W.W. Jacobs.

Ship's Company, the Entire Collection online

. (page 4 of 11)
Online LibraryW.W. JacobsShip's Company, the Entire Collection → online text (page 4 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


"You leave it to me," he said. "You leave it to me, and when you come
home from a happy outing I 'ope to be able to cross your little hand with
three 'undred golden quids."

"But why not tell me?" urged Mr. Teak.

"'Cos I want to surprise you," was the reply. "But mind, whatever you
do, don't let your wife run away with the idea that I've been mixed up in
it at all. Now, if you worry me any more I shall ask you to make it
thirty pounds for me instead of twenty."

The two friends parted at the corner of the road on Saturday afternoon,
and Mr. Teak, conscious of his friend's impatience, sought to hurry his
wife by occasionally calling the wrong time up the stairs. She came down
at last, smiling, in a plain hat with three roses, two bows, and a
feather.

"I've had the feather for years," she remarked. "This is the fourth hat
it has been on - but, then, I've taken care of it."

Mr. Teak grunted, and, opening the door, ushered her into the street. A
sense of adventure, and the hope of a profitable afternoon made his
spirits rise. He paid a compliment to the hat, and then, to the surprise
of both, followed it up with another - a very little one - to his wife.

They took a tram at the end of the street, and for the sake of the air
mounted to the top. Mrs. Teak leaned back in her seat with placid
enjoyment, and for the first ten minutes amused herself with the life in
the streets. Then she turned suddenly to her husband and declared that
she had felt a spot of rain.

"'Magination," he said, shortly.

Something cold touched him lightly on the eyelid, a tiny pattering
sounded from the seats, and then swish, down came the rain. With an
angry exclamation he sprang up and followed his wife below.

"Just our luck," she said, mournfully. "Best thing we can do is to stay
in the car and go back with it."

"Nonsense!" said her husband, in a startled' voice; "it'll be over in a
minute."

Events proved the contrary. By the time the car reached the terminus it
was coming down heavily. Mrs. Teak settled herself squarely in her seat,
and patches of blue sky, visible only to the eye of faith and her
husband, failed to move her. Even his reckless reference to a cab
failed.

"It's no good," she said, tartly. "We can't go about the grounds in a
cab, and I'm not going to slop about in the wet to please anybody. We
must go another time. It's hard luck, but there's worse things in life."

Mr. Teak, wondering as to the operations of Mr. Chase, agreed dumbly. He
stopped the car at the corner of their road, and, holding his head down
against the rain, sprinted towards home. Mrs. Teak, anxious for her hat,
passed him.

"What on earth's the matter?" she inquired, fumbling in her pocket for
the key as her husband executed a clumsy but noisy breakdown on the front
step.

"Chill," replied Mr. Teak. "I've got wet."

He resumed his lumberings and, the door being opened, gave vent to his
relief at being home again in the dry, in a voice that made the windows
rattle. Then with anxious eyes he watched his wife pass upstairs.

"Wonder what excuse old Alf'll make for being in?" he thought.

He stood with one foot on the bottom stair, listening acutely. He heard
a door open above, and then a wild, ear-splitting shriek rang through the
house. Instinctively he dashed upstairs and, following his wife into
their bedroom, stood by her side gaping stupidly at a pair of legs
standing on the hearthstone. As he watched they came backwards into the
room, the upper part of a body materialized from the chimney, and turning
round revealed the soot-stained face of Mr. Alfred Chase. Another wild
shriek from Mrs. Teak greeted its appearance.

"Hul-lo!" exclaimed Mr. Teak, groping for the right thing to say.
"Hul-lo! What - what are you doing, Alf?"

Mr. Chase blew the soot from his lips. "I - I - I come 'ome unexpected,"
he stammered.

"But - what are - you doing?" panted Mrs. Teak, in a rising voice.

"I - I was passing your door," said Mr. Chase, "passing your door - to go
to my room to - to 'ave a bit of a rinse, when - "

"Yes," said Mrs. Teak.

