"He got in three or four at Bill afore you could wink a'most, and when Bill 'it back 'e wasn't there. That seemed to annoy Bill more than anything, and he suddenly flung out 'is arms, and grabbing 'old of 'im flung 'im right across the fo'c's'le to where, fortunately for 'im—Dodgy, I mean—Tom Baker was sitting.
"Charlie called Time' again, and we let 'em 'ave five minutes while we 'elped Tom to bed, and then wot 'e called the 'disgusting exhibishun' was resoomed. Bill 'ad dipped 'is face in a bucket and 'ad rubbed 'is great arms all over and was as fresh as a daisy. Dodgy looked a bit tottery, but 'e was game all through and very careful, and, try as Bill might, he didn't seem to be able to get 'old of 'im agin.
"In five minutes more, though, it was all over, Dodgy not being able to see plain—except to get out o' Bill's way—and hitting wild. He seemed to think the whole fo'c's'le was full o' Bills sitting on a locker and waiting to be punched, and the end of it was a knock-out blow from the real Bill which left 'im on the floor without a soul offering to pick 'im up.
"Bill 'elped 'im up at last and shook hands with 'im, and they rinsed their faces in the same bucket, and began to praise each other up. They sat there purring like a couple o' cats, until at last we 'eard a smothered voice coming from Joe Simms's bunk.
"'Is it all over?' he asks.
"'Yes,' ses somebody.
"'How is Bill?' ses Joe's voice again.
"'Look for yourself,' ses Tom.
"Joe sat up in 'is bunk then and looked out, and he no sooner saw Bill's face than he gave a loud cry and fell back agin, and, as true as I'm sitting here, fainted clean away. We was struck all of a 'eap, and then Bill picked up the bucket and threw some water over 'im, and by and by he comes round agin and in a dazed sort o' way puts his arm round Bill's neck and begins to cry.
"'Mighty Moses!' ses Dodgy Pete, jumping up, 'it's a woman!'
"'It's my wife!' ses Bill.
"We understood it all then, leastways the married ones among us did. She'd shipped aboard partly to be with Bill and partly to keep an eye on 'im, and Tom Baker's mistake about a prizefighter had just suited her book better than anything. How Bill was to get 'er home 'e couldn't think, but it 'appened the second officer had been peeping down the fo'c's'le, waiting for ever so long for a suitable opportunity to stop the fight, and the old man was so tickled about the way we'd all been done 'e gave 'er a passage back as stewardess to look arter the ship's cat."
THE RESURRECTION OF MR. WIGGETT
Mr. Sol Ketchmaid, landlord of the Ship, sat in his snug bar, rising occasionally from his seat by the taps to minister to the wants of the customers who shared this pleasant retreat with him.
Forty years at sea before the mast had made Mr. Ketchmaid an authority on affairs maritime; five years in command of the Ship Inn, with the nearest other licensed house five miles off, had made him an autocrat.
From his cushioned Windsor-chair he listened pompously to the conversation. Sometimes he joined in and took sides, and on these occasions it was a foregone conclusion that the side he espoused would win. No matter how reasonable the opponent's argument or how gross his personalities, Mr. Ketchmaid, in his capacity of host, had one unfailing rejoinder—the man was drunk. When Mr. Ketchmaid had pronounced that opinion the argument was at an end. A nervousness about his license—conspicuous at other times by its absence—would suddenly possess him, and, opening the little wicket which gave admission to the bar, he would order the offender in scathing terms to withdraw.
Twice recently had he found occasion to warn Mr. Ned Clark, the village shoemaker, the strength of whose head had been a boast in the village for many years. On the third occasion the indignant shoemaker was interrupted in the middle of an impassioned harangue on free speech and bundled into the road by the ostler. After this nobody was safe.
To-night Mr. Ketchmaid, meeting his eye as he entered the bar, nodded curtly. The shoemaker had stayed away three days as a protest, and the landlord was naturally indignant at such contumacy.
"Good evening, Mr. Ketchmaid," said the shoemaker, screwing up his little black eyes; "just give me a small bottle o' lemonade, if you please."
Mr. Clark's cronies laughed, and Mr. Ketchmaid, after glancing at him to make sure that he was in earnest, served him in silence.
"There's one thing about lemonade," said the shoemaker, as he sipped it gingerly; "nobody could say you was drunk, not if you drank bucketsful of it."
There was an awkward silence, broken at last by Mr. Clark smacking his lips.
"Any news since I've been away, chaps?" he inquired; "or 'ave you just been sitting round as usual listening to the extra-ordinary adventures what happened to Mr. Ketchmaid whilst a-foller-ing of the sea?"
"Truth is stranger than fiction, Ned," said Mr. Peter Smith, the tailor, reprovingly.
The shoemaker assented. "But I never thought so till I heard some o' the things Mr. Ketchmaid 'as been through," he remarked.
"Well, you know now," said the landlord, shortly.
"And the truthfullest of your yarns are the most wonderful of the lot, to my mind," said Mr. Clark.
"What do you mean by the truthfullest?" demanded the landlord, gripping the arms of his chair.
"Why, the strangest," grinned the shoemaker.
"Ah, he's been through a lot, Mr. Ketchmaid has," said the tailor.
"The truthfullest one to my mind," said the shoemaker, regarding the landlord with spiteful interest, "is that one where Henry Wiggett, the boatswain's mate, 'ad his leg bit off saving Mr. Ketchmaid from the shark, and 'is shipmate, Sam Jones, the nigger cook, was wounded saving 'im from the South Sea Highlanders."
"I never get tired o' hearing that yarn," said the affable Mr. Smith.
"I do," said Mr. Clark.
Mr. Ketchmaid looked up from his pipe and eyed him darkly; the shoemaker smiled serenely.
"Another small bottle o' lemonade, landlord," he said, slowly.
"Go and get your lemonade somewhere else," said the bursting Mr. Ketchmaid.
"I prefer to 'ave it here," rejoined the shoemaker, "and you've got to serve me, Ketchmaid. A licensed publican is compelled to serve people whether he likes to or not, else he loses of 'is license."
"Not when they're the worse for licker he ain't," said the landlord.
"Certainly not," said the shoemaker; "that's why I'm sticking to lemonade, Ketchmaid."
The indignant Mr. Ketchmaid, removing the wire from the cork, discharged the missile at the ceiling. The shoemaker took the glass from him and looked round with offensive slyness.
"Here's the 'ealth of Henry Wiggett what lost 'is leg to save Mr. Ketchmaid's life," he said, unctuously. "Also the 'ealth of Sam Jones, who let hisself be speared through the chest for the same noble purpose. Likewise the health of Captain Peters, who nursed Mr. Ketchmaid like 'is own son when he got knocked up doing the work of five men as was drowned; likewise the health o' Dick Lee, who helped Mr. Ketchmaid capture a Chinese junk full of pirates and killed the whole seventeen of 'em by—'Ow did you say you killed'em, Ketchmaid?"
The landlord, who was busy with the taps, affected not to hear.
"Killed the whole seventeen of 'em by first telling 'em yarns till they fell asleep and then choking 'em with Henry Wiggett's wooden leg," resumed the shoemaker.
"Kee—hee," said a hapless listener, explosively. "Kee—hee—kee——"
He checked himself suddenly, and assumed an air of great solemnity as the landlord looked his way.
"You'd better go 'ome, Jem Summers," said the fuming Mr. Ketchmaid. "You're the worse for liker."
"I'm not," said Mr. Summers, stoutly.
"Out you go," said Mr. Ketchmaid, briefly. "You know my rules. I keep a respectable house, and them as can't drink in moderation are best outside."
"You should stick to lemonade, Jem," said Mr. Clark. "You can say what you like then."
Mr. Summers looked round for support, and then, seeing no pity in the landlord's eye, departed, wondering inwardly how he was to spend the remainder of the evening. The company in the bar gazed at each other soberly and exchanged whispers.
"Understand, Ned Clark," said the indignant Mr. Ketchmaid, "I don't want your money in this public-house. Take it somewhere else."
"Thank'ee, but I prefer to come here," said the shoemaker, ostentatiously sipping his lemonade. "I like to listen to your tales of the sea. In a quiet way I get a lot of amusement out of 'em."
"Do you disbelieve my word?" demanded Mr. Ketchmaid, hotly.
"Why, o' course I do," replied the shoemaker; "we all do. You'd see how silly they are yourself if you only stopped to think. You and your sharks!—no shark would want to eat you unless it was blind."
Mr. Ketchmaid allowed this gross reflection on his personal appearance to pass unnoticed, and for the first time of many evenings sat listening in torment as the shoemaker began the narration of a series of events which he claimed had happened to a seafaring nephew. Many of these bore a striking resemblance to Mr. Ketch-maid's own experiences, the only difference being that the nephew had no eye at all for the probabilities.
In this fell work Mr. Clark was ably assisted by the offended Mr. Summers. Side by side they sat and quaffed lemonade, and burlesqued the landlord's autobiography, the only consolation afforded to Mr. Ketchmaid consisting in the reflection that they were losing a harmless pleasure in good liquor. Once, and once only, they succumbed to the superior attractions of alcohol, and Mr. Ketchmaid, returning from a visit to his brewer at the large seaport of Burnsea, heard from the ostler the details of a carouse with which he had been utterly unable to cope.
The couple returned to lemonade the following night, and remained faithful to that beverage until an event transpired which rendered further self-denial a mere foolishness.
It was about a week later, Mr. Ketchmaid had just resumed his seat after serving a customer, when the attention of all present was attracted by an odd and regular tapping on the brick-paved passage outside. It stopped at the tap-room, and a murmur of voices escaped at the open door. Then the door was closed, and a loud, penetrating voice called on the name of Sol Ketchmaid.
"Good Heavens!" said the amazed landlord, half-rising from his seat and falling back again, "I ought to know that voice."
"Sol Ketchmaid," bellowed the voice again; "where are you, shipmate?"
"Hennery Wig-gett!" gasped the landlord, as a small man with ragged whiskers appeared at the wicket, "it can't be!"
The new-comer regarded him tenderly for a moment without a word, and then, kicking open the door with an unmistakable wooden leg, stumped into the bar, and grasping his outstretched hand shook it fervently.
"I met Cap'n Peters in Melbourne," said the stranger, as his friend pushed him into his own chair, and questioned him breathlessly. "He told me where you was."
