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Sailor's Knots (Entire Collection)
by W.W. Jacobs
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"There is my lord," exclaimed Mrs. Dowson, waspishly; "anybody might think the 'ouse belonged to him. And now he's dancing on my clean doorstep."

"Might be only knocking the mud off afore coming in," said Mr. Dowson, as he rose to open the door. "I've noticed he's very careful."

"I just came in to tell you a joke," said Mr. Foss, as he followed his host into the kitchen and gazed tenderly at Miss Dowson—"best joke I ever had in my life; I've 'ad my fortune told—guess what it was! I've been laughing to myself ever since."

"Who told it?" inquired Mrs. Dowson, after a somewhat awkward silence.

"Old gypsy woman in Peter Street," replied Mr. Foss. "I gave 'er a wrong name and address, just in case she might ha' heard about me, and she did make a mess of it; upon my word she did."

"Wot did she say?" inquired Mr. Dowson.

Mr. Foss laughed. "Said I was a wrong 'un," he said, cheerfully, "and would bring my mother's gray hairs to the grave with sorrow. I'm to 'ave bad companions and take to drink; I'm to steal money to gamble with, and after all that I'm to 'ave five years for bigamy. I told her I was disappointed I wasn't to be hung, and she said it would be a disappointment to a lot of other people too. Laugh! I thought I should 'ave killed myself."

"I don't see nothing to laugh at," said Mrs. Dowson, coldly.

"I shouldn't tell anybody else, Charlie," said her husband. "Keep it a secret, my boy."

"But you—you don't believe it?" stammered the crestfallen Mr. Foss.

Mrs. Dowson cast a stealthy glance at her daughter. "Its wonderful 'ow some o' those fortune-tellers can see into the future," she said, shaking her head.

"Ah!" said her husband, with a confirmatory nod. "Wonderful is no name for it. I 'ad my fortune told once when I was a boy, and she told me I should marry the prettiest, and the nicest, and the sweetest-tempered gal in Poplar."

Mr. Foss, with a triumphant smile, barely waited for him to finish. "There you—" he began, and stopped suddenly.



"What was you about to remark?" inquired Mrs. Dowson, icily.

"I was going to say," replied Mr. Foss—"I was going to say—I 'ad just got it on the tip o' my tongue to say, 'There you—you—you 'ad all the luck, Mr. Dowson.'"

He edged his chair a little nearer to Flora; but there was a chilliness in the atmosphere against which his high spirits strove in vain. Mr. Dowson remembered other predictions which had come true, notably the case of one man who, learning that he was to come in for a legacy, gave up a two-pound-a-week job, and did actually come in for twenty pounds and a bird-cage seven years afterwards.



"It's all nonsense," protested Mr. Foss; "she only said all that because I made fun of her. You don't believe it, do you, Flora?"

"I don't see anything to laugh at," returned Miss Dowson. "Fancy five years for bigamy! Fancy the disgrace of it!"

"But you're talking as if I was going to do it," objected Mr. Foss. "I wish you'd go and 'ave your fortune told. Go and see what she says about you. P'r'aps you won't believe so much in fortune-telling afterwards."

Mrs. Dowson looked up quickly, and then, lowering her eyes, took her hand out of the stocking she had been darning and, placing it beside its companion, rolled the pair into a ball.

"You go round to-morrow night, Flora," she said, deliberately. "It sha'n't be said a daughter of mine was afraid to hear the truth about herself; father'll find the money."

"And she can say what she likes about you, but I sha'n't believe it," said Mr. Foss, reproachfully.

"I don't suppose it'll be anything to be ashamed of," said Miss Dowson, sharply.

Mr. Foss bade them good-night suddenly, and, finding himself accompanied to the door by Mr. Dowson, gave way to gloom. He stood for so long with one foot on the step and the other on the mat that Mr. Dowson, who disliked draughts, got impatient.



"You'll catch cold, Charlie," he said at last.

"That's what I'm trying to do," said Mr. Foss; "my death o' cold. Then I sha'n't get five years for bigamy," he added bitterly.

"Cheer up," said Mr. Dowson; "five years ain't much out of a lifetime; and you can't expect to 'ave your fun without—"

He watched the retreating figure of Mr. Foss as it stamped its way down the street, and closing the door returned to the kitchen to discuss palmistry and other sciences until bedtime.

Mrs. Dowson saw husband and daughter off to work in the morning, and after washing up the breakfast things drew her chair up to the kitchen fire and became absorbed in memories of the past. All the leading incidents in Flora's career passed in review before her. Measles, whooping-cough, school-prizes, and other things peculiar to the age of innocence were all there. In her enthusiasm she nearly gave her a sprained ankle which had belonged to her sister. Still shaking her head over her mistake, she drew Flora's latest portrait carefully from its place in the album, and putting on her hat and jacket went round to make a call in Peter Street.

By the time Flora returned home Mrs. Dowson appeared to have forgotten the arrangement made the night before, and, being reminded by her daughter, questioned whether any good could come of attempts to peer into the future. Mr. Dowson was still more emphatic, but his objections, being recognized by both ladies as trouser-pocket ones, carried no weight. It ended in Flora going off with half a crown in her glove and an urgent request from her father to make it as difficult as possible for the sibyl by giving a false name and address.

No name was asked for, however, as Miss Dowson was shown into the untidy little back room on the first floor, in which the sorceress ate, slept, and received visitors. She rose from an old rocking-chair as the visitor entered, and, regarding her with a pair of beady black eyes, bade her sit down.

"Are you the fortune-teller?" inquired the girl.

"Men call me so," was the reply.

"Yes, but are you?" persisted Miss Dowson, who inherited her father's fondness for half crowns.

"Yes," said the other, in a more natural voice.

She took the girl's left hand, and pouring a little dark liquid into the palm gazed at it intently. "Left for the past; right for the future," she said, in a deep voice.

She muttered some strange words and bent her head lower over the girl's hand.



"I see a fair-haired infant," she said, slowly; "I see a little girl of four racked with the whooping-cough; I see her later, eight she appears to be. She is in bed with measles."

Miss Dowson stared at her open-mouthed.

"She goes away to the seaside to get strong," continued the sorceress; "she is paddling; she falls into the water and spoils her frock; her mother——"

"Never mind about that," interrupted the staring Miss Dowson, hastily. "I was only eight at the time and mother always was ready with her hands."

"People on the beach smile," resumed the other. "They

"It don't take much to make some people laugh," said Miss Dowson, with bitterness.

"At fourteen she and a boy next door but seven both have the mumps."

"And why not?" demanded Miss Dowson with great warmth. "Why not?"

"I'm only reading what I see in your hand," said the other. "At fifteen I see her knocked down by a boat-swing; a boy from opposite brings her home."

"Passing at the time," murmured Miss Dowson.

"His head is done up with sticking-plaster. I see her apprenticed to a dressmaker. I see her——"

The voice went on monotonously, and Flora, gasping with astonishment, listened to a long recital of the remaining interesting points in her career.

"That brings us to the present," said the soothsayer, dropping her hand. "Now for the future."

She took the girl's other hand and poured some of the liquid into it. Miss Dowson shrank back.

"If it's anything dreadful," she said, quickly, "I don't want to hear it. It—it ain't natural."

"I can warn you of dangers to keep clear of," said the other, detaining her hand. "I can let you peep into the future and see what to do and what to avoid. Ah!"

She bent over the girl's hand again and uttered little ejaculations of surprise and perplexity.

"I see you moving in gay scenes surrounded by happy faces," she said, slowly. "You are much sought after. Handsome presents and fine clothes are showered upon you. You will cross the sea. I see a dark young man and a fair young man. They will both influence your life. The fair young man works in his father's shop. He will have great riches."

"What about the other?" inquired Miss Dowson, after a somewhat lengthy pause.

The fortune-teller shook her head. "He is his own worst enemy," she said, "and he will drag down those he loves with him. You are going to marry one of them, but I can't see clear—I can't see which."

"Look again," said the trembling Flora.

"I can't see," was the reply, "therefore it isn't meant for me to see. It's for you to choose. I can see them now as plain as I can see you. You are all three standing where two roads meet. The fair young man is beckoning to you and pointing to a big house and a motor-car and a yacht."

"And the other?" said the surprised Miss Dowson.

"He's in knickerbockers," said the other, doubtfully. "What does that mean? Ah, I see! They've got the broad arrow on them, and he is pointing to a jail. It's all gone—I can see no more."

She dropped the girl's hand and, drawing her hand across her eyes, sank back into her chair. Miss Dowson, with trembling fingers, dropped the half crown into her lap, and, with her head in a whirl, made her way downstairs.

After such marvels the streets seemed oddly commonplace as she walked swiftly home. She decided as she went to keep her knowledge to herself, but inclination on the one hand and Mrs. Dowson on the other got the better of her resolution. With the exception of a few things in her past, already known and therefore not worth dwelling upon, the whole of the interview was disclosed.

"It fair takes your breath away," declared the astounded Mr. Dowson.

"The fair young man is meant for Ben Lippet," said his wife, "and the dark one is Charlie Foss. It must be. It's no use shutting your eyes to things."

"It's as plain as a pikestaff," agreed her husband. "And she told Charlie five years for bigamy, and when she's telling Flora's Fortune she sees 'im in convict's clothes. How she does it I can't think."

"It's a gift," said Mrs. Dowson, briefly, "and I do hope that Flora is going to act sensible. Anyhow, she can let Ben Lippet come and see her, without going upstairs with the tooth-ache."

"He can come if he likes," said Flora; "though why Charlie couldn't have 'ad the motor-car and 'im the five years, I don't know."

Mr. Lippet came in the next evening, and the evening after. In fact, so easy is it to fall into habits of an agreeable nature that nearly every evening saw him the happy guest of Mr. Dowson. A spirit of resignation, fostered by a present or two and a visit to the theatre, descended upon Miss Dowson. Fate and her mother combined were in a fair way to overcome her inclinations, when Mr. Foss, who had been out of town on a job, came in to hear the result of her visit to the fortune-teller, and found Mr. Lippet installed in the seat that used to be his.

At first Mrs. Dowson turned a deaf ear to his request for information, and it was only when his jocularity on the subject passed the bounds of endurance that she consented to gratify his curiosity.

"I didn't want to tell you," she said, when she had finished, "but you asked for it, and now you've got it."

"It's very amusing," said Mr. Foss. "I wonder who the dark young man in the fancy knickers is?"

"Ah, I daresay you'll know some day," said Mrs. Dowson.

"Was the fair young man a good-looking chap?" inquired the inquisitive Mr. Foss.

Mrs. Dowson hesitated. "Yes," she said, defiantly.

"Wonder who it can be?" muttered Mr. Foss, in perplexity.

"You'll know that too some day, no doubt," was the reply.

