"I put one hand over the skipper's mouth fust, and then, finding that was no good, I put the other. It was no good wasting bad langwidge on 'Arry.
"I pacified the skipper at last, and arter 'Arry 'ad swore true 'e'd go when 'e'd got the money, the skipper rushed round to try and raise it. It's a difficult job at the best o' times, and I sat there on the skylight shivering and wondering whether the skipper or Mrs. Muffit would turn up fust.
"Hours seemed to pass away, and then I see the wicket in the gate open, and the skipper come through. He jumped on deck without a word, and then, going over to the skylight, 'anded down the money to 'Arry.
"'Right-o,' ses 'Arry. 'It on'y shows you wot you can do by trying.'
"He unlocked the door and came up on deck, looking at us very careful, and playing with 'is stick.
"'You've got your money,' ses the skipper; 'now go as quick as you can.'
"'Arry smiled and nodded at him. Then he stepped on to the wharf and was just moving to the gate, with us follering, when the wicket opened and in came Mrs. Muffit and Uncle Dick.
"'There he is,' ses Uncle Dick. 'That's the man!'
"Mrs. Muffit walked up to 'im, and my 'art a'most stopped beating. Her face was the colour of beetroot with temper, and you could 'ave heard her breath fifty yards away.
"'Ho!' she says, planting 'erself in front of Artful 'Arry, 'so you're the man that ses you're my 'usband, are you?'
"'That's all right,' ses 'Arry, 'it's all a mistake.'
"'MISTAKE?' ses Mrs. Muffit.
"'Mistake o' Bill's,' ses 'Arry, pointing to me. 'I told 'im I thought 'e was wrong, but 'e would 'ave it. I've got a bad memory, so I left it to 'im.'
"'Ho!' ses Mrs. Muffit, taking a deep breath. 'Ho! I thought as much. Wot 'ave you got to say for yourself—eh?'
"She turned on me like a wild cat, with her 'ands in front of her. I've been scratched once in my life, and I wasn't going to be agin, so, fixing my eyes on 'er, I just stepped back a bit, ready for 'er. So long as I kept my eye fixed on 'ers she couldn't do anything. I knew that. Unfortunately I stepped back just a inch too far, and next moment I went over back'ards in twelve foot of water.
"Arter all, p'r'aps it was the best thing that could have 'appened to me; it stopped her talking. It ain't the fust time I've 'ad a wet jacket; but as for the skipper, and pore Uncle Dick—wot married her—they've been in hot water ever since."
FOR BETTER OR WORSE
Mr. George Wotton, gently pushing the swing doors of the public bar of the "King's Head" an inch apart, applied an eye to the aperture, in the hope of discovering a moneyed friend. His gaze fell on the only man in the bar a greybeard of sixty whose weather-beaten face and rough clothing spoke of the sea. With a faint sigh he widened the opening and passed through.
"Mornin', Ben," he said, with an attempt at cheerfulness.
"Have a drop with me," said the other, heartily. "Got any money about you?"
Mr. Wotton shook his head and his face fell, clearing somewhat as the other handed him his mug. "Drink it all up, George," he said.
His friend complied. A more tactful man might have taken longer over the job, but Mr. Benjamin Davis, who appeared to be labouring under some strong excitement, took no notice.
"I've had a shock, George," he said, regarding the other steadily. "I've heard news of my old woman."
"Didn't know you 'ad one," said Mr. Wotton calmly. "Wot's she done?"
"She left me," said Mr. Davis, solemnly—"she left me thirty-five years ago. I went off to sea one fine morning, and that was the last I ever see of er.
"Why, did she bolt?" inquired Mr. Wotton, with mild interest.
"No," said his friend, "but I did. We'd been married three years—three long years—and I had 'ad enough of it. Awful temper she had. The last words I ever heard 'er say was: 'Take that!'"
Mr. Wotton took up the mug and, after satisfying himself as to the absence of contents, put it down again and yawned.
"I shouldn't worry about it if I was you," he remarked. "She's hardly likely to find you now. And if she does she won't get much."
Mr. Davis gave vent to a contemptuous laugh. "Get much!" he repeated. "It's her what's got it. I met a old shipmate of mine this morning what I 'adn't seen for ten years, and he told me he run acrost 'er only a month ago. After she left me—"
"But you said you left her!" exclaimed his listening friend.
"Same thing," said Mr. Davis, impatiently. "After she left me to work myself to death at sea, running here and there at the orders of a pack o'lazy scuts aft, she went into service and stayed in one place for fifteen years. Then 'er missis died and left her all 'er money. For twenty years, while I've been working myself to skin and bone, she's been living in comfort and idleness."
"'Ard lines," said Mr. Wotton, shaking his head. "It don't bear thinking of."
"Why didn't she advertise for me?" said Mr. Davis, raising his voice. "That's what I want to know. Advertisements is cheap enough; why didn't she advertise? I should 'ave come at once if she'd said anything about money."
Mr. Wotton shook his head again. "P'r'aps she didn't want you," he said, slowly.
"What's that got to do with it?" demanded the other. "It was 'er dooty. She'd got money, and I ought to have 'ad my 'arf of it. Nothing can make up for that wasted twenty years—nothing."
"P'r'aps she'll take you back," said Mr. Wotton.
"Take me back?" repeated Mr. Davis. "O' course she'll take me back. She'll have to. There's a law in the land, ain't there? What I'm thinking of is: Can I get back my share what I ought to have 'ad for the last twenty years?"
"Get 'er to take you back first," counselled his friend. "Thirty-five years is along time, and p'r'aps she has lost 'er love for you. Was you good-looking in those days?"
"Yes," snapped Mr. Davis; "I ain't altered much—. 'Sides, what about her?"
"That ain't the question," said the other. "She's got a home and money. It don't matter about looks; and, wot's more, she ain't bound to keep you. If you take my advice, you won't dream of letting her know you run away from her. Say you was cast away at sea, and when you came back years afterwards you couldn't find her."
Mr. Davis pondered for some time in sulky silence.
"P'r'aps it would be as well," he said at last; "but I sha'n't stand no nonsense, mind."
"If you like I'll come with you," said Mr. Wotton. "I ain't got nothing to do. I could tell 'er I was cast away with you if you liked. Anything to help a pal."
Mr. Davis took two inches of soiled clay pipe from his pocket and puffed thoughtfully.
"You can come," he said at last. "If you'd only got a copper or two we could ride; it's down Clapham way."
Mr. Wotton smiled feebly, and after going carefully through his pockets shook his head and followed his friend outside.
"I wonder whether she'll be pleased?" he remarked, as they walked slowly along. "She might be—women are funny creatures—so faithful. I knew one whose husband used to knock 'er about dreadful, and after he died she was so true to his memory she wouldn't marry again."
Mr. Davis grunted, and, with a longing eye at the omnibuses passing over London Bridge, asked a policeman the distance to Clapham.
"Never mind," said Mr. Wotton, as his friend uttered an exclamation. "You'll have money in your pocket soon."
Mr. Davis's face brightened. "And a watch and chain too," he said.
"And smoke your cigar of a Sunday," said Mr. Wotton, "and have a easy-chair and a glass for a friend."
Mr. Davis almost smiled, and then, suddenly remembering his wasted twenty years, shook his head grimly over the friendship that attached itself to easy-chairs and glasses of ale, and said that there was plenty of it about. More friendship than glasses of ale and easy-chairs, perhaps.