"The sight o' you, Hennery Wiggett, is better to me than diamonds," said Mr. Ketchmaid, ecstatically. "How did you get here?"
"A friend of his, Cap'n Jones, of the barque Venus, gave me a passage to London," said Mr. Wiggett, "and I've tramped down from there without a penny in my pocket."
"And Sol Ketchmaid's glad to see you, sir," said Mr. Smith, who, with the rest of the company, had been looking on in a state of great admiration. "He's never tired of telling us 'ow you saved him from the shark and 'ad your leg bit off in so doing."
"I'd 'ave my other bit off for 'im, too," said Mr. Wiggett, as the landlord patted him affectionately on the shoulder and thrust a glass of spirits into his hands. "Cheerful, I would. The kindest-'earted and the bravest man that ever breathed, is old Sol Ketchmaid."
He took the landlord's hand again, and, squeezing it affectionately, looked round the comfortable bar with much approval. They began to converse in the low tones of confidence, and names which had figured in many of the landlord's stories fell continuously on the listeners' ears.
"You never 'eard anything more o' pore Sam Jones, I s'pose?" said Mr. Ketchmaid.
Mr. Wiggett put down his glass.
"I ran up agin a man in Rio Janeiro two years ago," he said, mournfully. "Pore old Sam died in 'is arms with your name upon 'is honest black lips."
"Enough to kill any man," muttered the discomfited Mr. Clark, looking round defiantly upon his murmuring friends.
"Who is this putty-faced swab, Sol?" demanded Mr. Wiggett, turning a fierce glance in the shoemaker's direction.
"He's our cobbler," said the landlord, "but you don't want to take no notice of 'im. Nobody else does. He's a man who as good as told me I'm a liar."
"Wot!" said Mr. Wiggett, rising and stumping across the bar; "take it back, mate. I've only got one leg, but nobody shall run down Sol while I can draw breath. The finest sailor-man that ever trod a deck is Sol, and the best-'earted."
"Hear, hear," said Mr. Smith; "own up as you're in the wrong, Ned."
"When I was laying in my bunk in the fo'c's'le being nursed back to life," continued Mr. Wig-gett, enthusiastically, "who was it that set by my side 'olding my 'and and telling me to live for his sake?—why, Sol Ketchmaid. Who was it that said that he'd stick to me for life?—why Sol Ketchmaid. Who was it said that so long as 'e 'ad a crust I should have first bite at it, and so long as 'e 'ad a bed I should 'ave first half of it?—why, Sol Ketchmaid!"
He paused to take breath, and a flattering murmur arose from his listeners, while the subject of his discourse looked at him as though his eloquence was in something of the nature of a surprise even to him.
"In my old age and on my beam-ends," continued Mr. Wiggett, "I remembered them words of old Sol, and I knew if I could only find 'im my troubles were over. I knew that I could creep into 'is little harbour and lay snug. I knew that what Sol said he meant. I lost my leg saving 'is life, and he is grateful."
"So he ought to be," said Mr. Clark, "and I'm proud to shake 'ands with a hero."
He gripped Mr. Wiggett's hand, and the others followed suit. The wooden-legged man wound up with Mr. Ketchmaid, and, disdaining to notice that that veracious mariner's grasp was somewhat limp, sank into his chair again, and asked for a cigar.
"Lend me the box, Sol," he said, jovially, as he took it from him. "I'm going to 'and 'em round. This is my treat, mates. Pore old Henry Wig-gett's treat."
He passed the box round, Mr. Ketchmaid watching in helpless indignation as the customers, discarding their pipes, thanked Mr. Wiggett warmly, and helped themselves to a threepenny cigar apiece. Mr. Clark was so particular that he spoilt at least two by undue pinching before he could find one to his satisfaction.
Closing time came all too soon, Mr. Wiggett, whose popularity was never for a moment in doubt, developing gifts to which his friend had never even alluded. He sang comic songs in a voice which made the glasses rattle on the shelves, asked some really clever riddles, and wound up with a conjuring trick which consisted in borrowing half a crown from Mr. Ketchmaid and making it pass into the pocket of Mr. Peter Smith. This last was perhaps not quite so satisfactory, as the utmost efforts of the tailor failed to discover the coin, and he went home under a cloud of suspicion which nearly drove him frantic.
"I 'ope you're satisfied," said Mr. Wiggett, as the landlord, having shot the bolts of the front door, returned to the bar.
"You went a bit too far," said Mr. Ketchmaid, shortly; "you should ha' been content with doing what I told you to do. And who asked you to 'and my cigars round?"
"I got a bit excited," pleaded the other.
"And you forgot to tell 'em you're going to start to-morrow to live with that niece of yours in New Zealand," added the landlord.
"So I did," said Mr. Wiggett, smiting his forehead; "so I did. I'm very sorry; I'll tell 'em tomorrow night."
"Mention it casual like, to-morrow morning," commanded Mr. Ketchmaid, "and get off in the arternoon, then I'll give you some dinner besides the five shillings as arranged."
Mr. Wiggett thanked him warmly, and, taking a candle, withdrew to the unwonted luxury of clean sheets and a soft bed. For some time he lay awake in deep thought and then, smothering a laugh with the bed-clothes, he gave a sigh of content and fell asleep.
To the landlord's great annoyance his guest went for a walk next morning and did not return until the evening, when he explained that he had walked too far for his crippled condition and was unable to get back. Much sympathy was manifested for him in the bar, but in all the conversation that ensued Mr. Ketchmaid listened in vain for any hint of his departure. Signals were of no use, Mr. Wiggett merely nodding amiably and raising his glass in response; and when, by considerable strategy, he brought the conversation from pig-killing to nieces, Mr. Wiggett deftly transferred it to uncles and discoursed on pawn-broking.
The helpless Mr. Ketchmaid suffered in silence, with his eye on the clock, and almost danced with impatience at the tardiness of his departing guests. He accompanied the last man to the door, and then, crimson with rage, returned to the bar to talk to Mr. Wiggett.
"Wot d'y'r mean by it?" he thundered.
"Mean by what, Sol?" inquired Mr. Wiggett, looking up in surprise.
"Don't you call me Sol, 'cos I won't have it," vociferated the landlord, standing over him with his fist clenched. "First thing to-morrow morning off you go."
"Off?" repeated the other in amazement. "Off? Whereto?"
"Anywhere," said the overwrought landlord; "so long as you get out of here, I don't care where you go."
Mr. Wiggett, who was smoking a cigar, the third that evening, laid it carefully on the table by his side, and regarded him with tender reproach.
"You ain't yourself, Sol," he said, with conviction; "don't say another word else you might say things you'll be sorry for."
His forebodings were more than justified, Mr. Ketchmaid indulging in a few remarks about his birth, parentage, and character which would have shocked an East-end policeman.
"First thing to-morrow morning you go," he concluded, fiercely. "I've a good mind to turn you out now. You know the arrangement I made with you."
"Arrangement!" said the mystified Mr. Wiggett; "what arrangements? Why, I ain't seen you for ten years and more. If it 'adn't been for meeting Cap'n Peters—"
He was interrupted by frenzied and incoherent exclamations from Mr. Ketchmaid.
"Sol Ketchmaid," he said, with dignity, "I 'ope you're drunk. I 'ope it's the drink and not Sol Ketchmaid, wot I saved from the shark by 'aving my leg bit off, talking. I saved your life, Sol, an' I 'ave come into your little harbour and let go my little anchor to stay there till I go aloft to join poor Sam Jones wot died with your name on 'is lips."
He sprang suddenly erect as Mr. Ketchmaid, with a loud cry, snatched up a bottle and made as though to brain him with it.
"You rascal," said the landlord, in a stifled voice. "You infernal rascal. I never set eyes on you till I saw you the other day on the quay at Burnsea, and, just for an innercent little joke like with Ned Clark, asked you to come in and pretend."
"Pretend!" repeated Mr. Wiggett, in a horror-stricken voice. "Pretend! Have you forgotten me pushing you out of the way and saying, 'Save yourself, Sol,' as the shark's jaw clashed together over my leg? Have you forgotten 'ow—?"
"Look 'ere," said Mr. Ketchmaid, thrusting an infuriated face close to his, "there never was a Henery Wiggett; there never was a shark; there never was a Sam Jones!"
"Never—was—a—Sam Jones!" said the dazed Mr. Wiggett, sinking into his chair. "Ain't you got a spark o' proper feeling left, Sol?"
He fumbled in his pocket, and producing the remains of a dirty handkerchief wiped his eyes to the memory of the faithful black.
"Look here," said Mr. Ketchmaid, putting down the bottle and regarding him intently, "you've got me fair. Now, will you go for a pound?"
"Got you?" said Mr. Wiggett, severely; "I'm ashamed of you, Sol. Go to bed and sleep off the drink, and in the morning you can take Henry Wiggett's 'and, but not before."
He took a box of matches from the bar and, relighting the stump of his cigar, contemplated Mr. Ketchmaid for some time in silence, and then, with a serious shake of his head, stumped off to bed. Mr. Ketchmaid remained below, and for at least an hour sat thinking of ways and means out of the dilemma into which his ingenuity had led him.
He went to bed with the puzzle still unsolved, and the morning yielded no solution. Mr. Wiggett appeared to have forgotten the previous night's proceedings altogether, and steadfastly declined to take umbrage at a manner which would have chilled a rhinoceros. He told several fresh anecdotes of himself and Sam Jones that evening; anecdotes which, at the immediate risk of choking, Mr. Ketchmaid was obliged to indorse.
A week passed, and Mr. Wiggett still graced with his presence the bar of the Ship. The landlord lost flesh, and began seriously to consider the advisability of making a clean breast of the whole affair. Mr. Wiggett watched him anxiously, and with a skill born of a life-long study of humanity, realised that his visit was drawing to an end. At last, one day, Mr. Ketchmaid put the matter bluntly.
"I shall tell the chaps to-night that it was a little joke on my part," he announced, with grim decision; "then I shall take you by the collar and kick you into the road."
Mr. Wiggett sighed and shook his head.
"It'll be a terrible show-up for you," he said, softly. "You'd better make it worth my while, and I'll tell 'em this evening that I'm going to New Zealand to live with a niece of mine there, and that you've paid my passage for me. I don't like telling any more lies, but, seeing it's for you, I'll do it for a couple of pounds."
"Five shillings," snarled Mr. Ketchmaid.
