Infomotions, Inc.Odd Craft, Complete / Jacobs, W. W., 1863-1943



Author: Jacobs, W. W., 1863-1943
Title: Odd Craft, Complete
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): ginger; gunnill; blundell; joe barlcomb; arter; boxer; agin; bob; turnbull; burton; dixon; peter russet; peter; quince; joe; bill; sam; miss gunnill; stiles; afore; bob pretty; isaac; dicky weed; ginger dick; lawyer quince; bill lumm; miss truefitt; conju
Contributor(s): Evelyn-White, Hugh G. (Hugh Gerard), -1924 [Translator]
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Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 61,815 words (short) Grade range: 7-9 (grade school) Readability score: 73 (easy)
Identifier: etext12215
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Title: Odd Craft, Complete

Author: W.W. Jacobs

Release Date: October 30, 2006 [EBook #12215]

Language: English

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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ODD CRAFT, COMPLETE ***




Produced by David Widger




ODD CRAFT

BY

W. W.  JACOBS



1909




Contents:

THE MONEY-BOX

THE CASTAWAY

BLUNDELL'S IMPROVEMENT

BILL'S LAPSE

LAWYER QUINCE

BREAKING A SPELL

ESTABLISHING RELATIONS

THE CHANGING NUMBERS

THE PERSECUTION OF BOB PRETTY

DIXON'S RETURN

A SPIRIT OF AVARICE

THE THIRD STRING

ODD CHARGES

ADMIRAL PETERS





THE MONEY-BOX

Sailormen are not good 'ands at saving money as a rule, said the
night-watchman, as he wistfully toyed with a bad shilling on his
watch-chain, though to 'ear 'em talk of saving when they're at sea
and there isn't a pub within a thousand miles of 'em, you might think
different.

[Illustration: "Sailormen are not good 'ands at saving money as a rule."]

It ain't for the want of trying either with some of 'em, and I've known
men do all sorts o' things as soon as they was paid off, with a view to
saving.  I knew one man as used to keep all but a shilling or two in a
belt next to 'is skin so that he couldn't get at it easy, but it was all
no good.  He was always running short in the most inconvenient places.
I've seen 'im wriggle for five minutes right off, with a tramcar
conductor standing over 'im and the other people in the tram reading
their papers with one eye and watching him with the other.

Ginger Dick and Peter Russet--two men I've spoke of to you afore--tried
to save their money once.  They'd got so sick and tired of spending it
all in p'r'aps a week or ten days arter coming ashore, and 'aving to go
to sea agin sooner than they 'ad intended, that they determined some way
or other to 'ave things different.

They was homeward bound on a steamer from Melbourne when they made their
minds up; and Isaac Lunn, the oldest fireman aboard--a very steady old
teetotaler--gave them a lot of good advice about it.  They all wanted to
rejoin the ship when she sailed agin, and 'e offered to take a room
ashore with them and mind their money, giving 'em what 'e called a
moderate amount each day.

They would ha' laughed at any other man, but they knew that old Isaac was
as honest as could be and that their money would be safe with 'im, and at
last, after a lot of palaver, they wrote out a paper saying as they were
willing for 'im to 'ave their money and give it to 'em bit by bit, till
they went to sea agin.

Anybody but Ginger Dick and Peter Russet or a fool would ha' known better
than to do such a thing, but old Isaac 'ad got such a oily tongue and
seemed so fair-minded about wot 'e called moderate drinking that they
never thought wot they was letting themselves in for, and when they took
their pay--close on sixteen pounds each--they put the odd change in their
pockets and 'anded the rest over to him.

The first day they was as pleased as Punch.  Old Isaac got a nice,
respectable bedroom for them all, and arter they'd 'ad a few drinks they
humoured 'im by 'aving a nice 'ot cup o' tea, and then goin' off with 'im
to see a magic-lantern performance.

It was called "The Drunkard's Downfall," and it begun with a young man
going into a nice-looking pub and being served by a nice-looking barmaid
with a glass of ale.  Then it got on to 'arf pints and pints in the next
picture, and arter Ginger 'ad seen the lost young man put away six pints
in about 'arf a minute, 'e got such a raging thirst on 'im that 'e
couldn't sit still, and 'e whispered to Peter Russet to go out with 'im.

"You'll lose the best of it if you go now," ses old Isaac, in a whisper;
"in the next picture there's little frogs and devils sitting on the edge
of the pot as 'e goes to drink."

"Ginger Dick got up and nodded to Peter."

"Arter that 'e kills 'is mother with a razor," ses old Isaac, pleading
with 'im and 'olding on to 'is coat.

Ginger Dick sat down agin, and when the murder was over 'e said it made
'im feel faint, and 'im and Peter Russet went out for a breath of fresh
air.  They 'ad three at the first place, and then they moved on to
another and forgot all about Isaac and the dissolving views until ten
o'clock, when Ginger, who 'ad been very liberal to some friends 'e'd made
in a pub, found 'e'd spent 'is last penny.

"This comes o' listening to a parcel o' teetotalers," 'e ses, very cross,
when 'e found that Peter 'ad spent all 'is money too.  "Here we are just
beginning the evening and not a farthing in our pockets."

They went off 'ome in a very bad temper.  Old Isaac was asleep in 'is
bed, and when they woke 'im up and said that they was going to take
charge of their money themselves 'e kept dropping off to sleep agin and
snoring that 'ard they could scarcely hear themselves speak.  Then Peter
tipped Ginger a wink and pointed to Isaac's trousers, which were 'anging
over the foot of the bed.

Ginger Dick smiled and took 'em up softly, and Peter Russet smiled too;
but 'e wasn't best pleased to see old Isaac a-smiling in 'is sleep, as
though 'e was 'aving amusing dreams.  All Ginger found was a ha'-penny, a
bunch o' keys, and a cough lozenge.  In the coat and waistcoat 'e found a
few tracks folded up, a broken pen-knife, a ball of string, and some
other rubbish.  Then 'e set down on the foot o' their bed and made eyes
over at Peter.

"Wake 'im up agin," ses Peter, in a temper.

Ginger Dick got up and, leaning over the bed, took old Isaac by the
shoulders and shook 'im as if 'e'd been a bottle o' medicine.

"Time to get up, lads?"  ses old Isaac, putting one leg out o' bed.

"No, it ain't," ses Ginger, very rough; "we ain't been to bed yet.  We
want our money back."

Isaac drew 'is leg back into bed agin.  "Goo' night," he ses, and fell
fast asleep.

"He's shamming, that's wot 'e is," ses Peter Russet.  "Let's look for it.
It must be in the room somewhere."

They turned the room upside down pretty near, and then Ginger Dick struck
a match and looked up the chimney, but all 'e found was that it 'adn't
been swept for about twenty years, and wot with temper and soot 'e looked
so frightful that Peter was arf afraid of 'im.

"I've 'ad enough of this," ses Ginger, running up to the bed and 'olding
his sooty fist under old Isaac's nose.  "Now, then, where's that money?
If you don't give us our money, our 'ard-earned money, inside o' two
minutes, I'll break every bone in your body."

"This is wot comes o' trying to do you a favour, Ginger," ses the old
man, reproachfully.

"Don't talk to me," ses Ginger, "cos I won't have it.  Come on; where is
it?"

Old Isaac looked at 'im, and then he gave a sigh and got up and put on
'is boots and 'is trousers.

"I thought I should 'ave a little trouble with you," he ses, slowly, "but
I was prepared for that."

"You'll 'ave more if you don't hurry up," ses Ginger, glaring at 'im.

"We don't want to 'urt you, Isaac," ses Peter Russet, "we on'y want our
money."

"I know that," ses Isaac; "you keep still, Peter, and see fair-play, and
I'll knock you silly arterwards."

He pushed some o' the things into a corner and then 'e spat on 'is 'ands,
and began to prance up and down, and duck 'is 'ead about and hit the air
in a way that surprised 'em.

"I ain't hit a man for five years," 'e ses, still dancing up and down--
"fighting's sinful except in a good cause--but afore I got a new 'art,
Ginger, I'd lick three men like you afore breakfast, just to git up a
appetite."

[Illustration: "I ain't hit a man for five years," 'e ses, still dancing
up and down."]

"Look, 'ere," ses Ginger; "you're an old man and I don't want to 'urt
you; tell us where our money is, our 'ard-earned money, and I won't lay a
finger on you."

"I'm taking care of it for you," ses the old man.

Ginger Dick gave a howl and rushed at him, and the next moment Isaac's
fist shot out and give 'im a drive that sent 'im spinning across the room
until 'e fell in a heap in the fireplace.  It was like a kick from a
'orse, and Peter looked very serious as 'e picked 'im up and dusted 'im
down.

"You should keep your eye on 'is fist," he ses, sharply.

It was a silly thing to say, seeing that that was just wot 'ad 'appened,
and Ginger told 'im wot 'e'd do for 'im when 'e'd finished with Isaac.
He went at the old man agin, but 'e never 'ad a chance, and in about
three minutes 'e was very glad to let Peter 'elp 'im into bed.

"It's your turn to fight him now, Peter," he ses.  "Just move this piller
so as I can see."

"Come on, lad," ses the old man.

Peter shook 'is 'ead.  "I have no wish to 'urt you, Isaac," he ses,
kindly; "excitement like fighting is dangerous for an old man.  Give us
our money and we'll say no more about it."

"No, my lads," ses Isaac.  "I've undertook to take charge o' this money
and I'm going to do it; and I 'ope that when we all sign on aboard the
Planet there'll be a matter o' twelve pounds each left.  Now, I don't
want to be 'arsh with you, but I'm going back to bed, and if I 'ave to
get up and dress agin you'll wish yourselves dead."

He went back to bed agin, and Peter, taking no notice of Ginger Dick, who
kept calling 'im a coward, got into bed alongside of Ginger and fell fast
asleep.

They all 'ad breakfast in a coffee-shop next morning, and arter it was
over Ginger, who 'adn't spoke a word till then, said that 'e and Peter
Russet wanted a little money to go on with.  He said they preferred to
get their meals alone, as Isaac's face took their appetite away.

"Very good," ses the old man.  "I don't want to force my company on
nobody," and after thinking 'ard for a minute or two he put 'is 'and in
'is trouser-pocket and gave them eighteen-pence each.

[Illustration: "'Wot's this for?' ses Ginger."]

"Wot's this for?"  ses Ginger, staring at the money.  "Matches?"

"That's your day's allowance," ses Isaac, "and it's plenty.  There's
ninepence for your dinner, fourpence for your tea, and twopence for a
crust o' bread and cheese for supper.  And if you must go and drown
yourselves in beer, that leaves threepence each to go and do it with."

Ginger tried to speak to 'im, but 'is feelings was too much for 'im, and
'e couldn't.  Then Peter Russet swallered something 'e was going to say
and asked old Isaac very perlite to make it a quid for 'im because he was
going down to Colchester to see 'is mother, and 'e didn't want to go
empty-'anded.

"You're a good son, Peter," ses old Isaac, "and I wish there was more
like you.  I'll come down with you, if you like; I've got nothing to do."

Peter said it was very kind of 'im, but 'e'd sooner go alone, owing to
his mother being very shy afore strangers.

"Well, I'll come down to the station and take a ticket for you," ses
Isaac.

Then Peter lost 'is temper altogether, and banged 'is fist on the table
and smashed 'arf the crockery.  He asked Isaac whether 'e thought 'im and
Ginger Dick was a couple o' children, and 'e said if 'e didn't give 'em
all their money right away 'e'd give 'im in charge to the first policeman
they met.

"I'm afraid you didn't intend for to go and see your mother, Peter," ses
the old man.

"Look 'ere," ses Peter, "are you going to give us that money?"

"Not if you went down on your bended knees," ses the old man.

"Very good," says Peter, getting up and walking outside; "then come along
o' me to find a police-man."

"I'm agreeable," ses Isaac, "but I've got the paper you signed."

Peter said 'e didn't care twopence if 'e'd got fifty papers, and they
walked along looking for a police-man, which was a very unusual thing for
them to do.

"I 'ope for your sakes it won't be the same police-man that you and
Ginger Dick set on in Gun Alley the night afore you shipped on the
Planet," ses Isaac, pursing up 'is lips.

"'Tain't likely to be," ses Peter, beginning to wish 'e 'adn't been so
free with 'is tongue.

"Still, if I tell 'im, I dessay he'll soon find 'im," ses Isaac; "there's
one coming along now, Peter; shall I stop 'im?"

Peter Russet looked at 'im and then he looked at Ginger, and they walked
by grinding their teeth.  They stuck to Isaac all day, trying to get
their money out of 'im, and the names they called 'im was a surprise even
to themselves.  And at night they turned the room topsy-turvy agin
looking for their money and 'ad more unpleasantness when they wanted
Isaac to get up and let 'em search the bed.

They 'ad breakfast together agin next morning and Ginger tried another
tack.  He spoke quite nice to Isaac, and 'ad three large cups o' tea to
show 'im 'ow 'e was beginning to like it, and when the old man gave 'em
their eighteen-pences 'e smiled and said 'e'd like a few shillings extra
that day.

"It'll be all right, Isaac," he ses.  "I wouldn't 'ave a drink if you
asked me to.  Don't seem to care for it now.  I was saying so to you on'y
last night, wasn't I, Peter?"

"You was," ses Peter; "so was I."

"Then I've done you good, Ginger," ses Isaac, clapping 'im on the back.

"You 'ave," ses Ginger, speaking between his teeth, "and I thank you for
it.  I don't want drink; but I thought o' going to a music-'all this
evening."

"Going to wot?" ses old Isaac, drawing 'imself up and looking very
shocked.

"A music-'all," ses Ginger, trying to keep 'is temper.

"A music-'all," ses Isaac; "why, it's worse than a pub, Ginger.  I should
be a very poor friend o' yours if I let you go there--I couldn't think of
it."

"Wot's it got to do with you, you gray-whiskered serpent?"  screams
Ginger, arf mad with rage.  "Why don't you leave us alone?  Why don't you
mind your own business?  It's our money."

Isaac tried to talk to 'im, but 'e wouldn't listen, and he made such a
fuss that at last the coffee-shop keeper told 'im to go outside.  Peter
follered 'im out, and being very upset they went and spent their day's
allowance in the first hour, and then they walked about the streets
quarrelling as to the death they'd like old Isaac to 'ave when 'is time
came.

They went back to their lodgings at dinner-time; but there was no sign of
the old man, and, being 'ungry and thirsty, they took all their spare
clothes to a pawnbroker and got enough money to go on with.  Just to show
their independence they went to two music-'ails, and with a sort of idea
that they was doing Isaac a bad turn they spent every farthing afore they
got 'ome, and sat up in bed telling 'im about the spree they'd 'ad.

At five o'clock in the morning Peter woke up and saw, to 'is surprise,
that Ginger Dick was dressed and carefully folding up old Isaac's
clothes.  At first 'e thought that Ginger 'ad gone mad, taking care of
the old man's things like that, but afore 'e could speak Ginger noticed
that 'e was awake, and stepped over to 'im and whispered to 'im to dress
without making a noise.  Peter did as 'e was told, and, more puzzled than
ever, saw Ginger make up all the old man's clothes in a bundle and creep
out of the room on tiptoe.

"Going to 'ide 'is clothes?" 'e ses.

"Yes," ses Ginger, leading the way downstairs; "in a pawnshop.  We'll
make the old man pay for to-day's amusements."

Then Peter see the joke and 'e begun to laugh so 'ard that Ginger 'ad to
threaten to knock 'is head off to quiet 'im.  Ginger laughed 'imself when
they got outside, and at last, arter walking about till the shops opened,
they got into a pawnbroker's and put old Isaac's clothes up for fifteen
shillings.

[Illustration: "They put old Isaac's clothes up for fifteen shillings."]

First thing they did was to 'ave a good breakfast, and after that they
came out smiling all over and began to spend a 'appy day.  Ginger was in
tip-top spirits and so was Peter, and the idea that old Isaac was in bed
while they was drinking 'is clothes pleased them more than anything.
Twice that evening policemen spoke to Ginger for dancing on the pavement,
and by the time the money was spent it took Peter all 'is time to get 'im
'ome.

Old Isaac was in bed when they got there, and the temper 'e was in was
shocking; but Ginger sat on 'is bed and smiled at 'im as if 'e was saying
compliments to 'im.

"Where's my clothes?"  ses the old man, shaking 'is fist at the two of
'em.

Ginger smiled at 'im; then 'e shut 'is eyes and dropped off to sleep.

"Where's my clothes?" ses Isaac, turning to Peter.  "Closhe?" ses Peter,
staring at 'im.

"Where are they?"  ses Isaac.

It was a long time afore Peter could understand wot 'e meant, but as soon
as 'e did 'e started to look for 'em.  Drink takes people in different
ways, and the way it always took Peter was to make 'im one o' the most
obliging men that ever lived.  He spent arf the night crawling about on
all fours looking for the clothes, and four or five times old Isaac woke
up from dreams of earthquakes to find Peter 'ad got jammed under 'is bed,
and was wondering what 'ad 'appened to 'im.

None of 'em was in the best o' tempers when they woke up next morning,
and Ginger 'ad 'ardly got 'is eyes open before Isaac was asking 'im about
'is clothes agin.

"Don't bother me about your clothes," ses Ginger; "talk about something
else for a change."

"Where are they?"  ses Isaac, sitting on the edge of 'is bed.

Ginger yawned and felt in 'is waistcoat pocket--for neither of 'em 'ad
undressed--and then 'e took the pawn-ticket out and threw it on the
floor.  Isaac picked it up, and then 'e began to dance about the room as
if 'e'd gone mad.

"Do you mean to tell me you've pawned my clothes?" he shouts.

"Me and Peter did," ses Ginger, sitting up in bed and getting ready for a
row.

Isaac dropped on the bed agin all of a 'cap.  "And wot am I to do?" he
ses.

"If you be'ave yourself," ses Ginger, "and give us our money, me and
Peter'll go and get 'em out agin.  When we've 'ad breakfast, that is.
There's no hurry."

"But I 'aven't got the money," ses Isaac; "it was all sewn up in the
lining of the coat.  I've on'y got about five shillings.  You've made a
nice mess of it, Ginger, you 'ave."

"You're a silly fool, Ginger, that's wot you are," ses Peter.

"Sewn up in the lining of the coat?"  ses Ginger, staring.

"The bank-notes was," ses Isaac, "and three pounds in gold 'idden in the
cap.  Did you pawn that too?"

Ginger got up in 'is excitement and walked up and down the room.  "We
must go and get 'em out at once," he ses.

"And where's the money to do it with?"  ses Peter.

Ginger 'adn't thought of that, and it struck 'im all of a heap.  None of
'em seemed to be able to think of a way of getting the other ten
shillings wot was wanted, and Ginger was so upset that 'e took no notice
of the things Peter kept saying to 'im.

"Let's go and ask to see 'em, and say we left a railway-ticket in the
pocket," ses Peter.

Isaac shook 'is 'ead.  "There's on'y one way to do it," he ses.  "We
shall 'ave to pawn your clothes, Ginger, to get mine out with."

"That's the on'y way, Ginger," ses Peter, brightening up.  "Now, wot's
the good o' carrying on like that?  It's no worse for you to be without
your clothes for a little while than it was for pore old Isaac."

It took 'em quite arf an hour afore they could get Ginger to see it.
First of all 'e wanted Peter's clothes to be took instead of 'is, and
when Peter pointed out that they was too shabby to fetch ten shillings
'e 'ad a lot o' nasty things to say about wearing such old rags, and at
last, in a terrible temper, 'e took 'is clothes off and pitched 'em in a
'eap on the floor.

"If you ain't back in arf an hour, Peter," 'e ses, scowling at 'im,
"you'll 'ear from me, I can tell you."

"Don't you worry about that," ses Isaac, with a smile.  "I'm going to
take 'em."

"You?" ses Ginger; "but you can't.  You ain't got no clothes."

"I'm going to wear Peter's," ses Isaac, with a smile.

Peter asked 'im to listen to reason, but it was all no good.  He'd got
the pawn-ticket, and at last Peter, forgetting all he'd said to Ginger
Dick about using bad langwidge, took 'is clothes off, one by one, and
dashed 'em on the floor, and told Isaac some of the things 'e thought of
'im.

The old man didn't take any notice of 'im.  He dressed 'imself up very
slow and careful in Peter's clothes, and then 'e drove 'em nearly crazy
by wasting time making 'is bed.

"Be as quick as you can, Isaac," ses Ginger, at last; "think of us two
a-sitting 'ere waiting for you."

"I sha'n't forget it," ses Isaac, and 'e came back to the door after 'e'd
gone arf-way down the stairs to ask 'em not to go out on the drink while
'e was away.

It was nine o'clock when he went, and at ha'-past nine Ginger began to
get impatient and wondered wot 'ad 'appened to 'im, and when ten o'clock
came and no Isaac they was both leaning out of the winder with blankets
over their shoulders looking up the road.  By eleven o'clock Peter was in
very low spirits and Ginger was so mad 'e was afraid to speak to 'im.

They spent the rest o' that day 'anging out of the winder, but it was not
till ha'-past four in the after-noon that Isaac, still wearing Peter's
clothes and carrying a couple of large green plants under 'is arm, turned
into the road, and from the way 'e was smiling they thought it must be
all right.

"Wot 'ave you been such a long time for?"  ses Ginger, in a low, fierce
voice, as Isaac stopped underneath the winder and nodded up to 'em.

"I met a old friend," ses Isaac.

"Met a old friend?"  ses Ginger, in a passion.  "Wot d'ye mean, wasting
time like that while we was sitting up 'ere waiting and starving?"

"I 'adn't seen 'im for years," ses Isaac, "and time slipped away afore I
noticed it."

"I dessay," ses Ginger, in a bitter voice.  "Well, is the money all
right?"

"I don't know," ses Isaac; "I ain't got the clothes."

"Wot?"  ses Ginger, nearly falling out of the winder.  "Well, wot 'ave
you done with mine, then?  Where are they?  Come upstairs."

"I won't come upstairs, Ginger," ses Isaac, "because I'm not quite sure
whether I've done right.  But I'm not used to going into pawnshops, and I
walked about trying to make up my mind to go in and couldn't."

"Well, wot did you do then?"  ses Ginger, 'ardly able to contain hisself.

"While I was trying to make up my mind," ses old Isaac, "I see a man with
a barrer of lovely plants.  'E wasn't asking money for 'em, only old
clothes."

"Old clothes?" ses Ginger, in a voice as if 'e was being suffocated.

"I thought they'd be a bit o' green for you to look at," ses the old man,
'olding the plants up; "there's no knowing 'ow long you'll be up there.
The big one is yours, Ginger, and the other is for Peter."

"'Ave you gone mad, Isaac?"  ses Peter, in a trembling voice, arter
Ginger 'ad tried to speak and couldn't.

Isaac shook 'is 'ead and smiled up at 'em, and then, arter telling Peter
to put Ginger's blanket a little more round 'is shoulders, for fear 'e
should catch cold, 'e said 'e'd ask the landlady to send 'em up some
bread and butter and a cup o' tea.

They 'eard 'im talking to the landlady at the door, and then 'e went off
in a hurry without looking behind 'im, and the landlady walked up and
down on the other side of the road with 'er apron stuffed in 'er mouth,
pretending to be looking at 'er chimney-pots.

Isaac didn't turn up at all that night, and by next morning those two
unfortunate men see 'ow they'd been done.  It was quite plain to them
that Isaac 'ad been deceiving them, and Peter was pretty certain that 'e
took the money out of the bed while 'e was fussing about making it.  Old
Isaac kept 'em there for three days, sending 'em in their clothes bit by
bit and two shillings a day to live on; but they didn't set eyes on 'im
agin until they all signed on aboard the Planet, and they didn't set eyes
on their money until they was two miles below Gravesend.

[Illustration: "Old Isaac kept 'em there for three days."]





THE CASTAWAY

Mrs. John Boxer stood at the door of the shop with her hands clasped on
her apron.  The short day had drawn to a close, and the lamps in the
narrow little thorough-fares of Shinglesea were already lit.  For a time
she stood listening to the regular beat of the sea on the beach some
half-mile distant, and then with a slight shiver stepped back into the
shop and closed the door.

[Illustration: "Mrs. John Boxer stood at the door of the shop with her
hands clasped on her apron."]

The little shop with its wide-mouthed bottles of sweets was one of her
earliest memories.  Until her marriage she had known no other home, and
when her husband was lost with the _North Star_ some three years before,
she gave up her home in Poplar and returned to assist her mother in the
little shop.

In a restless mood she took up a piece of needle-work, and a minute or
two later put it down again.  A glance through the glass of the door
leading into the small parlour revealed Mrs. Gimpson, with a red shawl
round her shoulders, asleep in her easy-chair.

Mrs. Boxer turned at the clang of the shop bell, and then, with a wild
cry, stood gazing at the figure of a man standing in the door-way.  He
was short and bearded, with oddly shaped shoulders, and a left leg which
was not a match; but the next moment Mrs. Boxer was in his arms sobbing
and laughing together.

Mrs. Gimpson, whose nerves were still quivering owing to the suddenness
with which she had been awakened, came into the shop; Mr. Boxer freed an
arm, and placing it round her waist kissed her with some affection on the
chin.

"He's come back!"  cried Mrs. Boxer, hysterically.

"Thank goodness," said Mrs. Gimpson, after a moment's deliberation.

"He's alive!"  cried Mrs. Boxer.  "He's alive!"

She half-dragged and half-led him into the small parlour, and thrusting
him into the easy-chair lately vacated by Mrs. Gimpson seated herself
upon his knee, regardless in her excitement that the rightful owner was
with elaborate care selecting the most uncomfortable chair in the room.

"Fancy his coming back!" said Mrs. Boxer, wiping her eyes.  "How did you
escape, John?  Where have you been?  Tell us all about it."

Mr. Boxer sighed.  "It 'ud be a long story if I had the gift of telling
of it," he said, slowly, "but I'll cut it short for the present.  When
the _North Star_ went down in the South Pacific most o' the hands got
away in the boats, but I was too late.  I got this crack on the head with
something falling on it from aloft.  Look here."

He bent his head, and Mrs. Boxer, separating the stubble with her
fingers, uttered an exclamation of pity and alarm at the extent of the
scar; Mrs. Gimpson, craning forward, uttered a sound which might mean
anything--even pity.

"When I come to my senses," continued Mr. Boxer, "the ship was sinking,
and I just got to my feet when she went down and took me with her.  How I
escaped I don't know.  I seemed to be choking and fighting for my breath
for years, and then I found myself floating on the sea and clinging to a
grating.  I clung to it all night, and next day I was picked up by a
native who was paddling about in a canoe, and taken ashore to an island,
where I lived for over two years.  It was right out o' the way o' craft,
but at last I was picked up by a trading schooner named the _Pearl,_
belonging to Sydney, and taken there.  At Sydney I shipped aboard the
_Marston Towers,_ a steamer, and landed at the Albert Docks this
morning."

"Poor John," said his wife, holding on to his arm.  "How you must have
suffered!"

"I did," said Mr. Boxer.  "Mother got a cold?"  he inquired, eying that
lady.

"No, I ain't," said Mrs. Gimpson, answering for herself.  "Why didn't you
write when you got to Sydney?"

"Didn't know where to write to," replied Mr. Boxer, staring.  "I didn't
know where Mary had gone to."

"You might ha' wrote here," said Mrs. Gimpson.

"Didn't think of it at the time," said Mr. Boxer.  "One thing is, I was
very busy at Sydney, looking for a ship.  However, I'm 'ere now."

"I always felt you'd turn up some day," said Mrs. Gimpson.  "I felt
certain of it in my own mind.  Mary made sure you was dead, but I said
'no, I knew better.'"

There was something in Mrs. Gimpson's manner of saying this that
impressed her listeners unfavourably.  The impression was deepened when,
after a short, dry laugh _a propos_ of nothing, she sniffed again--three
times.

"Well, you turned out to be right," said Mr. Boxer, shortly.

"I gin'rally am," was the reply; "there's very few people can take me
in."

She sniffed again.

"Were the natives kind to you?" inquired Mrs. Boxer, hastily, as she
turned to her husband.

"Very kind," said the latter.  "Ah! you ought to have seen that island.
Beautiful yellow sands and palm-trees; cocoa-nuts to be 'ad for the
picking, and nothing to do all day but lay about in the sun and swim in
the sea."

"Any public-'ouses there?" inquired Mrs. Gimpson.

"Cert'nly not," said her son-in-law.  "This was an island--one o' the
little islands in the South Pacific Ocean."

"What did you say the name o' the schooner was?"  inquired Mrs. Gimpson.

"_Pearl,_" replied Mr. Boxer, with the air of a resentful witness under
cross-examination.

"And what was the name o' the captin?"  said Mrs. Gimpson.

"Thomas--Henery--Walter--Smith," said Mr. Boxer, with somewhat unpleasant
emphasis.

"An' the mate's name?"

"John Brown," was the reply.

"Common names," commented Mrs. Gimpson, "very common.  But I knew you'd
come back all right--I never 'ad no alarm.  'He's safe and happy, my
dear,' I says.  'He'll come back all in his own good time.'"

"What d'you mean by that?" demanded the sensitive Mr. Boxer.  "I come
back as soon as I could."

"You know you were anxious, mother," interposed her daughter.  "Why, you
insisted upon our going to see old Mr. Silver about it."

"Ah!  but I wasn't uneasy or anxious afterwards," said Mrs. Gimpson,
compressing her lips.

"Who's old Mr. Silver, and what should he know about it?" inquired Mr.
Boxer.

"He's a fortune-teller," replied his wife.  "Reads the stars," said his
mother-in-law.

Mr. Boxer laughed--a good ringing laugh.  "What did he tell you?" he
inquired.  "Nothing," said his wife, hastily.  "Ah!" said Mr. Boxer,
waggishly, "that was wise of 'im.  Most of us could tell fortunes that
way."

"That's wrong," said Mrs. Gimpson to her daughter, sharply.  "Right's
right any day, and truth's truth.  He said that he knew all about John
and what he'd been doing, but he wouldn't tell us for fear of 'urting our
feelings and making mischief."

"Here, look 'ere," said Mr. Boxer, starting up; "I've 'ad about enough o'
this.  Why don't you speak out what you mean?  I'll mischief 'im, the old
humbug.  Old rascal."

"Never mind, John," said his wife, laying her hand upon his arm.  "Here
you are safe and sound, and as for old Mr. Silver, there's a lot o'
people don't believe in him."

"Ah! they don't want to," said Mrs. Gimpson, obstinately.  "But don't
forget that he foretold my cough last winter."

"Well, look 'ere," said Mr. Boxer, twisting his short, blunt nose into as
near an imitation of a sneer as he could manage, "I've told you my story
and I've got witnesses to prove it.  You can write to the master of the
Marston Towers if you like, and other people besides.  Very well, then;
let's go and see your precious old fortune-teller.  You needn't say who I
am; say I'm a friend, and tell 'im never to mind about making mischief,
but to say right out where I am and what I've been doing all this time.
I have my 'opes it'll cure you of your superstitiousness."

[Illustration: "'Well, look 'ere,' said Mr. Boxer, 'I've told you my
story and I've got witnesses to prove it.'"]

"We'll go round after we've shut up, mother," said Mrs. Boxer.  "We'll
have a bit o' supper first and then start early."

Mrs. Gimpson hesitated.  It is never pleasant to submit one's
superstitions to the tests of the unbelieving, but after the attitude she
had taken up she was extremely loath to allow her son-in-law a triumph.

"Never mind, we'll say no more about it," she said, primly, "but I 'ave
my own ideas."

"I dessay," said Mr. Boxer; "but you're afraid for us to go to your old
fortune-teller.  It would be too much of a show-up for 'im."

"It's no good your trying to aggravate me, John Boxer, because you can't
do it," said Mrs. Gimpson, in a voice trembling with passion.

"O' course, if people like being deceived they must be," said Mr. Boxer;
"we've all got to live, and if we'd all got our common sense fortune-
tellers couldn't.  Does he tell fortunes by tea-leaves or by the colour
of your eyes?"

"Laugh away, John Boxer," said Mrs. Gimpson, icily; "but I shouldn't have
been alive now if it hadn't ha' been for Mr. Silver's warnings."

"Mother stayed in bed for the first ten days in July," explained Mrs.
Boxer, "to avoid being bit by a mad dog."

"Tchee--tchee--tchee," said the hapless Mr. Boxer, putting his hand over
his mouth and making noble efforts to restrain himself; "tchee--tch

"I s'pose you'd ha' laughed more if I 'ad been bit?"  said the glaring
Mrs. Gimpson.

"Well, who did the dog bite after all?"  inquired Mr. Boxer, recovering.

"You don't understand," replied Mrs. Gimpson, pityingly; "me being safe
up in bed and the door locked, there was no mad dog.  There was no use
for it."

"Well," said Mr. Boxer, "me and Mary's going round to see that old
deceiver after supper, whether you come or not.  Mary shall tell 'im I'm
a friend, and ask him to tell her everything about 'er husband.  Nobody
knows me here, and Mary and me'll be affectionate like, and give 'im to
understand we want to marry.  Then he won't mind making mischief."

"You'd better leave well alone," said Mrs. Gimpson.

Mr. Boxer shook his head.  "I was always one for a bit o' fun," he said,
slowly.  "I want to see his face when he finds out who I am."

Mrs. Gimpson made no reply; she was looking round for the market-basket,
and having found it she left the reunited couple to keep house while she
went out to obtain a supper which should, in her daughter's eyes, be
worthy of the occasion.

She went to the High Street first and made her purchases, and was on the
way back again when, in response to a sudden impulse, as she passed the
end of Crowner's Alley, she turned into that small by-way and knocked at
the astrologer's door.

A slow, dragging footstep was heard approaching in reply to the summons,
and the astrologer, recognising his visitor as one of his most faithful
and credulous clients, invited her to step inside.  Mrs. Gimpson
complied, and, taking a chair, gazed at the venerable white beard and
small, red-rimmed eyes of her host in some perplexity as to how to begin.

"My daughter's coming round to see you presently," she said, at last.

The astrologer nodded.

"She--she wants to ask you about 'er husband," faltered' Mrs. Gimpson;
"she's going to bring a friend with her--a man who doesn't believe in
your knowledge.  He--he knows all about my daughter's husband, and he
wants to see what you say you know about him."

The old man put on a pair of huge horn spectacles and eyed her carefully.

"You've got something on your mind," he said, at last; "you'd better tell
me everything."

Mrs. Gimpson shook her head.

"There's some danger hanging over you," continued Mr. Silver, in a low,
thrilling voice; "some danger in connection with your son-in-law.  There,"
he waved a lean, shrivelled hand backward and for-ward as though
dispelling a fog, and peered into distance--"there is something forming
over you.  You--or somebody--are hiding something from me."

[Illustration: "There is something forming over you."]

Mrs. Gimpson, aghast at such omniscience, sank backward in her chair.

"Speak," said the old man, gently; "there is no reason why you should be
sacrificed for others."

Mrs. Gimpson was of the same opinion, and in some haste she reeled off
the events of the evening.  She had a good memory, and no detail was
lost.

"Strange, strange," said the venerable Mr. Silver, when he had finished.
"He is an ingenious man."

"Isn't it true?"  inquired his listener.  "He says he can prove it.  And
he is going to find out what you meant by saying you were afraid of
making mischief."

"He can prove some of it," said the old man, his eyes snapping
spitefully.  "I can guarantee that."

"But it wouldn't have made mischief if you had told us that," ventured
Mrs. Gimpson.  "A man can't help being cast away."

"True," said the astrologer, slowly; "true.  But let them come and
question me; and whatever you do, for your own sake don't let a soul know
that you have been here.  If you do, the danger to yourself will be so
terrible that even I may be unable to help you."

Mrs. Gimpson shivered, and more than ever impressed by his marvellous
powers made her way slowly home, where she found the unconscious Mr.
Boxer relating his adventures again with much gusto to a married couple
from next door.

"It's a wonder he's alive," said Mr. Jem Thompson, looking up as the old
woman entered the room; "it sounds like a story-book.  Show us that cut
on your head again, mate."

The obliging Mr. Boxer complied.

"We're going on with 'em after they've 'ad sup-per," continued Mr.
Thompson, as he and his wife rose to depart.  "It'll be a fair treat to
me to see old Silver bowled out."

Mrs. Gimpson sniffed and eyed his retreating figure disparagingly; Mrs.
Boxer, prompted by her husband, began to set the table for supper.

It was a lengthy meal, owing principally to Mr. Boxer, but it was over at
last, and after that gentleman had assisted in shutting up the shop they
joined the Thompsons, who were waiting outside, and set off for Crowner's
Alley.  The way was enlivened by Mr. Boxer, who had thrills of horror
every ten yards at the idea of the supernatural things he was about to
witness, and by Mr. Thompson, who, not to be outdone, persisted in
standing stock-still at frequent intervals until he had received the
assurances of his giggling better-half that he would not be made to
vanish in a cloud of smoke.

By the time they reached Mr. Silver's abode the party had regained its
decorum, and, except for a tremendous shudder on the part of Mr. Boxer as
his gaze fell on a couple of skulls which decorated the magician's table,
their behaviour left nothing to be desired.  Mrs. Gimpson, in a few
awkward words, announced the occasion of their visit.  Mr. Boxer she
introduced as a friend of the family from London.

"I will do what I can," said the old man, slowly, as his visitors seated
themselves, "but I can only tell you what I see.  If I do not see all, or
see clearly, it cannot be helped."

Mr. Boxer winked at Mr. Thompson, and received an understanding pinch in
return; Mrs. Thompson in a hot whisper told them to behave themselves.

The mystic preparations were soon complete.  A little cloud of smoke,
through which the fierce red eyes of the astrologer peered keenly at Mr.
Boxer, rose from the table.  Then he poured various liquids into a small
china bowl and, holding up his hand to command silence, gazed steadfastly
into it.  "I see pictures," he announced, in a deep voice.  "The docks of
a great city; London.  I see an ill-shaped man with a bent left leg
standing on the deck of a ship."

Mr. Thompson, his eyes wide open with surprise, jerked Mr. Boxer in the
ribs, but Mr. Boxer, whose figure was a sore point with him, made no
response.

"The ship leaves the docks," continued Mr. Silver, still peering into the
bowl.  "As she passes through the entrance her stern comes into view with
the name painted on it.  The--the--the----"

"Look agin, old chap," growled Mr. Boxer, in an undertone.

"The North Star," said the astrologer.  "The ill-shaped man is still
standing on the fore-part of the ship; I do not know his name or who he
is.  He takes the portrait of a beautiful young woman from his pocket and
gazes at it earnestly."

