Part 2 out of 3
Sept. 20.--Private Montease installed in easy-chair in dining-room with
touch of bronchitis, looking up trains to Bournemouth.
Sept. 21.--Private Montease in bed all day. Cook anxious "to do her
bit" rubbed his chest with home-made embrocation. Believe it is same
stuff she rubs chests in hall with. Smells the same anyway.
Sept. 24.--Private Montease, complaining of slight rawness of chest, but
otherwise well, returned to duty.
Oct. 5.--Cough worse again. Private Montease thinks that with care it
may turn to bronchitis. Borrowed an A.B.C.
Oct. 6.--Private Montease relates uncanny experience. Woke up with
feeling of suffocation to find an enormous black-currant and glycerine
jujube wedged in his gullet. Never owned such a thing in his life.
Seems to be unaware that he always sleeps with his mouth open.
Nov. 14.--Private Bowser, youngest and tallest of my billets, gazetted.
Nov. 15, 10.35 a.m.--Private Bowser in tip-top spirits said good-bye to
10.45.--Told that Q.M.S. Beddem desired to see me. Capitulated. New
billet, Private Early, armed to the teeth, turned up in the evening.
Said that he was a Yorkshireman. Said that Yorkshire was the finest
county in England, and Yorkshiremen the finest men in the world. Stood
toying with his bayonet and waiting for contradiction.
Jan. 5, 1916.--Standing in the garden just after lunch was witness to
startling phenomenon. Q.M.S. Beddem came towards front-gate with a
smile so expansive that gate after first trembling violently on its
hinges swung open of its own accord. Q.M.S., with smile (sad), said he
was in trouble. Very old member of the Inns of Court, Private Keen, had
re-joined, and he wanted a good billet for him. Would cheerfully give up
his own bed, but it wasn't long enough. Not to be outdone in hospitality
by my own gate accepted Private Keen. Q.M.S. digging hole in my path
with toe of right boot, and for first and only time manifesting signs of
nervousness, murmured that two life-long friends of Private Keen's had
rejoined with him. Known as the Three Inseparables. Where they were to
sleep, unless I----. Fled to house, and locking myself in top-attic
watched Q.M.S. from window. He departed with bent head and swagger-cane
Jan 6.--Private Keen arrived. Turned out to be son of an old Chief of
mine. Resolved not to visit the sins of the father on the head of a
child six feet two high and broad in proportion.
Feb. 6.--Private Keen came home with a temperature.
Feb. 7.--M.O. diagnosed influenza. Was afraid it would spread.
Feb. 8.--Warned the other four billets. They seemed amused. Pointed
out that influenza had no terrors for men in No. 2 Company, who were
doomed to weekly night-ops. under Major Carryon.
Feb. 9.--House strangely and pleasantly quiet. Went to see how Private
Keen was progressing, and found the other four billets sitting in a row
on his bed practising deep-breathing exercises.
Feb. 16.--Billets on night-ops. until late hour. Spoke in highest terms
of Major Carryon's marching powers--also in other terms.
March 3.--Waited up until midnight for Private Merited, who had gone to
Slough on his motor-bike.
March 4, 1.5 a.m.--Awakened by series of explosions from over-worked, or
badly-worked, motor-bike. Put head out of window and threw key to
Private Merited. He seemed excited. Said he had been chased all the way
from Chesham by a pink rat with yellow spots. Advised him to go to bed.
Set him an example.
1.10. a.m.--Heard somebody in the pantry. 2.10. a.m.--Heard Private
Merited going upstairs to bed.
2.16 a.m.--Heard Private Merited still going upstairs to bed.
2.20-3.15. a.m.--Heard Private Merited getting to bed.
April 3, 12.30 a.m.--Town-hooter announced Zeppelins and excited soldier
called up my billets from their beds to go and frighten them off.
Pleasant to see superiority of billets over the hooter: that only emitted
12.50 a.m.--Billets returned with exception of Private Merited, who was
retained for sake of his motor-bike.
9 a.m.--On way to bath-room ran into Private Merited, who, looking very
glum and sleepy, inquired whether I had a copy of the Exchange and Mart
in the house.
10 p.m.--Overheard billets discussing whether it was worth while removing
boots before going to bed until the Zeppelin scare was over. Joined in
May 2.--Rumours that the Inns of Court were going under canvas.
May 5.--Rumours grow stronger.
May 6.--Billets depressed. Begin to think perhaps there is something in
rumours after all.
May 9.-All doubts removed. Tents begin to spring up with the suddenness
of mushrooms in fields below Berkhamsted Place.
May 18, LIBERATION DAY.--Bade a facetious good-bye to my billets;
response lacking in bonhomie.
May 19.-House delightfully quiet. Presented caller of unkempt appearance
at back-door with remains of pair of military boots, three empty shaving-
stick tins, and a couple of partially bald tooth-brushes.
May 21.--In afternoon went round and looked at camp. Came home smiling,
and went to favourite seat in garden to smoke. Discovered Private Early
lying on it fast asleep. Went to study. Private Merited at table
writing long and well-reasoned letter to his tailor. As he said he could
never write properly with anybody else in the room, left him and went to
bath-room. Door locked. Peevish but familiar voice, with a Scotch
accent, asked me what I wanted; also complained of temperature of water.
May 22.--After comparing notes with neighbours, feel deeply grateful to
Q.M.S. Beddem for sending me the best six men in the corps.
July 15.--Feel glad to have been associated, however remotely and humbly,
with a corps, the names of whose members appear on the Roll of Honour of
every British regiment.
Mr. Purnip took the arm of the new recruit and hung over him almost
tenderly as they walked along; Mr. Billing, with a look of conscious
virtue on his jolly face, listened with much satisfaction to his friend's
"It's such an example," said the latter. "Now we've got you the others
will follow like sheep. You will be a bright lamp in the darkness."
"Wot's good enough for me ought to be good enough for them," said Mr.
Billing, modestly. "They'd better not let me catch--"
"H'sh! H'sh!" breathed Mr. Purnip, tilting his hat and wiping his bald,
"I forgot," said the other, with something like a sigh. "No more
fighting; but suppose somebody hits me?"
"Turn the other cheek," replied Mr. Purnip.
"They won't hit that; and when they see you standing there smiling at
"After being hit?" interrupted Mr. Billing.
"After being hit," assented the other, "they'll be ashamed of themselves,
and it'll hurt them more than if you struck them."