Mr. Wiggett smiled comfortably and shook his head. Mr. Ketchmaid raised his offer to ten shillings, to a pound, and finally, after a few remarks which prompted Mr. Wiggett to state that hard words broke no bones, flung into the bar and fetched the money.
The news of Mr. Wiggett's departure went round the village at once, the landlord himself breaking the news to the next customer, and an overflow meeting assembled that evening to bid the emigrant farewell.
The landlord noted with pleasure that business was brisk. Several gentlemen stood drink to Mr. Wiggett, and in return he put his hand in his own pocket and ordered glasses round. Mr. Ketchmaid, in a state of some uneasiness, took the order, and then Mr. Wiggett, with the air of one conferring inestimable benefits, produced a lucky halfpenny, which had once belonged to Sam Jones, and insisted upon his keeping it.
"This is my last night, mates," he said, mournfully, as he acknowledged the drinking of his health. "In many ports I've been, and many snug pubs I 'ave visited, but I never in all my days come across a nicer, kinder-'earted lot o' men than wot you are."
"Hear, hear," said Mr. Clark.
Mr. Wiggett paused, and, taking a sip from his glass to hide his emotion, resumed.
"In my lonely pilgrimage through life, crippled and 'aving to beg my bread," he said, tearfully, "I shall think o' this 'appy bar and these friendly faces. When I am wrestlin' with the pangs of 'unger and being moved on by the 'eartless police, I shall think of you as I last saw you."
"But," said Mr. Smith, voicing the general consternation, "you're going to your niece in New Zealand?"
Mr. Wiggett shook his head and smiled a sad, sweet smile.
"I 'ave no niece," he said, simply; "I'm alone in the world."
At these touching words his audience put their glasses down and stared in amaze at Mr. Ketchmaid, while that gentleman in his turn gazed at Mr. Wiggett as though he had suddenly developed horns and a tail.
"Ketchmaid told me hisself as he'd paid your passage to New Zealand," said the shoemaker; "he said as 'e'd pressed you to stay, but that you said as blood was thicker even than friendship."
"All lies," said Mr. Wiggett, sadly. "I'll stay with pleasure if he'll give the word. I'll stay even now if 'e wishes it."
He paused a moment as though to give his bewildered victim time to accept this offer, and then addressed the scandalised Mr. Clark again.
"He don't like my being 'ere," he said, in a low voice. "He grudges the little bit I eat, I s'pose. He told me I'd got to go, and that for the look o' things 'e was going to pretend I was going to New Zealand. I was too broke-'earted at the time to care wot he said—I 'ave no wish to sponge on no man—but, seeing your 'onest faces round me, I couldn't go with a lie on my lips—Sol Ketch-maid, old shipmate—good-bye."
He turned to the speechless landlord, made as though to shake hands with him, thought better of it, and then, with a wave of his hand full of chastened dignity, withdrew. His stump rang with pathetic insistence upon the brick-paved passage, paused at the door, and then, tapping on the hard road, died slowly away in the distance. Inside the Ship the shoemaker gave an ominous order for lemonade.
A MARKED MAN
"Tattooing is a gift," said the night-watchman, firmly. "It 'as to be a gift, as you can well see. A man 'as to know wot 'e is going to tattoo an' 'ow to do it; there's no rubbing out or altering. It's a gift, an' it can't be learnt. I knew a man once as used to tattoo a cabin-boy all over every v'y'gc trying to learn. 'E was a slow, painstaking sort o' man, and the langwidge those boys used to use while 'e was at work would 'ardly be believed, but 'e 'ad to give up trying arter about fifteen years and take to crochet-work instead.
"Some men won't be tattooed at all, being proud o' their skins or sich-like, and for a good many years Ginger Dick, a man I've spoke to you of before, was one o' that sort. Like many red-'aired men 'e 'ad a very white skin, which 'e was very proud of, but at last, owing to a unfortnit idea o' making 'is fortin, 'e let hisself be done.
"It come about in this way: Him and old Sam Small and Peter Russet 'ad been paid off from their ship and was 'aving a very 'appy, pleasant time ashore. They was careful men in a way, and they 'ad taken a room down East India Road way, and paid up the rent for a month. It came cheaper than a lodging-'ouse, besides being a bit more private and respectable, a thing old Sam was always very pertickler about.
"They 'ad been ashore about three weeks when one day old Sam and Peter went off alone becos Ginger said 'e wasn't going with 'em. He said a lot more things, too; 'ow 'e was going to see wot it felt like to be in bed without 'aving a fat old man groaning 'is 'eart out and another one knocking on the mantelpiece all night with twopence and wanting to know why he wasn't being served.
"Ginger Dick fell into a quiet sleep arter they'd gone; then 'e woke up and 'ad a sip from the water-jug—he'd 'a had more, only somebody 'ad dropped the soap in it—and then dozed off agin. It was late in the afternoon when 'e woke, and then 'e see Sam and Peter Russet standing by the side o' the bed looking at 'im.
"'Where've you been?' ses Ginger, stretching hisself and yawning.
"'Bisness,' ses Sam, sitting down an' looking very important. 'While you've been laying on your back all day me an' Peter Russet 'as been doing a little 'ead-work.'
"'Oh!' ses Ginger. 'Wot with?'
"Sam coughed and Peter began to whistle, an' Ginger he laid still and smiled up at the ceiling, and began to feel good-tempered agin.
"'Well, wot's the business?' he ses, at last.
"Sam looked at Peter, but Peter shook 'is 'ead at him.
"It's just a little bit 'o bisness we 'appened to drop on,' ses Sam, at last, 'me an' Peter, and I think that, with luck and management, we're in a fair way to make our fortunes. Peter, 'ere, ain't given to looking on the cheerful side o' things, but 'e thinks so, too.'
"'I do,' ses Peter, 'but it won't be managed right if you go blabbing it to everybody.'
"'We must 'ave another man in it, Peter,' ses Sam; 'and, wot's more, 'e must 'ave ginger-coloured 'air. That being so, it's only right and proper that our dear old pal Ginger should 'ave the fust offer.'
"It wasn't often that Sam was so affeckshunate, and Ginger couldn't make it out at all. Ever since 'e'd known 'im the old man 'ad been full o' plans o' making money without earning it. Stupid plans they was, too, but the stupider they was the more old Sam liked 'em.
"'Well, wot is it?' asks Ginger, agin.
"Old Sam walked over to the door and shut it; then 'e sat down on the bed and spoke low so that Ginger could hardly 'ear 'im.
"'A little public-'ouse,' he ses, 'to say nothing of 'ouse properly, and a red-'aired old landlady wot's a widder. As nice a old lady as any one could wish for, for a mother.'
"For a mother!' ses Ginger, staring:
"'And a lovely barmaid with blue eyes and yellow 'air, wot 'ud be the red-'edded man's cousin,' ses Peter Russet.
"'Look 'ere,' ses Ginger, 'are you going to tell me in plain English wot it's all about, or are you not?'
"'We've been in a little pub down Bow way, me an' Peter,' ses Sam, 'and we'll tell you more about it if you promise to join us an' go shares. It's kep' by a widder woman whose on'y son—red-'aired son—went to sea twenty-three years ago, at the age o' fourteen, an' was never 'eard of arterwards. Seeing we was sailor-men, she told us all about it, an' 'ow she still 'opes for him to walk into 'er arms afore she dies.'
"'She dreamt a fortnit ago that 'e turned up safe and sound, with red whiskers,' ses Peter.
"Ginger Dick sat up and looked at 'em without a word; then 'e got up out o' bed, an' pushing old Sam out of the way began to dress, and at last 'e turned round and asked Sam whether he was drunk or only mad.
"'All right,' ses Sam; 'if you won't take it on we'll find somebody as will, that's all; there's no call to get huffy about it. You ain't the on'y red-'edded man in the world.'
"Ginger didn't answer 'im; he went on dressing, but every now and then 'e'd look at Sam and give a little larf wot made Sam's blood boil.
"'You've got nothin' to larf at, Ginger,' he ses, at last; 'the landlady's boy 'ud be about the same age as wot you are now; 'e 'ad a scar over the left eyebrow same as wot you've got, though I don't suppose he got it by fighting a chap three times 'is size. 'E 'ad bright blue eyes, a small, well-shaped nose, and a nice mouth.'
"'Same as you, Ginger,' ses Peter, looking out of the winder.
"Ginger coughed and looked thoughtful.
"'It sounds all right, mates,' 'e ses at last, 'but I don't see 'ow we're to go to work. I don't want to get locked up for deceiving.'
"'You can't get locked up,' ses Sam; 'if you let 'er discover you and claim you, 'ow can you get locked up for it? We shall go in an' see her agin, and larn all there is to larn, especially about the tattoo marks, and then—'
"'Tattoo marks!' ses Ginger.
"'That's the strong p'int,' ses Sam. ''Er boy 'ad a sailor dancing a 'ornpipe on 'is left wrist, an' a couple o' dolphins on his right. On 'is chest 'e 'ad a full-rigged ship, and on 'is back between 'is shoulder-blades was the letters of 'is name—C.R.S.: Charles Robert Smith.'
"'Well, you silly old fool,' ses Ginger, starting up in a temper, 'that spiles it all. I ain't got a mark on me.'
"Old Sam smiles at 'im and pats him on the shoulder. 'That's where you show your want of intelleck, Ginger,' he ses, kindly. 'Why don't you think afore you speak? Wot's easier than to 'ave 'em put on?'
"'Wot?' screams Ginger. 'Tattoo me! Spile my skin with a lot o' beastly blue marks! Not me, not if I know it. I'd like to see anybody try it, that's all.'
"He was that mad 'e wouldn't listen to reason, and, as old Sam said, 'e couldn't have made more fuss if they'd offered to skin 'im alive, an' Peter Russet tried to prove that a man's skin was made to be tattooed on, or else there wouldn't be tat-tooers; same as a man 'ad been given two legs so as 'e could wear trousers. But reason was chucked away on Ginger, an' 'e wouldn't listen to 'em.
"They started on 'im agin next day, but all Sam and Peter could say didn't move 'im, although Sam spoke so feeling about the joy of a pore wid-der woman getting 'er son back agin arter all these years that 'e nearly cried.
"They went down agin to the pub that evening, and Ginger, who said 'e was curious to see, wanted to go too. Sam, who still 'ad 'opes of 'im, wouldn't 'ear of it, but at last it was arranged that 'e wasn't to go inside, but should take a peep through the door. They got on a tram at Ald-gate, and Ginger didn't like it becos Sam and Peter talked it over between theirselves in whispers and pointed out likely red'-aired men in the road.
