Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Captains All and Others by W.W. Jacobs

Part 3 out of 3

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

He stood with strained face listening.

"Here they come," whispered the jeweller with a sudden movement of alarm.

Brother Burge turned, and bolting into his room clapped the door to and
locked it. The jeweller stood dumbfounded on the landing; then he heard
the window go up and the voice of Brother Burge, much strengthened by the
religious exercises of the past six months, bellowing lustily for the

For a few seconds Mr. Higgs stood listening and wondering what
explanation he should give. Still thinking, he ran downstairs, and,
throwing open the pantry window, unlocked the door leading into the shop
and scattered a few of his cherished possessions about the floor. By the
time he had done this, people were already beating upon the street-door
and exchanging hurried remarks with Mr. Burge at the window above. The
jeweller shot back the bolts, and half-a-dozen neighbours, headed by the
butcher opposite, clad in his nightgown and armed with a cleaver, burst
into the passage. A constable came running up just as the pallid face of
Brother Burge peered over the balusters. The constable went upstairs
three at a time, and twisting his hand in the ex-burglar's neck-cloth
bore him backwards.

"I've got one," he shouted. "Come up and hold him while I look round."

The butcher was beside him in a moment; Brother Burge struggling wildly,
called loudly upon the name of Brother Higgs.

"That's all right, constable," said the latter, "that's a friend of

"Friend o' yours, sir?" said the disappointed officer, still holding him.

The jeweller nodded. "Mr. Samuel Burge the Converted Burglar," he said

"Conver----" gasped the astonished constable. "Converted burglar?

"He is a preacher now," added Mr. Higgs.

"Preacher?" retorted the constable. "Why it's as plain as a pikestaff.
Confederates: his part was to go down and let 'em in."

Mr. Burge raised a piteous outcry. "I hope you may be forgiven for them
words," he cried piously.

"What time did you go up to bed?" pursued the constable.

"About half-past eleven," replied Mr. Higgs.

The other grunted with satisfaction. "And he's fully dressed, with his
boots off," he remarked. "Did you hear him go out of his room at all?"

"He did go out," said the jeweller truth-fully, "but----"

"I thought so," said the constable, turning to his prisoner with
affectionate solicitude. "Now you come along o' me. Come quietly,
because it'll be the best for you in the end."

"You won't get your skull split open then," added the butcher, toying
with his cleaver.

The jeweller hesitated. He had no desire to be left alone with Mr. Burge
again; and a sense of humour, which many years' association with the
Primitive Apostles had not quite eradicated, strove for hearing.

"Think of the sermon it'll make," he said encouragingly to the frantic
Mr. Burge, "think of the congregation!"

Brother Burge replied in language which he had not used in public since
he had joined the Apostles. The butcher and another man stood guard over
him while the constable searched the premises and made all secure again.
Then with a final appeal to Mr. Higgs who was keeping in the background,
he was pitched to the police-station by the energetic constable and five
zealous assistants.

A diffidence, natural in the circumstances, prevented him from narrating
the story of his temptation to the magistrates next morning, and Mr.
Higgs was equally reticent. He was put back while the police
communicated with London, and in the meantime Brother Clark and a band
of Apostles flanked down to his support.

On his second appearance before the magistrates he was confronted with
his past; and his past to the great astonishment of the Brethren being
free from all blemish with the solitary exception of fourteen days for
stealing milk-cans, he was discharged with a caution. The disillusioned
Primitive Apostles also gave him his freedom.


[Illustration: "The Madness of Mr. Lister."]

Old Jem Lister, of the _Susannah,_ was possessed of two devils--the love
of strong drink and avarice--and the only thing the twain had in common
was to get a drink without paying for it. When Mr. Lister paid for a
drink, the demon of avarice masquerading as conscience preached a
teetotal lecture, and when he showed signs of profiting by it, the demon
of drink would send him hanging round public-house doors cadging for
drinks in a way which his shipmates regarded as a slur upon the entire
ship's company. Many a healthy thirst reared on salt beef and tickled
with strong tobacco had been spoiled by the sight of Mr. Lister standing
by the entrance, with a propitiatory smile, waiting to be invited in to
share it, and on one occasion they had even seen him (him, Jem Lister,
A.B.) holding a horse's head, with ulterior motives.

It was pointed out to Mr. Lister at last that his conduct was reflecting
discredit upon men who were fully able to look after themselves in that
direction, without having any additional burden thrust upon them. Bill
Henshaw was the spokesman, and on the score of violence (miscalled
firmness) his remarks left little to be desired. On the score of
profanity, Bill might recall with pride that in the opinion of his
fellows he had left nothing unsaid.

"You ought to ha' been a member o' Parliament, Bill," said Harry Lea,
when he had finished.

"It wants money," said Henshaw, shaking his head.

Mr. Lister laughed, a senile laugh, but not lacking in venom.

"That's what we've got to say," said Henshaw, turning upon him suddenly.
"If there's anything I hate in this world, it's a drinking miser. You
know our opinion, and the best thing you can do is to turn over a new
leaf now."

"Take us all in to the Goat and Compasses," urged Lea; "bring out some o'
those sovrins you've been hoarding."

Mr. Lister gazed at him with frigid scorn, and finding that the
conversation still seemed to centre round his unworthy person, went up on
deck and sat glowering over the insults which had been heaped upon him.
His futile wrath when Bill dogged his footsteps ashore next day and
revealed his character to a bibulous individual whom he had almost
persuaded to be a Christian--from his point of view--bordered upon the
maudlin, and he wandered back to the ship, wild-eyed and dry of throat.