Mrs. Boxer, who had no illusions on the subject of her personal
appearance, sat up as though she had been stung; Mr. Thompson, who was
about to nudge Mr. Boxer in the ribs again, thought better of it and
assumed an air of uncompromising virtue.

"The picture disappears," said Mr. Silver.  "Ah!  I see; I see.  A ship
in a gale at sea.  It is the North Star; it is sinking.  The ill-shaped
man sheds tears and loses his head.  I cannot discover the name of this
man."

Mr. Boxer, who had been several times on the point of interrupting,
cleared his throat and endeavoured to look unconcerned.

"The ship sinks," continued the astrologer, in thrilling tones.  "Ah!
what is this?  a piece of wreck-age with a monkey clinging to it?  No,
no-o.  The ill-shaped man again.  Dear me!"

[Illustration: "Ah!  what is this?  a piece of wreckage with a monkey
clinging to it?"]

His listeners sat spellbound.  Only the laboured and intense breathing of
Mr. Boxer broke the silence.

"He is alone on the boundless sea," pursued the seer; "night falls.  Day
breaks, and a canoe propelled by a slender and pretty but dusky maiden
approaches the castaway.  She assists him into the canoe and his head
sinks on her lap, as with vigorous strokes of her paddle she propels the
canoe toward a small island fringed with palm trees."

"Here, look 'ere--" began the overwrought Mr. Boxer.

"H'sh, h'sh!"  ejaculated the keenly interested Mr. Thompson.  "W'y don't
you keep quiet?"

"The picture fades," continued the old man.  "I see another: a native
wedding.  It is the dusky maiden and the man she rescued.  Ah! the
wedding is interrupted; a young man, a native, breaks into the group.  He
has a long knife in his hand.  He springs upon the ill-shaped man and
wounds him in the head."

Involuntarily Mr. Boxer's hand went up to his honourable scar, and the
heads of the others swung round to gaze at it.  Mrs. Boxer's face was
terrible in its expression, but Mrs. Gimpson's bore the look of sad and
patient triumph of one who knew men and could not be surprised at
anything they do.

"The scene vanishes," resumed the monotonous voice, "and another one
forms.  The same man stands on the deck of a small ship.  The name on
the stern is the Peer--no, Paris--no, no, no, Pearl. It fades from the
shore where the dusky maiden stands with hands stretched out
imploringly.  The ill-shaped man smiles and takes the portrait of the
young and beautiful girl from his pocket."

"Look 'ere," said the infuriated Mr. Boxer, "I think we've 'ad about
enough of this rubbish.  I have--more than enough."

"I don't wonder at it," said his wife, trembling furiously.  "You can go
if you like.  I'm going to stay and hear all that there is to hear."

"You sit quiet," urged the intensely interested Mr. Thompson.  "He ain't
said it's you.  There's more than one misshaped man in the world, I
s'pose?"

"I see an ocean liner," said the seer, who had appeared to be in a trance
state during this colloquy.  "She is sailing for England from Australia.
I see the name distinctly: the _Marston Towers_.  The same man is on
board of her.  The ship arrives at London.  The scene closes; another one
forms.  The ill-shaped man is sitting with a woman with a beautiful face
--not the same as the photograph."

"What they can see in him I can't think," muttered Mr. Thompson, in an
envious whisper.  "He's a perfick terror, and to look at him----"

"They sit hand in hand," continued the astrologer, raising his voice.
"She smiles up at him and gently strokes his head; he----"

A loud smack rang through the room and startled the entire company; Mrs.
Boxer, unable to contain herself any longer, had, so far from profiting
by the example, gone to the other extreme and slapped her husband's head
with hearty good-will.  Mr. Boxer sprang raging to his feet, and in the
confusion which ensued the fortune-teller, to the great regret of Mr.
Thompson, upset the contents of the magic bowl.

"I can see no more," he said, sinking hastily into his chair behind the
table as Mr. Boxer advanced upon him.

Mrs. Gimpson pushed her son-in-law aside, and laying a modest fee upon
the table took her daughter's arm and led her out.  The Thompsons
followed, and Mr. Boxer, after an irresolute glance in the direction of
the ingenuous Mr. Silver, made his way after them and fell into the rear.
The people in front walked on for some time in silence, and then the
voice of the greatly impressed Mrs. Thompson was heard, to the effect
that if there were only more fortune-tellers in the world there would be
a lot more better men.

Mr. Boxer trotted up to his wife's side.  "Look here, Mary," he began.

"Don't you speak to me," said his wife, drawing closer to her mother,
"because I won't answer you."

Mr. Boxer laughed, bitterly.  "This is a nice home-coming," he remarked.

He fell to the rear again and walked along raging, his temper by no means
being improved by observing that Mrs. Thompson, doubtless with a firm
belief in the saying that "Evil communications corrupt good manners,"
kept a tight hold of her husband's arm.  His position as an outcast was
clearly defined, and he ground his teeth with rage as he observed the
virtuous uprightness of Mrs. Gimpson's back.  By the time they reached
home he was in a spirit of mad recklessness far in advance of the
character given him by the astrologer.

His wife gazed at him with a look of such strong interrogation as he was
about to follow her into the house that he paused with his foot on the
step and eyed her dumbly.

"Have you left anything inside that you want?" she inquired.

[Illustration: "'Have you left anything inside that you want?' she
inquired."]

Mr. Boxer shook his head.  "I only wanted to come in and make a clean
breast of it," he said, in a curious voice; "then I'll go."

Mrs. Gimpson stood aside to let him pass, and Mr. Thompson, not to be
denied, followed close behind with his faintly protesting wife.  They sat
down in a row against the wall, and Mr. Boxer, sitting opposite in a
hang-dog fashion, eyed them with scornful wrath.

"Well?"  said Mrs. Boxer, at last.

"All that he said was quite true," said her husband, defiantly.  "The
only thing is, he didn't tell the arf of it.  Altogether, I married three
dusky maidens."

Everybody but Mr. Thompson shuddered with horror.

"Then I married a white girl in Australia," pursued Mr. Boxer, musingly.
"I wonder old Silver didn't see that in the bowl; not arf a fortune-
teller, I call 'im."

"What they see in 'im!" whispered the astounded Mr. Thompson to his wife.

"And did you marry the beautiful girl in the photograph?" demanded Mrs.
Boxer, in trembling accents.

"I did," said her husband.

"Hussy," cried Mrs. Boxer.

"I married her," said Mr. Boxer, considering--"I married her at
Camberwell, in eighteen ninety-three."

"Eighteen ninety-three!" said his wife, in a startled voice.  "But you
couldn't.  Why, you didn't marry me till eighteen ninety-four."

"What's that got to do with it?" inquired the monster, calmly.

Mrs. Boxer, pale as ashes, rose from her seat and stood gazing at him
with horror-struck eyes, trying in vain to speak.

"You villain!" cried Mrs. Gimpson, violently.  "I always distrusted you."

[Illustration: "'You villain!' cried Mrs. Gimpson, violently.  'I always
distrusted you.'"]

"I know you did," said Mr. Boxer, calmly.  "You've been committing
bigamy," cried Mrs. Gimpson.

"Over and over agin," assented Mr. Boxer, cheerfully.  "It's got to be a
'obby with me."

"Was the first wife alive when you married my daughter?" demanded Mrs.
Gimpson.

"Alive?" said Mr. Boxer.  "O' course she was.  She's alive now--bless
her."

He leaned back in his chair and regarded with intense satisfaction the
horrified faces of the group in front.

"You--you'll go to jail for this," cried Mrs. Gimpson, breathlessly.
"What is your first wife's address?"

"I decline to answer that question," said her son-in-law.

"What is your first wife's address?"  repeated Mrs. Gimpson.

"Ask the fortune-teller," said Mr. Boxer, with an aggravating smile.
"And then get 'im up in the box as a witness, little bowl and all.  He
can tell you more than I can."

"I demand to know her name and address," cried Mrs. Gimpson, putting a
bony arm around the waist of the trembling Mrs. Boxer.

"I decline to give it," said Mr. Boxer, with great relish.  "It ain't
likely I'm going to give myself away like that; besides, it's agin the
law for a man to criminate himself.  You go on and start your bigamy
case, and call old red-eyes as a witness."

Mrs. Gimpson gazed at him in speechless wrath and then stooping down
conversed in excited whispers with Mrs. Thompson.  Mrs. Boxer crossed
over to her husband.

"Oh, John," she wailed, "say it isn't true, say it isn't true."

Mr. Boxer hesitated.  "What's the good o' me saying anything?"  he said,
doggedly.

"It isn't true," persisted his wife.  "Say it isn't true."

"What I told you when I first came in this evening was quite true," said
her husband, slowly.  "And what I've just told you is as true as what
that lying old fortune-teller told you.  You can please yourself what you
believe."

"I believe you, John," said his wife, humbly.

Mr. Boxer's countenance cleared and he drew her on to his knee.

"That's right," he said, cheerfully.  "So long as you believe in me I
don't care what other people think.  And before I'm much older I'll find
out how that old rascal got to know the names of the ships I was aboard.
Seems to me somebody's been talking."





BLUNDELL'S IMPROVEMENT

Venia Turnbull in a quiet, unobtrusive fashion was enjoying herself.  The
cool living-room at Turnbull's farm was a delightful contrast to the hot
sunshine without, and the drowsy humming of bees floating in at the open
window was charged with hints of slumber to the middle-aged.  From her
seat by the window she watched with amused interest the efforts of her
father--kept from his Sunday afternoon nap by the assiduous attentions of
her two admirers--to maintain his politeness.

"Father was so pleased to see you both come in," she said, softly; "it's
very dull for him here of an afternoon with only me."

[Illustration: "Father was so pleased to see you both come in," she said,
softly."]

"I can't imagine anybody being dull with only you," said Sergeant Dick
Daly, turning a bold brown eye upon her.

Mr. John Blundell scowled; this was the third time the sergeant had said
the thing that he would have liked to say if he had thought of it.

"I don't mind being dull," remarked Mr. Turnbull, casually.

Neither gentleman made any comment.

"I like it," pursued Mr. Turnbull, longingly; "always did, from a child."

The two young men looked at each other; then they looked at Venia; the
sergeant assumed an expression of careless ease, while John Blundell sat
his chair like a human limpet.  Mr. Turnbull almost groaned as he
remembered his tenacity.

"The garden's looking very nice," he said, with a pathetic glance round.

"Beautiful," assented the sergeant.  "I saw it yesterday."

"Some o' the roses on that big bush have opened a bit more since then,"
said the farmer.

Sergeant Daly expressed his gratification, and said that he was not
surprised.  It was only ten days since he had arrived in the village on a
visit to a relative, but in that short space of time he had, to the great
discomfort of Mr. Blundell, made himself wonderfully at home at Mr.
Turnbull's.  To Venia he related strange adventures by sea and land, and
on subjects of which he was sure the farmer knew nothing he was a perfect
mine of information.  He began to talk in low tones to Venia, and the
heart of Mr. Blundell sank within him as he noted her interest.  Their
voices fell to a gentle murmur, and the sergeant's sleek, well-brushed
head bent closer to that of his listener.  Relieved from his attentions,
Mr. Turnbull fell asleep without more ado.

Blundell sat neglected, the unwilling witness of a flirtation he was
powerless to prevent.  Considering her limited opportunities, Miss
Turnbull displayed a proficiency which astonished him.  Even the sergeant
was amazed, and suspected her of long practice.

"I wonder whether it is very hot outside?" she said, at last, rising and
looking out of the window.

"Only pleasantly warm," said the sergeant.  "It would be nice down by the
water."

"I'm afraid of disturbing father by our talk," said the considerate
daughter.  "You might tell him we've gone for a little stroll when he
wakes," she added, turning to Blundell.

Mr. Blundell, who had risen with the idea of acting the humble but, in
his opinion, highly necessary part of chaperon, sat down again and
watched blankly from the window until they were out of sight.  He was
half inclined to think that the exigencies of the case warranted him in
arousing the farmer at once.

It was an hour later when the farmer awoke, to find himself alone with
Mr. Blundell, a state of affairs for which he strove with some
pertinacity to make that aggrieved gentleman responsible.

"Why didn't you go with them?" he demanded.  "Because I wasn't asked,"
replied the other.

Mr. Turnbull sat up in his chair and eyed him disdainfully.  "For a
great, big chap like you are, John Blundell," he exclaimed, "it's
surprising what a little pluck you've got."

"I don't want to go where I'm not wanted," retorted Mr. Blundell.

"That's where you make a mistake," said the other, regarding him
severely; "girls like a masterful man, and, instead of getting your own
way, you sit down quietly and do as you're told, like a tame--tame--"

"Tame what?" inquired Mr. Blundell, resentfully.

"I don't know," said the other, frankly; "the tamest thing you can think
of.  There's Daly laughing in his sleeve at you, and talking to Venia
about Waterloo and the Crimea as though he'd been there.  I thought it
was pretty near settled between you."

"So did I," said Mr. Blundell.

"You're a big man, John," said the other, "but you're slow.  You're all
muscle and no head."

"I think of things afterward," said Blundell, humbly; "generally after I
get to bed."

Mr. Turnbull sniffed, and took a turn up and down the room; then he
closed the door and came toward his friend again.

"I dare say you're surprised at me being so anxious to get rid of Venia,"
he said, slowly, "but the fact is I'm thinking of marrying again myself."

"You!" said the startled Mr. Blundell.

"Yes, me," said the other, somewhat sharply.  "But she won't marry so
long as Venia is at home.  It's a secret, because if Venia got to hear of
it she'd keep single to prevent it.  She's just that sort of girl."

Mr. Blundell coughed, but did not deny it.  "Who is it?"  he inquired.

"Miss Sippet," was the reply.  "She couldn't hold her own for half an
hour against Venia."

Mr. Blundell, a great stickler for accuracy, reduced the time to five
minutes.

"And now," said the aggrieved Mr. Turnbull, "now, so far as I can see,
she's struck with Daly.  If she has him it'll be years and years before
they can marry.  She seems crazy about heroes.  She was talking to me the
other night about them.  Not to put too fine a point on it, she was
talking about you."

Mr. Blundell blushed with pleased surprise.

"Said you were not a hero," explained Mr. Turnbull.  "Of course, I stuck
up for you.  I said you'd got too much sense to go putting your life into
danger.  I said you were a very careful man, and I told her how
particular you was about damp sheets.  Your housekeeper told me."

"It's all nonsense," said Blundell, with a fiery face.  "I'll send that
old fool packing if she can't keep her tongue quiet."

"It's very sensible of you, John," said Mr. Turnbull, "and a sensible
girl would appreciate it.  Instead of that, she only sniffed when I told
her how careful you always were to wear flannel next to your skin.  She
said she liked dare-devils."

"I suppose she thinks Daly is a dare-devil," said the offended Mr.
Blundell.  "And I wish people wouldn't talk about me and my skin.  Why
can't they mind their own business?"

Mr. Turnbull eyed him indignantly, and then, sitting in a very upright
position, slowly filled his pipe, and declining a proffered match rose
and took one from the mantel-piece.

"I was doing the best I could for you," he said, staring hard at the
ingrate.  "I was trying to make Venia see what a careful husband you
would make.  Miss Sippet herself is most particular about such things--
and Venia seemed to think something of it, because she asked me whether
you used a warming-pan."

[Illustration: "She asked me whether you used a warming-pan."]

Mr. Blundell got up from his chair and, without going through the
formality of bidding his host good-by, quitted the room and closed the
door violently behind him.  He was red with rage, and he brooded darkly
as he made his way home on the folly of carrying on the traditions of a
devoted mother without thinking for himself.

For the next two or three days, to Venia's secret concern, he failed to
put in an appearance at the farm--a fact which made flirtation with the
sergeant a somewhat uninteresting business.  Her sole recompense was the
dismay of her father, and for his benefit she dwelt upon the advantages
of the Army in a manner that would have made the fortune of a recruiting-
sergeant.

"She's just crazy after the soldiers," he said to Mr. Blundell, whom he
was trying to spur on to a desperate effort.  "I've been watching her
close, and I can see what it is now; she's romantic.  You're too slow and
ordinary for her.  She wants somebody more dazzling.  She told Daly only
yesterday afternoon that she loved heroes.  Told it to him to his face.
I sat there and heard her.  It's a pity you ain't a hero, John."

"Yes," said Mr. Blundell; "then, if I was, I expect she'd like something
else."

The other shook his head.  "If you could only do something daring," he
murmured; "half-kill some-body, or save somebody's life, and let her see
you do it.  Couldn't you dive off the quay and save some-body's life from
drowning?"

"Yes, I could," said Blundell, "if somebody would only tumble in."

"You might pretend that you thought you saw somebody drowning," suggested
Mr. Turnbull.

"And be laughed at," said Mr. Blundell, who knew his Venia by heart.

"You always seem to be able to think of objections," complained Mr.
Turnbull; "I've noticed that in you before."

"I'd go in fast enough if there was anybody there," said Blundell.  "I'm
not much of a swimmer, but--"

"All the better," interrupted the other; "that would make it all the more
daring."

"And I don't much care if I'm drowned," pursued the younger man,
gloomily.

Mr. Turnbull thrust his hands in his pockets and took a turn or two up
and down the room.  His brows were knitted and his lips pursed.  In the
presence of this mental stress Mr. Blundell preserved a respectful
silence.

"We'll all four go for a walk on the quay on Sunday afternoon," said Mr.
Turnbull, at last.

"On the chance?" inquired his staring friend.

"On the chance," assented the other; "it's just possible Daly might fall
in."

"He might if we walked up and down five million times," said Blundell,
unpleasantly.

"He might if we walked up and down three or four times," said Mr.
Turnbull, "especially if you happened to stumble."

"I never stumble," said the matter-of-fact Mr. Blundell.  "I don't know
anybody more sure-footed than I am."

"Or thick-headed," added the exasperated Mr. Turnbull.

Mr. Blundell regarded him patiently; he had a strong suspicion that his
friend had been drinking.

"Stumbling," said Mr. Turnbull, conquering his annoyance with an effort
"stumbling is a thing that might happen to anybody.  You trip your foot
against a stone and lurch up against Daly; he tumbles overboard, and you
off with your jacket and dive in off the quay after him.  He can't swim a
stroke."

Mr. Blundell caught his breath and gazed at him in speechless amaze.

"There's sure to be several people on the quay if it's a fine afternoon,"
continued his instructor.  "You'll have half Dunchurch round you,
praising you and patting you on the back--all in front of Venia, mind
you.  It'll be put in all the papers and you'll get a medal."

"And suppose we are both drowned?" said Mr. Blundell, soberly.

"Drowned?  Fiddlesticks!"  said Mr. Turnbull.  "However, please
yourself.  If you're afraid----"

"I'll do it," said Blundell, decidedly.

"And mind," said the other, "don't do it as if it's as easy as kissing
your fingers; be half-drowned yourself, or at least pretend to be.  And
when you're on the quay take your time about coming round.  Be longer
than Daly is; you don't want him to get all the pity."

"All right," said the other.

"After a time you can open your eyes," went on his instructor; "then, if
I were you, I should say, 'Good-bye, Venia,' and close 'em again.  Work
it up affecting, and send messages to your aunts."

"It sounds all right," said Blundell.

"It is all right," said Mr. Turnbull.  "That's just the bare idea I've
given you.  It's for you to improve upon it.  You've got two days to
think about it."

Mr. Blundell thanked him, and for the next two days thought of little
else.  Being a careful man he made his will, and it was in a
comparatively cheerful frame of mind that he made his way on Sunday
afternoon to Mr. Turnbull's.

The sergeant was already there conversing in low tones with Venia by the
window, while Mr. Turnbull, sitting opposite in an oaken armchair,
regarded him with an expression which would have shocked Iago.

"We were just thinking of having a blow down by the water," he said, as
Blundell entered.

"What! a hot day like this?"  said Venia.

"I was just thinking how beautifully cool it is in here," said the
sergeant, who was hoping for a repetition of the previous Sunday's
performance.

"It's cooler outside," said Mr. Turnbull, with a wilful ignoring of
facts; "much cooler when you get used to it."

He led the way with Blundell, and Venia and the sergeant, keeping as much
as possible in the shade of the dust-powdered hedges, followed.  The sun
was blazing in the sky, and scarce half-a-dozen people were to be seen on
the little curved quay which constituted the usual Sunday afternoon
promenade.  The water, a dozen feet below, lapped cool and green against
the stone sides.

At the extreme end of the quay, underneath the lantern, they all stopped,
ostensibly to admire a full-rigged ship sailing slowly by in the
distance, but really to effect the change of partners necessary to the
after-noon's business.  The change gave Mr. Turnbull some trouble ere it
was effected, but he was successful at last, and, walking behind the two
young men, waited somewhat nervously for developments.

Twice they paraded the length of the quay and nothing happened.  The ship
was still visible, and, the sergeant halting to gaze at it, the company
lost their formation, and he led the complaisant Venia off from beneath
her father's very nose.

"You're a pretty manager, you are, John Blundell," said the incensed Mr.
Turnbull.

"I know what I'm about," said Blundell, slowly.

"Well, why don't you do it?" demanded the other.  "I suppose you are
going to wait until there are more people about, and then perhaps some of
them will see you push him over."

"It isn't that," said Blundell, slowly, "but you told me to improve on
your plan, you know, and I've been thinking out improvements."

"Well?" said the other.

"It doesn't seem much good saving Daly," said Blundell; "that's what I've
been thinking.  He would be in as much danger as I should, and he'd get
as much sympathy; perhaps more."

"Do you mean to tell me that you are backing out of it?"  demanded Mr.
Turnbull.

"No," said Blundell, slowly, "but it would be much better if I saved
somebody else.  I don't want Daly to be pitied."

"Bah!  you are backing out of it," said the irritated Mr. Turnbull.
"You're afraid of a little cold water."

[Illustration: "Bah! you are backing out of it,' said the irritated Mr.
Turnbull."]

"No, I'm not," said Blundell; "but it would be better in every way to
save somebody else.  She'll see Daly standing there doing nothing, while
I am struggling for my life.  I've thought it all out very carefully.  I
know I'm not quick, but I'm sure, and when I make up my mind to do a
thing, I do it.  You ought to know that."

"That's all very well," said the other; "but who else is there to push
in?"

"That's all right," said Blundell, vaguely.  "Don't you worry about that;
I shall find somebody."

Mr. Turnbull turned and cast a speculative eye along the quay.  As a
rule, he had great confidence in Blundell's determination, but on this
occasion he had his doubts.

"Well, it's a riddle to me," he said, slowly.  "I give it up.  It seems--
Halloa!  Good heavens, be careful.  You nearly had me in then."

"Did I?"  said Blundell, thickly.  "I'm very sorry."

Mr. Turnbull, angry at such carelessness, accepted the apology in a
grudging spirit and trudged along in silence.  Then he started nervously
as a monstrous and unworthy suspicion occurred to him.  It was an
incredible thing to suppose, but at the same time he felt that there was
nothing like being on the safe side, and in tones not quite free from
significance he intimated his desire of changing places with his awkward
friend.

"It's all right," said Blundell, soothingly.

"I know it is," said Mr. Turnbull, regarding him fixedly; "but I prefer
this side.  You very near had me over just now."

"I staggered," said Mr. Blundell.

"Another inch and I should have been overboard," said Mr. Turnbull, with
a shudder.  "That would have been a nice how d'ye do."

Mr. Blundell coughed and looked seaward.  "Accidents will happen," he
murmured.

They reached the end of the quay again and stood talking, and when they
turned once more the sergeant was surprised and gratified at the ease
with which he bore off Venia.  Mr. Turnbull and Blundell followed some
little way behind, and the former gentleman's suspicions were somewhat
lulled by finding that his friend made no attempt to take the inside
place.  He looked about him with interest for a likely victim, but in
vain.

"What are you looking at?" he demanded, impatiently, as Blundell suddenly
came to a stop and gazed curiously into the harbour.

"Jelly-fish," said the other, briefly.  "I never saw such a monster.  It
must be a yard across."

Mr. Turnbull stopped, but could see nothing, and even when Blundell
pointed it out with his finger he had no better success.  He stepped
forward a pace, and his suspicions returned with renewed vigour as a hand
was laid caressingly on his shoulder.  The next moment, with a wild
shriek, he shot suddenly over the edge and disappeared.  Venia and the
sergeant, turning hastily, were just in time to see the fountain which
ensued on his immersion.

[Illustration: "With a wild shriek, he shot suddenly over the edge and
disappeared."]

"Oh, save him!"  cried Venia.

The sergeant ran to the edge and gazed in helpless dismay as Mr. Turnbull
came to the surface and disappeared again.  At the same moment Blundell,
who had thrown off his coat, dived into the harbour and, rising rapidly
to the surface, caught the fast-choking Mr. Turnbull by the collar.

"Keep still," he cried, sharply, as the farmer tried to clutch him; "keep
still or I'll let you go."

"Help!"  choked the farmer, gazing up at the little knot of people which
had collected on the quay.

A stout fisherman who had not run for thirty years came along the edge of
the quay at a shambling trot, with a coil of rope over his arm.  John
Blundell saw him and, mindful of the farmer's warning about kissing of
fingers, etc., raised his disengaged arm and took that frenzied gentleman
below the surface again.  By the time they came up he was very glad for
his own sake to catch the line skilfully thrown by the old fisherman and
be drawn gently to the side.

"I'll tow you to the steps," said the fisherman; "don't let go o' the
line."

Mr. Turnbull saw to that; he wound the rope round his wrist and began to
regain his presence of mind as they were drawn steadily toward the steps.
Willing hands drew them out of the water and helped them up on to the
quay, where Mr. Turnbull, sitting in his own puddle, coughed up salt
water and glared ferociously at the inanimate form of Mr. Blundell.
Sergeant Daly and another man were rendering what they piously believed
to be first aid to the apparently drowned, while the stout fisherman,
with both hands to his mouth, was yelling in heart-rending accents for a
barrel.

"He--he--push--pushed me in," gasped the choking Mr. Turnbull.

Nobody paid any attention to him; even Venia, seeing that he was safe,
was on her knees by the side of the unconscious Blundell.

"He--he's shamming," bawled the neglected Mr. Turnbull.

"Shame!" said somebody, without even looking round.

"He pushed me in," repeated Mr. Turnbull.  "He pushed me in."

"Oh, father," said Venia, with a scandalised glance at him, "how can
you?"

"Shame!"  said the bystanders, briefly, as they, watched anxiously for
signs of returning life on the part of Mr. Blundell.  He lay still with
his eyes closed, but his hearing was still acute, and the sounds of a
rapidly approaching barrel trundled by a breathless Samaritan did him
more good than anything.

"Good-bye, Venia," he said, in a faint voice; "good-bye."

Miss Turnbull sobbed and took his hand.

"He's shamming," roared Mr. Turnbull, incensed beyond measure at the
faithful manner in which Blundell was carrying out his instructions.  "He
pushed me in."

There was an angry murmur from the bystanders.  "Be reasonable, Mr.
Turnbull," said the sergeant, somewhat sharply.

"He nearly lost 'is life over you," said the stout fisherman.  "As plucky
a thing as ever I see.  If I 'adn't ha' been 'andy with that there line
you'd both ha' been drownded."

"Give--my love--to everybody," said Blundell, faintly.  "Good-bye, Venia.
Good-bye, Mr. Turnbull."

"Where's that barrel?"  demanded the stout fisher-man, crisply.  "Going
to be all night with it?  Now, two of you----"

Mr. Blundell, with a great effort, and assisted by Venia and the
sergeant, sat up.  He felt that he had made a good impression, and had no
desire to spoil it by riding the barrel.  With one exception, everybody
was regarding him with moist-eyed admiration.  The exception's eyes were,
perhaps, the moistest of them all, but admiration had no place in them.

"You're all being made fools of," he said, getting up and stamping.  "I
tell you he pushed me over-board for the purpose."

"Oh, father!  how can you?"  demanded Venia, angrily.  "He saved your
life."

"He pushed me in," repeated the farmer.  "Told me to look at a jelly-fish
and pushed me in."

"What for?" inquired Sergeant Daly.

"Because--" said Mr. Turnbull.  He looked at the unconscious sergeant,
and the words on his lips died away in an inarticulate growl.

"What for?"  pursued the sergeant, in triumph.  "Be reasonable, Mr.
Turnbull.  Where's the reason in pushing you overboard and then nearly
losing his life saving you?  That would be a fool's trick.  It was as
fine a thing as ever I saw."

"What you 'ad, Mr. Turnbull," said the stout fisherman, tapping him on
the arm, "was a little touch o' the sun."

"What felt to you like a push," said another man, "and over you went."

"As easy as easy," said a third.

"You're red in the face now," said the stout fisherman, regarding him
critically, "and your eyes are starting.  You take my advice and get 'ome
and get to bed, and the first thing you'll do when you get your senses
back will be to go round and thank Mr. Blundell for all 'e's done for
you."

[Illustration: "You take my advice and get 'ome and get to bed."]

Mr. Turnbull looked at them, and the circle of intelligent faces grew
misty before his angry eyes.  One man, ignoring his sodden condition,
recommended a wet handkerchief tied round his brow.

"I don't want any thanks, Mr. Turnbull," said Blundell, feebly, as he was
assisted to his feet.  "I'd do as much for you again."

The stout fisherman patted him admiringly on the back, and Mr. Turnbull
felt like a prophet beholding a realised vision as the spectators
clustered round Mr. Blundell and followed their friends' example.
Tenderly but firmly they led the hero in triumph up the quay toward home,
shouting out eulogistic descriptions of his valour to curious neighbours
as they passed.  Mr. Turnbull, churlishly keeping his distance in the
rear of the procession, received in grim silence the congratulations of
his friends.

The extraordinary hallucination caused by the sun-stroke lasted with him
for over a week, but at the end of that time his mind cleared and he saw
things in the same light as reasonable folk.  Venia was the first to
congratulate him upon his recovery; but his extraordinary behaviour in
proposing to Miss Sippet the very day on which she herself became Mrs.
Blundell convinced her that his recovery was only partial.





BILL'S LAPSE

Strength and good-nature--said the night-watchman, musingly, as he felt
his biceps--strength and good-nature always go together.  Sometimes you
find a strong man who is not good-natured, but then, as everybody he
comes in contack with is, it comes to the same thing.

The strongest and kindest-'earted man I ever come across was a man o' the
name of Bill Burton, a ship-mate of Ginger Dick's.  For that matter 'e
was a shipmate o' Peter Russet's and old Sam Small's too.  Not over and
above tall; just about my height, his arms was like another man's legs
for size, and 'is chest and his back and shoulders might ha' been made
for a giant.  And with all that he'd got a soft blue eye like a gal's
(blue's my favourite colour for gals' eyes), and a nice, soft, curly
brown beard.  He was an A.B., too, and that showed 'ow good-natured he
was, to pick up with firemen.

He got so fond of 'em that when they was all paid off from the _Ocean
King_ he asked to be allowed to join them in taking a room ashore.  It
pleased every-body, four coming cheaper than three, and Bill being that
good-tempered that 'e'd put up with anything, and when any of the three
quarrelled he used to act the part of peacemaker.

[Illustration: "When any of the three quarrelled he used to act the part
of peacemaker."]

The only thing about 'im that they didn't like was that 'e was a
teetotaler.  He'd go into public-'ouses with 'em, but he wouldn't drink;
leastways, that is to say, he wouldn't drink beer, and Ginger used to say
that it made 'im feel uncomfortable to see Bill put away a bottle o'
lemonade every time they 'ad a drink.  One night arter 'e had 'ad
seventeen bottles he could 'ardly got home, and Peter Russet, who knew a
lot about pills and such-like, pointed out to 'im 'ow bad it was for his
constitushon.  He proved that the lemonade would eat away the coats o'
Bill's stomach, and that if 'e kept on 'e might drop down dead at any
moment.

That frightened Bill a bit, and the next night, instead of 'aving
lemonade, 'e had five bottles o' stone ginger-beer, six of different
kinds of teetotal beer, three of soda-water, and two cups of coffee.  I'm
not counting the drink he 'ad at the chemist's shop arterward, because he
took that as medicine, but he was so queer in 'is inside next morning
that 'e began to be afraid he'd 'ave to give up drink altogether.

He went without the next night, but 'e was such a generous man that 'e
would pay every fourth time, and there was no pleasure to the other chaps
to see 'im pay and 'ave nothing out of it.  It spoilt their evening, and
owing to 'aving only about 'arf wot they was accustomed to they all got
up very disagreeable next morning.

"Why not take just a little beer, Bill?" asks Ginger.

Bill 'ung his 'ead and looked a bit silly.  "I'd rather not, mate," he
ses, at last.  "I've been teetotal for eleven months now."

"Think of your 'ealth, Bill," ses Peter Russet; "your 'ealth is more
important than the pledge.  Wot made you take it?"

Bill coughed.  "I 'ad reasons," he ses, slowly.  "A mate o' mine wished
me to."

"He ought to ha' known better," ses Sam.  "He 'ad 'is reasons," ses Bill.

"Well, all I can say is, Bill," ses Ginger, "all I can say is, it's very
disobligin' of you."

"Disobligin'?" ses Bill, with a start; "don't say that, mate."

"I must say it," ses Ginger, speaking very firm.

"You needn't take a lot, Bill," ses Sam; "nobody wants you to do that.
Just drink in moderation, same as wot we do."

"It gets into my 'ead," ses Bill, at last.

"Well, and wot of it?" ses Ginger; "it gets into everybody's 'ead
occasionally.  Why, one night old Sam 'ere went up behind a policeman and
tickled 'im under the arms; didn't you, Sam?"

"I did nothing o' the kind," ses Sam, firing up.

"Well, you was fined ten bob for it next morning, that's all I know," ses
Ginger.

"I was fined ten bob for punching 'im," ses old Sam, very wild.  "I never
tickled a policeman in my life.  I never thought o' such a thing.  I'd no
more tickle a policeman than I'd fly.  Anybody that ses I did is a liar.
Why should I?  Where does the sense come in?  Wot should I want to do it
for?"

"All right, Sam," ses Ginger, sticking 'is fingers in 'is ears, "you
didn't, then."

"No, I didn't," ses Sam, "and don't you forget it.  This ain't the fust
time you've told that lie about me.  I can take a joke with any man; but
anybody that goes and ses I tickled--"

"All right," ses Ginger and Peter Russet together.  "You'll 'ave tickled
policeman on the brain if you ain't careful, Sam," ses Peter.

Old Sam sat down growling, and Ginger Dick turned to Bill agin.  "It gets
into everybody's 'ead at times," he ses, "and where's the 'arm?  It's wot
it was meant for."

Bill shook his 'ead, but when Ginger called 'im disobligin' agin he gave
way and he broke the pledge that very evening with a pint o' six 'arf.

Ginger was surprised to see the way 'e took his liquor.  Arter three or
four pints he'd expected to see 'im turn a bit silly, or sing, or do
something o' the kind, but Bill kept on as if 'e was drinking water.

"Think of the 'armless pleasure you've been losing all these months,
Bill," ses Ginger, smiling at him.

Bill said it wouldn't bear thinking of, and, the next place they came to
he said some rather 'ard things of the man who'd persuaded 'im to take
the pledge.  He 'ad two or three more there, and then they began to see
that it was beginning to have an effect on 'im.  The first one that
noticed it was Ginger Dick.  Bill 'ad just lit 'is pipe, and as he threw
the match down he ses: "I don't like these 'ere safety matches," he ses.

"Don't you, Bill?" ses Ginger.  "I do, rather."

"Oh, you do, do you?"  ses Bill, turning on 'im like lightning; "well,
take that for contradictin'," he ses, an' he gave Ginger a smack that
nearly knocked his 'ead off.

It was so sudden that old Sam and Peter put their beer down and stared at
each other as if they couldn't believe their eyes.  Then they stooped
down and helped pore Ginger on to 'is legs agin and began to brush 'im
down.

"Never mind about 'im, mates," ses Bill, looking at Ginger very wicked.
"P'r'aps he won't be so ready to give me 'is lip next time.  Let's come
to another pub and enjoy ourselves."

Sam and Peter followed 'im out like lambs, 'ardly daring to look over
their shoulder at Ginger, who was staggering arter them some distance
behind a 'olding a handerchief to 'is face.

"It's your turn to pay, Sam," ses Bill, when they'd got inside the next
place.  "Wot's it to be?  Give it a name."

"Three 'arf pints o' four ale, miss," ses Sam, not because 'e was mean,
but because it wasn't 'is turn.  "Three wot?" ses Bill, turning on 'im.

"Three pots o' six ale, miss," ses Sam, in a hurry.

"That wasn't wot you said afore," ses Bill.  "Take that," he ses, giving
pore old Sam a wipe in the mouth and knocking 'im over a stool; "take
that for your sauce."

Peter Russet stood staring at Sam and wondering wot Bill ud be like when
he'd 'ad a little more.  Sam picked hisself up arter a time and went
outside to talk to Ginger about it, and then Bill put 'is arm round
Peter's neck and began to cry a bit and say 'e was the only pal he'd got
left in the world.  It was very awkward for Peter, and more awkward still
when the barman came up and told 'im to take Bill outside.

"Go on," he ses, "out with 'im."

"He's all right," ses Peter, trembling; "we's the truest-'arted gentleman
in London.  Ain't you, Bill?"

Bill said he was, and 'e asked the barman to go and hide 'is face because
it reminded 'im of a little dog 'e had 'ad once wot 'ad died.

"You get outside afore you're hurt," ses the bar-man.

Bill punched at 'im over the bar, and not being able to reach 'im threw
Peter's pot o' beer at 'im.  There was a fearful to-do then, and the
landlord jumped over the bar and stood in the doorway, whistling for the
police.  Bill struck out right and left, and the men in the bar went down
like skittles, Peter among them.  Then they got outside, and Bill, arter
giving the landlord a thump in the back wot nearly made him swallow the
whistle, jumped into a cab and pulled Peter Russet in arter 'im.

[Illustration: "Bill jumped into a cab and pulled Peter Russet in arter
'im."]

"I'll talk to you by-and-by," he ses, as the cab drove off at a gallop;
"there ain't room in this cab.  You wait, my lad, that's all.  You just
wait till we get out, and I'll knock you silly."

"Wot for, Bill?"  ses Peter, staring.

"Don't you talk to me," roars Bill.  "If I choose to knock you about
that's my business, ain't it?  Besides, you know very well."

He wouldn't let Peter say another word, but coming to a quiet place near
the docks he stopped the cab and pulling 'im out gave 'im such a dressing
down that Peter thought 'is last hour 'ad arrived.  He let 'im go at
last, and after first making him pay the cab-man took 'im along till they
came to a public-'ouse and made 'im pay for drinks.