"I'm glad it's to be a good-looking chap," he said; "not that I think Flora believes in such rubbish as fortune-telling. She's too sensible."

"I do," said Flora. "How should she know all the things I did when I was a little girl? Tell me that."

"I believe in it, too," said Mrs. Dowson. "P'r'aps you'll tell me I'm not sensible!"

Mr. Foss quailed at the challenge and relapsed into moody silence. The talk turned on an aunt of Mr. Lippet's, rumored to possess money, and an uncle who was "rolling" in it. He began to feel in the way, and only his native obstinacy prevented him from going.

It was a relief to him when the front door opened and the heavy step of Mr. Dowson was heard in the tiny passage. If anything it seemed heavier than usual, and Mr. Dowson's manner when he entered the room and greeted his guests was singularly lacking in its usual cheerfulness. He drew a chair to the fire, and putting his feet on the fender gazed moodily between the bars.

"I've been wondering as I came along," he said at last, with an obvious attempt to speak carelessly, "whether this 'ere fortune-telling as we've been hearing so much about lately always comes out true."

"It depends on the fortune-teller," said his wife.

"I mean," said Mr. Dowson, slowly, "I mean that gypsy woman that Charlie and Flora went to."

"Of course it does," snapped his wife. "I'd trust what she says afore anything."

"I know five or six that she has told," said Mr. Lippet, plucking up courage; "and they all believe 'er. They couldn't help themselves; they said so."

"Still, she might make a mistake sometimes," said Mr. Dowson, faintly. "Might get mixed up, so to speak."

"Never!" said Mrs. Dowson, firmly.

"Never!" echoed Flora and Mr. Lippet.

Mr. Dowson heaved a big sigh, and his eye wandered round the room. It lighted on Mr. Foss.

"She's an old humbug," said that gentleman. "I've a good mind to put the police on to her."

Mr. Dowson reached over and gripped his hand. Then he sighed again.

"Of course, it suits Charlie Foss to say so," said Mrs. Dowson; "naturally he'd say so; he's got reasons. I believe every word she says. If she told me I was coming in for a fortune I should believe her; and if she told me I was going to have misfortunes I should believe her."

"Don't say that," shouted Mr. Dowson, with startling energy. "Don't say that. That's what she did say!"

"What?" cried his wife, sharply. "What are you talking about?"

"I won eighteenpence off of Bob Stevens," said her husband, staring at the table. "Eighteenpence is 'er price for telling the future only, and, being curious and feeling I'd like to know what's going to 'appen to me, I went in and had eighteenpennorth."

"Well, you're upset," said Mrs. Dowson, with a quick glance at him. "You get upstairs to bed."

"I'd sooner stay 'ere," said her husband, resuming his seat; "it seems more cheerful and lifelike. I wish I 'adn't gorn, that's what I wish."

"What did she tell you?" inquired Mr. Foss.

Mr. Dowson thrust his hands into his trouser pockets and spoke desperately. "She says I'm to live to ninety, and I'm to travel to foreign parts——"

"You get to bed," said his wife. "Come along."

Mr. Dowson shook his head doggedly. "I'm to be rich," he continued, slowly—"rich and loved. After my pore dear wife's death I'm to marry again; a young woman with money and stormy brown eyes."

Mrs. Dowson sprang from her chair and stood over him quivering with passion. "How dare you?" she gasped. "You—you've been drinking."

"I've 'ad two arf-pints," said her husband, solemnly. "I shouldn't 'ave 'ad the second only I felt so miserable. I know I sha'n't be 'appy with a young woman."

Mrs. Dowson, past speech, sank back in her chair and stared at him.

"I shouldn't worry about it if I was you, Mrs. Dowson," said Mr. Foss, kindly. "Look what she said about me. That ought to show you she ain't to be relied on."

"Eyes like lamps," said Mr. Dowson, musingly, "and I'm forty-nine next month. Well, they do say every eye 'as its own idea of beauty."

A strange sound, half laugh and half cry, broke from the lips of the over-wrought Mrs. Dowson. She controlled herself by an effort.

"If she said it," she said, doggedly, with a fierce glance at Mr. Foss, "it'll come true. If, after my death, my 'usband is going to marry a young woman with—with——"

"Stormy brown eyes," interjected Mr. Foss, softly.

"It's his fate and it can't be avoided," concluded Mrs. Dowson.

"But it's so soon," said the unfortunate husband. "You're to die in three weeks and I'm to be married three months after."

Mrs. Dowson moistened her lips and tried, but in vain, to avoid the glittering eye of Mr. Foss. "Three!" she said, mechanically, "three! three weeks!"

"Don't be frightened," said Mr. Foss, in a winning voice. "I don't believe it; and, besides, we shall soon see! And if you don't die in three weeks, perhaps I sha'n't get five years for bigamy, and perhaps Flora won't marry a fair man with millions of money and motor-cars."

"No; perhaps she is wrong after all, mother," said Mr. Dowson, hopefully.

Mrs. Dowson gave him a singularly unkind look for one about to leave him so soon, and, afraid to trust herself to speech, left the room and went up-stairs. As the door closed behind her, Mr. Foss took the chair which Mr. Lippet had thoughtlessly vacated, and offered such consolations to Flora as he considered suitable to the occasion.



ODD MAN OUT

The night watchman pursed up his lips and shook his head. Friendship, he said, decidedly, is a deloosion and a snare. I've 'ad more friendships in my life than most people—owing to being took a fancy to for some reason or other—and they nearly all came to a sudden ending.



I remember one man who used to think I couldn't do wrong; everything I did was right to 'im; and now if I pass 'im in the street he makes a face as if he'd got a hair in 'is mouth. All because I told 'im the truth one day when he was thinking of getting married. Being a bit uneasy-like in his mind, he asked me 'ow, supposing I was a gal, his looks would strike me.

It was an orkard question, and I told him that he 'ad got a good 'art and that no man could 'ave a better pal. I said he 'ad got a good temper and was free with 'is money. O' course, that didn't satisfy 'im, and at last he told me to take a good look at 'im and tell him wot I thought of 'is looks. There was no getting out of it, and at last I 'ad to tell him plain that everybody 'ad diff'rent ideas about looks; that looks wasn't everything; and that 'andsome is as 'andsome does. Even then 'e wasn't satisfied, and at last I told 'im, speaking as a pal to a pal, that if I was a gal and he came along trying to court me, I should go to the police about it.

I remember two young fellers that was shipmates with me some years ago, and they was such out-and-out pals that everybody called 'em the Siamese twins. They always shipped together and shared lodgings together when they was ashore, and Ted Denver would no more 'ave thought of going out without Charlie Brice than Charlie Brice would 'ave thought of going out without 'im. They shared their baccy and their money and everything else, and it's my opinion that if they 'ad only 'ad one pair o' boots between 'em they'd 'ave hopped along in one each.

They 'ad been like it for years, and they kept it up when they left the sea and got berths ashore. Anybody knowing them would ha' thought that nothing but death could part 'em; but it happened otherwise.

There was a gal in it, of course. A gal that Ted Denver got into conversation with on top of a bus, owing to her steadying 'erself by putting her hand on 'is shoulder as she passed 'im. Bright, lively sort o' gal she seemed, and, afore Ted knew where he was, they was talking away as though they 'ad known each other for years.

Charlie didn't seem to care much for it at fust, but he didn't raise no objection; and when the gal got up to go he stopped the bus for 'er by poking the driver in the back, and they all got off together. Ted went fust to break her fall, in case the bus started off too sudden, and Charlie 'elped her down behind by catching hold of a lace collar she was wearing. When she turned to speak to 'im about it, she knocked the conductor's hat off with 'er umbrella, and there was so much unpleasantness that by the time they 'ad got to the pavement she told Charlie that she never wanted to see his silly fat face agin.

"It ain't fat," ses Ted, speaking up for 'im; "it's the shape of it."

"And it ain't silly," ses Charlie, speaking very quick; "mind that!"

"It's a bit o' real lace," ses the gal, twisting her 'ead round to look at the collar; "it cost me one and two-three only last night."

"One an' wot?" ses Charlie, who, not being a married man, didn't understand 'er.

"One shilling," ses the gal, "two pennies, and three farthings. D'ye understand that?"

"Yes," ses Charlie.

"He's cleverer than he looks," ses the gal, turning to Ted. "I s'pose you're right, and it is the shape after all."

Ted walked along one side of 'er and Charlie the other, till they came to the corner of the road where she lived, and then Ted and 'er stood there talking till Charlie got sick and tired of it, and kept tugging at Ted's coat for 'im to come away.

"I'm coming," ses Ted, at last. "I s'pose you won't be this way to-morrow night?" he ses, turning to the gal.

"I might if I thought there was no chance of seeing you," she ses, tossing her 'ead.

"You needn't be alarmed," ses Charlie, shoving in his oar; "we're going to a music-'all to-morrow night."

"Oh, go to your blessed music-'all," ses the gal to Ted; "I don't want you."

She turned round and a'most ran up the road, with Ted follering 'er and begging of 'er not to be so hasty, and afore they parted she told 'im that 'er name was. Emma White, and promised to meet 'im there the next night at seven.

O' course Mr. Charlie Brice turned up alongside o' Ted the next night, and at fust Emma said she was going straight off 'ome agin. She did go part o' the way, and then, when she found that Ted wouldn't send his mate off, she came back and, woman-like, said as 'ow she wasn't going to go 'ome just to please Charlie Brice. She wouldn't speak a word to 'im, and when they all went to the music-'all together she sat with her face turned away from 'im and her elbow sticking in 'is chest. Doing that and watching the performance at the same time gave 'er a stiff neck, and she got in such a temper over it she wouldn't hardly speak to Ted, and when Charlie—meaning well—told 'er to rub it with a bit o' mutton-fat she nearly went off her 'ead.

"Who asked you to come with us?" she ses, as soon as she could speak. "'Ow dare you force yourself where you ain't wanted?"

"Ted wants me," ses Charlie.

"We've been together for years," ses Ted. "You'll like Charlie when you get used to 'im—everybody does."

"Not me!" ses Emma, with a shiver. "It gives me the fair creeps to look at him. You'll 'ave to choose between us. If he comes, I sha'n't. Which is it to be?"

Neither of 'em answered 'er, but the next night they both turned up as usual, and Emma White stood there looking at 'em and nearly crying with temper.

"'Ow would you like it if I brought another young lady with me?" she ses to Ted.

"It wouldn't make no difference to me," ses Ted. "Any friend o' yours is welcome."

Emma stood looking at 'em, and then she patted 'er eyes with a pocket- 'ankercher and began to look more cheerful.

"You ain't the only one that has got a dear friend," she says, looking. at 'im and wiping 'er lips with the 'ankercher. "I've got one, and if Charlie Brice don't promise to stay at 'ome to-morrow night I'll bring her with me."

"Bring 'er, and welcome," ses Ted.