Mr. Chase gave Mr. Teak a glance the pathos of which even the soot could
not conceal. "When I - I heard a pore little bird struggling in your
chimbley," he continued, with a sigh of relief. "Being fond of animals,
I took the liberty of comin' into your room and saving its life."

Mr. Teak drew a breath, which he endeavoured in vain to render noiseless.

"It got its pore little foot caught in the brickwork," continued the
veracious Mr. Chase, tenderly. "I released it, and it flowed - I mean
flew - up the chimbley."

With the shamefaced air of a man detected in the performance of a noble
action, he passed out of the room. Husband and wife eyed each other.

"That's Alf - that's Alf all over," said Mr. Teak, with enthusiasm. "He's
been like it from a child. He's the sort of man that 'ud dive off
Waterloo Bridge to save the life of a drownding sparrow."

"He's made an awful mess," said his wife, frowning; "it'll take me the
rest of the day to clean up. There's soot everywhere. The rug is quite
spoilt."

She took off her hat and jacket and prepared for the fray. Down below
Messrs. Teak and Chase, comparing notes, sought, with much warmth, to
put the blame on the right shoulders.

"Well, it ain't there," said Mr. Chase, finally. "I've made sure of
that. That's something towards it. I shan't 'ave to look there again,
thank goodness."

Mr. Teak sniffed. "Got any more ideas?" he queried.

"I have," said the other sternly. "There's plenty of places to search
yet. I've only just begun. Get her out as much as you can and I'll 'ave
my hands on it afore you can say - "

"Soot?" suggested Mr. Teak, sourly.

"Any more of your nasty snacks and I chuck it up altogether," said Mr.
Chase, heatedly. "If I wasn't hard up I'd drop it now."

He went up to his room in dudgeon, and for the next few days Mr. Teak saw
but little of him. To, lure Mrs. Teak out was almost as difficult as to
persuade a snail to leave its shell, but he succeeded on two or three
occasions, and each time she added something to her wardrobe.

The assistant fortune-hunter had been in residence just a month when Mr.
Teak, returning home one afternoon, stood in the small passage listening
to a suppressed wailing noise proceeding from upstairs. It was so creepy
that half-way up he hesitated, and, in a stern but trembling voice,
demanded to know what his wife meant by it. A louder wail than before
was the only reply, and, summoning up his courage, he pushed open the
door of the bedroom and peeped in. His gaze fell on Mrs. Teak, who was
sitting on the hearth-rug, rocking to and fro in front of a dismantled
fire-place.

"What - what's the matter?" he said, hastily.

Mrs. Teak raised her voice to a pitch that set his teeth on edge. "My
money!" she wailed. "It's all gone! All gone!"

"Money?" repeated Mr. Teak, hardly able to contain himself. "What
money?"

"All - all my savings!" moaned his wife. "Savings!" said the delighted
Mr. Teak. "What savings?"

"Money I have been putting by for our old age," said his wife. "Three
hundred and twenty-two pounds. All gone!"

In a fit of sudden generosity Mr. Teak decided then and there that Mr.
Chase should have the odd twenty-two pounds.

"You're dreaming!" he said, sternly.

"I wish I was," said his wife, wiping her eyes. "Three hundred and
twenty-two pounds in empty mustard-tins. Every ha'penny's gone!"

Mr. Teak's eye fell on the stove. He stepped for ward and examined it.
The back was out, and Mrs. Teak, calling his attention to a tunnel at the
side, implored him to put his arm in and satisfy himself that it was
empty.

"But where could you get all that money from?" he demanded, after a
prolonged groping.

"Sa - sa - saved it," sobbed his wife, "for our old age."

"Our old age?" repeated Mr. Teak, in lofty tones. "And suppose I had
died first? Or suppose you had died sudden? This is what comes of
deceitfulness and keeping things from your husband. Now somebody has
stole it."

Mrs. Teak bent her head and sobbed again. "I - I had just been out for
- for an hour," she gasped. "When I came back I fou - fou - found the
washhouse window smashed, and - "

Sobs choked her utterance. Mr. Teak, lost in admiration of Mr. Chase's
cleverness, stood regarding her in silence.