For the next two months it was safe to say that every drink he had he
paid for. His eyes got brighter and his complexion clearer, nor was
he as pleased as one of the other sex might have been when the
self-satisfied Henshaw pointed out these improvements to his companions,
and claimed entire responsibility for them. It is probable that Mr.
Lister, under these circumstances, might in time have lived down his
taste for strong drink, but that at just that time they shipped a new

He was a big, cadaverous young fellow, who looked too closely after his
own interests to be much of a favourite with the other men forward. On
the score of thrift, it was soon discovered that he and Mr. Lister had
much in common, and the latter, pleased to find a congenial spirit, was
disposed to make the most of him, and spent, despite the heat, much of
his spare time in the galley.

"You keep to it," said the greybeard impressively; "money was made to be
took care of; if you don't spend your money you've always got it. I've
always been a saving man--what's the result?"

The cook, waiting some time in patience to be told, gently inquired what
it was.

"'Ere am I," said Mr. Lister, good-naturedly helping him to cut a
cabbage, "at the age of sixty-two with a bank-book down below in my
chest, with one hundered an' ninety pounds odd in it."

"One 'undered and ninety pounds!" repeated the cook, with awe.

"To say nothing of other things," continued Mr. Lister, with joyful
appreciation of the effect he was producing. "Altogether I've got a
little over four 'undered pounds."

The cook gasped, and with gentle firmness took the cabbage from him as
being unfit work for a man of such wealth.

"It's very nice," he said, slowly. "It's very nice. You'll be able to
live on it in your old age."

Mr. Lister shook his head mournfully, and his eyes became humid.

"There's no old age for me," he said, sadly; "but you needn't tell them,"
and he jerked his thumb towards the forecastle.

"No, no," said the cook.

"I've never been one to talk over my affairs," said Mr. Lister, in a low
voice. "I've never yet took fancy enough to anybody so to do. No, my
lad, I'm saving up for somebody else."

"What are you going to live on when you're past work then?" demanded the

Mr. Lister took him gently by the sleeve, and his voice sank with the
solemnity of his subject: "I'm not going to have no old age," he said,

"Not going to live!" repeated the cook, gazing uneasily at a knife by his
side. "How do you know?"

"I went to a orsepittle in London," said Mr. Lister. "I've been to two
or three altogether, while the money I've spent on doctors is more than I
like to think of, and they're all surprised to think that I've lived so
long. I'm so chock-full o' complaints, that they tell me I can't live
more than two years, and I might go off at any moment."

"Well, you've got money," said the cook, "why don't you knock off work
now and spend the evenin' of your life ashore? Why should you save up
for your relatives?"

"I've got no relatives," said Mr. Lister; "I'm all alone. I 'spose I
shall leave my money to some nice young feller, and I hope it'll do 'im

With the dazzling thoughts which flashed through the cook's brain the
cabbage dropped violently into the saucepan, and a shower of cooling
drops fell on both men.

"I 'spose you take medicine?" he said, at length.

"A little rum," said Mr. Lister, faintly; "the doctors tell me that it is
the only thing that keeps me up--o' course, the chaps down there "--he
indicated the forecastle again with a jerk of his head--"accuse me o'
taking too much."

"What do ye take any notice of 'em for?" inquired the other, indignantly.

"I 'spose it is foolish," admitted Mr. Lister; "but I don't like being
misunderstood. I keep my troubles to myself as a rule, cook. I don't
know what's made me talk to you like this. I 'eard the other day you was
keeping company with a young woman."

"Well, I won't say as I ain't," replied the other, busying himself over
the fire.

"An' the best thing, too, my lad," said the old man, warmly. "It keeps
you stiddy, keeps you out of public-'ouses; not as they ain't good in
moderation--I 'ope you'll be 'appy."

A friendship sprang up between the two men which puzzled the remainder
of the crew not a little.

The cook thanked him, and noticed that Mr. Lister was fidgeting with a
piece of paper.

"A little something I wrote the other day," said the old man, catching
his eye. "If I let you see it, will you promise not to tell a soul about
it, and not to give me no thanks?"

The wondering cook promised, and, the old man being somewhat emphatic on
the subject, backed his promise with a home made affidavit of singular
power and profanity.

"Here it is, then," said Mr. Lister.

The cook took the paper, and as he read the letters danced before him.
He blinked his eyes and started again, slowly. In plain black and white
and nondescript-coloured finger-marks, Mr. Lister, after a general
statement as to his bodily and mental health, left the whole of his
estate to the cook. The will was properly dated and witnessed, and the
cook's voice shook with excitement and emotion as he offered to hand it

"I don't know what I've done for you to do this," he said.

Mr. Lister waved it away again. "Keep it," he said, simply; "while
you've got it on you, you'll know it's safe."

From this moment a friendship sprang up between the two men which puzzled
the remainder of the crew not a little. The attitude of the cook was as
that of a son to a father: the benignancy of Mr. Lister beautiful to
behold. It was noticed, too, that he had abandoned the reprehensible
practice of hanging round tavern doors in favour of going inside and
drinking the cook's health.

[Illustration: "A friendship sprang up between the two men which puzzled
the remainder of the crew not a little."]