They stayed there till nearly eleven o'clock, and then Bill set off home
'olding the unfortunit Peter by the scruff o' the neck, and wondering out
loud whether 'e ought to pay 'im a bit more or not.  Afore 'e could make
up 'is mind, however, he turned sleepy, and, throwing 'imself down on the
bed which was meant for the two of 'em, fell into a peaceful sleep.

Sam and Ginger Dick came in a little while arterward, both badly marked
where Bill 'ad hit them, and sat talking to Peter in whispers as to wot
was to be done.  Ginger, who 'ad plenty of pluck, was for them all to set
on to 'im, but Sam wouldn't 'ear of it, and as for Peter he was so sore
he could 'ardly move.

They all turned in to the other bed at last, 'arf afraid to move for fear
of disturbing Bill, and when they woke up in the morning and see 'im
sitting up in 'is bed they lay as still as mice.

"Why, Ginger, old chap," ses Bill, with a 'earty smile, "wot are you all
three in one bed for?"

"We was a bit cold," ses Ginger.

"Cold?"  ses Bill.  "Wot, this weather?  We 'ad a bit of a spree last
night, old man, didn't we?  My throat's as dry as a cinder."

"It ain't my idea of a spree," ses Ginger, sitting up and looking at 'im.

"Good 'eavens, Ginger!" ses Bill, starting back, "wotever 'ave you been
a-doing to your face?  Have you been tumbling off of a 'bus?"

Ginger couldn't answer; and Sam Small and Peter sat up in bed alongside
of 'im, and Bill, getting as far back on 'is bed as he could, sat staring
at their pore faces as if 'e was having a 'orrible dream.

"And there's Sam," he ses.  "Where ever did you get that mouth, Sam?"

"Same place as Ginger got 'is eye and pore Peter got 'is face," ses Sam,
grinding his teeth.

"You don't mean to tell me," ses Bill, in a sad voice--"you don't mean to
tell me that I did it?"

"You know well enough," ses Ginger.

Bill looked at 'em, and 'is face got as long as a yard measure.

"I'd 'oped I'd growed out of it, mates," he ses, at last, "but drink
always takes me like that.  I can't keep a pal."

"You surprise me," ses Ginger, sarcastic-like.  "Don't talk like that,
Ginger," ses Bill, 'arf crying.

"It ain't my fault; it's my weakness.  Wot did I do it for?"

"I don't know," ses Ginger, "but you won't get the chance of doing it
agin, I'll tell you that much."

"I daresay I shall be better to-night, Ginger," ses Bill, very humble;
"it don't always take me that way.

"Well, we don't want you with us any more," ses old Sam, 'olding his 'ead
very high.

"You'll 'ave to go and get your beer by yourself, Bill," ses Peter
Russet, feeling 'is bruises with the tips of 'is fingers.

"But then I should be worse," ses Bill.  "I want cheerful company when
I'm like that.  I should very likely come 'ome and 'arf kill you all in
your beds.  You don't 'arf know what I'm like.  Last night was nothing,
else I should 'ave remembered it."

"Cheerful company?"  ses old Sam.  "'Ow do you think company's going to be
cheerful when you're carrying on like that, Bill?  Why don't you go away
and leave us alone?"

"Because I've got a 'art," ses Bill.  "I can't chuck up pals in that
free-and-easy way.  Once I take a liking to anybody I'd do anything for
'em, and I've never met three chaps I like better than wot I do you.
Three nicer, straight-forrad, free-'anded mates I've never met afore."

"Why not take the pledge agin, Bill?"  ses Peter Russet.

"No, mate," ses Bill, with a kind smile; "it's just a weakness, and I
must try and grow out of it.  I'll tie a bit o' string round my little
finger to-night as a re-minder."

He got out of bed and began to wash 'is face, and Ginger Dick, who was
doing a bit o' thinking, gave a whisper to Sam and Peter Russet.

"All right, Bill, old man," he ses, getting out of bed and beginning to
put his clothes on; "but first of all we'll try and find out 'ow the
landlord is."

"Landlord?" ses Bill, puffing and blowing in the basin.  "Wot landlord?"

"Why, the one you bashed," ses Ginger, with a wink at the other two.  "He
'adn't got 'is senses back when me and Sam came away."

Bill gave a groan and sat on the bed while 'e dried himself, and Ginger
told 'im 'ow he 'ad bent a quart pot on the landlord's 'ead, and 'ow the
landlord 'ad been carried upstairs and the doctor sent for.  He began to
tremble all over, and when Ginger said he'd go out and see 'ow the land
lay 'e could 'ardly thank 'im enough.

He stayed in the bedroom all day, with the blinds down, and wouldn't eat
anything, and when Ginger looked in about eight o'clock to find out
whether he 'ad gone, he found 'im sitting on the bed clean shaved, and
'is face cut about all over where the razor 'ad slipped.

Ginger was gone about two hours, and when 'e came back he looked so
solemn that old Sam asked 'im whether he 'ad seen a ghost.  Ginger didn't
answer 'im; he set down on the side o' the bed and sat thinking.

"I s'pose--I s'pose it's nice and fresh in the streets this morning?"
ses Bill, at last, in a trembling voice.

Ginger started and looked at 'im.  "I didn't notice, mate," he ses.  Then
'e got up and patted Bill on the back, very gentle, and sat down again.

[Illustration: "Patted Bill on the back, very gentle."]

"Anything wrong, Ginger?"  asks Peter Russet, staring at 'im.

"It's that landlord," ses Ginger; "there's straw down in the road
outside, and they say that he's dying.  Pore old Bill don't know 'is own
strength.  The best thing you can do, old pal, is to go as far away as
you can, at once."

"I shouldn't wait a minnit if it was me," ses old Sam.

Bill groaned and hid 'is face in his 'ands, and then Peter Russet went
and spoilt things by saying that the safest place for a murderer to 'ide
in was London.  Bill gave a dreadful groan when 'e said murderer, but 'e
up and agreed with Peter, and all Sam and Ginger Dick could do wouldn't
make 'im alter his mind.  He said that he would shave off 'is beard and
moustache, and when night came 'e would creep out and take a lodging
somewhere right the other end of London.

"It'll soon be dark," ses Ginger, "and your own brother wouldn't know you
now, Bill.  Where d'you think of going?"

Bill shook his 'ead.  "Nobody must know that, mate," he ses.  "I must go
into hiding for as long as I can--as long as my money lasts; I've only
got six pounds left."

"That'll last a long time if you're careful," ses Ginger.

"I want a lot more," ses Bill.  "I want you to take this silver ring as a
keepsake, Ginger.  If I 'ad another six pounds or so I should feel much
safer.  'Ow much 'ave you got, Ginger?"

"Not much," ses Ginger, shaking his 'ead.

"Lend it to me, mate," ses Bill, stretching out his 'and.  "You can easy
get another ship.  Ah, I wish I was you; I'd be as 'appy as 'appy if I
hadn't got a penny."

"I'm very sorry, Bill," ses Ginger, trying to smile, "but I've already
promised to lend it to a man wot we met this evening.  A promise is a
promise, else I'd lend it to you with pleasure."

"Would you let me be 'ung for the sake of a few pounds, Ginger?"  ses
Bill, looking at 'im reproach-fully.  "I'm a desprit man, Ginger, and I
must 'ave that money."

Afore pore Ginger could move he suddenly clapped 'is hand over 'is mouth
and flung 'im on the bed.  Ginger was like a child in 'is hands, although
he struggled like a madman, and in five minutes 'e was laying there with
a towel tied round his mouth and 'is arms and legs tied up with the cord
off of Sam's chest.

"I'm very sorry, Ginger," ses Bill, as 'e took a little over eight pounds
out of Ginger's pocket.  "I'll pay you back one o' these days, if I can.
If you'd got a rope round your neck same as I 'ave you'd do the same as
I've done."

He lifted up the bedclothes and put Ginger inside and tucked 'im up.
Ginger's face was red with passion and 'is eyes starting out of his 'ead.

"Eight and six is fifteen," ses Bill, and just then he 'eard somebody
coming up the stairs.  Ginger 'eard it, too, and as Peter Russet came
into the room 'e tried all 'e could to attract 'is attention by rolling
'is 'ead from side to side.

"Why, 'as Ginger gone to bed?" ses Peter.  "Wot's up, Ginger?"

"He's all right," ses Bill; "just a bit of a 'eadache."

Peter stood staring at the bed, and then 'e pulled the clothes off and
saw pore Ginger all tied up, and making awful eyes at 'im to undo him.

"I 'ad to do it, Peter," ses Bill.  "I wanted some more money to escape
with, and 'e wouldn't lend it to me.  I 'aven't got as much as I want
now.  You just came in in the nick of time.  Another minute and you'd ha'
missed me.  'Ow much 'ave you got?"

"Ah, I wish I could lend you some, Bill," ses Peter Russet, turning pale,
"but I've 'ad my pocket picked; that's wot I came back for, to get some
from Ginger."

Bill didn't say a word.

"You see 'ow it is, Bill," ses Peter, edging back toward the door; "three
men laid 'old of me and took every farthing I'd got."

"Well, I can't rob you, then," ses Bill, catching 'old of 'im.
"Whoever's money this is," he ses, pulling a handful out o' Peter's
pocket, "it can't be yours.  Now, if you make another sound I'll knock
your 'ead off afore I tie you up."

"Don't tie me up, Bill," ses Peter, struggling.

"I can't trust you," ses Bill, dragging 'im over to the washstand and
taking up the other towel; "turn round."

Peter was a much easier job than Ginger Dick, and arter Bill 'ad done 'im
'e put 'im in alongside o' Ginger and covered 'em up, arter first tying
both the gags round with some string to prevent 'em slipping.

"Mind, I've only borrowed it," he ses, standing by the side o' the bed;
"but I must say, mates, I'm disappointed in both of you.  If either of
you 'ad 'ad the misfortune wot I've 'ad, I'd have sold the clothes off my
back to 'elp you.  And I wouldn't 'ave waited to be asked neither."

He stood there for a minute very sorrowful, and then 'e patted both their
'eads and went downstairs.  Ginger and Peter lay listening for a bit, and
then they turned their pore bound-up faces to each other and tried to
talk with their eyes.

Then Ginger began to wriggle and try and twist the cords off, but 'e
might as well 'ave tried to wriggle out of 'is skin.  The worst of it was
they couldn't make known their intentions to each other, and when Peter
Russet leaned over 'im and tried to work 'is gag off by rubbing it up
agin 'is nose, Ginger pretty near went crazy with temper.  He banged
Peter with his 'ead, and Peter banged back, and they kept it up till
they'd both got splitting 'eadaches, and at last they gave up in despair
and lay in the darkness waiting for Sam.

And all this time Sam was sitting in the Red Lion, waiting for them.  He
sat there quite patient till twelve o'clock and then walked slowly 'ome,
wondering wot 'ad happened and whether Bill had gone.

Ginger was the fust to 'ear 'is foot on the stairs, and as he came into
the room, in the darkness, him an' Peter Russet started shaking their bed
in a way that scared old Sam nearly to death.  He thought it was Bill
carrying on agin, and 'e was out o' that door and 'arf-way downstairs
afore he stopped to take breath.  He stood there trembling for about ten
minutes, and then, as nothing 'appened, he walked slowly upstairs agin on
tiptoe, and as soon as they heard the door creak Peter and Ginger made
that bed do everything but speak.

"Is that you, Bill?"  ses old Sam, in a shaky voice, and standing ready
to dash downstairs agin.

There was no answer except for the bed, and Sam didn't know whether Bill
was dying or whether 'e 'ad got delirium trimmings.  All 'e did know was
that 'e wasn't going to sleep in that room.  He shut the door gently and
went downstairs agin, feeling in 'is pocket for a match, and, not finding
one, 'e picked out the softest stair 'e could find and, leaning his 'ead
agin the banisters, went to sleep.

[Illustration: "Picked out the softest stair 'e could find."]

It was about six o'clock when 'e woke up, and broad daylight.  He was
stiff and sore all over, and feeling braver in the light 'e stepped
softly upstairs and opened the door.  Peter and Ginger was waiting for
'im, and as he peeped in 'e saw two things sitting up in bed with their
'air standing up all over like mops and their faces tied up with
bandages.  He was that startled 'e nearly screamed, and then 'e stepped
into the room and stared at 'em as if he couldn't believe 'is eyes.

"Is that you, Ginger?" he ses.  "Wot d'ye mean by making sights of
yourselves like that?  'Ave you took leave of your senses?"

Ginger and Peter shook their 'eads and rolled their eyes, and then Sam
see wot was the matter with 'em.  Fust thing 'e did was to pull out 'is
knife and cut Ginger's gag off, and the fust thing Ginger did was to call
'im every name 'e could lay his tongue to.

"You wait a moment," he screams, 'arf crying with rage.  "You wait till I
get my 'ands loose and I'll pull you to pieces.  The idea o' leaving us
like this all night, you old crocodile.  I 'eard you come in.  I'll pay
you."

Sam didn't answer 'im.  He cut off Peter Russet's gag, and Peter Russet
called 'im 'arf a score o' names without taking breath.

"And when Ginger's finished I'll 'ave a go at you," he ses.  "Cut off
these lines."

"At once, d'ye hear?"  ses Ginger.  "Oh, you wait till I get my 'ands on
you."

Sam didn't answer 'em; he shut up 'is knife with a click and then 'e sat
at the foot o' the bed on Ginger's feet and looked at 'em.  It wasn't the
fust time they'd been rude to 'im, but as a rule he'd 'ad to put up with
it.  He sat and listened while Ginger swore 'imself faint.

"That'll do," he ses, at last; "another word and I shall put the
bedclothes over your 'ead.  Afore I do anything more I want to know wot
it's all about."

Peter told 'im, arter fust calling 'im some more names, because Ginger
was past it, and when 'e'd finished old Sam said 'ow surprised he was
at them for letting Bill do it, and told 'em how they ought to 'ave
prevented it.  He sat there talking as though 'e enjoyed the sound of 'is
own voice, and he told Peter and Ginger all their faults and said wot
sorrow it caused their friends.  Twice he 'ad to throw the bedclothes
over their 'eads because o' the noise they was making.

[Illustration: "Old Sam said 'ow surprised he was at them for letting
Bill do it."]

"_Are you going--to undo--us?_"  ses Ginger, at last.

"No, Ginger," ses old Sam; "in justice to myself I couldn't do it.  Arter
wot you've said--and arter wot I've said--my life wouldn't be safe.
Besides which, you'd want to go shares in my money."

He took up 'is chest and marched downstairs with it, and about 'arf an
hour arterward the landlady's 'usband came up and set 'em free.  As soon
as they'd got the use of their legs back they started out to look for
Sam, but they didn't find 'im for nearly a year, and as for Bill, they
never set eyes on 'im again.





LAWYER QUINCE

Lawyer Quince, so called by his neighbours in Little Haven from his
readiness at all times to place at their disposal the legal lore he had
acquired from a few old books while following his useful occupation of
making boots, sat in a kind of wooden hutch at the side of his cottage
plying his trade.  The London coach had gone by in a cloud of dust some
three hours before, and since then the wide village street had slumbered
almost undisturbed in the sunshine.

[Illustration: "Lawyer Quince."]

Hearing footsteps and the sound of voices raised in dispute caused him to
look up from his work.  Mr. Rose, of Holly Farm, Hogg, the miller, and
one or two neighbours of lesser degree appeared to be in earnest debate
over some point of unusual difficulty.

Lawyer Quince took a pinch of snuff and bent to his work again.  Mr. Rose
was one of the very few who openly questioned his legal knowledge, and
his gibes concerning it were only too frequent.  Moreover, he had a taste
for practical joking, which to a grave man was sometimes offensive.

"Well, here he be," said Mr. Hogg to the farmer, as the group halted in
front of the hutch.  "Now ask Lawyer Quince and see whether I ain't told
you true.  I'm willing to abide by what he says."

Mr. Quince put down his hammer and, brushing a little snuff from his
coat, leaned back in his chair and eyed them with grave confidence.

"It's like this," said the farmer.  "Young Pascoe has been hanging round
after my girl Celia, though I told her she wasn't to have nothing to do
with him.  Half an hour ago I was going to put my pony in its stable when
I see a young man sitting there waiting."

"Well?"  said Mr. Quince, after a pause.

"He's there yet," said the farmer.  "I locked him in, and Hogg here says
that I've got the right to keep him locked up there as long as I like.  I
say it's agin the law, but Hogg he says no.  I say his folks would come
and try to break open my stable, but Hogg says if they do I can have the
law of 'em for damaging my property."

"So you can," interposed Mr. Hogg, firmly.  "You see whether Lawyer
Quince don't say I'm right."

Mr. Quince frowned, and in order to think more deeply closed his eyes.
Taking advantage of this three of his auditors, with remarkable
unanimity, each closed one.

"It's your stable," said Mr. Quince, opening his eyes and speaking with
great deliberation, "and you have a right to lock it up when you like."

"There you are," said Mr. Hogg; "what did I tell you?"

"If anybody's there that's got no business there, that's his look-out,"
continued Mr. Quince.  "You didn't induce him to go in?"

"Certainly not," replied the farmer.

"I told him he can keep him there as long as he likes," said the jubilant
Mr. Hogg, "and pass him in bread and water through the winder; it's got
bars to it."

"Yes," said Mr. Quince, nodding, "he can do that.  As for his folks
knocking the place about, if you like to tie up one or two of them nasty,
savage dogs of yours to the stable, well, it's your stable, and you can
fasten your dogs to it if you like.  And you've generally got a man about
the yard."

Mr. Hogg smacked his thigh in ecstasy.

"But--" began the farmer.

"That's the law," said the autocratic Mr. Quince, sharply.  "O' course,
if you think you know more about it than I do, I've nothing more to say."

"I don't want to do nothing I could get into trouble for," murmured Mr.
Rose.

"You can't get into trouble by doing as I tell you," said the shoemaker,
impatiently.  "However, to be quite on the safe side, if I was in your
place I should lose the key."

"Lose the key?"  said the farmer, blankly.

"Lose the key," repeated the shoemaker, his eyes watering with intense
appreciation of his own resourcefulness.  "You can find it any time you
want to, you know.  Keep him there till he promises to give up your
daughter, and tell him that as soon as he does you'll have a hunt for the
key."

Mr. Rose regarded him with what the shoemaker easily understood to be
speechless admiration.

"I--I'm glad I came to you," said the farmer, at last.

"You're welcome," said the shoemaker, loftily.  "I'm always ready to give
advice to them as require it."

"And good advice it is," said the smiling Mr. Hogg.  "Why don't you
behave yourself, Joe Garnham?"  he demanded, turning fiercely on a
listener.

Mr. Garnham, whose eyes were watering with emotion, attempted to explain,
but, becoming hysterical, thrust a huge red handkerchief to his mouth and
was led away by a friend.  Mr. Quince regarded his departure with mild
disdain.

"Little things please little minds," he remarked.

"So they do," said Mr. Hogg.  "I never thought--What's the matter with
you, George Askew?"

Mr. Askew, turning his back on him, threw up his hands with a helpless
gesture and followed in the wake of Mr. Garnham.  Mr. Hogg appeared to be
about to apologise, and then suddenly altering his mind made a hasty and
unceremonious exit, accompanied by the farmer.

Mr. Quince raised his eyebrows and then, after a long and meditative
pinch of snuff, resumed his work.  The sun went down and the light faded
slowly; distant voices sounded close on the still evening air, snatches
of hoarse laughter jarred upon his ears.  It was clear that the story of
the imprisoned swain was giving pleasure to Little Haven.

He rose at last from his chair and, stretching his long, gaunt frame,
removed his leather apron, and after a wash at the pump went into the
house.  Supper was laid, and he gazed with approval on the home-made
sausage rolls, the piece of cold pork, and the cheese which awaited his
onslaught.

"We won't wait for Ned," said Mrs. Quince, as she brought in a jug of ale
and placed it by her husband's elbow.

Mr. Quince nodded and filled his glass.

"You've been giving more advice, I hear," said Mrs. Quince.

Her husband, who was very busy, nodded again.

"It wouldn't make no difference to young Pascoe's chance, anyway," said
Mrs. Quince, thoughtfully.

Mr. Quince continued his labours.  "Why?"  he inquired, at last.

His wife smiled and tossed her head.

"Young Pascoe's no chance against our Ned," she said, swelling with
maternal pride.

"Eh?"  said the shoemaker, laying down his knife and fork.  "Our Ned?"

"They are as fond of each other as they can be," said Mrs. Quince,
"though I don't suppose Farmer Rose'll care for it; not but what our
Ned's as good as he is."

"Is Ned up there now?"  demanded the shoemaker, turning pale, as the
mirthful face of Mr. Garnham suddenly occurred to him.

"Sure to be," tittered his wife.  "And to think o' poor young Pascoe shut
up in that stable while he's courting Celia!"

Mr. Quince took up his knife and fork again, but his appetite had gone.
Whoever might be paying attention to Miss Rose at that moment he felt
quite certain that it was not Mr. Ned Quince, and he trembled with anger
as he saw the absurd situation into which the humorous Mr. Rose had led
him.  For years Little Haven had accepted his decisions as final and
boasted of his sharpness to neighbouring hamlets, and many a cottager had
brought his boots to be mended a whole week before their time for the
sake of an interview.

He moved his chair from the table and smoked a pipe.  Then he rose, and
putting a couple of formidable law-books under his arm, walked slowly
down the road in the direction of Holly Farm.

The road was very quiet and the White Swan, usually full at this hour,
was almost deserted, but if any doubts as to the identity of the prisoner
lingered in his mind they were speedily dissipated by the behaviour of
the few customers who crowded to the door to see him pass.

A hum of voices fell on his ear as he approached the farm; half the male
and a goodly proportion of the female population of Little Haven were
leaning against the fence or standing in little knots in the road, while
a few of higher social status stood in the farm-yard itself.

"Come down to have a look at the prisoner?"  inquired the farmer, who was
standing surrounded by a little group of admirers.

[Illustration: "'Come down to have a look at the prisoner?' inquired the
farmer."]

"I came down to see you about that advice I gave you this afternoon,"
said Mr. Quince.

"Ah!"  said the other.

"I was busy when you came," continued Mr. Quince, in a voice of easy
unconcern, "and I gave you advice from memory.  Looking up the subject
after you'd gone I found that I was wrong."

"You don't say so?" said the farmer, uneasily.  "If I've done wrong I'm
only doing what you told me I could do."

"Mistakes will happen with the best of us," said the shoemaker, loudly,
for the benefit of one or two murmurers.  "I've known a man to marry a
woman for her money before now and find out afterward that she hadn't got
any."

One unit of the group detached itself and wandered listlessly toward the
gate.

"Well, I hope I ain't done nothing wrong," said Mr. Rose, anxiously.
"You gave me the advice; there's men here as can prove it.  I don't want
to do nothing agin the law.  What had I better do?"

"Well, if I was you," said Mr. Quince, concealing his satisfaction with
difficulty, "I should let him out at once and beg his pardon, and say you
hope he'll do nothing about it.  I'll put in a word for you if you like
with old Pascoe."

Mr. Rose coughed and eyed him queerly.

"You're a Briton," he said, warmly.  "I'll go and let him out at once."

He strode off to the stable, despite the protests of Mr. Hogg, and,
standing by the door, appeared to be deep in thought; then he came back
slowly, feeling in his pockets as he walked.

"William," he said, turning toward Mr. Hogg, "I s'pose you didn't happen
to notice where I put that key?"

"That I didn't," said Mr. Hogg, his face clearing suddenly.

"I had it in my hand not half an hour ago," said the agitated Mr. Rose,
thrusting one hand into his trouser-pocket and groping.  "It can't be
far."

Mr. Quince attempted to speak, and, failing, blew his nose violently.

"My memory ain't what it used to be," said the farmer.  "Howsomever, I
dare say it'll turn up in a day or two."

"You--you'd better force the door," suggested Mr. Quince, struggling to
preserve an air of judicial calm.

"No, no," said Mr. Rose; "I ain't going to damage my property like that.
I can lock my stable-door and unlock it when I like; if people get in
there as have no business there, it's their look-out."

"That's law," said Mr. Hogg; "I'll eat my hat if it ain't."

"Do you mean to tell me you've really lost the key?" demanded Mr. Quince,
eyeing the farmer sternly.

"Seems like it," said Mr. Rose.  "However, he won't come to no hurt.
I'll put in some bread and water for him, same as you advised me to."

Mr. Quince mastered his wrath by an effort, and with no sign of
discomposure moved away without making any reference to the identity of
the unfortunate in the stable.

"Good-night," said the farmer, "and thank you for coming and giving me
the fresh advice.  It ain't everybody that 'ud ha' taken the trouble.
If I hadn't lost that key----"

The shoemaker scowled, and with the two fat books under his arm passed
the listening neighbours with the air of a thoughtful man out for an
evening stroll.  Once inside his house, however, his manner changed, the
attitude of Mrs. Quince demanding, at any rate, a show of concern.

"It's no good talking," he said at last.  "Ned shouldn't have gone there,
and as for going to law about it, I sha'n't do any such thing; I should
never hear the end of it.  I shall just go on as usual, as if nothing had
happened, and when Rose is tired of keeping him there he must let him
out.  I'll bide my time."

Mrs. Quince subsided into vague mutterings as to what she would do if she
were a man, coupled with sundry aspersions upon the character, looks, and
family connections of Farmer Rose, which somewhat consoled her for being
what she was.

"He has always made jokes about your advice," she said at length, "and
now everybody'll think he's right.  I sha'n't be able to look anybody in
the face.  I should have seen through it at once if it had been me.  I'm
going down to give him a bit o' my mind."

"You stay where you are," said Mr. Quince, sharply, "and, mind, you are
not to talk about it to anybody.  Farmer Rose 'ud like nothing better
than to see us upset about it.  I ain't done with him yet.  You wait."

Mrs. Quince, having no option, waited, but nothing happened.  The
following day found Ned Quince still a prisoner, and, considering the
circumstances, remarkably cheerful.  He declined point-blank to renounce
his preposterous attentions, and said that, living on the premises, he
felt half like a son-in-law already.  He also complimented the farmer
upon the quality of his bread.

The next morning found him still unsubdued, and, under interrogation from
the farmer, he admitted that he liked it, and said that the feeling of
being at home was growing upon him.

"If you're satisfied, I am," said Mr. Rose, grimly.  "I'll keep you here
till you promise; mind that."

"It's a nobleman's life," said Ned, peeping through the window, "and I'm
beginning to like you as much as my real father."

"I don't want none o' yer impudence," said the farmer, reddening.

[Illustration: "'None o' yer impudence,' said the farmer."]

"You'll like me better when you've had me here a little longer," said
Ned; "I shall grow on you.  Why not be reasonable and make up your mind
to it?  Celia and I have."

"I'm going to send Celia away on Saturday," said Mr. Rose; "make yourself
happy and comfortable in here till then.  If you'd like another crust o'
bread or an extra half pint o' water you've only got to mention it.  When
she's gone I'll have a hunt for that key, so as you can go back to your
father and help him to understand his law-books better."

He strode off with the air of a conqueror, and having occasion to go to
the village looked in at the shoe-maker's window as he passed and smiled
broadly.  For years Little Haven had regarded Mr. Quince with awe, as
being far too dangerous a man for the lay mind to tamper with, and at one
stroke the farmer had revealed the hollowness of his pretensions.  Only
that morning the wife of a labourer had called and asked him to hurry the
mending of a pair of boots.  She was a voluble woman, and having overcome
her preliminary nervousness more than hinted that if he gave less time to
the law and more to his trade it would be better for himself and
everybody else.

Miss Rose accepted her lot in a spirit of dutiful resignation, and on
Saturday morning after her father's admonition not to forget that the
coach left the White Swan at two sharp, set off to pay a few farewell
visits.  By half-past twelve she had finished, and Lawyer Quince becoming
conscious of a shadow on his work looked up to see her standing before
the window.  He replied to a bewitching smile with a short nod and became
intent upon his work again.

For a short time Celia lingered, then to his astonishment she opened the
gate and walked past the side of the house into the garden.  With growing
astonishment he observed her enter his tool-shed and close the door
behind her.

For ten minutes he worked on and then, curiosity getting the better of
him, he walked slowly to the tool-shed and, opening the door a little
way, peeped in.  It was a small shed, crowded with agricultural
implements.  The floor was occupied by an upturned wheelbarrow, and
sitting on the barrow, with her soft cheek leaning against the wall, sat
Miss Rose fast asleep.  Mr. Quince coughed several times, each cough
being louder than the last, and then, treading softly, was about to
return to the workshop when the girl stirred and muttered in her sleep.
At first she was unintelligible, then he distinctly caught the words
"idiot" and "blockhead."

"She's dreaming of somebody," said Mr. Quince to himself with conviction.

"Wonder who it is?"

"Can't see--a thing--under--his--nose," murmured the fair sleeper.

"Celia!"  said Mr. Quince, sharply.  "Celia!"

He took a hoe from the wall and prodded her gently with the handle.  A
singularly vicious expression marred the soft features, but that was all.

"Ce-lia!"  said the shoemaker, who feared sun-stroke.

"Fancy if he--had--a moment's common sense," murmured Celia, drowsily,
"and locked--the door."

Lawyer Quince dropped the hoe with a clatter and stood regarding her
open-mouthed.  He was a careful man with his property, and the stout door
boasted a good lock.  He sped to the house on tip-toe, and taking the key
from its nail on the kitchen dresser returned to the shed, and after
another puzzled glance at the sleeping girl locked her in.

For half an hour he sat in silent enjoyment of the situation--enjoyment
which would have been increased if he could have seen Mr. Rose standing
at the gate of Holly Farm, casting anxious glances up and down the road.
Celia's luggage had gone down to the White Swan, and an excellent cold
luncheon was awaiting her attention in the living-room.

Half-past one came and no Celia, and five minutes later two farm
labourers and a boy lumbered off in different directions in search of the
missing girl, with instructions that she was to go straight to the White
Swan to meet the coach.  The farmer himself walked down to the inn,
turning over in his mind a heated lecture composed for the occasion, but
the coach came and, after a cheerful bustle and the consumption of sundry
mugs of beer, sped on its way again.

He returned home in silent consternation, seeking in vain for a
satisfactory explanation of the mystery.  For a robust young woman to
disappear in broad day-light and leave no trace behind her was
extraordinary.  Then a sudden sinking sensation in the region of the
waistcoat and an idea occurred simultaneously.

He walked down to the village again, the idea growing steadily all the
way.  Lawyer Quince was hard at work, as usual, as he passed.  He went by
the window three times and gazed wistfully at the cottage.  Coming to the
conclusion at last that two heads were better than one in such a
business, he walked on to the mill and sought Mr. Hogg.

"That's what it is," said the miller, as he breathed his suspicions.
"I thought all along Lawyer Quince would have the laugh of you.  He's
wonderful deep. Now, let's go to work cautious like.  Try and look as if
nothing had happened."

[Illustration: "I thought all along Lawyer Quince would have the laugh of
you."]

Mr. Rose tried.

"Try agin," said the miller, with some severity.  "Get the red out o'
your face and let your eyes go back and don't look as though you're going
to bite somebody."

Mr. Rose swallowed an angry retort, and with an attempt at careless ease
sauntered up the road with the miller to the shoemaker's.  Lawyer Quince
was still busy, and looked up inquiringly as they passed before him.

"I s'pose," said the diplomatic Mr. Hogg, who was well acquainted with
his neighbour's tidy and methodical habits--"I s'pose you couldn't lend
me your barrow for half an hour?  The wheel's off mine."

Mr. Quince hesitated, and then favoured him with a glance intended to
remind him of his scurvy behaviour three days before.

"You can have it," he said at last, rising.

Mr. Hogg pinched his friend in his excitement, and both watched Mr.
Quince with bated breath as he took long, slow strides toward the
tool-shed.  He tried the door and then went into the house, and even
before his reappearance both gentlemen knew only too well what was about
to happen.  Red was all too poor a word to apply to Mr. Rose's
countenance as the shoemaker came toward them, feeling in his waist-coat
pocket with hooked fingers and thumb, while Mr. Hogg's expressive
features were twisted into an appearance of rosy appreciation.

"Did you want the barrow very particular?" inquired the shoemaker, in a
regretful voice.

"Very particular," said Mr. Hogg.

Mr. Quince went through the performance of feeling in all his pockets,
and then stood meditatively rubbing his chin.

"The door's locked," he said, slowly, "and what I've done with that there
key----"

"You open that door," vociferated Mr. Rose, "else I'll break it in.
You've got my daughter in that shed and I'm going to have her out."

"Your daughter?" said Mr. Quince, with an air of faint surprise.  "What
should she be doing in my shed?"

"You let her out," stormed Mr. Rose, trying to push past him.

"Don't trespass on my premises," said Lawyer Quince, interposing his
long, gaunt frame.  "If you want that door opened you'll have to wait
till my boy Ned comes home.  I expect he knows where to find the key."

Mr. Rose's hands fell limply by his side and his tongue, turning prudish,
refused its office.  He turned and stared at Mr. Hogg in silent
consternation.

"Never known him to be beaten yet," said that admiring weather-cock.

"Ned's been away three days," said the shoemaker, "but I expect him home
soon."

Mr. Rose made a strange noise in his throat and then, accepting his
defeat, set off at a rapid pace in the direction of home.  In a
marvellously short space of time, considering his age and figure, he was
seen returning with Ned Quince, flushed and dishevelled, walking by his
side.

"Here he is," said the farmer.  "Now where's that key?"

Lawyer Quince took his son by the arm and led him into the house, from
whence they almost immediately emerged with Ned waving the key.

"I thought it wasn't far," said the sapient Mr. Hogg.

Ned put the key in the lock and flinging the door open revealed Celia
Rose, blinking and confused in the sudden sunshine.  She drew back as she
saw her father and began to cry with considerable fervour.

"How did you get in that shed, miss?"  demanded her parent, stamping.

[Illustration: "'How did you get in that shed?' demanded her parent."]

Miss Rose trembled.

"I--I went there," she sobbed.  "I didn't want to go away."

"Well, you'd better stay there," shouted the over-wrought Mr. Rose.
"I've done with you.  A girl that 'ud turn against her own father I--I--"

He drove his right fist into his left palm and stamped out into the road.
Lawyer Quince and Mr. Hogg, after a moment's hesitation, followed.

"The laugh's agin you, farmer," said the latter gentleman, taking his
arm.

Mr. Rose shook him off.

"Better make the best of it," continued the peace-maker.

"She's a girl to be proud of," said Lawyer Quince, keeping pace with the
farmer on the other side.  "She's got a head that's worth yours and mine
put together, with Hogg's thrown in as a little makeweight."

"And here's the White Swan," said Mr. Hogg, who had a hazy idea of a
compliment, "and all of us as dry as a bone.  Why not all go in and have
a glass to shut folks' mouths?"

"And cry quits," said the shoemaker.

"And let bygones be bygones," said Mr. Hogg, taking the farmer's arm
again.

Mr. Rose stopped and shook his head obstinately, and then, under the
skilful pilotage of Mr. Hogg, was steered in the direction of the
hospitable doors of the White Swan.  He made a last bid for liberty on
the step and then disappeared inside.  Lawyer Quince brought up the rear.





BREAKING A SPELL

"Witchcraft?" said the old man, thoughtfully, as he scratched his scanty
whiskers.  No, I ain't heard o' none in these parts for a long time.
There used to be a little of it about when I was a boy, and there was
some talk of it arter I'd growed up, but Claybury folk never took much
count of it.  The last bit of it I remember was about forty years ago,
and that wasn't so much witchcraft as foolishness.

There was a man in this place then--Joe Barlcomb by name--who was a firm
believer in it, and 'e used to do all sorts of things to save hisself
from it.  He was a new-comer in Claybury, and there was such a lot of it
about in the parts he came from that the people thought o' nothing else
hardly.

He was a man as got 'imself very much liked at fust, especially by the
old ladies, owing to his being so perlite to them, that they used to 'old
'im up for an example to the other men, and say wot nice, pretty ways he
'ad.  Joe Barlcomb was everything at fust, but when they got to 'ear that
his perliteness was because 'e thought 'arf of 'em was witches, and
didn't know which 'arf, they altered their minds.

[Illustration: "He got 'imself very much liked, especially by the old
ladies."]

In a month or two he was the laughing-stock of the place; but wot was
worse to 'im than that was that he'd made enemies of all the old ladies.
Some of 'em was free-spoken women, and 'e couldn't sleep for thinking of
the 'arm they might do 'im.

He was terrible uneasy about it at fust, but, as nothing 'appened and he
seemed to go on very prosperous-like, 'e began to forget 'is fears, when
all of a sudden 'e went 'ome one day and found 'is wife in bed with a
broken leg.

She was standing on a broken chair to reach something down from the
dresser when it 'appened, and it was pointed out to Joe Barlcomb that it
was a thing anybody might ha' done without being bewitched; but he said
'e knew better, and that they'd kept that broken chair for standing on
for years and years to save the others, and nothing 'ad ever 'appened
afore.

In less than a week arter that three of his young 'uns was down with the
measles, and, 'is wife being laid up, he sent for 'er mother to come and
nurse 'em.  It's as true as I sit 'ere, but that pore old lady 'adn't
been in the house two hours afore she went to bed with the yellow
jaundice.

Joe Barlcomb went out of 'is mind a'most.  He'd never liked 'is wife's
mother, and he wouldn't 'ave had 'er in the house on'y 'e wanted her to
nurse 'is wife and children, and when she came and laid up and wanted
waiting on 'e couldn't dislike her enough.

He was quite certain all along that somebody was putting a spell on 'im,
and when 'e went out a morning or two arterward and found 'is best pig
lying dead in a corner of the sty he gave up and, going into the 'ouse,
told 'em all that they'd 'ave to die 'cause he couldn't do anything more
for 'em.  His wife's mother and 'is wife and the children all started
crying together, and Joe Barlcomb, when 'e thought of 'is pig, he sat
down and cried too.

He sat up late that night thinking it over, and, arter looking at it all
ways, he made up 'is mind to go and see Mrs. Prince, an old lady that
lived all alone by 'erself in a cottage near Smith's farm.  He'd set 'er
down for wot he called a white witch, which is the best kind and on'y do
useful things, such as charming warts away or telling gals about their
future 'usbands; and the next arternoon, arter telling 'is wife's mother
that fresh air and travelling was the best cure for the yellow jaundice,
he set off to see 'er.

[Illustration: "Mrs. Prince was sitting at 'er front door nursing 'er
three cats."]