"What - what about the police?" said his wife at last.

"Police!" repeated Mr. Teak, with extraordinary vehemence. "Police!
Certainly not. D'ye think I'm going to let it be known all round that
I'm the husband of a miser? I'd sooner lose ten times the money."

He stalked solemnly out of the room and downstairs, and, safe in the
parlour, gave vent to his feelings in a wild but silent hornpipe. He
cannoned against the table at last, and, subsiding into an easy-chair,
crammed his handkerchief to his mouth and gave way to suppressed mirth.

In his excitement he forgot all about tea, and the bereaved Mrs. Teak
made no attempt to come downstairs to prepare it. With his eye on the
clock he waited with what patience he might for the arrival of Mr. Chase.
The usual hour for his return came and went. Another hour passed; and
another. A horrible idea that Mr. Chase had been robbed gave way to one
more horrible still. He paced the room in dismay, until at nine o'clock
his wife came down, and in a languid fashion began to set the
supper-table.

"Alf's very late," said Mr. Teak, thickly.

"Is he?" said his wife, dully.

"Very late," said Mr. Teak. "I can't think - Ah, there he is!"

He took a deep breath and clenched 'his hands together. By the time Mr.
Chase came into the room he was able to greet him with a stealthy wink.
Mr. Chase, with a humorous twist of his mouth, winked back.

"We've 'ad a upset," said Mr. Teak, in warning tones.

"Eh?" said the other, as Mrs. Teak threw her apron over her head and sank
into a chair. "What about?"

In bated accents, interrupted at times by broken murmurs from his wife,
Mr. Teak informed him of the robbery. Mr. Chase, leaning against the
doorpost, listened with open mouth and distended eyeballs. Occasional
interjections of pity and surprise attested his interest. The tale
finished, the gentlemen exchanged a significant wink and sighed in
unison.

"And now," said Mr. Teak an hour later, after his wife had retired,
"where is it?"

"Ah, that's the question," said Mr. Chase, roguishly. "I wonder where it
can be?"

"I - I hope it's in a safe place," said Mr. Teak, anxiously. "Where 'ave
you put it?"

"Me?" said Mr. Chase. "Who are you getting at? I ain't put it
anywhere. You know that."

"Don't play the giddy goat," said the other, testily. "Where've you hid
it? Is it safe?"

Mr. Chase leaned back in his chair and, shaking his head at him, smiled
approvingly. "You're a little wonder, that's what you are, Gussie," he
remarked. "No wonder your pore wife is took in so easy."

Mr. Teak sprang up in a fury. "Don't play the fool," he said hoarsely.
"Where's the money? I want it. Now, where've you put it?"

"Go on," said Mr. Chase, with a chuckle. "Go on. Don't mind me. You
ought to be on the stage, Gussie, that's where you ought to be."

"I'm not joking," said Mr. Teak, in a trembling voice, "and I don't want
you to joke with me. If you think you are going off with my money,
you're mistook. If you don't tell me in two minutes where it is, I shall
give you in charge for theft."

"Oh" said Mr. Chase. He took a deep breath. "Oh, really!" he said. "I
wouldn't 'ave thought it of you, Gussie. I wouldn't 'ave thought you'd
have played it so low down. I'm surprised at you."

"You thought wrong, then," said the other.

"Trying to do me out o' my twenty pounds, that's what you are," said Mr.
Chase, knitting his brows. "But it won't do, my boy. I wasn't born
yesterday. Hand it over, afore I lose my temper. Twenty pounds I want
of you, and I don't leave this room till I get it."

Speechless with fury, Mr. Teak struck at him. The next moment the
supper-table was overturned with a crash, and Mr. Chase, with his friend
in his powerful grasp, was doing his best, as he expressed it, to shake
the life out of him. A faint scream sounded from above, steps pattered
on the stairs, and Mrs. Teak, with a red shawl round her shoulders, burst
'hurriedly into the room. Mr. Chase released Mr. Teak, opened his mouth
to speak, and then, thinking better of it, dashed into the passage, took
his hat from the peg, and, slamming the front door with extraordinary
violence, departed.