At Clapham, they inquired the way of a small boy, and, after following the road indicated, retraced their steps, cheered by a faint but bloodthirsty hope of meeting him again.
A friendly baker put them on the right track at last, both gentlemen eyeing the road with a mixture of concern and delight. It was a road of trim semi-detached villas, each with a well-kept front garden and neatly-curtained windows. At the gate of a house with the word "Blairgowrie" inscribed in huge gilt letters on the fanlight Mr. Davis paused for a moment uneasily, and then, walking up the path, followed by Mr. Wotton, knocked at the door.
He retired a step in disorder before the apparition of a maid in cap and apron. A sharp "Not to-day!" sounded in his ears and the door closed again. He faced his friend gasping.
"I should give her the sack first thing," said Mr. Wotton.
Mr. Davis knocked again, and again. The maid reappeared, and after surveying them through the glass opened the door a little way and parleyed.
"I want to see your missis," said Mr. Davis, fiercely.
"What for?" demanded the girl.
"You tell 'er," said Mr. Davis, inserting his foot just in time, "you tell 'er that there's two gentlemen here what have brought 'er news of her husband, and look sharp about it."
"They was cast away with 'im," said Mr. Wotton.
"On a desert island," said Mr. Davis. He pushed his way in, followed by his friend, and a head that had been leaning over the banisters was suddenly withdrawn. For a moment he stood irresolute in the tiny passage, and then, with a husband's boldness, he entered the front room and threw himself into an easy-chair. Mr. Wotton, after a scared glance around the well-furnished room, seated himself on the extreme edge of the most uncomfortable chair he could find and coughed nervously.
"Better not be too sudden with her," he whispered. "You don't want her to faint, or anything of that sort. Don't let 'er know who you are at first; let her find it out for herself."
Mr. Davis, who was also suffering from the stiff grandeur of his surroundings, nodded.
"P'r'aps you'd better start, in case she reckernizes my voice," he said, slowly. "Pitch it in strong about me and 'ow I was always wondering what had 'appened to her."
"You're in luck, that's wot you are," said his friend, enviously. "I've only seen furniture like thiss in shop windows before. H'sh! Here she comes."
He started, and both men tried to look at their ease as a stiff rustling sounded from the stairs. Then the door opened and a tall, stoutly-built old lady with white hair swept into the room and stood regarding them.
Mr. Davis, unprepared for the changes wrought by thirty-five years, stared at her aghast. The black silk dress, the gold watch-chain, and huge cameo brooch did not help to reassure him.
"Good-good afternoon, ma'am," said Mr. Wotton, in a thin voice.
The old lady returned the greeting, and, crossing to a chair and seating herself in a very upright fashion, regarded him calmly.
"We—we called to see you about a dear old pal—friend, I mean," continued Mr. Wotton; "one o' the best. The best."
"Yes?" said the old lady.
"He's been missing," said Mr. Wotton, watching closely for any symptoms of fainting, "for thir-ty-five years. Thir-ty-five years ago-very much against his wish-he left 'is young and handsome wife to go for a sea v'y'ge, and was shipwrecked and cast away on a desert island."
"Yes?" said the old lady again.
"I was cast away with 'im," said Mr. Wotton. "Both of us was cast away with him."
He indicated Mr. Davis with his hand, and the old lady, after a glance at that gentleman, turned to Mr. Wotton again.
"We was on that island for longer than I like to think of," continued Mr. Wotton, who had a wholesome dread of dates. "But we was rescued at last, and ever since then he has been hunting high and low for his wife."
"It's very interesting," murmured the old lady; "but what has it got to do with me?"
Mr. Wotton gasped, and cast a helpless glance at his friend.
"You ain't heard his name yet," he said, impressively. "Wot would you say if I said it was—Ben Davis?"
"I should say it wasn't true," said the old lady, promptly.
"Not—true?" said Mr. Wotton, catching his breath painfully. "Wish I may die——"
"About the desert island," continued the old lady, calmly. "The story that I heard was that he went off like a cur and left his young wife to do the best she could for herself. I suppose he's heard since that she has come in for a bit of money."
"Money!" repeated Mr. Wotton, in a voice that he fondly hoped expressed artless surprise. "Money!"
"Money," said the old lady; "and I suppose he sent you two gentlemen round to see how the land lay."
She was looking full at Mr. Davis as she spoke, and both men began to take a somewhat sombre view of the situation.
"You didn't know him, else you wouldn't talk like that," said Mr. Wotton. "I don't suppose you'd know 'im if you was to see him now."
"I don't suppose I should," said the other.
"P'r'aps you'd reckernize his voice?" said Mr. Davis, breaking silence at last.
Mr. Wotton held his breath, but the old lady merely shook her head thoughtfully. "It was a disagreeable voice when his wife used to hear it," she said at last. "Always fault-finding, when it wasn't swearing."
Mr. Wotton glanced at his friend, and, raising his eyebrows slightly, gave up his task. "Might ha' been faults on both sides," said Mr. Davis, gruffly. "You weren't all that you should ha' been, you know."
"Me!" said his hostess, raising her voice.
"Yes, you," said Mr. Davis, rising. "Don't you know me, Mary? Why, I knew you the moment you come into the room."
He moved towards her awkwardly, but she rose in her turn and drew back.
"If you touch me I'll scream," she said, firmly. "How dare you. Why, I've never seen you before in my life."
"It's Ben Davis, ma'am; it's 'im, right enough," said Mr. Wotton, meekly.
"Hold your tongue," said the old lady.
"Look at me!" commanded Mr. Davis, sternly. "Look at me straight in the eye."
"Don't talk nonsense," said the other, sharply. "Look you in the eye, indeed! I don't want to look in your eye. What would people think?"
"Let 'em think wot they like," said Mr. Davis, recklessly. "This is a nice home-coming after being away thirty-five years."
"Most of it on a desert island," put in Mr. Wotton, pathetically.
"And now I've come back," resumed Mr. Davis; "come back to stop."
He hung his cap on a vase on the mantelpiece that reeled under the shock, and, dropping into his chair again, crossed his legs and eyed her sternly. Her gaze was riveted on his dilapidated boots. She looked up and spoke mildly.
"You're not my husband," she said. "You've made a mistake—I think you had better go."
"Ho!" said Mr. Davis, with a hard laugh. "Indeed! And 'ow do you know I'm not?"
"For the best of reasons," was the reply. "Besides, how can you prove that you are? Thirty-five years is a long time."
"'Specially on a desert island," said Mr. Wotton, rapidly. "You'd be surprised 'ow slow the time passes. I was there with 'im, and I can lay my hand on my 'art and assure you that that is your husband."
"Nonsense!" said the old lady, vigorously. "Rubbish!"
"I can prove it," said Mr. Davis, fixing her with a glittering eye. "Do you remember the serpent I 'ad tattooed on my leg for a garter?"
"If you don't go at once," said the old lady, hastily, "I'll send for the police."
"You used to admire it," said Mr. Davis, reproachfully. "I remember once——"
"If you say another word," said the other, in a fierce voice, "I'll send straight off for the police. You and your serpents! I'll tell my husband of you, that's what I'll do."
"Your WHAT?" roared Mr. Davis, springing to his feet.
"My husband. He won't stand any of your nonsense, I can tell you. You'd better go before he comes in."
"O-oh," said Mr. Davis, taking a long breath. "Oh, so you been and got married again, 'ave you? That's your love for your husband as was cast away while trying to earn a living for you. That's why you don't want me, is it? We'll see. I'll wait for him."