Mrs. Prince was sitting at 'er front door nursing 'er three cats when 'e
got there.  She was an ugly, little old woman with piercing black eyes
and a hook nose, and she 'ad a quiet, artful sort of a way with 'er that
made 'er very much disliked.  One thing was she was always making fun of
people, and for another she seemed to be able to tell their thoughts, and
that don't get anybody liked much, especially when they don't keep it to
theirselves.  She'd been a lady's maid all 'er young days, and it was
very 'ard to be taken for a witch just because she was old.

"Fine day, ma'am," ses Joe Barlcomb.

"Very fine," ses Mrs. Prince.

"Being as I was passing, I just thought I'd look in," ses Joe Barlcomb,
eyeing the cats.

"Take a chair," ses Mrs. Prince, getting up and dusting one down with 'er
apron.

Joe sat down.  "I'm in a bit o' trouble, ma'am," he ses, "and I thought
p'r'aps as you could help me out of it.  My pore pig's been bewitched,
and it's dead."

"Bewitched?" ses Mrs. Prince, who'd 'eard of 'is ideas.  "Rubbish.  Don't
talk to me."

"It ain't rubbish, ma'am," ses Joe Barlcomb; "three o' my children is
down with the measles, my wife's broke 'er leg, 'er mother is laid up in
my little place with the yellow jaundice, and the pig's dead."

"Wot, another one?"  ses Mrs. Prince.

"No; the same one," ses Joe.

"Well, 'ow am I to help you?"  ses Mrs. Prince.  "Do you want me to come
and nurse 'em?"

"No, no," ses Joe, starting and turning pale; "unless you'd like to come
and nurse my wife's mother," he ses, arter thinking a bit.  "I was hoping
that you'd know who'd been overlooking me and that you'd make 'em take
the spell off."

Mrs. Prince got up from 'er chair and looked round for the broom she'd
been sweeping with, but, not finding it, she set down agin and stared in
a curious sort o' way at Joe Barlcomb.

"Oh, I see," she ses, nodding.  "Fancy you guessing I was a witch."

"You can't deceive me," ses Joe; "I've 'ad too much experience; I knew it
the fust time I saw you by the mole on your nose."

Mrs. Prince got up and went into her back-place, trying her 'ardest to
remember wot she'd done with that broom.  She couldn't find it anywhere,
and at last she came back and sat staring at Joe for so long that 'e was
'arf frightened out of his life.  And by-and-by she gave a 'orrible smile
and sat rubbing the side of 'er nose with 'er finger.

"If I help you," she ses at last, "will you promise to keep it a dead
secret and do exactly as I tell you?  If you don't, dead pigs'll be
nothing to the misfortunes that you will 'ave."

"I will," ses Joe Barlcomb, very pale.

"The spell," ses Mrs. Prince, holding up her 'ands and shutting 'er eyes,
"was put upon you by a man.  It is one out of six men as is jealous of
you because you're so clever, but which one it is I can't tell without
your assistance.  Have you got any money?"

"A little," ses Joe, anxious-like-- "a very little.  Wot with the yellow
jaundice and other things, I----"

"Fust thing to do," ses Mrs. Prince, still with her eyes shut, "you go up
to the Cauliflower to-night; the six men'll all be there, and you must
buy six ha'pennies off of them; one each."

"Buy six ha'pennies?"  ses Joe, staring at her.

"Don't repeat wot I say," ses Mrs. Prince; "it's unlucky.  You buy six
ha'pennies for a shilling each, without saying wot it's for.  You'll be
able to buy 'em all right if you're civil."

"It seems to me it don't need much civility for that," ses Joe, pulling a
long face.

"When you've got the ha'pennies," ses Mrs. Prince, "bring 'em to me and
I'll tell you wot to do with 'em.  Don't lose no time, because I can see
that something worse is going to 'appen if it ain't prevented."

"Is it anything to do with my wife's mother getting worse?"  ses Joe
Barlcomb, who was a careful man and didn't want to waste six shillings.

"No, something to you," ses Mrs. Prince.

Joe Barlcomb went cold all over, and then he put down a couple of eggs
he'd brought round for 'er and went off 'ome agin, and Mrs. Prince stood
in the doorway with a cat on each shoulder and watched 'im till 'e was
out of sight.

That night Joe Barlcomb came up to this 'ere Cauliflower public-house,
same as he'd been told, and by-and-by, arter he 'ad 'ad a pint, he looked
round, and taking a shilling out of 'is pocket put it on the table, and
he ses, "Who'll give me a ha'penny for that?"  he ses.

None of 'em seemed to be in a hurry.  Bill Jones took it up and bit it,
and rang it on the table and squinted at it, and then he bit it agin, and
turned round and asked Joe Barlcomb wot was wrong with it.

"Wrong?" ses Joe; "nothing."

Bill Jones put it down agin.  "You're wide awake, Joe," he ses, "but so
am I."

"Won't nobody give me a ha'penny for it?"  ses Joe, looking round.

Then Peter Lamb came up, and he looked at it and rang it, and at last he
gave Joe a ha'penny for it and took it round, and everybody 'ad a look at
it.

[Illustration: "He took it round, and everybody 'ad a look at it."]

"It stands to reason it's a bad 'un," ses Bill Jones, "but it's so well
done I wish as I'd bought it."

"H-s-h!"  ses Peter Lamb; "don't let the landlord 'ear you."

The landlord 'ad just that moment come in, and Peter walked up and
ordered a pint, and took his ten-pence change as bold as brass.  Arter
that Joe Barbcomb bought five more ha'pennies afore you could wink
a'most, and every man wot sold one went up to the bar and 'ad a pint and
got tenpence change, and drank Joe Barlcomb's health.

"There seems to be a lot o' money knocking about to-night," ses the
landlord, as Sam Martin, the last of 'em, was drinking 'is pint.

Sam Martin choked and put 'is pot down on the counter with a bang, and
him and the other five was out o' that door and sailing up the road with
their tenpences afore the landlord could get his breath.  He stood to the
bar scratching his 'ead and staring, but he couldn't understand it a bit
till a man wot was too late to sell his ha'penny up and told 'im all
about it.  The fuss 'e made was terrible.  The shillings was in a little
heap on a shelf at the back o' the bar, and he did all sorts o' things to
'em to prove that they was bad, and threatened Joe Barlcomb with the
police.  At last, however, 'e saw wot a fool he was making of himself,
and arter nearly breaking his teeth 'e dropped them into a drawer and
stirred 'em up with the others.

Joe Barlcomb went round the next night to see Mrs. Prince, and she asked
'im a lot o' questions about the men as 'ad sold 'im the ha'pennies.

"The fust part 'as been done very well," she ses, nodding her 'ead at
'im; "if you do the second part as well, you'll soon know who your enemy
is."

"Nothing'll bring the pig back," ses Joe.

"There's worse misfortunes than that, as I've told you," ses Mrs. Prince,
sharply.  "Now, listen to wot I'm going to say to you.  When the clock
strikes twelve to-night----"

"Our clock don't strike," ses Joe.

"Then you must borrow one that does," ses Mrs. Prince, "and when it
strikes twelve you must go round to each o' them six men and sell them a
ha'penny for a shilling."

Joe Barlcomb looked at 'er.  "'Ow?"  he ses, short-like.

"Same way as you sold 'em a shilling for a ha'-penny," ses Mrs. Prince;
"it don't matter whether they buy the ha'pennies or not.  All you've got
to do is to go and ask 'em, and the man as makes the most fuss is the man
that 'as put the trouble on you."

"It seems a roundabout way o' going to work," ses Joe.

"_Wot!_"  screams Mrs. Prince, jumping up and waving her arms about.
"_Wot!_  Go your own way; I'll have nothing more to do with you.  And
don't blame me for anything that happens.  It's a very bad thing to come
to a witch for advice and then not to do as she tells you.  You ought to
know that."

"I'll do it, ma'am," ses Joe Barlcomb, trembling.

"You'd better," ses Mrs. Prince; "and mind--not a word to anybody."

Joe promised her agin, and 'e went off and borrered a clock from Albert
Price, and at twelve o'clock that night he jumped up out of bed and began
to dress 'imself and pretend not to 'ear his wife when she asked 'im
where he was going.

It was a dark, nasty sort o' night, blowing and raining, and, o' course,
everybody 'ad gone to bed long since.  The fust cottage Joe came to was
Bill Jones's, and, knowing Bill's temper, he stood for some time afore he
could make up 'is mind to knock; but at last he up with 'is stick and
banged away at the door.

A minute arterward he 'eard the bedroom winder pushed open, and then Bill
Jones popped his 'cad out and called to know wot was the matter and who
it was.

"It's me--Joe Barlcomb," ses Joe, "and I want to speak to you very
partikler."

"Well, speak away," ses Bill.  "You go into the back room," he ses,
turning to his wife.

"Whaffor?"  ses Mrs. Jones.

"'Cos I don't know wot Joe is going to say," ses Bill.  "You go in now,
afore I make you."

His wife went off grumbling, and then Bill told Joe Barlcomb to hurry up
wot he'd got to say as 'e 'adn't got much on and the weather wasn't as
warm as it might be.

"I sold you a shilling for a ha'penny last night, Bill," ses Joe.

"Do you want to sell any more?"  ses Bill Jones, putting his 'and down to
where 'is trouser pocket ought to be.

"Not exactly that," ses Joe Barlcomb.  "This time I want you to sell me a
shilling for a ha'penny."

Bill leaned out of the winder and stared down at Joe Barlcomb, and then
he ses, in a choking voice,  "Is that wot you've come disturbing my sleep
for at this time o' night?"  he ses.

"I must 'ave it, Bill," ses Joe.

"Well, if you'll wait a moment," ses Bill, trying to speak perlitely,
"I'll come down and give it to you."

Joe didn't like 'is tone of voice, but he waited, and all of a sudden
Bill Jones came out o' that door like a gun going off and threw 'imself
on Joe Barlcomb.  Both of 'em was strong men, and by the time they'd
finished they was so tired they could 'ardly stand.  Then Bill Jones went
back to bed, and Joe Barlcomb, arter sitting down on the doorstep to rest
'imself, went off and knocked up Peter Lamb.

Peter Lamb was a little man and no good as a fighter, but the things he
said to Joe Barlcomb as he leaned out o' the winder and shook 'is fist at
him was 'arder to bear than blows.  He screamed away at the top of 'is
voice for ten minutes, and then 'e pulled the winder to with a bang and
went back to bed.

Joe Barlcomb was very tired, but he walked on to Jasper Potts's 'ouse,
trying 'ard as he walked to decide which o' the fust two 'ad made the
most fuss.  Arter he 'ad left Jasper Potts 'e got more puzzled than ever,
Jasper being just as bad as the other two, and Joe leaving 'im at last in
the middle of loading 'is gun.

By the time he'd made 'is last call--at Sam Martin's--it was past three
o'clock, and he could no more tell Mrs. Prince which 'ad made the most
fuss than 'e could fly.  There didn't seem to be a pin to choose between
'em, and, 'arf worried out of 'is life, he went straight on to Mrs.
Prince and knocked 'er up to tell 'er.  She thought the 'ouse was afire
at fust, and came screaming out o' the front door in 'er bedgown, and
when she found out who it was she was worse to deal with than the men 'ad
been.

She 'ad quieted down by the time Joe went round to see 'er the next
evening, and asked 'im to describe exactly wot the six men 'ad done and
said.  She sat listening quite quiet at fust, but arter a time she scared
Joe by making a odd, croupy sort o' noise in 'er throat, and at last she
got up and walked into the back-place.  She was there a long time making
funny noises, and at last Joe walked toward the door on tip-toe and
peeped through the crack and saw 'er in a sort o' fit, sitting in a chair
with 'er arms folded acrost her bodice and rocking 'erself up and down
and moaning.  Joe stood as if 'e'd been frozen a'most, and then 'e crept
back to 'is seat and waited, and when she came into the room agin she
said as the trouble 'ad all been caused by Bill Jones.  She sat still for
nearly 'arf an hour, thinking 'ard, and then she turned to Joe and ses:

[Illustration: "She sat listening quite quiet at fust."]

"Can you read?" she ses.

"No," ses Joe, wondering wot was coming next.

"That's all right, then," she ses, "because if you could I couldn't do
wot I'm going to do."

"That shows the 'arm of eddication," ses Joe.  "I never did believe in
it."

Mrs. Prince nodded, and then she went and got a bottle with something in
it which looked to Joe like gin, and arter getting out 'er pen and ink
and printing some words on a piece o' paper she stuck it on the bottle,
and sat looking at Joe and thinking.

"Take this up to the Cauliflower," she ses, "make friends with Bill
Jones, and give him as much beer as he'll drink, and give 'im a little o'
this gin in each mug.  If he drinks it the spell will be broken, and
you'll be luckier than you 'ave ever been in your life afore.  When 'e's
drunk some, and not before, leave the bottle standing on the table."

Joe Barlcomb thanked 'er, and with the bottle in 'is pocket went off to
the Cauliflower, whistling.  Bill Jones was there, and Peter Lamb, and
two or three more of 'em, and at fust they said some pretty 'ard things
to him about being woke up in the night.

"Don't bear malice, Bill," ses Joe Barlcomb; "'ave a pint with me."

He ordered two pints, and then sat down along-side o' Bill, and in five
minutes they was like brothers.

"'Ave a drop o' gin in it, Bill," he ses, taking the bottle out of 'is
pocket.

Bill thanked 'im and had a drop, and then, thoughtful-like, he wanted Joe
to 'ave some in his too, but Joe said no, he'd got a touch o' toothache,
and it was bad for it.

"I don't mind 'aving a drop in my beer, Joe," ses Peter Lamb.

"Not to-night, mate," ses Joe; "it's all for Bill.  I bought it on
purpose for 'im."

Bill shook 'ands with him, and when Joe called for another pint and put
some more gin in it he said that 'e was the noblest-'arted man that ever
lived.

"You wasn't saying so 'arf an hour ago," ses Peter Lamb.

"'Cos I didn't know 'im so well then," ses Bill Jones.

"You soon change your mind, don't you?"  ses Peter.

Bill didn't answer 'im.  He was leaning back on the bench and staring at
the bottle as if 'e couldn't believe his eyesight.  His face was all
white and shining, and 'is hair as wet as if it 'ad just been dipped in a
bucket o' water.

"See a ghost, Bill?"  ses Peter, looking at 'im.

Bill made a 'orrible noise in his throat, and kept on staring at the
bottle till they thought 'e'd gone crazy.  Then Jasper Potts bent his
'ead down and began to read out loud wot was on the bottle.  "P-o-i--
POISON FOR BILL JONES," he ses, in a voice as if 'e couldn't believe it.

You might 'ave heard a pin drop.  Everybody turned and looked at Bill
Jones, as he sat there trembling all over.  Then those that could read
took up the bottle and read it out loud all over agin.

"Pore Bill," ses Peter Lamb.  "I 'ad a feeling come over me that
something was wrong."

"You're a murderer," ses Sam Martin, catching 'old of Joe Barlcomb.
"You'll be 'ung for this.  Look at pore Bill, cut off in 'is prime."

"Run for the doctor," ses someone.

Two of 'em ran off as 'ard as they could go, and then the landlord came
round the bar and asked Bill to go and die outside, because 'e didn't
want to be brought into it.  Jasper Potts told 'im to clear off, and then
he bent down and asked Bill where the pain was.

"I don't think he'll 'ave much pain," ses Peter Lamb, who always
pretended to know a lot more than other people.  "It'll soon be over,
Bill."

"We've all got to go some day," ses Sam Martin.  "Better to die young
than live to be a trouble to yourself," ses Bob Harris.

To 'ear them talk everybody seemed to think that Bill Jones was in luck;
everybody but Bill Jones 'imself, that is.

"I ain't fit to die," he ses, shivering.  "You don't know 'ow bad I've
been."

"Wot 'ave you done, Bill?"  ses Peter Lamb, in a soft voice.  "If it'll
ease your feelings afore you go to make a clean breast of it, we're all
friends here."

Bill groaned.

"And it's too late for you to be punished for anything," ses Peter, arter
a moment.

Bill Jones groaned agin, and then, shaking 'is 'ead, began to w'isper 'is
wrong-doings.  When the doctor came in 'arf an hour arterward all the men
was as quiet as mice, and pore Bill was still w'ispering as 'ard as he
could w'isper.

The doctor pushed 'em out of the way in a moment, and then 'e bent over
Bill and felt 'is pulse and looked at 'is tongue.  Then he listened to
his 'art, and in a puzzled way smelt at the bottle, which Jasper Potts
was a-minding of, and wetted 'is finger and tasted it.

[Illustration: "The doctor felt 'is pulse and looked at 'is tongue."]

"Somebody's been making a fool of you and me too," he ses, in a angry
voice.  "It's only gin, and very good gin at that.  Get up and go home."

It all came out next morning, and Joe Barlcomb was the laughing-stock of
the place.  Most people said that Mrs. Prince 'ad done quite right, and
they 'oped that it ud be a lesson to him, but nobody ever talked much of
witchcraft in Claybury agin.  One thing was that Bill Jones wouldn't 'ave
the word used in 'is hearing.





ESTABLISHING RELATIONS

Mr. Richard Catesby, second officer of the ss. _Wizard_, emerged from the
dock-gates in high good-humour to spend an evening ashore.  The bustle of
the day had departed, and the inhabitants of Wapping, in search of
coolness and fresh air, were sitting at open doors and windows indulging
in general conversation with any-body within earshot.

[Illustration: "Mr. Richard Catesby, second officer of the ss. _Wizard_,
emerged from the dock-gates in high good-humour."]

Mr. Catesby, turning into Bashford's Lane, lost in a moment all this life
and colour.  The hum of distant voices certainly reached there, but that
was all, for Bashford's Lane, a retiring thoroughfare facing a blank dock
wall, capped here and there by towering spars, set an example of
gentility which neighbouring streets had long ago decided crossly was
impossible for ordinary people to follow.  Its neatly grained shutters,
fastened back by the sides of the windows, gave a pleasing idea of
uniformity, while its white steps and polished brass knockers were
suggestive of almost a Dutch cleanliness.

Mr. Catesby, strolling comfortably along, stopped suddenly for another
look at a girl who was standing in the ground-floor window of No. 5.  He
went on a few paces and then walked back slowly, trying to look as though
he had forgotten something.  The girl was still there, and met his ardent
glances unmoved: a fine girl, with large, dark eyes, and a complexion
which was the subject of much scandalous discussion among neighbouring
matrons.

"It must be something wrong with the glass, or else it's the bad light,"
said Mr. Catesby to himself; "no girl is so beautiful as that."

He went by again to make sure.  The object of his solicitude was still
there and apparently unconscious of his existence.  He passed very slowly
and sighed deeply.

"You've got it at last, Dick Catesby," he said, solemnly; "fair and
square in the most dangerous part of the heart.  It's serious this time."

He stood still on the narrow pavement, pondering, and then, in excuse of
his flagrant misbehaviour, murmured, "It was meant to be," and went by
again.  This time he fancied that he detected a somewhat supercilious
expression in the dark eyes--a faint raising of well-arched eyebrows.

His engagement to wait at Aldgate Station for the second-engineer and
spend an evening together was dismissed as too slow to be considered.  He
stood for some time in uncertainty, and then turning slowly into the
Beehive, which stood at the corner, went into the private bar and ordered
a glass of beer.

He was the only person in the bar, and the land-lord, a stout man in his
shirt-sleeves, was the soul of affability.  Mr. Catesby, after various
general remarks, made a few inquiries about an uncle aged five minutes,
whom he thought was living in Bashford's Lane.

[Illustration: "Mr. Catesby made a few inquiries."]

"I don't know 'im," said the landlord.

"I had an idea that he lived at No. 5," said Catesby.

The landlord shook his head.  "That's Mrs. Truefitt's house," he said,
slowly.

Mr. Catesby pondered.  "Truefitt, Truefitt," he repeated; "what sort of a
woman is she?"

"Widder-woman," said the landlord; "she lives there with 'er daughter
Prudence."

Mr. Catesby said "Indeed!" and being a good listener learned that Mrs.
Truefitt was the widow of a master-lighterman, and that her son, Fred
Truefitt, after an absence of seven years in New Zealand, was now on his
way home.  He finished his glass slowly and, the landlord departing to
attend to another customer, made his way into the street again.

He walked along slowly, picturing as he went the home-corning of the
long-absent son.  Things were oddly ordered in this world, and Fred
Truefitt would probably think nothing of his brotherly privileges.  He
wondered whether he was like Prudence.  He wondered----

"By Jove, I'll do it!"  he said, recklessly, as he turned.  "Now for a
row."

He walked back rapidly to Bashford's Lane, and without giving his courage
time to cool plied the knocker of No. 5 briskly.

The door was opened by an elderly woman, thin, and somewhat querulous in
expression.  Mr. Catesby had just time to notice this, and then he flung
his arm round her waist, and hailing her as "Mother!" saluted her warmly.

The faint scream of the astounded Mrs. Truefitt brought her daughter
hastily into the passage.  Mr. Catesby's idea was ever to do a thing
thoroughly, and, relinquishing Mrs. Truefitt, he kissed Prudence with all
the ardour which a seven-years' absence might be supposed to engender in
the heart of a devoted brother.  In return he received a box on the ears
which made his head ring.

"He's been drinking," gasped the dismayed Mrs. Truefitt.

"Don't you know me, mother?"  inquired Mr. Richard Catesby, in grievous
astonishment.

"He's mad," said her daughter.

"Am I so altered that you don't know me, Prudence?"  inquired Mr.
Catesby; with pathos.  "Don't you know your Fred?"

"Go out," said Mrs. Truefitt, recovering; "go out at once."

Mr. Catesby looked from one to the other in consternation.

"I know I've altered," he said, at last, "but I'd no idea--"

"If you don't go out at once I'll send for the police," said the elder
woman, sharply.  "Prudence, scream!"

"I'm not going to scream," said Prudence, eyeing the intruder with great
composure.  "I'm not afraid of him."

Despite her reluctance to have a scene--a thing which was strongly
opposed to the traditions of Bashford's Lane--Mrs. Truefitt had got as
far as the doorstep in search of assistance, when a sudden terrible
thought occurred to her: Fred was dead, and the visitor had hit upon this
extraordinary fashion of breaking the news gently.

"Come into the parlour," she said, faintly.

Mr. Catesby, suppressing his surprise, followed her into the room.
Prudence, her fine figure erect and her large eyes meeting his steadily,
took up a position by the side of her mother.

"You have brought bad news?" inquired the latter.

"No, mother," said Mr. Catesby, simply, "only myself, that's all."

Mrs. Truefitt made a gesture of impatience, and her daughter, watching
him closely, tried to remember something she had once read about
detecting insanity by the expression of the eyes.  Those of Mr. Catesby
were blue, and the only expression in them at the present moment was one
of tender and respectful admiration.

"When did you see Fred last?"  inquired Mrs. Truefitt, making another
effort.

"Mother," said Mr. Catesby, with great pathos, "don't you know me?"

"He has brought bad news of Fred," said Mrs. Truefitt, turning to her
daughter; "I am sure he has."

"I don't understand you," said Mr. Catesby, with a bewildered glance from
one to the other.  "I am Fred.  Am I much changed?  You look the same as
you always did, and it seems only yesterday since I kissed Prudence
good-bye at the docks.  You were crying, Prudence."

Miss Truefitt made no reply; she gazed at him unflinchingly and then bent
toward her mother.

"He is mad," she whispered; "we must try and get him out quietly.  Don't
contradict him."

"Keep close to me," said Mrs. Truefitt, who had a great horror of the
insane.  "If he turns violent open the window and scream.  I thought he
had brought bad news of Fred.  How did he know about him?"

Her daughter shook her head and gazed curiously at their afflicted
visitor.  She put his age down at twenty-five, and she could not help
thinking it a pity that so good-looking a young man should have lost his
wits.

"Bade Prudence good-bye at the docks," continued Mr. Catesby, dreamily.
"You drew me behind a pile of luggage, Prudence, and put your head on my
shoulder.  I have thought of it ever since."

Miss Truefitt did not deny it, but she bit her lips, and shot a sharp
glance at him.  She began to think that her pity was uncalled-for.

"I'm just going as far as the corner."

"Tell me all that's happened since I've been away," said Mr. Catesby.

Mrs. Truefitt turned to her daughter and whispered.  It might have been
merely the effect of a guilty conscience, but the visitor thought that he
caught the word "policeman."

"I'm just going as far as the corner," said Mrs. Truefitt, rising, and
crossing hastily to the door.

[Illustration: "'I'm just going as far as the corner,' said Mrs.
Truefitt."]

The young man nodded affectionately and sat in doubtful consideration as
the front door closed behind her.  "Where is mother going?"  he asked, in
a voice which betrayed a little pardonable anxiety.

"Not far, I hope," said Prudence.

"I really think," said Mr. Catesby, rising--"I really think that I had
better go after her.  At her age----"

He walked into the small passage and put his hand on the latch.
Prudence, now quite certain of his sanity, felt sorely reluctant to let
such impudence go unpunished.

"Are you going?" she inquired.

"I think I'd better," said Mr. Catesby, gravely.  "Dear mother--"

"You're afraid," said the girl, calmly.

Mr. Catesby coloured and his buoyancy failed him.  He felt a little bit
cheap.

"You are brave enough with two women," continued the girl, disdainfully;
"but you had better go if you're afraid."

Mr. Catesby regarded the temptress uneasily.  "Would you like me to
stay?" he asked.

"I?" said Miss Truefitt, tossing her head.  "No, I don't want you.
Besides, you're frightened."

Mr. Catesby turned, and with a firm step made his way back to the room;
Prudence, with a half-smile, took a chair near the door and regarded her
prisoner with unholy triumph.

"I shouldn't like to be in your shoes," she said, agreeably; "mother has
gone for a policeman."

"Bless her," said Mr. Catesby, fervently.  "What had we better say to him
when he comes?"

"You'll be locked up," said Prudence; "and it will serve you right for
your bad behaviour."

Mr. Catesby sighed.  "It's the heart," he said, gravely.  "I'm not to
blame, really.  I saw you standing in the window, and I could see at once
that you were beautiful, and good, and kind."

"I never heard of such impudence," continued Miss Truefitt.

"I surprised myself," admitted Mr. Catesby.  "In the usual way I am very
quiet and well-behaved, not to say shy."

Miss Truefitt looked at him scornfully.  "I think that you had better
stop your nonsense and go," she remarked.

"Don't you want me to be punished?" inquired the other, in a soft voice.

"I think that you had better go while you can," said the girl, and at
that moment there was a heavy knock at the front-door.  Mr. Catesby,
despite his assurance, changed colour; the girl eyed him in perplexity.
Then she opened the small folding-doors at the back of the room.

"You're only--stupid," she whispered.  "Quick!  Go in there.  I'll say
you've gone.  Keep quiet, and I'll let you out by-and-by."

She pushed him in and closed the doors.  From his hiding-place he heard
an animated conversation at the street-door and minute particulars as to
the time which had elapsed since his departure and the direction he had
taken.

"I never heard such impudence," said Mrs. Truefitt, going into the
front-room and sinking into a chair after the constable had taken his
departure.  "I don't believe he was mad."

"Only a little weak in the head, I think," said Prudence, in a clear
voice.  "He was very frightened after you had gone; I don't think he will
trouble us again."

"He'd better not," said Mrs. Truefitt, sharply.  "I never heard of such a
thing--never."

She continued to grumble, while Prudence, in a low voice, endeavoured to
soothe her.  Her efforts were evidently successful, as the prisoner was,
after a time, surprised to hear the older woman laugh--at first gently,
and then with so much enjoyment that her daughter was at some pains to
restrain her.  He sat in patience until evening deepened into night, and
a line of light beneath the folding-doors announced the lighting of the
lamp in the front-room.  By a pleasant clatter of crockery he became
aware that they were at supper, and he pricked up his ears as Prudence
made another reference to him.

"If he comes to-morrow night while you are out I sha'n't open the door,"
she said.  "You'll be back by nine, I suppose."

Mrs. Truefitt assented.

"And you won't be leaving before seven," continued Prudence.  "I shall be
all right."

Mr. Catesby's face glowed and his eyes grew tender; Prudence was as
clever as she was beautiful.  The delicacy with which she had intimated
the fact of the unconscious Mrs. Truefitt's absence on the following
evening was beyond all praise.  The only depressing thought was that such
resourcefulness savoured of practice.

He sat in the darkness for so long that even the proximity of Prudence
was not sufficient amends for the monotony of it, and it was not until
past ten o'clock that the folding-doors were opened and he stood blinking
at the girl in the glare of the lamp.

"Quick!"  she whispered.

Mr. Catesby stepped into the lighted room.

"The front-door is open," whispered Prudence.  "Make haste.  I'll close
it."

She followed him to the door; he made an ineffectual attempt to seize her
hand, and the next moment was pushed gently outside and the door closed
behind him.  He stood a moment gazing at the house, and then hastened
back to his ship.

"Seven to-morrow," he murmured; "seven to-morrow.  After all, there's
nothing pays in this world like cheek--nothing."

He slept soundly that night, though the things that the second-engineer
said to him about wasting a hard-working man's evening would have lain
heavy on the conscience of a more scrupulous man.  The only thing that
troubled him was the manifest intention of his friend not to let him slip
through his fingers on the following evening.  At last, in sheer despair
at his inability to shake him off, he had to tell him that he had an
appointment with a lady.

"Well, I'll come, too," said the other, glowering at him.  "It's very
like she'll have a friend with her; they generally do."

"I'll run round and tell her," said Catesby.  "I'd have arranged it
before, only I thought you didn't care about that sort of thing."

"Female society is softening," said the second-engineer.  "I'll go and
put on a clean collar."

[Illustration: "I'll go and put on a clean collar."]

Catesby watched him into his cabin and then, though it still wanted an
hour to seven, hastily quitted the ship and secreted himself in the
private bar of the Beehive.

He waited there until a quarter past seven, and then, adjusting his tie
for about the tenth time that evening in the glass behind the bar,
sallied out in the direction of No. 5.

He knocked lightly, and waited.  There was no response, and he knocked
again.  When the fourth knock brought no response, his heart sank within
him and he indulged in vain speculations as to the reasons for this
unexpected hitch in the programme.  He knocked again, and then the door
opened suddenly and Prudence, with a little cry of surprise and dismay,
backed into the passage.

"You!"  she said, regarding him with large eyes.  Mr. Catesby bowed
tenderly, and passing in closed the door behind him.

"I wanted to thank you for your kindness last night," he said, humbly.

"Very well," said Prudence; "good-bye."

Mr. Catesby smiled.  "It'll take me a long time to thank you as I ought
to thank you," he murmured.  "And then I want to apologise; that'll take
time, too."

"You had better go," said Prudence, severely; "kindness is thrown away
upon you.  I ought to have let you be punished."

"You are too good and kind," said the other, drifting by easy stages into
the parlour.

Miss Truefitt made no reply, but following him into the room seated
herself in an easy-chair and sat coldly watchful.

"How do you know what I am?" she inquired.

"Your face tells me," said the infatuated Richard.  "I hope you will
forgive me for my rudeness last night.  It was all done on the spur of
the moment."

"I am glad you are sorry," said the girl, softening.

"All the same, if I hadn't done it," pursued Mr. Catesby, "I shouldn't be
sitting here talking to you now."

Miss Truefitt raised her eyes to his, and then lowered them modestly to
the ground.  "That is true," she said, quietly.

"And I would sooner be sitting here than any-where," pursued Catesby.
"That is," he added, rising, and taking a chair by her side, "except
here."

Miss Truefitt appeared to tremble, and made as though to rise.  Then she
sat still and took a gentle peep at Mr. Catesby from the corner of her
eye.

"I hope that you are not sorry that I am here?"  said that gentleman.

Miss Truefitt hesitated.  "No," she said, at last.

"Are you--are you glad?" asked the modest Richard.

Miss Truefitt averted her eyes altogether.  "Yes," she said, faintly.

A strange feeling of solemnity came over the triumphant Richard.  He took
the hand nearest to him and pressed it gently.

"I--I can hardly believe in my good luck," he murmured.

"Good luck?" said Prudence, innocently.

"Isn't it good luck to hear you say that you are glad I'm here?"  said
Catesby.

"You're the best judge of that," said the girl, withdrawing her hand.
"It doesn't seem to me much to be pleased about."

Mr. Catesby eyed her in perplexity, and was about to address another
tender remark to her when she was overcome by a slight fit of coughing.
At the same moment he started at the sound of a shuffling footstep in the
passage.  Somebody tapped at the door.

"Yes?" said Prudence.

"Can't find the knife-powder, miss," said a harsh voice.  The door was
pushed open and disclosed a tall, bony woman of about forty.  Her red
arms were bare to the elbow, and she betrayed several evidences of a long
and arduous day's charing.

"It's in the cupboard," said Prudence.  "Why, what's the matter, Mrs.
Porter?"

Mrs. Porter made no reply.  Her mouth was wide open and she was gazing
with starting eyeballs at Mr. Catesby.

"Joe!" she said, in a hoarse whisper.  "Joe!"

Mr. Catesby gazed at her in chilling silence.  Miss Truefitt, with an air
of great surprise, glanced from one to the other.

"Joe!" said Mrs. Porter again.  "Ain't you goin' to speak to me?"

Mr. Catesby continued to gaze at her in speechless astonishment.  She
skipped clumsily round the table and stood before him with her hands
clasped.

"Where 'ave you been all this long time?"  she demanded, in a higher key.

"You--you've made a mistake," said the bewildered Richard.

"Mistake?"  wailed Mrs. Porter.  "Mistake!  Oh, where's your 'art?"

Before he could get out of her way she flung her arms round the horrified
young man's neck and em-braced him copiously.  Over her bony left
shoulder the frantic Richard met the ecstatic gaze of Miss Truefitt, and,
in a flash, he realised the trap into which he had fallen.

"Mrs. Porter!" said Prudence.

"It's my 'usband, miss," said the Amazon, reluctantly releasing the
flushed and dishevelled Richard; "'e left me and my five eighteen months
ago.  For eighteen months I 'aven't 'ad a sight of 'is blessed face."

She lifted the hem of her apron to her face and broke into discordant
weeping.

"Don't cry," said Prudence, softly; "I'm sure he isn't worth it."

Mr. Catesby looked at her wanly.  He was beyond further astonishment, and
when Mrs. Truefitt entered the room with a laudable attempt to twist her
features into an expression of surprise, he scarcely noticed her.

"It's my Joe," said Mrs. Porter, simply.

"Good gracious!" said Mrs. Truefitt.  "Well, you've got him now; take
care he doesn't run away from you again."

"I'll look after that, ma'am," said Mrs. Porter, with a glare at the
startled Richard.

[Illustration: "I'll look after that, ma'am."]

"She's very forgiving," said Prudence.  "She kissed him just now."

"Did she, though," said the admiring Mrs. Truefitt.  "I wish I'd been
here."

"I can do it agin, ma'am," said the obliging Mrs. Porter.

"If you come near me again--" said the breathless Richard, stepping back
a pace.

"I shouldn't force his love," said Mrs. Truefitt; "it'll come back in
time, I dare say."

"I'm sure he's affectionate," said Prudence.

Mr. Catesby eyed his tormentors in silence; the faces of Prudence and her
mother betokened much innocent enjoyment, but the austerity of Mrs.
Porter's visage was unrelaxed.

"Better let bygones be bygones," said Mrs. Truefitt; "he'll be sorry
by-and-by for all the trouble he has caused."

"He'll be ashamed of himself--if you give him time," added Prudence.

Mr. Catesby had heard enough; he took up his hat and crossed to the door.

"Take care he doesn't run away from you again," repeated Mrs. Truefitt.

"I'll see to that, ma'am," said Mrs. Porter, taking him by the arm.
"Come along, Joe."

Mr. Catesby attempted to shake her off, but in vain, and he ground his
teeth as he realised the absurdity of his position.  A man he could have
dealt with, but Mrs. Porter was invulnerable.  Sooner than walk down the
road with her he preferred the sallies of the parlour.  He walked back to
his old position by the fireplace, and stood gazing moodily at the floor.

Mrs. Truefitt tired of the sport at last.  She wanted her supper, and
with a significant glance at her daughter she beckoned the redoubtable
and reluctant Mrs. Porter from the room.  Catesby heard the kitchen-door
close behind them, but he made no move.  Prudence stood gazing at him in
silence.

"If you want to go," she said, at last, "now is your chance."

Catesby followed her into the passage without a word, and waited quietly
while she opened the door.  Still silent, he put on his hat and passed
out into the darkening street.  He turned after a short distance for a
last look at the house and, with a sudden sense of elation, saw that she
was standing on the step.  He hesitated, and then walked slowly back.

"Yes?"  said Prudence.

"I should like to tell your mother that I am sorry," he said, in a low
voice.

"It is getting late," said the girl, softly; "but, if you really wish to
tell her--Mrs. Porter will not be here to-morrow night."

She stepped back into the house and the door closed behind her.





THE CHANGING NUMBERS

The tall clock in the corner of the small living-room had just struck
eight as Mr. Samuel Gunnill came stealthily down the winding staircase
and, opening the door at the foot, stepped with an appearance of great
care and humility into the room.  He noticed with some anxiety that his
daughter Selina was apparently engrossed in her task of attending to the
plants in the window, and that no preparations whatever had been made for
breakfast.

[Illustration: "Mr. Samuel Gunnill came stealthily down the winding
staircase."]

Miss Gunnill's horticultural duties seemed interminable.  She snipped off
dead leaves with painstaking precision, and administered water with the
jealous care of a druggist compounding a prescription; then, with her
back still toward him, she gave vent to a sigh far too intense in its
nature to have reference to such trivialities as plants.  She repeated it
twice, and at the second time Mr. Gunnill, almost without his knowledge,
uttered a deprecatory cough.

His daughter turned with alarming swiftness and, holding herself very
upright, favoured him with a glance in which indignation and surprise
were very fairly mingled.

"That white one--that one at the end," said Mr. Gunnill, with an
appearance of concentrated interest, "that's my fav'rite."

Miss Gunnill put her hands together, and a look of infinite
long-suffering came upon her face, but she made no reply.

"Always has been," continued Mr. Gunnill, feverishly, "from a--from a
cutting."

"Bailed out," said Miss Gunnill, in a deep and thrilling voice; "bailed
out at one o'clock in the morning, brought home singing loud enough for
half-a-dozen, and then talking about flowers!"

Mr. Gunnill coughed again.

"I was dreaming," pursued Miss Gunnill, plaintively, "sleeping
peacefully, when I was awoke by a horrible noise."