"And 'e didn't like it when they got to the Blue Lion, and Sam and Peter went in and left 'im outside, peeping through the door. The landlady shook 'ands with them quite friendly, and the barmaid, a fine-looking girl, seemed to take a lot o' notice of Peter. Ginger waited about outside for nearly a couple of hours, and at last they came out, talking and larfing, with Peter wearing a white rose wot the barmaid 'ad given 'im.
"Ginger Dick 'ad a good bit to say about keeping 'im waiting all that time, but Sam said that they'd been getting valuable information, an' the more 'e could see of it the easier the job appeared to be, an' then him an' Peter wished for to bid Ginger good-bye, while they went and 'unted up a red-'aired friend o' Peter's named Charlie Bates.
"They all went in somewhere and 'ad a few drinks first, though, and arter a time Ginger began to see things in a different light to wot 'e 'ad before, an' to be arf ashamed of 'is selfishness, and 'e called Sam's pot a loving-cup, an' kep' on drinking out of it to show there was no ill-feeling, although Sam kep' telling him there wasn't. Then Sam spoke up about tattooing agin, and Ginger said that every man in the country ought to be tattooed to prevent the smallpox. He got so excited about it that old Sam 'ad to promise 'im that he should be tattooed that very night, before he could pacify 'im.
"They all went off 'ome with their arms round each other's necks, but arter a time Ginger found that Sam's neck wasn't there, an' 'e stopped and spoke serious to Peter about it. Peter said 'e couldn't account for it, an' 'e had such a job to get Ginger 'ome that 'e thought they would never ha' got there. He got 'im to bed at last an' then 'e sat down and fell asleep waiting for Sam.
"Ginger was the last one to wake up in the morning, an' before 'e woke he kept making a moaning noise. His 'ead felt as though it was going to bust, 'is tongue felt like a brick, and 'is chest was so sore 'e could 'ardly breathe. Then at last 'e opened 'is eyes and looked up and saw Sam an' Peter and a little man with a black moustache.
"'Cheer up, Ginger,' ses Sam, in a kind voice, 'it's going on beautiful.'
"'My 'ead's splittin',' ses Ginger, with a groan, 'an' I've got pins an' needles all over my chest.'
"'Needles,' ses the man with the black moustache. 'I never use pins; they'd pison the flesh.'
"Ginger sat up in bed and stared at 'im; then 'e bent 'is 'ead down and squinted at 'is chest, and next moment 'e was out of bed and all three of 'em was holding 'im down on the floor to prevent 'im breaking the tattooer's neck which 'e'd set 'is 'eart upon doing, and explaining to 'im that the tattooer was at the top of 'is profession, and that it was only by a stroke of luck 'e had got 'im. And Sam reminded 'im of wot 'e 'ad said the night before, and said he'd live to thank 'im for it.
"''Ow much is there done?' ses Ginger, at last, in a desprit voice.
"Sam told 'im, and Ginger lay still and called the tattooer all the names he could think of; which took 'im some time.
"'It's no good going on like that, Ginger,' ses Sam. 'Your chest is quite spiled at present, but if you on'y let 'im finish it'll be a perfeck picter.'
"I take pride in it,' ses the tattooer; 'working on your skin, mate, is like painting on a bit o' silk.'
"Ginger gave in at last, and told the man to go on with the job and finish it, and 'e even went so far as to do a little bit o' tattooing 'imself on Sam when he wasn't looking. 'E only made one mark, becos the needle broke off, and Sam made such a fuss that Ginger said any one would ha' thought 'e'd hurt 'im.
"It took three days to do Ginger altogether, and he was that sore 'e could 'ardly move or breathe and all the time 'e was laying on 'is bed of pain Sam and Peter Russet was round at the Blue Lion enjoying theirselves and picking up information. The second day was the worst, owing to the tattooer being the worse for licker. Drink affects different people in different ways, and Ginger said the way it affected that chap was to make 'im think 'e was sewing buttons on instead o' tattooing.
"'Owever 'e was done at last; his chest and 'is arms and 'is shoulders, and he nearly broke down when Sam borrowed a bit o 'looking-glass and let 'im see hisself. Then the tattooer rubbed in some stuff to make 'is skin soft agin, and some more stuff to make the marks look a bit old.
"Sam wanted to draw up an agreement, but Ginger Dick and Peter Russet wouldn't 'ear of it. They both said that that sort o' thing wouldn't look well in writing, not if anybody else happened to see it, that is; besides which Ginger said it was impossible for 'im to say 'ow much money he would 'ave the handling of. Once the tattooing was done 'e began to take a'most kindly to the plan, an' being an orfin, so far as 'e knew, he almost began to persuade hisself that the red-'aired landlady was 'is mother.
"They 'ad a little call over in their room to see 'ow Ginger was to do it, and to discover the weak p'ints. Sam worked up a squeaky voice, and pretended to be the landlady, and Peter pretended to be the good-looking barmaid.
"They went all through it over and over agin, the only unpleasantness being caused by Peter Russet letting off a screech every time Ginger alluded to 'is chest wot set 'is teeth on edge, and old Sam as the landlady offering Ginger pots o' beer which made 'is mouth water.
"'We shall go round to-morrow for the last time,' ses Sam, 'as we told 'er we're sailing the day arter. Of course me an' Peter, 'aving made your fortin, drop out altogether, but I dessay we shall look in agin in about six months' time, and then perhaps the landlady will interduce us to you.'
"'Meantime,' ses Peter Russet, 'you mustn't forget that you've got to send us Post Office money-orders every week.'
"Ginger said 'e wouldn't forget, and they shook 'ands all round and 'ad a drink together, and the next arternoon Sam and Peter went to the Blue Lion for a last visit.
"It was quite early when they came back. Ginger was surprised to see 'em, and he said so, but 'e was more surprised when 'e heard their reasons.
"It come over us all at once as we'd bin doing wrong,' Sam ses, setting down with a sigh.
"'Come over us like a chill, it did,' ses Peter.
"'Doing wrong?' ses Ginger Dick, staring. 'Wot are you talking about?'
"'Something the landlady said showed us as we was doin' wrong,' ses old Sam, very solemn; 'it come over us in a flash.'
"'Like lightning,' ses Peter.
"'All of a sudden we see wot a cruel, 'ard thing it was to go and try and deceive a poor widder woman,' ses Sam, in a 'usky voice; 'we both see it at once.'
"Ginger Dick looks at 'em 'ard, 'e did, and then, 'e ses, jeering like:
"'I 'spose you don't want any Post Office money-orders sent you, then?' he ses.
"'No,' says Sam and Peter, both together.
"'You may have 'em all,' ses Sam; 'but if you'll be ruled by us, Ginger, you'll give it up, same as wot we 'ave—you'll sleep the sweeter for it.'
"'Give it up!' shouts Ginger, dancing up an' down the room, 'arter being tattooed all over? Why, you must be crazy, Sam—wot's the matter with you?'
"'It ain't fair play agin a woman,' says old Sam, 'three strong men agin one poor old woman; that's wot we feel, Ginger.'
"'Well, I don't feel like it,' ses Ginger; 'you please yourself, and I'll please myself.'
"'E went off in a huff, an' next morning 'e was so disagreeable that Sam an' Peter went and signed on board a steamer called the Penguin, which was to sail the day arter. They parted bad friends all round, and Ginger Dick gave Peter a nasty black eye, and Sam said that when Ginger came to see things in a proper way agin he'd be sorry for wot 'e'd said. And 'e said that 'im and Peter never wanted to look on 'is face agin.
"Ginger Dick was a bit lonesome arter they'd gone, but 'e thought it better to let a few days go by afore 'e went and adopted the red-'aired landlady. He waited a week, and at last, unable to wait any longer, 'e went out and 'ad a shave and smartened hisself up, and went off to the Blue Lion.
"It was about three o'clock when 'e got there, and the little public-'ouse was empty except for two old men in the jug-and-bottle entrance. Ginger stopped outside a minute or two to try and stop 'is trembling, and then 'e walks into the private bar and raps on the counter.
"'Glass o' bitter, ma'am, please,' he ses to the old lady as she came out o' the little parlour at the back o' the bar.
"The old lady drew the beer, and then stood with one 'and holding the beer-pull and the other on the counter, looking at Ginger Dick in 'is new blue jersey and cloth cap.
"'Lovely weather, ma'am,' ses Ginger, putting his left arm on the counter and showing the sailor-boy dancing the hornpipe.
"'Very nice,' ses the landlady, catching sight of 'is wrist an' staring at it. 'I suppose you sailors like fine weather?'
"'Yes, ma'am,' ses Ginger, putting his elbows on the counter so that the tattoo marks on both wrists was showing. 'Fine weather an' a fair wind suits us.'
"'It's a 'ard life, the sea,' ses the old lady.
"She kept wiping down the counter in front of 'im over an' over agin, an' 'e could see 'er staring at 'is wrists as though she could 'ardly believe her eyes. Then she went back into the parlour, and Ginger 'eard her whispering, and by and by she came out agin with the blue-eyed barmaid.
"'Have you been at sea long?' ses the old lady.
"'Over twenty-three years, ma'am,' ses Ginger, avoiding the barmaid's eye wot was fixed on 'is wrists, 'and I've been shipwrecked four times; the fust time when I was a little nipper o' fourteen.'
"'Pore thing,' ses the landlady, shaking 'er 'ead. 'I can feel for you; my boy went to sea at that age, and I've never seen 'im since.'
"'I'm sorry to 'ear it, ma'am,' ses Ginger, very respectful-like. 'I suppose I've lost my mother, so I can feel for you.'
"'Suppose you've lost your mother!' ses the barmaid; 'don't you know whether you have?'
"'No,' ses Ginger Dick, very sad. 'When I was wrecked the fust time I was in a open boat for three weeks, and, wot with the exposure and 'ardly any food, I got brain-fever and lost my memory.'
"'Pore thing,' ses the landlady agin.
"'I might as well be a orfin,' ses Ginger, looking down; 'sometimes I seem to see a kind, 'and-some face bending over me, and fancy it's my mother's, but I can't remember 'er name, or my name, or anythink about 'er.'