He sent round for his clothes next day, but he did not see Mr. Teak until
a month afterwards. His fists clenched and his mouth hardened, but Mr.
Teak, with a pathetic smile, held out his hand, and Mr. Chase, after a
moment's hesitation, took it. Mr. Teak, still holding his friend's hand,
piloted him to a neighbouring hostelry.

"It was my mistake, Alf," he said, shaking his head, "but it wasn't my
fault. It's a mistake anybody might ha' made."

"Have you found out who took it?" inquired Mr. Chase, regarding him
suspiciously.

Mr. Teak gulped and nodded. "I met Bert Adams yesterday," he said,
slowly. "It took three pints afore he told me, but I got it out of 'im
at last. My missis took it herself."

Mr. Chase put his mug down with a bang. "What?" he gasped.

"The day after she found you with your head up the chimbley," added Mr.
Teak, mournfully. "She's shoved it away in some bank now, and I shall
never see a ha'penny of it. If you was a married man, Alf, you'd
understand it better. You wouldn't be surprised at anything."





[Illustration: "As I was a-saying, kindness to animals is all very well"]



WATCH-DOGS

"It's a'most the only enj'yment I've got left," said the oldest
inhabitant, taking a long, slow draught of beer, "that and a pipe o'
baccy. Neither of 'em wants chewing, and that's a great thing when you
ain't got anything worth speaking about left to chew with."

He put his mug on the table and, ignoring the stillness of the summer
air, sheltered the flame of a match between his cupped hands and conveyed
it with infinite care to the bowl of his pipe. A dull but crafty old eye
squinting down the stem assured itself that the tobacco was well alight
before the match was thrown away.

"As I was a-saying, kindness to animals is all very well," he said to the
wayfarer who sat opposite him in the shade of the "Cauliflower" elms;
"but kindness to your feller-creeturs is more. The pint wot you give me
is gone, but I'm just as thankful to you as if it wasn't."

He half closed his eyes and, gazing on to the fields beyond, fell into a
reverie so deep that he failed to observe the landlord come for his mug
and return with it filled. A little start attested his surprise, and,
to his great annoyance, upset a couple of tablespoonfuls of the precious
liquid.

"Some people waste all their kindness on dumb animals," he remarked,
after the landlord had withdrawn from his offended vision, "but I was
never a believer in it. I mind some time ago when a gen'lemen from
Lunnon wot 'ad more money than sense offered a prize for kindness to
animals. I was the only one that didn't try for to win it.

"Mr. Bunnett 'is name was, and 'e come down and took Farmer Hall's 'ouse
for the summer. Over sixty 'e was, and old enough to know better. He
used to put saucers of milk all round the 'ouse for cats to drink, and,
by the time pore Farmer Hall got back, every cat for three miles round
'ad got in the habit of coming round to the back-door and asking for milk
as if it was their right. Farmer Hall poisoned a saucer o' milk at last,
and then 'ad to pay five shillings for a thin black cat with a mangy tail
and one eye that Bob Pretty said belonged to 'is children. Farmer Hall
said he'd go to jail afore he'd pay, at fust, but arter five men 'ad
spoke the truth and said they 'ad see Bob's youngsters tying a empty
mustard-tin to its tail on'y the day afore, he gave way.

"Tha was Bob Pretty all over, that was; the biggest raskel Claybury 'as
ever had; and it wasn't the fust bit o' money 'e made out o' Mr. Bunnett
coming to the place.

"It all come through Mr. Bunnett's love for animals. I never see a man
so fond of animals as 'e was, and if he had 'ad 'is way Claybury would
'ave been overrun by 'em by this time. The day arter 'e got to the farm
he couldn't eat 'is breakfuss because of a pig that was being killed in
the yard, and it was no good pointing out to 'im that the pig was on'y
making a fuss about it because it was its nature so to do. He lived on
wegetables and such like, and the way 'e carried on one day over 'arf a
biled caterpillar 'e found in his cabbage wouldn't be believed. He
wouldn't eat another mossel, but sat hunting 'igh and low for the other
'arf.