"That couldn't ha' been me," protested her father.  "I was only a bit
cheerful.  It was Benjamin Ely's birthday yesterday, and after we left
the Lion they started singing, and I just hummed to keep 'em company.  I
wasn't singing, mind you, only humming--when up comes that interfering
Cooper and takes me off."

Miss Gunnill shivered, and with her pretty cheek in her hand sat by the
window the very picture of despondency.  "Why didn't he take the others?"
she inquired.

"Ah!" said Mr. Gunnill, with great emphasis, "that's what a lot more of
us would like to know.  P'r'aps if you'd been more polite to Mrs. Cooper,
instead o' putting it about that she looked young enough to be his
mother, it wouldn't have happened."

His daughter shook her head impatiently and, on Mr. Gunnill making an
allusion to breakfast, expressed surprise that he had got the heart to
eat any-thing.  Mr. Gunnill pressing the point, however, she arose and
began to set the table, the undue care with which she smoothed out the
creases of the table-cloth, and the mathematical exactness with which she
placed the various articles, all being so many extra smarts in his wound.
When she finally placed on the table enough food for a dozen people he
began to show signs of a little spirit.

"Ain't you going to have any?" he demanded, as Miss Gunnill resumed her
seat by the window.

"Me?" said the girl, with a shudder.  "Breakfast?  The disgrace is
breakfast enough for me.  I couldn't eat a morsel; it would choke me."

Mr. Gunnill eyed her over the rim of his teacup.  "I come down an hour
ago," he said, casually, as he helped himself to some bacon.

Miss Gunnill started despite herself.  "Oh!" she said, listlessly.

"And I see you making a very good breakfast all by yourself in the
kitchen," continued her father, in a voice not free from the taint of
triumph.

The discomfited Selina rose and stood regarding him; Mr. Gunnill, after a
vain attempt to meet her gaze, busied himself with his meal.

"The idea of watching every mouthful I eat!"  said Miss Gunnill,
tragically; "the idea of complaining because I have some breakfast!  I'd
never have believed it of you, never!  It's shameful!  Fancy grudging
your own daughter the food she eats!"

Mr. Gunnill eyed her in dismay.  In his confusion he had overestimated
the capacity of his mouth, and he now strove in vain to reply to this
shameful perversion of his meaning.  His daughter stood watching him with
grief in one eye and calculation in the other, and, just as he had put
himself into a position to exercise his rights of free speech, gave a
pathetic sniff and walked out of the room.

She stayed indoors all day, but the necessity of establishing his
innocence took Mr. Gunnill out a great deal.  His neighbours, in the hope
of further excitement, warmly pressed him to go to prison rather than pay
a fine, and instanced the example of an officer in the Salvation Army,
who, in very different circumstances, had elected to take that course.
Mr. Gunnill assured them that only his known antipathy to the army, and
the fear of being regarded as one of its followers, prevented him from
doing so.  He paid instead a fine of ten shillings, and after listening
to a sermon, in which his silver hairs served as the text, was permitted
to depart.  His feeling against Police-constable Cooper increased with
the passing of the days.  The constable watched him with the air of a
proprietor, and Mrs. Cooper's remark that "her husband had had his eye
upon him for a long time, and that he had better be careful for the
future," was faithfully retailed to him within half an hour of its
utterance.  Convivial friends counted his cups for him; teetotal friends
more than hinted that Cooper was in the employ of his good angel.

[Illustration: "The constable watched him with the air of a proprietor."]

Miss Gunnill's two principal admirers had an arduous task to perform.
They had to attribute Mr. Gunnill's disaster to the vindictiveness of
Cooper, and at the same time to agree with his daughter that it served
him right.  Between father and daughter they had a difficult time, Mr.
Gunnill's sensitiveness having been much heightened by his troubles.

"Cooper ought not to have taken you," said Herbert Sims for the fiftieth
time.

"He must ha' seen you like it dozens o' times before," said Ted Drill,
who, in his determination not to be outdone by Mr. Sims, was not
displaying his usual judgment.  "Why didn't he take you then?  That's
what you ought to have asked the magistrate."

"I don't understand you," said Mr. Gunnill, with an air of cold dignity.

"Why," said Mr. Drill, "what I mean is--look at that night, for instance,
when----"

He broke off suddenly, even his enthusiasm not being proof against the
extraordinary contortions of visage in which Mr. Gunnill was indulging.

"When?"  prompted Selina and Mr. Sims together.  Mr. Gunnill, after first
daring him with his eye, followed suit.

"That night at the Crown," said Mr. Drill, awkwardly.  "You know; when
you thought that Joe Baggs was the landlord.  You tell 'em; you tell it
best.  I've roared over it."

"I don't know what you're driving at," said the harassed Mr. Gunnill,
bitterly.

"H'm!"  said Mr. Drill, with a weak laugh.  "I've been mixing you up with
somebody else."

Mr. Gunnill, obviously relieved, said that he ought to be more careful,
and pointed out, with some feeling, that a lot of mischief was caused
that way.

"Cooper wants a lesson, that's what he wants," said Mr. Sims, valiantly.
"He'll get his head broke one of these days."

Mr. Gunnill acquiesced.  "I remember when I was on the _Peewit,_" he
said, musingly, "one time when we were lying at Cardiff, there was a
policeman there run one of our chaps in, and two nights afterward another
of our chaps pushed the policeman down in the mud and ran off with his
staff and his helmet."

Miss Gunnill's eyes glistened.  "What happened?" she inquired.

"He had to leave the force," replied her father; "he couldn't stand the
disgrace of it.  The chap that pushed him over was quite a little chap,
too.  About the size of Herbert here."

Mr. Sims started.

"Very much like him in face, too," pursued Mr. Gunnill; "daring chap he
was."

Miss Gunnill sighed.  "I wish he lived in Little-stow," she said, slowly.
"I'd give anything to take that horrid Mrs. Cooper down a bit.  Cooper
would be the laughing-stock of the town."

Messrs. Sims and Drill looked unhappy.  It was hard to have to affect an
attitude of indifference in the face of Miss Gunnill's lawless yearnings;
to stand before her as respectable and law-abiding cravens.  Her eyes,
large and sorrowful; dwelt on them both.

"If I--I only get a chance at Cooper!" murmured Mr. Sims, vaguely.

To his surprise, Mr. Gunnill started up from his chair and, gripping his
hand, shook it fervently.  He looked round, and Selina was regarding him
with a glance so tender that he lost his head completely.  Before he had
recovered he had pledged himself to lay the helmet and truncheon of the
redoubtable Mr. Cooper at the feet of Miss Gunnill; exact date not
specified.

"Of course, I shall have to wait my opportunity," he said, at last.

"You wait as long as you like, my boy," said the thoughtless Mr. Gunnill.

Mr. Sims thanked him.

"Wait till Cooper's an old man," urged Mr. Drill.

Miss Gunnill, secretly disappointed at the lack of boldness and devotion
on the part of the latter gentleman, eyed his stalwart frame indignantly
and accused him of trying to make Mr. Sims as timid as himself.  She
turned to the valiant Sims and made herself so agreeable to that daring
blade that Mr. Drill, a prey to violent jealousy, bade the company a curt
good-night and withdrew.

He stayed away for nearly a week, and then one evening as he approached
the house, carrying a carpet-bag, he saw the door just opening to admit
the fortunate Herbert.  He quickened his pace and arrived just in time to
follow him in.  Mr. Sims, who bore under his arm a brown-paper parcel,
seemed somewhat embarrassed at seeing him, and after a brief greeting
walked into the room, and with a triumphant glance at Mr. Gunnill and
Selina placed his burden on the table.

[Illustration: "He saw the door just opening to admit the fortunate
Herbert."]

"You--you ain't got it?"  said Mr. Gunnill, leaning forward.

"How foolish of you to run such a risk!"  said Selina.

"I brought it for Miss Gunnill," said the young man, simply.  He
unfastened the parcel, and to the astonishment of all present revealed a
policeman's helmet and a short boxwood truncheon.

"You--you're a wonder," said the gloating Mr. Gunnill.  "Look at it,
Ted!"

Mr. Drill was looking at it; it may be doubted whether the head of Mr.
Cooper itself could have caused him more astonishment.  Then his eyes
sought those of Mr. Sims, but that gentleman was gazing tenderly at the
gratified but shocked Selina.

"How ever did you do it?"  inquired Mr. Gunnill.

"Came behind him and threw him down," said Mr. Sims, nonchalantly.  "He
was that scared I believe I could have taken his boots as well if I'd
wanted them."

Mr. Gunnill patted him on the back.  "I fancy I can see him running
bare-headed through the town calling for help," he said, smiling.

Mr. Sims shook his head.  "Like as not it'll be kept quiet for the credit
of the force," he said, slowly, "unless, of course, they discover who did
it."

A slight shade fell on the good-humoured countenance of Mr. Gunnill, but
it was chased away almost immediately by Sims reminding him of the chaff
of Cooper's brother-constables.

"And you might take the others away," said Mr. Gunnill, brightening; "you
might keep on doing it."

Mr. Sims said doubtfully that he might, but pointed out that Cooper would
probably be on his guard for the future.

"Yes, you've done your share," said Miss Gunnill, with a half-glance at
Mr. Drill, who was still gazing in a bewildered fashion at the trophies.
"You can come into the kitchen and help me draw some beer if you like."

Mr. Sims followed her joyfully, and reaching down a jug for her watched
her tenderly as she drew the beer.  All women love valour, but Miss
Gunnill, gazing sadly at the slight figure of Mr. Sims, could not help
wishing that Mr. Drill possessed a little of his spirit.

[Illustration: "Mr. Sims watched her tenderly as she drew the beer."]

She had just finished her task when a tremendous bumping noise was heard
in the living-room, and the plates on the dresser were nearly shaken off
their shelves.

"What's that?" she cried.

They ran to the room and stood aghast in the doorway at the spectacle of
Mr. Gunnill, with his clenched fists held tightly by his side, bounding
into the air with all the grace of a trained acrobat, while Mr. Drill
encouraged him from an easy-chair.  Mr. Gunnill smiled broadly as he met
their astonished gaze, and with a final bound kicked something along the
floor and subsided into his seat panting.

Mr. Sims, suddenly enlightened, uttered a cry of dismay and, darting
under the table, picked up what had once been a policeman's helmet.  Then
he snatched a partially consumed truncheon from the fire, and stood white
and trembling before the astonished Mr. Gunnill.

"What's the matter?" inquired the latter.  "You--you've spoilt 'em,"
gasped Mr. Sims.  "What of it?"  said Mr. Gunnill, staring.

"I was--going to take 'em away," stammered Mr. Sims.

"Well, they'll be easier to carry now," said Mr. Drill, simply.

Mr. Sims glanced at him sharply, and then, to the extreme astonishment of
Mr. Gunnill, snatched up the relics and, wrapping them up in the paper,
dashed out of the house.  Mr. Gunnill turned a look of blank inquiry upon
Mr. Drill.

"It wasn't Cooper's number on the helmet," said that gentleman.

"Eh?" shouted Mr. Gunnill.

"How do you know?" inquired Selina.

"I just happened to notice," replied Mr. Drill.  He reached down as
though to take up the carpet-bag which he had placed by the side of his
chair, and then, apparently thinking better of it, leaned back in his
seat and eyed Mr. Gunnill.

"Do you mean to tell me," said the latter, "that he's been and upset the
wrong man?"

Mr. Drill shook his head.  "That's the puzzle," he said, softly.

He smiled over at Miss Gunnill, but that young lady, who found him
somewhat mysterious, looked away and frowned.  Her father sat and
exhausted conjecture, his final conclusion being that Mr. Sims had
attacked the first policeman that had come in his way and was now
suffering the agonies of remorse.

He raised his head sharply at the sound of hurried footsteps outside.
There was a smart rap at the street door, then the handle was turned, and
the next moment, to the dismay of all present, the red and angry face of
one of Mr. Cooper's brother-constables was thrust into the room.

Mr. Gunnill gazed at it in helpless fascination.  The body of the
constable garbed in plain clothes followed the face and, standing before
him in a menacing fashion, held out a broken helmet and staff.

"Have you seen these afore?" he inquired, in a terrible voice.

"No," said Mr. Gunnill, with an attempt at surprise.  "What are they?"

"I'll tell you what they are," said Police-constable Jenkins,
ferociously; "they're my helmet and truncheon.  You've been spoiling His
Majesty's property, and you'll be locked up."

"Yours?" said the astonished Mr. Gunnill.

"I lent 'em to young Sims, just for a joke," said the constable.  "I felt
all along I was doing a silly thing."

"It's no joke," said Mr. Gunnill, severely.  "I'll tell young Herbert
what I think of him trying to deceive me like that."

"Never mind about deceiving," interrupted the constable.  "What are you
going to do about it?"

"What are you?"  inquired Mr. Gunnill, hardily.  "It seems to me it's
between you and him; you'll very likely be dismissed from the force, and
all through trying to deceive.  I wash my hands of it."

"You'd no business to lend it," said Drill, interrupting the constable's
indignant retort; "especially for Sims to pretend that he had stolen it
from Cooper.  It's a roundabout sort of thing, but you can't tell of Mr.
Gunnill without getting into trouble yourself."

"I shall have to put up with that," said the constable, desperately;
"it's got to be explained.  It's my day-helmet, too, and the night one's
as shabby as can be.  Twenty years in the force and never a mark against
my name till now."

"If you'd only keep quiet a bit instead of talking so much," said Mr.
Drill, who had been doing some hard thinking, "I might be able to help
you, p'r'aps."

"How?" inquired the constable.

"Help him if you can, Ted," said Mr. Gunnill, eagerly; "we ought all to
help others when we get a chance."

Mr. Drill sat bolt upright and looked very wise.

He took the smashed helmet from the table and examined it carefully.  It
was broken in at least half-a-dozen places, and he laboured in vain to
push it into shape.  He might as well have tried to make a silk hat out
of a concertina.  The only thing that had escaped injury was the metal
plate with the number.

"Why don't you mend it?"  he inquired, at last.

"Mend it?" shouted the incensed Mr. Jenkins.  "Why don't you?"

"I think I could," said Mr. Drill, slowly; "give me half an hour in the
kitchen and I'll try."

"Have as long as you like," said Mr. Gunnill.

"And I shall want some glue, and Miss Gunnill, and some tin-tacks," said
Drill.

"What do you want me for?" inquired Selina.

"To hold the things for me," replied Mr. Drill.

Miss Gunnill tossed her head, but after a little demur consented; and
Drill, ignoring the impatience of the constable, picked up his bag and
led the way into the kitchen.  Messrs. Gunnill and Jenkins, left behind
in the living-room, sought for some neutral topic of discourse, but in
vain; conversation would revolve round hard labour and lost pensions.
From the kitchen came sounds of hammering, then a loud "Ooh!" from Miss
Gunnill, followed by a burst of laughter and a clapping of hands.  Mr.
Jenkins shifted in his seat and exchanged glances with Mr. Gunnill.

[Illustration: "From the kitchen came sounds of hammering."]

"He's a clever fellow," said that gentleman, hopefully.  "You should hear
him imitate a canary; life-like it is."

Mr. Jenkins was about to make a hasty and obvious rejoinder, when the
kitchen door opened and Selina emerged, followed by Drill.  The snarl
which the constable had prepared died away in a murmur of astonishment as
he took the helmet.  It looked as good as ever.

He turned it over and over in amaze, and looked in vain for any signs of
the disastrous cracks.  It was stiff and upright.  He looked at the
number: it was his own.  His eyes round with astonishment he tried it on,
and then his face relaxed.

"It don't fit as well as it did," he said.

"Well, upon my word, some people are never satisfied," said the indignant
Drill.  "There isn't another man in England could have done it better."

"I'm not grumbling," said the constable, hastily; "it's a wonderful piece
o' work.  Wonderful!  I can't even see where it was broke.  How on earth
did you do it?"

Drill shook his head.  "It's a secret process," he said, slowly.  "I
might want to go into the hat trade some day, and I'm not going to give
things away."

"Quite right," said Mr. Jenkins.  "Still--well, it's a marvel, that's
what it is; a fair marvel.  If you take my advice you'll go in the hat
trade to-morrow, my lad."

"I'm not surprised," said Mr. Gunnill, whose face as he spoke was a map
of astonishment.  "Not a bit.  I've seen him do more surprising things
than that.  Have a go at the staff now, Teddy."

"I'll see about it," said Mr. Drill, modestly.  "I can't do
impossibilities.  You leave it here, Mr. Jenkins, and we'll talk about it
later on."

Mr. Jenkins, still marvelling over his helmet, assented, and, after
another reference to the possibilities in the hat trade to a man with a
born gift for repairs, wrapped his property in a piece of newspaper and
departed, whistling.

"Ted," said Mr. Gunnill, impressively, as he sank into his chair with a
sigh of relief.  "How you done it I don't know.  It's a surprise even to
me."

"He is very clever," said Selina, with a kind smile

Mr. Drill turned pale, and then, somewhat emboldened by praise from such
a quarter, dropped into a chair by her side and began to talk in low
tones.  The grateful Mr. Gunnill, more relieved than he cared to confess,
thoughtfully closed his eyes.

"I didn't think all along that you'd let Herbert outdo you," said Selina.

"I want to outdo him," said Mr. Drill, in a voice of much meaning.

Miss Gunnill cast down her eyes and Mr. Drill had just plucked up
sufficient courage to take her hand when footsteps stopped at the house,
the handle of the door was turned, and, for the second time that evening,
the inflamed visage of Mr. Jenkins confronted the company.

"Don't tell me it's a failure," said Mr. Gunnill, starting from his
chair.  "You must have been handling it roughly.  It was as good as new
when you took it away."

Mr. Jenkins waved him away and fixed his eyes upon Drill.

"You think you're mighty clever, I dare say," he said, grimly; "but I can
put two and two together.  I've just heard of it."

"Heard of two and two?" said Drill, looking puzzled.

"I don't want any of your nonsense," said Mr. Jenkins.  "I'm not on duty
now, but I warn you not to say anything that may be used against you."

"I never do," said Mr. Drill, piously.

"Somebody threw a handful o' flour in poor Cooper's face a couple of
hours ago," said Mr. Jenkins, watching him closely, "and while he was
getting it out of his eyes they upset him and made off with his helmet
and truncheon.  I just met Brown and he says Cooper's been going on like
a madman."

"By Jove! it's a good job I mended your helmet for you," said Mr. Drill,
"or else they might have suspected you."

Mr. Jenkins stared at him.  "I know who did do it," he said,
significantly.

"Herbert Sims?" guessed Mr. Drill, in a stage whisper.

"You'll be one o' the first to know," said Mr. Jenkins, darkly; "he'll be
arrested to-morrow.  Fancy the impudence of it!  It's shocking."

Mr. Drill whistled.  "Nell, don't let that little affair o' yours with
Sims be known," he said, quietly.  "Have that kept quiet--if you can."

Mr. Jenkins started as though he had been stung.  In the joy of a case he
had overlooked one or two things.  He turned and regarded the young man
wistfully.

"Don't call on me as a witness, that's all," continued Mr. Drill.  "I
never was a mischief-maker, and I shouldn't like to have to tell how you
lent your helmet to Sims so that he could pretend he had knocked Cooper
down and taken it from him."

[Illustration: "Don't call on me as a witness, that's all," continued Mr.
Drill.]

"Wouldn't look at all well," said Mr. Gunnill, nodding his head sagely.

Mr. Jenkins breathed hard and looked from one to the other.  It was plain
that it was no good reminding them that he had not had a case for five
years.

"When I say that I know who did it," he said, slowly, "I mean that I have
my suspicions."

"Don't call on me as a witness, that's all,' continued Mr. Drill."

"Ah," said Mr. Drill, "that's a very different thing."

"Nothing like the same," said Mr. Gunnill, pouring the constable a glass
of ale.

Mr. Jenkins drank it and smacked his lips feebly.

"Sims needn't know anything about that helmet being repaired," he said at
last.

"Certainly not," said everybody.

Mr. Jenkins sighed and turned to Drill.

"It's no good spoiling the ship for a ha'porth o' tar," he said, with a
faint suspicion of a wink.  "No," said Drill, looking puzzled.

"Anything that's worth doing at all is worth doing well," continued the
constable, "and while I'm drinking another glass with Mr. Gunnill here,
suppose you go into the kitchen with that useful bag o' yours and finish
repairing my truncheon?"





THE PERSECUTION OF BOB PRETTY

The old man sat on his accustomed bench outside the Cauliflower.  A
generous measure of beer stood in a blue and white jug by his elbow, and
little wisps of smoke curled slowly upward from the bowl of his
churchwarden pipe.  The knapsacks of two young men lay where they were
flung on the table, and the owners, taking a noon-tide rest, turned a
polite, if bored, ear to the reminiscences of grateful old age.

Poaching, said the old man, who had tried topics ranging from early
turnips to horseshoeing--poaching ain't wot it used to be in these 'ere
parts.  Nothing is like it used to be, poaching nor anything else; but
that there man you might ha' noticed as went out about ten minutes ago
and called me "Old Truthfulness" as 'e passed is the worst one I know.
Bob Pretty 'is name is, and of all the sly, artful, deceiving men that
ever lived in Claybury 'e is the worst--never did a honest day's work in
'is life and never wanted the price of a glass of ale.

[Illustration: "Poaching," said the old man, "ain't wot it used to be in
these 'ere parts."]

Bob Pretty's worst time was just after old Squire Brown died.  The old
squire couldn't afford to preserve much, but by-and-by a gentleman with
plenty o' money, from London, named Rockett, took 'is place and things
began to look up.  Pheasants was 'is favourites, and 'e spent no end o'
money rearing of 'em, but anything that could be shot at suited 'im, too.

He started by sneering at the little game that Squire Brown 'ad left, but
all 'e could do didn't seem to make much difference; things disappeared
in a most eggstrordinary way, and the keepers went pretty near crazy,
while the things the squire said about Claybury and Claybury men was
disgraceful.

Everybody knew as it was Bob Pretty and one or two of 'is mates from
other places, but they couldn't prove it.  They couldn't catch 'im nohow,
and at last the squire 'ad two keepers set off to watch 'im by night and
by day.

Bob Pretty wouldn't believe it; he said 'e couldn't.  And even when it
was pointed out to 'im that Keeper Lewis was follering of 'im he said
that it just 'appened he was going the same way, that was all.  And
sometimes 'e'd get up in the middle of the night and go for a fifteen-
mile walk 'cos 'e'd got the toothache, and Mr. Lewis, who 'adn't got it,
had to tag along arter 'im till he was fit to drop.  O' course, it was
one keeper the less to look arter the game, and by-and-by the squire see
that and took 'im off.

All the same they kept a pretty close watch on Bob, and at last one
arternoon they sprang out on 'im as he was walking past Gray's farm, and
asked him wot it was he 'ad in his pockets.

"That's my bisness, Mr. Lewis," ses Bob Pretty.

Mr. Smith, the other keeper, passed 'is hands over Bob's coat and felt
something soft and bulgy.

"You take your 'ands off of me," ses Bob; "you don't know 'ow partikler I
am."

He jerked 'imself away, but they caught 'old of 'im agin, and Mr. Lewis
put 'is hand in his inside pocket and pulled out two brace o' partridges.

"You'll come along of us," he ses, catching 'im by the arm.

"We've been looking for you a long time," ses Keeper Smith, "and it's a
pleasure for us to 'ave your company."

Bob Pretty said 'e wouldn't go, but they forced 'im along and took 'im
all the way to Cudford, four miles off, so that Policeman White could
lock 'im up for the night.  Mr. White was a'most as pleased as the
keepers, and 'e warned Bob solemn not to speak becos all 'e said would be
used agin 'im.

"Never mind about that," ses Bob Pretty.  "I've got a clear conscience,
and talking can't 'urt me.  I'm very glad to see you, Mr. White; if these
two clever, experienced keepers hadn't brought me I should 'ave looked
you up myself.  They've been and stole my partridges."

Them as was standing round laughed, and even Policeman White couldn't
'elp giving a little smile.

"There's nothing to laugh at," ses Bob, 'olding his 'ead up.  "It's a
fine thing when a working man--a 'ardworking man--can't take home a
little game for 'is family without being stopped and robbed."

"I s'pose they flew into your pocket?" ses Police-man White.

"No, they didn't," ses Bob.  "I'm not going to tell any lies about it;
I put 'em there.  The partridges in my inside coat-pocket and the bill in
my waistcoat-pocket."

"The bill?" ses Keeper Lewis, staring at 'im.

"Yes, the bill," ses Bob Pretty, staring back at 'im; "the bill from Mr.
Keen, the poulterer, at Wick-ham."

He fetched it out of 'is pocket and showed it to Mr. White, and the
keepers was like madmen a'most 'cos it was plain to see that Bob Pretty
'ad been and bought them partridges just for to play a game on 'em.

"I was curious to know wot they tasted like," he ses to the policeman.
"Worst of it is, I don't s'pose my pore wife'll know 'ow to cook 'em."

"You get off 'ome," ses Policeman White, staring at 'im.

"But ain't I goin' to be locked up?"  ses Bob.  "'Ave I been brought all
this way just to 'ave a little chat with a policeman I don't like."

"You go 'ome," ses Policeman White, handing the partridges back to 'im.

"All right," ses Bob, "and I may 'ave to call you to witness that these
'ere two men laid hold o' me and tried to steal my partridges.  I shall
go up and see my loryer about it."

He walked off 'ome with his 'ead up as high as 'e could hold it, and the
airs 'e used to give 'imself arter this was terrible for to behold.  He
got 'is eldest boy to write a long letter to the squire about it, saying
that 'e'd overlook it this time, but 'e couldn't promise for the future.
Wot with Bob Pretty on one side and Squire Rockett on the other, them two
keepers' lives was 'ardly worth living.

Then the squire got a head-keeper named Cutts, a man as was said to know
more about the ways of poachers than they did themselves.  He was said to
'ave cleared out all the poachers for miles round the place 'e came from,
and pheasants could walk into people's cottages and not be touched.

He was a sharp-looking man, tall and thin, with screwed-up eyes and a
little red beard.  The second day 'e came 'e was up here at this 'ere
Cauliflower, having a pint o' beer and looking round at the chaps as he
talked to the landlord.  The odd thing was that men who'd never taken a
hare or a pheasant in their lives could 'ardly meet 'is eye, while Bob
Pretty stared at 'im as if 'e was a wax-works.

"I 'ear you 'ad a little poaching in these parts afore I came," ses Mr.
Cutts to the landlord.

"I think I 'ave 'eard something o' the kind," ses the landlord, staring
over his 'ead with a far-away look in 'is eyes.

"You won't hear of much more," ses the keeper.  "I've invented a new way
of catching the dirty rascals; afore I came 'ere I caught all the
poachers on three estates.  I clear 'em out just like a ferret clears
out rats."

"Sort o' man-trap?" ses the landlord.

"Ah, that's tellings," ses Mr. Cutts.

"Well, I 'ope you'll catch 'em here," ses Bob Pretty; "there's far too
many of 'em about for my liking.  Far too many."

"I shall 'ave 'em afore long," ses Mr. Cutts, nodding his 'ead.

[Illustration: "I shall 'ave 'em afore long,' ses Mr. Cutts."]

"Your good 'ealth," ses Bob Pretty, holding up 'is mug.  "We've been
wanting a man like you for a long time."

"I don't want any of your impidence, my man," ses the keeper.  "I've
'eard about you, and nothing good either.  You be careful."

"I am careful," ses Bob, winking at the others.  "I 'ope you'll catch all
them low poaching chaps; they give the place a bad name, and I'm a'most
afraid to go out arter dark for fear of meeting 'em."

Peter Gubbins and Sam Jones began to laugh, but Bob Pretty got angry with
'em and said he didn't see there was anything to laugh at.  He said that
poaching was a disgrace to their native place, and instead o' laughing
they ought to be thankful to Mr. Cutts for coming to do away with it all.

"Any help I can give you shall be given cheerful," he ses to the keeper.

"When I want your help I'll ask you for it," ses Mr. Cutts.

"Thankee," ses Bob Pretty.  "I on'y 'ope I sha'n't get my face knocked
about like yours 'as been, that's all; 'cos my wife's so partikler."

"Wot d'ye mean?"  ses Mr. Cutts, turning on him.  "My face ain't been
knocked about."

"Oh, I beg your pardin," ses Bob; "I didn't know it was natural."

Mr. Cutts went black in the face a'most and stared at Bob Pretty as if 'e
was going to eat 'im, and Bob stared back, looking fust at the keeper's
nose and then at 'is eyes and mouth, and then at 'is nose agin.

"You'll know me agin, I s'pose?" ses Mr. Cutts, at last.

"Yes," ses Bob, smiling; "I should know you a mile off--on the darkest
night."

"We shall see," ses Mr. Cutts, taking up 'is beer and turning 'is back on
him.  "Those of us as live the longest'll see the most."

"I'm glad I've lived long enough to see 'im," ses Bob to Bill Chambers.
"I feel more satisfied with myself now."

Bill Chambers coughed, and Mr. Cutts, arter finishing 'is beer, took
another look at Bob Pretty, and went off boiling a'most.

The trouble he took to catch Bob Pretty arter that you wouldn't believe,
and all the time the game seemed to be simply melting away, and Squire
Rockett was finding fault with 'im all day long.  He was worn to a
shadder a'most with watching, and Bob Pretty seemed to be more prosperous
than ever.

Sometimes Mr. Cutts watched in the plantations, and sometimes 'e hid
'imself near Bob's house, and at last one night, when 'e was crouching
behind the fence of Frederick Scott's front garden, 'e saw Bob Pretty
come out of 'is house and, arter a careful look round, walk up the road.
He held 'is breath as Bob passed 'im, and was just getting up to foller
'im when Bob stopped and walked slowly back agin, sniffing.

"Wot a delicious smell o' roses!"  he ses, out loud.

He stood in the middle o' the road nearly opposite where the keeper was
hiding, and sniffed so that you could ha' 'eard him the other end o' the
village.

"It can't be roses," he ses, in a puzzled voice, "be-cos there ain't no
roses hereabouts, and, besides, it's late for 'em.  It must be Mr. Cutts,
the clever new keeper."

He put his 'ead over the fence and bid 'im good evening, and said wot a
fine night for a stroll it was, and asked 'im whether 'e was waiting for
Frederick Scott's aunt.  Mr. Cutts didn't answer 'im a word; 'e was
pretty near bursting with passion.  He got up and shook 'is fist in Bob
Pretty's face, and then 'e went off stamping down the road as if 'e was
going mad.

And for a time Bob Pretty seemed to 'ave all the luck on 'is side.
Keeper Lewis got rheumatic fever, which 'e put down to sitting about
night arter night in damp places watching for Bob, and, while 'e was in
the thick of it, with the doctor going every day, Mr. Cutts fell in
getting over a fence and broke 'is leg.  Then all the work fell on Keeper
Smith, and to 'ear 'im talk you'd think that rheumatic fever and broken
legs was better than anything else in the world.  He asked the squire for
'elp, but the squire wouldn't give it to 'im, and he kept telling 'im wot
a feather in 'is cap it would be if 'e did wot the other two couldn't do,
and caught Bob Pretty.  It was all very well, but, as Smith said, wot 'e
wanted was feathers in 'is piller, instead of 'aving to snatch a bit o'
sleep in 'is chair or sitting down with his 'ead agin a tree.  When I
tell you that 'e fell asleep in this public-'ouse one night while the
landlord was drawing a pint o' beer he 'ad ordered, you'll know wot 'e
suffered.

O' course, all this suited Bob Pretty as well as could be, and 'e was
that good-tempered 'e'd got a nice word for everybody, and when Bill
Chambers told 'im 'e was foolhardy 'e only laughed and said 'e knew wot
'e was about.

But the very next night 'e had reason to remember Bill Chambers's words.
He was walking along Farmer Hall's field--the one next to the squire's
plantation--and, so far from being nervous, 'e was actually a-whistling.
He'd got a sack over 'is shoulder, loaded as full as it could be, and 'e
'ad just stopped to light 'is pipe when three men burst out o' the
plantation and ran toward 'im as 'ard as they could run.

[Illustration: "Three men burst out o' the plantation."]

Bob Pretty just gave one look and then 'e dropped 'is pipe and set off
like a hare.  It was no good dropping the sack, because Smith, the
keeper, 'ad recognised 'im and called 'im by name, so 'e just put 'is
teeth together and did the best he could, and there's no doubt that if it
'adn't ha' been for the sack 'e could 'ave got clear away.

As it was, 'e ran for pretty near a mile, and they could 'ear 'im
breathing like a pair o' bellows; but at last 'e saw that the game was
up.  He just man-aged to struggle as far as Farmer Pinnock's pond, and
then, waving the sack round his 'ead, 'e flung it into the middle of it,
and fell down gasping for breath.

"Got--you--this time--Bob Pretty," ses one o' the men, as they came up.

"Wot--Mr. Cutts?"  ses Bob, with a start.  "That's me, my man," ses the
keeper.

"Why--I thought--you was.  Is that Mr. Lewis?  It can't be."

"That's me," ses Keeper Lewis.  "We both got well sudden-like, Bob
Pretty, when we 'eard you was out.  You ain't so sharp as you thought you
was."

Bob Pretty sat still, getting 'is breath back and doing a bit o' thinking
at the same time.

"You give me a start," he ses, at last.  "I thought you was both in bed,
and, knowing 'ow hard worked Mr. Smith 'as been, I just came round to
'elp 'im keep watch like.  I promised to 'elp you, Mr. Cutts, if you
remember."

"Wot was that you threw in the pond just now?" ses Mr. Cutts.

"A sack," ses Bob Pretty; "a sack I found in Farmer Hall's field.  It
felt to me as though it might 'ave birds in it, so I picked it up, and I
was just on my way to your 'ouse with it, Mr. Cutts, when you started
arter me."

"Ah!" ses the keeper, "and wot did you run for?"

Bob Pretty tried to laugh.  "Becos I thought it was the poachers arter
me," he ses.  "It seems ridikilous, don't it?"

"Yes, it does," ses Lewis.

"I thought you'd know me a mile off," ses Mr. Cutts.  "I should ha'
thought the smell o' roses would ha' told you I was near."

Bob Pretty scratched 'is 'ead and looked at 'im out of the corner of 'is
eye, but he 'adn't got any answer.  Then 'e sat biting his finger-nails
and thinking while the keepers stood argyfying as to who should take 'is
clothes off and go into the pond arter the pheasants.  It was a very cold
night and the pond was pretty deep in places, and none of 'em seemed
anxious.

"Make 'im go in for it," ses Lewis, looking at Bob; "'e chucked it in."

"On'y Becos I thought you was poachers," ses Bob.  "I'm sorry to 'ave
caused so much trouble."

"Well, you go in and get it out," ses Lewis, who pretty well guessed
who'd 'ave to do it if Bob didn't.  "It'll look better for you, too."

"I've got my defence all right," ses Bob Pretty.  "I ain't set a foot on
the squire's preserves, and I found this sack a 'undred yards away from
it."

"Don't waste more time," ses Mr. Cutts to Lewis.

"Off with your clothes and in with you.  Anybody'd think you was afraid
of a little cold water."

"Whereabouts did 'e pitch it in?"  ses Lewis.

Bob Pretty pointed with 'is finger exactly where 'e thought it was, but
they wouldn't listen to 'im, and then Lewis, arter twice saying wot a bad
cold he'd got, took 'is coat off very slow and careful.

[Illustration: "Bob Pretty pointed with 'is finger exactly where 'e
thought it was."]

"I wouldn't mind going in to oblige you," ses Bob Pretty, "but the pond
is so full o' them cold, slimy efts; I don't fancy them crawling up agin
me, and, besides that, there's such a lot o' deep holes in it.  And
wotever you do don't put your 'ead under; you know 'ow foul that water
is."

Keeper Lewis pretended not to listen to 'im.  He took off 'is clothes
very slowly and then 'e put one foot in and stood shivering, although
Smith, who felt the water with his 'and, said it was quite warm.  Then
Lewis put the other foot in and began to walk about careful, 'arf-way up
to 'is knees.

"I can't find it," he ses, with 'is teeth chattering.

"You 'aven't looked," ses Mr. Cutts; "walk about more; you can't expect
to find it all at once.  Try the middle."

Lewis tried the middle, and 'e stood there up to 'is neck, feeling about
with his foot and saying things out loud about Bob Pretty, and other
things under 'is breath about Mr. Cutts.

"Well, I'm going off 'ome," ses Bob Pretty, getting up.  "I'm too
tender-'arted to stop and see a man drownded."

"You stay 'ere," ses Mr. Cutts, catching 'old of him.

"Wot for?" ses Bob; "you've got no right to keep me 'ere."

"Catch 'old of 'im, Joe," ses Mr. Cutts, quick-like.

Smith caught 'old of his other arm, and Lewis left off trying to find the
sack to watch the struggle.  Bob Pretty fought 'ard, and once or twice 'e
nearly tumbled Mr. Cutts into the pond, but at last 'e gave in and lay
down panting and talking about 'is loryer.  Smith 'eld him down on the
ground while Mr. Cutts kept pointing out places with 'is finger for Lewis
to walk to.  The last place 'e pointed to wanted a much taller man, but
it wasn't found out till too late, and the fuss Keeper Lewis made when 'e
could speak agin was terrible.

"You'd better come out," ses Mr. Cutts; "you ain't doing no good.  We
know where they are and we'll watch the pond till daylight--that is,
unless Smith 'ud like to 'ave a try."

"It's pretty near daylight now, I think," ses Smith.

Lewis came out and ran up and down to dry 'imself, and finished off on
'is pocket-'andkerchief, and then with 'is teeth chattering 'e began to
dress 'imself.  He got 'is shirt on, and then 'e stood turning over 'is
clothes as if 'e was looking for something.

"Never mind about your stud now," ses Mr. Cutts; "hurry up and dress."

"Stud?" ses Lewis, very snappish.  "I'm looking for my trowsis."

"Your trowsis?" ses Smith, 'elping 'im look.

"I put all my clothes together," ses Lewis, a'most shouting.  "Where are
they?  I'm 'arf perished with cold.  Where are they?"

"He 'ad 'em on this evening," ses Bob Pretty, "'cos I remember noticing
'em."

"They must be somewhere about," ses Mr. Cutts; "why don't you use your
eyes?"

He walked up and down, peering about, and as for Lewis he was 'opping
round 'arf crazy.

"I wonder," ses Bob Pretty, in a thoughtful voice, to Smith--"I wonder
whether you or Mr. Cutts kicked 'em in the pond while you was struggling
with me.  Come to think of it, I seem to remember 'earing a splash."

"He's done it, Mr. Cutts," ses Smith; "never mind, it'll go all the
'arder with 'im."

