’ ‘I won’t.’ ‘You shall; I’ll pison your life else.’

“Next time of asking, as the saying is, was Reading market. Catches him cheapening a calf. Takes out shilling. ‘Now,’ says I, ‘here’s your bad shilling as you gave me for my hog—which it is a warning to honest folk with calves to sell,’ says I. ‘Be you going to change it?’ ‘No, I bain’t.’ ‘You bain’t?’ says I. ‘You shall, then,’ says I. ‘Time will show,’ says he, and bid me good-day, ironical. I let him get a little way, and then I stepped after him. ‘Hi, stop that gentleman,’ I hallooed. ‘He have given me a bad shilling.’ You might hear me all over the market. Then he threatened defanation or summat. I didn’t keer; I bawled him out o’ Reading market that there afternoon.

“Met him at Henley next; commenced operations—took out the shilling. He crossed over directly, I after ’un, and held out the shilling. ‘’Tain’t no use,’ says I. ‘You sha’n’t do no business in this here county till you have changed this here shilling. Come, my man, ’tis only a shilling. What is all this here to do about a shilling?’ says I. ‘Act honest and give me my shilling, and take this here keepsake back.’ ‘I won’t,’ says he. ‘You won’t?’ says I. ‘Then I’ll hunt you out of every market in England. I’ll hunt ye into the wilderness and the hocean wave.’

“He got very sick of me in a year or two’s marketing, I can tell you; for I never missed a market now, because of the shilling. He had to give up trade and go home whenever he saw my shilling and me a-coming.”

“And so you tired him out?”

“That I did.”

“And got your shilling?”

“That I did not. He found a way to cheat me after all!” (with a sudden yell of reprobation). “He went and died—and here’s the shilling!”