"'You remind me o' my boy very much,' ses the landlady, shaking 'er 'ead; 'you've got the same coloured 'air, and, wot's extraordinary, you've got the same tattoo marks on your wrists. Sailor-boy dancing on one and a couple of dolphins on the other. And 'e 'ad a little scar on 'is eyebrow, much the same as yours.'
"'Good 'evins,' ses Ginger Dick, starting back and looking as though 'e was trying to remember something.
"'I s'pose they're common among seafaring men?' ses the landlady, going off to attend to a customer.
"Ginger Dick would ha' liked to ha'seen'er abit more excited, but 'e ordered another glass o' bitter from the barmaid, and tried to think 'ow he was to bring out about the ship on his chest and the letters on 'is back. The landlady served a couple o' men, and by and by she came back and began talking agin.
"'I like sailors,' she ses; 'one thing is, my boy was a sailor; and another thing is, they've got such feelin' 'earts. There was two of 'em in 'ere the other day, who'd been in 'ere once or twice, and one of 'em was that kind 'earted I thought he would ha' 'ad a fit at something I told him.'
"'Ho,' ses Ginger, pricking up his ears, 'wot for?'
"'I was just talking to 'im about my boy, same as I might be to you,' ses the old lady, 'and I was just telling 'im about the poor child losing 'is finger——'
"'Losing 'is wot?' ses Ginger, turning pale and staggering back.
"'Finger,' ses the landlady. 'E was only ten years old at the time, and I'd sent 'im out to—Wot's the matter? Ain't you well?'
"Ginger didn't answer 'er a word, he couldn't. 'E went on going backwards until 'e got to the door, and then 'e suddenly fell through it into the street, and tried to think.
"Then 'e remembered Sam and Peter, and when 'e thought of them safe and sound aboard the Penguin he nearly broke down altogether, as 'e thought how lonesome he was.
"All 'e wanted was 'is arms round both their necks same as they was the night afore they 'ad 'im tattooed."
TO HAVE AND TO HOLD
The old man sat outside the Cauliflower Inn, looking crossly up the road. He was fond of conversation, but the pedestrian who had stopped to drink a mug of ale beneath the shade of the doors was not happy in his choice of subjects. He would only talk of the pernicious effects of beer on the constitutions of the aged, and he listened with ill-concealed impatience to various points which the baffled ancient opposite urged in its favour.
Conversation languished; the traveller rapped on the table and had his mug refilled. He nodded courteously to his companion and drank.
"Seems to me," said the latter, sharply, "you like it for all your talk."
The other shook his head gently, and, leaning back, bestowed a covert wink upon the signboard. He then explained that it was the dream of his life to give up beer.
"You're another Job Brown," said the old man, irritably, "that's wot you are; another Job Brown. I've seen your kind afore."
He shifted farther along the seat, and, taking up his long clay pipe from the table, struck a match and smoked the few whiffs which remained. Then he heard the traveller order a pint of ale with gin in it and a paper of tobacco. His dull eyes glistened, but he made a feeble attempt to express surprise when these luxuries were placed before him.
"Wot I said just now about you being like Job Brown was only in joke like," he said, anxiously, as he tasted the brew. "If Job 'ad been like you he'd ha' been a better man."
The philanthropist bowed. He also manifested a little curiosity concerning one to whom he had, for however short a time, suggested a resemblance.
"He was one o' the 'ardest drinkers in these parts," began the old man, slowly, filling his pipe.
The traveller thanked him.
"Wot I meant was"—said the old man, hastily—"that all the time 'e was drinking 'e was talking agin beer same as you was just now, and he used to try all sorts o' ways and plans of becoming a teetotaler. He used to sit up 'ere of a night drinking 'is 'ardest and talking all the time of ways and means by which 'e could give it up. He used to talk about hisself as if 'e was somebody else 'e was trying to do good to.
The chaps about 'ere got sick of 'is talk. They was poor men mostly, same as they are now, and they could only drink a little ale now and then; an' while they was doing of it they 'ad to sit and listen to Job Brown, who made lots o' money dealing, drinking pint arter pint o' gin and beer and calling it pison, an' saying they was killing theirselves.
"Sometimes 'e used to get pitiful over it, and sit shaking 'is 'ead at 'em for drowning theirselves in beer, as he called it, when they ought to be giving the money to their wives and families. He sat down and cried one night over Bill Chambers's wife's toes being out of 'er boots. Bill sat struck all of a 'eap, and it might 'ave passed off, only Henery White spoke up for 'im, and said that he scarcely ever 'ad a pint but wot somebody else paid for it. There was unpleasantness all round then, and in the row somebody knocked one o' Henery's teeth out.
"And that wasn't the only unpleasantness, and at last some of the chaps put their 'eads together and agreed among theirselves to try and help Job Brown to give up the drink. They kep' it secret from Job, but the next time 'e came in and ordered a pint Joe Gubbins—'aving won the toss—drank it by mistake, and went straight off 'ome as 'ard as 'e could, smacking 'is lips.
"He 'ad the best of it, the other chaps 'aving to 'old Job down in 'is chair, and trying their 'ardest to explain that Joe Gubbins was only doing him a kindness. He seemed to understand at last, and arter a long time 'e said as 'e could see Joe meant to do 'im a kindness, but 'e'd better not do any more.
"He kept a very tight 'old o' the next pint, and as 'e set down at the table he looked round nasty like and asked 'em whether there was any more as would like to do 'im a kindness, and Henery White said there was, and he went straight off 'ome arter fust dropping a handful o' sawdust into Job's mug.
"I'm an old man, an' I've seen a good many rows in my time, but I've never seen anything like the one that 'appened then. It was no good talking to Job, not a bit, he being that unreasonable that even when 'is own words was repeated to 'im he wouldn't listen. He behaved like a madman, an' the langwidge 'e used was that fearful and that wicked that Smith the landlord said 'e wouldn't 'ave it in 'is house.
"Arter that you'd ha' thought that Job Brown would 'ave left off 'is talk about being teetotaler, but he didn't. He said they was quite right in trying to do 'im a kindness, but he didn't like the way they did it. He said there was a right way and a wrong way of doing everything, and they'd chose the wrong.
"It was all very well for 'im to talk, but the chaps said 'e might drink hisself to death for all they cared. And instead of seeing 'im safe 'ome as they used to when 'e was worse than usual he 'ad to look arter hisself and get 'ome as best he could.
"It was through that at last 'e came to offer five pounds reward to anybody as could 'elp 'im to become a teetotaler. He went off 'ome one night as usual, and arter stopping a few seconds in the parlour to pull hisself together, crept quietly upstairs for fear of waking 'is wife. He saw by the crack under the door that she'd left a candle burning, so he pulled hisself together agin and then turned the 'andle and went in and began to try an' take off 'is coat.
"He 'appened to give a 'alf-look towards the bed as 'e did so, and then 'e started back and rubbed 'is eyes and told 'imself he'd be better in a minute. Then 'e looked agin, for 'is wife was nowhere to be seen, and in the bed all fast and sound asleep and snoring their 'ardest was little Dick Weed the tailor and Mrs. Weed and the baby.
"Job Brown rubbed 'is eyes again, and then 'e drew hisself up to 'is full height, and putting one 'and on the chest o' drawers to steady hisself stood there staring at 'em and getting madder and madder every second. Then 'e gave a nasty cough, and Dick and Mrs. Weed an' the baby all woke up and stared at 'im as though they could 'ardly believe their eyesight.
"'Wot do you want?' ses Dick Weed, starting up.
"'Get up,' ses Job, 'ardly able to speak. I'm surprised at you. Get up out o' my bed direckly.'
"'Your bed?' screams little Dick; 'you're the worse for licker, Job Brown. Can't you see you've come into the wrong house?'
"'Eh?' ses Job, staring. 'Wrong 'ouse? Well, where's mine, then?'
"'Next door but one, same as it always was,' ses Dick. 'Will you go?'
"'A' right,' ses Job, staring. 'Well, goo'-night, Dick. Goo'-night, Mrs. Weed. Goo'-night, baby.'
"'Good-night,' ses Mrs. Weed from under the bedclothes.
"'Goo'-night, baby,' ses Job, again.
"'It can't talk yet,' ses Dick. 'Will you go?
"'Can't talk—why not?' ses Job.
"Dick didn't answer 'im.
"'Well, goo'-night, Dick,' he ses agin.
"'Good-night,' ses Dick from between 'is teeth.
"'Goo'-night, Mrs. Weed,' ses Job.
"Mrs. Weed forced herself to say 'good-night' agin.
"'Goo'-night, baby,' ses Job.
"'Look 'ere,' ses Dick, raving, 'are you goin' to stay 'ere all night, Job Brown?'
"Job didn't answer 'im, but began to go downstairs, saying 'goo'-night' as 'e went, and he'd got pretty near to the bottom when he suddenly wondered wot 'e was going downstairs for instead of up, and lading gently at 'is foolishness for making sich a mistake 'e went upstairs agin. His surprise when 'e see Dick Weed and Mrs. Weed and the baby all in 'is bed pretty near took 'is breath away.
"'Wot are you doing in my bed?' he ses.
"'It's our bed,' ses Dick, trembling all over with rage. 'I've told you afore you've come into the wrong 'ouse.'
"'Wrong 'ouse,' ses Job, staring round the room. 'I b'leeve you're right. Goo'-night, Dick; goo'-night, Mrs. Weed; goo'-night, baby.'
"Dick jumped out of bed then and tried to push 'im out of the room, but 'e was a very small man, and Job just stood there and wondered wot he was doing. Mrs. Weed and the baby both started screaming one against the other, and at last Dick pushed the window open and called out for help.
"They 'ad the neighbours in then, and the trouble they 'ad to get Job downstairs wouldn't be believed. Mrs. Pottle went for 'is wife at last, and then Job went 'ome with 'er like a lamb, asking 'er where she'd been all the evening, and saying 'e'd been looking for 'er everywhere.
"There was such a to-do about it in the village next morning that Job Brown was fairly scared. All the wimmen was out at their doors talking about it, and saying wot a shame it was and 'ow silly Mrs. Weed was to put up with it. Then old Mrs. Gumm, 'er grandmother, who was eighty-eight years old, stood outside Job's 'ouse nearly all day, shaking 'er stick at 'im and daring of 'im to come out. Wot with Mrs. Gumm and the little crowd watching 'er all day and giving 'er good advice, which she wouldn't take, Job was afraid to show 'is nose outside the door.