For about six months the cook, although always in somewhat straitened
circumstances, was well content with the tacit bargain, and then, bit by
bit, the character of Mr. Lister was revealed to him. It was not a nice
character, but subtle; and when he made the startling discovery that a
will could be rendered invalid by the simple process of making another
one the next day, he became as a man possessed. When he ascertained that
Mr. Lister when at home had free quarters at the house of a married
niece, he used to sit about alone, and try and think of ways and means of
securing capital sunk in a concern which seemed to show no signs of being

"I've got a touch of the 'art again, lad," said the elderly invalid, as
they sat alone in the forecastle one night at Seacole.

"You move about too much," said the cook. "Why not turn in and rest?"

Mr. Lister, who had not expected this, fidgeted. "I think I'll go ashore
a bit and try the air," he said, suggestively. "I'll just go as far as
the Black Horse and back. You won't have me long now, my lad."

"No, I know," said the cook; "that's what's worrying me a bit."
"Don't worry about me," said the old man, pausing with his hand on the
other's shoulder; "I'm not worth it. Don't look so glum, lad."

"I've got something on my mind, Jem," said the cook, staring straight in
front of him.

"What is it?" inquired Mr. Lister.

"You know what you told me about those pains in your inside?" said the
cook, without looking at him.

Jem groaned and felt his side.

"And what you said about its being a relief to die," continued the other,
"only you was afraid to commit suicide?"

"Well?" said Mr. Lister.

"It used to worry me," continued the cook, earnestly. "I used to say to
myself, 'Poor old Jem,' I ses, 'why should 'e suffer like this when he
wants to die? It seemed 'ard.'"

"It is 'ard," said Mr. Lister, "but what about it?"

The other made no reply, but looking at him for the first time, surveyed
him with a troubled expression.

"What about it?" repeated Mr. Lister, with some emphasis.

"You did say you wanted to die, didn't you?" said the cook. "Now
suppose suppose----"

"Suppose what?" inquired the old man, sharply. "Why don't you say what
you're agoing to say?"

"Suppose," said the cook, "some one what liked you, Jem--what liked you,
mind--'eard you say this over and over again, an' see you sufferin' and
'eard you groanin' and not able to do nothin' for you except lend you a
few shillings here and there for medicine, or stand you a few glasses o'
rum; suppose they knew a chap in a chemist's shop?"

"Suppose they did?" said the other, turning pale.

"A chap what knows all about p'isons," continued the cook, "p'isons what
a man can take without knowing it in 'is grub. Would it be wrong, do you
think, if that friend I was speaking about put it in your food to put you
out of your misery?"

"Wrong," said Mr. Lister, with glassy eyes. "Wrong. Look 'ere, cook--"

"I don't mean anything to give him pain," said the other, waving his
hand; "you ain't felt no pain lately, 'ave you, Jem?"

"Do you mean to say" shouted Mr. Lister.

"I don't mean to say anything," said the cook. "Answer my question. You
ain't felt no pain lately, 'ave you?"

"Have--you--been--putting--p'ison--in--my--wittles?" demanded Mr. Lister,
in trembling accents.

"If I 'ad, Jem, supposin' that I 'ad," said the cook, in accents of
reproachful surprise, "do you mean to say that you'd mind?"

"MIND," said Mr. Lister, with fervour. "I'd 'ave you 'ung!"

"But you said you wanted to die," said the surprised cook.

Mr. Lister swore at him with startling vigour. "I'll 'ave you 'ung," he
repeated, wildly.

"Me," said the cook, artlessly. "What for?"

"For giving me p'ison," said Mr. Lister, frantically. "Do you think you
can deceive me by your roundabouts? Do you think I can't see through

The other with a sphinx-like smile sat unmoved. "Prove it," he said,
darkly. "But supposin' if anybody 'ad been givin' you p'ison, would you
like to take something to prevent its acting?"

"I'd take gallons of it," said Mr. Lister, feverishly.

The other sat pondering, while the old man watched him anxiously. "It's
a pity you don't know your own mind, Jem," he said, at length; "still,
you know your own business best. But it's very expensive stuff."

"How much?" inquired the other.

"Well, they won't sell more than two shillings-worth at a time," said the
cook, trying to speak carelessly, "but if you like to let me 'ave the
money, I'll go ashore to the chemist's and get the first lot now."

Mr. Lister's face was a study in emotions, which the other tried in vain
to decipher.

Then he slowly extracted the amount from his trousers-pocket, and handed
it over with-out a word.

"I'll go at once," said the cook, with a little feeling, "and I'll never
take a man at his word again, Jem."

He ran blithely up on deck, and stepping ashore, spat on the coins for
luck and dropped them in his pocket. Down below, Mr. Lister, with his
chin in his hand, sat in a state of mind pretty evenly divided between
rage and fear.

The cook, who was in no mood for company, missed the rest of the crew by
two public-houses, and having purchased a baby's teething powder and
removed the label, had a congratulatory drink or two before going on
board again. A chatter of voices from the forecastle warned him that the
crew had returned, but the tongues ceased abruptly as he descended, and
three pairs of eyes surveyed him in grim silence.

"What's up?" he demanded.

"Wot 'ave you been doin' to poor old Jem?" demanded Henshaw, sternly.

"Nothin'," said the other, shortly.

"You ain't been p'isoning 'im?" demanded Henshaw.

"Certainly not," said the cook, emphatically.