"I sha'n't stay at 'ome for fifty dear friends," ses Charlie.

"Have it your own way," ses Emma. "If you come, Sophy Jennings comes, that's all."

She was as good as 'er word, too, and next night when they turned up they found Emma and 'er friend waiting for them. Charlie thought it was the friend's mother at fust, but he found out arterwards that she was a widder-woman. She had 'ad two husbands, and both of 'em 'ad passed away with a smile on their face. She seemed to take a fancy to Charlie the moment she set eyes on 'im, and two or three times, they'd 'ave lost Ted and Emma if it hadn't been for 'im.



They did lose 'em the next night, and Charlie Brice 'ad Mrs. Jennings all alone to himself for over a couple of hours walking up and down the Commercial Road talking about the weather; Charles saying 'ow wet and cold it, was, and thinking p'r'aps they 'ad better go off 'ome afore she got a chill.

He complained to Ted about it when 'e got 'ome, and Ted promised as it shouldn't 'appen agin. He said that 'im and Emma 'ad been so busy talking about getting married that he 'ad forgotten to keep an eye on him.

"Married!" ses Charlie, very upset. "Married! And wot's to become o' me?"

"Come and lodge with us," ses Ted.

They shook hands on it, but Ted said they 'ad both better keep it to themselves a bit and wait until Emma 'ad got more used to Charlie afore they told her. Ted let 'er get used to 'im for three days more afore he broke the news to 'er, and the way she went on was alarming. She went on for over ten minutes without taking breath, and she was just going to start again when Mrs. Jennings stopped her.

"He's all right," she ses. "You leave 'im alone."

"I'm not touching 'im," ses Emma, very scornful.

"You leave 'im alone," ses Mrs. Jennings, taking hold of Charlie's arm. "I don't say things about your young man."

Charlie Brice started as if he 'ad been shot, and twice he opened 'is mouth to speak and show Mrs. Jennings 'er mistake; but, wot with trying to find 'is voice in the fust place, and then finding words to use it with in the second, he didn't say anything. He just walked along gasping, with 'is mouth open like a fish.

"Don't take no notice of 'er, Charlie," ses Mrs. Jennings.

"I—I don't mind wot she ses," ses pore Charlie; "but you're making a great——"

"She's quick-tempered, is Emma," ses Mrs. Jennings. "But, there, so am I. Wot you might call a generous temper, but quick."

Charlie went cold all over.

"Treat me well and I treat other people well," ses Mrs. Jennings. "I can't say fairer than that, can I?"

Charlie said "Nobody could," and then 'e walked along with her hanging on to 'is arm, arf wondering whether it would be wrong to shove 'er under a bus that was passing, and arf wondering whether 'e could do it if it wasn't.

"As for Emma saying she won't 'ave you for a lodger," ses Mrs. Jennings, "let 'er wait till she's asked. She'll wait a long time if I 'ave my say."

Charlie didn't answer her. He walked along with 'is mouth shut, his idea being that the least said the soonest mended. Even Emma asked 'im at last whether he 'ad lost 'is tongue, and said it was curious 'ow different love took different people.

He talked fast enough going 'ome with Ted though, and pretty near lost 'is temper with 'im when Ted asked 'im why he didn't tell Mrs. Jennings straight that she 'ad made a mistake.

"She knows well enough," he says, grinding 'is teeth; "she was just trying it on. That's 'ow it is widders get married agin. You'll 'ave to choose between going out with me or Emma, Ted. I can't face Mrs. Jennings again. I didn't think anybody could 'ave parted us like that."

Ted said it was all nonsense, but it was no good, and the next night he went off alone and came back very cross, saying that Mrs. Jennings 'ad been with 'em all the time, and when 'e spoke to Emma about it she said it was just tit for tat, and reminded 'im 'ow she had 'ad to put up with Charlie. For four nights running 'e went out for walks, with Emma holding one of 'is arms and Mrs. Jennings the other.

"It's miserable for you all alone 'ere by yourself; Charlie," he ses. "Why not come? She can't marry you against your will. Besides, I miss you."

Charlie shook 'ands with 'im, but 'e said 'e wouldn't walk out with Mrs. Jennings for a fortune. And all that Ted could say made no difference. He stayed indoors of an evening reading the paper, or going for little walks by 'imseif, until at last Ted came 'ome one evening, smiling all over his face, and told 'im they had both been making fools of themselves for nothing.

"Mrs. Jennings is going to be married," he ses, clapping Charlie on the back.

"Wot?" ses Charlie.

Ted nodded. "Her and Emma 'ad words to-night," he ses, laughing, "and it all come out. She's been keeping company for some time. He's away at present, and they're going to be married as soon as 'e comes back."

"Well," ses Charlie, "why did she——"

"To oblige Emma," ses Ted, "to frighten you into staying at 'ome. I'd 'ad my suspicions for some time, from one or two things I picked up."

"Ho!" ses Charlie. "Well, it'll be my turn to laugh to-morrow night. We'll see whether she can shake me off agin."

Ted looked at 'im a bit worried. "It's a bit orkard," he ses, speaking very slow. "You see, they made it up arterwards, and then they both made me promise not to tell you, and if you come, they'll know I 'ave."

Charlie did a bit o' thinking. "Not if I pretend to make love to Mrs. Jennings?" he ses, at last, winking at 'im. "And it'll serve her right for being deceitful. We'll see 'ow she likes it. Wot sort o' chap is the young man—big?"

"Can't be," ses Ted; "cos Emma called 'im a little shrimp."

"I'll come," ses Charlie; "and it'll be your own fault if they find out you told me about it."

They fell asleep talking of it, and the next evening Charlie put on a new neck-tie he 'ad bought, and arter letting Ted have arf an hour's start went out and met 'em accidental. The fust Mrs. Jennings knew of 'is being there was by finding an arm put round 'er waist.

"Good-evening, Sophy," he ses.

"'Ow—'ow dare you?" ses Mrs. Jennings, giving a scream and pushing him away.

Charlie looked surprised.

"Why, ain't you pleased to see me?" he ses. "I've 'ad the raging toothache for over a week; I've got it now a bit, but I couldn't stay away from you any longer."

"You behave yourself," ses Mrs. Jennings.

"Ted didn't say anything about your toothache," ses Emma.

"I wouldn't let 'im, for fear of alarming Sophy," ses Charlie.

Mrs. Jennings gave a sort of laugh and a sniff mixed.

"Ain't you pleased to see me agin?" ses Charlie.

"I don't want to see you," ses Mrs. Jennings. "Wot d'ye think I want to see you for?"

"Change your mind pretty quick, don't you?" ses Charlie. "It's blow 'ot and blow cold with you seemingly. Why, I've been counting the minutes till I should see you agin."

Mrs. Jennings told 'im not to make a fool of 'imself, and Charlie saw 'er look at Emma in a puzzled sort of way, as if she didn't know wot to make of it. She kept drawing away from 'im and he kept drawing close to 'er; other people on the pavement dodging and trying to get out of their way, and asking them which side they was going and to stick to it.

"Why don't you behave yourself?" ses Emma, at last.

"We're all right," ses Charlie; "you look arter your own young man. We can look arter ourselves."

"Speak for yourself," ses Mrs. Jennings, very sharp.

Charlie laughed, and the more Mrs. Jennings showed 'er dislike for 'is nonsense the more he gave way to it. Even Ted thought it was going too far, and tried to interfere when he put his arm round Mrs. Jennings's waist and made 'er dance to a piano-organ; but there was no stopping 'im, and at last Mrs. Jennings said she had 'ad enough of it, and told Emma she was going off 'ome.



"Don't take no notice of 'im," ses Emma.

"I must," ses Mrs. Jennings, who was arf crying with rage.

"Well, if you go 'ome, I shall go," ses Emma. "I don't want 'is company. I believe he's doing it on purpose.

"Behave yourself, Charlie," ses Ted.

"All right, old man," ses Charlie. "You look arter your young woman and I'll look arter mine."

"Your wot?" ses Mrs. Jennings, very loud.

"My young woman," ses Charlie.

"Look 'ere," ses Emma. "You may as well know first as last—Sophy 'as got a young man."

"O' course she 'as," ses Charlie. "Twenty-seven on the second of next January, he is; same as me."

"She's going to be married," ses Emma, very solemn.

"Yes, to me," ses Charlie, pretending to be surprised. "Didn't you know that?"

He looked so pleased with 'imself at his cleverness that Emma arf put up her 'and, and then she thought better of it and turned away.

"He's just doing it to get rid of you," she ses to Mrs. Jennings, "and if you give way you're a bigger silly than I took you for. Let 'im go on and 'ave his own way, and tell your intended about 'im when you see 'im. Arter all, you started it."

"I was only 'aving a bit o' fun," ses Mrs. Jennings.

"Well, so is he," ses Emma.

"Not me!" ses Charlie, turning his eyes up. "I'm in dead earnest; and so is she. It's only shyness on 'er part; it'll soon wear off."

He took 'old of Mrs. Jennings's arm agin and began to tell 'er 'ow lonely 'is life was afore she came acrost his path like an angel that had lost its way. And he went on like that till she told Emma that she'd either 'ave to go off 'ome or scream. Ted interfered agin then, and, arter listening to wot he 'ad got to say, Charlie said as 'ow he'd try and keep his love under control a bit more.

"She won't stand much more of it," he ses to Ted, arter they 'ad got 'ome that night. "I shouldn't be surprised if she don't turn up to-morrow."

Ted shook his 'ead. "She'll turn up to oblige Emma," he ses; "but there's no need for you to overdo it, Charlie. If her young man 'appened to get to 'ear of it it might cause trouble."

"I ain't afraid of 'im," ses Charlie, "not if your description of 'im is right."

"Emma knows 'im," ses Ted, "and I know she don't think much of 'im. She says he ain't as big as I am."

Charlie smiled to himself and laid awake for a little while thinking of pet names to surprise Mrs. Jennings with. He called 'er a fresh one every night for a week, and every night he took 'er a little bunch o' flowers with 'is love. When she flung 'em on the pavement he pretended to think she 'ad dropped 'em; but, do wot he would, 'e couldn't frighten 'er into staying away, and 'is share of music-'alls and bus rides and things like that was more than 'e cared to think of. All the time Ted was as happy as a sand-boy, and one evening when Emma asked 'im to go 'ome to supper 'e was so pleased 'e could 'ardly speak.

"Father thought he'd like to see you," ses Emma. "I shall be proud to shake 'im by the 'and," ses Ted, going red with joy.

"And you're to come, too, Sophy," ses Emma, turning to Mrs. Jennings.

Charlie coughed, feeling a bit orkard-like, and Emma stood there as if waiting for 'im to go.

"Well, so long," ses Charlie at last. "Take care o' my little prize packet."