"Let's 'ope so," said the convert; "but it don't sound reasonable. I can
hit a man pretty 'ard. Not that I'm bad-tempered, mind you; a bit quick,
p'r'aps. And, after all, a good smack in the jaw saves any amount of
Mr. Purnip smiled, and, as they walked along, painted a glowing picture
of the influence to be wielded by a first-class fighting-man who refused
to fight. It was a rough neighbourhood, and he recognized with sorrow
that more respect was paid to a heavy fist than to a noble intellect or a
"And you combine them all," he said, patting his companion's arm.
Mr. Billing smiled. "You ought to know best," he said, modestly.
"You'll be surprised to find how easy it is," continued Mr. Purnip. "You
will go from strength to strength. Old habits will disappear, and you
will hardly know you have lost them. In a few months' time you will
probably be wondering what you could ever have seen in beer, for
"I thought you said you didn't want me to give up beer?" said the other.
"We don't," said Mr. Purnip. "I mean that as you grow in stature you
will simply lose the taste for it."
Mr. Billing came to a sudden full stop. "D'ye mean I shall lose my
liking for a drop o' beer without being able to help myself?" he
demanded, in an anxious voice.
"Of course, it doesn't happen in every case," he said, hastily.
Mr. Billing's features relaxed. "Well, let's 'ope I shall be one of the
fortunate ones," he said, simply. "I can put up with a good deal, but
when it comes to beer----"
"We shall see," said the other, smiling.
"We don't want to interfere with anybody's comfort; we want to make them
happier, that's all. A little more kindness between man and man; a
little more consideration for each other; a little more brightness in
He paused at the corner of the street, and, with a hearty handshake, went
off. Mr. Billing, a prey to somewhat mixed emotions, continued on his
way home. The little knot of earnest men and women who had settled in
the district to spread light and culture had been angling for him for
some time. He wondered, as he walked, what particular bait it was that
had done the mischief.
"They've got me at last," he remarked, as he opened the house-door and
walked into his small kitchen. "I couldn't say 'no' to Mr. Purnip."
"Wish 'em joy," said Mrs. Billing, briefly. "Did you wipe your boots?"
Her husband turned without a word, and, retreating to the mat, executed a
"You needn't wear it out," said the surprised Mrs. Billing.
"We've got to make people 'appier," said her husband, seriously; "be
kinder to 'em, and brighten up their dull lives a bit. That's wot Mr.
"You'll brighten 'em up all right," declared Mrs. Billing, with a sniff.
"I sha'n't forget last Tuesday week--no, not if I live to be a hundred.
You'd ha' brightened up the police-station if I 'adn't got you home just
in the nick of time."
Her husband, who was by this time busy under the scullery-tap, made no
reply. He came from it spluttering, and, seizing a small towel, stood in
the door-way burnishing his face and regarding his wife with a smile
which Mr. Purnip himself could not have surpassed. He sat down to
supper, and between bites explained in some detail the lines on which his
future life was to be run. As an earnest of good faith, he consented,
after a short struggle, to a slip of oil-cloth for the passage; a pair of
vases for the front room; and a new and somewhat expensive corn-cure for
"And let's 'ope you go on as you've begun," said that gratified lady.
"There's something in old Purnip after all. I've been worrying you for
months for that oilcloth. Are you going to help me wash up? Mr. Purnip
Mr. Billing appeared not to hear, and, taking up his cap, strolled slowly
in the direction of the Blue Lion. It was a beautiful summer evening,
and his bosom swelled as he thought of the improvements that a little
brotherliness might effect in Elk Street. Engrossed in such ideas, it
almost hurt him to find that, as he entered one door of the Blue Lion,
two gentlemen, forgetting all about their beer, disappeared through the
"Wot 'ave they run away like that for?" he demanded, looking round.
"I wouldn't hurt 'em."
"Depends on wot you call hurting, Joe," said a friend.
Mr. Billing shook his head. "They've no call to be afraid of me," he
said, gravely. "I wouldn't hurt a fly; I've got a new 'art."
"A new wot?" inquired his friend, staring.
"A new 'art," repeated the other. "I've given up fighting and swearing,
and drinking too much. I'm going to lead a new life and do all the good
I can; I'm going--"
"Glory! Glory!" ejaculated a long, thin youth, and, making a dash for
the door, disappeared.
"He'll know me better in time," said Mr. Billing. "Why, I wouldn't hurt
a fly. I want to do good to people; not to hurt 'em. I'll have a pint,"
he added, turning to the bar.
"Not here you won't," said the landlord, eyeing him coldly.
"Why not?" demanded the astonished Mr. Billing.
"You've had all you ought to have already," was the reply. "And there's
one thing I'll swear to--you ain't had it 'ere."
"I haven't 'ad a drop pass my lips began the outraged Mr. Billing.
"Yes, I know," said the other, wearily, as he shifted one or two glasses
and wiped the counter; "I've heard it all before, over and over again.
Mind you, I've been in this business thirty years, and if I don't know
when a man's had his whack, and a drop more, nobody does. You get off
'ome and ask your missis to make you a nice cup o' good strong tea, and
then get up to bed and sleep it off."
"I dare say," said Mr. Billing, with cold dignity, as he paused at the
door--"I dare say I may give up beer altogether."
He stood outside pondering over the unforeseen difficulties attendant
upon his new career, moving a few inches to one side as Mr. Ricketts, a
foe of long standing, came towards the public-house, and, halting a yard
or two away, eyed him warily.
"Come along," said Mr. Billing, speaking somewhat loudly, for the benefit
of the men in the bar; "I sha'n't hurt you; my fighting days are over."
"Yes, I dessay," replied the other, edging away.
"It's all right, Bill," said a mutual friend, through the half-open door;
"he's got a new 'art."
Mr. Ricketts looked perplexed. "'Art disease, d'ye mean?" he inquired,
hopefully. "Can't he fight no more?"
"A new 'art," said Mr. Billing. "It's as strong as ever it was, but it's
"If you call me 'brother' agin I'll give you something for yourself, and
chance it," said Mr. Ricketts, ferociously. "I'm a pore man, but I've
got my pride."
Mr. Billing, with a smile charged with brotherly love, leaned his left
cheek towards him. "Hit it," he said, gently.
"Give it a smack and run, Bill," said the voice of a well-wisher inside.
"There'd be no need for 'im to run," said Mr. Billing. "I wouldn't hit
'im back for anything. I should turn the other cheek."
"Whaffor?" inquired the amazed Mr. Ricketts.
"For another swipe," said Mr. Billing, radiantly.
In the fraction of a second he got the first, and reeled back staggering.
The onlookers from the bar came out hastily. Mr. Ricketts, somewhat
pale, stood his ground.