"He ses you told 'im you p'isoned 'im," said Henshaw, solemnly, "and 'e
give you two shillings to get something to cure 'im. It's too late now."

"What?" stammered the bewildered cook. He looked round anxiously at the

They were all very grave, and the silence became oppressive.
"Where is he?" he demanded.

Henshaw and the others exchanged glances. "He's gone mad," said he,

"Mad?" repeated the horrified cook, and, seeing the aversion of the crew,
in a broken voice he narrated the way in which he had been victimized.

"Well, you've done it now," said Henshaw, when he had finished. "He's
gone right orf 'is 'ed."

"Where is he?" inquired the cook.

"Where you can't follow him," said the other, slowly.

"Heaven?" hazarded the unfortunate cook. "No; skipper's bunk," said Lea.

"Oh, can't I foller 'im?" said the cook, starting up. "I'll soon 'ave
'im out o' that."

"Better leave 'im alone," said Henshaw. "He was that wild we couldn't do
nothing with 'im, singing an' larfin' and crying all together--I
certainly thought he was p'isoned."

"I'll swear I ain't touched him," said the cook.

"Well, you've upset his reason," said Henshaw; "there'll be an awful row
when the skipper comes aboard and finds 'im in 'is bed.

"'Well, come an' 'elp me to get 'im out," said the cook.

"I ain't going to be mixed up in it," said Henshaw, shaking his head.

"Don't you, Bill," said the other two.

"Wot the skipper'll say I don't know," said Henshaw; "anyway, it'll be
said to you, not----"

"I'll go and get 'im out if 'e was five madmen," said the cook,
compressing his lips.

"You'll harve to carry 'im out, then," said Henshaw. "I don't wish you
no 'arm, cook, and perhaps it would be as well to get 'im out afore the
skipper or mate comes aboard. If it was me, I know what I should do."

"What?" inquired the cook, breathlessly.

"Draw a sack over his head," said Henshaw, impressively; "he'll scream
like blazes as soon as you touch him, and rouse the folks ashore if you
don't. Besides that, if you draw it well down it'll keep his arms fast."

The cook thanked him fervently, and routing out a sack, rushed hastily on
deck, his departure being the signal for Mr. Henshaw and his friends to
make preparations for retiring for the night so hastily as almost to
savour of panic.

The cook, after a hasty glance ashore, went softly below with the sack
over his arm and felt his way in the darkness to the skipper's bunk. The
sound of deep and regular breathing reassured him, and without undue
haste he opened the mouth of the sack and gently raised the sleeper's

"Eh? Wha----" began a sleepy voice.

The next moment the cook had bagged him, and gripping him tightly round
the middle, turned a deaf ear to the smothered cries of his victim as he
strove to lift him out of the bunk. In the exciting time which followed,
he had more than one reason for thinking that he had caught a centipede.

"Now, you keep still," he cried, breathlessly. "I'm not going to hurt

He got his burden out of bed at last, and staggered to the foot of the
companion-ladder with it. Then there was a halt, two legs sticking
obstinately across the narrow way and refusing to be moved, while a
furious humming proceeded from the other end of the sack.

Four times did the exhausted cook get his shoulder under his burden and
try and push it up the ladder, and four times did it wriggle and fight
its way down again. Half crazy with fear and rage, he essayed it for the
fifth time, and had got it half-way up when there was a sudden
exclamation of surprise from above, and the voice of the mate sharply
demanding an explanation.

"What the blazes are you up to?" he cried.

"It's all right, sir," said the panting cook; "old Jem's had a drop too
much and got down aft, and I'm getting 'im for'ard again."

"Jem?" said the astonished mate. "Why, he's sitting up here on the
fore-hatch. He came aboard with me."

"Sitting," began the horrified cook; "sit--oh, lor!"

He stood with his writhing burden wedged between his body and the ladder,
and looked up despairingly at the mate.

"I'm afraid I've made a mistake," he said in a trembling voice.

The mate struck a match and looked down.

"Take that sack off," he demanded, sternly.

The cook placed his burden upon its feet, and running up the ladder stood
by the mate shivering. The latter struck another match, and the twain
watched in breathless silence the writhings of the strange creature below
as the covering worked slowly upwards. In the fourth match it got free,
and revealed the empurpled visage of the master of the _Susannah_. For
the fraction of a second the cook gazed at him in speechless horror, and
then, with a hopeless cry, sprang ashore and ran for it, hotly pursued by
his enraged victim. At the time of sailing he was still absent, and the
skipper, loth to part two such friends, sent Mr. James Lister, at the
urgent request of the anxious crew, to look for him.


[Illustration: "The White Cat."]

The traveller stood looking from the tap-room window of the _Cauliflower_
at the falling rain. The village street below was empty, and everything
was quiet with the exception of the garrulous old man smoking with much
enjoyment on the settle behind him.

"It'll do a power o' good," said the ancient, craning his neck round the
edge of the settle and turning a bleared eye on the window. "I ain't
like some folk; I never did mind a drop o' rain."

The traveller grunted and, returning to the settle opposite the old man,
fell to lazily stroking a cat which had strolled in attracted by the
warmth of the small fire which smouldered in the grate.

"He's a good mouser," said the old man, "but I expect that Smith the
landlord would sell 'im to anybody for arf a crown; but we 'ad a cat in
Claybury once that you couldn't ha' bought for a hundred golden

The traveller continued to caress the cat.

