Lady of the Barge and Others, Entire Collection
Part 3 out of 4
hunt the tiger. Bill Chambers, who was still grieving after 'is pig,
said 'e would, then another man offered, until at last there was
seventeen of 'em. Some of 'em 'ad scythes and some pitchforks, and one
or two of 'em guns, and it was one o' the finest sights I ever seed when
George Kettle stood 'em in rows of four and marched 'em off.
"They went straight up the road, then across Farmer Gill's fields to get
to Plashett's wood, where they thought the tiger 'ud most likely be, and
the nearer they got to the wood the slower they walked. The sun 'ad just
gone down and the wood looked very quiet and dark, but John Biggs, the
blacksmith, and George Kettle walked in first and the others follered,
keeping so close together that Sam Jones 'ad a few words over his
shoulder with Bill Chambers about the way 'e was carrying 'is pitchfork.
"Every now and then somebody 'ud say, _'Wot's that!'_ and they'd all stop
and crowd together and think the time 'ad come, but it 'adn't, and then
they'd go on agin, trembling, until they'd walked all round the wood
without seeing anything but one or two rabbits. John Biggs and George
Kettle wanted for to stay there till it was dark, but the others wouldn't
'ear of it for fear of frightening their wives, and just as it was
getting dark they all come tramp, tramp, back to the 'Cauliflower' agin.
"Smith stood 'em 'arf a pint apiece, and they was all outside 'ere
fancying theirselves a bit for wot they'd done when we see old man
Parsley coming along on two sticks as fast as 'e could come.
"'Are you brave lads a-looking for the tiger?' he asks.
"'Yes,' ses John Biggs.
"'Then 'urry up, for the sake of mercy,' ses old Mr. Parsley, putting 'is
'and on the table and going off into a fit of coughing; 'it's just gone
into Bob Pretty's cottage. I was passing and saw it.'
"George Kettle snatches up 'is gun and shouts out to 'is men to come
along. Some of 'em was for 'anging back at first, some because they
didn't like the tiger and some because they didn't like Bob Pretty, but
John Biggs drove 'em in front of 'im like a flock o' sheep and then they
gave a cheer and ran after George Kettle, full pelt up the road.
"A few wimmen and children was at their doors as they passed, but they
took fright and went indoors screaming. There was a lamp in Bob Pretty's
front room, but the door was closed and the 'ouse was silent as the
"George Kettle and the men with the guns went first, then came the
pitchforks, and last of all the scythes. Just as George Kettle put 'is
'and on the door he 'eard something moving inside, and the next moment
the door opened and there stood Bob Pretty.
"'What the dickens!' 'e ses, starting back as 'e see the guns and
pitchforks pointing at 'im.
"''Ave you killed it, Bob?' ses George Kettle.
"'Killed _wot?'_ ses Bob Pretty. 'Be careful o' them guns. Take your
fingers off the triggers.'
"'The tiger's in your 'ouse, Bob,' ses George Kettle, in a whisper.
''Ave you on'y just come in?'
"'Look 'ere,' ses Bob Pretty. 'I don't want any o' your games. You go
and play 'em somewhere else.'
"'It ain't a game,' ses John Biggs; 'the tiger's in your 'ouse and we're
going to kill it. Now, then, lads.'
"They all went in in a 'eap, pushing Bob Pretty in front of 'em, till the
room was full. Only one man with a scythe got in, and they wouldn't 'ave
let 'im in if they'd known. It a'most made 'em forget the tiger for the
"George Kettle opened the door wot led into the kitchen, and then 'e
sprang back with such a shout that the man with the scythe tried to
escape, taking Henery Walker along with 'im. George Kettle tried to
speak, but couldn't. All 'e could do was to point with 'is finger at Bob
Pretty's kitchen--_and Bob Pretty's kitchen was for all the world like a
pork-butcher's shop_. There was joints o' pork 'anging from the ceiling,
two brine tubs as full as they could be, and quite a string of fowls and
ducks all ready for market.
"'Wot d'ye mean by coming into my 'ouse?' ses Bob Pretty, blustering.
'If you don't clear out pretty quick, I'll make you.'
"Nobody answered 'im; they was all examining 'ands o' pork and fowls and
"'There's the tiger,' ses Henery Walker, pointing at Bob Pretty; 'that's
wot old man Parsley meant.'
"'Somebody go and fetch Policeman White,' ses a voice.
"'I wish they would,' ses Bob Pretty. "I'll 'ave the law on you all for
breaking into my 'ouse like this, see if I don't.'
"'Where'd you get all this pork from?' ses the blacksmith.
"'And them ducks and hins?' ses George Kettle.
"'That's my bisness,' ses Bob Pretty, staring 'em full in the face. 'I
just 'ad a excellent oppertunity offered me of going into the pork and
poultry line and I took it. Now, all them as doesn't want to buy any
pork or fowls go out o' my house.'
"'You're a thief, Bob Pretty!' says Henery Walker. 'You stole it all.'
"'Take care wot you're saying, Henery,' ses Bob Pretty, 'else I'll make
you prove your words.'
"'You stole my pig,' ses Herbert Smith.
"'Oh, 'ave I?' ses Bob, reaching down a 'and o' pork. 'Is that your
pig?' he ses.
"'It's just about the size o' my pore pig,' ses Herbert Smith.
"'Very usual size, I call it,' ses Bob Pretty; 'and them ducks and hins
very usual-looking hins and ducks, I call 'em, except that they don't
grow 'em so fat in these parts. It's a fine thing when a man's doing a
honest bisness to 'ave these charges brought agin 'im. Dis'eartening, I
call it. I don't mind telling you that the tiger got in at my back
winder the other night and took arf a pound o' sausage, but you don't
'ear me complaining and going about calling other people thieves.'
"'Tiger be hanged,' ses Henery Walker, who was almost certain that a loin
o' pork on the table was off 'is pig; 'you're the only tiger in these
"Why, Henery,' ses Bob Pretty, 'wot are you a-thinkin' of? Where's your
memory? Why, it's on'y two or three days ago you see it and 'ad to get
up a tree out of its way.'
"He smiled and shook 'is 'ead at 'im, but Henery Walker on'y kept opening
and shutting 'is mouth, and at last 'e went outside without saying a
"'And Sam Jones see it, too,' ses Bob Pretty; 'didn't you, Sam?'
"Sam didn't answer 'im.
"'And Charlie Hall and Jack Minns and a lot more,' ses Bob; 'besides, I
see it myself. I can believe my own eyes, I s'pose?'
"'We'll have the law on you,' ses Sam Jones.
"'As you like,' ses Bob Pretty; 'but I tell you plain, I've got all the
bills for this properly made out, upstairs. And there's pretty near a
dozen of you as'll 'ave to go in the box and swear as you saw the tiger.
Now, can I sell any of you a bit o' pork afore you go? It's delicious
eating, and as soon as you taste it you'll know it wasn't grown in
Claybury. Or a pair o' ducks wot 'ave come from two 'undered miles off,
and yet look as fresh as if they was on'y killed last night.'
"George Kettle, whose ducks 'ad gone the night afore, went into the front
room and walked up and down fighting for 'is breath, but it was all no
good; nobody ever got the better o' Bob Pretty. None of 'em could swear
to their property, and even when it became known a month later that Bob
Pretty and the tramp knew each other, nothing was done. But nobody ever
'eard any more of the tiger from that day to this."
A MIXED PROPOSAL
Major Brill, late of the Fenshire Volununteers, stood in front of the
small piece of glass in the hatstand, and with a firm and experienced
hand gave his new silk hat a slight tilt over the right eye. Then he
took his cane and a new pair of gloves, and with a military but squeaky
tread, passed out into the road. It was a glorious day in early autumn,
and the soft English landscape was looking its best, but despite the fact
that there was nothing more alarming in sight than a few cows on the
hillside a mile away, the Major paused at his gate, and his face took on
an appearance of the greatest courage and resolution before proceeding.
The road was dusty and quiet, except for the children playing at cottage
doors, and so hot that the Major, heedless of the fact that he could not
replace the hat at exactly the same angle, stood in the shade of a tree
while he removed it and mopped his heated brow.
He proceeded on his way more leisurely, overtaking, despite his lack of
speed, another man who was walking still more slowly in the shade of the
"Fine day, Halibut," he said, briskly; "fine day."
"Beautiful," said the other, making no attempt to keep pace with him.
"Country wants rain, though," cried the Major over his shoulder.
Halibut assented, and walking slowly on, wondered vaguely what gaudy
color it was that had attracted his eye. It dawned on him at length that
it must be the Major's tie, and he suddenly quickened his pace, by no
means reassured as the man of war also quickened his.
"Halloa, Brill!" he cried. "Half a moment."
The Major stopped and waited for his friend; Halibut eyed the tie
uneasily--it was fearfully and wonderfully made--but said nothing.
"Well?" said the Major, somewhat sharply.
"Oh--I was going to ask you, Brill--Confound it! I've forgotten what I
was going to say now. I daresay I shall soon think of it. You're not in
"Well, I am, rather," said Brill. "Fact is-- Is my hat on straight,
The other assuring him that it was, the Major paused in his career, and
gripping the brim with both hands, deliberately tilted it over the right
"You were saying--" said Halibut, regarding this manoeuvre with secret
"Yes," murmured the Major, "I was saying. Well, I don't mind telling an
old friend like you, Halibut, though it is a profound secret. Makes me
rather particular about my dress just now. Women notice these things.