"You see, I don't hit you," said Mr. Billing, with a ghastly attempt at a
He stood rubbing his cheek gently, and, remembering Mr. Purnip's
statements, slowly, inch by inch, turned the other in the direction of
his adversary. The circuit was still incomplete when Mr. Ricketts,
balancing himself carefully, fetched it a smash that nearly burst it.
Mr. Billing, somewhat jarred by his contact with the pavement, rose
painfully and confronted him.
"I've only got two cheeks, mind," he said, slowly.
Mr. Ricketts sighed. "I wish you'd got a blinking dozen," he said,
wistfully. "Well, so long. Be good."
He walked into the Blue Lion absolutely free from that sense of shame
which Mr. Purnip had predicted, and, accepting a pint from an admirer,
boasted noisily of his exploit. Mr. Billing, suffering both mentally and
physically, walked slowly home to his astonished wife.
"P'r'aps he'll be ashamed of hisself when 'e comes to think it over," he
murmured, as Mrs. Billing, rendered almost perfect by practice,
administered first aid.
"I s'pect he's crying his eyes out," she said, with a sniff. "Tell me if
Mr. Billing told her, then, suddenly remembering himself, issued an
"I'm sorry for the next man that 'its you," said his wife, as she drew
back and regarded her handiwork.
"'Well, you needn't be," said Mr. Billing, with dignity. "It would take
more than a couple o' props in the jaw to make me alter my mind when I've
made it up. You ought to know that by this time. Hurry up and finish.
I want you to go to the corner and fetch me a pot."
"What, ain't you going out agin?" demanded his astonished wife.
Mr. Billing shook his head. "Somebody else might want to give me one,"
he said, resignedly, "and I've 'ad about all I want to-night."
His face was still painful next morning, but as he sat at breakfast in
the small kitchen he was able to refer to Mr. Ricketts in terms which
were an eloquent testimony to Mr. Purnip's teaching. Mrs. Billing,
unable to contain herself, wandered off into the front room with a
"Are you nearly ready to go?" she inquired, returning after a short
"Five minutes," said Mr. Billing, nodding. I'll just light my pipe and
then I'm off."
"'Cos there's two or three waiting outside for you," added his wife.
Mr. Billing rose. "Ho, is there?" he said, grimly, as he removed his
coat and proceeded to roll up his shirt-sleeves. "I'll learn 'em. I'll
give 'em something to wait for. I'll----"
His voice died away as he saw the triumph in his wife's face, and,
drawing down his sleeves again, he took up his coat and stood eyeing her
in genuine perplexity.
"Tell 'em I've gorn," he said, at last.
"And what about telling lies?" demanded his wife. "What would your Mr.
Purnip say to that?"
"You do as you're told," exclaimed the harassed Mr. Billing. "I'm not
going to tell 'em; it's you."
Mrs. Billing returned to the parlour, and, with Mr. Billing lurking in
the background, busied herself over a china flower-pot that stood in the
window, and turned an anxious eye upon three men waiting outside. After
a glance or two she went to the door.
"Did you want to see my husband?" she inquired.
The biggest of the three nodded. "Yus," he said, shortly.
"I'm sorry," said Mrs. Billing, "but he 'ad to go early this morning.
Was it anything partikler?"
"Gorn?" said the other, in disappointed tones. "Well, you tell 'im I'll
see 'im later on."
He turned away, and, followed by the other two, walked slowly up the
road. Mr. Billing, after waiting till the coast was clear, went off in
the other direction.
He sought counsel of his friend and mentor that afternoon, and stood
beaming with pride at the praise lavished upon him. Mr. Purnip's
co-workers were no less enthusiastic than their chief; and various
suggestions were made to Mr. Billing as to his behaviour in the unlikely
event of further attacks upon his noble person.
He tried to remember the suggestions in the harassing days that followed;
baiting Joe Billing becoming popular as a pastime from which no evil
results need be feared. It was creditable to his fellow-citizens that
most of them refrained from violence with a man who declined to hit back,
but as a butt his success was assured. The night when a gawky lad of
eighteen drank up his beer, and then invited him to step outside if he
didn't like it, dwelt long in his memory. And Elk Street thrilled one
evening at the sight of their erstwhile champion flying up the road hotly
pursued by a foeman half his size. His explanation to his indignant wife
that, having turned the other cheek the night before, he was in no mood
for further punishment, was received in chilling silence.
"They'll soon get tired of it," he said, hopefully; "and I ain't going to
be beat by a lot of chaps wot I could lick with one 'and tied behind me.
They'll get to understand in time; Mr. Purnip says so. It's a pity that
you don't try and do some good yourself."
Mrs. Billing received the suggestion with a sniff; but the seed was sown.
She thought the matter over in private, and came to the conclusion that,
if her husband wished her to participate in good works, it was not for
her to deny him. Hitherto her efforts in that direction had been
promptly suppressed; Mr. Billing's idea being that if a woman looked
after her home and her husband properly there should be neither time
nor desire for anything else. His surprise on arriving home to tea on
Saturday afternoon, and finding a couple of hard-working neighbours
devouring his substance, almost deprived him of speech.
"Poor things," said his wife, after the guests had gone; "they did enjoy
it. It's cheered 'em up wonderful. You and Mr. Purnip are quite right.
I can see that now. You can tell him that it was you what put it into my
"Me? Why, I never dreamt o' such a thing," declared the surprised Mr.
Billing. "And there's other ways of doing good besides asking a pack of
old women in to tea."
"I know there is," said his wife. "All in good time," she added, with a
far-away look in her eyes.
Mr. Billing cleared his throat, but nothing came of it. He cleared it
"I couldn't let you do all the good," said his wife, hastily. "It
wouldn't be fair. I must help."
Mr. Billing lit his pipe noisily, and then took it out into the back-yard
and sat down to think over the situation. The ungenerous idea that his
wife was making goodness serve her own ends was the first that occurred
His suspicions increased with time. Mrs. Billing's good works seemed to
be almost entirely connected with hospitality. True, she had entertained
Mr. Purnip and one of the ladies from the Settlement to tea, but that
only riveted his bonds more firmly. Other visitors included his sister-
in-law, for whom he had a great distaste, and some of the worst-behaved
children in the street.
"It's only high spirits," said Mrs. Billing; "all children are like that.
And I do it to help the mothers."
"And 'cos you like children," said her husband, preserving his good-
humour with an effort.
There was a touch of monotony about the new life, and the good deeds that
accompanied it, which, to a man of ardent temperament, was apt to pall.
And Elk Street, instead of giving him the credit which was his due,
preferred to ascribe the change in his behaviour to what they called
being "a bit barmy on the crumpet."