"But I do mind," ses Lewis, shouting.  "I'll be even with you for this,
Bob Pretty.  I'll make you feel it.  You wait till I've done with you.
You'll get a month extra for this, you see if you don't."

"Don't you mind about me," ses Bob; "you run off 'ome and cover up them
legs of yours.  I found that sack, so my conscience is clear."

Lewis put on 'is coat and waistcoat and set off, and Mr. Cutts and Smith,
arter feeling about for a dry place, set theirselves down and began to
smoke.

"Look 'ere," ses Bob Pretty, "I'm not going to sit 'ere all night to
please you; I'm going off 'ome.  If you want me you'll know where to find
me."

"You stay where you are," ses Mr. Cutts.  "We ain't going to let you out
of our sight."

"Very well, then, you take me 'ome," ses Bob.  "I'm not going to catch my
death o' cold sitting 'ere.  I'm not used to being out of a night like
you are.  I was brought up respectable."

"I dare say," ses Mr. Cutts.  "Take you 'ome, and then 'ave one o' your
mates come and get the sack while we're away."

Then Bob Pretty lost 'is temper, and the things 'e said about Mr. Cutts
wasn't fit for Smith to 'ear.  He threw 'imself down at last full length
on the ground and sulked till the day broke.

Keeper Lewis was there a'most as soon as it was light, with some long
hay-rakes he'd borrowed, and I should think that pretty near 'arf the
folks in Clay-bury 'ad turned up to see the fun.  Mrs. Pretty was crying
and wringing 'er 'ands; but most folks seemed to be rather pleased that
Bob 'ad been caught at last.

In next to no time 'arf-a-dozen rakes was at work, and the things they
brought out o' that pond you wouldn't believe.  The edge of it was all
littered with rusty tin pails and saucepans and such-like, and by-and-by
Lewis found the things he'd 'ad to go 'ome without a few hours afore, but
they didn't seem to find that sack, and Bob Pretty, wot was talking to
'is wife, began to look 'opeful.

But just then the squire came riding up with two friends as was staying
with 'im, and he offered a reward of five shillings to the man wot found
it.  Three or four of 'em waded in up to their middle then and raked
their 'ardest, and at last Henery Walker give a cheer and brought it to
the side, all heavy with water.

"That's the sack I found, sir," ses Bob, starting up.  "It wasn't on your
land at all, but on the field next to it.  I'm an honest, 'ardworking
man, and I've never been in trouble afore.  Ask anybody 'ere and they'll
tell you the same."

Squire Rockett took no notice of 'im.  "Is that the sack?"  he asks,
turning to Mr. Cutts.

"That's the one, sir," ses Mr. Cutts.  "I'd swear to it anywhere."

"You'd swear a man's life away," ses Bob.  "'Ow can you swear to it when
it was dark?"

Mr. Cutts didn't answer 'im.  He went down on 'is knees and cut the
string that tied up the mouth o' the sack, and then 'e started back as if
'e'd been shot, and 'is eyes a'most started out of 'is 'ead.

"Wot's the matter?" ses the squire.

Mr. Cutts couldn't speak; he could only stutter and point at the sack
with 'is finger, and Henery Walker, as was getting curious, lifted up the
other end of it and out rolled a score of as fine cabbages as you could
wish to see.

I never see people so astonished afore in all my born days, and as for
Bob Pretty, 'e stood staring at them cabbages as if 'e couldn't believe
'is eyesight.

"And that's wot I've been kept 'ere all night for," he ses, at last,
shaking his 'ead.  "That's wot comes o' trying to do a kindness to
keepers, and 'elping of 'em in their difficult work.  P'r'aps that ain't
the sack arter all, Mr. Cutts.  I could ha' sworn they was pheasants in
the one I found, but I may be mistook, never 'aving 'ad one in my 'ands
afore.  Or p'r'aps somebody was trying to 'ave a game with you, Mr.
Cutts, and deceived me instead."

The keepers on'y stared at 'im.

"You ought to be more careful," ses Bob.  "Very likely while you was
taking all that trouble over me, and Keeper Lewis was catching 'is death
o' cold, the poachers was up at the plantation taking all they wanted.
And, besides, it ain't right for Squire Rockett to 'ave to pay Henery
Walker five shillings for finding a lot of old cabbages.  I shouldn't
like it myself."

[Illustration: "You ought to be more careful," ses Bob.]

He looked out of the corner of 'is eye at the squire, as was pretending
not to notice Henery Walker touching 'is cap to him, and then 'e turns to
'is wife and he ses:

"Come along, old gal," 'e ses.  "I want my breakfast bad, and arter that
I shall 'ave to lose a honest day's work in bed."





DIXON'S RETURN

Talking about eddication, said the night-watchman, thoughtfully, the
finest eddication you can give a lad is to send 'im to sea.  School is
all right up to a certain p'int, but arter that comes the sea.  I've been
there myself and I know wot I'm talking about.  All that I am I owe to
'aving been to sea.

[Illustration: "Talking about eddication, said the night-watchman."]

There's a saying that boys will be boys.  That's all right till they go
to sea, and then they 'ave to be men, and good men too.  They get knocked
about a bit, o' course, but that's all part o' the eddication, and when
they get bigger they pass the eddication they've received on to other
boys smaller than wot they are.  Arter I'd been at sea a year I spent all
my fust time ashore going round and looking for boys wot 'ad knocked me
about afore I sailed, and there was only one out o' the whole lot that I
wished I 'adn't found.

Most people, o' course, go to sea as boys or else not at all, but I mind
one chap as was pretty near thirty years old when 'e started.  It's a
good many years ago now, and he was landlord of a public-'ouse as used to
stand in Wapping, called the Blue Lion.

His mother, wot had 'ad the pub afore 'im, 'ad brought 'im up very quiet
and genteel, and when she died 'e went and married a fine, handsome young
woman who 'ad got her eye on the pub without thinking much about 'im.  I
got to know about it through knowing the servant that lived there.  A
nice, quiet gal she was, and there wasn't much went on that she didn't
hear.  I've known 'er to cry for hours with the ear-ache, pore gal.

Not caring much for 'er 'usband, and being spoiled by 'im into the
bargain, Mrs. Dixon soon began to lead 'im a terrible life.  She was
always throwing his meekness and mildness up into 'is face, and arter
they 'ad been married two or three years he was no more like the landlord
o' that public-'ouse than I'm like a lord.  Not so much.  She used to get
into such terrible tempers there was no doing anything with 'er, and for
the sake o' peace and quietness he gave way to 'er till 'e got into the
habit of it and couldn't break 'imself of it.

They 'adn't been married long afore she 'ad her cousin, Charlie Burge,
come in as barman, and a month or two arter that 'is brother Bob, who 'ad
been spending a lot o' time looking for work instead o' doing it, came
too.  They was so comfortable there that their father--a 'ouse-painter by
trade--came round to see whether he couldn't paint the Blue Lion up a bit
and make 'em look smart, so that they'd get more trade.  He was one o'
these 'ere fust-class 'ousepainters that can go to sleep on a ladder
holding a brush in one hand and a pot o' paint in the other, and by the
time he 'ad finished painting the 'ouse it was ready to be done all over
agin.

I dare say that George Dixon--that was 'is name--wouldn't ha' minded so
much if 'is wife 'ad only been civil, but instead o' that she used to
make fun of 'im and order 'im about, and by-and-by the others began to
try the same thing.  As I said afore, Dixon was a very quiet man, and if
there was ever anybody to be put outside Charlie or Bob used to do it.
They tried to put me outside once, the two of 'em, but they on'y did it
at last by telling me that somebody 'ad gone off and left a pot o' beer
standing on the pavement.  They was both of 'em fairly strong young chaps
with a lot of bounce in 'em, and she used to say to her 'usband wot fine
young fellers they was, and wot a pity it was he wasn't like 'em.

Talk like this used to upset George Dixon awful.  Having been brought up
careful by 'is mother, and keeping a very quiet, respectable 'ouse--I
used it myself--he cert'nly was soft, and I remember 'im telling me once
that he didn't believe in fighting, and that instead of hitting people
you ought to try and persuade them.  He was uncommon fond of 'is wife,
but at last one day, arter she 'ad made a laughing-stock of 'im in the
bar, he up and spoke sharp to her.

"Wot?" ses Mrs. Dixon, 'ardly able to believe her ears.

"Remember who you're speaking to; that's wot I said," ses Dixon.

"'Ow dare you talk to me like that?"  screams 'is wife, turning red with
rage.  "Wot d'ye mean by it?"

"Because you seem to forget who is master 'ere," ses Dixon, in a
trembling voice.

"Master?" she ses, firing up.  "I'll soon show you who's master.  Go out
o' my bar; I won't 'ave you in it.  D'ye 'ear?  Go out of it."

Dixon turned away and began to serve a customer.  "D'ye hear wot I say?"
ses Mrs. Dixon, stamping 'er foot.  "Go out o' my bar.  Here, Charlie!"

"Hullo!" ses 'er cousin, who 'ad been standing looking on and grinning.

"Take the master and put 'im into the parlour," ses Mrs. Dixon, "and
don't let 'im come out till he's begged my pardon."

"Go on," ses Charlie, brushing up 'is shirt-sleeves; "in you go.  You
'ear wot she said."

He caught 'old of George Dixon, who 'ad just turned to the back o' the
bar to give a customer change out of 'arf a crown, and ran 'im kicking
and struggling into the parlour.  George gave 'im a silly little punch in
the chest, and got such a bang on the 'ead back that at fust he thought
it was knocked off.

When 'e came to 'is senses agin the door leading to the bar was shut, and
'is wife's uncle, who 'ad been asleep in the easy-chair, was finding
fault with 'im for waking 'im up.

"Why can't you be quiet and peaceable?"  he ses, shaking his 'ead at him.
"I've been 'ard at work all the morning thinking wot colour to paint the
back-door, and this is the second time I've been woke up since dinner.
You're old enough to know better."

"Go and sleep somewhere else, then," ses Dixon.  "I don't want you 'ere
at all, or your boys neither.  Go and give somebody else a treat; I've
'ad enough of the whole pack of you."

[Illustration: "'Go and sleep somewhere else, then,' ses Dixon."]

He sat down and put 'is feet in the fender, and old Burge, as soon as he
'ad got 'is senses back, went into the bar and complained to 'is niece,
and she came into the parlour like a thunderstorm.

"You'll beg my uncle's pardon as well as mine afore you come out o' that
room," she said to her 'usband; "mind that."

George Dixon didn't say a word; the shame of it was a'most more than 'e
could stand.  Then 'e got up to go out o' the parlour and Charlie pushed
'im back agin.  Three times he tried, and then 'e stood up and looked at
'is wife.

"I've been a good 'usband to you," he ses; "but there's no satisfying
you.  You ought to ha' married somebody that would ha' knocked you about,
and then you'd ha' been happy.  I'm too fond of a quiet life to suit
you."

"Are you going to beg my pardon and my uncle's pardon?" ses 'is wife,
stamping 'er foot.

"No," ses Dixon; "I am not.  I'm surprised at you asking it."

"Well, you don't come out o' this room till you do," ses 'is wife.

"That won't hurt me," ses Dixon.  "I couldn't look anybody in the face
arter being pushed out o' my own bar."

They kept 'im there all the rest o' the day, and, as 'e was still
obstinate when bedtime came, Mrs. Dixon, who wasn't to be beat, brought
down some bedclothes and 'ad a bed made up for 'im on the sofa.  Some men
would ha' 'ad the police in for less than that, but George Dixon 'ad got
a great deal o' pride and 'e couldn't bear the shame of it.  Instead o'
that 'e acted like a fourteen-year-old boy and ran away to sea.

They found 'im gone when they came down in the morning, and the side-door
on the latch.  He 'ad left a letter for 'is wife on the table, telling
'er wot he 'ad done.  Short and sweet it was, and wound up with telling
'er to be careful that her uncle and cousins didn't eat 'er out of house
and 'ome.

She got another letter two days arterward, saying that he 'ad shipped as
ordinary seaman on an American barque called the _Seabird,_ bound for
California, and that 'e expected to be away a year, or thereabouts.

"It'll do 'im good," ses old Burge, when Mrs. Dixon read the letter to
'em.  "It's a 'ard life is the sea, and he'll appreciate his 'ome when 'e
comes back to it agin.  He don't know when 'e's well off.  It's as
comfortable a 'ome as a man could wish to 'ave."  It was surprising wot a
little difference George Dixon's being away made to the Blue Lion.
Nobody seemed to miss 'im much, and things went on just the same as afore
he went.  Mrs. Dixon was all right with most people, and 'er relations
'ad a very good time of it; old Burge began to put on flesh at such a
rate that the sight of a ladder made 'im ill a'most, and Charlie and Bob
went about as if the place belonged to 'em.

They 'eard nothing for eight months, and then a letter came for Mrs.
Dixon from her 'usband in which he said that 'e had left the _Seabird_
after 'aving had a time which made 'im shiver to think of.  He said that
the men was the roughest of the rough and the officers was worse, and
that he 'ad hardly 'ad a day without a blow from one or the other since
he'd been aboard.  He'd been knocked down with a hand-spike by the second
mate, and had 'ad a week in his bunk with a kick given 'im by the
boatswain.  He said 'e was now on the _Rochester Castle,_ bound for
Sydney, and he 'oped for better times.

That was all they 'eard for some months, and then they got another letter
saying that the men on the _Rochester Castle_ was, if anything, worse
than those on the Seabird, and that he'd begun to think that running away
to sea was diff'rent to wot he'd expected, and that he supposed 'e'd done
it too late in life.  He sent 'is love to 'is wife and asked 'er as a
favour to send Uncle Burge and 'is boys away, as 'e didn't want to find
them there when 'e came home, because they was the cause of all his
sufferings.

"He don't know 'is best friends," ses old Burge.  "'E's got a nasty
sperrit I don't like to see."

"I'll 'ave a word with 'im when 'e does come home," ses Bob.  "I s'pose
he thinks 'imself safe writing letters thousands o' miles away."

The last letter they 'ad came from Auckland, and said that he 'ad shipped
on the _Monarch,_ bound for the Albert Docks, and he 'oped soon to be at
'ome and managing the Blue Lion, same as in the old happy days afore he
was fool enough to go to sea.

That was the very last letter, and some time arterward the _Monarch_ was
in the missing list, and by-and-by it became known that she 'ad gone down
with all hands not long arter leaving New Zealand.  The only difference
it made at the Blue Lion was that Mrs. Dixon 'ad two of 'er dresses dyed
black, and the others wore black neckties for a fortnight and spoke of
Dixon as pore George, and said it was a funny world, but they supposed
everything was for the best.

It must ha' been pretty near four years since George Dixon 'ad run off to
sea when Charlie, who was sitting in the bar one arternoon reading the
paper, things being dull, saw a man's head peep through the door for a
minute and then disappear.  A'most direckly arterward it looked in at
another door and then disappeared agin.  When it looked in at the third
door Charlie 'ad put down 'is paper and was ready for it.

"Who are you looking for?" he ses, rather sharp.  "Wot d'ye want?  Are
you 'aving a game of peepbo, or wot?"

The man coughed and smiled, and then 'e pushed the door open gently and
came in, and stood there fingering 'is beard as though 'e didn't know wot
to say.

"I've come back, Charlie," he ses at last.

"Wot, George!"  ses Charlie, starting.  "Why, I didn't know you in that
beard.  We all thought you was dead, years ago."

"I was pretty nearly, Charlie," ses Dixon, shaking his 'ead.  "Ah! I've
'ad a terrible time since I left 'once."

"'You don't seem to ha' made your fortune," ses Charlie, looking down at
'is clothes.  "I'd ha' been ashamed to come 'ome like that if it 'ad been
me."

"I'm wore out," ses Dixon, leaning agin the bar.  "I've got no pride
left; it's all been knocked out of me.  How's Julia?"

"She's all right," ses Charlie.  "Here, Ju--"

"H'sh!" ses Dixon, reaching over the bar and laying his 'and on his arm.
"Don't let 'er know too sudden; break it to 'er gently."

"Fiddlesticks!"  ses Charlie, throwing his 'and off and calling, "Here,
Julia!  He's come back."

Mrs. Dixon came running downstairs and into the bar.  "Good gracious!"
she ses, staring at her 'us-band.  "Whoever'd ha' thought o' seeing you
agin?  Where 'ave you sprung from?"

"Ain't you glad to see me, Julia?"  ses George Dixon.

"Yes, I s'pose so; if you've come back to behave yourself," ses Mrs.
Dixon.  "What 'ave you got to say for yourself for running away and then
writing them letters, telling me to get rid of my relations?"

"That's a long time ago, Julia," ses Dixon, raising the flap in the
counter and going into the bar.  "I've gone through a great deal o'
suffering since then.  I've been knocked about till I 'adn't got any
feeling left in me; I've been shipwrecked, and I've 'ad to fight for my
life with savages."

"Nobody asked you to run away," ses his wife, edging away as he went to
put his arm round 'er waist.  "You'd better go upstairs and put on some
decent clothes."

[Illustration: "You'd better go upstairs and put on some decent
clothes."]

Dixon looked at 'er for a moment and then he 'ung his 'ead.

"I've been thinking o' you and of seeing you agin every day since I went
away, Julia," he ses.  "You'd be the same to me if you was dressed in
rags."

He went upstairs without another word, and old Burge, who was coming
down, came down five of 'em at once owing to Dixon speaking to 'im afore
he knew who 'e was.  The old man was still grumbling when Dixon came down
agin, and said he believed he'd done it a-purpose.

"You run away from a good 'ome," he ses, "and the best wife in Wapping,
and you come back and frighten people 'arf out o' their lives.  I never
see such a feller in all my born days."

"I was so glad to get 'ome agin I didn't think," ses Dixon.  "I hope
you're not 'urt."

He started telling them all about his 'ardships while they were at tea,
but none of 'em seemed to care much about hearing 'em.  Bob said that the
sea was all right for men, and that other people were sure not to like
it.

"And you brought it all on yourself," ses Charlie.  "You've only got
yourself to thank for it.  I 'ad thought o' picking a bone with you over
those letters you wrote."

"Let's 'ope 'e's come back more sensible than wot 'e was when 'e went
away," ses old Burge, with 'is mouth full o' toast.

By the time he'd been back a couple o' days George Dixon could see that
'is going away 'adn't done any good at all.  Nobody seemed to take any
notice of 'im or wot he said, and at last, arter a word or two with
Charlie about the rough way he spoke to some o' the customers, Charlie
came in to Mrs. Dixon and said that he was at 'is old tricks of
interfering, and he would not 'ave it.

"Well, he'd better keep out o' the bar altogether," ses Mrs. Dixon.
"There's no need for 'im to go there; we managed all right while 'e was
away."

"Do you mean I'm not to go into my own bar?" ses Dixon, stammering.

"Yes, I do," ses Mrs. Dixon.  "You kept out of it for four years to
please yourself, and now you can keep out of it to please me."

"I've put you out o' the bar before," ses Charlie, "and if you come
messing about with me any more I'll do it agin.  So now you know."

He walked back into the bar whistling, and George Dixon, arter sitting
still for a long time thinking, got up and went into the bar, and he'd
'ardly got his foot inside afore Charlie caught 'old of 'im by the
shoulder and shoved 'im back into the parlour agin.

"I told you wot it would be," ses Mrs. Dixon, looking up from 'er sewing.
"You've only got your interfering ways to thank for it."

"This is a fine state of affairs in my own 'ouse," ses Dixon, 'ardly able
to speak.  "You've got no proper feeling for your husband, Julia, else
you wouldn't allow it.  Why, I was happier at sea than wot I am 'ere."

"Well, you'd better go back to it if you're so fond of it," ses 'is wife.

"I think I 'ad," ses Dixon.  "If I can't be master in my own 'ouse I'm
better at sea, hard as it is.  You must choose between us, Julia--me or
your relations.  I won't sleep under the same roof as them for another
night.  Am I to go?"

"Please yourself," ses 'is wife.  "I don't mind your staying 'ere so long
as you behave yourself, but the others won't go; you can make your mind
easy on that."

"I'll go and look for another ship, then," ses Dixon, taking up 'is cap.
"I'm not wanted here.  P'r'aps you wouldn't mind 'aving some clothes
packed into a chest for me so as I can go away decent."

He looked round at 'is wife, as though 'e expected she'd ask 'im not to
go, but she took no notice, and he opened the door softly and went out,
while old Burge, who 'ad come into the room and 'eard what he was saying,
trotted off upstairs to pack 'is chest for 'im.

In two hours 'e was back agin and more cheerful than he 'ad been since he
'ad come 'ome.  Bob was in the bar and the others were just sitting down
to tea, and a big chest, nicely corded, stood on the floor in the corner
of the room.

"That's right," he ses, looking at it; "that's just wot I wanted."

"It's as full as it can be," ses old Burge.  "I done it for you myself.
'Ave you got a ship?"

"I 'ave," ses Dixon.  "A jolly good ship.  No more hardships for me this
time.  I've got a berth as captain."

"Wot?" ses 'is wife.  "Captain?  You!"

"Yes," ses Dixon, smiling at her.  "You can sail with me if you like."

"Thankee," ses Mrs. Dixon, "I'm quite comfortable where I am."

"Do you mean to say you've got a master's berth?" ses Charlie, staring at
'im.

"I do," ses Dixon; "master and owner."

Charlie coughed.  "Wot's the name of the ship?"  he asks, winking at the
others.

"The BLUE LION," ses Dixon, in a voice that made 'em all start.  "I'm
shipping a new crew and I pay off the old one to-night.  You first, my
lad."

"Pay off," ses Charlie, leaning back in 'is chair and staring at 'im in a
puzzled way.  "Blue Lion?"

"Yes," ses Dixon, in the same loud voice.  "When I came 'ome the other
day I thought p'r'aps I'd let bygones be bygones, and I laid low for a
bit to see whether any of you deserved it.  I went to sea to get
hardened--and I got hard.  I've fought men that would eat you at a meal.
I've 'ad more blows in a week than you've 'ad in a lifetime, you
fat-faced land-lubber."

He walked to the door leading to the bar, where Bob was doing 'is best to
serve customers and listen at the same time, and arter locking it put the
key in 'is pocket.  Then 'e put his 'and in 'is pocket and slapped some
money down on the table in front o' Charlie.

"There's a month's pay instead o' notice," he ses.  "Now git."

"George!" screams 'is wife.  "'Ow dare you?  'Ave you gone crazy?"

"I'm surprised at you," ses old Burge, who'd been looking on with 'is
mouth wide open, and pinching 'imself to see whether 'e wasn't dreaming.

"I don't go for your orders," ses Charlie, getting up.  "Wot d'ye mean by
locking that door?"

"Wot!" roars Dixon.  "Hang it!  I mustn't lock a door without asking my
barman now.  Pack up and be off, you swab, afore I start on you."

Charlie gave a growl and rushed at 'im, and the next moment 'e was down
on the floor with the 'ardest bang in the face that he'd ever 'ad in 'is
life.  Mrs. Dixon screamed and ran into the kitchen, follered by old
Burge, who went in to tell 'er not to be frightened.  Charlie got up and
went for Dixon agin; but he 'ad come back as 'ard as nails and 'ad a
rushing style o' fighting that took Charlie's breath away.  By the time
Bob 'ad left the bar to take care of itself, and run round and got in the
back way, Charlie had 'ad as much as 'e wanted and was lying on the
sea-chest in the corner trying to get 'is breath.

[Illustration: "Charlie had 'ad as much as 'e wanted and was lying on the
sea-chest."]

"Yes?  Wot d'ye want?"  ses Dixon, with a growl, as Bob came in at the
door.

He was such a 'orrible figure, with the blood on 'is face and 'is beard
sticking out all ways, that Bob, instead of doing wot he 'ad come round
for, stood in the doorway staring at 'im without a word.

"I'm paying off," ses Dixon.  "'Ave you got any-thing to say agin it?"

"No," ses Bob, drawing back.

"You and Charlie'll go now," ses Dixon, taking out some money.  "The old
man can stay on for a month to give 'im time to look round.  Don't look
at me that way, else I'll knock your 'ead off."

He started counting out Bob's money just as old Burge and Mrs. Dixon,
hearing all quiet, came in out of the kitchen.

"Don't you be alarmed on my account, my dear," he ses, turning to 'is
wife; "it's child's play to wot I've been used to.  I'll just see these
two mistaken young fellers off the premises, and then we'll 'ave a cup o'
tea while the old man minds the bar."

Mrs. Dixon tried to speak, but 'er temper was too much for 'er.  She
looked from her 'usband to Charlie and Bob and then back at 'im agin and
caught 'er breath.

"That's right," ses Dixon, nodding his 'ead at her.  "I'm master and
owner of the Blue Lion and you're first mate.  When I'm speaking you keep
quiet; that's dissipline."


I was in that bar about three months arterward, and I never saw such
a change in any woman as there was in Mrs. Dixon.  Of all the
nice-mannered, soft-spoken landladies I've ever seen, she was the best,
and on'y to 'ear the way she answered her 'usband when he spoke to 'er
was a pleasure to every married man in the bar.

[Illustration: "The way she answered her 'usband was a pleasure to every
married man in the bar."]





A SPIRIT OF AVARICE


Mr. John Blows stood listening to the foreman with an air of lofty
disdain.  He was a free-born Englishman, and yet he had been summarily
paid off at eleven o'clock in the morning and told that his valuable
services would no longer be required.  More than that, the foreman had
passed certain strictures upon his features which, however true they
might be, were quite irrelevant to the fact that Mr. Blows had been
discovered slumbering in a shed when he should have been laying bricks.

[Illustration: "Mr. John Blows stood listening to the foreman with an air
of lofty disdain."]

"Take your ugly face off these 'ere works," said the foreman; "take it
'ome and bury it in the back-yard.  Anybody'll be glad to lend you a
spade."

Mr. Blows, in a somewhat fluent reply, reflected severely on the
foreman's immediate ancestors, and the strange lack of good-feeling and
public spirit they had exhibited by allowing him to grow up.

"Take it 'ome and bury it," said the foreman again.  "Not under any
plants you've got a liking for."

"I suppose," said Mr. Blows, still referring to his foe's parents, and
now endeavouring to make excuses for them--"I s'pose they was so pleased,
and so surprised when they found that you was a 'uman being, that they
didn't mind anything else."

He walked off with his head in the air, and the other men, who had
partially suspended work to listen, resumed their labours.  A modest pint
at the Rising Sun revived his drooping spirits, and he walked home
thinking of several things which he might have said to the foreman if he
had only thought of them in time.

He paused at the open door of his house and, looking in, sniffed at the
smell of mottled soap and dirty water which pervaded it.  The stairs were
wet, and a pail stood in the narrow passage.  From the kitchen came the
sounds of crying children and a scolding mother.  Master Joseph Henry
Blows, aged three, was "holding his breath," and the family were all
aghast at the length of his performance.  He re-covered it as his father
entered the room, and drowned, without distressing himself, the impotent
efforts of the others.  Mrs. Blows turned upon her husband a look of hot
inquiry.

"I've got the chuck," he said, surlily.

"What, again?" said the unfortunate woman.  "Yes, again," repeated her
husband.

Mrs. Blows turned away, and dropping into a chair threw her apron over
her head and burst into discordant weeping.  Two little Blows, who had
ceased their outcries, resumed them again from sheer sympathy.

"Stop it," yelled the indignant Mr. Blows; "stop it at once; d'ye hear?"

"I wish I'd never seen you," sobbed his wife from behind her apron.  "Of
all the lazy, idle, drunken, good-for-nothing----"

"Go on," said Mr. Blows, grimly.

"You're more trouble than you're worth," declared Mrs. Blows.  "Look at
your father, my dears," she continued, taking the apron away from her
face; "take a good look at him, and mind you don't grow up like it."

Mr. Blows met the combined gaze of his innocent offspring with a dark
scowl, and then fell to moodily walking up and down the passage until he
fell over the pail.  At that his mood changed, and, turning fiercely, he
kicked that useful article up and down the passage until he was tired.

"I've 'ad enough of it," he muttered.  He stopped at the kitchen-door
and, putting his hand in his pocket, threw a handful of change on to the
floor and swung out of the house.

Another pint of beer confirmed him in his resolution.  He would go far
away and make a fresh start in the world.  The morning was bright and the
air fresh, and a pleasant sense of freedom and adventure possessed his
soul as he walked.  At a swinging pace he soon left Gravelton behind him,
and, coming to the river, sat down to smoke a final pipe before turning
his back forever on a town which had treated him so badly.

The river murmured agreeably and the rushes stirred softly in the breeze;
Mr. Blows, who could fall asleep on an upturned pail, succumbed to the
influence at once; the pipe dropped from his mouth and he snored
peacefully.

He was awakened by a choking scream, and, starting up hastily, looked
about for the cause.  Then in the water he saw the little white face of
Billy Clements, and wading in up to his middle he reached out and,
catching the child by the hair, drew him to the bank and set him on his
feet.  Still screaming with terror, Billy threw up some of the water he
had swallowed, and without turning his head made off in the direction of
home, calling piteously upon his mother.

Mr. Blows, shivering on the bank, watched him out of sight, and, missing
his cap, was just in time to see that friend of several seasons slowly
sinking in the middle of the river.  He squeezed the water from his
trousers and, crossing the bridge, set off across the meadows.


His self-imposed term of bachelorhood lasted just three months, at the
end of which time he made up his mind to enact the part of the generous
husband and forgive his wife everything.  He would not go into details,
but issue one big, magnanimous pardon.

Full of these lofty ideas he set off in the direction of home again.  It
was a three-days' tramp, and the evening of the third day saw him but a
bare two miles from home.  He clambered up the bank at the side of the
road and, sprawling at his ease, smoked quietly in the moonlight.

A waggon piled up with straw came jolting and creaking toward him.  The
driver sat dozing on the shafts, and Mr. Blows smiled pleasantly as he
recognised the first face of a friend he had seen for three months.  He
thrust his pipe in his pocket and, rising to his feet, clambered on to
the back of the waggon, and lying face downward on the straw peered down
at the unconscious driver below.

"I'll give old Joe a surprise," he said to himself.  "He'll be the first
to welcome me back."

"Joe," he said, softly.  "'Ow goes it, old pal?"

Mr. Joe Carter, still dozing, opened his eyes at the sound of his name
and looked round; then, coming to the conclusion that he had been
dreaming, closed them again.

"I'm a-looking at you, Joe," said Mr. Blows, waggishly.  "I can see you."

Mr. Carter looked up sharply and, catching sight of the grinning features
of Mr. Blows protruding over the edge of the straw, threw up his arms
with a piercing shriek and fell off the shafts on to the road.  The
astounded Mr. Blows, raising himself on his hands, saw him pick himself
up and, giving vent to a series of fearsome yelps, run clumsily back
along the road.

"Joe!" shouted Mr. Blows.  "J-o-o-oE!"

[Illustration: "'Joe!' shouted Mr. Blows.  'J-o-o-OE!'"]

Mr. Carter put his hands to his ears and ran on blindly, while his
friend, sitting on the top of the straw, regarded his proceedings with
mixed feelings of surprise and indignation.

"It can't be that tanner 'e owes me," he mused, "and yet I don't know
what else it can be.  I never see a man so jumpy."

He continued to speculate while the old horse, undisturbed by the
driver's absence, placidly continued its journey.  A mile farther,
however, he got down to take the short cut by the fields.

"If Joe can't look after his 'orse and cart," he said, primly, as he
watched it along the road, "it's not my business."

The footpath was not much used at that time of night, and he only met one
man.  They were in the shadow of the trees which fringed the new cemetery
as they passed, and both peered.  The stranger was satisfied first and,
to Mr. Blows's growing indignation, first gave a leap backward which
would not have disgraced an acrobat, and then made off across the field
with hideous outcries.

"If I get 'old of some of you," said the offended Mr. Blows, "I'll give
you something to holler for."

He pursued his way grumbling, and insensibly slackened his pace as he
drew near home.  A remnant of conscience which had stuck to him without
encouragement for thirty-five years persisted in suggesting that he had
behaved badly.  It also made a few ill-bred inquiries as to how his wife
and children had subsisted for the last three months.  He stood outside
the house for a short space, and then, opening the door softly, walked
in.

The kitchen-door stood open, and his wife in a black dress sat sewing by
the light of a smoky lamp.  She looked up as she heard his footsteps, and
then, without a word, slid from the chair full length to the floor.

"Go on," said Mr. Blows, bitterly; "keep it up.  Don't mind me."

Mrs. Blows paid no heed; her face was white and her eyes were closed.
Her husband, with a dawning perception of the state of affairs, drew a
mug of water from the tap and flung it over her.  She opened her eyes and
gave a faint scream, and then, scrambling to her feet, tottered toward
him and sobbed on his breast.

"There, there," said Mr. Blows.  "Don't take on; I forgive you."

"Oh, John," said his wife, sobbing convulsively, "I thought you was dead.
I thought you was dead.  It's only a fortnight ago since we buried you!"

"Buried me?"  said the startled Mr. Blows.  "Buried me?"

"I shall wake up and find I'm dreaming," wailed Mrs. Blows; "I know I
shall.  I'm always dreaming that you're not dead.  Night before last I
dreamt that you was alive, and I woke up sobbing as if my 'art would
break."

"Sobbing?" said Mr. Blows, with a scowl.  "For joy, John," explained his
wife.

Mr. Blows was about to ask for a further explanation of the mystery when
he stopped, and regarded with much interest a fair-sized cask which stood
in one corner.

"A cask o' beer," he said, staring, as he took a glass from the dresser
and crossed over to it.  "You don't seem to 'ave taken much 'arm during
my--my going after work."

"We 'ad it for the funeral, John," said his wife; "leastways, we 'ad two;
this is the second."

Mr. Blows, who had filled the glass, set it down on the table untasted;
things seemed a trifle uncanny.

"Go on," said Mrs. Blows; "you've got more right to it than anybody else.
Fancy 'aving you here drinking up the beer for your own funeral."

"I don't understand what you're a-driving at," retorted Mr. Blows,
drinking somewhat gingerly from the glass.  "'Ow could there be a funeral
without me?"

"It's all a mistake," said the overjoyed Mrs. Blows; "we must have buried
somebody else.  But such a funeral, John; you would ha' been proud if you
could ha' seen it.  All Gravelton followed, nearly.  There was the boys'
drum and fife band, and the Ancient Order of Camels, what you used to
belong to, turned out with their brass band and banners--all the people
marching four abreast and sometimes five."

Mr. Blows's face softened; he had no idea that he had established himself
so firmly in the affections of his fellow-townsmen.

"Four mourning carriages," continued his wife, "and the--the hearse, all
covered in flowers so that you couldn't see it 'ardly.  One wreath cost
two pounds."

Mr. Blows endeavoured to conceal his gratification beneath a mask of
surliness.  "Waste o' money," he growled, and stooping to the cask drew
himself an-other glass of beer.

"Some o' the gentry sent their carriages to follow," said Mrs. Blows,
sitting down and clasping her hands in her lap.

"I know one or two that 'ad a liking for me," said Mr. Blows, almost
blushing.

"And to think that it's all a mistake," continued his wife.  "But I
thought it was you; it was dressed like you, and your cap was found near
it."

"H'm," said Mr. Blows; "a pretty mess you've been and made of it.  Here's
people been giving two pounds for wreaths and turning up with brass bands
and banners because they thought it was me, and it's all been wasted."

"It wasn't my fault," said his wife.  "Little Billy Clements came running
'ome the day you went away and said 'e'd fallen in the water, and you'd
gone in and pulled 'im out.  He said 'e thought you was drownded, and
when you didn't come 'ome I naturally thought so too.  What else could I
think?"

Mr. Blows coughed, and holding his glass up to the light regarded it with
a preoccupied air.

"They dragged the river," resumed his wife, "and found the cap, but they
didn't find the body till nine weeks afterward.  There was a inquest at
the Peal o' Bells, and I identified you, and all that grand funeral was
because they thought you'd lost your life saving little Billy.  They said
you was a hero."

[Illustration: "'They dragged the river,' resumed his wife, 'and found
the cap.'"]

"You've made a nice mess of it," repeated Mr. Blows.

"The rector preached the sermon," continued his wife; "a beautiful sermon
it was, too.  I wish you'd been there to hear it; I should 'ave enjoyed
it ever so much better.  He said that nobody was more surprised than what
'e was at your doing such a thing, and that it only showed 'ow little we
knowed our fellow-creatures.  He said that it proved there was good in
all of us if we only gave it a chance to come out."

Mr. Blows eyed her suspiciously, but she sat thinking and staring at the
floor.

"I s'pose we shall have to give the money back now," she said, at last.

"Money!" said the other; "what money?"

"Money that was collected for us," replied his wife.  "One 'undered and
eighty-three pounds seven shillings and fourpence."

Mr. Blows took a long breath.  "Ow much?"  he said, faintly; "say it
agin."

His wife obeyed.

"Show it to me," said the other, in trembling tones; "let's 'ave a look
at it.  Let's 'old some of it."

"I can't," was the reply; "there's a committee of the Camels took charge
of it, and they pay my rent and allow me ten shillings a week.  Now I
s'pose it'll have to be given back?"

"Don't you talk nonsense," said Mr. Blows, violently.  "You go to them
interfering Camels and say you want your money--all of it.  Say you're
going to Australia.  Say it was my last dying wish."

Mrs. Blows puckered her brow.

"I'll keep quiet upstairs till you've got it," continued her husband,
rapidly.  "There was only two men saw me, and I can see now that they
thought I was my own ghost.  Send the kids off to your mother for a few
days."

His wife sent them off next morning, and a little later was able to tell
him that his surmise as to his friends' mistake was correct.  All
Gravelton was thrilled by the news that the spiritual part of Mr. John
Blows was walking the earth, and much exercised as to his reasons for so
doing.

"Seemed such a monkey trick for 'im to do," complained Mr. Carter, to the
listening circle at the Peal o' Bells.  "'I'm a-looking at you, Joe,' he
ses, and he waggled his 'ead as if it was made of india-rubber."

"He'd got something on 'is mind what he wanted to tell you," said a
listener, severely; "you ought to 'ave stopped, Joe, and asked 'im what
it was."

"I think I see myself," said the shivering Mr. Carter.  "I think I see
myself."

"Then he wouldn't 'ave troubled you any more," said the other.

Mr. Carter turned pale and eyed him fixedly.  "P'r'aps it was only a
death-warning," said another man.

"What d'ye mean, 'only a death-warning'?"  demanded the unfortunate Mr.
Carter; "you don't know what you're talking about."

"I 'ad an uncle o' mine see a ghost once," said a third man, anxious to
relieve the tension.