I'm--sha'nt get much sympathy from a confirmed old bachelor like you--but
I'm on my way to put a very momentous question."
"The devil you are!" said the other, blankly.
"Sir!" said the astonished Major.
"Not Mrs. Riddel?" said Halibut.
"Certainly, sir," said the Major, stiffly. "Why not?"
"Only that I am going on the same errand," said the confirmed bachelor,
with desperate calmness.
The Major looked at him, and for the first time noticed an unusual
neatness and dressiness in his friend's attire. His collar was higher
than usual; his tie, of the whitest and finest silk, bore a pin he never
remembered to have seen before; and for the first time since he had known
him, the Major, with a strange sinking at the heart, saw that he wore
"This is extraordinary," he said, briefly. "Well, good-day, Halibut.
"Good-day," said the other.
The Major quickened his pace and shot ahead, and keeping in the shade of
the hedge, ground his teeth as the civilian on the other side of the road
slowly, but surely, gained on him.
It became exciting. The Major was handicapped by his upright bearing and
short military stride; the other, a simple child of the city, bent
forward, swinging his arms and taking immense strides. At a by-lane they
picked up three small boys, who, trotting in their rear, made it evident
by their remarks that they considered themselves the privileged
spectators of a foot-race. The Major could stand it no longer, and with
a cut of his cane at the foremost boy, softly called a halt.
"Well," said Halibut, stopping.
The man's manner was suspicious, not to say offensive, and the other had
much ado to speak him fair.
"This is ridiculous," he said, trying to smile. "We can't walk in and
propose in a duet. One of us must go to-day and the other to-morrow."
"Certainly," said Halibut; "that'll be the best plan."
"So childish," said the Major, with a careless laugh, "two fellows
walking in hot and tired and proposing to her."
"Absurd," replied Halibut, and both men eyed each other carefully.
"So, if I'm unsuccessful, old chap," said the Major, in a voice which he
strove to render natural and easy, "I will come straight back to your
place and let you know, so as not to keep you in suspense."
"You're very good," said Halibut, with some emotion; "but I think I'll
take to-day, because I have every reason to believe that I have got one
of my bilious attacks coming on to-morrow."
"Pooh! fancy, my dear fellow," said the Major, heartily; "I never saw you
look better in my life."
"That's one of the chief signs," replied Halibut, shaking his head. "I'm
afraid I must go to-day."
"I really cannot waive my right on account of your bilious attack," said
the Major haughtily.
"Your right?" said Halibut, with spirit.
"My right!" repeated the other. "I should have been there before you if
you had not stopped me in the first place."
"But I started first," said Halibut.
"Prove it," exclaimed the Major, warmly.
The other shrugged his shoulders.
"I shall certainly not give way," he said, calmly. "This is a matter in
which my whole future is concerned. It seems very odd, not to say
inconvenient, that you should have chosen the same day as myself, Brill,
for such an errand--very odd."
"It's quite an accident," asseverated the Major; "as a matter of fact,
Halibut, I nearly went yesterday. That alone gives me, I think, some
claim to precedence."
"Just so," said Halibut, slowly; "it constitutes an excellent claim."
The Major regarded him with moistening eyes. This was generous and
noble. His opinion of Halibut rose. "And now you have been so frank
with me," said the latter, "it is only fair that you should know I
started out with the same intention three days ago and found her out.
So far as claims go, I think mine leads."
"Pure matter of opinion," said the disgusted Major; "it really seems as
though we want an arbitrator. Well, we'll have to make our call
together, I suppose, but I'll take care not to give you any opportunity,
Halibut, so don't cherish any delusions on that point. Even you wouldn't
have the hardihood to propose before a third party, I should think; but
if you do, I give you fair warning that I shall begin, too."
"This is most unseemly," said Halibut. "We'd better both go home and
leave it for another day."
"When do you propose going, then?" asked the Major.
"Really, I haven't made up my mind," replied the other.
The Major shrugged his shoulders.
"It won't do, Halibut," he said, grimly; "it won't do. I'm too old a
soldier to be caught that way."
There was a long pause. The Major mopped his brow again. "I've got it,"
he said at last.
Halibut looked at him curiously.
"We must play for first proposal," said the Major, firmly. "We're pretty
"Chess?" gasped the other, a whole world of protest in his tones.
"Chess," repeated the Major.
"It is hardly respectful," demurred Halibut. "What do you think the lady
would do if she heard of it?"
"Laugh," replied the Major, with conviction.
"I believe she would," said the other, brightening. "I believe she
"You agree, then?"
"Conditions?" repeated the Major.
"One game," said Halibut, speaking very slowly and distinctly; "and if
the winner is refused, the loser not to propose until he gives him
"What the deuce for?" inquired the other, suspiciously.
"Suppose I win," replied Halibut, with suspicious glibness, "and was so
upset that I had one of my bilious attacks come on, where should I be?
Why, I might have to break off in the middle and go home. A fellow can't
propose when everything in the room is going round and round."
"I don't think you ought to contemplate marriage, Halibut," remarked the
Major, very seriously and gently.
"Thanks," said Halibut, dryly.
"Very well," said the Major, "I agree to the conditions. Better come to
my place and we'll decide it now. If we look sharp, the winner may be
able to know his fate to-day, after all."
Halibut assenting, they walked back together. The feverish joy of the
gambler showed in the Major's eye as they drew their chairs up to the
little antique chess table and began to place their pieces ready for the
fray. Then a thought struck him, and he crossed over to the sideboard.
"If you're feeling a bit off colour, Halibut," he said, kindly, "you'd
better have a little brandy to pull yourself together. I don't wish to
take a mean advantage."
"You're very good," said the other, as he eyed the noble measure of
liquid poured out by his generous adversary.
"And now to business," said the Major, as he drew himself a little soda
from a siphon.
"Now to business," repeated Halibut, rising and placing his glass on the
The Major struggled fiercely with his feelings, but, despite himself, a
guilty blush lent colour to the other's unfounded suspicions.
"Remember the conditions," said Halibut, impressively.
"Here's my hand on it," said the other, reaching over.
Halibut took it, and, his thoughts being at the moment far away, gave it
a tender, respectful squeeze. The Major stared and coughed. It was
suggestive of practice.
If the history of the duel is ever written, it will be found not unworthy
of being reckoned with the most famous combats of ancient times. Piece
after piece was removed from the board, and the Major drank glass after
glass of soda to cool his heated brain. At the second glass Halibut took
an empty tumbler and helped himself. Suddenly there was a singing in the
Major's ears, and a voice, a hateful, triumphant voice, said,
Then did his gaze wander from knight to bishop and bishop to castle in a
vain search for succour. There was his king defied by a bishop--a bishop
which had been hobnobbing with pawns in one corner of the board, and
which he could have sworn he had captured and removed full twenty minutes
before. He mentioned this impression to Halibut.
"That was the other one," said his foe. "I thought you had forgotten
this. I have been watching and hoping so for the last half-hour."
There was no disguising the coarse satisfaction of the man. He had
watched and hoped. Not beaten him, so the Major told himself, in fair
play, but by taking a mean and pitiful advantage of a pure oversight. A
sheer oversight. He admitted it.
Halibut rose with a sigh of relief, and the Major, mechanically sweeping
up the pieces, dropped them one by one into the box.
"Plenty of time," said the victor, glancing at the clock. "I shall go
now, but I should like a wash first."
The Major rose, and in his capacity of host led the way upstairs to his
room, and poured fresh water for his foe. Halibut washed himself
delicately, carefully trimming his hair and beard, and anxiously
consulting the Major as to the set of his coat in the back, after
he had donned it again.
His toilet completed, he gave a satisfied glance in the glass, and then
followed the man of war sedately down stairs. At the hall he paused, and
busied himself with the clothes-brush and hat-pad, modestly informing his
glaring friend that he could not afford to throw any chances away, and
then took his departure.
The Major sat up late that night waiting for news, but none came, and by
breakfast-time next morning his thirst for information became almost
uncontrollable. He toyed with a chop and allowed his coffee to get cold.
Then he clapped on his hat and set off to Halibut's to know the worst.
"Well?" he inquired, as he followed the other into his dining-room.
"I went," said Halibut, waving him to a chair.
"Am I to congratulate you?"
"Well, I don't know," was the reply; "perhaps not just yet."
"What do you mean by that?" said the Major, irascibly.
"Well, as a matter of fact," said Halibut, "she refused me, but so nicely
and so gently that I scarcely minded it. In fact, at first I hardly
realized that she had refused me."
The Major rose, and regarding his poor friend kindly, shook and patted
him lightly on the shoulder.
"She's a splendid woman," said Halibut. "Ornament to her sex," remarked
"So considerate," murmured the bereaved one.
"Good women always are," said the Major, decisively. "I don't think I'd
better worry her to-day, Halibut, do you?"
"No, I don't," said Halibut, stiffly.
"I'll try my luck to-morrow," said the Major.
"I beg your pardon," said Halibut.
"Eh?" said the Major, trying to look puzzled.
"You are forgetting the conditions of the game," replied Halibut. "You
have to obtain my permission first."
"Why, my dear fellow," said the Major, with a boisterous laugh.
"I wouldn't insult you by questioning your generosity in such a case.
No, no, Halibut, old fellow, I know you too well."
He spoke with feeling, but there was an anxious note in his voice.
"We must abide by the conditions," said Halibut, slowly; "and I must
inform you, Brill, that I intend to renew the attack myself."