He came home one evening somewhat dejected, brightening up as he stood
in the passage and inhaled the ravishing odours from the kitchen. Mrs.
Billing, with a trace of nervousness somewhat unaccountable in view of
the excellent quality of the repast provided, poured him out a glass of
beer, and passed flattering comment upon his appearance.
"Wot's the game?" he inquired.
"Game?" repeated his wife, in a trembling voice. "Nothing. 'Ow do you
find that steak-pudding? I thought of giving you one every Wednesday."
Mr. Billing put down his knife and fork and sat regarding her
thoughtfully. Then he pushed back his chair suddenly, and, a picture of
consternation and wrath, held up his hand for silence.
"W-w-wot is it?" he demanded. "A cat?"
Mrs. Billing made no reply, and her husband sprang to his feet as a long,
thin wailing sounded through the house. A note of temper crept into it
and strengthened it.
"Wot is it?" demanded Mr. Billing again. "It's--it's Mrs. Smith's
Charlie," stammered his wife.
"In--in my bedroom?" exclaimed her husband, in incredulous accents.
"Wot's it doing there?"
"I took it for the night," said his wife hurriedly. "Poor thing, what
with the others being ill she's 'ad a dreadful time, and she said if I'd
take Charlie for a few--for a night, she might be able to get some
Mr. Billing choked. "And what about my sleep?" he shouted. "Chuck it
outside at once. D'ye hear me?"
His words fell on empty air, his wife having already sped upstairs to
pacify Master Smith by a rhythmical and monotonous thumping on the back.
Also she lifted up a thin and not particularly sweet voice and sang to
him. Mr. Billing, finishing his supper in indignant silence, told
himself grimly that he was "beginning to have enough of it."
He spent the evening at the Charlton Arms, and, returning late, went
slowly and heavily up to bed. In the light of a shaded candle he saw a
small, objectionable-looking infant fast asleep on two chairs by the side
of the bed.
"H'sh!" said his wife, in a thrilling whisper. "He's just gone off."
"D'ye mean I mustn't open my mouth in my own bedroom?" demanded the
indignant man, loudly.
"H'sh!" said his wife again.
It was too late. Master Smith, opening first one eye and then the other,
finished by opening his mouth. The noise was appalling.
"H'sh! H'sh!" repeated Mrs. Billing, as her husband began to add to the
noise. "Don't wake 'im right up."
"Right up?" repeated the astonished man. "Right up? Why, is he doing
this in 'is sleep?"
He subsided into silence, and, undressing with stealthy care, crept into
bed and lay there, marvelling at his self-control. He was a sound
sleeper, but six times at least he was awakened by Mrs. Billing slipping
out of bed--regardless of draughts to her liege lord--and marching up and
down the room with the visitor in her arms. He rose in the morning and
dressed in ominous silence.
"I 'ope he didn't disturb you," said his wife, anxiously.
"You've done it," replied Mr. Billing. "You've upset everything now.
Since I joined the Purnip lot everybody's took advantage of me; now I'm
going to get some of my own back. You wouldn't ha' dreamt of behaving
like this a few weeks ago."
"Oh, Joe!" said his wife, entreatingly; "and everybody's been so happy!"
"Except me," retorted Joe Billing. "You come down and get my breakfast
ready. If I start early I shall catch Mr. Bill Ricketts on 'is way to
work. And mind, if I find that steam-orgin 'ere when I come 'ome
to-night you'll hear of it."
He left the house with head erect and the light of battle in his eyes,
and, meeting Mr. Ricketts at the corner, gave that justly aggrieved
gentleman the surprise of his life. Elk Street thrilled to the fact that
Mr. Billing had broken out again, and spoke darkly of what the evening
might bring forth. Curious eyes followed his progress as he returned
home from work, and a little later on the news was spread abroad that he
was out and paying off old scores with an ardour that nothing could
"And wot about your change of 'art?" demanded one indignant matron, as
her husband reached home five seconds ahead of Mr. Billing and hid in the
"It's changed agin," said Mr. Billing, simply.
He finished the evening in the Blue Lion, where he had one bar almost to
himself, and, avoiding his wife's reproachful glance when he arrived
home, procured some warm water and began to bathe his honourable scars.
"Mr. Purnip 'as been round with another gentleman," said his wife.
Mr. Billing said, "Oh!"
"Very much upset they was, and 'ope you'll go and see them," she
Mr. Billing said "Oh!" again; and, after thinking the matter over, called
next day at the Settlement and explained his position.
"It's all right for gentlemen like you," he said civilly. "But a man.
like me can't call his soul 'is own--or even 'is bedroom. Everybody
takes advantage of 'im. Nobody ever gives you a punch, and, as for
putting babies in your bedroom, they wouldn't dream of it."
He left amid expressions of general regret, turning a deaf ear to all
suggestions about making another start, and went off exulting in his
His one trouble was Mr. Purnip, that estimable gentleman, who seemed to
have a weird gift of meeting him at all sorts of times and places, never
making any allusion to his desertion, but showing quite clearly by his
manner that he still hoped for the return of the wanderer. It was
awkward for a man of sensitive disposition, and Mr. Billing, before
entering a street, got into the habit of peering round the corner first.
He pulled up suddenly one evening as he saw his tenacious friend,
accompanied by a lady-member, some little distance ahead. Then he sprang
forward with fists clenched as a passer-by, after scowling at Mr. Purnip,
leaned forward and deliberately blew a mouthful of smoke into the face of
Mr. Billing stopped again and stood gaping with astonishment. The
aggressor was getting up from the pavement, while Mr. Purnip, in an
absolutely correct attitude, stood waiting for him. Mr. Billing in a
glow of delight edged forward, and, with a few other fortunates, stood by
watching one of the best fights that had ever been seen in the district.
Mr. Purnip's foot-work was excellent, and the way he timed his blows made
Mr. Billing's eyes moist with admiration.
It was over at last. The aggressor went limping off, and Mr. Purnip,
wiping his bald head, picked up his battered and dusty hat from the
roadway and brushed it on his sleeve. He turned with a start and a blush
to meet the delighted gaze of Mr. Billing.
"I'm ashamed of myself," he murmured, brokenly--"ashamed."
"Ashamed !" exclaimed the amazed Mr. Billing. "Why, a pro couldn't ha'
"Such an awful example," moaned the other. "All my good work here thrown
"Don't you believe it, sir," said Mr. Billing, earnestly. "As soon as
this gets about you'll get more members than you want a'most. I'm coming
back, for one."
Mr. Purnip turned and grasped his hand.
"I understand things now," said Mr. Billing, nodding sagely. "Turning
the other cheek's all right so long as you don't do it always. If you
don't let 'em know whether you are going to turn the other cheek or knock
their blessed heads off, it's all right. 'Arf the trouble in the world
is caused by letting people know too much."
Dealing with a man, said the night-watchman, thoughtfully, is as easy as
a teetotaller walking along a nice wide pavement; dealing with a woman is
like the same teetotaller, arter four or five whiskies, trying to get up
a step that ain't there. If a man can't get 'is own way he eases 'is
mind with a little nasty language, and then forgets all about it; if a
woman can't get 'er own way she flies into a temper and reminds you of
something you oughtn't to ha' done ten years ago. Wot a woman would do
whose 'usband had never done anything wrong I can't think.
I remember a young feller telling me about a row he 'ad with 'is wife
once. He 'adn't been married long and he talked as if the way she
carried on was unusual. Fust of all, he said, she spoke to 'im in a
cooing sort o' voice and pulled his moustache, then when he wouldn't give
way she worked herself up into a temper and said things about 'is sister.
Arter which she went out o' the room and banged the door so hard it blew
down a vase off the fireplace. Four times she came back to tell 'im
other things she 'ad thought of, and then she got so upset she 'ad to go
up to bed and lay down instead of getting his tea. When that didn't do
no good she refused her food, and when 'e took her up toast and tea she
wouldn't look at it. Said she wanted to die. He got quite uneasy till
'e came 'ome the next night and found the best part of a loaf o' bread, a
quarter o' butter, and a couple o' chops he 'ad got in for 'is supper had
gorn; and then when he said 'e was glad she 'ad got 'er appetite back she
turned round and said that he grudged 'er the food she ate.
And no woman ever owned up as 'ow she was wrong; and the more you try and
prove it to 'em the louder they talk about something else. I know wot
I'm talking about because a woman made a mistake about me once, and
though she was proved to be in the wrong, and it was years ago, my missus
shakes her 'ead about it to this day.
It was about eight years arter I 'ad left off going to sea and took up
night-watching. A beautiful summer evening it was, and I was sitting by
the gate smoking a pipe till it should be time to light up, when I
noticed a woman who 'ad just passed turn back and stand staring at me.
I've 'ad that sort o' thing before, and I went on smoking and looking
straight in front of me. Fat middle-aged woman she was, wot 'ad lost her
good looks and found others. She stood there staring and staring, and by
and by she tries a little cough.
I got up very slow then, and, arter looking all round at the evening,
without seeing 'er, I was just going to step inside and shut the wicket,
when she came closer.
"Bill!" she ses, in a choking sort o' voice.
I gave her a look that made her catch 'er breath, and I was just stepping
through the wicket, when she laid hold of my coat and tried to hold me
"Do you know wot you're a-doing of?" I ses, turning on her.
"Oh, Bill dear," she ses, "don't talk to me like that. Do you want to
break my 'art? Arter all these years!"
She pulled out a dirt-coloured pocket-'ankercher and stood there dabbing
her eyes with it. One eye at a time she dabbed, while she looked at me
reproachful with the other. And arter eight dabs, four to each eye, she
began to sob as if her 'art would break.
"Go away," I ses, very slow. "You can't stand making that noise outside
my wharf. Go away and give somebody else a treat."
Afore she could say anything the potman from the Tiger, a nasty ginger-
'aired little chap that nobody liked, come by and stopped to pat her on
"There, there, don't take on, mother," he ses. "Wot's he been a-doing to
"You get off 'ome," I ses, losing my temper.
"Wot d'ye mean trying to drag me into it? I've never seen the woman
afore in my life."
"Oh, Bill!" ses the woman, sobbing louder than ever. "Oh! Oh! Oh!"
"'Ow does she know your name, then?" ses the little beast of a potman.
I didn't answer him. I might have told 'im that there's about five
million Bills in England, but I didn't. I stood there with my arms
folded acrost my chest, and looked at him, superior.
"Where 'ave you been all this long, long time?" she ses, between her
sobs. "Why did you leave your happy 'ome and your children wot loved
The potman let off a whistle that you could have 'eard acrost the river,
and as for me, I thought I should ha' dropped. To have a woman standing
sobbing and taking my character away like that was a'most more than I
"Did he run away from you?" ses the potman.
"Ye-ye-yes," she ses. "He went off on a vy'ge to China over nine years
ago, and that's the last I saw of 'im till to-night. A lady friend o'
mine thought she reckernized 'im yesterday, and told me."
"I shouldn't cry over 'im," ses the potman, shaking his 'ead: "he ain't
worth it. If I was you I should just give 'im a bang or two over the
'ead with my umberella, and then give 'im in charge."
I stepped inside the wicket--backwards--and then I slammed it in their
faces, and putting the key in my pocket, walked up the wharf. I knew it
was no good standing out there argufying. I felt sorry for the pore
thing in a way. If she really thought I was her 'usband, and she 'ad
lost me---- I put one or two things straight and then, for the sake of
distracting my mind, I 'ad a word or two with the skipper of the John
Henry, who was leaning against the side of his ship, smoking.
"Wot's that tapping noise?" he ses, all of a sudden. "'Ark!"
I knew wot it was. It was the handle of that umberella 'ammering on the
gate. I went cold all over, and then when I thought that the pot-man was
most likely encouraging 'er to do it I began to boil.
"Somebody at the gate," ses the skipper.
"Aye, aye," I ses. "I know all about it."
I went on talking until at last the skipper asked me whether he was
wandering in 'is mind, or whether I was. The mate came up from the cabin
just then, and o' course he 'ad to tell me there was somebody knocking at
"Ain't you going to open it?" ses the skipper, staring at me.
"Let 'em ring," I ses, off-hand.
The words was 'ardly out of my mouth afore they did ring, and if they 'ad
been selling muffins they couldn't ha' kept it up harder. And all the
time the umberella was doing rat-a-tat tats on the gate, while a voice--
much too loud for the potman's--started calling out: "Watch-man ahoy!"
"They're calling you, Bill," ses the skipper. "I ain't deaf," I ses,
"Well, I wish I was," ses the skipper. "It's fair making my ear ache.
Why the blazes don't you do your dooty, and open the gate?"
"You mind your bisness and I'll mind mine," I ses. "I know wot I'm
doing. It's just some silly fools 'aving a game with me, and I'm not
going to encourage 'em."
"Game with you?" ses the skipper. "Ain't they got anything better than
that to play with? Look 'ere, if you don't open that gate, I will."
"It's nothing to do with you," I ses. "You look arter your ship and I'll
look arter my wharf. See? If you don't like the noise, go down in the
cabin and stick your 'ead in a biscuit-bag."
To my surprise he took the mate by the arm and went, and I was just
thinking wot a good thing it was to be a bit firm with people sometimes,
when they came back dressed up in their coats and bowler-hats and climbed
on to the wharf.
"Watchman!" ses the skipper, in a hoity-toity sort o' voice, "me and the
mate is going as far as Aldgate for a breath o' fresh air. Open the
I gave him a look that might ha' melted a 'art of stone, and all it done
to 'im was to make 'im laugh.
"Hurry up," he ses. "It a'most seems to me that there's somebody ringing
the bell, and you can let them in same time as you let us out. Is it the
bell, or is it my fancy, Joe?" he ses, turning to the mate.
They marched on in front of me with their noses cocked in the air, and
all the time the noise at the gate got worse and worse. So far as I
could make out, there was quite a crowd outside, and I stood there with
the key in the lock, trembling all over. Then I unlocked it very
careful, and put my hand on the skipper's arm.
"Nip out quick," I ses, in a whisper.
"I'm in no hurry," ses the skipper. "Here! Halloa, wot's up?"
It was like opening the door at a theatre, and the fust one through was
that woman, shoved behind by the potman. Arter 'im came a car-man, two
big 'ulking brewers' draymen, a little scrap of a woman with 'er bonnet
cocked over one eye, and a couple of dirty little boys.
"Wot is it?" ses the skipper, shutting the wicket behind 'em. "A
"This lady wants her 'usband," ses the pot-man, pointing at me. "He run
away from her nine years ago, and now he says he 'as never seen 'er
before. He ought to be 'ung."
"Bill," ses the skipper, shaking his silly 'ead at me. "I can 'ardly
"It's all a pack o' silly lies," I ses, firing up. "She's made a
"She made a mistake when she married you," ses the thin little woman.
"If I was in 'er shoes I'd take 'old of you and tear you limb from limb."
"I don't want to hurt 'im, ma'am," ses the other woman. "I on'y want him
to come 'ome to me and my five. Why, he's never seen the youngest,
little Annie. She's as like 'im as two peas."
"Pore little devil," ses the carman.
"Look here!" I ses, "you clear off. All of you. 'Ow dare you come on to
my wharf? If you aren't gone in two minutes I'll give you all in
"Who to?" ses one of the draymen, sticking his face into mine. "You go
'ome to your wife and kids. Go on now, afore I put up my 'ands to you."
"That's the way to talk to 'im," ses the pot-man, nodding at 'em.
They all began to talk to me then and tell me wot I was to do, and wot
they would do if I didn't. I couldn't get a word in edgeways. When I
reminded the mate that when he was up in London 'e always passed himself
off as a single man, 'e wouldn't listen; and when I asked the skipper
whether 'is pore missus was blind, he on'y went on shouting at the top of
'is voice. It on'y showed me 'ow anxious most people are that everybody
else should be good.
I thought they was never going to stop, and, if it 'adn't been for a fit
of coughing, I don't believe that the scraggy little woman could ha'
stopped. Arter one o' the draymen 'ad saved her life and spoilt 'er
temper by patting 'er on the back with a hand the size of a leg o'
mutton, the carman turned to me and told me to tell the truth, if it
"I have told you the truth," I ses. "She ses I'm her 'usband and I say I
ain't. Ow's she going to prove it? Why should you believe her, and not
"She's got a truthful face," ses the carman.
"Look here!" ses the skipper, speaking very slow, "I've got an idea,
wot'll settle it p'raps. You get outside," he ses, turning sharp on the
two little boys.
One o' the draymen 'elped 'em to go out, and 'arf a minute arterwards a
stone came over the gate and cut the potman's lip open. Boys will be
"Now!" ses the skipper, turning to the woman, and smiling with
conceitedness. "Had your 'usband got any marks on 'im? Birth-mark, or
moles, or anything of that sort?"
"I'm sure he is my 'usband," ses the woman, dabbing her eyes.
"Yes, yes," ses the skipper, "but answer my question. If you can tell us
any marks your 'usband had, we can take Bill down into my cabin and----"
"You'll do WOT?" I ses, in a loud voice.
"You speak when you're spoke to," ses the carman. "It's got nothing to
do with you."
"No, he ain't got no birthmarks," ses the woman, speaking very slow--and
I could see she was afraid of making a mistake and losing me--"but he's
got tattoo marks. He's got a mermaid tattooed on 'im."
"Where?" ses the skipper, a'most jumping.
I 'eld my breath. Five sailormen out of ten have been tattooed with
mermaids, and I was one of 'em. When she spoke agin I thought I should
"On 'is right arm," she ses, "unless he's 'ad it rubbed off."
"You can't rub out tattoo marks," ses the skipper.
They all stood looking at me as if they was waiting for something. I
folded my arms--tight--and stared back at 'em.
"If you ain't this lady's 'usband," ses the skipper, turning to me, "you
can take off your coat and prove it."
"And if you don't we'll take it off for you," ses the carman, coming a
Arter that things 'appened so quick, I hardly knew whether I was standing
on my 'cad or my heels. Both, I think. They was all on top o' me at
once, and the next thing I can remember is sitting on the ground in my
shirt-sleeves listening to the potman, who was making a fearful fuss
because somebody 'ad bit his ear 'arf off. My coat was ripped up the
back, and one of the draymen was holding up my arm and showing them all
the mermaid, while the other struck matches so as they could see better."
"That's your 'usband right enough," he ses to the woman. "Take 'im."
"P'raps she'll carry 'im 'ome," I ses, very fierce and sarcastic.
"And we don't want none of your lip," ses the carman, who was in a bad
temper because he 'ad got a fearful kick on the shin from somewhere.
I got up very slow and began to put my coat on again, and twice I 'ad to
tell that silly woman that when I wanted her 'elp I'd let 'er know. Then
I 'eard slow, heavy footsteps in the road outside, and, afore any of 'em
could stop me, I was calling for the police.
I don't like policemen as a rule; they're too inquisitive, but when the
wicket was pushed open and I saw a face with a helmet on it peeping in, I
felt quite a liking for 'em.
"Wot's up?" ses the policeman, staring 'ard at my little party.
They all started telling 'im at once, and I should think if the potman
showed him 'is ear once he showed it to 'im twenty times. He lost his
temper and pushed it away at last, and the potman gave a 'owl that set my
teeth on edge. I waited till they was all finished, and the policeman
trying to get 'is hearing back, and then I spoke up in a quiet way and
told 'im to clear them all off of my wharf.