"You don't know what you're talking about," said the other, with great dignity. "I've only been married once."
Mr. Davis passed the back of his hand across his eyes in a dazed fashion and stared at her.
"Is—is somebody passing himself off as me?" he demanded. "'Cos if he is I'll 'ave you both up for bigamy."
Mr. Davis turned and looked blankly at his friend. Mr. Wotton met his gaze with dilated eyes.
"You say you recognize me as your wife?" said the old lady.
"Certainly," said Mr. Davis, hotly.
"It's very curious," said the other—"very. But are you sure? Look again."
Mr. Davis thrust his face close to hers and stared hard. She bore his scrutiny without flinching.
"I'm positive certain," said Mr. Davis, taking a breath.
"That's very curious," said the old lady; "but, then, I suppose we are a bit alike. You see, Mrs. Davis being away, I'm looking after her house for a bit. My name happens to be Smith."
Mr. Davis uttered a sharp exclamation, and, falling back a step, stared at her open-mouthed.
"We all make mistakes," urged Mr. Wotton, after a long silence, "and Ben's sight ain't wot it used to be. He strained it looking out for a sail when we was on that desert——"
"When—when'll she be back?" inquired Mr. Davis, finding his voice at last.
The old lady affected to look puzzled. "But I thought you were certain that I was your wife?" she said, smoothly.
"My mistake," said Mr. Davis, ruefully. "Thirty-five years is a long time and people change a bit; I have myself. For one thing, I must say I didn't expect to find 'er so stout."
"Stout!" repeated the other, quickly.
"Not that I mean you're too stout," said Mr. Davis, hurriedly—"for people that like stoutness, that is. My wife used to 'ave a very good figger."
Mr. Wotton nodded. "He used to rave about it on that des——"
"When will she be back?" inquired Mr. Davis, interrupting him.
Mrs. Smith shook her head. "I can't say," she replied, moving towards the door. "When she's off holidaying, I never know when she'll return. Shall I tell her you called?"
"Tell her I——certainly," said Mr. Davis, with great vehemence. "I'll come in a week's time and see if she's back."
"She might be away for months," said the old lady, moving slowly to the passage and opening the street door. "Good-afternoon."
She closed the door behind them and stood watching them through the glass as they passed disconsolately into the street. Then she went back into the parlour, and standing before the mantelpiece, looked long and earnestly into the mirror.
Mr. Davis returned a week later—alone, and, pausing at the gate, glanced in dismay at a bill in the window announcing that the house was to be sold. He walked up the path still looking at it, and being admitted by the trim servant was shown into the parlour, and stood in a dispirited fashion before Mrs. Smith.
"Not back yet?" he inquired, gruffly.
The old lady shook her head.
"What—what—is that bill for?" demanded Mr. Davis, jerking his thumb towards it.
"She is thinking of selling the house," said Mrs. Smith. "I let her know you had been, and that is, the result. She won't comeback. You won't see her again."
"Where is she?" inquired Mr. Davis, frowning.
Mrs. Smith shook her head again. "And it would be no use my telling you," she said. "What she has got is her own, and the law won't let you touch a penny of it without her consent. You must have treated her badly; why did you leave her?"
"Why?" repeated Mr. Davis. "Why? Why, because she hit me over the 'ead with a broom-handle."
Mrs. Smith tossed her head.
"Fancy you remembering that for thirty-five years!" she said.
"Fancy forgetting it!" retorted Mr. Davis.
"I suppose she had a hot temper," said the old lady.
"'Ot temper?" said the other. "Yes." He leaned forward, and holding his chilled hands over the fire stood for some time deep in thought.
"I don't know what it is," he said at last, "but there's a something about you that reminds me of her. It ain't your voice, 'cos she had a very nice voice—when she wasn't in a temper—and it ain't your face, because—"
"Yes?" said Mrs. Smith, sharply. "Because it don't remind me of her."
"And yet the other day you said you recognized me at once," said the old lady.
"I thought I did," said Mr. Davis. "One thing is, I was expecting to see her, I s'pose."
There was a long silence.
"Well, I won't keep you," said Mrs. Smith at last, "and it's no good for you to keep coming here to see her. She will never come here again. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but you don't look over and above respectable. Your coat is torn, your trousers are patched in a dozen places, and your boots are half off your feet—I don't know what the servant must think."
"I—I only came to look for my wife," said Mr. Davis, in a startled voice. "I won't come again."
"That's right," said the old lady. "That'll please her, I know. And if she should happen to ask what sort of a living you are making, what shall I tell her?"
"Tell her what you said about my clothes, ma'am," said Mr. Davis, with his hand on the door-knob. "She'll understand then. She's known wot it is to be poor herself. She'd got a bad temper, but she'd have cut her tongue out afore she'd 'ave thrown a poor devil's rags in his face. Good-afternoon."
"Good-afternoon, Ben," said the old woman, in a changed voice.
Mr. Davis, half-way through the door, started as though he had been shot, and, facing about, stood eyeing her in dumb bewilderment.
"If I take you back again," repeated his wife, "are you going to behave yourself?"
"It isn't the same voice and it isn't the same face," said the old woman; "but if I'd only got a broomhandle handy——"
Mr. Davis made an odd noise in his throat.
"If you hadn't been so down on your luck," said his wife, blinking her eyes rapidly, "I'd have let you go. If you hadn't looked 'so miserable I could have stood it. If I take you back, are you going to behave yourself?"
Mr. Davis stood gaping at her.
"If I take you back again," repeated his wife, speaking very slowly, "are you going to behave yourself?"
"Yes," said Mr. Davis, finding his voice at last. "Yes, if you are."
THE OLD MAN OF THE SEA
"What I want you to do," said Mr. George Wright, as he leaned towards the old sailor, "is to be an uncle to me."
"Aye, aye," said the mystified Mr. Kemp, pausing with a mug of beer midway to his lips.
"A rich uncle," continued the young man, lowering his voice to prevent any keen ears in the next bar from acquiring useless knowledge. "An uncle from New Zealand, who is going to leave me all 'is money."
"Where's it coming from?" demanded Mr. Kemp, with a little excitement.
"It ain't coming," was the reply. "You've only got to say you've got it. Fact of the matter is, I've got my eye on a young lady; there's another chap after 'er too, and if she thought I'd got a rich uncle it might make all the difference. She knows I 'ad an uncle that went to New Zealand and was never heard of since. That's what made me think of it."
Mr. Kemp drank his beer in thoughtful silence. "How can I be a rich uncle without any brass?" he inquired at length.
"I should 'ave to lend you some—a little," said Mr. Wright.
The old man pondered. "I've had money lent me before," he said, candidly, "but I can't call to mind ever paying it back. I always meant to, but that's as far as it got."
"It don't matter," said the other. "It'll only be for a little while, and then you'll 'ave a letter calling you back to New Zealand. See? And you'll go back, promising to come home in a year's time, after you've wound up your business, and leave us all your money. See?"
Mr. Kemp scratched the back of his neck. "But she's sure to find it out in time," he objected.
"P'r'aps," said Mr. Wright. "And p'r'aps not. There'll be plenty of time for me to get married before she does, and you could write back and say you had got married yourself, or given your money to a hospital."
He ordered some more beer for Mr. Kemp, and in a low voice gave him as much of the family history as he considered necessary.