"He wasn't like hisself that night up at the Cauliflower. 'E sat up in the corner and wouldn't take any notice of anybody, and it was easy to see as he was thoroughly ashamed of hisself.
"'Cheer up, Job,' says Bill Chambers, at last; 'you ain't the fust man as has made a fool of hisself.'
"'Mind your own business,' ses Job Brown, 'and I'll mind mine.'
"'Why don't you leave 'im alone, Bill?' ses Henery White; 'you can see the man is worried because the baby can't talk.'
"'Oh,' ses Bill, 'I thought 'e was worried because 'is wife could.'
"All the chaps, except Job, that is, laughed at that; but Job 'e got up and punched the table, and asked whether there was anybody as would like to go outside with him for five minutes. Then 'e sat down agin, and said 'ard things agin the drink, which 'ad made 'im the larfing-stock of all the fools in Claybury.
"'I'm going to give it up, Smith,' he ses.
"'Yes, I know you are,' ses Smith.
"'If I could on'y lose the taste of it for a time I could give it up,' ses Job, wiping 'is mouth, 'and to prove I'm in earnest I'll give five pounds to anybody as'll prevent me tasting intoxicating licker for a month.'
"'You may as well save your breath to bid people "good-night" with, Job,' ses Bill Chambers; 'you wouldn't pay up if anybody did keep you off it.'
"Job swore honour bright he would, but nobody believed 'im, and at last he called for pen and ink and wrote it all down on a sheet o' paper and signed it, and then he got two other chaps to sign it as witnesses.
"Bill Chambers wasn't satisfied then. He pointed out that earning the five pounds, and then getting it out o' Job Brown arterwards, was two such entirely different things that there was no likeness between 'em at all. Then Job Brown got so mad 'e didn't know wot 'e was doing, and 'e 'anded over five pounds to Smith the landlord and wrote on the paper that he was to give it to anybody who should earn it, without consulting 'im at all. Even Bill couldn't think of anything to say agin that, but he made a point of biting all the sovereigns.
"There was quite a excitement for a few days. Henery White 'e got a 'eadache with thinking, and Joe Gubbins, 'e got a 'eadache for drinking Job Brown's beer agin. There was all sorts o' wild ways mentioned to earn that five pounds, but they didn't come to anything.
"Arter a week had gone by Job Brown began to get restless like, and once or twice 'e said in Smith's hearing 'ow useful five pounds would be. Smith didn't take any notice, and at last Job told 'im there didn't seem any likelihood of the five pounds being earned, and he wanted it to buy pigs with. The way 'e went on when Smith said 'e 'adn't got the power to give it back, and 'e'd got to keep it in trust for anybody as might earn it, was disgraceful.
"He used to ask Smith for it every night, and Smith used to give 'im the same answer, until at last Job Brown said he'd go an' see a lawyer about it. That frightened Smith a bit, and I b'lieve he'd ha' 'anded it over, but two days arterwards Job was going upstairs so careful that he fell down to the bottom and broke 'is leg.
"It was broken in two places, and the doctor said it would be a long job, owing to 'is drinking habits, and 'e gave Mrs. Brown strict orders that Job wasn't to 'ave a drop of anything, even if 'e asked for it.
"There was a lot o' talk about it up at the Cauliflower 'ere, and Henery White, arter a bad 'eadache, thought of a plan by which 'e and Bill Chambers could 'ave that five pounds atween 'em. The idea was that Bill Chambers was to go with Henery to see Job, and take 'im a bottle of beer, and jist as Job was going to drink it Henery should knock it out of 'is 'ands, at the same time telling Bill Chambers 'e ought to be ashamed o' hisself.
"It was a good idea, and, as Henery White said, if Mrs. Brown was in the room so much the better, as she'd be a witness. He made Bill swear to keep it secret for fear of other chaps doing it arterwards, and then they bought a bottle o' beer and set off up the road to Job's. The annoying part of it was, arter all their trouble and Henery White's 'eadache, Mrs. Brown wouldn't let 'em in. They begged and prayed of 'er to let 'em go up and just 'ave a peep at 'im, but she wouldn't She said she'd go upstairs and peep for 'em, and she came down agin and said that 'e was a little bit flushed, but sleeping like a lamb.
"They went round the corner and drank the ale up, and Bill Chambers said it was a good job. Henery thought 'e was clever, because nobody else did. As for 'is 'eadaches, he put 'em down to over-eating.
"Several other chaps called to see Job, but none of them was allowed to go up, and for seven weeks that unfortunate man never touched a drop of anything. The doctor tried to persuade 'im now that 'e 'ad got the start to keep it, and 'e likewise pointed out that as 'e had been without liquor for over a month, he could go and get that five pounds back out o' Smith.
"Job promised that 'e would give it up; but the fust day 'e felt able to crawl on 'is crutches he made up 'is mind to go up to the Cauliflower and see whether gin and beer tasted as good as it used to. The only thing was 'is wife might stop 'im.
"'You're done up with nursing me, old gal,' he ses to 'is wife.
"'I am a bit tired,' ses she.
"'I could see it by your eyes,' ses Job. 'What you want is a change, Polly. Why not go and see your sister at Wickham?"
"'I don't like leaving you alone,' ses Mrs. Brown, 'else I'd like to go. I want to do a little shopping.'
"'You go, my dear,' ses Job. 'I shall be quite 'appy sitting at the gate in the sun with a glass o' milk an' a pipe.'
"He persuaded 'er at last, and, in a fit o' generosity, gave 'er three shillings to go shopping with, and as soon as she was out o' sight he went off with a crutch and a stick, smiling all over 'is face. He met Dick Weed in the road and they shook 'ands quite friendly, and Job asked 'im to 'ave a drink. Then Henery White and some more chaps came along, and by the time they got to the Cauliflower they was as merry a party as you'd wish to see.
"Every man 'ad a pint o' beer, which Job paid for, not forgetting Smith 'isself, and Job closed 'is eyes with pleasure as 'e took his. Then they began to talk about 'is accident, and Job showed 'em is leg and described wot it felt like to be a teetotaler for seven weeks.
"'And I'll trouble you for that five pounds, Smith,' 'e ses, smiling. 'I've been without anything stronger than milk for seven weeks. I never thought when I wrote that paper I was going to earn my own money.'
"'None of us did, Job,' ses Smith. 'D'ye think that leg'll be all right agin? As good as the other, I mean?'
"'Doctor ses so,' ses Job.
"'It's wonderful wot they can do nowadays,' ses Smith, shaking 'is 'ead.
"''Strordinary,' ses Job; 'where's that five pounds, Smith?'
"'You don't want to put any sudden weight or anything like that on it for a time, Job,' ses Smith; 'don't get struggling or fighting, whatever you do, Job.'
"''Taint so likely,' ses Job; 'd'ye think I'm a fool? Where's that five pounds, Smith?'
"'Ah, yes,' ses Smith, looking as though 'e'd just remembered something. 'I wanted to tell you about that, to see if I've done right. I'm glad you've come in.'
"'Eh?' ses Job Brown, staring at 'im.
"'Has your wife gone shopping to-day?' ses Smith, looking at 'im very solemn.
"Job Brown put 'is mug down on the table and turned as pale as ashes. Then 'e got up and limped over to the bar.
"'Wot d'yer mean' he ses, choking.
"'She said she thought o' doing so,' ses Smith, wiping a glass; 'she came in yesterday and asked for that five pounds she'd won. The doctor came in with 'er and said she'd kept you from licker for seven weeks, let alone a month; so, according to the paper, I 'ad to give it to 'er. I 'ope I done right, Job?'
"Job didn't answer 'im a word, good or bad. He just turned 'is back on him, and, picking up 'is crutch and 'is stick, hobbled off 'ome. Henery White tried to make 'im stop and 'ave another pint, but he wouldn't. He said he didn't want 'is wife to find 'im out when she returned."
The crew of the Elisabeth Hopkins sat on deck in the gloaming, gazing idly at the dusky shapes of the barges as they dropped silently down on the tide, or violently discussing the identity of various steamers as they came swiftly past Even with these amusements the time hung heavily, and they thought longingly of certain cosy bars by the riverside to which they were wont to betake themselves in their spare time.
To-night, in deference to the wishes of the skipper, wishes which approximated closely to those of Royalty in their effects, they remained on board. A new acquaintance of his, a brother captain, who dabbled in mesmerism, was coming to give them a taste of his quality, and the skipper, sitting on the side of the schooner in the faint light which streamed from the galley, was condescendingly explaining to them the marvels of hypnotism.
"I never 'eard the likes of it," said one, with a deep breath, as the skipper concluded a marvellous example.
"There's a lot you ain't 'eard of, Bill," said another, whose temper was suffering from lack of beer. "But 'ave you seen all this, sir?"
"Everything," said the skipper, impressively. "He wanted to mesmerise me, an' I said, 'All right,' I ses, 'do it an' welcome—if you can, but I expect my head's a bit too strong for you.'"
"And it was, sir, I'll bet," said the man who had been so candid with Bill.
"He tried everything," said the skipper, "then he give it up; but he's coming aboard to-night, so any of you that likes can come down the cabin and be mesmerised free."
"Why can't he do it on deck?" said the mate, rising from the hatches and stretching his gigantic form.
"'Cos he must have artificial light, George," said the skipper. "He lets me a little bit into the secret, you know, an' he told me he likes to have the men a bit dazed-like first."
Voices sounded from the wharf, and the night-watchman appeared piloting Captain Zingall to the schooner. The crew noticed that he came aboard quite like any other man, descending the ladder with even more care than usual. He was a small man, of much dignity, with light grey eyes which had been so strained by the exercise of his favourite hobby that they appeared to be starting from his head. He chatted agreeably about freights for some time, and then, at his brother skipper's urgent entreaty, consented to go below and give them a taste of his awful powers.
At first he was not very successful. The men stared at the discs he put into their hands until their eyes ached, but for some time without effect. Bill was the first to yield, and to the astonishment of his friends passed into a soft magnetic slumber, from which he emerged to perform the usual idiotic tricks peculiar to mesmerised subjects.
"It's wonderful what power you 'ave over em," said Captain Bradd, respectfully.
Captain Zingall smiled affably. "At the present moment," he said, "that man is my unthinkin' slave, an' whatever I wish him to do he does. Would any of you like him to do anything?"