"A white cat, with one yaller eye and one blue one," continued the old
man. "It sounds queer, but it's as true as I sit 'ere wishing that I 'ad
another mug o' ale as good as the last you gave me."

The traveller, with a start that upset the cat's nerves, finished his own
mug, and then ordered both to be refilled. He stirred the fire into a
blaze, and, lighting his pipe and putting one foot on to the hob,
prepared to listen.

It used to belong to old man Clark, young Joe Clark's uncle, said the
ancient, smacking his lips delicately over the ale and extending a
tremulous claw to the tobacco-pouch pushed towards him; and he was never
tired of showing it off to people. He used to call it 'is blue-eyed
darling, and the fuss 'e made o' that cat was sinful.

Young Joe Clark couldn't bear it, but being down in 'is uncle's will for
five cottages and a bit o' land bringing in about forty pounds a year, he
'ad to 'ide his feelings and pretend as he loved it. He used to take it
little drops o' cream and tit-bits o' meat, and old Clark was so pleased
that 'e promised 'im that he should 'ave the cat along with all the other
property when 'e was dead.

Young Joe said he couldn't thank 'im enough, and the old man, who 'ad
been ailing a long time, made 'im come up every day to teach 'im 'ow to
take care of it arter he was gone. He taught Joe 'ow to cook its meat
and then chop it up fine; 'ow it liked a clean saucer every time for its
milk; and 'ow he wasn't to make a noise when it was asleep.

"Take care your children don't worry it, Joe," he ses one day, very
sharp. "One o' your boys was pulling its tail this morning, and I want
you to clump his 'ead for 'im."

"Which one was it?" ses Joe.

"The slobbery-nosed one," ses old Clark.

"I'll give 'im a clout as soon as I get 'ome," ses Joe, who was very fond
of 'is children.

"Go and fetch 'im and do it 'ere," ses the old man; "that'll teach 'im to
love animals."

Joe went off 'ome to fetch the boy, and arter his mother 'ad washed his
face, and wiped his nose, an' put a clean pinneyfore on 'im, he took 'im
to 'is uncle's and clouted his 'ead for 'im. Arter that Joe and 'is wife
'ad words all night long, and next morning old Clark, coming in from the
garden, was just in time to see 'im kick the cat right acrost the

He could 'ardly speak for a minute, and when 'e could Joe see plain wot a
fool he'd been. Fust of all 'e called Joe every name he could think of--
which took 'im a long time--and then he ordered 'im out of 'is house.

"You shall 'ave my money wen your betters have done with it," he ses,
"and not afore. That's all you've done for yourself."

Joe Clark didn't know wot he meant at the time, but when old Clark died
three months arterwards 'e found out. His uncle 'ad made a new will and
left everything to old George Barstow for as long as the cat lived,
providing that he took care of it. When the cat was dead the property
was to go to Joe.

The cat was only two years old at the time, and George Barstow, who was
arf crazy with joy, said it shouldn't be 'is fault if it didn't live
another twenty years.

The funny thing was the quiet way Joe Clark took it. He didn't seem to
be at all cut up about it, and when Henery Walker said it was a shame,
'e said he didn't mind, and that George Barstow was a old man, and he was
quite welcome to 'ave the property as long as the cat lived.

"It must come to me by the time I'm an old man," he ses, "ard that's all
I care about."

Henery Walker went off, and as 'e passed the cottage where old Clark used
to live, and which George Barstow 'ad moved into, 'e spoke to the old man
over the palings and told 'im wot Joe Clark 'ad said. George Barstow
only grunted and went on stooping and prying over 'is front garden.

"Bin and lost something?" ses Henery Walker, watching 'im.

"No; I'm finding," ses George Barstow, very fierce, and picking up
something. "That's the fifth bit o' powdered liver I've found in my
garden this morning."

Henery Walker went off whistling, and the opinion he'd 'ad o' Joe Clark
began to improve. He spoke to Joe about it that arternoon, and Joe said
that if 'e ever accused 'im o' such a thing again he'd knock 'is 'ead
off. He said that he 'oped the cat 'ud live to be a hundred, and that
'e'd no more think of giving it poisoned meat than Henery Walker would of
paying for 'is drink so long as 'e could get anybody else to do it for

They 'ad bets up at this 'ere _Cauliflower_ public-'ouse that evening as to
'ow long that cat 'ud live. Nobody gave it more than a month, and Bill
Chambers sat and thought o' so many ways o' killing it on the sly that it
was wunnerful to hear 'im.

George Barstow took fright when he 'eard of them, and the care 'e took o'
that cat was wunnerful to behold. Arf its time it was shut up in the
back bedroom, and the other arf George Barstow was fussing arter it till
that cat got to hate 'im like pison. Instead o' giving up work as he'd
thought to do, 'e told Henery Walker that 'e'd never worked so 'ard in
his life.

"Wot about fresh air and exercise for it?" ses Henery.

"Wot about Joe Clark?" ses George Bar-stow. "I'm tied 'and and foot. I
dursent leave the house for a moment. I ain't been to the _Cauliflower_
since I've 'ad it, and three times I got out o' bed last night to see if
it was safe."

"Mark my words," ses Henery Walker; "if that cat don't 'ave exercise,
you'll lose it.