"And what 'appened?"  inquired the first speaker.  "I'll tell you after
Joe's gone," said the other, with rare consideration.

Mr. Carter called for some more beer and told the barmaid to put a little
gin in it.  In a pitiable state of "nerves" he sat at the extreme end of
a bench, and felt that he was an object of unwholesome interest to his
acquaintances.  The finishing touch was put to his discomfiture when a
well-meaning friend in a vague and disjointed way advised him to give up
drink, swearing, and any other bad habits which he might have contracted.

[Illustration: "In a pitiable state of 'nerves' he sat at the extreme end
of a bench."]

The committee of the Ancient Order of Camels took the news calmly, and
classed it with pink rats and other abnormalities.  In reply to Mrs.
Blows's request for the capital sum, they expressed astonishment that she
could be willing to tear herself away from the hero's grave, and spoke of
the pain which such an act on her part would cause him in the event of
his being conscious of it.  In order to show that they were reasonable
men, they allowed her an extra shilling that week.

The hero threw the dole on the bedroom floor, and in a speech bristling
with personalities, consigned the committee to perdition.  The
confinement was beginning to tell upon him, and two nights afterward,
just before midnight, he slipped out for a breath of fresh air.

It was a clear night, and all Gravelton with one exception, appeared to
have gone to bed.  The exception was Police-constable Collins, and he,
after tracking the skulking figure of Mr. Blows and finally bringing it
to bay in a doorway, kept his for a fort-night.  As a sensible man, Mr.
Blows took no credit to himself for the circumstance, but a natural
feeling of satisfaction at the discomfiture of a member of a force for
which he had long entertained a strong objection could not be denied.

Gravelton debated this new appearance with bated breath, and even the
purblind committee of the Camels had to alter their views.  They no
longer denied the supernatural nature of the manifestations, but, with
a strange misunderstanding of Mr. Blows's desires, attributed his
restlessness to dissatisfaction with the projected tombstone, and, having
plenty of funds, amended their order for a plain stone at ten guineas to
one in pink marble at twenty-five.

"That there committee," said Mr. Blows to his wife, in a trembling voice,
as he heard of the alteration--"that there committee seem to think that
they can play about with my money as they like.  You go and tell 'em you
won't 'ave it.  And say you've given up the idea of going to Australia
and you want the money to open a shop with.  We'll take a little pub
somewhere."

Mrs. Blows went, and returned in tears, and for two entire days her
husband, a prey to gloom, sat trying to evolve fresh and original ideas
for the possession of the money.  On the evening of the second day he
became low-spirited, and going down to the kitchen took a glass from the
dresser and sat down by the beer-cask.

Almost insensibly he began to take a brighter view of things.  It was
Saturday night and his wife was out.  He shook his head indulgently as he
thought of her, and began to realise how foolish he had been to entrust
such a delicate mission to a woman.  The Ancient Order of Camels wanted a
man to talk to them--a man who knew the world and could assail them with
unanswerable arguments.  Having applied every known test to make sure
that the cask was empty, he took his cap from a nail and sallied out into
the street.

Old Mrs. Martin, a neighbour, saw him first, and announced the fact with
a scream that brought a dozen people round her.  Bereft of speech, she
mouthed dumbly at Mr. Blows.

"I ain't touch--touched her," said that gentleman, earnestly.  "I ain't--
been near 'er."

The crowd regarded him wild-eyed.  Fresh members came running up, and
pushing for a front place fell back hastily on the main body and watched
breathlessly.  Mr. Blows, disquieted by their silence, renewed his
protestations.

"I was coming 'long----"

He broke off suddenly and, turning round, gazed with some heat at a
gentleman who was endeavouring to ascertain whether an umbrella would
pass through him.  The investigator backed hastily into the crowd again,
and a faint murmur of surprise arose as the indignant Mr. Blows rubbed
the place.

"He's alive, I tell you," said a voice.  "What cheer, Jack!"

"Ullo, Bill," said Mr. Blows, genially.

Bill came forward cautiously, and, first shaking hands, satisfied himself
by various little taps and prods that his friend was really alive.

"It's all right," he shouted; "come and feel."

At least fifty hands accepted the invitation, and, ignoring the threats
and entreaties of Mr. Blows, who was a highly ticklish subject, wandered
briskly over his anatomy.  He broke free at last and, supported by Bill
and a friend, set off for the Peal o' Bells.

By the time he arrived there his following had swollen to immense
proportions.  Windows were thrown up, and people standing on their
doorsteps shouted inquiries.  Congratulations met him on all sides, and
the joy of Mr. Joseph Carter was so great that Mr. Blows was quite
affected.

In high feather at the attention he was receiving, Mr. Blows pushed his
way through the idlers at the door and ascended the short flight of
stairs which led to the room where the members of the Ancient Order of
Camels were holding their lodge.  The crowd swarmed up after him.

The door was locked, but in response to his knocking it opened a couple
of inches, and a gruff voice demanded his business.  Then, before he
could give it, the doorkeeper reeled back into the room, and Mr. Blows
with a large following pushed his way in.

The president and his officers, who were sitting in state behind a long
table at the end of the room, started to their feet with mingled cries of
indignation and dismay at the intrusion.  Mr. Blows, conscious of the
strength of his position, walked up to them.

[Illustration: "Mr. Blows, conscious of the strength of his position,
walked up to them."]

"Mr. Blows!"  gasped the president.

"Ah, you didn't expec' see me," said Mr. Blows, with a scornful laugh
"They're trying do me, do me out o' my lill bit o' money, Bill."

"But you ain't got no money," said his bewildered friend.

Mr. Blows turned and eyed him haughtily; then he confronted the staring
president again.

"I've come for--my money," he said, impressively--"one 'under-eighty
pounds."

"But look 'ere," said the scandalised Bill, tugging at his sleeve; "you
ain't dead, Jack."

"You don't understan'," said Mr. Blows, impatiently.  "They know wharri
mean; one 'undereighty pounds.  They want to buy me a tombstone, an' I
don't want it.  I want the money.  Here, stop it! _Dye hear?_"  The words
were wrung from him by the action of the president, who, after eyeing him
doubtfully during his remarks, suddenly prodded him with the butt-end of
one of the property spears which leaned against his chair.  The solidity
of Mr. Blows was unmistakable, and with a sudden resumption of dignity
the official seated himself and called for silence.

"I'm sorry to say there's been a bit of a mistake made," he said, slowly,
"but I'm glad to say that Mr. Blows has come back to support his wife and
family with the sweat of his own brow.  Only a pound or two of the money
so kindly subscribed has been spent, and the remainder will be handed
back to the subscribers."

"Here," said the incensed Mr. Blows, "listen me."

"Take him away," said the president, with great dignity.  "Clear the
room.  Strangers outside."

Two of the members approached Mr. Blows and, placing their hands on his
shoulders, requested him to withdraw.  He went at last, the centre of a
dozen panting men, and becoming wedged on the narrow staircase, spoke
fluently on such widely differing subjects as the rights of man and the
shape of the president's nose.

He finished his remarks in the street, but, becoming aware at last of a
strange lack of sympathy on the part of his audience, he shook off the
arm of the faithful Mr. Carter and stalked moodily home.





THE THIRD STRING

Love?  said the night-watchman, as he watched in an abstracted fashion
the efforts of a skipper to reach a brother skipper on a passing barge
with a boathook.  Don't talk to me about love, because I've suffered
enough through it.  There ought to be teetotalers for love the same as
wot there is for drink, and they ought to wear a piece o' ribbon to show
it, the same as the teetotalers do; but not an attractive piece o'
ribbon, mind you.  I've seen as much mischief caused by love as by drink,
and the funny thing is, one often leads to the other.  Love, arter it is
over, often leads to drink, and drink often leads to love and to a man
committing himself for life afore it is over.

[Illustration: "Don't talk to me about love, because I've suffered enough
through it."]

Sailormen give way to it most; they see so little o' wimmen that
they naturally 'ave a high opinion of 'em.  Wait till they become
night-watchmen and, having to be at 'ome all day, see the other side of
'em.  If people on'y started life as night-watchmen there wouldn't be one
'arf the falling in love that there is now.

I remember one chap, as nice a fellow as you could wish to meet, too.
He always carried his sweet-heart's photograph about with 'im, and it was
the on'y thing that cheered 'im up during the fourteen years he was cast
away on a deserted island.  He was picked up at last and taken 'ome, and
there she was still single and waiting for 'im; and arter spending
fourteen years on a deserted island he got another ten in quod for
shooting 'er because she 'ad altered so much in 'er looks.

Then there was Ginger Dick, a red-'aired man I've spoken about before.
He went and fell in love one time when he was lodging in Wapping 'ere
with old Sam Small and Peter Russet, and a nice mess 'e made of it.

They was just back from a v'y'ge, and they 'adn't been ashore a week
afore both of 'em noticed a change for the worse in Ginger.  He turned
quiet and peaceful and lost 'is taste for beer.  He used to play with 'is
food instead of eating it, and in place of going out of an evening with
Sam and Peter took to going off by 'imself.

"It's love," ses Peter Russet, shaking his 'ead, "and he'll be worse
afore he's better."

"Who's the gal?" ses old Sam.

Peter didn't know, but when they came 'ome that night 'e asked.  Ginger,
who was sitting up in bed with a far-off look in 'is eyes, cuddling 'is
knees, went on staring but didn't answer.

"Who is it making a fool of you this time, Ginger?" ses old Sam.

"You mind your bisness and I'll mind mine," ses Ginger, suddenly waking
up and looking very fierce.

"No offence, mate," ses Sam, winking at Peter.  "I on'y asked in case I
might be able to do you a good turn."

"Well, you can do that by not letting her know you're a pal o' mine," ses
Ginger, very nasty.

Old Sam didn't understand at fust, and when Peter explained to 'im he
wanted to hit 'im for trying to twist Ginger's words about.

"She don't like fat old men," ses Ginger.

"Ho!" ses old Sam, who couldn't think of anything else to say.  "Ho!
don't she?  Ho!  Ho! indeed!"

He undressed 'imself and got into the bed he shared with Peter, and kept
'im awake for hours by telling 'im in a loud voice about all the gals
he'd made love to in his life, and partikler about one gal that always
fainted dead away whenever she saw either a red-'aired man or a monkey.

Peter Russet found out all about it next day, and told Sam that it was a
barmaid with black 'air and eyes at the Jolly Pilots, and that she
wouldn't 'ave anything to say to Ginger.

He spoke to Ginger about it agin when they were going to bed that night,
and to 'is surprise found that he was quite civil.  When 'e said that he
would do anything he could for 'im, Ginger was quite affected.

"I can't eat or drink," he ses, in a miserable voice; "I lay awake all
last night thinking of her.  She's so diff'rent to other gals; she's
got--If I start on you, Sam Small, you'll know it.  You go and make that
choking noise to them as likes it."

"It's a bit o' egg-shell I got in my throat at break-fast this morning,
Ginger," ses Sam.  "I wonder whether she lays awake all night thinking of
you?"

"I dare say she does," ses Peter Russet, giving 'im a little push.

"Keep your 'art up, Ginger," ses Sam; "I've known gals to 'ave the most
ext'ordinary likings afore now."

"Don't take no notice of 'im," ses Peter, holding Ginger back.  "'Ow are
you getting on with her?"

Ginger groaned and sat down on 'is bed and looked at the floor, and Sam
went and sat on his till it shook so that Ginger offered to step over and
break 'is neck for 'im.

"I can't 'elp the bed shaking," ses Sam; "it ain't my fault.  I didn't
make it.  If being in love is going to make you so disagreeable to your
best friends, Ginger, you'd better go and live by yourself."

"I 'eard something about her to-day, Ginger," ses Peter Russet.  "I met a
chap I used to know at Bull's Wharf, and he told me that she used to keep
company with a chap named Bill Lumm, a bit of a prize-fighter, and since
she gave 'im up she won't look at anybody else."

"Was she very fond of 'im, then?" asks Ginger.

"I don't know," ses Peter; "but this chap told me that she won't walk out
with anybody agin, unless it's another prize-fighter.  Her pride won't
let her, I s'pose."

"Well, that's all right, Ginger," ses Sam; "all you've got to do is to go
and be a prize-fighter."

"If I 'ave any more o' your nonsense--" ses Ginger, starting up.

"That's right," ses Sam; "jump down anybody's throat when they're trying
to do you a kindness.  That's you all over, Ginger, that is.  Wot's to
prevent you telling 'er that you're a prize-fighter from Australia or
somewhere?  She won't know no better."

He got up off the bed and put his 'ands up as Ginger walked across the
room to 'im, but Ginger on'y wanted to shake 'ands, and arter he 'ad done
that 'e patted 'im on the back and smiled at 'im.

"I'll try it," he ses.  "I'd tell any lies for 'er sake.  Ah! you don't
know wot love is, Sam."

"I used to," ses Sam, and then he sat down agin and began to tell 'em all
the love-affairs he could remember, until at last Peter Russet got tired
and said it was 'ard to believe, looking at 'im now, wot a perfick terror
he'd been with gals, and said that the face he'd got now was a judgment
on 'im.  Sam shut up arter that, and got into trouble with Peter in the
middle o' the night by waking 'im up to tell 'im something that he 'ad
just thought of about his face.

The more Ginger thought o' Sam's idea the more he liked it, and the very
next evening 'e took Peter Russet into the private bar o' the Jolly
Pilots.  He ordered port wine, which he thought seemed more 'igh-class
than beer, and then Peter Russet started talking to Miss Tucker and told
her that Ginger was a prize-fighter from Sydney, where he'd beat
everybody that stood up to 'im.

The gal seemed to change toward Ginger all in a flash, and 'er beautiful
black eyes looked at 'im so admiring that he felt quite faint.  She
started talking to 'im about his fights at once, and when at last 'e
plucked up courage to ask 'er to go for a walk with 'im on Sunday
arternoon she seemed quite delighted.

"It'll be a nice change for me," she ses, smiling.  "I used to walk out
with a prize-fighter once before, and since I gave 'im up I began to
think I was never going to 'ave a young man agin.  You can't think 'ow
dull it's been."

"Must ha' been," ses Ginger.

"I s'pose you've got a taste for prize-fighters, miss," ses Peter Russet.

"No," ses Miss Tucker; "I don't think that it's that exactly, but, you
see, I couldn't 'ave anybody else.  Not for their own sakes."

[Illustration: "Miss Tucker."]

"Why not?" ses Ginger, looking puzzled.

"Why not?" ses Miss Tucker.  "Why, because o' Bill.  He's such a 'orrid
jealous disposition.  After I gave 'im up I walked out with a young
fellow named Smith; fine, big, strapping chap 'e was, too, and I never
saw such a change in any man as there was in 'im after Bill 'ad done with
'im.  I couldn't believe it was 'im.  I told Bill he ought to be ashamed
of 'imself."

"Wot did 'e say?"  asks Ginger.

"Don't ask me wot 'e said," ses Miss Tucker, tossing her 'ead.  "Not
liking to be beat, I 'ad one more try with a young fellow named Charlie
Webb."

"Wot 'appened to 'im?" ses Peter Russet, arter waiting a bit for 'er to
finish.

"I can't bear to talk of it," ses Miss Tucker, holding up Ginger's glass
and giving the counter a wipe down.  "He met Bill, and I saw 'im six
weeks afterward just as 'e was being sent away from the 'ospital to a
seaside home.  Bill disappeared after that."

"Has he gone far away?" ses Ginger, trying to speak in a off-'and way.

"Oh, he's back now," ses Miss Tucker.  "You'll see 'im fast enough, and,
wotever you do, don't let 'im know you're a prize-fighter."

"Why not?" ses pore Ginger.

"Because o' the surprise it'll be to 'im," ses Miss Tucker.  "Let 'im
rush on to 'is doom.  He'll get a lesson 'e don't expect, the bully.
Don't be afraid of 'urting 'im.  Think o' pore Smith and Charlie Webb."

"I am thinkin' of 'em," ses Ginger, slow-like.  "Is--is Bill--very quick
--with his 'ands?"

"Rather," ses Miss Tucker; "but o' course he ain't up to your mark; he's
on'y known in these parts."

She went off to serve a customer, and Ginger Dick tried to catch Peter's
eye, but couldn't, and when Miss Tucker came back he said 'e must be
going.

"Sunday afternoon at a quarter past three sharp, outside 'ere," she ses.
"Never mind about putting on your best clothes, because Bill is sure to
be hanging about.  I'll take care o' that."

She reached over the bar and shook 'ands with 'im, and Ginger felt a
thrill go up 'is arm which lasted 'im all the way 'ome.

He didn't know whether to turn up on Sunday or not, and if it 'adn't ha'
been for Sam and Peter Russet he'd ha' most likely stayed at home.  Not
that 'e was a coward, being always ready for a scrap and gin'rally
speaking doing well at it, but he made a few inquiries about Bill Lumm
and 'e saw that 'e had about as much chance with 'im as a kitten would
'ave with a bulldog.

Sam and Peter was delighted, and they talked about it as if it was a
pantermime, and old Sam said that when he was a young man he'd ha' fought
six Bill Lumms afore he'd ha' given a gal up.  He brushed Ginger's
clothes for 'im with 'is own hands on Sunday afternoon, and, when Ginger
started, 'im and Peter follered some distance behind to see fair play.

The on'y person outside the Jolly Pilots when Ginger got there was a man;
a strong-built chap with a thick neck, very large 'ands, and a nose which
'ad seen its best days some time afore.  He looked 'ard at Ginger as 'e
came up, and then stuck his 'ands in 'is trouser pockets and spat on the
pavement.  Ginger walked a little way past and then back agin, and just
as he was thinking that 'e might venture to go off, as Miss Tucker 'adn't
come, the door opened and out she came.

"I couldn't find my 'at-pins," she ses, taking Ginger's arm and smiling
up into 'is face.

Before Ginger could say anything the man he 'ad noticed took his 'ands
out of 'is pockets and stepped up to 'im.

"Let go o' that young lady's arm," he ses.  "Sha'n't," ses Ginger,
holding it so tight that Miss Tucker nearly screamed.

"Let go 'er arm and put your 'ands up," ses the chap agin.

[Illustration: "'Let go o' that young lady's arm,' he ses."]

"Not 'ere," ses Ginger, who 'ad laid awake the night afore thinking wot
to do if he met Bill Lumm.  "If you wish to 'ave a spar with me, my lad,
you must 'ave it where we can't be interrupted.  When I start on a man I
like to make a good job of it."

"Good job of it!" ses the other, starting.  "Do you know who I am?"

"No, I don't," ses Ginger, "and, wot's more, I don't care."

"My name," ses the chap, speaking in a slow, careful voice, "is Bill
Lumm."

"Wot a 'orrid name!" ses Ginger.

"Otherwise known as the Wapping Basher," ses Bill, shoving 'is face into
Ginger's and glaring at 'im.

"Ho!" ses Ginger, sniffing, "a amatoor."

"_Amatoor?_"  ses Bill, shouting.

"That's wot we should call you over in Australia," ses Ginger; "my name
is Dick Duster, likewise known as the Sydney Puncher.  I've killed three
men in the ring and 'ave never 'ad a defeat."

"Well, put 'em up," ses Bill, doubling up 'is fists and shaping at 'im.

"Not in the street, I tell you," ses Ginger, still clinging tight to Miss
Tucker's arm.  "I was fined five pounds the other day for punching a man
in the street, and the magistrate said it would be 'ard labour for me
next time.  You find a nice, quiet spot for some arternoon, and I'll
knock your 'ead off with pleasure."

"I'd sooner 'ave it knocked off now," ses Bill; "I don't like waiting for
things."

"Thursday arternoon," ses Ginger, very firm; "there's one or two
gentlemen want to see a bit o' my work afore backing me, and we can
combine bisness with pleasure."

He walked off with Miss Tucker, leaving Bill Lumm standing on the
pavement scratching his 'ead and staring arter 'im as though 'e didn't
quite know wot to make of it.  Bill stood there for pretty near five
minutes, and then arter asking Sam and Peter, who 'ad been standing by
listening, whether they wanted anything for themselves, walked off to ask
'is pals wot they knew about the Sydney Puncher.

Ginger Dick was so quiet and satisfied about the fight that old Sam and
Peter couldn't make 'im out at all.  He wouldn't even practise punching
at a bolster that Peter rigged up for 'im, and when 'e got a message from
Bill Lumm naming a quiet place on the Lea Marshes he agreed to it as
comfortable as possible.

"Well, I must say, Ginger, that I like your pluck," ses Peter Russet.

"I always 'ave said that for Ginger; 'e's got pluck," ses Sam.

Ginger coughed and tried to smile at 'em in a superior sort o' way.  "I
thought you'd got more sense," he ses, at last.  "You don't think I'm
going, do you?"

"Wot?" ses old Sam, in a shocked voice.

"You're never going to back out of it, Ginger?"  ses Peter.

"I am," ses Ginger.  "If you think I'm going to be smashed up by a
prize-fighter just to show my pluck you're mistook."

"You must go, Ginger," ses old Sam, very severe.  "It's too late to back
out of it now.  Think of the gal.  Think of 'er feelings."

"For the sake of your good name," ses Peter.

"I should never speak to you agin, Ginger," ses old Sam, pursing up 'is
lips.

"Nor me neither," ses Peter Russet.

"To think of our Ginger being called a coward," ses old Sam, with a
shudder, "and afore a gal, too."

"The loveliest gal in Wapping," ses Peter.

"Look 'ere," ses Ginger, "you can shut up, both of you.  I'm not going,
and that's the long and short of it.  I don't mind an ordinary man, but I
draw the line at prize-fighters."

Old Sam sat down on the edge of 'is bed and looked the picture of
despair.  "You must go, Ginger," he ses, "for my sake."

"Your sake?"  ses Ginger, staring.

"I've got money on it," ses Sam, "so's Peter.  If you don't turn up all
bets'll be off."

"Good job for you, too," ses Ginger.  "If I did turn up you'd lose it, to
a dead certainty."

Old Sam coughed and looked at Peter, and Peter 'e coughed and looked at
Sam.

"You don't understand, Ginger," said Sam, in a soft voice; "it ain't
often a chap gets the chance o' making a bit o' money these 'ard times."

"So we've put all our money on Bill Lumm," ses Peter.  "It's the safest
and easiest way o' making money I ever 'eard of.  You see, we know you're
not a prize-fighter and the others don't."

Pore Ginger looked at 'em, and then 'e called 'em all the names he could
lay 'is tongue to, but, with the idea o' the money they was going make,
they didn't mind a bit.  They let him 'ave 'is say, and that night they
brought 'ome two other sailormen wot 'ad bet agin Ginger to share their
room, and, though they 'ad bet agin 'im, they was so fond of 'im that it
was evident that they wasn't going to leave 'im till the fight was over.

Ginger gave up then, and at twelve o'clock next day they started off to
find the place.  Mr. Webson, the landlord of the Jolly Pilots, a short,
fat man o' fifty, wot 'ad spoke to Ginger once or twice, went with 'em,
and all the way to the station he kept saying wot a jolly spot it was for
that sort o' thing.  Perfickly private; nice soft green grass to be
knocked down on, and larks up in the air singing away as if they'd never
leave off.

They took the train to Homerton, and, being a slack time o' the day, the
porters was surprised to see wot a lot o' people was travelling by it.
So was Ginger.  There was the landlords of 'arf the public-'ouses in
Wapping, all smoking big cigars; two dock policemen in plain clothes, wot
'ad got the arternoon off--one with a raging toothache and the other with
a baby wot wasn't expected to last the day out.  They was as full o' fun
as kittens, and the landlord o' the Jolly Pilots pointed out to Ginger
wot reasonable 'uman beings policemen was at 'art.  Besides them there
was quite a lot o' sailormen, even skippers and mates, nearly all of 'em
smoking big cigars, too, and looking at Ginger out of the corner of one
eye and at the Wapping Basher out of the corner of the other.

"Hit 'ard and hit straight," ses the landlord to Ginger in a low voice,
as they got out of the train and walked up the road.  "'Ow are you
feeling?"

"I've got a cold coming on," ses pore Ginger, looking at the Basher, who
was on in front, "and a splitting 'eadache, and a sharp pain all down my
left leg.  I don't think----"

"Well, it's a good job it's no worse," ses the land-lord; "all you've got
to do is to hit 'ard.  If you win it's a 'undered pounds in my pocket,
and I'll stand you a fiver of it.  D'ye understand?"

They turned down some little streets, several of 'em going diff'rent
ways, and arter crossing the River Lea got on to the marshes, and, as the
landlord said, the place might ha' been made for it.

A little chap from Mile End was the referee, and Bill Lumm, 'aving
peeled, stood looking on while Ginger took 'is things off and slowly and
carefully folded 'em up.  Then they stepped toward each other, Bill
taking longer steps than Ginger, and shook 'ands; immediately arter which
Bill knocked Ginger head over 'eels.

[Illustration: "Bill Lumm, 'aving peeled, stood looking on while Ginger
took 'is things off."]

"Time!" was called, and the landlord o' the Jolly Pilots, who was nursing
Ginger on 'is knee, said that it was nothing at all, and that bleeding at
the nose was a sign of 'ealth.  But as it happened Ginger was that mad 'e
didn't want any encouragement, he on'y wanted to kill Bill Lumm.

He got two or three taps in the next round which made his 'ead ring, and
then he got 'ome on the mark and follered it up by a left-'anded punch on
Bill's jaw that surprised 'em both--Bill because he didn't think Ginger
could hit so 'ard, and Ginger because 'e didn't think that prize-fighters
'ad any feelings.

They clinched and fell that round, and the land-lord patted Ginger on the
back and said that if he ever 'ad a son he 'oped he'd grow up like 'im.

Ginger was surprised at the way 'e was getting on, and so was old Sam and
Peter Russet, and when Ginger knocked Bill down in the sixth round Sam
went as pale as death.  Ginger was getting marked all over, but he stuck,
to 'is man, and the two dock policemen, wot 'ad put their money on Bill
Lumm, began to talk of their dooty, and say as 'ow the fight ought to be
stopped.

At the tenth round Bill couldn't see out of 'is eyes, and kept wasting
'is strength on the empty air, and once on the referee.  Ginger watched
'is opportunity, and at last, with a terrific smash on the point o'
Bill's jaw, knocked 'im down and then looked round for the landlord's
knee.

Bill made a game try to get up when "Time!"  was called, but couldn't;
and the referee, who was 'olding a 'andkerchief to 'is nose, gave the
fight to Ginger.

It was the proudest moment o' Ginger Dick's life.  He sat there like a
king, smiling 'orribly, and Sam's voice as he paid 'is losings sounded to
'im like music, in spite o' the words the old man see fit to use.  It was
so 'ard to get Peter Russet's money that it a'most looked as though there
was going to be another prize-fight, but 'e paid up at last and went off,
arter fust telling Ginger part of wot he thought of 'im.

There was a lot o' quarrelling, but the bets was all settled at last, and
the landlord o' the Jolly Pilots, who was in 'igh feather with the money
he'd won, gave Ginger the five pounds he'd promised and took him 'ome in
a cab.

"You done well, my lad," he ses.  "No, don't smile.  It looks as though
your 'ead's coming off."

"I 'ope you'll tell Miss Tucker 'ow I fought," ses Ginger.

"I will, my lad," ses the landlord; "but you'd better not see 'er for
some time, for both your sakes."

"I was thinking of 'aving a day or two in bed," ses Ginger.

"Best thing you can do," ses the landlord; "and mind, don't you ever
fight Bill Lumm agin.  Keep out of 'is way."

"Why?  I beat 'im once, an' I can beat 'im agin," ses Ginger, offended.

"Beat 'im?" ses the landlord.  He took 'is cigar out of 'is mouth as
though 'e was going to speak, and then put it back agin and looked out
of the window.

"Yes, beat 'im," ses Ginger'.  "You was there and saw it."

"He lost the fight a-purpose," ses the landlord, whispering.  "Miss
Tucker found out that you wasn't a prize-fighter--leastways, I did for
'er--and she told Bill that, if 'e loved 'er so much that he'd 'ave 'is
sinful pride took down by letting you beat 'im, she'd think diff'rent of
'im.  Why, 'e could 'ave settled you in a minute if he'd liked.  He was
on'y playing with you."

Ginger stared at 'im as if 'e couldn't believe 'is eyes.  "Playing?"  he
ses, feeling 'is face very gently with the tips of his fingers.

"Yes," ses the landlord; "and if he ever hits you agin you'll know I'm
speaking the truth."

Ginger sat back all of a heap and tried to think.  "Is Miss Tucker going
to keep company with 'im agin, then?"  he ses, in a faint voice.

"No," ses the landlord; "you can make your mind easy on that point."

"Well, then, if I walk out with 'er I shall 'ave to fight Bill all over
agin," ses Ginger.

The landlord turned to 'im and patted 'im on the shoulder.  "Don't you
take up your troubles afore they come, my lad," he ses, kindly; "and mind
and keep wot I've told you dark, for all our sakes."

He put 'im down at the door of 'is lodgings and, arter shaking 'ands with
'im, gave the landlady a shilling and told 'er to get some beefsteak and
put on 'is face, and went home.  Ginger went straight off to bed, and the
way he carried on when the landlady fried the steak afore bringing it up
showed 'ow upset he was.

[Illustration: "The way he carried on when the landlady fried the steak
showed 'ow upset he was."]

It was over a week afore he felt 'e could risk letting Miss Tucker see
'im, and then at seven o'clock one evening he felt 'e couldn't wait any
longer, and arter spending an hour cleaning 'imself he started out for
the Jolly Pilots.

He felt so 'appy at the idea o' seeing her agin that 'e forgot all about
Bill Lumm, and it gave 'im quite a shock when 'e saw 'im standing outside
the Pilots.  Bill took his 'ands out of 'is pockets when he saw 'im and
came toward 'im.

"It's no good to-night, mate," he ses; and to Ginger's great surprise
shook 'ands with 'im.

"No good?" ses Ginger, staring.

"No," ses Bill; "he's in the little back-parlour, like a whelk in 'is
shell; but we'll 'ave 'im sooner or later."

"Him?  Who?"  ses Ginger, more puzzled than ever.

"Who?" ses Bill; "why, Webson, the landlord.  You don't mean to tell me
you ain't heard about it?"

"Heard wot?" ses Ginger.  "I haven't 'card any-thing.  I've been indoors
with a bad cold all the week."

"Webson and Julia Tucker was married at eleven o'clock yesterday
morning," ses Bill Lumm, in a hoarse voice.  "When I think of the way
I've been done, and wot I've suffered, I feel 'arf crazy.  He won a
'undered pounds through me, and then got the gal I let myself be
disgraced for.  I 'ad an idea some time ago that he'd got 'is eye on
her."

Ginger Dick didn't answer 'im a word.  He staggered back and braced
'imself up agin the wall for a bit, and arter staring at Bill Lumm in a
wild way for pretty near three minutes he crawled back to 'is lodgings
and went straight to bed agin.





ODD CHARGES

Seated at his ease in the warm tap-room of the Cauliflower, the stranger
had been eating and drinking for some time, apparently unconscious of the
presence of the withered ancient who, huddled up in that corner of the
settle which was nearer to the fire, fidgeted restlessly with an empty
mug and blew with pathetic insistence through a churchwarden pipe which
had long been cold.  The stranger finished his meal with a sigh of
content and then, rising from his chair, crossed over to the settle and,
placing his mug on the time-worn table before him, began to fill his
pipe.

[Illustration: "Seated at his ease in the warm tap-room of the
Cauliflower."]

The old man took a spill from the table and, holding it with trembling
fingers to the blaze, gave him a light.  The other thanked him, and then,
leaning back in his corner of the settle, watched the smoke of his pipe
through half-closed eyes, and assented drowsily to the old man's remarks
upon the weather.

"Bad time o' the year for going about," said the latter, "though I s'pose
if you can eat and drink as much as you want it don't matter.  I s'pose
you mightn't be a conjurer from London, sir?"

The traveller shook his head.

"I was 'oping you might be," said the old man.  The other manifested no
curiosity.

"If you 'ad been," said the old man, with a sigh, "I should ha' asked you
to ha' done something useful.  Gin'rally speaking, conjurers do things
that are no use to anyone; wot I should like to see a conjurer do would
be to make this 'ere empty mug full o' beer and this empty pipe full o'
shag tobacco.  That's wot I should ha' made bold to ask you to do if
you'd been one."

The traveller sighed, and, taking his short briar pipe from his mouth by
the bowl, rapped three times upon the table with it.  In a very short
time a mug of ale and a paper cylinder of shag appeared on the table
before the old man.

"Wot put me in mind o' your being a conjurer," said the latter, filling
his pipe after a satisfying draught from the mug, "is that you're
uncommon like one that come to Claybury some time back and give a
performance in this very room where we're now a-sitting.  So far as
looks go, you might be his brother."

The traveller said that he never had a brother.

We didn't know 'e was a conjurer at fust, said the old man.  He 'ad come
down for Wickham Fair and, being a day or two before 'and, 'e was going
to different villages round about to give performances.  He came into the
bar 'ere and ordered a mug o' beer, and while 'e was a-drinking of it
stood talking about the weather.  Then 'e asked Bill Chambers to excuse
'im for taking the liberty, and, putting his 'and to Bill's mug, took out
a live frog.  Bill was a very partikler man about wot 'e drunk, and I
thought he'd ha' had a fit.  He went on at Smith, the landlord, something
shocking, and at last, for the sake o' peace and quietness, Smith gave
'im another pint to make up for it.

[Illustration: "Putting his 'and to Bill's mug, he took out a live
frog."]

"It must ha' been asleep in the mug," he ses.

Bill said that 'e thought 'e knew who must ha' been asleep, and was just
going to take a drink, when the conjurer asked 'im to excuse 'im agin.
Bill put down the mug in a 'urry, and the conjurer put his 'and to the
mug and took out a dead mouse.  It would ha' been a 'ard thing to say
which was the most upset, Bill Chambers or Smith, the landlord, and Bill,
who was in a terrible state, asked why it was everything seemed to get
into his mug.

"P'r'aps you're fond o' dumb animals, sir," ses the conjurer.  "Do you
'appen to notice your coat-pocket is all of a wriggle?"

He put his 'and to Bill's pocket and took out a little green snake; then
he put his 'and to Bill's trouser-pocket and took out a frog, while pore
Bill's eyes looked as if they was corning out o' their sockets.

"Keep still," ses the conjurer; "there's a lot more to come yet."

Bill Chambers gave a 'owl that was dreadful to listen to, and then 'e
pushed the conjurer away and started undressing 'imself as fast as he
could move 'is fingers.  I believe he'd ha' taken off 'is shirt if it 'ad
'ad pockets in it, and then 'e stuck 'is feet close together and 'e kept
jumping into the air, and coming down on to 'is own clothes in his
hobnailed boots.

"He ain't fond o' dumb animals, then," ses the conjurer.  Then he put his
'and on his 'art and bowed.

"Gentlemen all," he ses.  "'Aving given you this specimen of wot I can
do, I beg to give notice that with the landlord's kind permission I shall
give my celebrated conjuring entertainment in the tap-room this evening
at seven o'clock; ad--mission, three-pence each."

They didn't understand 'im at fust, but at last they see wot 'e meant,
and arter explaining to Bill, who was still giving little jumps, they led
'im up into a corner and coaxed 'im into dressing 'imself agin.  He wanted
to fight the conjurer, but 'e was that tired 'e could scarcely stand, and
by-and-by Smith, who 'ad said 'e wouldn't 'ave anything to do with it,
gave way and said he'd risk it.

The tap-room was crowded that night, but we all 'ad to pay threepence
each--coining money, I call it.  Some o' the things wot he done was very
clever, but a'most from the fust start-off there was unpleasantness.
When he asked somebody to lend 'im a pocket-'andkercher to turn into a
white rabbit, Henery Walker rushed up and lent 'im 'is, but instead of a
white rabbit it turned into a black one with two white spots on it, and
arter Henery Walker 'ad sat for some time puzzling over it 'e got up and
went off 'ome without saying good-night to a soul.

Then the conjurer borrowed Sam Jones's hat, and arter looking into it for
some time 'e was that surprised and astonished that Sam Jones lost 'is
temper and asked 'im whether he 'adn't seen a hat afore.

"Not like this," ses the conjurer.  And 'e pulled out a woman's dress and
jacket and a pair o' boots.  Then 'e took out a pound or two o' taters
and some crusts o' bread and other things, and at last 'e gave it back to
Sam Jones and shook 'is head at 'im, and told 'im if he wasn't very
careful he'd spoil the shape of it.

Then 'e asked somebody to lend 'im a watch, and, arter he 'ad promised to
take the greatest care of it, Dicky Weed, the tailor, lent 'im a gold
watch wot 'ad been left 'im by 'is great-aunt when she died.  Dicky Weed
thought a great deal o' that watch, and when the conjurer took a
flat-iron and began to smash it up into little bits it took three men
to hold 'im down in 'is seat.

"This is the most difficult trick o' the lot," ses the conjurer, picking
off a wheel wot 'ad stuck to the flat-iron.  "Sometimes I can do it and
sometimes I can't.  Last time I tried it it was a failure, and it cost me
eighteenpence and a pint o' beer afore the gentleman the watch 'ad
belonged to was satisfied.  I gave 'im the bits, too."

"If you don't give me my watch back safe and sound," ses Dicky Weed, in a
trembling voice, "it'll cost you twenty pounds."

"'Ow much?" ses the conjurer, with a start.  "Well, I wish you'd told me
that afore you lent it to me.  Eighteenpence is my price."

He stirred the broken bits up with 'is finger and shook his 'ead.

"I've never tried one o' these old-fashioned watches afore," he ses.
"'Owever, if I fail, gentle-men, it'll be the fust and only trick I've
failed in to-night.  You can't expect everything to turn out right, but
if I do fail this time, gentlemen, I'll try it agin if anybody else'll
lend me another watch."

Dicky Weed tried to speak but couldn't, and 'e sat there, with 'is face
pale, staring at the pieces of 'is watch on the conjurer's table.  Then
the conjurer took a big pistol with a trumpet-shaped barrel out of 'is
box, and arter putting in a charge o' powder picked up the pieces o'
watch and rammed them in arter it.  We could hear the broken bits grating
agin the ramrod, and arter he 'ad loaded it 'e walked round and handed it
to us to look at.

"It's all right," he ses to Dicky Weed; "it's going to be a success; I
could tell in the loading."

He walked back to the other end of the room and held up the pistol.