"Well, sir," said one of the men, "'e owes me 'arf a crown, an' I think it would be a 'ighly interestin' experiment if you could get 'im to pay me. If anything 'ud make me believe in mesmerism, that would."
"An' he owes me eighteenpence, sir," said another seaman, eagerly.
"One at a time," said the first speaker, sharply.
"An' 'e's owed me five shillin's since I don't know when," said the cook, with dishonest truthfulness.
Captain Zingall turned to his subject. "You owe that man half a crown," he said, pointing, "that one eighteenpence, and that one five shillings. Pay them."
In the most matter-of-fact way in the world Bill groped in his pockets, and, producing some greasy coins, payed the sums mentioned, to the intense delight of everybody.
"Well, I'm blest," said the mate, staring. "I thought mesmerism was all rubbish. Now bring him to again."
"But don't tell 'im wot 'e's been doin'," said the cook.
Zingall with a few passes brought his subject round, and with a subdued air he took his place with the others.
"What'd it feel like, Bill?" asked Joe. "Can you remember what you did?"
Bill shook his head.
"Don't try to," said the cook, feelingly.
"I should like to put you under the influence," said Zingall, eyeing the mate.
"You couldn't," said that gentleman, promptly.
"Let me try," said Zingall, persuasively.
"Do," said the skipper, "to oblige me, George."
"Well, I don't mind much," said the mate, hesitating; "but no making me give those chaps money, you know."
"No, no," said Zingall.
"Wot does 'e mean? Give the chaps money?" said Bill, turning with a startled air to the cook.
"I dunno," said the cook airily. "Just watch 'im, Bill," he added, anxiously.
But Bill had something better to do, and feeling in his pockets hurriedly strove to balance his cash account. It was impossible to do anything else while he was doing it, and the situation became so strained and his language so weird that the skipper was compelled in the interest of law and morality to order him from the cabin.
"Look at me," said Zingall to the mate after quiet had been restored.
The mate complied, and everybody gazed spellbound at the tussle for supremacy between brute force and occult science. Slowly, very slowly, science triumphed, being interrupted several times by the blood-curdling threats of Bill, as they floated down the companion-way. Then the mate suddenly lurched forward, and would have fallen but that strong hands caught him and restored him to his seat.
"I'm going to show you something now, if I can," said Zingall, wiping his brow; "but I don't know how it'll come off, because I'm only a beginner at this sort of thing, and I've never tried this before. If you don't mind, cap'n, I'm going to tell him he is Cap'n Bradd, and that you are the mate."
"Go ahead," said the delighted Bradd.
Captain Zingall went ahead full speed. With a few rapid passes he roused the mate from his torpor and fixed him with his glittering eye.
"You are Cap'n Bradd, master o' this ship," he said slowly.
"Ay, ay," said the mate, earnestly.
"And that's your mate, George, said Zingall, pointing to the deeply interested Bradd.
"Ay, ay," said the mate again, with a sigh.
"Take command, then," said Zingall, leaving him with a satisfied air and seating himself on the locker.
The mate sat up and looked about him with an air of quiet authority.
"George," he said, turning suddenly to the skipper with a very passable imitation of his voice.
"Sir," said the skipper, with a playful glance at Zingall.
"A friend o' mine named Cap'n Zingall is coming aboard to-night," said the mate, slowly. "Get a little whisky for him out o' my state-room."
"Ay, ay, sir," said the amused Bradd.
"Just a little in the bottom of the bottle 'll do," continued the mate; "don't put more in, for he drinks like a fish."
"I never said such a thing, cap'n," said Bradd, in an agitated whisper. "I never thought o' such a thing."
"No, I know you wouldn't," said Zingall, who was staring hard at a nearly empty whisky bottle on the table.
"And don't leave your baccy pouch lying about, George," continued the mate, in a thrilling whisper.
The skipper gave a faint, mirthless little laugh, and looked at him uneasily.
"If ever there was a sponger for baccy, George, it's him," said the mate, in a confidential whisper.
Captain Zingall, who was at that very moment filling his pipe from the pouch which the skipper had himself pushed towards him, laid it carefully on the table again, and gazing steadily at his friend, took out the tobacco already in his pipe and replaced it. In the silence which ensued the mate took up the whisky bottle, and pouring the contents into a tumbler, added a little water, and drank it with relish.
He leaned back on the locker and smacked his lips. There was a faint laugh from one of the crew, and looking up smartly he seemed to be aware for the first time of their presence. "What are you doin' down here?" he roared. "What do you want?"
"Nothin', sir," said the cook. "Only we thought—"
"Get out at once," vociferated the mate, rising.
"Stay where you are," said the skipper, sharply.
"George!" said the mate, in the squeaky voice in which he chose to personate the skipper.
"Bring him round, Zingall," said the skipper, irritably. "I've had enough o' this. I'll let 'im know who's who."
With a confident smile Zingall got up quietly from the locker, and fixed his terrible gaze on the mate. The mate fell back and gazed at him open-mouthed.
"Who the devil are you staring at?" he demanded, rudely.
Still holding him with his gaze, Zingall clapped his hands together, and stepping up to him blew strongly in his face. The mate, with a perfect scream of rage, picked him up by the middle, and dumping him heavily on the floor, held him there and worried him.
"Help!" cried Zingall, in a smothered voice; "take him off!"
"Why don't you bring him round?" yelled the skipper, excitably. "What's the good of playing with him?"
Zingall's reply, which was quite irrelevant, consisted almost entirely of adjectives and improper nouns.
"Blow in 'is face agin, sir," said the cook, bending down kindly.
"Take him off!" yelled Zingall; "he's killing me!"
The skipper flew to the assistance of his friend, but the mate, who was of gigantic strength and stature, simply backed, and crushed him against a bulkhead. Then, as if satisfied, he released the crestfallen Zingall, and stood looking at him.
"Why—don't—you—bring—him—round?" panted the skipper.
"He's out of my control," said Zingall, rising nimbly to his feet. "I've heard of such cases before. I'm only new at the work, you know, but I dare say, in a couple of years' time—"
The skipper howled at him, and the mate, suddenly alive again to the obnoxious presence of the crew, drove them up the companion ladder, and pursued them to the forecastle.
"This is a pretty kettle o' fish," said Bradd, indignantly. "Why don't you bring him round?"
"Because I can't," said Zingall, shortly. "It'll have to wear off."
"Wear off!" repeated the skipper.
"He's under a delusion now," said Zingall, "an' o' course I can't say how long it'll last, but whatever you do don't cross him in any way."
"Oh, don't cross him," repeated Bradd, with sarcastic inflection, "and you call yourself a mesmerist."
Zingall drew himself up with a little pride. "Well, see what I've done," he said. "The fact is, I was charged full with electricity when I came aboard, and he's got it all now. It's left me weak, and until my will wears off him he's captain o' this ship."
"And what about me?" said Bradd.
"You're the mate," said Zingall, "and mind, for your own sake, you act up to it. If you don't cross him I haven't any doubt it'll be all right, but if you do he'll very likely murder you in a fit of frenzy, and—he wouldn't be responsible. Goodnight."
"You're not going?" said Bradd, clutching him by the sleeve.
"I am," said the other. "He seems to have took a violent dislike to me, and if I stay here it'll only make him worse."
He ran lightly up on deck, and avoiding an ugly rush on the part of the mate, who had been listening, sprang on to the ladder and hastily clambered ashore.
The skipper, worn and scared, looked up as the bogus skipper came below.
"I'm going to bed, George," said the mate, staring at him. "I feel a bit heavy. Give me a call just afore high water."
"Where are you goin' to sleep?" demanded the skipper.
"Goin' to sleep?" said the mate, "why, in my state-room, to be sure."
He took the empty bottle from the table, and opening the door of the state-room, closed it in the face of its frenzied owner, and turned the key in the lock. Then he leaned over the berth, and, cramming the pillow against his mouth, gave way to his feelings until he was nearly suffocated.
Any idea that the skipper might have had of the healing effects of sleep were rudely dispelled when the mate came on deck next morning, and found that they had taken the schooner out without arousing him. His delusion seemed to be stronger than ever, and pushing the skipper from the wheel he took it himself, and read him a short and sharp lecture on the virtues of obedience.
"I know you're a good sort, George Smith," he said, leniently, "nobody could wish for a better, but while I'm master of this here ship it don't become you to take things upon yourself in the way you do."
"But you don't understand," said the skipper, trying to conquer his temper. "Now look me in the eye, George."
"Who are you calling George?" said the mate sharply.
"Well, look me in the eye, then," said the skipper, waiving the point.
"I'll look at you in a way you won't like in a minute," said the mate, ferociously.
"I want to explain the position of affairs to you," said the skipper. "Do you remember Cap'n Zingall what was aboard last night?"
"Little dirty-looking man what kept staring at me?" demanded the mate.
"Well, I don't know about 'is being dirty," said the skipper, "but that's the man. Do you know what he did to you, Geo—"
"Eh!" said the mate, sharply.
"He mesmerised you," said the skipper, hastily. "Now keep quite calm. You say you're Benjamin Bradd, master o' this vessel, don't you?"
"I do," said the mate. "Let me hear anybody say as I ain't."
"Yesterday," said the skipper, plucking up courage and speaking very slowly and impressively, "you were George Smith, the mate, but my friend, Captain Zingall, mesmerised you and made you think you were me."
"I see what it is," said the mate severely. "You've been drinking; you've been up to my whisky."
"Call the crew up and ask 'em then," said Bradd, desperately.
"Call 'em up yourself, you lunatic," said the mate, loudly enough for the men to hear. "If anybody dares to play the fool with me I won't leave a whole bone in his body, that's all."
In obedience to the summons of Captain Bradd the crew came up, and being requested by him to tell the mate that he was the mate, and that he was at present labouring under a delusion, stood silently nudging each other and eyeing him uneasily.
"Well," said the latter at length, "why don't you speak and tell George he's gone off his 'ead a bit?"
"It ain't nothing to do with us, sir," said Bill, very respectfully.
"But, damn it all, man," said the mate, taking a mighty grip of his collar, "you know I'm the cap'n, don't you?"
"O' course I do, sir," said Bill.
"There you are, George," said the mate, releasing him, and turning to the frantic Bradd; "you hear that? Now, look here, you listen to me. Either you've been drinking, or else your 'ead's gone a little bit off. You go down and turn in, and if you don't give me any more of your nonsense I'll overlook it for this once."