"Then, sir," said the Major, fuming, "you compel me to say--putting all
modesty aside--that I believe the reason Mrs. Riddel would have nothing
to do with you was because she thought somebody else might make a similar
"That's what I thought," said Halibut, simply; "but you see now that you
have so unaccountably--so far as Mrs. Riddel is concerned--dropped out of
the running, perhaps, if I am gently persistent, she'll take me."
The Major rose and glared at him.
"If you don't take care, old chap," said Halibut, tenderly, "you'll burst
"Gently persistent," repeated the Major, staring at him; "gently
"Remember Bruce and his spider," smiled the other.
"You are not going to propose to that poor woman nine times?" roared his
"I hope that it will not be necessary," was the reply; "but if it is, I
can assure you, my dear Brill, that I'm not going to be outclassed by a
"But think of her feelings!" gasped the Major.
"I have," was the reply; "and I'm sure she'll thank me for it afterward.
You see, Brill, you and I are the only eligibles in the place, and now
you are out of it, she's sure to take me sooner or later."
"And pray how long am I to wait?" demanded the Major, controlling
himself with difficulty.
"I can't say," said Halibut; "but I don't think it's any good your
waiting at all, because if I see any signs that Mrs. Riddel is waiting
for you I may just give her a hint of the hopelessness of it."
"You're a perfect Mephistopheles, sir!" bawled the indignant Major.
"Strategy, my dear Brill," he said, smiling; "strategy. Now why waste
your time? Why not make some other woman happy? Why not try her
companion, Miss Philpotts? I'm sure any little assistance--"
The Major's attitude was so alarming that the sentence was never
finished, and a second later the speaker found himself alone, watching
his irate friend hurrying frantically down the path, knocking the blooms
off the geraniums with his cane as he went. He saw no more of him for
several weeks, the Major preferring to cherish his resentment in the
privacy of his house. The Major also refrained from seeing the widow,
having a wholesome dread as to what effect the contemplation of her
charms might have upon his plighted word.
He met her at last by chance. Mrs. Riddel bowed coldly and would have
passed on, but the Major had already stopped, and was making wild and
unmerited statements about the weather.
"It is seasonable," she said, simply.
The Major agreed with her, and with a strong-effort regained his
"I was just going to turn back," he said, untruthfully; "may I walk with
"I am not going far," was the reply.
With soldierly courage the Major took this as permission; with feminine
precision Mrs. Riddel walked about fifty yards and then stopped. "I told
you I wasn't going far," she said sweetly, as she held out her hand.
"I wanted to ask you something," said the Major, turning with her. "I
can't think what it was.
They walked on very slowly, the Major's heart beating rapidly as he told
himself that the lady's coldness was due to his neglect of the past few
weeks, and his wrath against Halibut rose to still greater heights as he
saw the cruel position in which that schemer had placed him. Then he
made a sudden resolution. There was no condition as to secrecy, and,
first turning the conversation on to indoor amusements, he told the
astonished Mrs. Riddel the full particulars of the fatal game. Mrs.
Riddel said that she would never forgive them; it was the most
preposterous thing she had ever heard of. And she demanded hotly whether
she was to spend the rest of her life in refusing Mr. Halibut.
"Do you play high as a rule?" she inquired, scornfully.
"Sixpence a game," replied the Major, simply.
The corners of Mrs. Riddel's mouth relaxed, and her fine eyes began to
water; then she turned her head away and laughed. "It was very foolish
of us, I admit," said the Major, ruefully, "and very wrong. I shouldn't
have told you, only I couldn't explain my apparent neglect without."
"Apparent neglect?" repeated the widow, somewhat haughtily.
"Well, put it down to a guilty conscience," said the Major; "it seems
years to me since I have seen you."
"Remember the conditions, Major Brill," said Mrs. Riddel, with severity.
"I shall not transgress them," replied the Major, seriously.
Mrs. Riddel gave her head a toss, and regarded him from the corner of her
"I am very angry with you, indeed," she said, severely. The Major
apologized again. "For losing," added the lady, looking straight before
Major Brill caught his breath and his knees trembled beneath him. He
made a half-hearted attempt to seize her hand, and then remembering his
position, sighed deeply and looked straight before him. They walked on
"I think," said his companion at last, "that, if you like, you can get
back at cribbage what you lost at chess. That is, of course, if you
really want to."
"He wouldn't play," said the Major, shaking his head.
"No, but I will," said Mrs. Riddel, with a smile. "I think I've got a
She blushed charmingly, and then, in modest alarm at her boldness,
dropped her voice almost to a whisper. The Major gazed at her in
speechless admiration and threw back his head in ecstasy. "Come round
to-morrow afternoon," said Mrs. Riddel, pausing at the end of the lane.
"Mr. Halibut shall be there, too, and it shall be done under his very
Until that time came the Major sat at home carefully rehearsing his part,
and it was with an air of complacent virtue that he met the somewhat
astonished gaze of the persistent Halibut next day. It was a bright
afternoon, but they sat indoors, and Mrs. Riddel, after an animated
description of a game at cribbage with Miss Philpotts the night before,
got the cards out and challenged Halibut to a game.
They played two, both of which the diplomatic Halibut lost; then Mrs.
Riddel, dismissing him as incompetent, sat drumming on the table with her
fingers, and at length challenged the Major. She lost the first game
easily, and began the second badly. Finally, after hastily glancing at a
new hand, she flung the cards petulantly on the table, face downward.
"Would you like my hand, Major Brill?" she demanded, with a blush.
"Better than anything in the world," cried the Major, eagerly.
Halibut started, and Miss Philpotts nearly had an accident with her
crochet hook. The only person who kept cool was Mrs. Riddel, and it was
quite clear to the beholders that she had realized neither the ambiguity
of her question nor the meaning of her opponent's reply.
"Well, you may have it," she said, brightly.
Before Miss Philpotts could lay down her work, before Mr. Halibut could
interpose, the Major took possession of Mrs. Riddel's small white hand
and raised it gallantly to his lips. Mrs. Riddel, with a faint scream
which was a perfect revelation to the companion, snatched her hand away.
"I meant my hand of cards," she said, breathlessly.
"Really, Brill, really," said Halibut, stepping forward fussily.
"Oh!" said the Major, blankly; "cards!"
"That's what I meant, of course," said Mrs. Riddel, recovering herself
with a laugh. "I had no idea still--if you prefer----" The Major took
her hand again, and Miss Philpotts set Mr. Halibut an example--which he
did not follow--by gazing meditatively out of the window. Finally she
gathered up her work and quitted the room. Mrs. Riddel smiled over at
Mr. Halibut and nodded toward the Major.
[Illustrations: "DON'T YOU THINK MAJOR BRILL IS SOMEWHAT HASTY IN HIS
CONCLUSIONS?" SHE INQUIRED SOFTLY.]
"Don't you think Major Brill is somewhat hasty in his conclusions?" she
"I'll tell Major Brill what I think of him when I get him alone," said
the injured gentleman, sourly.
AN ADULTERATION ACT
Dr. Frank Carson had been dreaming tantalizing dreams of cooling,
effervescent beverages. Over and over again in his dreams he had risen
from his bed, and tripping lightly down to the surgery in his pajamas,
mixed himself something long and cool and fizzy, without being able to
bring the dream to a satisfactory termination.
With a sudden start he awoke. The thirst was still upon him; the
materials for quenching it, just down one flight of stairs. He would
have smacked his lips at the prospect if they had been moist enough to
smack; as it was, he pushed down the bedclothes, and throwing one leg out
of bed-became firmly convinced that he was still dreaming.
For the atmosphere was stifling and odorous, and the ceiling descended in
an odd bulging curve to within a couple of feet of his head. Still half
asleep, he raised his fist and prodded at it in astonishment--a feeling
which gave way to one of stupefaction as the ceiling took another shape
and swore distinctly.
"I must be dreaming," mused the doctor; "even the ceiling seems alive."
He prodded it again-regarding it closely this time. The ceiling at once
rose to greater altitudes, and at the same moment an old face with bushy
whiskers crawled under the edge of it, and asked him profanely what he
meant by it. It also asked him whether he wanted something for himself,
because, if so, he was going the right way to work.
"Where am I?" demanded the bewildered doctor. "Mary! Mary!"
He started up in bed, and brought his head in sudden violent contact with
the ceiling. Then, before the indignant ceiling could carry out its
threat of a moment before, he slipped out of bed and stood on a floor
which was in its place one moment and somewhere else the next.
In the smell of bilge-water, tar, and the foetid atmosphere generally his
clouded brain awoke to the fact that he was on board ship, but resolutely
declined to inform him how he got there. He looked down in disgust at
the ragged clothes which he had on in lieu of the usual pajamas; and
then, as events slowly pieced themselves together in his mind,
remembered, as the last thing that he could remember, that he had warned
his friend Harry Thomson, solicitor, that if he had any more to drink it
would not be good for him.
He wondered dimly as he stood whether Thomson was there too, and walking
unsteadily round the forecastle, roused the sleepers, one by one, and
asked them whether they were Harry Thomson, all answering with much
fluency in the negative, until he came to one man who for some time made
no answer at all.
The doctor shook him first and then punched him. Then he shook him again
and gave him little scientific slaps, until at length Harry Thomson, in a
far-away voice, said that he was all right.
"Well, I'm glad I'm not alone," said the doctor, selfishly. "_Harry!
Harry! Wake up!_"
"All ri'!" said the sleeper; "I'm all ri'!"
The doctor shook him again, and then rolled him backward and forward in
his bunk. Under this gentle treatment the solicitor's faculties were
somewhat brightened, and, half opening his eyes, he punched viciously at
the disturber of his peace, until threatening voices from the gloom
promised to murder both of them.
"Where are we?" demanded the doctor, of a deep voice from the other side
of the forecastle which had been particularly threatening.
"Barque _Stella,_ o' course," was the reply. "Where'd you think you
The doctor gripped the edge of his friend's bunk and tried to think;
then, a feeling of nausea overcoming all others, he clambered hurriedly
up the forecastle ladder and lurched to the side of the vessel.
He leaned there for some time without moving, a light breeze cooling his
fevered brow, and a small schooner some little distance from them playing
seesaw, as he closed his eyes to the heaving blue sea. Land was
conspicuous by its absence, and with a groan he turned and looked about
him--at the white scrubbed deck, the snowy canvas towering aloft on
lazily creaking spars, and the steersman leaning against the wheel
regarding the officer who stood near by.
Dr. Carson, feeling a little better, walked sternly aft, the officer
turning round and glancing in surprise at his rags as he approached.
"I beg your pardon," began the doctor, in superior tones.
"And what the devil do you want?" demanded the second officer; "who told
you to come along here?"
"I want to know what this means," said the doctor, fiercely. "How dare
you kidnap us on your beastly bilge-tank?"
"Man's mad," murmured the astonished second officer.
"Insufferable outrage!" continued the doctor. "Take us back to
Melbourne at once."
"You get for'ard," said the other sharply; "get for'ard, and don't let me
have any more of your lip."
"I want to see the captain of this ship," cried the doctor; "go and fetch
him at once."
The second officer gazed at him, limp with astonishment, and then turned
to the steersman, as though unable to believe his ears. The steersman
pointed in front of him, and the other gave a cry of surprise and rage as
he saw another tatterdemalion coming with uncertain steps toward him.
"Carson," said the new arrival, feebly; and coming closer to his friend,
clung to him miserably.
"I'm just having it out with 'em, Thomson," said the doctor,
energetically. "My friend here is a solicitor. Tell him what 'll happen
if they don't take us back, Harry."
"You seem to be unaware, my good fellow," said the solicitor, covering a
large hole in the leg of his trousers with his hand, "of the very
dangerous situation in which you have placed yourselves. We have no
desire to be harsh with you--"
"Not at all," acquiesced the doctor, nodding at the second officer.
"At the same time," continued Mr. Thomson--"at the--" He let go his
friend's arm and staggered away; the doctor gazed after him
[Illustration: HE SAW ANOTHER TATTERDEMALION COMING TOWARDS HIM.]
"His digestion is not all it should be," he said to the second officer,
"If you don't get for'ard in two twos," said that gentleman, explosively,
"I'll knock your heads off."
The doctor gazed at him in haughty disdain, and taking the limp Thomson
by the arm, led him slowly away.
"How did we get here?" asked Mr. Harry Thomson, feebly.
The doctor shook his head.
"How did we get these disgusting clothes on?" continued his friend.
The doctor shook his head again. "The last thing I can remember, Harry,"
he said, slowly, "was imploring you not to drink any more."
"I didn't hear you," said the solicitor, crustily; "your speech was very
indistinct last night."
"Seemed so to you, I dare say," said the other.
Mr. Thomson shook his arm off, and clinging to the mainmast, leaned his
cheek against it and closed his eyes. He opened them again at the sound
of voices, and drew himself up as he saw the second officer coming along
with a stern-visaged man of about fifty.
"Are you the master of this vessel?" inquired the doctor, stepping to
his friend's side.
"What the blazes has that got to do with you?" demanded the skipper.
"Look here, my lads; don't you play any of your little games on me,
because they won't do. You're both of you as drunk as owls."
"Defamation of character," said the solicitor, feebly, to his friend.
"Allow me," said the doctor, with his best manner, "to inquire what all
this means. I am Dr. Frank Carson, of Melbourne; this gentleman is my
friend Mr. Thomson, of the same place, solicitor."
"What?" roared the skipper, the veins in his forehead standing out.
"Doctor! Solicitor! Why, you damned rascals, you shipped with me as
cook and A. B."
"There's some mistake," said the doctor. "I'm afraid I shall have to ask
you to take us back. I hope you haven't come far."
"Take those scarecrows away," cried the skipper, hoarsely; "take them
away before I do them a mischief. I'll have the law of somebody for
shipping two useless lubbers as seamen. Look to me like pickpockets."
"You shall answer for this," said Carson, foaming; "we're professional
men, and we're not going to be abused by a bargee."
"Let him talk," said Mr. Thomson, hurriedly drawing his friend away from
the irate skipper. "Let him talk."
"I'll put you both in quod when we get to Hong-kong," said the skipper.
"Meantime, no work, no food; d'ye hear? Start and cook the breakfast,
Mr. Doctor; and you. Mr. Lawyer, turn to and ask the boy to teach you an
A. B's duties."
He walked back to the cabin; and the new cook was slowly pushed toward
the galley by the second officer, the new A. B., under the same gentle
guidance, being conducted back to the forecastle.
Fortunately for the new seamen the weather continued fine, but the heat
of the galley was declared by the new cook to be insupportable. From the
other hands they learned that they had been shipped with several others
by a resourceful boarding-house master. The other hands, being men of
plain speech, also said that they were brought aboard in a state of
beastly and enviable intoxication, and chaffed crudely when the doctor
attributed their apparent state of intoxication to drugs.
"You say you're a doctor?" said the oldest seaman.
"I am," said Carson, fiercely.
"Wot sort of a doctor are you, if you don't know when your licker's been
played with, then?" asked the old man, as a grin passed slowly from mouth
"I suppose it is because I drink so seldom," said the doctor, loftily.
"I hardly know the taste of liquor myself, while as for my friend Mr.
Thomson, you might almost call him a teetotaler.
"Next door to one," said the solicitor, who was sewing a patch on his
trousers, as he looked up approvingly.
"You might call 'im a sailor, if you liked," said another seaman, "but
that wouldn't make him one. All I can say is I never 'ad enough time or
money to get in the state you was both in when you come aboard."
If the forecastle was incredulous, the cabin was worse. The officers at
first took but little notice of them, but feeling their torn and tattered
appearance was against them, they put on so many airs and graces to
counteract this that flesh and blood could not endure it quietly. The
cook would allude to his friend as Mr. Thomson, while the A. B. would
persist in referring, with a most affected utterance, to Dr. Carson.
"Cook!" bawled the skipper one day when they were about a week out.
Dr. Carson, who was peeling potatoes, stepped slowly out of the galley
and went toward him.
"You say 'Sir,' when you're spoken to," said the skipper, fiercely.
The doctor sneered.
"My --- if you sneer at me, I'll knock your head off!" said the other,
with a wicked look.
"When you get back to Melbourne," said the doctor, quietly, "you'll hear
more of this."
"You're a couple of pickpockets aping the gentleman," said the skipper,
and he turned to the mate. "Mr. Mackenzie, what do these two ragamuffins
"Pickpockets," said the mate, dutifully.
"It's a very handy thing," said the old man, jeeringly, "to have a doctor
aboard. First time I've carried a surgeon."
Mr. Mackenzie guffawed loudly.
"And a solicitor," said the skipper, gazing darkly at the hapless Harry
Thomson, who was cleaning brasswork. "Handy in case of disputes. He's a
real sea lawyer. _Cook!_"
"Sir?" said the doctor, quietly.
"Go down and tidy my cabin, and see you do it well."
The doctor went below without a word, and worked like a housemaid. When
he came on deck again, his face wore a smile almost of happiness, and his
hand caressed one trousers pocket as though it concealed a hidden weapon.
For the following three or four days the two unfortunates were worked
unceasingly. Mr. Thomson complained bitterly, but the cook wore a
sphinx-like smile and tried to comfort him.
"It won't be for long, Harry," he said, consolingly.
The solicitor sniffed. "I could write tract after tract on temperance,"
he said, bitterly. "I wonder what our poor wives are thinking? I expect
they have put us down as dead."
"Crying their eyes out," said the doctor, wistfully; "but they'll dry
them precious quick when we get back, and ask all sorts of questions.
What are you going to say, Harry?"
"The truth," said the solicitor, virtuously.
"So am I," said his friend; "but mind, we must both tell the same tale,
whatever it is. Halloa! what's the matter?"
"It's the skipper," said the boy, who had just run up; "he wants to see
you at once. He's dying."
He caught hold of the doctor by the sleeve; but Carson, in his most
professional manner, declined to be hurried. He went leisurely down the
companion-ladder, and met with a careless glance the concerned faces of
the mate and second officer.
"Come to the skipper at once," said the mate.
"Does he want to see me?" said the doctor, languidly, as he entered the
The skipper was lying doubled up in his bunk, his face twisted with pain.
"Doctor," he panted, "give me something quick. There's the medicine-
"Do you want some food, sir?" inquired the other, respectfully.
"Food be damned!" said the sufferer. "I want physic. There's the
medicine-chest." The doctor took it up and held it out to him. "I don't
want the lot," moaned the skipper.
"I want you to give me something for red-hot corkscrews in the inside."
"I beg your pardon," said the doctor, humbly; "I'm only the cook."
"If you--don't--prescribe for me at once," said the skipper, "I'll put
you in irons."
The doctor shook his head. "I shipped as cook," he said, slowly.
"Give me something, for Heaven's sake!" said the skipper, humbly. "I'm
dying." The doctor pondered.
"If you dinna treat him at once, I'll break your skull," said the mate,
The doctor regarded him scornfully, and turned to the writhing skipper.
"My fee is half a guinea a visit," he said, softly; "five shillings if
you come to me."
"I'll have half a guinea's worth," said the agonized skipper.
The doctor took his wrist, and calmly drew the second officer's watch
from its owner's pocket. Then he inspected the sick man's tongue, and
shaking his head, selected a powder from the chest.
"You mustn't mind its being nasty," he said. "Where's a spoon?"
He looked round for one, but the skipper took the powder from his hand,
and licked it from the paper as though it had been sherbet.
"For mercy's sake don't say it's cholera," he gasped.
"I won't say anything," said the doctor. "Where did you say the money
The skipper pointed to his trousers, and Mr. Mackenzie, his national
spirit rising in hot rage, took out the agreed amount and handed it to
"Am I in danger?" said the skipper.
"There's always danger," said the doctor, in his best bedside manner.
"Have you made your will?"
The other, turning pale, shook his head. "Perhaps you'd like to see a
solicitor?" said Carson, in winning tones.
"I'm not bad enough for that," said the skipper, stoutly.
"You must stay here and nurse the skipper, Mr. Mackenzie," said Carson,
turning to the mate; "and be good enough not to make that snuffling
noise; it's worrying to an invalid."
"Snuffling noise?" repeated the horror-struck mate.
"Yes; you've got an unpleasant habit of snuffling," said the doctor; "it
sometimes. I worries me meant to speak to you about it before. You
mustn't do it here. If you want to snuffle, go and snuffle on deck."
The frenzied outburst of the mate was interrupted by the skipper. "Don't
make that noise in my cabin, Mr. Mackenzie," he said, severely.
Both mates withdrew in dudgeon, and Carson, after arranging the
sufferer's bedclothes, quitted the cabin and sought his friend. Mr.
Thomson was at first incredulous, but his eyes glistened brightly at the
sight of the half-sovereign.
"Better hide it," he said, apprehensively; "the skipper 'll have it back
when he gets well; it's the only coin we've got."
"He won't get well," said Dr. Carson, easily; "not till we get to Hong-
kong, that is."
"What's the matter with him?" whispered the solicitor.
The doctor, evading his eye, pulled a long face and shook his head. "It
may be the cooking," he said, slowly. "I'm not a good cook, I admit. It
might be something got into the food from the medicine-chest. I
shouldn't be at all surprised if the mates are taken bad too."
And indeed at that very moment the boy came rushing to the galley again,
bawling out that Mr. Mackenzie was lying flat on his stomach in his bunk,
punching the air with his fists and rending it with his language. The
second officer appeared on deck as he finished his tale, and glancing
forward, called out loudly for the cook.
"You're wanted, Frank," said the solicitor.
"When he calls me doctor, I'll go," said the other, stiffly.
"_Cook!_" bawled the second officer. "_Cook!_ COOK!"
He came running forward, his face red and angry, and his fist doubled.
"Didn't you hear me calling you?" he demanded, fiercely.
"I've been promoted," said Carson, sweetly. "I'm ship's surgeon now."
"Come down below at once, or I'll take you there by the scruff of your
neck," vociferated the other.
"You're not big enough, little man," said the doctor, still smiling.
"Well, well, lead the way, and we'll see what we can do."
He followed the speechless second officer below, and found the boy's
description of the first officer's state as moonlight unto sunlight, as
water unto wine. Even the second officer was appalled at the spectacle,
and ventured a protest.
"Gie me something at once," yelled Mr. Mackenzie.
"Do you wish me to undertake your case?" inquired the doctor, suavely.
Mr. Mackenzie said that he did, in seven long, abusive, and wicked
"My fee is half a guinea," said the doctor, softly, poor people who
cannot afford more, mates and the like, I sometimes treat for less."
"I'll die first," howled the mate; "you won't get any money out of me."
"Very good," said the doctor, and rose to depart.
"Bring him back, Rogers," yelled the mate; "don't let him go."
But the second officer, with a strange awesome look in his eyes, was
leaning back in his seat, tightly gripping the edge of the table in both
"Come, come," said the doctor, cheerily--"what's this? You mustn't be
ill, Rogers. I want you to nurse these other two."
The other rose slowly to his feet and eyed him with lack-lustre eyes.
"Tell the third officer to take charge," he said, slowly; "and if he's to
he nurse as well, he's got his hands full."
The doctor sent the boy to apprise the third officer of his
responsibilities, and then stood watching the extraordinary and snakelike
convolutions of Mr. Mackenzie.
"How much--did--ye say?" hissed the latter.
"Poor people," repeated the doctor, with relish, "five shillings a visit;
very poor people, half a crown."
"I'll have half a crown's worth," moaned the miserable mate.
"Mr. Mackenzie," said a faint voice from the skipper's cabin.
"Sir?" yelled the mate, who was in torment.
"Don't answer me like that, sir," said the skipper, sharply. "Will you
please to remember that I'm ill, and can't bear that horrible noise
"I'm--ill--too," gasped the mate.
"Ill? Nonsense!" said the skipper, severely. "We can't both be ill.
How about the ship?"
There was no reply, but from another cabin the voice of Mr. Rogers was
heard calling wildly for medical aid, and offering impossible sums in
exchange for it. The doctor went from cabin to cabin, and, first
collecting his fees, administered sundry potions to the sufferers; and
then, in his capacity of cook, went forward and made an unsavory mess he
called gruel, which he insisted upon their eating.
Thanks to his skill, the invalids were freed from the more violent of
their pains, but this freedom was followed by a weakness so alarming that
they could hardly raise their heads from their pillows--a state of things
which excited the intense envy of the third officer, who, owing to his
responsibilities, might just as well have been without one.
In this state of weakness, and with the fear of impending dissolution
before his eyes, the skipper sent for Mr. Harry Thomson, and after some
comparisons between lawyers and sharks, in which stress was laid upon
certain redeeming features of the latter, paid a guinea and made his
will. His example, save in the amount of the fee, was followed by the
mate; but Mr. Rogers, being approached tentatively by the doctor in his
friend's behalf, shook his head and thanked his stars he had nothing to
leave. He had enjoyed his money, he said.
They mended slowly as they approached Hong-kong, though a fit of temper
on Mr. Mackenzie's part, during which he threw out ominous hints about
having his money back, led to a regrettable relapse in his case. He was
still in bed when they came to anchor in the harbour; but the skipper and
his second officer were able to go above and exchange congratulations
from adjoining deck-chairs.
"You are sure it wasn't cholera?" asked the harbour-master's deputy, who
had boarded them in his launch, after he had heard the story.
"Positive," said Carson.
"Very fortunate thing they had you on board," said the deputy--"very
The doctor bowed.
"Seems so odd, the three of them being down with it," said the other;
"looks as though it's infectious, doesn't it?"
"I don't think so," said the doctor, accepting with alacrity an offer to
go ashore in the launch and change into some decent clothes. "I think I
know what it was."
The captain of the _Stella_ pricked up his ears, and the second officer
leaned forward with parted lips. Carson, accompanied by the deputy and
the solicitor, walked toward the launch.
"What was it?" cried the skipper, anxiously.
[Illustration: THE SECOND OFFICER LEANED FORWARD]
"I think that you ate something that disagreed with you," replied the
doctor, grinning meaningly. "Good-by, captain."
The master of the _Stella_ made no reply, but rising feebly, tottered to
the side, and shook his fist at the launch as it headed for the shore.
Doctor Carson, who had had a pious upbringing, kissed his hand in return.
A GOLDEN VENTURE
The elders of the Tidger family sat at breakfast--Mrs. Tidger with knees
wide apart and the youngest Tidger nestling in the valley of print-dress
which lay between, and Mr. Tidger bearing on one moleskin knee a small
copy of himself in a red flannel frock and a slipper. The larger Tidger
children took the solids of their breakfast up and down the stone-flagged
court outside, coming in occasionally to gulp draughts of very weak tea
from a gallipot or two which stood on the table, and to wheedle Mr.
Tidger out of any small piece of bloater which he felt generous enough
"Peg away, Ann," said Mr. Tidger, heartily.
His wife's elder sister shook her head, and passing the remains of her
slice to one of her small nephews, leaned back in her chair. "No
appetite, Tidger," she said, slowly.
"You should go in for carpentering," said Mr. Tidger, in justification of
the huge crust he was carving into mouthfuls with his pocket-knife.
"Seems to me I can't eat enough sometimes. Hullo, who's the letter for?"
He took it from the postman, who stood at the door amid a bevy of Tidgers
who had followed him up the court, and slowly read the address.
"'Mrs. Ann Pullen,'" he said, handing it over to his sister-in-law; "nice
Mrs. Pullen broke the envelope, and after a somewhat lengthy search for
her pocket, fumbled therein for her spectacles. She then searched the
mantelpiece, the chest of drawers, and the dresser, and finally ran them
to earth on the copper.
She was not a good scholar, and it took her some time to read the letter,
a proceeding which she punctuated with such "Ohs" and "Ahs" and gaspings
and "God bless my souls" as nearly drove the carpenter and his wife, who
were leaning forward impatiently, to the verge of desperation.
"Who's it from?" asked Mr. Tidger for the third time.
"I don't know," said Mrs. Pullen. "Good gracious, who ever would ha'
"Thought what, Ann?" demanded the carpenter, feverishly.
"Why don't people write their names plain?" demanded his sister-in-law,
impatiently. "It's got a printed name up in the corner; perhaps that's
it. Well, I never did--I don't know whether I'm standing on my head or
"You're sitting down, that's what you're a-doing," said the carpenter,
regarding her somewhat unfavourably.
"Perhaps it's a take-in," said Mrs. Pullen, her lips trembling. "I've
heard o' such things. If it is, I shall never get over it--never."
"Get--over--what?" asked the carpenter.
"It don't look like a take-in," soliloquized Mrs. Pullen, "and I
shouldn't think anybody'd go to all that trouble and spend a penny to
take in a poor thing like me."
Mr. Tidger, throwing politeness to the winds, leaped forward, and
snatching the letter from her, read it with feverish haste, tempered
by a defective education.
"It's a take-in, Ann," he said, his voice trembling; "it must be."
"What is?" asked Mrs. Tidger, impatiently.
"Looks like it," said Mrs. Pullen, feebly.
"What is it?" screamed Mrs. Tidger, wrought beyond all endurance.
Her husband turned and regarded her with much severity, but Mrs. Tidger's
gaze was the stronger, and after a vain attempt to meet it, he handed her
Mrs. Tidger read it through hastily, and then snatching the baby from her
lap, held it out with both arms to her husband, and jumping up, kissed
her sister heartily, patting her on the back in her excitement until she
coughed with the pain of it.
"You don't think it's a take-in, Polly?" she inquired.
"Take-in?" said her sister; "of course it ain't. Lawyers don't play
jokes; their time's too valuable. No, you're an heiress all right, Ann,
and I wish you joy. I couldn't be more pleased if it was myself."
She kissed her again, and going to pat her back once more, discovered
that she had sunk down sufficiently low in her chair to obtain the
protection of its back.
"Two thousand pounds," said Mrs. Pullen, in an awestruck voice.
"Ten hundered pounds twice over," said the carpenter, mouthing it slowly;
"twenty hundered pounds."
He got up from the table, and instinctively realizing that he could not
do full justice to his feelings with the baby in his arms, laid it on the
teatray in a puddle of cold tea and stood looking hard at the heiress.
"I was housekeeper to her eleven years ago," said Mrs. Pullen. "I wonder
what she left it to me for?"
"Didn't know what to do with it, I should think," said the carpenter,
still staring openmouthed.
"Tidger, I'm ashamed of you," said his wife, snatching her infant to her
bosom. "I expect you was very good to her, Ann."
"I never 'ad no luck," said the impenitent carpenter. "Nobody ever left
me no money. Nobody ever left me so much as a fi-pun note."
He stared round disdainfully at his poor belongings, and drawing on his
coat, took his bag from a corner, and hoisting it on his shoulder,
started to his work. He scattered the news as he went, and it ran up and
down the little main street of Thatcham, and thence to the outlying lanes
and cottages. Within a couple of hours it was common property, and the
fortunate legatee was presented with a congratulatory address every time
she ventured near the door.
It is an old adage that money makes friends; the carpenter was surprised
to find that the mere fact of his having a moneyed relation had the same
effect, and that men to whom he had hitherto shown a certain amount of
respect due to their position now sought his company. They stood him
beer at the "Bell," and walked by his side through the street. When they
took to dropping in of an evening to smoke a pipe the carpenter was
radiant with happiness.
"You don't seem to see beyond the end of your nose, Tidger," said the
wife of his bosom after they had retired one evening.
"H'm?" said the startled carpenter.
"What do you think old Miller, the dealer, comes here for?" demanded his
"Smoke his pipe," replied her husband, confidently.
"And old Wiggett?" persisted Mrs. Tidger.
"Smoke his pipe," was the reply. "Why, what's the matter, Polly?"
Mrs. Tidger sniffed derisively. "You men are all alike," she snapped.
"What do you think Ann wears that pink bodice for?"
"I never noticed she 'ad a pink bodice, Polly," said the carpenter.
"No? That's what I say. You men never notice anything," said his wife.
"If you don't send them two old fools off, I will."
"Don't you like 'em to see Ann wearing pink?" inquired the mystified
Mrs. Tidger bit her lip and shook her head at him scornfully. "In plain
English, Tidger, as plain as I can speak it,"--she said, severely,
"they're after Ann and 'er bit o' money."
Mr. Tidger gazed at her open-mouthed, and taking advantage of that fact,
blew out the candle to hide his discomposure. "What!" he said, blankly,
"at 'er time o' life?"
"Watch 'em to-morrer," said his wife.
The carpenter acted upon his instructions, and his ire rose as he noticed
the assiduous attention paid by his two friends to the frivolous Mrs.
Pullen. Mr. Wiggett, a sharp-featured little man, was doing most of the
talking, while his rival, a stout, clean-shaven man with a slow, oxlike
eye, looked on stolidly. Mr. Miller was seldom in a hurry, and lost many
a bargain through his slowness--a fact which sometimes so painfully
affected the individual who had outdistanced him that he would offer to
let him have it at a still lower figure.
"You get younger than ever, Mrs. Pullen," said Wiggett, the conversation
having turned upon ages.
"Young ain't the word for it," said Miller, with a praiseworthy
determination not to be left behind.
"No; it's age as you're thinking of, Mr. Wiggett," said the carpenter,
slowly; "none of us gets younger, do we, Ann?"
[Illustration: "YOU GET YOUNGER THAN EVER, MRS. PULLEN."]
"Some of us keeps young in our ways," said Mrs. Pullen, somewhat shortly.
"How old should you say Ann is now?" persisted the watchful Tidger.
Mr. Wiggett shook his head. "I should say she's about fifteen years
younger nor me," he said, slowly, "and I'm as lively as a cricket."
"She's fifty-five," said the carpenter.
"That makes you seventy, Wiggett," said Mr. Miller, pointedly. "I
thought you was more than that. You look it."
Mr. Wiggett coughed sourly. "I'm fifty-nine," he growled. "Nothing 'll
make me believe as Mrs. Pullen's fifty-five, nor anywhere near it."
"Ho!" said the carpenter, on his mettle--"ho! Why, my wife here was the
sixth child, and she---- He caught a gleam in the sixth child's eye, and
expressed her age with a cough. The others waited politely until he had
finished, and Mr. Tidger, noticing this, coughed again.
"And she--" prompted Mr. Miller, displaying a polite interest.
"She ain't so young as she was," said the carpenter.
"Cares of a family," said Mr. Wiggett, plumping boldly. "I always
thought Mrs. Pullen was younger than her."
"So did I," said Mr. Miller, "much younger."
Mr. Wiggett eyed him sharply. It was rather hard to have Miller hiding
his lack of invention by participating in his compliments and even
improving upon them. It was the way he dealt at market-listening to
other dealers' accounts of their wares, and adding to them for his own.
"I was noticing you the other day, ma'am," continued Mr. Wiggett. "I see
you going up the road with a step free and easy as a young girl's."
"She allus walks like that," said Mr. Miller, in a tone of surprised
"It's in the family," said the carpenter, who had been uneasily watching
his wife's face.
"Both of you seem to notice a lot," said Mrs. Tidger; "much more than you
Mr. Tidger, who was of a nervous and sensitive disposition, coughed
"You ought to take something for that cough," said Mr. Wiggett,
"Gin and beer," said Mr. Miller, with the air of a specialist.
"Bed's the best thing for it," said Mrs. Tidger, whose temper was
beginning to show signs of getting out of hand.
Mr. Tidger rose and looked awkwardly at his visitors; Mr. Wiggett got up,
and pretending to notice the time, said he must be going, and looked at
Mr. Miller. That gentleman, who was apparently deep in some knotty
problem, was gazing at the floor, and oblivious for the time to his
"Come along," said Wiggett, with feigned heartiness, slapping him on the
Mr. Miller, looking for a moment as though he would like to return the
compliment, came back to everyday life, and bidding the company good-
night, stepped to the door, accompanied by his rival. It was immediately
shut with some violence.
"They seem in a hurry," said Wiggett. "I don't think I shall go there
"I don't think I shall," said Mr. Miller.
After this neither of them was surprised to meet there again the next
night, and indeed for several nights. The carpenter and his wife, who
did not want the money to go out of the family, and were also afraid of
offending Mrs. Pullen, were at their wits' end what to do. Ultimately it
was resolved that Tidger, in as delicate a manner as possible, was to
hint to her that they were after her money. He was so vague and so
delicate that Mrs. Pullen misunderstood him, and fancying that he was
trying to borrow half a crown, made him a present of five shillings.
It was evident to the slower-going Mr. Miller that his rival's tongue was
giving him an advantage which only the ever-watchful presence of the
carpenter and his wife prevented him from pushing to the fullest
advantage. In these circumstances he sat for two hours after breakfast
one morning in deep cogitation, and after six pipes got up with a twinkle
in his slow eyes which his brother dealers had got to regard as a danger
He had only the glimmering of an idea at first, but after a couple of
pints at the "Bell" everything took shape, and he cast his eyes about for
an assistant. They fell upon a man named Smith, and the dealer, after
some thought, took up his glass and went over to him.
"I want you to do something for me," he remarked, in a mysterious voice.
"Ah, I've been wanting to see you," said Smith, who was also a dealer in
a small way. "One o' them hins I bought off you last week is dead."
"I'll give you another for it," said Miller.
"And the others are so forgetful," continued Mr. Smith.
"Forgetful?" repeated the other.
"Forget to lay, like," said Mr. Smith, musingly.
"Never mind about them," said Mr. Miller, with some animation. "I want
you to do something for me. If it comes off all right, I'll give you a
dozen hins and a couple of decentish-sized pigs."
Mr. Smith called a halt. "Decentish-sized" was vague.
"Take your pick," said Mr. Miller. "You know Mrs. Pullen's got two
"Wiggett's going to have it," said the other; "he as good as told me so."
"He's after her money," said the other, sadly. "Look 'ere, Smith, I want
you to tell him she's lost it all. Say that Tidger told you, but you
wasn't to tell anybody else. Wiggett 'll believe you."
Mr. Smith turned upon him a face all wrinkles, lit by one eye. "I want
the hins and the pigs first," he said, firmly.
Mr. Miller, shocked at his grasping spirit, stared at him mournfully.
"And twenty pounds the day you marry Mrs. Pullen," continued Mr. Smith.
Mr. Miller, leading him up and down the sawdust floor, besought him to
listen to reason, and Mr. Smith allowed the better feelings of our common
human nature to prevail to the extent of reducing his demands to half a
dozen fowls on account, and all the rest on the day of the marriage.
Then, with the delightful feeling that he wouldn't do any work for a
week, he went out to drop poison into the ears of Mr. Wiggett.
"Lost all her money!" said the startled Mr. Wiggett. "How?"
"I don't know how," said his friend. "Tidger told me, but made me
promise not to tell a soul. But I couldn't help telling you, Wiggett,
'cause I know what you're after."
"Do me a favour," said the little man.
"I will," said the other.
"Keep it from Miller as long as possible. If you hear any one else
talking of it, tell 'em to keep it from him. If he marries her I'll give
you a couple of pints."
Mr. Smith promised faithfully, and both the Tidgers and Mrs. Pullen were
surprised to find that Mr. Miller was the only visitor that evening. He
spoke but little, and that little in a slow, ponderous voice intended for
Mrs. Pullen's ear alone. He spoke disparagingly of money, and shook his
head slowly at the temptations it brought in its train. Give him a
crust, he said, and somebody to halve it with--a home-made crust baked by
a wife. It was a pretty picture, but somewhat spoiled by Mrs. Tidger
suggesting that, though he had spoken of halving the crust, he had said
nothing about the beer.
"Half of my beer wouldn't be much," said the dealer, slowly.
"Not the half you would give your wife wouldn't," retorted Mrs. Tidger.
The dealer sighed and looked mournfully at Mrs. Pullen. The lady sighed
in return, and finding that her admirer's stock of conversation seemed to
be exhausted, coyly suggested a game of draughts. The dealer assented
with eagerness, and declining the offer of a glass of beer by explaining
that he had had one the day before yesterday, sat down and lost seven
games right off. He gave up at the seventh game, and pushing back his
chair, said that he thought Mrs. Pullen was the most wonderful draught-
player he had ever seen, and took no notice when Mrs. Tidger, in a dry
voice charged with subtle meaning, said that she thought he was.
"Draughts come natural to some people," said Mrs. Pullen, modestly.
"It's as easy as kissing your fingers."
Mr. Miller looked doubtful; then he put his great fingers to his lips by
way of experiment, and let them fall unmistakably in the widow's
direction. Mrs. Pullen looked down and nearly blushed. The carpenter
and his wife eyed each other in indignant consternation.
"That's easy enough," said the dealer, and repeated the offense.
Mrs. Pullen got up in some confusion, and began to put the draught-board
away. One of the pieces fell on the floor, and as they both stooped to
recover it their heads bumped. It was nothing to the dealer's, but Mrs.
Pullen rubbed hers and sat down with her eyes watering. Mr. Miller took
out his handkerchief, and going to the scullery, dipped it into water and
held it to her head.
"Is it better?" he inquired.
"A little better," said the victim, with a shiver.
Mr. Miller, in his emotion, was squeezing the handkerchief hard, and a
cold stream was running down her neck.
"Thank you. It's all right now."
The dealer replaced the handkerchief, and sat for some time regarding her
earnestly. Then the carpenter and his wife displaying manifest signs of
impatience, he took his departure, after first inviting himself for
another game of draughts the following night.
He walked home with the air of a conqueror, and thought exultingly that
the two thousand pounds were his. It was a deal after his own heart, and
not the least satisfactory part about it was the way he had got the
better of Wiggett.
He completed his scheme the following day after a short interview with
the useful Smith. By the afternoon Wiggett found that his exclusive
information was common property, and all Thatcham was marvelling at the
fortitude with which Mrs. Pullen was bearing the loss of her fortune.
With a view of being out of the way when the denial was published, Mr.
Miller, after loudly expressing in public his sympathy for Mrs. Pullen
and his admiration of her qualities, drove over with some pigs to a
neighbouring village, returning to Thatcham in the early evening. Then
hurriedly putting his horse up he made his way to the carpenter's.
The Tidgers were at home when he entered, and Mrs. Pullen flushed faintly
as he shook hands.
"I was coming in before," he said, impressively, "after what I heard this
afternoon, but I had to drive over to Thorpe."
"You 'eard it?" inquired the carpenter, in an incredulous voice.
"Certainly," said the dealer, "and very sorry I was. Sorry for one
thing, but glad for another."
The carpenter opened his mouth and seemed about to speak. Then he
checked himself suddenly and gazed with interest at the ingenuous dealer.
"I'm glad," said Mr. Miller, slowly, as he nodded at a friend of Mrs.
Tidger's who had just come in with a long face, "because now that Mrs.
Pullen is poor, I can say to her what I couldn't say while she was rich."
Again the astonished carpenter was about to speak, but the dealer hastily
checked him with his hand.
"One at a time," he said. "Mrs. Pullen, I was very sorry to hear this
afternoon, for your sake, that you had lost all your money. What I
wanted to say to you now, now that you are poor, was to ask you to be
Mrs. Miller. What d'ye say?"
Mrs. Pullen, touched at so much goodness, wept softly and said, "Yes."
The triumphant Miller took out his handkerchief--the same that he had
used the previous night, for he was not an extravagant man--and tenderly
wiped her eyes.
"Well, I'm blowed!" said the staring carpenter.
"I've got a nice little 'ouse," continued the wily Mr. Miller. "It's a
poor place, but nice, and we'll play draughts every evening. When shall
"When you like," said Mrs. Pullen, in a faint voice.
"I'll put the banns up to-morrow," said the dealer.
Mrs. Tidger's lady friend giggled at so much haste, but Mrs. Tidger, who
felt that she had misjudged him, was touched.
"It does you credit, Mr. Miller," she said, warmly.
"No, no," said the dealer; and then Mr. Tidger got up, and crossing the
room, solemnly shook hands with him.
"Money or no money, she'll make a good wife," he said.
"I'm glad you're pleased," said the dealer, wondering at this cordiality.
"I don't deny I thought you was after her money," continued the
carpenter, solemnly. "My missus thought so, too."
Mr. Miller shook his head, and said he thought they would have known him
"Of course it is a great loss," said the carpenter. "Money is money."
"That's all it is, though," said the slightly mystified Mr. Miller.
"What I can't understand is," continued the carpenter, "'ow the news got
about. Why, the neighbours knew of it a couple of hours before we did."
The dealer hid a grin. Then he looked a bit bewildered again.
"I assure you," said the carpenter, "it was known in the town at least a
couple of hours before we got the letter."
Mr. Miller waited a minute to get perfect control over his features.
"Letter?" he repeated, faintly.
"The letter from the lawyers," said the carpenter.
Mr. Miller was silent again. His features were getting tiresome. He
eyed the door furtively.
"What-was-in-the letter?" he asked.
"Short and sweet," said the carpenter, with bitterness. "Said it was all
a mistake, because they'd been and found another will. People shouldn't
make such mistakes."
"We're all liable to make mistakes," said Miller, thinking he saw an
"Yes, we made a mistake when we thought you was after Ann's money,"
assented the carpenter. "I'm sure I thought you'd be the last man in the
world to be pleased to hear that she'd lost it. One thing is, you've got
enough for both."
[Illustration: "WE'LL LEAVE YOU TWO YOUNG THINGS ALONE."]
Mr. Miller made no reply, but in a dazed way strove to realize the full
measure of the misfortune which had befallen him. The neighbour, with
the anxiety of her sex to be the first with a bit of news, had already
taken her departure. He thought of Wiggett walking the earth a free man,
and of Smith with a three-months' bill for twenty pounds. His pride as a
dealer was shattered beyond repair, and emerging from a species of mist,
he became conscious that the carpenter was addressing him.
"We'll leave you two young things alone for a bit," said Mr. Tidger,
heartily. "We're going out. When you're tired o' courting you can play
draughts, and Ann will show you one or two of 'er moves. So long."
THREE AT TABLE
The talk in the coffee-room had been of ghosts and apparitions, and
nearly everybody present had contributed his mite to the stock of
information upon a hazy and somewhat thread-bare subject. Opinions
ranged from rank incredulity to childlike faith, one believer going so
far as to denounce unbelief as impious, with a reference to the Witch of
Endor, which was somewhat marred by being complicated in an inexplicable
fashion with the story of Jonah.