"I've only known you for about ten days," he concluded, "but I'd sooner trust you than people I've known for years."
"I took a fancy to you the moment I set eyes on you," rejoined Mr. Kemp. "You're the living image of a young fellow that lent me five pounds once, and was drowned afore my eyes the week after. He 'ad a bit of a squint, and I s'pose that's how he came to fall overboard."
He emptied his mug, and then, accompanied by Mr. Wright, fetched his sea-chest from the boarding-house where he was staying, and took it to the young man's lodgings. Fortunately for the latter's pocket the chest contained a good best suit and boots, and the only expenses incurred were for a large, soft felt hat and a gilded watch and chain. Dressed in his best, with a bulging pocket-book in his breast-pocket, he set out with Mr. Wright on the following evening to make his first call.
Mr. Wright, who was also in his best clothes, led the way to a small tobacconist's in a side street off the Mile End Road, and, raising his hat with some ceremony, shook hands with a good-looking young woman who stood behind the counter: Mr. Kemp, adopting an air of scornful dignity intended to indicate the possession of great wealth, waited.
"This is my uncle," said Mr. Wright, speaking rapidly, "from New Zealand, the one I spoke to you about. He turned up last night, and you might have knocked me down with a feather. The last person in the world I expected to see."
Mr. Kemp, in a good rolling voice, said, "Good evening, miss; I hope you are well," and, subsiding into a chair, asked for a cigar. His surprise when he found that the best cigar they stocked only cost sixpence almost assumed the dimensions of a grievance.
"It'll do to go on with," he said, smelling it suspiciously. "Have you got change for a fifty-pound note?"
Miss Bradshaw, concealing her surprise by an effort, said that she would see, and was scanning the contents of a drawer, when Mr. Kemp in some haste discovered a few odd sovereigns in his waistcoat-pocket. Five minutes later he was sitting in the little room behind the shop, holding forth to an admiring audience.
"So far as I know," he said, in reply to a question of Mrs. Bradshaw's, "George is the only relation I've got. Him and me are quite alone, and I can tell you I was glad to find him."
Mrs. Bradshaw sighed. "It's a pity you are so far apart," she said.
"It's not for long," said Mr. Kemp. "I'm just going back for about a year to wind up things out there, and then I'm coming back to leave my old bones over here. George has very kindly offered to let me live with him."
"He won't suffer for it, I'll be bound," said Mrs. Bradshaw, archly.
"So far as money goes he won't," said the old man. "Not that that would make any difference to George."
"It would be the same to me if you hadn't got a farthing," said Mr. Wright, promptly.
Mr. Kemp, somewhat affected, shook hands with him, and leaning back in the most comfortable chair in the room, described his life and struggles in New Zealand. Hard work, teetotalism, and the simple life combined appeared to be responsible for a fortune which he affected to be too old to enjoy. Misunderstandings of a painful nature were avoided by a timely admission that under medical advice he was now taking a fair amount of stimulant.
"Mind," he said, as he walked home with the elated George, "it's your game, not mine, and it's sure to come a bit expensive. I can't be a rich uncle without spending a bit. 'Ow much did you say you'd got in the bank?"
"We must be as careful as we can," said Mr. Wright, hastily. "One thing is they can't leave the shop to go out much. It's a very good little business, and it ought to be all right for me and Bella one of these days, eh?"
Mr. Kemp, prompted by a nudge in the ribs, assented. "It's wonderful how they took it all in about me," he said; "but I feel certain in my own mind that I ought to chuck some money about."
"Tell 'em of the money you have chucked about," said Mr. Wright. "It'll do just as well, and come a good deal cheaper. And you had better go round alone to-morrow evening. It'll look better. Just go in for another one of their sixpenny cigars."
Mr. Kemp obeyed, and the following evening, after sitting a little while chatting in the shop, was invited into the parlour, where, mindful of Mr. Wright's instructions, he held his listeners enthralled by tales of past expenditure. A tip of fifty pounds to his bedroom steward coming over was characterized by Mrs. Bradshaw as extravagant.
"Seems to be going all right," said Mr. Wright, as the old man made his report; "but be careful; don't go overdoing it."
Mr. Kemp nodded. "I can turn 'em round my little finger," he said. "You'll have Bella all to yourself to-morrow evening."
Mr. Wright flushed. "How did you manage that?" he inquired. "It's the first time she has ever been out with me alone."
"She ain't coming out," said Mr. Kemp. "She's going to stay at home and mind the shop; it's the mother what's coming out. Going to spend the evening with me!"
Mr. Wright frowned. "What did you do that for?" he demanded, hotly.
"I didn't do it," said Mr. Kemp, equably; "they done it. The old lady says that, just for once in her life, she wants to see how it feels to spend money like water."
"Money like water!" repeated the horrified Mr. Wright. "Money like— I'll 'money' her—I'll——"
"It don't matter to me," said Mr. Kemp. "I can have a headache or a chill, or something of that sort, if you like. I don't want to go. It's no pleasure to me."
"What will it cost?" demanded Mr. Wright, pacing up and down the room.
The rich uncle made a calculation. "She wants to go to a place called the Empire," he said, slowly, "and have something for supper, and there'd be cabs and things. I dessay it would cost a couple o' pounds, and it might be more. But I'd just as soon ave' a chill—just."
Mr. Wright groaned, and after talking of Mrs. Bradshaw as though she were already his mother-in-law, produced the money. His instructions as to economy lasted almost up to the moment when he stood with Bella outside the shop on the following evening and watched the couple go off.
"It's wonderful how well they get on together," said Bella, as they re-entered the shop and passed into the parlour. "I've never seen mother take to anybody so quick as she has to him."
"I hope you like him, too," said Mr. Wright.
"He's a dear," said Bella. "Fancy having all that money. I wonder what it feels like?"
"I suppose I shall know some day," said the young man, slowly; "but it won't be much good to me unless——"
"Unless?" said Bella, after a pause.
"Unless it gives me what I want," replied the other. "I'd sooner be a poor man and married to the girl I love, than a millionaire."
Miss Bradshaw stole an uneasy glance at his somewhat sallow features, and became thoughtful.
"It's no good having diamonds and motor-cars and that sort of thing unless you have somebody to share them with," pursued Mr. Wright.
Miss Bradshaw's eyes sparkled, and at that moment the shop-bell tinkled and a lively whistle sounded. She rose and went into the shop, and Mr. Wright settled back in his chair and scowled darkly as he saw the intruder.
"Good evening," said the latter. "I want a sixpenny smoke for twopence, please. How are we this evening? Sitting up and taking nourishment?"
Miss Bradshaw told him to behave himself.
"Always do," said the young man. "That's why I can never get anybody to play with. I had such an awful dream about you last night that I couldn't rest till I saw you. Awful it was."
"What was it?" inquired Miss Bradshaw.
"Dreamt you were married," said Mr. Hills, smiling at her.
Miss Bradshaw tossed her head. "Who to, pray?" she inquired.
"Me," said Mr. Hills, simply. "I woke up in a cold perspiration. Halloa! is that Georgie in there? How are you, George? Better?"
"I'm all right," said Mr. Wright, with dignity, as the other hooked the door open with his stick and nodded at him.
"Well, why don't you look it?" demanded the lively Mr. Hills. "Have you got your feet wet, or what?"
"Oh, be quiet," said Miss Bradshaw, smiling at him.