"I shall now fire this pistol," 'e ses, "and in so doing mend the watch.
The explosion of the powder makes the bits o' glass join together agin;
in flying through the air the wheels go round and round collecting all
the other parts, and the watch as good as new and ticking away its
'ardest will be found in the coat-pocket o' the gentleman I shoot at."

He pointed the pistol fust at one and then at another, as if 'e couldn't
make up 'is mind, and none of 'em seemed to 'ave much liking for it.
Peter Gubbins told 'im not to shoot at 'im because he 'ad a 'ole in his
pocket, and Bill Chambers, when it pointed at 'im, up and told 'im to let
somebody else 'ave a turn.  The only one that didn't flinch was Bob
Pretty, the biggest poacher and the greatest rascal in Claybury.  He'd
been making fun o' the tricks all along, saying out loud that he'd seen
'em all afore--and done better.

"Go on," he ses; "I ain't afraid of you; you can't shoot straight."

The conjurer pointed the pistol at 'im.  Then 'e pulled the trigger and
the pistol went off bang, and the same moment o' time Bob Pretty jumped
up with a 'orrible scream, and holding his 'ands over 'is eyes danced
about as though he'd gone mad.

Everybody started up at once and got round 'im, and asked 'im wot was the
matter; but Bob didn't answer 'em.  He kept on making a dreadful noise,
and at last 'e broke out of the room and, holding 'is 'andkercher to 'is
face, ran off 'ome as 'ard as he could run.

"You've done it now, mate," ses Bill Chambers to the conjurer.  "I
thought you wouldn't be satisfied till you'd done some 'arm.  You've been
and blinded pore Bob Pretty."

"Nonsense," ses the conjurer.  "He's frightened, that's all."

"Frightened!"  ses Peter Gubbins.  "Why, you fired Dicky Weed's watch
straight into 'is face."

"Rubbish," ses the conjurer; "it dropped into 'is pocket, and he'll find
it there when 'e comes to 'is senses."

"Do you mean to tell me that Bob Pretty 'as gone off with my watch in 'is
pocket?"  screams Dicky Weed.

"I do," ses the other.

"You'd better get 'old of Bob afore 'e finds it out, Dicky," ses Bill
Chambers.

Dicky Weed didn't answer 'im; he was already running along to Bob
Pretty's as fast as 'is legs would take 'im, with most of us follering
behind to see wot 'appened.

[Illustration: "He was running along to Bob Pretty's as fast as 'is legs
would take 'im."]

The door was fastened when we got to it, but Dicky Weed banged away at it
as 'ard as he could bang, and at last the bedroom winder went up and
Mrs. Pretty stuck her 'ead out.

"H'sh!" she ses, in a whisper.  "Go away."

"I want to see Bob," ses Dicky Weed.

"You can't see 'im," ses Mrs. Pretty.  "I'm getting 'im to bed.  He's
been shot, pore dear.  Can't you 'ear 'im groaning?"

We 'adn't up to then, but a'most direckly arter she 'ad spoke you could
ha' heard Bob's groans a mile away.  Dreadful, they was.

"There, there, pore dear," ses Mrs. Pretty.

"Shall I come in and 'elp you get 'im to bed?" ses Dicky Weed, 'arf
crying.

"No, thank you, Mr. Weed," ses Mrs. Pretty.  "It's very kind of you to
offer, but 'e wouldn't like any hands but mine to touch 'im.  I'll send
in and let you know 'ow he is fust thing in the morning."

"Try and get 'old of the coat, Dicky," ses Bill Chambers, in a whisper.
"Offer to mend it for 'im.  It's sure to want it."

"Well, I'm sorry I can't be no 'elp to you," ses Dicky Weed, "but I
noticed a rent in Bob's coat and, as 'e's likely to be laid up a bit, it
ud be a good opportunity for me to mend it for 'im.  I won't charge 'im
nothing.  If you drop it down I'll do it now."

"Thankee," ses Mrs. Pretty; "if you just wait a moment I'll clear the
pockets out and drop it down to you."

She turned back into the bedroom, and Dicky Weed ground 'is teeth
together and told Bill Chambers that the next time he took 'is advice
he'd remember it.  He stood there trembling all over with temper, and
when Mrs. Pretty came to the winder agin and dropped the coat on his 'ead
and said that Bob felt his kindness very much, and he 'oped Dicky ud make
a good job of it, because it was 'is favrite coat, he couldn't speak.
He stood there shaking all over till Mrs. Pretty 'ad shut the winder down
agin, and then 'e turned to the conjurer, as 'ad come up with the rest of
us, and asked 'im wot he was going to do about it now.

"I tell you he's got the watch," ses the conjurer, pointing up at the
winder.  "It went into 'is pocket.  I saw it go.  He was no more shot
than you were.  If 'e was, why doesn't he send for the doctor?"

"I can't 'elp that," ses Dicky Weed.  "I want my watch or else twenty
pounds."

"We'll talk it over in a day or two," ses the conjurer.  "I'm giving my
celebrated entertainment at Wickham Fair on Monday, but I'll come back
'ere to the Cauliflower the Saturday before and give another
entertainment, and then we'll see wot's to be done.  I can't run away,
because in any case I can't afford to miss the fair."

Dicky Weed gave way at last and went off 'ome to bed and told 'is wife
about it, and listening to 'er advice he got up at six o'clock in the
morning and went round to see 'ow Bob Pretty was.

Mrs. Pretty was up when 'e got there, and arter calling up the stairs to
Bob told Dicky Weed to go upstairs.  Bob Pretty was sitting up in bed
with 'is face covered in bandages, and he seemed quite pleased to see
'im.

"It ain't everybody that ud get up at six o'clock to see 'ow I'm getting
on," he ses.  "You've got a feeling 'art, Dicky."

Dicky Weed coughed and looked round, wondering whether the watch was in
the room, and, if so, where it was hidden.

"Now I'm 'ere I may as well tidy up the room for you a bit," he ses,
getting up.  "I don't like sitting idle."

"Thankee, mate," ses Bob; and 'e lay still and watched Dicky Weed out of
the corner of the eye that wasn't covered with the bandages.

I don't suppose that room 'ad ever been tidied up so thoroughly since the
Prettys 'ad lived there, but Dicky Weed couldn't see anything o' the
watch, and wot made 'im more angry than anything else was Mrs. Pretty
setting down in a chair with 'er 'ands folded in her lap and pointing out
places that he 'adn't done.

"You leave 'im alone," ses Bob.  "_He knows wot 'e's arter_.  Wot did you
do with those little bits o' watch you found when you was bandaging me
up, missis?"

"Don't ask me," ses Mrs. Pretty.  "I was in such a state I don't know wot
I was doing 'ardly."

"Well, they must be about somewhere," ses Bob.  "You 'ave a look for 'em,
Dicky, and if you find 'em, keep 'em.  They belong to you."

Dicky Weed tried to be civil and thank 'im, and then he went off 'ome and
talked it over with 'is wife agin.  People couldn't make up their minds
whether Bob Pretty 'ad found the watch in 'is pocket and was shamming, or
whether 'e was really shot, but they was all quite certain that,
whichever way it was, Dicky Weed would never see 'is watch agin.

On the Saturday evening this 'ere Cauliflower public-'ouse was crowded,
everybody being anxious to see the watch trick done over agin.  We had
'eard that it 'ad been done all right at Cudford and Monksham; but Bob
Pretty said as 'ow he'd believe it when 'e saw it, and not afore.

He was one o' the fust to turn up that night, because 'e said 'e wanted
to know wot the conjurer was going to pay him for all 'is pain and
suffering and having things said about 'is character.  He came in leaning
on a stick, with 'is face still bandaged, and sat right up close to the
conjurer's table, and watched him as 'ard as he could as 'e went through
'is tricks.

"And now," ses the conjurer, at last, "I come to my celebrated watch
trick.  Some of you as wos 'ere last Tuesday when I did it will remember
that the man I fired the pistol at pretended that 'e'd been shot and run
off 'ome with it in 'is pocket."

"You're a liar!"  ses Bob Pretty, standing up.  "Very good," ses the
conjurer; "you take that bandage off and show us all where you're hurt."

"I shall do nothing o' the kind," ses Bob.  I don't take my orders from
you."

"Take the bandage off," ses the conjurer, "and if there's any shot marks
I'll give you a couple o' sovereigns."

"I'm afraid of the air getting to it," ses Bob Pretty.

"You don't want to be afraid o' that, Bob," ses John Biggs, the
blacksmith, coming up behind and putting 'is great arms round 'im.  "Take
off that rag, somebody; I've got hold of 'im."

Bob Pretty started to struggle at fust, but then, seeing it was no good,
kept quite quiet while they took off the bandages.

"There!  look at 'im," ses the conjurer, pointing.  "Not a mark on 'is
face, not one."

"Wet!" ses Bob Pretty.  "Do you mean to say there's no marks?"

"I do," ses the conjurer.

"Thank goodness," ses Bob Pretty, clasping his 'ands.  "Thank goodness!
I was afraid I was disfigured for life.  Lend me a bit o' looking-glass,
somebody.  I can 'ardly believe it."

"You stole Dicky Weed's watch," ses John Biggs.  "I 'ad my suspicions of
you all along.  You're a thief, Bob Pretty.  That's wot you are."

"Prove it," ses Bob Pretty.  "You 'eard wot the conjurer said the other
night, that the last time he tried 'e failed, and 'ad to give
eighteenpence to the man wot the watch 'ad belonged to."

"That was by way of a joke like," ses the conjurer to John Biggs.  "I can
always do it.  I'm going to do it now.  Will somebody 'ave the kindness
to lend me a watch?"

He looked all round the room, but nobody offered--except other men's
watches, wot wouldn't lend 'em.

"Come, come," he ses; "ain't none of you got any trust in me?  It'll be
as safe as if it was in your pocket.  I want to prove to you that this
man is a thief."

He asked 'em agin, and at last John Biggs took out 'is silver watch and
offered it to 'im on the understanding that 'e was on no account to fire
it into Bob Pretty's pocket.

"Not likely," ses the conjurer.  "Now, everybody take a good look at this
watch, so as to make sure there's no deceiving."

He 'anded it round, and arter everybody 'ad taken a look at it 'e took it
up to the table and laid it down.

"Let me 'ave a look at it," ses Bob Pretty, going up to the table.  "I'm
not going to 'ave my good name took away for nothing if I can 'elp it."

He took it up and looked at it, and arter 'olding it to 'is ear put it
down agin.

"Is that the flat-iron it's going to be smashed with?"  he ses.

"It is," ses the conjurer, looking at 'im nasty like; "p'r'aps you'd like
to examine it."

Bob Pretty took it and looked at it. "Yes, mates," he ses, "it's a
ordinary flat-iron.  You couldn't 'ave anything better for smashing a
watch with."

He 'eld it up in the air and, afore anybody could move, brought it down
bang on the face o' the watch.  The conjurer sprang at 'im and caught at
'is arm, but it was too late, and in a terrible state o' mind 'e turned
round to John Biggs.

[Illustration: "Afore anybody could move, he brought it down bang on the
face o' the watch."]

"He's smashed your watch," he ses; "he's smashed your watch."

"Well," ses John Biggs, "it 'ad got to be smashed, 'adn't it?"

"Yes, but not by 'im," ses the conjurer, dancing about.  "I wash my 'ands
of it now."

"Look 'ere," ses John Biggs; "don't you talk to me about washing your
'ands of it.  You finish your trick and give me my watch back agin same
as it was afore."

"Not now he's been interfering with it," ses the conjurer.  "He'd better
do the trick now as he's so clever."

"I'd sooner 'ave you do it," ses John Biggs.  "Wot did you let 'im
interfere for?"

"'Ow was I to know wot 'e was going to do?"  ses the conjurer.  "You must
settle it between you now.  I'll 'ave nothing more to do with it."

"All right, John Biggs," ses Bob Pretty; "if 'e won't do it, I will.  If
it can be done, I don't s'pose it matters who does it.  I don't think
anybody could smash up a watch better than that."

John Biggs looked at it, and then 'e asked the conjurer once more to do
the trick, but 'e wouldn't.

"It can't be done now," he ses; "and I warn you that if that pistol is
fired I won't be responsible for what'll 'appen."

"George Kettle shall load the pistol and fire it if 'e won't," ses Bob
Pretty.  "'Aving been in the Militia, there couldn't be a better man for
the job."

George Kettle walked up to the table as red as fire at being praised like
that afore people and started loading the pistol.  He seemed to be more
awkward about it than the conjurer 'ad been the last time, and he 'ad to
roll the watch-cases up with the flat-iron afore 'e could get 'em in.
But 'e loaded it at last and stood waiting.

"Don't shoot at me, George Kettle," ses Bob.  "I've been called a thief
once, and I don't want to be agin."

"Put that pistol down, you fool, afore you do mischief," ses the
conjurer.

"Who shall I shoot at?"  ses George Kettle, raising the pistol.

"Better fire at the conjurer, I think," ses Bob Pretty; "and if things
'appen as he says they will 'appen, the watch ought to be found in 'is
coat-pocket."

"Where is he?"  ses George, looking round.

Bill Chambers laid 'old of 'im just as he was going through the door to
fetch the landlord, and the scream 'e gave as he came back and George
Kettle pointed the pistol at 'im was awful.

[Illustration: "The scream 'e gave as George Kettle pointed the pistol at
'im was awful."]

"It's no worse for you than it was for me," ses Bob.

"Put it down," screams the conjurer; "put it down.  You'll kill 'arf the
men in the room if it goes off."

"Be careful where you aim, George," ses Sam Jones.  "P'r'aps he'd better
'ave a chair all by hisself in the middle of the room."

It was all very well for Sam Jones to talk, but the conjurer wouldn't sit
on a chair by 'imself.  He wouldn't sit on it at all.  He seemed to be
all legs and arms, and the way 'e struggled it took four or five men to
'old 'im.

"Why don't you keep still?"  ses John Biggs.  "George Kettle'll shoot it
in your pocket all right.  He's the best shot in Claybury."

"Help!  Murder!" says the conjurer, struggling.  "He'll kill me.  Nobody
can do the trick but me."

"But you say you won't do it," ses John Biggs.  "Not now," ses the
conjurer; "I can't."

"Well, I'm not going to 'ave my watch lost through want of trying," ses
John Biggs.  "Tie 'im to the chair, mates."

"All right, then," ses the conjurer, very pale.  "Don't tie me; I'll sit
still all right if you like, but you'd better bring the chair outside in
case of accidents.  Bring it in the front."

George Kettle said it was all nonsense, but the conjurer said the trick
was always better done in the open air, and at last they gave way and
took 'im and the chair outside.

"Now," ses the conjurer, as 'e sat down, "all of you go and stand near
the man woe's going to shoot.  When I say 'Three,' fire.  Why!  there's
the watch on the ground there!"

He pointed with 'is finger, and as they all looked down he jumped up out
o' that chair and set off on the road to Wickham as 'ard as 'e could run.
It was so sudden that nobody knew wot 'ad 'appened for a moment, and then
George Kettle, wot 'ad been looking with the rest, turned round and
pulled the trigger.

There was a bang that pretty nigh deafened us, and the back o' the chair
was blown nearly out.  By the time we'd got our senses agin the conjurer
was a'most out o' sight, and Bob Pretty was explaining to John Biggs wot
a good job it was 'is watch 'adn't been a gold one.

"That's wot comes o' trusting a foreigner afore a man wot you've known
all your life," he ses, shaking his 'ead.  "I 'ope the next man wot tries
to take my good name away won't get off so easy.  I felt all along the
trick couldn't be done; it stands to reason it couldn't.  I done my best,
too."





ADMIRAL PETERS

Mr. George Burton, naval pensioner, sat at the door of his lodgings
gazing in placid content at the sea.  It was early summer, and the air
was heavy with the scent of flowers; Mr. Burton's pipe was cold and
empty, and his pouch upstairs.  He shook his head gently as he realised
this, and, yielding to the drowsy quiet of his surroundings, laid aside
the useless pipe and fell into a doze.

[Illustration: "Sat at the door of his lodgings gazing in placid content
at the sea."]

He was awakened half an hour later by the sound of footsteps.  A tall,
strongly built man was approaching from the direction of the town, and
Mr. Burton, as he gazed at him sleepily, began to wonder where he had
seen him before.  Even when the stranger stopped and stood smiling down
at him his memory proved unequal to the occasion, and he sat staring at
the handsome, shaven face, with its little fringe of grey whisker,
waiting for enlightenment.

"George, my buck," said the stranger, giving him a hearty slap on the
shoulder, "how goes it?"

"D--- _Bless_ my eyes, I mean," said Mr. Burton, correcting himself, "if
it ain't Joe Stiles.  I didn't know you without your beard."

"That's me," said the other.  "It's quite by accident I heard where you
were living, George; I offered to go and sling my hammock with old Dingle
for a week or two, and he told me.  Nice quiet little place, Seacombe.
Ah, you were lucky to get your pension, George."

"I deserved it," said Mr. Burton, sharply, as he fancied he detected
something ambiguous in his friend's remark.

"Of course you did," said Mr. Stiles; "so did I, but I didn't get it.
Well, it's a poor heart that never rejoices.  What about that drink you
were speaking of, George?"

"I hardly ever touch anything now," replied his friend.

"I was thinking about myself," said Mr. Stiles.  "I can't bear the stuff,
but the doctor says I must have it.  You know what doctors are, George!"

Mr. Burton did not deign to reply, but led the way indoors.

"Very comfortable quarters, George," remarked Mr. Stiles, gazing round
the room approvingly; "ship-shape and tidy.  I'm glad I met old Dingle.
Why, I might never ha' seen you again; and us such pals, too."

His host grunted, and from the back of a small cupboard, produced a
bottle of whisky and a glass, and set them on the table.  After a
momentary hesitation he found another glass.

"Our noble selves," said Mr. Stiles, with a tinge of reproach in his
tones, "and may we never forget old friendships."

Mr. Burton drank the toast.  "I hardly know what it's like now, Joe," he
said, slowly.  "You wouldn't believe how soon you can lose the taste for
it."

Mr. Stiles said he would take his word for it.  "You've got some nice
little public-houses about here, too," he remarked.  "There's one I
passed called the Cock and Flowerpot; nice cosy little place it would be
to spend the evening in."

"I never go there," said Mr. Burton, hastily.  "I--a friend o' mine here
doesn't approve o' public-'ouses."

"What's the matter with him?"  inquired his friend, anxiously.

"It's--it's a 'er," said Mr. Burton, in some confusion.

Mr. Stiles threw himself back in his chair and eyed him with amazement.
Then, recovering his presence of mind, he reached out his hand for the
bottle.

"We'll drink her health," he said, in a deep voice.  "What's her name?"

"Mrs. Dutton," was the reply.

Mr. Stiles, with one hand on his heart, toasted her feelingly; then,
filling up again, he drank to the "happy couple."

"She's very strict about drink," said Mr. Burton, eyeing these
proceedings with some severity.

"Any--dibs?"  inquired Mr. Stiles, slapping a pocket which failed to ring
in response.

"She's comfortable," replied the other, awkwardly.  "Got a little
stationer's shop in the town; steady, old-fashioned business.  She's
chapel, and very strict."

"Just what you want," remarked Mr. Stiles, placing his glass on the
table.  "What d'ye say to a stroll?"

Mr. Burton assented, and, having replaced the black bottle in the
cupboard, led the way along the cliffs toward the town some half-mile
distant, Mr. Stiles beguiling the way by narrating his adventures since
they had last met.  A certain swagger and richness of deportment were
explained by his statement that he had been on the stage.

"Only walking on," he said, with a shake of his head.  "The only speaking
part I ever had was a cough.  You ought to ha' heard that cough, George!"

Mr. Burton politely voiced his regrets and watched him anxiously.  Mr.
Stiles, shaking his head over a somewhat unsuccessful career, was making
a bee-line for the Cock and Flowerpot.

"Just for a small soda," he explained, and, once inside, changed his mind
and had whisky instead.  Mr. Burton, sacrificing principle to friendship,
had one with him.  The bar more than fulfilled Mr. Stiles's ideas as to
its cosiness, and within the space of ten minutes he was on excellent
terms with the regular clients.  Into the little, old-world bar, with its
loud-ticking clock, its Windsor-chairs, and its cracked jug full of
roses, he brought a breath of the bustle of the great city and tales of
the great cities beyond the seas.  Refreshment was forced upon him, and
Mr. Burton, pleased at his friend's success, shared mildly in his
reception.  It was nine o'clock before they departed, and then they only
left to please the landlord.

"Nice lot o' chaps," said Mr. Stiles, as he stumbled out into the sweet,
cool air.  "Catch hold--o' my--arm, George.  Brace me--up a bit."

Mr. Burton complied, and his friend, reassured as to his footing, burst
into song.  In a stentorian voice he sang the latest song from comic
opera, and then with an adjuration to Mr. Burton to see what he was
about, and not to let him trip, he began, in a lumbering fashion, to
dance.

Mr. Burton, still propping him up, trod a measure with fewer steps, and
cast uneasy glances up the lonely road.  On their left the sea broke
quietly on the beach below; on their right were one or two scattered
cottages, at the doors of which an occasional figure appeared to gaze
in mute astonishment at the proceedings.

"Dance, George," said Mr. Stiles, who found his friend rather an
encumbrance.

"Hs'h!  Stop!" cried the frantic Mr. Burton, as he caught sight of a
woman's figure bidding farewell in a lighted doorway.

Mr. Stiles replied with a stentorian roar, and Mr. Burton, clinging
despairingly to his jigging friend lest a worse thing should happen, cast
an imploring glance at Mrs. Dutton as they danced by.  The evening was
still light enough for him to see her face, and he piloted the corybantic
Mr. Stiles the rest of the way home in a mood which accorded but ill with
his steps.

His manner at breakfast next morning was so offensive that Mr. Stiles,
who had risen fresh as a daisy and been out to inhale the air on the
cliffs, was somewhat offended.

"You go down and see her," he said, anxiously.  "Don't lose a moment; and
explain to her that it was the sea-air acting on an old sunstroke."

"She ain't a fool," said Mr. Burton, gloomily.

He finished his breakfast in silence, and, leaving the repentant Mr.
Stiles sitting in the doorway with a pipe, went down to the widow's to
make the best explanation he could think of on the way.  Mrs. Dutton's
fresh-coloured face changed as he entered the shop, and her still good
eyes regarded him with scornful interrogation.

"I--saw you last night," began Mr. Burton, timidly.

"I saw you, too," said Mrs. Dutton.  "I couldn't believe my eyesight at
first."

"It was an old shipmate of mine," said Mr. Burton.  "He hadn't seen me
for years, and I suppose the sight of me upset 'im."

"I dare say," replied the widow; "that and the Cock and Flowerpot, too.
I heard about it."

"He would go," said the unfortunate.

"You needn't have gone," was the reply.

"I 'ad to," said Mr. Burton, with a gulp; "he--he's an old officer o'
mine, and it wouldn't ha' been discipline for me to refuse."

"Officer?"  repeated Mrs. Dutton.

"My old admiral," said Mr. Burton, with a gulp that nearly choked him.
"You've heard me speak of Admiral Peters?"

"_Admiral?_"  gasped the astonished widow.

"What, a-carrying on like that?"

"He's a reg'lar old sea-dog," said Mr. Burton.  "He's staying with me,
but of course 'e don't want it known who he is.  I couldn't refuse to
'ave a drink with 'im.  I was under orders, so to speak."

"No, I suppose not," said Mrs. Dutton, softening.  "Fancy him staying
with you!"

"He just run down for the night, but I expect he'll be going 'ome in an
hour or two," said Mr. Burton, who saw an excellent reason now for
hastening his guest's departure.

Mrs. Dutton's face fell.  "Dear me," she murmured, "I should have liked
to have seen him; you have told me so much about him.  If he doesn't go
quite so soon, and you would like to bring him here when you come
to-night, I'm sure I should be very pleased."

"I'll mention it to 'im," said Mr. Burton, marvelling at the change in
her manner.

"Didn't you say once that he was uncle to Lord Buckfast?" inquired Mrs.
Dutton, casually.

"Yes," said Mr. Burton, with unnecessary doggedness; "I did."

"The idea of an admiral staying with you!" said Mrs. Dutton.

"Reg'lar old sea-dog," said Mr. Burton again; "and, besides, he don't
want it known.  It's a secret between us three, Mrs. Dutton."

"To be sure," said the widow.  "You can tell the admiral that I shall not
mention it to a soul," she added, mincingly.

Mr. Burton thanked her and withdrew, lest Mr. Stiles should follow him up
before apprised of his sudden promotion.  He found that gentleman,
however, still sitting at the front door, smoking serenely.

"I'll stay with you for a week or two," said Mr. Stiles, briskly, as soon
as the other had told his story.  "It'll do you a world o' good to be
seen on friendly terms with an admiral, and I'll put in a good word for
you."

Mr. Burton shook his head.  "No, she might find out," he said, slowly.
"I think that the best thing is for you to go home after dinner, Joe, and
just give 'er a look in on the way, p'r'aps.  You could say a lot o'
things about me in 'arf an hour."

"No, George," said Mr. Stiles, beaming on him kindly; "when I put my hand
to the plough I don't draw back.  It's a good speaking part, too, an
admiral's.  I wonder whether I might use old Peters's language."

"Certainly not," said Mr. Burton, in alarm.

"You don't know how particular she is."

Mr. Stiles sighed, and said that he would do the best he could without
it.  He spent most of the day on the beach smoking, and when evening came
shaved himself with extreme care and brushed his serge suit with great
perseverance in preparation for his visit.

Mr. Burton performed the ceremony of introduction with some awkwardness;
Mr. Stiles was affecting a stateliness of manner which was not without
distinction; and Mrs. Dutton, in a black silk dress and the cameo brooch
which had belonged to her mother, was no less important.  Mr. Burton had
an odd feeling of inferiority.

[Illustration: "Mr. Stiles was affecting a stateliness of manner which
was not without distinction."]

"It's a very small place to ask you to, Admiral Peters," said the widow,
offering him a chair.

"It's comfortable, ma'am," said Mr. Stiles, looking round approvingly.
"Ah, you should see some of the palaces I've been in abroad; all show and
no comfort.  Not a decent chair in the place.  And, as for the
antimacassars----"

"Are you making a long stay, Admiral Peters?"  inquired the delighted
widow.

"It depends," was the reply.  "My intention was just to pay a flying
visit to my honest old friend Burton here--best man in my squadron--but
he is so hospitable, he's been pressing me to stay for a few weeks."

"But the admiral says he must get back to-morrow morning," interposed Mr.
Burton, firmly.

"Unless I have a letter at breakfast-time, Burton," said Mr. Stiles,
serenely.

Mr. Burton favoured him with a mutinous scowl.

"Oh, I do hope you will," said Mrs. Dutton.

"I have a feeling that I shall," said Mr. Stiles, crossing glances with
his friend.  "The only thing is my people; they want me to join them at
Lord Tufton's place."

Mrs. Dutton trembled with delight at being in the company of a man with
such friends.  "What a change shore-life must be to you after the perils
of the sea!" she murmured.

"Ah!" said Mr. Stiles.  "True!  True!"

"The dreadful fighting," said Mrs. Dutton, closing her eyes and
shuddering.

"You get used to it," said the hero, simply.  "Hottest time I had I think
was at the bombardment of Alexandria.  I stood alone.  All the men who
hadn't been shot down had fled, and the shells were bursting round me
like--like fireworks."

The widow clasped her hands and shuddered again.

"I was standing just behind 'im, waiting any orders he might give," said
Mr. Burton.

"Were you?" said Mr. Stiles, sharply--"were you?  I don't remember it,
Burton."

"Why," said Mr. Burton, with a faint laugh, "I was just behind you, sir.
If you remember, sir, I said to you that it was pretty hot work."

Mr. Stiles affected to consider.  "No, Burton," he said, bluffly--"no; so
far as my memory goes I was the only man there."

"A bit of a shell knocked my cap off, sir," persisted Mr. Burton, making
laudable efforts to keep his temper.

"That'll do, my man," said the other, sharply; "not another word.  You
forget yourself."

He turned to the widow and began to chat about "his people" again to
divert her attention from Mr. Burton, who seemed likely to cause
unpleasantness by either bursting a blood-vessel or falling into a fit.

"My people have heard of Burton," he said, with a slight glance to see
how that injured gentleman was progressing.  "He has often shared my
dangers.  We have been in many tight places together.  Do you remember
those two nights when we were hidden in the chimney at the palace of the
Sultan of Zanzibar, Burton?"

"I should think I do," said Mr. Burton, recovering somewhat.

"Stuck so tight we could hardly breathe," continued the other.

"I shall never forget it as long as I live," said Mr. Burton, who thought
that the other was trying to make amends for his recent indiscretion.

"Oh, do tell me about it, Admiral Peters," cried Mrs. Dutton.

"Surely Burton has told you that?"  said Mr. Stiles.

"Never breathed a word of it," said the widow, gazing somewhat
reproachfully at the discomfited Mr. Burton.

"Well, tell it now, Burton," said Mr. Stiles.

"You tell it better than I do, sir," said the other.

"No, no," said Mr. Stiles, whose powers of invention were not always to
be relied upon.  "You tell it; it's your story."

The widow looked from one to the other.  "It's your story, sir," said Mr.
Burton.

"No, I won't tell it," said Mr. Stiles.  "It wouldn't be fair to you,
Burton.  I'd forgotten that when I spoke.  Of course, you were young at
the time, still----"

"I done nothing that I'm ashamed of, sir," said Mr. Burton, trembling
with passion.

"I think it's very hard if I'm not to hear it," said Mrs. Dutton, with
her most fascinating air.

Mr. Stiles gave her a significant glance, and screwing up his lips nodded
in the direction of Mr. Burton.

"At any rate, you were in the chimney with me, sir," said that
unfortunate.

"Ah!" said the other, severely.  "But what was I there for, my man?"

Mr. Burton could not tell him; he could only stare at him in a frenzy of
passion and dismay.

"What were you there for, Admiral Peters?"  inquired Mrs. Dutton.

"I was there, ma'am," said the unspeakable Mr. Stiles, slowly--"I was
there to save the life of Burton.  I never deserted my men---never.
Whatever scrapes they got into I always did my best to get them out.
News was brought to me that Burton was suffocating in the chimney of the
Sultan's favourite wife, and I----"

"Sultan's favourite wife!"  gasped Mrs. Dutton, staring hard at Mr.
Burton, who had collapsed in his chair and was regarding the ingenious
Mr. Stiles with open-mouthed stupefaction.  "Good gracious!  I--I never
heard of such a thing.  I am surprised!"

"So am I," said Mr. Burton, thickly.  "I--I---"

"How did you escape, Admiral Peters?"  inquired the widow, turning from
the flighty Burton in indignation.

Mr. Stiles shook his head.  "To tell you that would be to bring the
French Consul into it," he said, gently.  "I oughtn't to have mentioned
the subject at all.  Burton had the good sense not to."

The widow murmured acquiescence, and stole a look at the prosaic figure
of the latter gentleman which was full of scornful curiosity.  With some
diffidence she invited the admiral to stay to supper, and was obviously
delighted when he accepted.

In the character of admiral Mr. Stiles enjoyed himself amazingly, his one
regret being that no discriminating theatrical manager was present to
witness his performance.  His dignity increased as the evening wore on,
and from good-natured patronage of the unfortunate Burton he progressed
gradually until he was shouting at him.  Once, when he had occasion to
ask Mr. Burton if he intended to contradict him, his appearance was so
terrible that his hostess turned pale and trembled with excitement.

Mr. Burton adopted the air for his own use as soon as they were clear of
Mrs. Dutton's doorstep, and in good round terms demanded of Mr. Stiles
what he meant by it.

"It was a difficult part to play, George," responded his friend.  "We
ought to have rehearsed it a bit.  I did the best I could."

"Best you could?"  stormed Mr. Burton.  "Telling lies and ordering me
about?"

"I had to play the part without any preparation, George," said the other,
firmly.  "You got yourself into the difficulty by saying that I was the
admiral in the first place.  I'll do better next time we go."

Mr. Burton, with a nasty scowl, said that there was not going to be any
next time, but Mr. Stiles smiled as one having superior information.
Deaf first to hints and then to requests to seek his pleasure elsewhere,
he stayed on, and Mr. Burton was soon brought to realise the difficulties
which beset the path of the untruthful.

The very next visit introduced a fresh complication, it being evident to
the most indifferent spectator that Mr. Stiles and the widow were getting
on very friendly terms.  Glances of unmistakable tenderness passed
between them, and on the occasion of the third visit Mr. Burton sat an
amazed and scandalised spectator of a flirtation of the most pronounced
description.  A despairing attempt on his part to lead the conversation
into safer and, to his mind, more becoming channels only increased his
discomfiture.  Neither of them took any notice of it, and a minute later
Mr. Stiles called the widow a "saucy little baggage," and said that she
reminded him of the Duchess of Marford.

[Illustration: "'Mr. Stiles called the widow a 'saucy little baggage.'"]

"I used to think she was the most charming woman in England," he said,
meaningly.

Mrs. Dutton simpered and looked down; Mr. Stiles moved his chair a little
closer to her, and then glanced thoughtfully at his friend.

"Burton," he said.

"Sir," snapped the other.

"Run back and fetch my pipe for me," said Mr. Stiles.  "I left it on the
mantelpiece."

Mr. Burton hesitated, and, the widow happening to look away, shook his
fist at his superior officer.

"Look sharp," said Mr. Stiles, in a peremptory voice.

"I'm very sorry, sir," said Mr. Burton, whose wits were being sharpened
by misfortune, "but I broke it."

"Broke it?"  repeated the other.

"Yes, sir," said Mr. Burton.  "I knocked it on the floor and trod on it
by accident; smashed it to powder."

Mr. Stiles rated him roundly for his carelessness, and asked him whether
he knew that it was a present from the Italian Ambassador.

"Burton was always a clumsy man," he said, turning to the widow.  "He had
the name for it when he was on the _Destruction_ with me; 'Bungling
Burton' they called him."

He divided the rest of the evening between flirting and recounting
various anecdotes of Mr. Burton, none of which were at all flattering
either to his intelligence or to his sobriety, and the victim, after one
or two futile attempts at contradiction, sat in helpless wrath as he saw
the infatuation of the widow.  They were barely clear of the house before
his pent-up emotions fell in an avalanche of words on the faithless Mr.
Stiles.

"I can't help being good-looking," said the latter, with a smirk.

"Your good looks wouldn't hurt anybody," said Mr. Burton, in a grating
voice; "it's the admiral business that fetches her.  It's turned 'er
head."

Mr. Stiles smiled.  "She'll say 'snap' to my 'snip' any time," he
remarked.  "And remember, George, there'll always be a knife and fork
laid for you when you like to come."

"I dessay," retorted Mr. Burton, with a dreadful sneer.  "Only as it
happens I'm going to tell 'er the truth about you first thing to-morrow
morning.  If I can't have 'er you sha'n't."

"That'll spoil your chance, too," said Mr. Stiles.  "She'd never forgive
you for fooling her like that.  It seems a pity neither of us should get
her."

"You're a sarpent," exclaimed Mr. Burton, savagely--"a sarpent that I've
warmed in my bosom and----"

"There's no call to be indelicate, George," said Mr. Stiles, reprovingly,
as he paused at the door of the house.  "Let's sit down and talk it over
quietly."

Mr. Burton followed him into the room and, taking a chair, waited.

"It's evident she's struck with me," said Mr. Stiles, slowly; "it's also
evident that if you tell her the truth it might spoil my chances.  I
don't say it would, but it might.  That being so, I'm agreeable to going
back without seeing her again by the six-forty train to-morrow morning if
it's made worth my while."

"Made worth your while?"  repeated the other.

"Certainly," said the unblushing Mr. Stiles.  "She's not a bad-looking
woman--for her age--and it's a snug little business."

Mr. Burton, suppressing his choler, affected to ponder.  "If 'arf a
sovereign--" he said, at last.

"Half a fiddlestick!" said the other, impatiently.  "I want ten pounds.
You've just drawn your pension, and, besides, you've been a saving man
all your life."

"Ten pounds?" gasped the other.  "D'ye think I've got a gold-mine in the
back garden?"

Mr. Stiles leaned back in his chair and crossed his feet.  "I don't go
for a penny less," he said, firmly.  "Ten pounds and my ticket back.  If
you call me any more o' those names I'll make it twelve."

"And what am I to explain to Mrs. Dutton?"  demanded Mr. Burton, after a
quarter of an hour's altercation.

"Anything you like," said his generous friend.  "Tell her I'm engaged to
my cousin, and our marriage keeps being put off and off on account of my
eccentric behaviour.  And you can say that that was caused by a splinter
of a shell striking my head.  Tell any lies you like; I shall never turn
up again to contradict them.  If she tries to find out things about the
admiral, remind her that she promised to keep his visit here secret."

For over an hour Mr. Burton sat weighing the advantages and disadvantages
of this proposal, and then--Mr. Stiles refusing to seal the bargain
without--shook hands upon it and went off to bed in a state of mind
hovering between homicide and lunacy.

He was up in good time next morning, and, returning the shortest possible
answers to the remarks of Mr. Stiles, who was in excellent feather, went
with him to the railway station to be certain of his departure.

It was a delightful morning, cool and bright, and, despite his
misfortunes.  Mr. Burton's spirits began to rise as he thought of his
approaching deliverance.  Gloom again overtook him at the booking-office,
where the unconscionable Mr. Stiles insisted firmly upon a first-class
ticket.

"Who ever heard of an admiral riding third?"  he demanded, indignantly.

"But they don't know you're an admiral," urged Mr. Burton, trying to
humour him.

"No; but I feel like one," said Mr. Stiles, slapping his pocket.  "I've
always felt curious to see what it feels like travelling first-class;
besides, you can tell Mrs. Dutton."

"I could tell 'er that in any case," returned Mr. Burton.

Mr. Stiles looked shocked, and, time pressing, Mr. Burton, breathing so
hard that it impeded his utterance, purchased a first-class ticket and
conducted him to the carriage.  Mr. Stiles took a seat by the window and
lolling back put his foot up on the cushions opposite.  A large bell rang
and the carriage-doors were slammed.

"Good-bye, George," said the traveller, putting his head to the window.
"I've enjoyed my visit very much."

"Good riddance," said Mr. Burton, savagely.


[Illustration: "'Good riddance,' said Mr. Burton, savagely."]

Mr. Stiles shook his head.  "I'm letting you off easy," he said, slowly.
"If it hadn't ha' been for one little thing I'd have had the widow
myself."

"What little thing?"  demanded the other, as the train began to glide
slowly out.

"My wife," said Mr. Stiles, as a huge smile spread slowly over his face.
"Good-bye, George, and don't forget to give my love when you go round."





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