"He 'adn't been in Claybury more than a week afore he said 'ow surprised
'e was to see 'ow pore dumb animals was treated. He made a little speech
about it one evening up at the schoolroom, and, arter he 'ad finished, he
up and offered to give a prize of a gold watch that used to belong to 'is
dear sister wot loved animals, to the one wot was the kindest to 'em
afore he left the place.

"If he'd ha' known Claybury men better 'e wouldn't ha' done it. The very
next morning Bill Chambers took 'is baby's milk for the cat, and smacked
'is wife's 'ead for talking arter he'd told 'er to stop. Henery Walker
got into trouble for leaning over Charlie Stubbs's fence and feeding his
chickens for 'im, and Sam Jones's wife had to run off 'ome to 'er mother
'arf-dressed because she had 'appened to overlay a sick rabbit wot Sam
'ad taken to bed with 'im to keep warm.

"People used to stop animals in the road and try and do 'em a kindness -
especially when Mr. Bunnett was passing - and Peter Gubbins walked past
'is house one day with ole Mrs. Broad's cat in 'is arms. A bad-tempered
old cat it was, and, wot with Peter kissing the top of its 'ead and
calling of it Tiddleums, it nearly went out of its mind.

"The fust time Mr. Bunnett see Bob Pretty was about a week arter he'd
offered that gold watch. Bob was stooping down very careful over
something in the hedge, and Mr. Bunnett, going up quiet-like behind 'im,
see 'im messing about with a pore old toad he 'ad found, with a smashed
leg.

"'Wots the matter with it?' ses Mr. Bunnett.

"Bob didn't seem to hear 'im. He was a-kneeling on the ground with 'is
'ead on one side looking at the toad; and by and by he pulled out 'is
pocket'an'kercher and put the toad in it, as if it was made of
egg-shells, and walked away.

"'Wot's the matter with it?' ses Mr. Bunnett, a'most trotting to keep up
with 'im.

"'Got it's leg 'urt in some way, pore thing,' ses Bob. 'I want to get it
'ome as soon as I can and wash it and put it on a piece o' damp moss.
But I'm afraid it's not long for this world.'

"Mr. Bunnett said it did 'im credit, and walked home alongside of 'im
talking. He was surprised to find that Bob hadn't 'eard anything of the
gold watch 'e was offering, but Bob said he was a busy, 'ard-working man
and didn't 'ave no time to go to hear speeches or listen to
tittle-tattle.

"'When I've done my day's work,' he ses, 'I can always find a job in the
garden, and arter that I go in and 'elp my missis put the children to
bed. She ain't strong, pore thing, and it's better than wasting time and
money up at the "Cauliflower."'

"He 'ad a lot o' talk with Mr. Bunnett for the next day or two, and when
'e went round with the toad on the third day as lively and well as
possible the old gen'leman said it was a miracle. And so it would ha'
been if it had been the same toad.

"He took a great fancy to Bob Pretty, and somehow or other they was
always dropping acrost each other. He met Bob with 'is dog one day - a
large, ugly brute, but a'most as clever as wot Bob was 'imself. It stood
there with its tongue 'anging out and looking at Bob uneasy-like out of
the corner of its eye as Bob stood a-patting of it and calling it pet
names.

"' Wunnerful affectionate old dog, ain't you, Joseph?' ses Bob.

"'He's got a kind eye,' ses Mr. Bunnett.

"'He's like another child to me, ain't you, my pretty?' ses Bob, smiling
at 'im and feeling in 'is pocket. 'Here you are, old chap.'

"He threw down a biskit so sudden that Joseph, thinking it was a stone,
went off like a streak o' lightning with 'is tail between 'is legs and
yelping his 'ardest. Most men would ha' looked a bit foolish, but Bob
Pretty didn't turn a hair.

"'Ain't it wunnerful the sense they've got,' he ses to Mr. Bunnett, wot
was still staring arter the dog.

"'Sense?' ses the old gen'leman.