"Right-o," said Mr. Hills, dropping into a chair by the counter and caressing his moustache. "But you wouldn't speak to me like that if you knew what a terrible day I've had."
"What have you been doing?" asked the girl.
"Working," said the other, with a huge sigh. "Where's the millionaire? I came round on purpose to have a look at him."
"Him and mother have gone to the Empire?" said Miss Bradshaw.
Mr. Hills gave three long, penetrating whistles, and then, placing his cigar with great care on the counter, hid his face in a huge handkerchief. Miss Bradshaw, glanced from him to the frowning Mr. Wright, and then, entering the parlour, closed the door with a bang. Mr. Hills took the hint, and with a somewhat thoughtful grin departed.
He came in next evening for another cigar, and heard all that there was to hear about the Empire. Mrs. Bradshaw would have treated him but coldly, but the innocent Mr. Kemp, charmed by his manner, paid him great attention.
"He's just like what I was at his age," he said. "Lively."
"I'm not a patch on you," said Mr. Hills, edging his way by slow degrees into the parlour. "I don't take young ladies to the Empire. Were you telling me you came over here to get married, or did I dream it?"
"'Ark at him," said the blushing Mr. Kemp, as Mrs. Bradshaw shook her head at the offender and told him to behave himself.
"He's a man any woman might be happy with," said Mr. Hills. "He never knows how much there is in his trousers-pocket. Fancy sewing on buttons for a man like that. Gold-mining ain't in it."
Mrs. Bradshaw shook her head at him again, and Mr. Hills, after apologizing to her for revealing her innermost thoughts before the most guileless of men, began to question Mr. Kemp as to the prospects of a bright and energetic young man, with a distaste for work, in New Zealand. The audience listened with keen attention to the replies, the only disturbing factor being a cough of Mr. Wright's, which became more and more troublesome as the evening wore on. By the time uncle and nephew rose to depart the latter was so hoarse that he could scarcely speak.
"Why didn't you tell 'em you had got a letter calling you home, as I told you?" he vociferated, as soon as they were clear of the shop.
"I—I forgot it," said the old man.
"Forgot it!" repeated the incensed Mr. Wright.
"What did you think I was coughing like that for—fun?"
"I forgot it," said the old man, doggedly. "Besides, if you take my advice, you'd better let me stay a little longer to make sure of things."
Mr. Wright laughed disagreeably. "I dare say," he said; "but I am managing this affair, not you. Now, you go round to-morrow afternoon and tell them you're off. D'ye hear? D'ye think I'm made of money? And what do you mean by making such a fuss of that fool, Charlie Hills? You know he is after Bella."
He walked the rest of the way home in indignant silence, and, after giving minute instructions to Mr. Kemp next morning at breakfast, went off to work in a more cheerful frame of mind. Mr. Kemp was out when he returned, and after making his toilet he followed him to Mrs. Bradshaw's.
To his annoyance, he found Mr. Hills there again; and, moreover, it soon became clear to him that Mr. Kemp had said nothing about his approaching departure. Coughs and scowls passed unheeded, and at last in a hesitating voice, he broached the subject himself. There was a general chorus of lamentation.
"I hadn't got the heart to tell you," said Mr. Kemp. "I don't know when I've been so happy."
"But you haven't got to go back immediate," said Mrs. Bradshaw.
"To-morrow," said Mr. Wright, before the old man could reply. "Business."
"Must you go," said Mrs. Bradshaw.
Mr. Kemp smiled feebly. "I suppose I ought to," he replied, in a hesitating voice.
"Take my tip and give yourself a bit of a holiday before you go back," urged Mr. Hills.
"Just for a few days," pleaded Bella.
"To please us," said Mrs. Bradshaw. "Think 'ow George'll miss you."
"Lay hold of him and don't let him go," said Mr. Hills.
He took Mr. Kemp round the waist, and the laughing Bella and her mother each secured an arm. An appeal to Mr. Wright to secure his legs passed unheeded.
"We don't let you go till you promise," said Mrs. Bradshaw.
Mr. Kemp smiled and shook his head. "Promise?" said Bella.
"Well, well," said Mr. Kemp; "p'r'aps—"
"He must go back," shouted the alarmed Mr. Wright.
"Let him speak for himself," exclaimed Bella, indignantly.
"Just another week then," said Mr. Kemp. "It's no good having money if I can't please myself."
"A week!" shouted Mr. Wright, almost beside himself with rage and dismay. "A week! Another week! Why, you told me——"
"Oh, don't listen to him," said Mrs. Bradshaw. "Croaker! It's his own business, ain't it? And he knows best, don't he? What's it got to do with you?"
She patted Mr. Kemp's hand; Mr. Kemp patted back, and with his disengaged hand helped himself to a glass of beer—the fourth—and beamed in a friendly fashion upon the company.
"George!" he said, suddenly.
"Yes," said Mr. Wright, in a harsh voice.
"Did you think to bring my pocket-book along with you?"
"No," said Mr. Wright, sharply; "I didn't."
"Tt-tt," said the old man, with a gesture of annoyance. "Well, lend me a couple of pounds, then, or else run back and fetch my pocket-book," he added, with a sly grin.
Mr. Wright's face worked with impotent fury. "What—what—do you—want it for?" he gasped.
Mrs. Bradshaw's "Well! Well!" seemed to sum up the general feeling; Mr. Kemp, shaking his head, eyed him with gentle reproach.
"Me and Mrs. Bradshaw are going to gave another evening out," he said, quietly. "I've only got a few more days, and I must make hay while the sun shines."
To Mr. Wright the room seemed to revolve slowly on its axis, but, regaining his self-possession by a supreme effort, he took out his purse and produced the amount. Mrs. Bradshaw, after a few feminine protestations, went upstairs to put her bonnet on.
"And you can go and fetch a hansom-cab, George, while she's a-doing of it," said Mr. Kemp. "Pick out a good 'orse—spotted-grey, if you can."
Mr. Wright arose and, departing with a suddenness that was almost startling, exploded harmlessly in front of the barber's, next door but one. Then with lagging steps he went in search of the shabbiest cab and oldest horse he could find.
"Thankee, my boy," said Mr. Kemp, bluffly, as he helped Mrs. Bradshaw in and stood with his foot on the step. "By the way, you had better go back and lock my pocket-book up. I left it on the washstand, and there's best part of a thousand pounds in it. You can take fifty for yourself to buy smokes with."
There was a murmur of admiration, and Mr. Wright, with a frantic attempt to keep up appearances, tried to thank him, but in vain. Long after the cab had rolled away he stood on the pavement trying to think out a position which was rapidly becoming unendurable. Still keeping up appearances, he had to pretend to go home to look after the pocket-book, leaving the jubilant Mr. Hills to improve the shining hour with Miss Bradshaw.
Mr. Kemp, returning home at midnight—in a cab—found the young man waiting up for him, and, taking a seat on the edge of the table, listened unmoved to a word-picture of himself which seemed interminable. He was only moved to speech when Mr. Wright described him as a white-whiskered jezebel who was a disgrace to his sex, and then merely in the interests of natural science.
"Don't you worry," he said, as the other paused from exhaustion. "It won't be for long now."
"Long?" said Mr. Wright, panting. "First thing to-morrow morning you have a telegram calling you back—a telegram that must be minded. D'ye see?"
"No, I don't," said Mr. Kemp, plainly. "I'm not going back, never no more—never! I'm going to stop here and court Mrs. Bradshaw."