He ordered the crew forward again, and being desirous of leaving some permanent mark of his command on the ship, had the galley fresh painted in red and blue, and a lot of old stores, which he had vainly condemned when mate, thrown overboard. The skipper stood by helplessly while it was done, and then went below of his own accord and turned in, as being the only way to retain his sanity, or, at any rate, the clearness of head which he felt to be indispensable at this juncture.
Time, instead of restoring the mate to his senses, only appeared to confirm him in his folly, and the skipper, after another attempt to convince him, let things drift, resolving to have him put under restraint as soon as they got to port.
They reached Tidescroft in the early afternoon, but before they entered the harbour the mate, as though he had had some subtle intuition that this would be his last command, called the crew to him and read them a touching little homily upon their behaviour when they should land. He warned them of public-houses and other dangers, and reminded them affectingly of their duties as husbands and fathers. "Always go home to your wife and children, my lads," he continued with some emotion, "as I go home to mine."
"Why, he ain't got none," whispered Bill, staring.
"Don't be a fool, Bill," said the cook, "he means the cap'n's. Don't you see he's the cap'n now."
It was as clear as noonday, and the agitation of the skipper—a perfect Othello in his way—was awful. He paced the deck incessantly, casting fretful glances ashore, and, as the schooner touched the side of the quay, sprang on to the bulwarks and jumped ashore. The mate watched him with an ill-concealed grin, and then, having made the vessel snug, went below to strengthen himself with a drop of the skipper's whisky for the crowning scene of his play. He came on deck again, and, taking no heed of the whispers of the crew, went ashore.
Meantime, Captain Bradd had reached his house, and was discussing the situation with his astonished spouse. She pooh-poohed the idea of the police and the medical faculty as being likely to cause complications with the owners, and, despite the remonstrances of her husband, insisted upon facing the mate alone.
"Now you go in the kitchen," she said, looking from the window. "Here he comes. You see how I'll settle him."
The skipper looked out of the window and saw the unhappy victim of Captain Zingall slowly approaching. His wife drew him away, and, despite his remonstrances, pushed him into the next room and closed the door.
She sat on the sofa calmly sewing, as the mate, whose hardihood was rapidly failing him, entered Her manner gave him no assistance whatever, and coming sheepishly in he took a chair.
"I've come home," he said at last
"So I see, Ben," said Mrs. Bradd, calmly.
"He's told her," said the mate to himself.
"Children all right?" he inquired, after another pause.
"Yes," said Mrs. Bradd, simply. "Little Joe's boots are almost off his feet, though."
"Ah," said the mate, blankly.
"I've been waiting for you to come, Ben," said Mrs. Bradd after a pause. "I want you to change a five-pound note Uncle Dick gave me."
"Can't do it," said the mate, briefly. The absence of Captain Bradd was disquieting to a bashful man in such a position, and he had looked forward to a stormy scene which was to bring him to his senses again.
"Show me what you've got," said Mrs. Bradd, leaning forward.
The mate pulled out an old leather purse and counted the contents, two pounds and a little silver.
"There isn't five pounds there," said Mrs. Bradd, "but I may as well take last week's housekeeping while you've got it out."
Before the mate could prevent her she had taken the two pounds and put it in her pocket. He looked at her placid face in amazement, but she met his gaze calmly and drummed on the table with her thimble.
"No, no, I want the money myself," said the mate at last. He put his hands to his head and began to prepare for the grand transformation scene. "My head's gone," he said, in a gurgling voice. "What am I doing here? Where am I?"
"Good gracious, what's the matter with the man?" said Mrs. Bradd, with a scream. She snatched up a bowl of flowers and flung the contents in his face as her husband burst into the room. The mate sprang to his feet, spluttering.
"What am I doing here, Cap'n Bradd?" he said in his usual voice.
"He's come round!" said Bradd, ecstatically. "He's come round. Oh, George, you have been playing the fool. Don't you know what you've been doing?"
The mate shook his head, and stared round the room. "I thought we were in London," he said, putting his hand to his head. "You said Cap'n Zingall was coming aboard. How did we get here? Where am I?"
In a hurried, breathless fashion the skipper told him, the mate regarding him the while with a stare of fixed incredulity.
"I can't understand it," he said at length. "My mind's a perfect blank."
"A perfect blank," said Mrs. Bradd, cheerfully. It might have been accident, but she tapped her pocket as she spoke, and the outwitted mate bit his lip as he realised his blunder, and turned to the door. The couple watched him as he slowly passed up the street.
"It's most extraordinary," said the skipper; "the most extraordinary case I ever heard of."
"So it is," said his wife, "and what's more extraordinary still for you, Ben, you're going to church on Sunday, and what's more extraordinary even than that, you are going to put two golden sovereigns in the plate."
The "Terrace," consisting of eight gaunt houses, faced the sea, while the back rooms commanded a view of the ancient little town some half mile distant. The beach, a waste of shingle, was desolate and bare except for a ruined bathing machine and a few pieces of linen drying in the winter sunshine. In the offing tiny steamers left a trail of smoke, while sailing-craft, their canvas glistening in the sun, slowly melted from the sight. On all these things the "Terrace" turned a stolid eye, and, counting up its gains of the previous season, wondered whether it could hold on to the next. It was a discontented "Terrace," and had become prematurely soured by a Board which refused them a pier, a band-stand, and illuminated gardens.
From the front windows of the third storey of No. 1 Mrs. Cox, gazing out to sea, sighed softly.
The season had been a bad one, and Mr. Cox had been even more troublesome than usual owing to tightness in the money market and the avowed preference of local publicans for cash transactions to assets in chalk and slate. In Mr. Cox's memory there never had been such a drought, and his crop of patience was nearly exhausted.
He had in his earlier days attempted to do a little work, but his health had suffered so much that his wife had become alarmed for his safety. Work invariably brought on a cough, and as he came from a family whose lungs had formed the staple conversation of their lives, he had been compelled to abandon it, and at last it came to be understood that if he would only consent to amuse himself, and not get into trouble, nothing more would be expected of him. It was not much of a life for a man of spirit, and at times it became so unbearable that Mr. Cox would disappear for days together in search of work, returning unsuccessful after many days with nerves shattered in the pursuit.
Mrs. Cox's meditations were disturbed by a knock at the front door, and, the servants having been discharged for the season, she hurried downstairs to open it, not without a hope of belated lodgers—invalids in search of an east wind. A stout, middle-aged woman in widow's weeds stood on the door-step.
"Glad to see you, my dear," said the visitor, kissing her loudly.
Mrs. Cox gave her a subdued caress in return, not from any lack of feeling, but because she did everything in a quiet and spiritless fashion.
"I've got my Uncle Joseph from London staying with us," continued the visitor, following her into the hall, "so I just got into the train and brought him down for a blow at the sea."
A question on Mrs. Cox's lips died away as a very small man who had been hidden by his niece came into sight.
"My Uncle Joseph," said Mrs. Berry; "Mr. Joseph Piper," she added.
Mr. Piper shook hands, and after a performance on the door-mat, protracted by reason of a festoon of hemp, followed his hostess into the faded drawing-room.
"And Mr. Cox?" inquired Mrs. Berry, in a cold voice.
Mrs. Cox shook her head. "He's been away this last three days," she said, flushing slightly.
"Looking for work?" suggested the visitor.
Mrs. Cox nodded, and, placing the tips of her fingers together, fidgeted gently.
"Well, I hope he finds it," said Mrs. Berry, with more venom than the remark seemed to require. "Why, where's your marble clock?"
Mrs. Cox coughed. "It's being mended," she said, confusedly.
Mrs. Berry eyed her anxiously. "Don't mind him, my dear," she said, with a jerk of her head in the direction of Mr. Piper, "he's nobody. Wouldn't you like to go out on the beach a little while, uncle?"
"No," said Mr. Piper.
"I suppose Mr. Cox took the clock for company," remarked Mrs. Berry, after a hostile stare at her relative.
Mrs. Cox sighed and shook her head. It was no use pretending with Mrs. Berry.
"He'll pawn the clock and anything else he can lay his hands on, and when he's drunk it up come home to be made a fuss of," continued Mrs. Berry, heatedly; "that's you men."
Her glance was so fiery that Mr. Joseph Piper was unable to allow the remark to pass unchallenged.
"I never pawned a clock," he said, stroking his little grey head.
"That's a lot to boast of, isn't it?" demanded his niece; "if I hadn't got anything better than that to boast of I wouldn't boast at all."
Mr. Piper said that he was not boasting.
"It'll go on like this, my dear, till you're ruined," said the sympathetic Mrs. Berry, turning to her friend again; "what'll you do then?"
"Yes, I know," said Mrs. Cox. "I've had a bad season, too, and I'm so anxious about him in spite of it all. I can't sleep at nights for fearing that he's in some trouble. I'm sure I laid awake half last night crying."
Mrs. Berry sniffed loudly, and Mr. Piper making a remark in a low voice, turned on him with ferocity.
"What did you say?" she demanded.
"I said it does her credit," said Mr. Piper, firmly.
"I might have known it was nonsense," retorted his niece, hotly. "Can't you get him to take the pledge, Mary?"
"I couldn't insult him like that," said Mrs. Cox, with a shiver; "you don't know his pride. He never admits that he drinks; he says that he only takes a little for his indigestion. He'd never forgive me. When he pawns the things he pretends that somebody has stolen them, and the way he goes on at me for my carelessness is alarming. He gets worked up to such a pitch that sometimes I almost think he believes it himself."
"Rubbish," said Mrs. Berry, tartly, "you're too easy with him."
Mrs. Cox sighed, and, leaving the room, returned with a bottle of wine which was port to the look and red-currant to the taste, and a seedcake of formidable appearance. The visitors attacked these refreshments mildly, Mr. Piper sipping his wine with an obtrusive carefulness which his niece rightly regarded as a reflection upon her friend's hospitality.
"What Cox wants is a shock," she said; "you've dropped some crumbs on the carpet, uncle."
Mr. Piper apologised and said he had got his eye on them, and would pick them up when he had finished and pick up his niece's at the same time to prevent her stooping. Mrs. Berry, in an aside to Mrs. Cox, said that her Uncle Joseph's tongue had got itself disliked on both sides of the family.
"And I'd give him one," said Mrs. Berry, returning again to the subject of Mr. Cox and shocks. "He has a gentleman's life of it here, and he would look rather silly if you were sold up and he had to do something for his living."