"You can come, too, if you like," ses Emma. "Father said I was to bring you. Don't 'ave none of your nonsense there, that's all."

Charlie thanked 'er, and they was all walking along, him and Mrs. Jennings behind, when Emma looked over 'er shoulder.

"Sophy's young man is coming," she ses.

"Ho!" ses Charlie. He walked along doing a bit o' thinking, and by and by 'e gives a little laugh, and he ses, "I—I don't think p'r'aps I'll come arter all."

"Afraid?" ses Emma, with a nasty laugh.

"No," ses Charlie.

"Well, it looks like it," ses Emma.

"He's brave enough where wimmen are concerned," ses Mrs. Jennings.

"I was thinking of you," ses Charlie.

"You needn't trouble about me," ses Mrs. Jennings. "I can look after myself, thank you."

Charlie looked round, but there was no help for it. He got as far away from Mrs. Jennings as possible, and when they got to Emma's house he went in last.

Emma's father and mother was there and two or three of 'er brothers and sisters, but the fust thing that Charlie noticed was a great lump of a man standing by the mantelpiece staring at 'im.

"Come in, and make yourselves at 'ome," ses Mr. White. "I'm glad to see you both. Emma 'as told me all about you."

Charlie's 'art went down into 'is boots, but every-body was so busy drawing their chairs up to the table that they didn't notice 'ow pale he 'ad gone. He sat between Mr. White and Mrs. Jennings, and by and by, when everybody was talking, he turned to 'im in a whisper, and asked 'im who the big chap was.

"Mrs. Jennings's brother," ses Mr. White; "brewer's drayman he is."

Charlie said, "Oh!" and went on eating, a bit relieved in 'is mind.

"Your friend and my gal 'll make a nice couple," ses Mr. White, looking at Ted and Emma, sitting 'and in 'and.

"She couldn't 'ave a better husband," ses Charlie, whispering again; "but where is Mrs. Jennings's young man? I 'eard he was to be here."

Mr. White put down 'is knife and fork. "Eh?" he ses, staring at 'im.

"Mrs. Jennings's intended?" ses Charlie.

"Who are you getting at?" ses Mr. White, winking at 'im.

"But she 'as got one, ain't she?" ses Charlie. "That'll do," ses Mr. White, with another wink. "Try it on somebody else."

"Wot are you two talking about?" ses Emma, who 'ad been watching 'em.

"He's trying to pull my leg," ses 'er father, smiling all over his face. "Been asking me where Mrs. Jennings's young man is. P'r'aps you oughtn't to 'ave told us yet, Emma."

"It's all right," ses Emma. "He's got a very jealous disposition, poor fellow; and me and Sophy have been telling 'im about a young man just to tease 'im. We've been describing him to 'imself all along, and he thought it was somebody else."

She caught Charlie's eye, and all in a flash he saw 'ow he 'ad been done. Some of 'em began to laugh, and Mrs. Jennings put her 'and on his and gave it a squeeze. He sat there struck all of a heap, wondering wot he was going to do, and just at that moment there was a knock at the street door.

"I'll open it," he ses.

He jumped up before anybody could stop 'im and went to the door. Two seconds arter Ted Denver followed 'im, and that is last he ever saw of Charlie Brice, he was running down the road without 'is hat as hard as he could run.



"THE TOLL-HOUSE"

"It's all nonsense," said Jack Barnes. "Of course people have died in the house; people die in every house. As for the noises—wind in the chimney and rats in the wainscot are very convincing to a nervous man. Give me another cup of tea, Meagle."

"Lester and White are first," said Meagle, who was presiding at the tea-table of the Three Feathers Inn. "You've had two."

Lester and White finished their cups with irritating slowness, pausing between sips to sniff the aroma, and to discover the sex and dates of arrival of the "strangers" which floated in some numbers in the beverage. Mr. Meagle served them to the brim, and then, turning to the grimly expectant Mr. Barnes, blandly requested him to ring for hot water.

"We'll try and keep your nerves in their present healthy condition," he remarked. "For my part I have a sort of half-and-half belief in the super-natural."

"All sensible people have," said Lester. "An aunt of mine saw a ghost once."

White nodded.

"I had an uncle that saw one," he said.

"It always is somebody else that sees them," said Barnes.

"Well, there is a house," said Meagle, "a large house at an absurdly low rent, and nobody will take it. It has taken toll of at least one life of every family that has lived there—however short the time—and since it has stood empty caretaker after care-taker has died there. The last caretaker died fifteen years ago."

"Exactly," said Barnes. "Long enough ago for legends to accumulate."

"I'll bet you a sovereign you won't spend the night there alone, for all your talk," said White, suddenly.

"And I," said Lester.

"No," said Barnes slowly. "I don't believe in ghosts nor in any supernatural things whatever; all the same I admit that I should not care to pass a night there alone."

"But why not?" inquired White.

"Wind in the chimney," said Meagle with a grin.

"Rats in the wainscot," chimed in Lester. "As you like," said Barnes coloring.

"Suppose we all go," said Meagle. "Start after supper, and get there about eleven. We have been walking for ten days now without an adventure—except Barnes's discovery that ditchwater smells longest. It will be a novelty, at any rate, and, if we break the spell by all surviving, the grateful owner ought to come down handsome."

"Let's see what the landlord has to say about it first," said Lester. "There is no fun in passing a night in an ordinary empty house. Let us make sure that it is haunted."

He rang the bell, and, sending for the landlord, appealed to him in the name of our common humanity not to let them waste a night watching in a house in which spectres and hobgoblins had no part. The reply was more than reassuring, and the landlord, after describing with considerable art the exact appearance of a head which had been seen hanging out of a window in the moonlight, wound up with a polite but urgent request that they would settle his bill before they went.

"It's all very well for you young gentlemen to have your fun," he said indulgently; "but supposing as how you are all found dead in the morning, what about me? It ain't called the Toll-House for nothing, you know."

"Who died there last?" inquired Barnes, with an air of polite derision.

"A tramp," was the reply. "He went there for the sake of half a crown, and they found him next morning hanging from the balusters, dead."

"Suicide," said Barnes. "Unsound mind."

The landlord nodded. "That's what the jury brought it in," he said slowly; "but his mind was sound enough when he went in there. I'd known him, off and on, for years. I'm a poor man, but I wouldn't spend the night in that house for a hundred pounds."



He repeated this remark as they started on their expedition a few hours later. They left as the inn was closing for the night; bolts shot noisily behind them, and, as the regular customers trudged slowly homewards, they set off at a brisk pace in the direction of the house. Most of the cottages were already in darkness, and lights in others went out as they passed.

"It seems rather hard that we have got to lose a night's rest in order to convince Barnes of the existence of ghosts," said White.

"It's in a good cause," said Meagle. "A most worthy object; and something seems to tell me that we shall succeed. You didn't forget the candles, Lester?"

"I have brought two," was the reply; "all the old man could spare."

There was but little moon, and the night was cloudy. The road between high hedges was dark, and in one place, where it ran through a wood, so black that they twice stumbled in the uneven ground at the side of it.

"Fancy leaving our comfortable beds for this!" said White again. "Let me see; this desirable residential sepulchre lies to the right, doesn't it?"

"Farther on," said Meagle.

They walked on for some time in silence, broken only by White's tribute to the softness, the cleanliness, and the comfort of the bed which was receding farther and farther into the distance. Under Meagle's guidance they turned oft at last to the right, and, after a walk of a quarter of a mile, saw the gates of the house before them.



The lodge was almost hidden by overgrown shrubs and the drive was choked with rank growths. Meagle leading, they pushed through it until the dark pile of the house loomed above them.

"There is a window at the back where we can get in, so the landlord says," said Lester, as they stood before the hall door.

"Window?" said Meagle. "Nonsense. Let's do the thing properly. Where's the knocker?"

He felt for it in the darkness and gave a thundering rat-tat-tat at the door.

"Don't play the fool," said Barnes crossly.

"Ghostly servants are all asleep," said Meagle gravely, "but I'll wake them up before I've done with them. It's scandalous keeping us out here in the dark."

He plied the knocker again, and the noise volleyed in the emptiness beyond. Then with a sudden exclamation he put out his hands and stumbled forward.

"Why, it was open all the time," he said, with an odd catch in his voice. "Come on."

"I don't believe it was open," said Lester, hanging back. "Somebody is playing us a trick."

"Nonsense," said Meagle sharply. "Give me a candle. Thanks. Who's got a match?"

Barnes produced a box and struck one, and Meagle, shielding the candle with his hand, led the way forward to the foot of the stairs. "Shut the door, somebody," he said, "there's too much draught."

"It is shut," said White, glancing behind him.

Meagle fingered his chin. "Who shut it?" he inquired, looking from one to the other. "Who came in last?"

"I did," said Lester, "but I don't remember shutting it—perhaps I did, though."

Meagle, about to speak, thought better of it, and, still carefully guarding the flame, began to explore the house, with the others close behind. Shadows danced on the walls and lurked in the corners as they proceeded. At the end of the passage they found a second staircase, and ascending it slowly gained the first floor.

"Careful!" said Meagle, as they gained the landing.

He held the candle forward and showed where the balusters had broken away. Then he peered curiously into the void beneath.

"This is where the tramp hanged himself, I suppose," he said thoughtfully.

"You've got an unwholesome mind," said White, as they walked on. "This place is qutie creepy enough without your remembering that. Now let's find a comfortable room and have a little nip of whiskey apiece and a pipe. How will this do?"

He opened a door at the end of the passage and revealed a small square room. Meagle led the way with the candle, and, first melting a drop or two of tallow, stuck it on the mantelpiece. The others seated themselves on the floor and watched pleasantly as White drew from his pocket a small bottle of whiskey and a tin cup.

"H'm! I've forgotten the water," he exclaimed. "I'll soon get some," said Meagle.

He tugged violently at the bell-handle, and the rusty jangling of a bell sounded from a distant kitchen. He rang again.

"Don't play the fool," said Barnes roughly.

Meagle laughed. "I only wanted to convince you," he said kindly. "There ought to be, at any rate, one ghost in the servants' hall."

Barnes held up his hand for silence.

"Yes?" said Meagle with a grin at the other two. "Is anybody coming?"

"Suppose we drop this game and go back," said Barnes suddenly. "I don't believe in spirits, but nerves are outside anybody's command. You may laugh as you like, but it really seemed to me that I heard a door open below and steps on the stairs."

His voice was drowned in a roar of laughter.

"He is coming round," said Meagle with a smirk. "By the time I have done with him he will be a confirmed believer. Well, who will go and get some water? Will you, Barnes?"

"No," was the reply.

"If there is any it might not be safe to drink after all these years," said Lester. "We must do without it."

Meagle nodded, and taking a seat on the floor held out his hand for the cup. Pipes were lit and the clean, wholesome smell of tobacco filled the room. White produced a pack of cards; talk and laughter rang through the room and died away reluctantly in distant corridors.