Mr. Wright fought for breath. "You—you can't!" he gasped.
"I'm going to have a try," said the old man. "I'm sick of going to sea, and it'll be a nice comfortable home for my old age. You marry Bella, and I'll marry her mother. Happy family!"
Mr. Wright, trembling with rage, sat down to recover, and, regaining his composure after a time, pointed out almost calmly the various difficulties in the way.
"I've thought it all out," said Mr. Kemp, nodding. "She mustn't know I'm not rich till after we're married; then I 'ave a letter from New Zealand saying I've lost all my money. It's just as easy to have that letter as the one you spoke of."
"And I'm to find you money to play the rich uncle with till you're married, I suppose," said Mr. Wright, in a grating voice, "and then lose Bella when Mrs. Bradshaw finds you've lost your money?"
Mr. Kemp scratched his ear. "That's your lookout," he said, at last.
"Now, look here," said Mr. Wright, with great determination. "Either you go and tell them that you've been telegraphed for—cabled is the proper word—or I tell them the truth."
"That'll settle you then," said Mr. Kemp.
"No more than the other would," retorted the young man, "and it'll come cheaper. One thing I'll take my oath of, and that is I won't give you another farthing; but if you do as I tell you I'll give you a quid for luck. Now, think it over."
Mr. Kemp thought it over, and after a vain attempt to raise the promised reward to five pounds, finally compounded for two, and went off to bed after a few stormy words on selfishness and ingratitude. He declined to speak to his host at breakfast next morning, and accompanied him in the evening with the air of a martyr going to the stake. He listened in stony silence to the young man's instructions, and only spoke when the latter refused to pay the two pounds in advance.
The news, communicated in halting accents by Mr. Kemp, was received with flattering dismay. Mrs. Bradshaw refused to believe her ears, and it was only after the information had been repeated and confirmed by Mr. Wright that she understood.
"I must go," said Mr. Kemp. "I've spent over eleven pounds cabling to-day; but it's all no good."
"But you're coming back?" said Mr. Hills.
"O' course I am," was the reply. "George is the only relation I've got, and I've got to look after him, I suppose. After all, blood is thicker than water."
"Hear, hear!" said Mrs. Bradshaw, piously.
"And there's you and Bella," continued Mr. Kemp; "two of the best that ever breathed."
The ladies looked down.
"And Charlie Hills; I don't know—I don't know when I've took such a fancy to anybody as I have to 'im. If I was a young gal—a single young gal—he's—the other half," he said, slowly, as he paused—"just the one I should fancy. He's a good-'arted, good-looking——"
"Draw it mild," interrupted the blushing Mr. Hills as Mr. Wright bestowed a ferocious glance upon the speaker.
"Clever, lively young fellow," concluded Mr. Kemp. "George!"
"Yes," said Mr. Wright.
"I'm going now. I've got to catch the train for Southampton, but I don't want you to come with me. I prefer to be alone. You stay here and cheer them up. Oh, and before I forget it, lend me a couple o' pounds out o' that fifty I gave you last night. I've given all my small change away."
He looked up and met Mr. Wright's eye; the latter, too affected to speak, took out the money and passed it over.
"We never know what may happen to us," said the old man, solemnly, as he rose and buttoned his coat. "I'm an old man and I like to have things ship-shape. I've spent nearly the whole day with my lawyer, and if anything 'appens to my old carcass it won't make any difference. I have left half my money to George; half of all I have is to be his."
In the midst of an awed silence he went round and shook hands.
"The other half," with his hand on the door—"the other half and my best gold watch and chain I have left to my dear young pal, Charlie Hills. Good-bye, Georgie!"
"MANNERS MAKYTH MAN"
The night-watchman appeared to be out of sorts. His movements were even slower than usual, and, when he sat, the soap-box seemed to be unable to give satisfaction. His face bore an expression of deep melancholy, but a smouldering gleam in his eye betokened feelings deeply moved.
"Play-acting I don't hold with," he burst out, with sudden ferocity. "Never did. I don't say I ain't been to a theayter once or twice in my life, but I always come away with the idea that anybody could act if they liked to try. It's a kid's game, a silly kid's game, dressing up and pretending to be somebody else."
He cut off a piece of tobacco and, stowing it in his left cheek, sat chewing, with his lack-lustre eyes fixed on the wharves across the river. The offensive antics of a lighterman in mid-stream, who nearly fell overboard in his efforts to attract his attention, he ignored.
"I might ha' known it, too," he said, after a long silence. "If I'd only stopped to think, instead o' being in such a hurry to do good to others, I should ha' been all right, and the pack o' monkey-faced swabs on the Lizzie and Annie wot calls themselves sailor-men would 'ave had to 'ave got something else to laugh about. They've told it in every pub for 'arf a mile round, and last night, when I went into the Town of Margate to get a drink, three chaps climbed over the partition to 'ave a look at me.
"It all began with young Ted Sawyer, the mate o' the Lizzie and Annie. He calls himself a mate, but if it wasn't for 'aving the skipper for a brother-in-law 'e'd be called something else, very quick. Two or three times we've 'ad words over one thing and another, and the last time I called 'im something that I can see now was a mistake. It was one o' these 'ere clever things that a man don't forget, let alone a lop-sided monkey like 'im.
"That was when they was up time afore last, and when they made fast 'ere last week I could see as he 'adn't forgotten it. For one thing he pretended not to see me, and, arter I 'ad told him wot I'd do to him if 'e ran into me agin, he said 'e thought I was a sack o' potatoes taking a airing on a pair of legs wot somebody 'ad throwed away. Nasty tongue 'e's got; not clever, but nasty.
"Arter that I took no notice of 'im, and, o' course, that annoyed 'im more than anything. All I could do I done, and 'e was ringing the gate-bell that night from five minutes to twelve till ha'-past afore I heard it. Many a night-watchman gets a name for going to sleep when 'e's only getting a bit of 'is own back.
"We stood there talking for over 'arf-an-hour arter I 'ad let'im in. Leastways, he did. And whenever I see as he was getting tired I just said, 'H'sh!' and 'e'd start agin as fresh as ever. He tumbled to it at last, and went aboard shaking 'is little fist at me and telling me wot he'd do to me if it wasn't for the lor.
"I kept by the gate as soon as I came on dooty next evening, just to give 'im a little smile as 'e went out. There is nothing more aggravating than a smile when it is properly done; but there was no signs o' my lord, and, arter practising it on a carman by mistake, I 'ad to go inside for a bit and wait till he 'ad gorn.
"The coast was clear by the time I went back, and I 'ad just stepped outside with my back up agin the gate-post to 'ave a pipe, when I see a boy coming along with a bag. Good-looking lad of about fifteen 'e was, nicely dressed in a serge suit, and he no sooner gets up to me than 'e puts down the bag and looks up at me with a timid sort o' little smile.
"'Good evening, cap'n,' he ses.
"He wasn't the fust that has made that mistake; older people than 'im have done it.
"'Good evening, my lad,' I ses.
"'I s'pose,' he ses, in a trembling voice, 'I suppose you ain't looking out for a cabin-boy, sir?'
"'Cabin-boy?' I ses. 'No, I ain't.'
"'I've run away from 'ome to go to sea,' he ses, and I'm afraid of being pursued. Can I come inside?'
"Afore I could say 'No' he 'ad come, bag and all; and afore I could say anything else he 'ad nipped into the office and stood there with his 'and on his chest panting.
"'I know I can trust you,' he ses; 'I can see it by your face."
"'Wot 'ave you run away from 'ome for?' I ses. 'Have they been ill-treating of you?'
"'Ill-treating me?' he ses, with a laugh. 'Not much. Why, I expect my father is running about all over the place offering rewards for me. He wouldn't lose me for a thousand pounds.'
"I pricked up my ears at that; I don't deny it. Anybody would. Besides, I knew it would be doing him a kindness to hand 'im back to 'is father. And then I did a bit o' thinking to see 'ow it was to be done.
"'Sit down,' I ses, putting three or four ledgers on the floor behind one of the desks. 'Sit down, and let's talk it over.'
"We talked away for ever so long, but, do all I would, I couldn't persuade 'im. His 'ead was stuffed full of coral islands and smugglers and pirates and foreign ports. He said 'e wanted to see the world, and flying-fish.
"'I love the blue billers,' he ses; 'the heaving blue billers is wot I want.'
"I tried to explain to 'im who would be doing the heaving, but 'e wouldn't listen to me. He sat on them ledgers like a little wooden image, looking up at me and shaking his 'ead, and when I told 'im of storms and shipwrecks he just smacked 'is lips and his blue eyes shone with joy. Arter a time I saw it was no good trying to persuade 'im, and I pretended to give way.
"'I think I can get you a ship with a friend o' mine,' I ses; 'but, mind, I've got to relieve your pore father's mind—I must let 'im know wot's become of you.'
"'Not before I've sailed,' he ses, very quick.
"'Certingly not,' I ses. 'But you must give me 'is name and address, and, arter the Blue Shark—that's the name of your ship—is clear of the land, I'll send 'im a letter with no name to it, saying where you ave gorn.'
"He didn't seem to like it at fust, and said 'e would write 'imself, but arter I 'ad pointed out that 'e might forget and that I was responsible, 'e gave way and told me that 'is father was named Mr. Watson, and he kept a big draper's shop in the Commercial Road.
"We talked a bit arter that, just to stop 'is suspicions, and then I told 'im to stay where 'e was on the floor, out of sight of the window, while I went to see my friend the captain.
"I stood outside for a moment trying to make up my mind wot to do. O'course, I 'ad no business, strictly speaking, to leave the wharf, but, on the other 'and, there was a father's 'art to relieve. I edged along bit by bit while I was thinking, and then, arter looking back once or twice to make sure that the boy wasn't watching me, I set off for the Commercial Road as hard as I could go.
"I'm not so young as I was. It was a warm evening, and I 'adn't got even a bus fare on me. I 'ad to walk all the way, and, by the time I got there, I was 'arf melted. It was a tidy-sized shop, with three or four nice-looking gals behind the counter, and things like babies' high chairs for the customers to sit onlong in the leg and ridikerlously small in the seat. I went up to one of the gals and told Per I wanted to see Mr. Watson.
"'On private business,' I ses. 'Very important.'
"She looked at me for a moment, and then she went away and fetched a tall, bald-headed man with grey side-whiskers and a large nose.
"'Wot d'you want?" he ses, coming up to me.
I want a word with you in private,' I ses.
"'This is private enough for me,' he ses. 'Say wot you 'ave to say, and be quick about it.'
"I drawed myself up a bit and looked at him. 'P'r'aps you ain't missed 'im yet,' I ses.
"'Missed 'im?' he ses, with a growl. 'Missed who?'
"'Your-son. Your blue-eyed son,' I ses, looking 'im straight in the eye.
"'Look here!' he ses, spluttering. 'You be off. 'Ow dare you come here with your games? Wot d'ye mean by it?'
"'I mean,' I ses, getting a bit out o' temper, 'that your boy has run away to go to sea, and I've come to take you to 'im.'
"He seemed so upset that I thought 'e was going to 'ave a fit at fust, and it seemed only natural, too. Then I see that the best-looking girl and another was having a fit, although trying 'ard not to.
"'If you don't get out o' my shop,' he ses at last, 'I'll 'ave you locked up.'
"'Very good!' I ses, in a quiet way. 'Very good; but, mark my words, if he's drownded you'll never forgive yourself as long as you live for letting your temper get the better of you—you'll never know a good night's rest agin. Besides, wot about 'is mother?'
"One o' them silly gals went off agin just like a damp firework, and Mr. Watson, arter nearly choking 'imself with temper, shoved me out o' the way and marched out o' the shop. I didn't know wot to make of 'im at fust, and then one o' the gals told me that 'e was a bachelor and 'adn't got no son, and that somebody 'ad been taking advantage of what she called my innercence to pull my leg.
"'You toddle off 'ome,' she ses, 'before Mr. Watson comes back.'
"'It's a shame to let 'im come out alone,' ses one o' the other gals. 'Where do you live, gran'pa?'
"I see then that I 'ad been done, and I was just walking out o' the shop, pretending to be deaf, when Mr. Watson come back with a silly young policeman wot asked me wot I meant by it. He told me to get off 'ome quick, and actually put his 'and on my shoulder, but it 'ud take more than a thing like that to push me, and, arter trying his 'ardest, he could only rock me a bit.
"I went at last because I wanted to see that boy agin, and the young policeman follered me quite a long way, shaking his silly 'ead at me and telling me to be careful.
"I got a ride part o' the way from Commercial Road to Aldgate by getting on the wrong bus, but it wasn't much good, and I was quite tired by the time I got back to the wharf. I waited outside for a minute or two to get my wind back agin, and then I went in-boiling.
"You might ha' knocked me down with a feather, as the saying is, and I just stood inside the office speechless. The boy 'ad disappeared and sitting on the floor where I 'ad left 'im was a very nice-looking gal of about eighteen, with short 'air, and a white blouse.
"'Good evening, sir,' she ses, jumping up and giving me a pretty little frightened look. 'I'm so sorry that my brother has been deceiving you. He's a bad, wicked, ungrateful boy. The idea of telling you that Mr. Watson was 'is father! Have you been there? I do 'ope you're not tired.'
"'Where is he?' I ses.
"'He's gorn,' she ses, shaking her 'ead. 'I begged and prayed of 'im to stop, but 'e wouldn't. He said 'e thought you might be offended with 'im. "Give my love to old Roley-Poley, and tell him I don't trust 'im," he ses.'
"She stood there looking so scared that I didn't know wot to say. By and by she took out 'er little pocket-'ankercher and began to cry—
"'Oh, get 'im back,' she ses. 'Don't let it be said I follered 'im 'ere all the way for nothing. Have another try. For my sake!'
"''Ow can I get 'im back when I don't know where he's gorn?' I ses.
"'He-he's gorn to 'is godfather,' she ses, dabbing her eyes. 'I promised 'im not to tell anybody; but I don't know wot to do for the best.'
"'Well, p'r'aps his godfather will 'old on to 'im,' I ses.
"'He won't tell 'im anything about going to sea,' she ses, shaking 'er little head. 'He's just gorn to try and bo—bo-borrow some money to go away with.'
"She bust out sobbing, and it was all I could do to get the godfather's address out of 'er. When I think of the trouble I took to get it I come over quite faint. At last she told me, between 'er sobs, that 'is name was Mr. Kiddem, and that he lived at 27, Bridge Street.
"'He's one o' the kindest-'arted and most generous men that ever lived,' she ses; 'that's why my brother Harry 'as gone to 'im. And you needn't mind taking anything 'e likes to give you; he's rolling in money.'