"I shall lose it if it does 'ave exercise," ses George Barstow, "that I

He sat down thinking arter Henery Walker 'ad gone, and then he 'ad a
little collar and chain made for it, and took it out for a walk. Pretty
nearly every dog in Claybury went with 'em, and the cat was in such a
state o' mind afore they got 'ome he couldn't do anything with it. It
'ad a fit as soon as they got indoors, and George Barstow, who 'ad read
about children's fits in the almanac, gave it a warm bath. It brought it
round immediate, and then it began to tear round the room and up and
downstairs till George Barstow was afraid to go near it.

[Illustration: "He 'ad a little collar and chain made for it, and took it
out for a walk."]

It was so bad that evening, sneezing, that George Barstow sent for Bill
Chambers, who'd got a good name for doctoring animals, and asked 'im to
give it something. Bill said he'd got some powders at 'ome that would
cure it at once, and he went and fetched 'em and mixed one up with a bit
o' butter.

"That's the way to give a cat medicine," he ses; "smear it with the
butter and then it'll lick it off, powder and all."

He was just going to rub it on the cat when George Barstow caught 'old of
'is arm and stopped 'im.

"How do I know it ain't pison?" he ses. "You're a friend o' Joe Clark's,
and for all I know he may ha' paid you to pison it."

"I wouldn't do such a thing," ses Bill. "You ought to know me better
than that."

"All right," ses George Barstow; "you eat it then, and I'll give you two
shillings in stead o' one. You can easy mix some more."

"Not me," ses Bill Chambers, making a face.

"Well, three shillings, then," ses George Barstow, getting more and more
suspicious like; "four shillings--five shillings."

Bill Chambers shook his 'ead, and George Barstow, more and more certain
that he 'ad caught 'im trying to kill 'is cat and that 'e wouldn't eat
the stuff, rose 'im up to ten shillings.

Bill looked at the butter and then 'e looked at the ten shillings on the
table, and at last he shut 'is eyes and gulped it down and put the money
in 'is pocket.

"You see, I 'ave to be careful, Bill," ses George Barstow, rather upset.

Bill Chambers didn't answer 'im. He sat there as white as a sheet, and
making such extraordinary faces that George was arf afraid of 'im.

"Anything wrong, Bill?" he ses at last.

Bill sat staring at 'im, and then all of a sudden he clapped 'is
'andkerchief to 'is mouth and, getting up from his chair, opened the door
and rushed out. George Barstow thought at fust that he 'ad eaten pison
for the sake o' the ten shillings, but when 'e remembered that Bill
Chambers 'ad got the most delikit stummick in Claybury he altered 'is

The cat was better next morning, but George Barstow had 'ad such a fright
about it 'e wouldn't let it go out of 'is sight, and Joe Clark began to
think that 'e would 'ave to wait longer for that property than 'e had
thought, arter all. To 'ear 'im talk anybody'd ha' thought that 'e loved
that cat. We didn't pay much attention to it up at the _Cauliflower_
'ere, except maybe to wink at 'im--a thing he couldn't a bear--but at
'ome, o' course, his young 'uns thought as everything he said was
Gospel; and one day, coming 'ome from work, as he was passing George
Barstow's he was paid out for his deceitfulness.

"I've wronged you, Joe Clark," ses George Barstow, coming to the door,
"and I'm sorry for it."

"Oh!" ses Joe, staring.

"Give that to your little Jimmy," ses George Barstow, giving 'im a
shilling. "I've give 'im one, but I thought arterwards it wasn't

"What for?" ses Joe, staring at 'im agin.

"For bringing my cat 'ome," ses George Barstow. "'Ow it got out I can't
think, but I lost it for three hours, and I'd about given it up when your
little Jimmy brought it to me in 'is arms. He's a fine little chap and
'e does you credit."

Joe Clark tried to speak, but he couldn't get a word out, and Henery
Walker, wot 'ad just come up and 'eard wot passed, took hold of 'is arm
and helped 'im home. He walked like a man in a dream, but arf-way he
stopped and cut a stick from the hedge to take 'ome to little Jimmy. He
said the boy 'ad been asking him for a stick for some time, but up till
then 'e'd always forgotten it.

At the end o' the fust year that cat was still alive, to everybody's
surprise; but George Barstow took such care of it 'e never let it out of
'is sight. Every time 'e went out he took it with 'im in a hamper, and,
to prevent its being pisoned, he paid Isaac Sawyer, who 'ad the biggest
family in Claybury, sixpence a week to let one of 'is boys taste its milk
before it had it.

The second year it was ill twice, but the horse-doctor that George
Barstow got for it said that it was as 'ard as nails, and with care it
might live to be twenty. He said that it wanted more fresh air and
exercise; but when he 'eard 'ow George Barstow come by it he said that
p'r'aps it would live longer indoors arter all.

At last one day, when George Barstow 'ad been living on the fat o' the
land for nearly three years, that cat got out agin. George 'ad raised
the front-room winder two or three inches to throw something outside,
and, afore he knew wot was 'appening, the cat was out-side and going up
the road about twenty miles an hour.

George Barstow went arter it, but he might as well ha' tried to catch the
wind. The cat was arf wild with joy at getting out agin, and he couldn't
get within arf a mile of it.

He stayed out all day without food or drink, follering it about until it
came on dark, and then, o' course, he lost sight of it, and, hoping
against 'ope that it would come home for its food, he went 'ome and
waited for it. He sat up all night dozing in a chair in the front room
with the door left open, but it was all no use; and arter thinking for a
long time wot was best to do, he went out and told some o' the folks it
was lost and offered a reward of five pounds for it.