"Empty rooms always delude me into the belief that I possess a deep voice," said Meagle. "To-morrow——"

He started up with a smothered exclamation as the light went out suddenly and something struck him on the head. The others sprang to their feet. Then Meagle laughed.

"It's the candle," he exclaimed. "I didn't stick it enough."

Barnes struck a match and relighting the candle stuck it on the mantelpiece, and sitting down took up his cards again.

"What was I going to say?" said Meagle. "Oh, I know; to-morrow I——"

"Listen!" said White, laying his hand on the other's sleeve. "Upon my word I really thought I heard a laugh."

"Look here!" said Barnes. "What do you say to going back? I've had enough of this. I keep fancying that I hear things too; sounds of something moving about in the passage outside. I know it's only fancy, but it's uncomfortable."

"You go if you want to," said Meagle, "and we will play dummy. Or you might ask the tramp to take your hand for you, as you go downstairs."

Barnes shivered and exclaimed angrily. He got up and, walking to the half-closed door, listened.

"Go outside," said Meagle, winking at the other two. "I'll dare you to go down to the hall door and back by yourself."

Barnes came back and, bending forward, lit his pipe at the candle.

"I am nervous but rational," he said, blowing out a thin cloud of smoke. "My nerves tell me that there is something prowling up and down the long passage outside; my reason tells me that it is all nonsense. Where are my cards?"

He sat down again, and taking up his hand, looked through it carefully and led.

"Your play, White," he said after a pause. White made no sign.

"Why, he is asleep," said Meagle. "Wake up, old man. Wake up and play."

Lester, who was sitting next to him, took the sleeping man by the arm and shook him, gently at first and then with some roughness; but White, with his back against the wall and his head bowed, made no sign. Meagle bawled in his ear and then turned a puzzled face to the others.

"He sleeps like the dead," he said, grimacing. "Well, there are still three of us to keep each other company."

"Yes," said Lester, nodding. "Unless—Good Lord! suppose——"

He broke off and eyed them trembling.

"Suppose what?" inquired Meagle.

"Nothing," stammered Lester. "Let's wake him. Try him again. White! White!"

"It's no good," said Meagle seriously; "there's something wrong about that sleep."

"That's what I meant," said Lester; "and if he goes to sleep like that, why shouldn't——"

Meagle sprang to his feet. "Nonsense," he said roughly. "He's tired out; that's all. Still, let's take him up and clear out. You take his legs and Barnes will lead the way with the candle. Yes? Who's that?"

He looked up quickly towards the door. "Thought I heard somebody tap," he said with a shamefaced laugh. "Now, Lester, up with him. One, two— Lester! Lester!"

He sprang forward too late; Lester, with his face buried in his arms, had rolled over on the floor fast asleep, and his utmost efforts failed to awaken him.

"He—is—asleep," he stammered. "'Asleep!"

Barnes, who had taken the candle from the mantel-piece, stood peering at the sleepers in silence and dropping tallow over the floor.



"We must get out of this," said Meagle. "Quick!" Barnes hesitated. "We can't leave them here—" he began.

"We must," said Meagle in strident tones. "If you go to sleep I shall go—Quick! Come."

He seized the other by the arm and strove to drag him to the door. Barnes shook him off, and putting the candle back on the mantelpiece, tried again to arouse the sleepers.

"It's no good," he said at last, and, turning from them, watched Meagle. "Don't you go to sleep," he said anxiously.

Meagle shook his head, and they stood for some time in uneasy silence. "May as well shut the door," said Barnes at last.

He crossed over and closed it gently. Then at a scuffling noise behind him he turned and saw Meagle in a heap on the hearthstone.

With a sharp catch in his breath he stood motionless. Inside the room the candle, fluttering in the draught, showed dimly the grotesque attitudes of the sleepers. Beyond the door there seemed to his over- wrought imagination a strange and stealthy unrest. He tried to whistle, but his lips were parched, and in a mechanical fashion he stooped, and began to pick up the cards which littered the floor.

He stopped once or twice and stood with bent head listening. The unrest outside seemed to increase; a loud creaking sounded from the stairs.

"Who is there?" he cried loudly.

The creaking ceased. He crossed to the door and flinging it open, strode out into the corridor. As he walked his fears left him suddenly.

"Come on!" he cried with a low laugh. "All of you! All of you! Show your faces—your infernal ugly faces! Don't skulk!"

He laughed again and walked on; and the heap in the fireplace put out his head tortoise fashion and listened in horror to the retreating footsteps. Not until they had become inaudible in the distance did the listeners' features relax.

"Good Lord, Lester, we've driven him mad," he said in a frightened whisper. "We must go after him."

There was no reply. Meagle sprung to his feet. "Do you hear?" he cried. "Stop your fooling now; this is serious. White! Lester! Do you hear?"

He bent and surveyed them in angry bewilderment. "All right," he said in a trembling voice. "You won't frighten me, you know."

He turned away and walked with exaggerated carelessness in the direction of the door. He even went outside and peeped through the crack, but the sleepers did not stir. He glanced into the blackness behind, and then came hastily into the room again.

He stood for a few seconds regarding them. The stillness in the house was horrible; he could not even hear them breathe. With a sudden resolution he snatched the candle from the mantelpiece and held the flame to White's finger. Then as he reeled back stupefied the footsteps again became audible.

He stood with the candle in his shaking hand listening. He heard them ascending the farther staircase, but they stopped suddenly as he went to the door. He walked a little way along the passage, and they went scurrying down the stairs and then at a jog-trot along the corridor below. He went back to the main staircase, and they ceased again.

For a time he hung over the balusters, listening and trying to pierce the blackness below; then slowly, step by step, he made his way downstairs, and, holding the candle above his head, peered about him.

"Barnes!" he called. "Where are you?" Shaking with fright, he made his way along the passage, and summoning up all his courage pushed open doors and gazed fearfully into empty rooms. Then, quite suddenly, he heard the footsteps in front of him.

He followed slowly for fear of extinguishing the candle, until they led him at last into a vast bare kitchen with damp walls and a broken floor. In front of him a door leading into an inside room had just closed. He ran towards it and flung it open, and a cold air blew out the candle. He stood aghast.



"Barnes!" he cried again. "Don't be afraid! It is I—Meagle!"

There was no answer. He stood gazing into the darkness, and all the time the idea of something close at hand watching was upon him. Then suddenly the steps broke out overhead again.

He drew back hastily, and passing through the kitchen groped his way along the narrow passages. He could now see better in the darkness, and finding himself at last at the foot of the staircase began to ascend it noiselessly. He reached the landing just in time to see a figure disappear round the angle of a wall. Still careful to make no noise, he followed the sound of the steps until they led him to the top floor, and he cornered the chase at the end of a short passage.

"Barnes!" he whispered. "Barnes!"

Something stirred in the darkness. A small circular window at the end of the passage just softened the blackness and revealed the dim outlines of a motionless figure. Meagle, in place of advancing, stood almost as still as a sudden horrible doubt took possession of him. With his eyes fixed on the shape in front he fell back slowly and, as it advanced upon him, burst into a terrible cry.

"Barnes! For God's sake! Is it you?"

The echoes of his voice left the air quivering, but the figure before him paid no heed. For a moment he tried to brace his courage up to endure its approach, then with a smothered cry he turned and fled.

The passages wound like a maze, and he threaded them blindly in a vain search for the stairs. If he could get down and open the hall door——

He caught his breath in a sob; the steps had begun again. At a lumbering trot they clattered up and down the bare passages, in and out, up and down, as though in search of him. He stood appalled, and then as they drew near entered a small room and stood behind the door as they rushed by. He came out and ran swiftly and noiselessly in the other direction, and in a moment the steps were after him. He found the long corridor and raced along it at top speed. The stairs he knew were at the end, and with the steps close behind he descended them in blind haste. The steps gained on him, and he shrank to the side to let them pass, still continuing his headlong flight. Then suddenly he seemed to slip off the earth into space.

Lester awoke in the morning to find the sunshine streaming into the room, and White sitting up and regarding with some perplexity a badly blistered finger.

"Where are the others?" inquired Lester. "Gone, I suppose," said White. "We must have been asleep."

Lester arose, and stretching his stiffened limbs, dusted his clothes with his hands, and went out into the corridor. White followed. At the noise of their approach a figure which had been lying asleep at the other end sat up and revealed the face of Barnes. "Why, I've been asleep," he said in surprise. "I don't remember coming here. How did I get here?"

"Nice place to come for a nap," said Lester, severely, as he pointed to the gap in the balusters. "Look there! Another yard and where would you have been?"

He walked carelessly to the edge and looked over. In response to his startled cry the others drew near, and all three stood gazing at the dead man below.



PETER'S PENCE

Sailormen don't bother much about their relations, as a rule, said the night-watchman; sometimes because a railway-ticket costs as much as a barrel o' beer, and they ain't got the money for both, and sometimes because most relations run away with the idea that a sailorman has been knocking about 'arf over the world just to bring them 'ome presents.

Then, agin, some relations are partikler about appearances, and they don't like it if a chap don't wear a collar and tidy 'imself up. Dress is everything nowadays; put me in a top 'at and a tail-coat, with a twopenny smoke stuck in my mouth, and who would know the difference between me and a lord? Put a bishop in my clothes, and you'd ask 'im to 'ave a 'arf-pint as soon as you would me—sooner, p'r'aps.



Talking of relations reminds me of Peter Russet's uncle. It's some years ago now, and Peter and old Sam Small and Ginger Dick 'ad just come back arter being away for nearly ten months. They 'ad all got money in their pockets, and they was just talking about the spree they was going to have, when a letter was brought to Peter, wot had been waiting for 'im at the office.

He didn't like opening it at fust. The last letter he had 'ad kept 'im hiding indoors for a week, and then made him ship a fortnight afore 'e had meant to. He stood turning it over and over, and at last, arter Sam, wot was always a curious man, 'ad told 'im that if he didn't open it he'd do it for 'im, he tore it open and read it.

"It's from my old uncle, George Goodman," he ses, staring. "Why, I ain't seen 'im for over twenty years."

"Do you owe 'im any money?" ses Sam.

Peter shook his 'ead. "He's up in London," he ses, looking at the letter agin, "up in London for the fust time in thirty-three years, and he wants to come and stay with me so that I can show 'im about."

"Wot is he?" ses Sam.

"He's retired," ses Peter, trying not to speak proud.

"Got money?" ses Sam, with a start.

"I b'leeve so," ses Peter, in a off-hand way. "I don't s'pose 'e lives on air."

"Any wives or children?" ses Sam.

"No," ses Peter. "He 'ad a wife, but she died."

"Then you have 'im, Peter," ses Sam, wot was always looking out for money. "Don't throw away a oppertunity like that. Why, if you treat 'im well he might leave it all to you."

"No such luck," ses Peter.

"You do as Sam ses," ses Ginger. "I wish I'd got an uncle."

"We'll try and give 'im a good time," ses Sam, "and if he's anything like Peter we shall enjoy ourselves."

"Yes; but he ain't," ses Peter. "He's a very solemn, serious-minded man, and a strong teetotaller. Wot you'd call a glass o' beer he'd call pison. That's 'ow he got on. He's thought a great deal of in 'is place, I can tell you, but he ain't my sort."

"That's a bit orkard," ses Sam, scratching his 'ead. "Same time, it don't do to throw away a chance. If 'e was my uncle I should pretend to be a teetotaller while 'e was here, just to please 'im."

"And when you felt like a drink, Peter," ses Ginger, "me and Sam would look arter 'im while you slipped off to get it."

"He could 'ave the room below us," ses Sam. "It is empty."

Peter gave a sniff. "Wot about you and Ginger?" he ses.

"Wot about us?" ses Sam and Ginger, both together.

"Why, you'd 'ave to be teetotallers, too," ses Peter. "Woes the good o' me pretending to be steady if 'e sees I've got pals like you?"

Sam scratched his 'ead agin, ever so long, and at last he ses, "Well, mate," he ses, "drink don't trouble me nor Ginger. We can do without it, as far as that goes; and we must all take it in turns to keep the old gentleman busy while the others go and get wot they want. You'd better go and take the room downstairs for 'im, afore it goes."

Peter looked at 'im in surprise, but that was Sam all over. The idea o' knowing a man with money was too much for 'im, and he sat there giving good advice to Peter about 'is behavior until Peter didn't know whether it was 'is uncle or Sam's. 'Owever, he took the room and wrote the letter, and next arternoon at three o'clock Mr. Goodman came in a four- wheel cab with a big bag and a fat umbrella. A short, stiffish-built man of about sixty he was, with 'is top lip shaved and a bit o' short gray beard. He 'ad on a top 'at and a tail-coat, black kid gloves and a little black bow, and he didn't answer the cabman back a single word.



He seemed quite pleased to see Peter, and by and by Sam, who was bursting with curiosity, came down-stairs to ask Peter to lend 'im a boot-lace, and was interduced. Then Ginger came down to look for Sam, and in a few minutes they was all talking as comfortable as possible.

"I ain't seen Peter for twenty years," ses Mr. Goodman—"twenty long years!"

Sam shook his 'ead and looked at the floor.

"I happened to go and see Peter's sister—my niece Polly," ses Mr. Goodman, "and she told me the name of 'is ship. It was quite by chance, because she told me it was the fust letter she had 'ad from him in seven years."

"I didn't think it was so long as that," ses Peter. "Time passes so quick."

His uncle nodded. "Ah, so it does," 'e ses. "It's all the same whether we spend it on the foaming ocean or pass our little lives ashore. Afore we can turn round, in a manner o' speaking, it 'as gorn."

"The main thing," ses Peter, in a good voice, "is to pass it properly."

"Then it don't matter," ses Ginger.

"So it don't," ses Sam, very serious.

"I held 'im in my arms when 'e was a baby," ses Mr. Goodman, looking at Peter.

"Fond o' children?" ses Sam.

Mr. Goodman nodded. "Fond of everybody," he ses.

"That's 'ow Peter is," ses Ginger; "specially young——"

Peter Russet and Sam both turned and looked at 'im very sharp.

"Children," ses Ginger, remembering 'imself, "and teetotallers. I s'pose it is being a teetotaller 'imself."

"Is Peter a teetotaller?" ses Mr. Goodman. "I'd no idea of it. Wot a joyful thing!"

"It was your example wot put it into his 'ead fust, I b'leeve," ses Sam, looking at Peter for 'im to notice 'ow clever he was.

"And then, Sam and Ginger Dick being teetotallers too," ses Peter, "we all, natural-like, keep together."

Mr. Goodman said they was wise men, and, arter a little more talk, he said 'ow would it be if they went out and saw a little bit of the great wicked city? They all said they would, and Ginger got quite excited about it until he found that it meant London.

They got on a bus at Aldgate, and fust of all they went to the British Museum, and when Mr. Goodman was tired o' that—and long arter the others was—they went into a place and 'ad a nice strong cup of tea and a piece o' cake each. When they come out o' there they all walked about looking at the shops until they was tired out, and arter wot Mr. Goodman said was a very improving evening they all went 'ome.

Sam and Ginger went 'ome just for the look 'o the thing, and arter waiting a few minutes in their room they crept downstairs agin to spend wot was left of the evening. They went down as quiet as mice, but, for all that, just as they was passing Mr. Goodman's room the door opened, and Peter, in a polite voice, asked 'em to step inside.

"We was just thinking you'd be dull up there all alone," he ses.

Sam lost 'is presence o' mind, and afore he knew wot 'e was doing 'im and Ginger 'ad walked in and sat down. They sat there for over an hour and a 'arf talking, and then Sam, with a look at Ginger, said they must be going, because he 'ad got to call for a pair o' boots he 'ad left to be mended.

"Why, Sam, wot are you thinking of?" ses Peter, who didn't want anybody to 'ave wot he couldn't. "Why, the shop's shut."

"I don't think so," ses Sam, glaring at 'im. "Anyway, we can go and see."

Peter said he'd go with 'im, and just as they got to the door Mr. Goodman said he'd go too. O' course, the shops was shut, and arter Mr. Goodman 'ad stood on Tower Hill admiring the Tower by moonlight till Sam felt ready to drop, they all walked back. Three times Sam's boot-lace come undone, but as the ethers all stopped too to see 'im do it up it didn't do 'im much good. Wot with temper and dryness 'e could 'ardly bid Peter "Good-night."

Sam and Ginger 'ad something the next morning, but morning ain't the time for it; and arter they had 'ad dinner Mr. Goodman asked 'em to go to the Zoological Gardens with 'im. He paid for them all, and he 'ad a lot to say about kindness to animals and 'ow you could do anything with 'em a'most by kindness. He walked about the place talking like a book, and when a fat monkey, wot was pretending to be asleep, got a bit o' Sam's whisker, he said it was on'y instink, and the animal had no wish to do 'im 'arm.

"Very likely thought it was doing you a kindness, Sam," ses Ginger.

Mr. Goodman said it was very likely, afore Sam could speak, and arter walking about and looking at the other things they come out and 'ad a nice, strong, 'ot cup o' tea, same as they 'ad the day before, and then walked about, not knowing what to do with themselves.

Sam got tired of it fust, and catching Ginger's eye said he thought it was time to get 'ome in case too much enjoyment wasn't good for 'em. His idea was to get off with Ginger and make a night of it, and when 'e found Peter and his uncle was coming too, he began to think that things was looking serious.

"I don't want to spile your evening," he says, very perlite. "I must get 'ome to mend a pair o' trowsis o' mine, but there's no need for you to come."

"I'll come and watch you," ses Peter's uncle.

"And then I'm going off to bed early," ses Sam. "Me, too," ses Ginger, and Peter said he could hardly keep 'is eyes open.

They got on a bus, and as Sam was about to foller Ginger and Peter on top, Mr. Goodman took hold of 'im by the arm and said they'd go inside. He paid two penny fares, and while Sam was wondering 'ow to tell 'im that it would be threepence each, the bus stopped to take up a passenger and he got up and moved to the door.

"They've gone up there," he ses, pointing.

Afore Sam could stop 'im he got off, and Sam, full o' surprise, got off too, and follered 'im' on to the pavement.

"Who's gone up there?" he ses, as the bus went on agin.

"Peter and Mr. Ginger Dick," ses Mr. Good-man. "But don't you trouble. You go 'ome and mend your trowsis."

"But they're on the bus," ses Sam, staring. "Dick and Peter, I mean."

Mr. Goodman shook his 'ead.

"They got off. Didn't you see 'em?" he ses. "No," ses Sam, "I'll swear they didn't."

"Well, it's my mistake, I s'pose," ses Peter's uncle. "But you get off home; I'm not tired yet, and I'll walk."

Sam said 'e wasn't very tired, and he walked along wondering whether Mr. Goodman was quite right in his 'ead. For one thing, 'e seemed upset about something or other, and kept taking little peeps at 'im in a way he couldn't understand at all.

"It was nice tea we 'ad this arternoon," ses Mr. Goodman at last.

"De-licious," ses Sam.

"Trust a teetotaller for knowing good tea," ses Mr. Goodman. "I expect Peter enjoyed it. I s'pose 'e is a very strict teetotaller?"

"Strict ain't the word for it," ses Sam, trying to do 'is duty by Peter. "We all are."

"That's right," ses Mr. Goodman, and he pushed his 'at back and looked at Sam very serious. They walked on a bit further, and then Peter's uncle stopped sudden just as they was passing a large public-'ouse and looked at Sam.

"I don't want Peter to know, 'cos it might alarm 'im," he ses, "but I've come over a bit faint. I'll go in 'ere for 'arf a minnit and sit down. You'd better wait outside."

"I'll come in with you, in case you want help," ses Sam. "I don't mind wot people think."

Mr. Goodman tried to persuade 'im not to, but it was all no good, and at last 'e walked in and sat down on a tall stool that stood agin the bar, and put his hand to his 'ead.

"I s'pose we shall 'ave to 'ave something," he ses in a whisper to Sam; "we can't expect to come in and sit down for nothing. What'll you take?"

Sam looked at 'im, but he might just as well ha' looked at a brass door- knob.

"I—I—I'll 'ave a small ginger-beer," he ses at last, "a very small one."

"One small ginger," ses Mr. Goodman to the bar-maid, "and one special Scotch."

Sam could 'ardly believe his ears, and he stood there 'oldin' his glass o' ginger-beer and watching Peter's teetotal uncle drink whiskey, and thought 'e must be dreaming.

"I dessay it seems very shocking to you," ses Mr. Goodman, putting down 'is glass and dryin' 'is lips on each other, "but I find it useful for these attacks."

"I—I s'pose the flavor's very nasty?" ses Sam, taking a sip at 'is ginger-beer.

"Not exactly wot you could call nasty," ses Mr. Goodman, "though I dessay it would seem so to you. I don't suppose you could swallow it."

"I don't s'pose I could," ses Sam, "but I've a good mind to 'ave a try. If it's good for one teetotaller I don't see why it should hurt another."

Mr. Goodman looked at 'im very hard, and then he ordered a whiskey and stood watching while Sam, arter pretending for a minnit to look at it as though 'e didn't know wot to do with it, took a sip and let it roll round 'is mouth.

"Well?" ses Mr. Goodman, looking at 'im anxious-like.

"It ain't so 'orrid as I 'ad fancied," ses Sam, lap-ping up the rest very gentle.



"'Ave you 'ad enough to do you all the good it ought to?"

Mr. Goodman said that it was no good 'arf doing a thing, and p'r'aps he 'ad better 'ave one more; and arter Sam 'ad paid for the next two they went out arm-in-arm.

"'Ow cheerful everybody looks!" ses Mr. Good-man, smiling.

"They're going to amuse theirselves, I expect," ses Sam—"music-'alls and such-like."

Mr. Goodman shook his 'ead at 'em.

"Music-'alls ain't so bad as some people try to make out," ses Sam.

"Look 'ere; I took some drink to see what the flavor was like; suppose you go to a music-'all to see wot that's like?"

"It seems on'y fair," ses Peter's uncle, considering.

"It is fair," ses Sam, and twenty minutes arterwards they was sitting in a music-'all drinking each other's 'ealths and listening to the songs— Mr. Goodman with a big cigar in 'is mouth and his 'at cocked over one eye, and Sam beating time to the music with 'is pipe.

"'Ow do you like it?" he ses.

Mr. Goodman didn't answer 'im because 'e was joining in the chorus with one side of 'is mouth and keeping 'is cigar alight with the other. He just nodded at 'im; but 'e looked so 'appy that Sam felt it was a pleasure to sit there and look at 'im.

"I wonder wot Peter and Ginger is doin'?" he ses, when the song was finished.

"I don't know," ses Mr. Goodman, "and, wot's more, I don't care. If I'd 'ad any idea that Peter was like wot he is I should never 'ave wrote to 'im. I can't think 'ow you can stand 'im."

"He ain't so bad," ses Sam, wondering whether he ought to tell 'im 'arf of wot Peter really was like.

"Bad!" ses Mr. Goodman. "I come up to London for a 'oliday—a change, mind you—and I thought Peter and me was going to 'ave a good time. Instead o' that, he goes about with a face as long as a fiddle. He don't drink, 'e don't go to places of amusement—innercent places of amusement —and 'is idea of enjoying life is to go walking about the streets and drinking cups o' tea."

"We must try and alter 'im," ses Sam, arter doing a bit o' thinking.

"Certainly not," ses Mr. Goodman, laying his 'and on Sam's knee. "Far be it from me to interfere with a feller-creature's ideas o' wot's right. Besides, he might get writing to 'is sister agin, and she might tell my wife."

"But Peter said she was dead," ses Sam, very puzzled.

"I married agin," ses Peter's uncle, in a whisper, 'cos people was telling 'im to keep quiet, "a tartar—a perfect tartar. She's in a 'orsepittle at present, else I shouldn't be 'ere. And I shouldn't ha' been able to come if I 'adn't found five pounds wot she'd hid in a match-box up the chimbley."

"But wot'll you do when she finds it out?" ses Sam, opening 'is eyes.

"I'm going to 'ave the house cleaned and the chimbleys swept to welcome her 'ome," ses Mr. Goodman, taking a sip o' whiskey. "It'll be a little surprise for her."

They stayed till it was over, and on the bus he gave Sam some strong peppermint lozenges wot 'e always carried about with 'im, and took some 'imself. He said 'e found 'em helpful.

"What are we going to tell Peter and Ginger?" ses Sam, as they got near the 'ouse.

"Tell 'em?" ses Mr. Goodman. "Tell 'em the truth. How we follered 'em when they got off the bus, and 'ave been looking for 'em ever since. I'm not going to 'ave my 'oliday spoilt by a teetotal nevvy, I can tell you."

He started on Peter, wot was sitting on his bed with Ginger waiting for them, the moment he got inside, and all Ginger and Peter could say didn't make any difference.

"Mr. Small see you as plain as what I did," he ses.

"Plainer," ses Sam.

"But I tell you we come straight 'ome," ses Ginger, "and we've been waiting for you 'ere ever since."

Mr. Goodman shook his 'ead at 'im. "Say no more about it," he ses, in a kind voice. "I dessay it's rather tiresome for young men to go about with two old ones, and in future, if you and Peter keep together, me and my friend Mr. Small will do the same."

Sam shook 'ands with 'im, and though Peter tried his 'ardest to make 'im alter his mind it was no good. His uncle patted 'im on the shoulder, and said they'd try it for a few days, at any rate, and Ginger, wot thought it was a very good idea, backed 'im up. Everybody seemed pleased with the idea except Peter Russet, but arter Sam 'ad told 'im in private wot a high opinion 'is uncle 'ad got of 'im, and 'ow well off he was, 'e gave way.

They all enjoyed the next evening, and Sam and Mr. Goodman got on together like twin brothers. They went to a place of amusement every night, and the on'y unpleasantness that happened was when Peter's uncle knocked a chemist's shop up at a quarter-past twelve one night to buy a penn'orth o' peppermint lozenges.

They 'ad four of the 'appiest evenings together that Sam 'ad ever known; and Mr. Goodman would 'ave been just as 'appy too if it hadn't ha' been for the thoughts o' that five pounds. The more 'e thought of it the more unlikely it seemed that 'is wife would blame it on to the sweep, and one night he took the match-box out of 'is pocket and shook his 'ead over it till Sam felt quite sorry for 'im.

"Don't take up your troubles afore they come," he ses. "Orsepittles are dangerous places."

Mr. Goodman cheered up a bit at that, but he got miserable agin the next night because 'is money was getting low and he wanted another week in London.

"I've got seven shillings and fourpence and two stamps left," he ses. "Where it's all gone to I can't think."

"Don't you worry about that," ses Sam. "I've got a pound or two left yet."

"No, I ain't going to be a burden on you," ses Mr. Goodman, "but another week I must 'ave, so I must get the money somehow. Peter can't spend much, the way he goes on."

Sam gave a little cough.

"I'll get a pound or two out of 'im," ses Mr. Goodman.

Sam coughed agin. "Won't he think it rather funny?" he ses, arter a bit.

"Not if it's managed properly," ses Mr. Good-man, thinking 'ard. "I'll tell you 'ow we'll do it. To-morrow morning, while we are eating of our breakfast, you ask me to lend you a pound or two."

Sam, what 'ad just taken up 'is glass for a drink, put it down agin and stared at 'im.

"But I don't want no money," he ses; "and, besides, you 'aven't got any."

"You do as I tell you," ses Mr. Goodman, "and when you've got it, you hand it over to me, see? Ask me to lend you five pounds."

Sam thought as 'ow the whiskey 'ad got to Mr. Goodman's 'ead at last. 'Owever, to pacify 'im he promised to do wot 'e was told, and next morning, when they was all at breakfast, he looks over and catches Mr. Goodman's eye.

"I wonder if I might be so bold as to ask a favor of you?" he ses.

"Certainly," ses Peter's uncle, "and glad I shall be to oblige you. There is no man I've got a greater respect for."

"Thankee," ses Sam. "The fact is, I've run a bit short owing to paying a man some money I owed 'im. If you could lend me five pounds, I couldn't thank you enough."

Mr. Goodman put down 'is knife and fork and wrinkled up 'is forehead.

"I'm very sorry," he ses, feeling in 'is pockets; "do you want it to-day?"

"Yes; I should like it," ses Sam.

"It's most annoying," ses Mr. Goodman, "but I was so afraid o' pickpockets that I didn't bring much away with me. If you could wait till the day arter to-morrow, when my money is sent to me, you can 'ave ten if you like."

"You're very kind," ses Sam, "but that 'ud be too late for me. I must try and get it somewhere else." Peter and Ginger went on eating their breakfast, but every time Peter looked up he caught 'is uncle looking at 'im in such a surprised and disappointed sort o' way that 'e didn't like the look of it at all.

"I could just do it for a couple o' days, Sam," he ses at last, "but it'll leave me very short."

"That's right," ses his uncle, smiling. "My nevvy, Peter Russet, will lend it to you, Mr. Small, of 'is own free will. He 'as offered afore he was asked, and that's the proper way to do it, in my opinion."

He reached acrost the table and shook 'ands with Peter, and said that generosity ran in their family, and something seemed to tell 'im as Peter wouldn't lose by it. Everybody seemed pleased with each other, and arter Ginger Dick and Peter 'ad gone out Mr. Goodman took the five pounds off of old Sam and stowed 'em away very careful in the match-box.



"It's nice to 'ave money agin," he ses. "There's enough for a week's enjoyment here."

"Yes," ses Sam, slow-like; "but wot I want to know is, wot about the day arter to-morrow, when Peter expects 'is money?"

Mr. Goodman patted 'im on the shoulder. "Don't you worry about Peter's troubles," he ses. "I know exactly wot to do; it's all planned out. Now I'm going to 'ave a lay down for an hour—I didn't get much sleep last night—and if you'll call me at twelve o'clock we'll go somewhere. Knock loud."

He patted 'im on the shoulder agin, and Sam, arter fidgeting about a bit, went out. The last time he ever see Peter's uncle he was laying on the bed with 'is eyes shut, smiling in his sleep. And Peter Russet didn't see Sam for eighteen months.



THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY

Mr. Letts had left his ship by mutual arrangement, and the whole of the crew had mustered to see him off and to express their sense of relief at his departure. After some years spent in long voyages, he had fancied a trip on a coaster as a change, and, the schooner Curlew having no use for a ship's carpenter, had shipped as cook. He had done his best, and the unpleasant epithets that followed him along the quay at Dunchurch as he followed in the wake of his sea-chest were the result. Master and mate nodded in grim appreciation of the crew's efforts.



He put his chest up at a seamen's lodging-house, and, by no means perturbed at this sudden change in his fortunes, sat on a seat overlooking the sea, with a cigarette between his lips, forming plans for his future. His eyes closed, and he opened them with a start to find that a middle-aged woman of pleasant but careworn appearance had taken the other end of the bench.

"Fine day," said Mr. Letts, lighting another cigarette.

The woman assented and sat looking over the sea.

"Ever done any cooking?" asked Mr. Letts, presently.

"Plenty," was the surprised reply. "Why?"

"I just wanted to ask you how long you would boil a bit o' beef," said Mr. Letts. "Only from curiosity; I should never ship as cook again."

He narrated his experience of the last few days, and, finding the listener sympathetic, talked at some length about himself and his voyages; also of his plans for the future.

"I lost my son at sea," said the woman, with a sigh. "You favor him rather."

Mr. Letts's face softened. "Sorry," he said. "Sorry you lost him, I mean."

"At least, I suppose he would have been like you," said the other; "but it's nine years ago now. He was just sixteen."

Mr. Letts—after a calculation—nodded. "Just my age," he said. "I was twenty-five last March."

"Sailed for Melbourne," said the woman. "My only boy."

Mr. Letts cleared his throat, sympathetically.

"His father died a week after he sailed," continued the other, "and three months afterwards my boy's ship went down. Two years ago, like a fool, I married again. I don't know why I'm talking to you like this. I suppose it is because you remind me of him."

"You talk away as much as you like," said Mr. Letts, kindly. "I've got nothing to do."

He lit another cigarette, and, sitting in an attitude of attention, listened to a recital of domestic trouble that made him congratulate himself upon remaining single.

"Since I married Mr. Green I can't call my soul my own," said the victim of matrimony as she rose to depart. "If my poor boy had lived things would have been different. His father left the house and furniture to him, and that's all my second married me for, I'm sure. That and the bit o' money that was left to me. He's selling some of my boy's furniture at this very moment. That's why I came out; I couldn't bear it."

"P'r'aps he'll turn up after all," said Mr. Letts. "Never say die."

Mrs. Green shook her head.

"I s'pose," said Mr. Letts, regarding her—"I s'pose you don't let lodgings for a night or two?" Mrs. Green shook her head again.

"It don't matter," said the young man. "Only I would sooner stay with you than at a lodging-house. I've taken a fancy to you. I say, it would be a lark if you did, and I went there and your husband thought I was your son, wouldn't it?"

Mrs. Green caught her breath, and sitting down again took his arm in her trembling fingers.

"Suppose," she said, unsteadily—"suppose you came round and pretended to be my son—pretended to be my son, and stood up for me?"

Mr. Letts stared at her in amazement, and then began to laugh.

"Nobody would know," continued the other, quickly. "We only came to this place just before he sailed, and his sister was only ten at the time. She wouldn't remember."

Mr. Letts said he couldn't think of it, and sat staring, with an air of great determination, at the sea. Arguments and entreaties left him unmoved, and he was just about to express his sorrow for her troubles and leave, when she gave a sudden start and put her arm through his.

"Here comes your sister!" she exclaimed.

Mr. Letts started in his turn.

"She has seen me holding your arm," continued Mrs. Green, in a tense whisper. "It's the only way I can explain it. Mind, your name is Jack Foster and hers is Betty."

Mr. Letts gazed at her in consternation, and then, raising his eyes, regarded with much approval the girl who was approaching. It seemed impossible that she could be Mrs. Green's daughter, and in the excitement of the moment he nearly said so.

"Betty," said Mrs. Green, in a voice to which nervousness had imparted almost the correct note—"Betty, this is your brother Jack!"

Mr. Letts rose sheepishly, and then to his great amazement a pair of strong young arms were flung round his neck, and a pair of warm lips— after but slight trouble—found his. Then and there Mr. Letts's mind was made up.



"Oh, Jack!" said Miss Foster, and began to cry softly.

"Oh, Jack!" said Mrs. Green, and, moved by thoughts, perhaps, of what might have been, began to cry too.

"There, there!" said Mr. Letts.

He drew Miss Foster to the seat, and, sitting between them, sat with an arm round each. There was nothing in sight but a sail or two in the far distance, and he allowed Miss Foster's head to lie upon his shoulder undisturbed. An only child, and an orphan, he felt for the first time the blessing of a sister's love.

"Why didn't you come home before?" murmured the girl.

Mr. Letts started and squinted reproachfully at the top of her hat. Then he turned and looked at Mrs. Green in search of the required information. "He was shipwrecked," said Mrs. Green.

"I was shipwrecked," repeated Mr. Letts, nodding.

"And had brain-fever after it through being in the water so long, and lost his memory," continued Mrs. Green.

"It's wonderful what water will do—salt water," said Mr. Letts, in confirmation.

Miss Foster sighed, and, raising the hand which was round her waist, bent her head and kissed it. Mr. Letts colored, and squeezed her convulsively.

Assisted by Mrs. Green he became reminiscent, and, in a low voice, narrated such incidents of his career as had escaped the assaults of the brain-fever. That his head was not permanently injured was proved by the perfect manner in which he remembered incidents of his childhood narrated by his newly found mother and sister. He even volunteered one or two himself which had happened when the latter was a year or two old.

"And now," said Mrs. Green, in a somewhat trembling voice, "we must go and tell your step-father."

Mr. Letts responded, but without briskness, and, with such moral support as an arm of each could afford, walked slowly back. Arrived at a road of substantial cottages at the back of the town, Mrs. Green gasped, and, coming to a standstill, nodded at a van that stood half-way up the road.

"There it is," she exclaimed.

"What?" demanded Mr. Letts.

"The furniture I told you about," said Mrs. Green. "The furniture that your poor father thought such a lot of, because it used to belong to his grandfather. He's selling it to Simpson, though I begged and prayed him not to."

Mr. Letts encouraged himself with a deep cough. "My furniture?" he demanded.

Mrs. Green took courage. "Yes," she said, hope-fully; "your father left it to you."

Mr. Letts, carrying his head very erect, took a firmer grip of their arms and gazed steadily at a disagreeable-looking man who was eying them in some astonishment from the doorway. With arms still linked they found the narrow gateway somewhat difficult, but they negotiated it by a turning movement, and, standing in the front garden, waited while Mrs. Green tried to find her voice.



"Jack," she said at last, "this is your stepfather."

Mr. Letts, in some difficulty as to the etiquette on such occasions, released his right arm and extended his hand.

"Good-evening, stepfather," he said, cheerfully.

Mr. Green drew back a little and regarded him unfavorably.

"We—we thought you was drowned," he said at last.

"I was nearly," said Mr. Letts.

"We all thought so," pursued Mr. Green, grudgingly. "Everybody thought so."

He stood aside, as a short, hot-faced man, with a small bureau clasped in his arms and supported on his knees, emerged from the house and staggered towards the gate. Mr. Letts reflected.

"Halloa!" he said, suddenly. "Why, are you moving, mother?"

Mrs. Green sniffed sadly and shook her head. "Well," said Mr. Letts, with an admirable stare, "what's that chap doing with my furniture?"

"Eh?" spluttered Mr. Green. "What?"

"I say, what's he doing with my furniture?" repeated Mr. Letts, sternly.

Mr. Green waved his arm. "That's all right," he said, conclusively; "he's bought it. Your mother knows."

"But it ain't all right," said Mr. Letts. "Here! bring that back, and those chairs too."

The dealer, who had just placed the bureau on the tail-board of the van, came back wiping his brow with his sleeve.

"Wots the little game?" he demanded.

Mr. Letts left the answer to Mr. Green, and going to the van took up the bureau and walked back to the house with it. Mr. Green and the dealer parted a little at his approach, and after widening the parting with the bureau he placed it in the front room while he went back for the chairs. He came back with three of them, and was, not without reason, called a porcupine by the indignant dealer.

He was relieved to find, after Mr. Simpson had taken his departure, that Mr. Green was in no mood for catechising him, and had evidently accepted the story of his escape and return as a particularly disagreeable fact. So disagreeable that the less he heard of it the better.

"I hope you've not come home after all these years to make things unpleasant?" he remarked presently, as they sat at tea.

"I couldn't be unpleasant if I tried," said Mr. Letts.

"We've been very happy and comfortable here—me and your mother and sister," continued Mr. Green. "Haven't we, Emily?"

"Yes," said his wife, with nervous quickness.

"And I hope you'll be the same," said Mr. Green. "It's my wish that you should make yourself quite comfortable here—till you go to sea again."

"Thankee," said Mr. Letts; "but I don't think I shall go to sea any more. Ship's carpenter is my trade, and I've been told more than once that I should do better ashore. Besides, I don't want to lose mother and Betty again."

He placed his arm round the girl's waist, and, drawing her head on to his shoulder, met with a blank stare the troubled gaze of Mrs. Green.

"I'm told there's wonderful openings for carpenters in Australia," said Mr. Green, trying to speak in level tones. "Wonderful! A good carpenter can make a fortune there in ten years, so I'm told."

Mr. Letts, with a slight wink at Mrs. Green and a reassuring squeeze with his left arm, turned an attentive ear.

"O' course, there's a difficulty," he said, slowly, as Mr. Green finished a vivid picture of the joys of carpentering in Australia.

"Difficulty?" said the other.

"Money to start with," explained Mr. Letts. "It's no good starting without money. I wonder how much this house and furniture would fetch? Is it all mine, mother?"

"M-m-most of it," stammered Mrs. Green, gazing in a fascinated fashion at the contorted visage of her husband.

"All except a chair in the kitchen and three stair-rods," said Betty.

"Speak when you're spoke to, miss!" snarled her stepfather. "When we married we mixed our furniture up together—mixed it up so that it would be impossible to tell which is which. Nobody could."

"For the matter o' that, you could have all the kitchen chairs and all the stair-rods," said Mr. Letts, generously. "However, I don't want to do anything in a hurry, and I shouldn't dream of going to Australia without Betty. It rests with her."

"She's going to be married," said Mr. Green, hastily; "and if she wasn't she wouldn't turn her poor, ailing mother out of house and home, that I'm certain of. She's not that sort. We've had a word or two at times—me and her—but I know a good daughter when I see one."

"Married?" echoed Mr. Letts, as his left arm relaxed its pressure. "Who to?"

"Young fellow o' the name of Henry Widden," replied Mr. Green, "a very steady young fellow; a great friend of mine."

"Oh!" said Mr. Letts, blankly.

"I'd got an idea, which I've been keeping as a little surprise," continued Mr. Green, speaking very rapidly, "of them living here with us, and saving house-rent and furniture."

Mr. Letts surveyed him with a dejected eye.

"It would be a fine start for them," continued the benevolent Mr. Green.

Mr. Letts, by a strong effort, regained his composure.

"I must have a look at him first," he said, briskly. "He mightn't meet with my approval."

"Eh?" said Mr. Green, starting. "Why, if Betty——"

"I must think it over," interrupted Mr. Letts, with a wave of his hand. "Betty is only nineteen, and, as head of the family, I don't think she can marry without my consent. I'm not sure, but I don't think so. Anyway, if she does, I won't have her husband here sitting in my chairs, eating off my tables, sleeping in my beds, wearing out my stair-rods, helping himself——"

"Stow it," said Miss Foster, calmly.

Mr. Letts started, and lost the thread of his discourse. "I must have a look at him," he concluded, lamely; "he may be all right, but then, again, he mightn't."

He finished his tea almost in silence, and, the meal over, emphasized his position as head of the family by taking the easy-chair, a piece of furniture sacred to Mr. Green, and subjecting that injured man to a catechism which strained his powers of endurance almost to breaking- point.

"Well, I sha'n't make any change at present," said Mr. Letts, when the task was finished. "There's plenty of room here for us all, and, so long as you and me agree, things can go on as they are. To-morrow morning I shall go out and look for a job."

He found a temporary one almost at once, and, determined to make a favorable impression, worked hard all day. He came home tired and dirty, and was about to go straight to the wash-house to make his toilet when Mr. Green called him in.

"My friend, Mr. Widden," he said, with a satisfied air, as he pointed to a slight, fair young man with a well-trimmed moustache.

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