"I took it a bit easier going to Bridge Street, but the evening seemed 'otter than ever, and by the time I got to the 'ouse I was pretty near done up. A nice, tidy-looking woman opened the door, but she was a' most stone deaf, and I 'ad to shout the name pretty near a dozen times afore she 'eard it.
"'He don't live 'ere,' she ses.
"''As he moved?' I ses. 'Or wot?'
"She shook her 'cad, and, arter telling me to wait, went in and fetched her 'usband.
"'Never 'eard of him,' he ses, 'and we've been 'ere seventeen years. Are you sure it was twenty-seven?'
"'Sartain,' I ses.
"'Well, he don't live 'ere,' he ses. 'Why not try thirty-seven and forty-seven?'
"I tried'em: thirty-seven was empty, and a pasty-faced chap at forty-seven nearly made 'imself ill over the name of 'Kiddem.' It 'adn't struck me before, but it's a hard matter to deceive me, and all in a flash it come over me that I 'ad been done agin, and that the gal was as bad as 'er brother.
"I was so done up I could 'ardly crawl back, and my 'ead was all in a maze. Three or four times I stopped and tried to think, but couldn't, but at last I got back and dragged myself into the office.
"As I 'arf expected, it was empty. There was no sign of either the gal or the boy; and I dropped into a chair and tried to think wot it all meant. Then, 'appening to look out of the winder, I see somebody running up and down the jetty.
"I couldn't see plain owing to the things in the way, but as soon as I got outside and saw who it was I nearly dropped. It was the boy, and he was running up and down wringing his 'ands and crying like a wild thing, and, instead o' running away as soon as 'e saw me, he rushed right up to me and threw 'is grubby little paws round my neck.
"'Save her!' 'e ses. 'Save 'er! Help! Help!'
"'Look 'ere,' I ses, shoving 'im off.
"'She fell overboard,' he ses, dancing about. 'Oh, my pore sister! Quick! Quick! I can't swim!'
"He ran to the side and pointed at the water, which was just about at 'arf-tide. Then 'e caught 'old of me agin.
"'Make 'aste,' he ses, giving me a shove behind. 'Jump in. Wot are you waiting for?'
"I stood there for a moment 'arf dazed, looking down at the water. Then I pulled down a life-belt from the wall 'ere and threw it in, and, arter another moment's thought, ran back to the Lizzie and Annie, wot was in the inside berth, and gave them a hail. I've always 'ad a good voice, and in a flash the skipper and Ted Sawyer came tumbling up out of the cabin and the 'ands out of the fo'c'sle.
"'Gal overboard!' I ses, shouting.
"The skipper just asked where, and then 'im and the mate and a couple of 'ands tumbled into their boat and pulled under the jetty for all they was worth. Me and the boy ran back and stood with the others, watching.
"'Point out the exact spot,' ses the skipper.
"The boy pointed, and the skipper stood up in the boat and felt round with a boat-hook. Twice 'e said he thought 'e touched something, but it turned out as 'e was mistaken. His face got longer and longer and 'e shook his 'ead, and said he was afraid it was no good.
"'Don't stand cryin' 'ere,' he ses to the boy, kindly. 'Jem, run round for the Thames police, and get them and the drags. Take the boy with you. It'll occupy 'is mind.'
"He 'ad another go with the boat-hook arter they 'ad gone; then 'e gave it up, and sat in the boat waiting.
"'This'll be a bad job for you, watchman,' he ses, shaking his 'ead. 'Where was you when it 'appened?'
"'He's been missing all the evening,' ses the cook, wot was standing beside me. 'If he'd been doing 'is dooty, the pore gal wouldn't 'ave been drownded. Wot was she doing on the wharf?'
"'Skylarkin', I s'pose,' ses the mate. 'It's a wonder there ain't more drownded. Wot can you expect when the watchman is sitting in a pub all the evening?'
"The cook said I ought to be 'ung, and a young ordinary seaman wot was standing beside 'im said he would sooner I was boiled. I believe they 'ad words about it, but I was feeling too upset to take much notice.
"'Looking miserable won't bring 'er back to life agin,' ses the skipper, looking up at me and shaking his 'ead. 'You'd better go down to my cabin and get yourself a drop o' whisky; there's a bottle on the table. You'll want all your wits about you when the police come. And wotever you do don't say nothing to criminate yourself.'
"'We'll do the criminating for 'im all right,' ses the cook.
"'If I was the pore gal I'd haunt 'im,' ses the ordinary seaman; 'every night of 'is life I'd stand afore 'im dripping with water and moaning.'
"'P'r'aps she will,' ses the cook; 'let's 'ope so, at any rate.'
"I didn't answer 'em; I was too dead-beat. Besides which, I've got a 'orror of ghosts, and the idea of being on the wharf alone of a night arter such a thing was a'most too much for me. I went on board the Lizzie and Annie, and down in the cabin I found a bottle o' whisky, as the skipper 'ad said. I sat down on the locker and 'ad a glass, and then I sat worrying and wondering wot was to be the end of it all.
"The whisky warmed me up a bit, and I 'ad just taken up the bottle to 'elp myself agin when I 'eard a faint sort o' sound in the skipper's state-room. I put the bottle down and listened, but everything seemed deathly still. I took it up agin, and 'ad just poured out a drop o' whisky when I distinctly 'eard a hissing noise and then a little moan.
"For a moment I sat turned to stone. Then I put the bottle down quiet, and 'ad just got up to go when the door of the state-room opened, and I saw the drownded gal, with 'er little face and hair all wet and dripping, standing before me.
"Ted Sawyer 'as been telling everybody that I came up the companion-way like a fog-horn that 'ad lost its ma; I wonder how he'd 'ave come up if he'd 'ad the evening I had 'ad?
"They were all on the jetty as I got there and tumbled into the skipper's arms, and all asking at once wot was the matter. When I got my breath back a bit and told 'em, they laughed. All except the cook, and 'e said it was only wot I might expect. Then, like a man in a dream, I see the gal come out of the companion and walk slowly to the side.
"'Look!' I ses. 'Look. There she is!'
"'You're dreaming,' ses the skipper, 'there's nothing there.'
"They all said the same, even when the gal stepped on to the side and climbed on to the wharf. She came along towards me with 'er arms held close to 'er sides, and making the most 'orrible faces at me, and it took five of'em all their time to 'old me. The wharf and everything seemed to me to spin round and round. Then she came straight up to me and patted me on the cheek.
"'Pore old gentleman,' she ses. 'Wot a shame it is, Ted! It's too bad.'
"They let go o' me then, and stamped up and down the jetty laughing fit to kill themselves. If they 'ad only known wot a exhibition they was making of themselves, and 'ow I pitied them, they wouldn't ha' done it. And by and by Ted wiped his eyes and put his arm round the gal's waist and ses—
"'This is my intended, Miss Florrie Price,' he ses. 'Ain't she a little wonder? Wot d'ye think of 'er?'
"'I'll keep my own opinion,' I ses. 'I ain't got nothing to say against gals, but if I only lay my hands on that young brother of 'ers'
"They went off agin then, worse than ever; and at last the cook came and put 'is skinny arm round my neck and started spluttering in my ear. I shoved 'im off hard, because I see it all then; and I should ha' seen it afore only I didn't 'ave time to think. I don't bear no malice, and all I can say is that I don't wish 'er any harder punishment than to be married to Ted Sawyer."