You never saw such a hunt then in all your life. Nearly every man,
woman, and child in Claybury left their work or school and went to try
and earn that five pounds. By the arternoon George Barstow made it ten
pounds provided the cat was brought 'ome safe and sound, and people as
was too old to walk stood at their cottage doors to snap it up as it came

Joe Clark was hunting for it 'igh and low, and so was 'is wife and the
boys. In fact, I b'lieve that everybody in Claybury excepting the parson
and Bob Pretty was trying to get that ten pounds.

O' course, we could understand the parson--'is pride wouldn't let 'im;
but a low, poaching, thieving rascal like Bob Pretty turning up 'is nose
at ten pounds was more than we could make out. Even on the second day,
when George Barstow made it ten pounds down and a shilling a week for a
year besides, he didn't offer to stir; all he did was to try and make fun
o' them as was looking for it.

"Have you looked everywhere you can think of for it, Bill?" he ses to
Bill Chambers. "Yes, I 'ave," ses Bill.

"Well, then, you want to look everywhere else," ses Bob Pretty. "I know
where I should look if I wanted to find it."

"Why don't you find it, then?" ses Bill.

"'Cos I don't want to make mischief," ses Bob Pretty. "I don't want to
be unneighbourly to Joe Clark by interfering at all."

"Not for all that money?" ses Bill.

"Not for fifty pounds," ses Bob Pretty; "you ought to know me better than
that, Bill Chambers."

"It's my belief that you know more about where that cat is than you ought
to," ses Joe Gubbins.

"You go on looking for it, Joe," ses Bob Pretty, grinning; "it's good
exercise for you, and you've only lost two days' work."

"I'll give you arf a crown if you let me search your 'ouse, Bob," ses
Bill Chambers, looking at 'im very 'ard.

"I couldn't do it at the price, Bill," ses Bob Pretty, shaking his 'ead.
"I'm a pore man, but I'm very partikler who I 'ave come into my 'ouse."

O' course, everybody left off looking at once when they heard about Bob--
not that they believed that he'd be such a fool as to keep the cat in his
'ouse; and that evening, as soon as it was dark, Joe Clark went round to
see 'im.

"Don't tell me as that cat's found, Joe," ses Bob Pretty, as Joe opened
the door.

"Not as I've 'eard of," said Joe, stepping inside. "I wanted to speak to
you about it; the sooner it's found the better I shall be pleased."

"It does you credit, Joe Clark," ses Bob Pretty.

"It's my belief that it's dead," ses Joe, looking at 'im very 'ard; "but
I want to make sure afore taking over the property."

Bob Pretty looked at 'im and then he gave a little cough. "Oh, you want
it to be found dead," he ses. "Now, I wonder whether that cat's worth
most dead or alive?"

Joe Clark coughed then. "Dead, I should think," he ses at last.
"George Barstow's just 'ad bills printed offering fifteen pounds for it,"
ses Bob Pretty.

"I'll give that or more when I come into the property," ses Joe Clark.

"There's nothing like ready-money, though, is there?" ses Bob.

"I'll promise it to you in writing, Bob," ses Joe, trembling.

"There's some things that don't look well in writing, Joe," says Bob
Pretty, considering; "besides, why should you promise it to me?"

"O' course, I meant if you found it," ses Joe.

"Well, I'll do my best, Joe," ses Bob Pretty; "and none of us can do no
more than that, can they?"

They sat talking and argufying over it for over an hour, and twice Bob
Pretty got up and said 'e was going to see whether George Barstow
wouldn't offer more. By the time they parted they was as thick as
thieves, and next morning Bob Pretty was wearing Joe Clark's watch and
chain, and Mrs. Pretty was up at Joe's 'ouse to see whether there was any
of 'is furniture as she 'ad a fancy for.

She didn't seem to be able to make up 'er mind at fust between a chest o'
drawers that 'ad belonged to Joe's mother and a grand-father clock. She
walked from one to the other for about ten minutes, and then Bob, who 'ad
come in to 'elp her, told 'er to 'ave both.

"You're quite welcome," he ses; "ain't she, Joe?"

Joe Clark said "Yes," and arter he 'ad helped them carry 'em 'ome the
Prettys went back and took the best bedstead to pieces, cos Bob said as
it was easier to carry that way. Mrs. Clark 'ad to go and sit down at
the bottom o' the garden with the neck of 'er dress undone to give
herself air, but when she saw the little Prettys each walking 'ome with
one of 'er best chairs on their 'eads she got and walked up and down like
a mad thing.

"I'm sure I don't know where we are to put it all," ses Bob Pretty to Joe
Gubbins, wot was looking on with other folks, "but Joe Clark is that
generous he won't 'ear of our leaving anything."

"Has 'e gorn mad?" ses Bill Chambers, staring at 'im.

"Not as I knows on," ses Bob Pretty. "It's 'is good-'artedness, that's
all. He feels sure that that cat's dead, and that he'll 'ave George
Barstow's cottage and furniture. I told 'im he'd better wait till he'd
made sure, but 'e wouldn't."

Before they'd finished the Prettys 'ad picked that 'ouse as clean as a
bone, and Joe Clark 'ad to go and get clean straw for his wife and
children to sleep on; not that Mrs. Clark 'ad any sleep that night, nor
Joe neither.

