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A Hero of Romance by Richard Marsh

Epicures have it that a steak fried is a steak spoiled


The

answer reminded Bertie of Sam Slater. Even then he wondered if he had not better, after all, trust himself to the tender mercies of the streets; but the other did not allow much time for hesitation. He caught Bailey by the arm, and half led, half dragged him up a flight of steep stone steps. The old woman with the candlestick sent after them what sounded very like a volley of imprecations, while she closed and locked and barred the door.

The thief led the way into a fairly sized room, which was lighted by another tallow candle. The one which the old woman brought with her when she entered made the pair. There was no carpet on the floor, which was extremely dirty; a rickety deal table and four or five rickety chairs formed all the furniture. There was a bright fire burning in an antiquated fireplace, from which the ashes had apparently never been removed for months, and the atmosphere of the room was distinctly close.

"What have you got to eat?" asked the thief, when the old woman reappeared.

"You're always ready enough to eat, but you re not so ready to pay for what you've eaten. You boys is all the same; you'd rob an old woman of her teeth."

The crone tottered to a cupboard in a corner of the room. The allusion to her teeth was not a happy one, for a solitary fang which protruded from her hideous jaws seemed to be all the teeth she still

possessed. From the cupboard she produced a couple of chipped plates, a loaf of bread, and a piece of uncooked steak, which probably weighed several pounds. The thief's eyes glistened at sight of it.

"That's the tuck! Cut me off a chunk, and I'll frizzle it in two threes."

The old woman cut off a piece which weighed at least a pound and a half. A frying-pan was produced from some unexpected corner. The young rogue, disencumbering himself of his coat and waistcoat, immediately elected himself to the office of cook. A short dialogue took place between the old woman and himself while the cooking was going on.

"What luck have you had?"

"What's that to you?"

"That means you ain't had none. Ah, Freddy, you ain't what you was. I've known you when you allays came home with your pockets full of pretty things."

"You ain't what you was, neither."

A pause. A savoury smell began to come from the frying-pan. The old woman turned her watery, bloodshot eyes to Bertie.

"Who's your friend?"

"Them who don't ask no questions don't get told no lies."

"What's his lay?"

"His lay's hitting old women in the eye; so now you know."

The old woman shook her head, and mourned the decadence of the times.

"Oh, them boys! them boys! When I was a young gal there weren't none of them boys in them there days! Times is changed."

"And this steak's done! Now then, Ikey, make yourself alive and hand the plates."

Without the interposition of a dish the steak was divided in the frying-pan, placed in two equal portions on the plates, and Bertie and the cook fell to.

Epicures have it that a steak fried is a steak spoiled. Neither of those who ate that one would have agreed to the truth of the statement then. From the way in which they disposed of it, a finer, juicier, or more tender steak was never known. The old woman produced a jug of porter to wash it down. Freddy, as the old woman called the thief, did far more justice to this than Bertie did. With the aid of the dark-coloured liquid the whole pound and a half of meat rapidly disappeared, and with it the better part of a loaf as well.


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