"'Yes,' ses Bob smiling. 'His food ain't been agreeing with 'im lately
and he's starving hisself for a bit to get round agin, and 'e knew that
'e couldn't trust hisself alongside o' this biskit. Wot a pity men ain't
like that with beer. I wish as 'ow Bill Chambers and Henery Walker and a
few more 'ad been 'ere just now.'

"Mr. Bunnett agreed with 'im, and said wot a pity it was everybody 'adn't
got Bob Pretty's commonsense and good feeling.

"'It ain't that,' ses Bob, shaking his 'ead at him; 'it ain't to my
credit. I dessay if Sam Jones and Peter Gubbins, and Charlie Stubbs and
Dicky Weed 'ad been brought up the same as I was they'd 'ave been a lot
better than wot I am.'

"He bid Mr. Bunnett good-bye becos 'e said he'd got to get back to 'is
work, and Mr. Bunnett had 'ardly got 'ome afore Henery Walker turned up
full of anxiousness to ask his advice about five little baby kittens wot
'is old cat had found in the wash-place: the night afore.

"'Drownd them little innercent things, same as most would do, I can't,'
he ses, shaking his 'ead; 'but wot to do with 'em I don't know.'

"'Couldn't you find 'omes for 'em?' ses Mr. Bunnett.

"Henery Walker shook his 'ead agin. ''Tain't no use thinking o' that,'
he ses. 'There's more cats than 'omes about 'ere'. Why, Bill Chambers
drownded six o'ny last week right afore the eyes of my pore little boy.
Upset 'im dreadful it did.'

"Mr. Bunnett walked up and down the room thinking. 'We must try and find
'omes for 'em when they are old enough,' he says at last; 'I'll go round
myself and see wot I can do for you.'

"Henery Walker thanked 'im and went off 'ome doing a bit o' thinking; and
well he 'ad reason to. Everybody wanted one o' them kittens. Peter
Gubbins offered for to take two, and Mr. Bunnett told Henery Walker next
day that 'e could ha' found 'omes for 'em ten times over.

"'You've no idea wot fine, kind-'arted people they are in this village
when their 'arts are touched,' he ses, smiling at Henery. 'You ought to
'ave seen Mr. Jones's smile when I asked 'im to take one. It did me good
to see it. And I spoke to Mr. Chambers about drowning 'is kittens, and
he told me 'e hadn't slept a wink ever since. And he offered to take
your old cat to make up for it, if you was tired of keeping it.

"It was very 'ard on Henery Walker, I must say that. Other people was
getting the credit of bringing up 'is kittens, and more than that, they
used to ask Mr. Bunnett into their places to see 'ow the little dears was
a-getting on.

"Kindness to animals caused more unpleasantness in Claybury than anything
'ad ever done afore. There was hardly a man as 'ud speak civil to each
other, and the wimmen was a'most as bad. Cats and dogs and such-like
began to act as if the place belonged to 'em, and seven people stopped
Mr. Bunnett one day to tell 'im that Joe Parsons 'ad been putting down
rat-poison and killed five little baby rats and their mother.

"It was some time afore anybody knew that Bob Pretty 'ad got 'is eye on
that gold watch, and when they did they could 'ardly believe it. They
give Bob credit for too much sense to waste time over wot they knew 'e
couldn't get, but arter they 'ad heard one or two things they got
alarmed, and pretty near the whole village went up to see Mr. Bunnett and
tell 'im about Bob's true character. Mr. Bunnett couldn't believe 'em at
fast, but arter they 'ad told 'im of Bob's poaching and the artful ways
and tricks he 'ad of getting money as didn't belong to 'im 'e began to
think different. He spoke to parson about 'im, and arter that 'e said he
never wanted for to see Bob Pretty's face again.

"There was a fine to-do about it up at this 'ere Cauliflower public-'ouse
that night, and the quietest man 'o the whole lot was Bob Pretty. He sat
still all the time drinking 'is beer and smiling at 'em and giving 'em
good advice 'ow to get that gold watch.


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryW.W. JacobsShip's Company, the Entire Collection → online text (page 4 of 11)