Henery Walker was the fust to see what it really meant, and he went
rushing off as fast as 'e could run to tell George Barstow. George
couldn't believe 'im at fust, but when 'e did he swore that if a 'air of
that cat's head was harmed 'e'd 'ave the law o' Bob Pretty, and arter
Henery Walker 'ad gone 'e walked round to tell 'im so.

"You're not yourself, George Barstow, else you wouldn't try and take away
my character like that," ses Bob Pretty.

"Wot did Joe Clark give you all them things for?" ses George, pointing to
the furniture.

"Took a fancy to me, I s'pose," ses Bob. "People do sometimes. There's
something about me at times that makes 'em like me."

"He gave 'em to you to kill my cat," ses George Barstow. "It's plain
enough for any-body to see."

Bob Pretty smiled. "I expect it'll turn up safe and sound one o' these
days," he ses, "and then you'll come round and beg my pardon. P'r'aps--"

"P'r'aps wot?" ses George Barstow, arter waiting a bit.

"P'r'aps somebody 'as got it and is keeping it till you've drawed the
fifteen pounds out o' the bank," ses Bob, looking at 'im very hard.

"I've taken it out o' the bank," ses George, starting; "if that cat's
alive, Bob, and you've got it, there's the fifteen pounds the moment you
'and it over."

"Wot d'ye mean--me got it?" ses Bob Pretty. "You be careful o' my

"I mean if you know where it is," ses George Barstow trembling all over.

"I don't say I couldn't find it, if that's wot you mean," ses Bob. "I
can gin'rally find things when I want to."

"You find me that cat, alive and well, and the money's yours, Bob," ses
George, 'ardly able to speak, now that 'e fancied the cat was still

Bob Pretty shook his 'ead. "No; that won't do," he ses. "S'pose I did
'ave the luck to find that pore animal, you'd say I'd had it all the time
and refuse to pay."

"I swear I wouldn't, Bob," ses George Barstow, jumping up.

"Best thing you can do if you want me to try and find that cat," says Bob
Pretty, "is to give me the fifteen pounds now, and I'll go and look for
it at once. I can't trust you, George Barstow."

"And I can't trust you," ses George Barstow.

"Very good," ses Bob, getting up; "there's no 'arm done. P'r'aps Joe
Clark 'll find the cat is dead and p'r'aps you'll find it's alive. It's
all one to me."

George Barstow walked off 'ome, but he was in such a state o' mind 'e
didn't know wot to do. Bob Pretty turning up 'is nose at fifteen pounds
like that made 'im think that Joe Clark 'ad promised to pay 'im more if
the cat was dead; and at last, arter worrying about it for a couple o'
hours, 'e came up to this 'ere _Cauliflower_ and offered Bob the fifteen

"Wot's this for?" ses Bob.

"For finding my cat," ses George.

"Look here," ses Bob, handing it back, "I've 'ad enough o' your insults;
I don't know where your cat is."

"I mean for trying to find it, Bob," ses George Barstow.

"Oh, well, I don't mind that," ses Bob, taking it. "I'm a 'ard-working
man, and I've got to be paid for my time; it's on'y fair to my wife and
children. I'll start now."

He finished up 'is beer, and while the other chaps was telling George
Barstow wot a fool he was Joe Clark slipped out arter Bob Pretty and
began to call 'im all the names he could think of.

"Don't you worry," ses Bob; "the cat ain't found yet."

"Is it dead?" ses Joe Clark, 'ardly able to speak.

"'Ow should I know?" ses Bob; "that's wot I've got to try and find out.
That's wot you gave me your furniture for, and wot George Barstow gave me
the fifteen pounds for, ain't it? Now, don't you stop me now, 'cos I'm
goin' to begin looking."

He started looking there and then, and for the next two or three days
George Barstow and Joe Clark see 'im walking up and down with his 'ands
in 'is pockets looking over garden fences and calling "Puss." He asked
everybody 'e see whether they 'ad seen a white cat with one blue eye and
one yaller one, and every time 'e came into the _Cauliflower_ he put his
'ead over the bar and called "Puss," 'cos, as 'e said, it was as likely
to be there as anywhere else.

It was about a week after the cat 'ad disappeared that George Barstow was
standing at 'is door talking to Joe Clark, who was saying the cat must be
dead and 'e wanted 'is property, when he sees a man coming up the road
carrying a basket stop and speak to Bill Chambers. Just as 'e got near
them an awful "miaow" come from the basket and George Barstow and Joe
Clark started as if they'd been shot.

"He's found it?" shouts Bill Chambers, pointing to the man.

"It's been living with me over at Ling for a week pretty nearly," ses the
man. "I tried to drive it away several times, not knowing that there was
fifteen pounds offered for it."

George Barstow tried to take 'old of the basket.

"I want that fifteen pounds fust," ses the man.

"That's on'y right and fair, George," ses Bob Pretty, who 'ad just come
up. "You've got all the luck, mate. We've been hunting 'igh and low for
that cat for a week."

Then George Barstow tried to explain to the man and call Bob Pretty names
at the same time; but it was all no good. The man said it 'ad nothing to
do with 'im wot he 'ad paid to Bob Pretty; and at last they fetched
Policeman White over from Cudford, and George Barstow signed a paper to
pay five shillings a week till the reward was paid.

George Barstow 'ad the cat for five years arter that, but he never let it
get away agin. They got to like each other in time and died within a
fortnight of each other, so that Joe Clark got 'is property arter all.

Book of the day: