W. W. (William Wymark) Jacobs.

Sailors' knots online

. (page 5 of 15)
Online LibraryW. W. (William Wymark) JacobsSailors' knots → online text (page 5 of 15)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

that the least said the soonest mended.
Even Emma asked 'im at last whether
he 'ad lost 'is tongue, and said it was
curious 'ow different love took different

He talked fast enough going 'ome with
Ted, though, and pretty near lost 'is
temper with 'im when Ted asked 'im why


he didn't tell Mrs. Jennings straight that
she 'ad made a mistake.

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

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

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

will. Besides, I miss you."


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

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

"Wott" ses Charlie.

Ted nodded. " Her and Emma 'ad words
to-night," he ses, laughing, "and it all come
out. She's been keeping company for some
time. He's away at present, and they're
going to be married as soon as e 1 comes

" Well," ses Charlie, "why did she "

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


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

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

Charlie did a bit o' thinking. " Not if 1
pretend to make love to Mrs. Jennings?" he
ses at last, winking at 'im. " And it'll serve
her right for being deceitful. We'll see 'ow
she likes it. Wot sort o' chap is the young
man big ? "

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

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

They fell asleep talking of it, and the next
evening Charlie put on a new necktie he 'ad
bought, and arter letting Ted have 'arf an
hour's start went out and met 'em accidental.


The fust Mrs. Jennings knew of 4s being
there was by finding an arm put round 'er

" Good evening, Sophy/ 1 he ses.

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

Charlie looked surprised.

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

11 You behave yourself,' 1 ses Mrs. Jennings.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Mrs. Jennings told 'im not to make a
fool of 'imself, and Charlie saw 'er look at
Emma in a puzzled sort of way, as if she
didn't know wot to make of it. She kept
drawing away from 4m and he kept draw-
ing close to 'er ; other people on the pave-
ment dodging and trying to get out of their
way, and asking them which side they was
going and to stick to it.

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

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

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

Charlie laughed, and the more Mrs.
Jennings showed 'er dislike for 'is non-


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

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

" I must, 11 ses Mrs. Jennings, who was
'arf crying with rage.

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

14 Behave yourself, Charlie," ses Ted.

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

" Your wot ? " ses Mrs. Jennings, very

" My young woman," ses Charlie.

"Look 'ere," ses Emma. "You may as


well know first as last Sophy 'as got a
young man."

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

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

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

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

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

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

" Well, so is he/' ses Emma.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

"Father thought he'd like to see you,"
she ses.


" I shall be proud to shake 'im by the
'and," ses Ted, going red with joy.

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

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

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

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

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

"Sophys young man is coming," she

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


4 'Afraid?" ses Emma, with a nasty

" No," ses Charlie.

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

11 He's brave enough where wimmen are
concerned,' 1 ses Mrs. Jennings.

" I was thinking of you," ses Charlie.

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

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

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

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

Charlie's 'art went down into 'is boots,


but everybody was so busy drawing their
chairs up to the table that they didn't
notice 'ow pale he 'ad gone. He sat be-
tween Mr. White and Mrs. Jennings, and
by-and-by, when everybody was talking,
he turned to 'im in a whisper, and asked
'im who the big chap was.

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

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

" Your friend and my gal '11 make a nice
couple," ses Mr. White, looking at Ted
and Emma, sitting 'and in 'and.

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

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

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

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


"But she 'as got one, ain't she?" ses

" That'll do," ses Mr. White, with another
wink. " Try it on somebody else."

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

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

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

She caught Charlie's eye, and all in a
flash he saw 'ow he 'ad been done. Some
of 'em began to laugh, and Mrs. Jennings
put her 'and on his and gave it a squeeze.
He sat there struck all of a heap, wondering


wot he was going to do, and just at that
moment there was a knock at the street-

" I'll open it," he ses.

He jumped up before anybody could stop
4m and went to the door. Two seconds
arter Ted Denver followed 4m, and the
last he ever saw of Charlie Brice, he was
running down the road without 4s hat as
hard as he could run.


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

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

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



Barnes, blandly requested him to ring for
hot water.

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

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

White nodded.

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

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

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

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

" Til bet you a sovereign you won't spend


the night there alone, for all your talk," said
White suddenly.

" And I," said Lester.

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

" But why not ?" inquired White.

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

" Rats in the wainscot," chimed in Lester.

"As you like," said Barnes, colouring.

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

"Let's see what the landlord has to say


about it first," said Lester. " There is no
fun in passing a night in an ordinary empty
house. Let us make sure that it is haunted."

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

"It seems rather hard that we have got
to lose a night's rest in order to convince


Barnes of the existence of ghosts/' said

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

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

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

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

" Farther on," said Meagle.

They walked on for some time in silence,
broken only by White's tribute to the soft-
ness, the cleanliness, and the comfort of the
bed which was receding farther and farther


into the distance. Under Meagle's guidance
they turned off at last to the right, and, after
a walk of a quarter of a mile, saw the gates
of the house before them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He plied the knocker again, and the noise


volleyed in the emptiness beyond. Then
with a sudden exclamation he put out his
hands and stumbled forward.

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

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

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

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

" It is shut," said White, glancing behind

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

"I did," said Lester, "but I don't re-
member shutting it perhaps I did, though."


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

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

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

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

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

He opened a door at the end of the
passage and revealed a small square room.


Meagle led the way with the candle, and,
first melting a drop or two of tallow, stuck
it on the mantelpiece. The others seated
themselves on the floor and watched
pleasantly as White drew from his pocket
a small bottle of whisky and a tin cup.

" H'm ! I've forgotten the water," he

"I'll soon get some," said Meagle.

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

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

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

Barnes held up his hand for silence.

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

" Suppose we drop this game and go back,"
said Barnes suddenly. " I don't believe in
spirits, but nerves are outside anybody's


command. You may laugh as you like, but
it really seemed to me that I heard a door
open below and steps on the stairs."

His voice was drowned in a roar of laughter.

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

" No," was the reply.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

"You go if you want to," said Meagle,
"and we will play dummy. Or you might


ask the tramp to take your hand for you, as
you go downstairs."

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

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

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

11 1 am nervous, but rational," he said,
blowing out a thin cloud of smoke. " My
nerves tell me that there is something
prowling up and down the long passage out-
side ; my reason tells me that that is all
nonsense. Where are my cards?"

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

" Your play, White," he said, after a pause.

White made no sign.

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

Lester, who was sitting next to him, took


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

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

"Yes," said Lester, nodding. "Un-
less Good Lord ! suppose "

He broke off, and eyed them, trembling.

" Suppose what ? " inquired Meagle.

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

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

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

Meagle sprang to his feet. " Nonsense,"
he said roughly. " He's tired out ; that's
all. Still, let's take him up and clear out.


You take his legs and Barnes will lead the
way with the candle. Yes ? Whds that ? "

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

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

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

Online LibraryW. W. (William Wymark) JacobsSailors' knots → online text (page 5 of 15)