"Talking of Jonah," he said solemnly, with a happy disregard of the fact
that he had declined to answer several eager questions put to him on the
subject, "look at the strange tales sailors tell us."
"I wouldn't advise you to believe all those," said a bluff, clean-shaven
man, who had been listening without speaking much. "You see when a
sailor gets ashore he's expected to have something to tell, and his
friends would be rather disappointed if he had not."
"It's a well-known fact," interrupted the first speaker firmly, "that
sailors are very prone to see visions."
"They are," said the other dryly, "they generally see them in pairs, and
the shock to the nervous system frequently causes headache next morning."
"You never saw anything yourself?" suggested an unbeliever.
"Man and boy," said the other, "I've been at sea thirty years, and the
only unpleasant incident of that kind occurred in a quiet English
"And that?" said another man.
"I was a young man at the time," said the narrator, drawing at his pipe
and glancing good-humouredly at the company. "I, had just come back from
China, and my own people being away I went down into the country to
invite myself to stay with an uncle. When I got down to the place I
found it closed and the family in the South of France; but as they were
due back in a couple of days I decided to put up at the Royal George,
a very decent inn, and await their return.
"The first day I passed well enough; but in the evening the dulness of
the rambling old place, in which I was the only visitor, began to weigh
upon my spirits, and the next morning after a late breakfast I set out
with the intention of having a brisk day's walk.
"I started off in excellent spirits, for the day was bright and frosty,
with a powdering of snow on the iron-bound roads and nipped hedges, and
the country had to me all the charm of novelty. It was certainly flat,
but there was plenty of timber, and the villages through which I passed
were old and picturesque.
"I lunched luxuriously on bread and cheese and beer in the bar of a small
inn, and resolved to go a little further before turning back. When at
length I found I had gone far enough, I turned up a lane at right angles
to the road I was passing, and resolved to find my way back by another
route. It is a long lane that has no turning, but this had several, each
of which had turnings of its own, which generally led, as I found by
trying two or three of them, into the open marshes. Then, tired of
lanes, I resolved to rely upon the small compass which hung from my watch
chain and go across country home.
"I had got well into the marshes when a white fog, which had been for
some time hovering round the edge of the ditches, began gradually to
spread. There was no escaping it, but by aid of my compass I was saved
from making a circular tour and fell instead into frozen ditches or
stumbled over roots in the grass. I kept my course, however, until at
four o'clock, when night was coming rapidly up to lend a hand to the fog,
I was fain to confess myself lost.
"The compass was now no good to me, and I wandered about miserably,
occasionally giving a shout on the chance of being heard by some passing
shepherd or farmhand. At length by great good luck I found my feet on a
rough road driven through the marshes, and by walking slowly and tapping
with my stick managed to keep to it. I had followed it for some distance
when I heard footsteps approaching me.
"We stopped as we met, and the new arrival, a sturdy-looking countryman,
hearing of my plight, walked back with me for nearly a mile, and putting
me on to a road gave me minute instructions how to reach a village some
three miles distant.
"I was so tired that three miles sounded like ten, and besides that, a
little way off from the road I saw dimly a lighted window. I pointed it
out, but my companion shuddered and looked round him uneasily.
"'You won't get no good there,' he said, hastily.
"'Why not?' I asked.
"'There's a something there, sir,' he replied, 'what 'tis I dunno, but
the little 'un belonging to a gamekeeper as used to live in these parts
see it, and it was never much good afterward. Some say as it's a poor
mad thing, others says as it's a kind of animal; but whatever it is, it
ain't good to see.'
"'Well, I'll keep on, then,' I said. 'Goodnight.'
"He went back whistling cheerily until his footsteps died away in the
distance, and I followed the road he had indicated until it divided into
three, any one of which to a stranger might be said to lead straight on.
I was now cold and tired, and having half made up my mind walked slowly
back toward the house.
"At first all I could see of it was the little patch of light at the
window. I made for that until it disappeared suddenly, and I found myself
walking into a tall hedge. I felt my way round this until I came to a
small gate, and opening it cautiously, walked, not without some little
nervousness, up a long path which led to the door. There was no light and
no sound from within. Half repenting of my temerity I shortened my stick
and knocked lightly upon the door.
"I waited a couple of minutes and then knocked again, and my stick was
still beating the door when it opened suddenly and a tall bony old woman,
holding a candle, confronted me.
"'What do you want?' she demanded gruffly.
"'I've lost my way,' I said, civilly; 'I want to get to Ashville.'
"'Don't know it,' said the old woman.
"She was about to close the door when a man emerged from a room at the
side of the hall and came toward us. An old man of great height and
breadth of shoulder.
"'Ashville is fifteen miles distant,' he said slowly.
"'If you will direct me to the nearest village, I shall be grateful,' I
"He made no reply, but exchanged a quick, furtive glance with the woman.
She made a gesture of dissent.
"'The nearest place is three miles off,' he said, turning to me and
apparently trying to soften a naturally harsh voice; 'if you will give me
the pleasure of your company, I will make you as comfortable as I can.'
"I hesitated. They were certainly a queer-looking couple, and the gloomy
hall with the shadows thrown by the candle looked hardly more inviting
than the darkness outside.
"'You are very kind,' I murmured, irresolutely, 'but--'
"'Come in,' he said quickly; 'shut the door, Anne.'
"Almost before I knew it I was standing inside and the old woman,
muttering to herself, had closed the door behind me. With a queer
sensation of being trapped I followed my host into the room, and taking
the proffered chair warmed my frozen fingers at the fire.
"'Dinner will soon be ready,' said the old man, regarding me closely. 'If
you will excuse me.'
"I bowed and he left the room. A minute afterward I heard voices; his
and the old woman's, and, I fancied, a third. Before I had finished my
inspection of the room he returned, and regarded me with the same strange
look I had noticed before.
"'There will be three of us at dinner,' he said, at length. 'We two and
"I bowed again, and secretly hoped that that look didn't run in the
"'I suppose you don't mind dining in the dark,' he said, abruptly.
"'Not at all,' I replied, hiding my surprise as well as I could, 'but
really I'm afraid I'm intruding. If you'll allow me--'
"He waved his huge gaunt hands. 'We're not going to lose you now we've
got you,' he said, with a dry laugh. 'It's seldom we have company, and
now we've got you we'll keep you. My son's eyes are bad, and he can't
stand the light. Ah, here is Anne.'
"As he spoke the old woman entered, and, eyeing me stealthily, began to
lay the cloth, while my host, taking a chair the other side of the
hearth, sat looking silently into the fire. The table set, the old woman
brought in a pair of fowls ready carved in a dish, and placing three
chairs, left the room. The old man hesitated a moment, and then, rising
from his chair, placed a large screen in front of the fire and slowly
extinguished the candles.
"'Blind man's holiday,' he said, with clumsy jocosity, and groping his
way to the door opened it. Somebody came back into the room with him,
and in a slow, uncertain fashion took a seat at the table, and the
strangest voice I have ever heard broke a silence which was fast becoming
"'A cold night,' it said slowly.
"I replied in the affirmative, and light or no light, fell to with an
appetite which had only been sharpened by the snack in the middle of the
day. It was somewhat difficult eating in the dark, and it was evident
from the behaviour of my invisible companions that they were as unused to
dining under such circumstances as I was. We ate in silence until the
old woman blundered into the room with some sweets and put them with a
crash upon the table.
"'Are you a stranger about here?' inquired the curious voice again.
"I replied in the affirmative, and murmured something about my luck in
stumbling upon such a good dinner.
"'Stumbling is a very good word for it,' said the voice grimly. 'You
have forgotten the port, father.'
"'So I have,' said the old man, rising. 'It's a bottle of the
"Celebrated" to-day; I will get it myself.'
"He felt his way to the door, and closing it behind him, left me alone
with my unseen neighbour. There was something so strange about the whole
business that I must confess to more than a slight feeling of uneasiness.
"My host seemed to be absent a long time. I heard the man opposite lay
down his fork and spoon, and half fancied I could see a pair of wild eyes
shining through the gloom like a cat's.
"With a growing sense of uneasiness I pushed my chair back. It caught
the hearthrug, and in my efforts to disentangle it the screen fell over
with a crash and in the flickering light of the fire I saw the face of
the creature opposite. With a sharp catch of my breath I left my chair
and stood with clenched fists beside it. Man or beast, which was it?
The flame leaped up and then went out, and in the mere red glow of the
fire it looked more devilish than before.
"For a few moments we regarded each other in silence; then the door
opened and the old man returned. He stood aghast as he saw the warm
firelight, and then approaching the table mechanically put down a couple
"'I beg your pardon,' said I, reassured by his presence, 'but I have
accidentally overturned the screen. Allow me to replace it.'
"'No,' said the old man, gently, 'let it be.
"'We have had enough of the dark. I'll give you a light.'
"He struck a match and slowly lit the candles. Then--I saw that the man
opposite had but the remnant of a face, a gaunt wolfish face in which one
unquenched eye, the sole remaining feature, still glittered. I was
greatly moved, some suspicion of the truth occurring to me.
"'My son was injured some years ago in a burning house,' said the old
man. 'Since then we have lived a very retired life. When you came to
the door we--' his voice trembled, 'that is-my son---'
"'I thought," said the son simply, 'that it would be better for me not to
come to the dinner-table. But it happens to be my birthday, and my
father would not hear of my dining alone, so we hit upon this foolish
plan of dining in the dark. I'm sorry I startled you.'
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