"They're trespassing," I ses, "all except the skipper and mate here.
They belong to a little wash-tub that's laying alongside, and they're
both as 'armless as they look."
It's wonderful wot a uniform will do. The policeman just jerked his 'ead
and said "out-side," and the men went out like a flock of sheep. The
on'y man that said a word was the carman, who was in such a hurry that 'e
knocked his bad shin against my foot as 'e went by. The thin little
woman was passed out by the policeman in the middle of a speech she was
making, and he was just going for the other, when the skipper stopped
"This lady is coming on my ship," he ses, puffing out 'is chest.
I looked at 'im, and then I turned to the policeman. "So long as she
goes off my wharf, I don't mind where she goes," I ses. "The skipper's
goings-on 'ave got nothing to do with me."
"Then she can foller him 'ome in the morning," ses the skipper. "Good
Him and the mate 'elped the silly old thing to the ship, and, arter I 'ad
been round to the Bear's Head and fetched a pint for the police-man, I
locked up and sat down to think things out; and the more I thought the
worse they seemed. I've 'eard people say that if you have a clear
conscience nothing can hurt you. They didn't know my missus.
I got up at last and walked on to the jetty, and the woman, wot was
sitting on the deck of the John Henry, kept calling out: "Bill!" like a
sick baa-lamb crying for its ma. I went back, and 'ad four pints at the
Bear's Head, but it didn't seem to do me any good, and at last I went and
sat down in the office to wait for morning.
It came at last, a lovely morning with a beautiful sunrise; and that
woman sitting up wide awake, waiting to foller me 'ome. When I opened
the gate at six o'clock she was there with the mate and the skipper,
waiting, and when I left at five minutes past she was trotting along
Twice I stopped and spoke to 'er, but it was no good. Other people
stopped too, and I 'ad to move on agin; and every step was bringing me
nearer to my house and the missus.
I turned into our street, arter passing it three times, and the first
thing I saw was my missus standing on the doorstep 'aving a few words
with the lady next door. Then she 'appened to look up and see us, just
as that silly woman was trying to walk arm-in-arm.
Twice I knocked her 'and away, and then, right afore my wife and the
party next door, she put her arm round my waist. By the time I got to
the 'ouse my legs was trembling so I could hardly stand, and when I got
into the passage I 'ad to lean up against the wall for a bit.
[Illustration: RIGHT AFORE MY WIFE AND THE PARTY NEXT DOOR SHE PUT HER
ARM ROUND MY WAIST.]
"Keep 'er out," I ses.
"Wot do you want?" ses my missus, trembling with passion. "Wot do you
think you're doing?"
"I want my 'usband, Bill," ses the woman.
My missus put her 'and to her throat and came in without a word, and the
woman follered 'er. If I hadn't kept my presence o' mind and shut the
door two or three more would 'ave come in too.
I went into the kitchen about ten minutes arterwards to see 'ow they was
getting on. Besides which they was both calling for me.
"Now then!" ses my missus, who was leaning up against the dresser with
'er arms folded, "wot 'ave you got to say for yourself walking in as bold
as brass with this hussy?"
"Bill!" ses the woman, "did you hear wot she called me?"
She spoke to me like that afore my wife, and in two minutes they was at
it, hammer and tongs.
Fust of all they spoke about each other, and then my missus started
speaking about me. She's got a better memory than most people, because
she can remember things that never 'appened, and every time I coughed she
turned on me like a tiger.
"And as for you," she ses, turning to the woman, "if you did marry 'im
you should ha' made sure that he 'adn't got a wife already."
"He married me fust," ses the woman.
"When?" ses my wife. "Wot was the date?"
"Wot was the date you married 'im?" ses the other one.
They stood looking at each other like a couple o' game-cocks, and I could
see as plain as a pike-staff 'ow frightened both of 'em was o' losing me.
"Look here!" I ses at last, to my missus, "talk sense. 'Ow could I be
married to 'er? When I was at sea I was at sea, and when I was ashore I
was with you."
"Did you use to go down to the ship to see 'im off?" ses the woman.
"No," ses my wife. "I'd something better to do."
"Neither did I," ses the woman. "P'raps that's where we both made a
"You get out of my 'ouse!" ses my missus, very sudden. "Go on, afore I
put you out."
"Not without my Bill," ses the woman. "If you lay a finger on me I'll
scream the house down."
"You brought her 'ere," ses my wife, turning to me, "now you can take 'er
"I didn't bring 'er," I ses. "She follered me."
"Well, she can foller you agin," she ses. "Go on!" she ses, trembling
all over. "Git out afore I start on you."
I was in such a temper that I daren't trust myself to stop. I just gave
'er one look, and then I drew myself up and went out. 'Alf the fools in
our street was standing in front of the 'ouse, 'umming like bees, but I
took no notice. I held my 'ead up and walked through them with that
woman trailing arter me.
I was in such a state of mind that I went on like a man in a dream. If
it had ha' been a dream I should ha' pushed 'er under an omnibus, but you
can't do things like that in real life.
"Penny for your thoughts, Bill," she ses. I didn't answer her.
"Why don't you speak to me?" she ses.
"You don't know wot you're asking for," I ses.
I was hungry and sleepy, and 'ow I was going to get through the day I
couldn't think. I went into a pub and 'ad a couple o' pints o' stout and
a crust o' bread and cheese for brekfuss. I don't know wot she 'ad, but
when the barman tried to take for it out o' my money, I surprised 'im.
We walked about till I was ready to drop. Then we got to Victoria Park,
and I 'ad no sooner got on to the grass than I laid down and went
straight off to sleep. It was two o'clock when I woke, and, arter a
couple o' pork-pies and a pint or two, I sat on a seat in the Park
smoking, while she kep' dabbing 'er eyes agin and asking me to come 'ome.
At five o'clock I got up to go back to the wharf, and, taking no notice
of 'er, I walked into the street and jumped on a 'bus that was passing.
She jumped too, and, arter the conductor had 'elped 'er up off of 'er
knees and taken her arms away from his waist, I'm blest if he didn't turn
on me and ask me why I 'adn't left her at 'ome.
We got to the wharf just afore six. The John Henry 'ad gorn, but the
skipper 'ad done all the 'arm he could afore he sailed, and, if I 'adn't
kept my temper, I should ha' murdered arf a dozen of 'em.
The woman wanted to come on to the wharf, but I 'ad a word or two with
one o' the fore-men, who owed me arf-a-dollar, and he made that all
"We all 'ave our faults, Bill," he ses as 'e went out, "and I suppose she
was better looking once upon a time?"
I didn't answer 'im. I shut the wicket arter 'im, quick, and turned the
key, and then I went on with my work. For a long time everything was as
quiet as the grave, and then there came just one little pull at the bell.
Five minutes arterwards there was another.
I thought it was that woman, but I 'ad to make sure. When it came the
third time I crept up to the gate.
"Halloa!" I ses. "Who is it?"
"Me, darling," ses a voice I reckernized as the potman's. "Your missus
wants to come in and sit down."
I could 'ear several people talking, and it seemed to me there was quite
a crowd out there, and by and by that bell was going like mad. Then
people started kicking the gate, and shouting, but I took no notice
until, presently, it left off all of a sudden, and I 'eard a loud voice
asking what it was all about. I suppose there was about fifty of 'em all
telling it at once, and then there was the sound of a fist on the gate.
"Who is it?" I ses.
"Police," ses the voice.
I opened the wicket then and looked out. A couple o' policemen was
standing by the gate and arf the riff-raff of Wapping behind 'em.
"Wot's all this about?" ses one o' the policemen.
I shook my 'ead. "Ask me another," I ses. "Your missus is causing a
disturbance," he ses.
"She's not my missus," I ses; "she's a complete stranger to me."
"And causing a crowd to collect and refusing to go away," ses the other
"That's your business," I ses. "It's nothing to do with me."
They talked to each other for a moment, and then they spoke to the woman.
I didn't 'ear wot she said, but I saw her shake her 'ead, and a'most
direckly arterwards she was marching away between the two policemen with
the crowd follering and advising 'er where to kick 'em.
I was a bit worried at fust--not about her--and then I began to think
that p'raps it was the best thing that could have 'appened.
I went 'ome in the morning with a load lifted off my mind; but I 'adn't
been in the 'ouse two seconds afore my missus started to put it on agin.
Fust of all she asked me 'ow I dared to come into the 'ouse, and then she
wanted to know wot I meant by leaving her at 'ome and going out for the
day with another woman.
"You told me to," I ses.
"Oh, yes," she ses, trembling with temper. "You always do wot I tell
you, don't you? Al-ways 'ave, especially when it's anything you like."
She fetched a bucket o' water and scrubbed the kitchen while I was having
my brekfuss, but I kept my eye on 'er, and, the moment she 'ad finished,
I did the perlite and emptied the bucket for 'er, to prevent mistakes.
I read about the case in the Sunday paper, and I'm thankful to say my
name wasn't in it. All the magistrate done was to make 'er promise that
she wouldn't do it again, and then he let 'er go. I should ha' felt more
comfortable if he 'ad given 'er five years, but, as it turned out, it
didn't matter. Her 'usband happened to read it, and, whether 'e was
tired of living alone, or whether he was excited by 'caring that she 'ad
got a little general shop, 'e went back to her.
The fust I knew about it was they came round to the wharf to see me. He
'ad been a fine-looking chap in 'is day, and even then 'e was enough like
me for me to see 'ow she 'ad made the mistake; and all the time she was
telling me 'ow it 'appened, he was looking me up and down and sniffing.
"'Ave you got a cold?" I ses, at last.
"Wot's that got to do with you?" he ses. "Wot do you mean by walking out
with my wife? That's what I've come to talk about."
For a moment I thought that his bad luck 'ad turned 'is brain. "You've
got it wrong," I ses, as soon as I could speak. "She walked out with
"Cos she thought you was her 'usband," he ses, "but you didn't think you
was me, did you?"
"'Course I didn't," I ses.
"Then 'ow dare you walk out with 'er?" he ses.
"Look 'ere!" I ses. "You get off 'ome as quick as you like. I've 'ad
about enough of your family. Go on, hook it."
Afore I could put my 'ands up he 'it me hard in the mouth, and the next
moment we was at it as 'ard as we could go. Nearly every time I hit 'im
he wasn't there, and every time 'e hit me I wished I hadn't ha' been.
When I said I had 'ad enough, 'e contradicted me and kept on, but he got
tired of it at last, and, arter telling me wot he would do if I ever
walked 'is wife out agin, they went off like a couple o' love-birds.
By the time I got 'ome next morning my eyes was so swelled up I could
'ardly see, and my nose wouldn't let me touch it. I was so done up I
could 'ardly speak, but I managed to tell my missus about it arter I had
'ad a cup o' tea. Judging by her face anybody might ha' thought I was
telling 'er something funny, and, when I 'ad finished, she looks up at
the ceiling and ses:
"I 'ope it'll be a lesson to you," she ses.
Mr. Jernshaw, who was taking the opportunity of a lull in business to
weigh out pound packets of sugar, knocked his hands together and stood
waiting for the order of the tall bronzed man who had just entered the
shop--a well-built man of about forty--who was regarding him with blue
eyes set in quizzical wrinkles.
"What, Harry!" exclaimed Mr. Jernshaw, in response to the wrinkles.
"That's me," said the other, extending his hand. "The rolling stone come
home covered with moss."
Mr. Jernshaw, somewhat excited, shook hands, and led the way into the
little parlour behind the shop.
"Fifteen years," said Mr. Barrett, sinking into a chair, "and the old
place hasn't altered a bit."
"Smithson told me he had let that house in Webb Street to a Barrett,"
said the grocer, regarding him, "but I never thought of you. I suppose
you've done well, then?"
Mr. Barrett nodded. "Can't grumble," he said modestly. "I've got enough
to live on. Melbourne's all right, but I thought I'd come home for the
evening of my life."
"Evening!" repeated his friend. "Forty-three," said Mr. Barrett,
gravely. "I'm getting on."
"You haven't changed much," said the grocer, passing his hand through his
spare grey whiskers. "Wait till you have a wife and seven youngsters.
Why, boots alone----"
Mr. Barrett uttered a groan intended for sympathy. "Perhaps you could
help me with the furnishing," he said, slowly. "I've never had a place
of my own before, and I don't know much about it."
"Anything I can do," said his friend. "Better not get much yet; you
might marry, and my taste mightn't be hers."
Mr. Barrett laughed. "I'm not marrying," he said, with conviction.
"Seen anything of Miss Prentice yet?" inquired Mr. Jernshaw.
"No," said the other, with a slight flush. "Why?"
"She's still single," said the grocer.
"What of it?" demanded Mr. Barrett, with warmth. "What of it?"
"Nothing," said Mr. Jernshaw, slowly. "Nothing; only I----"
"Well?" said the other, as he paused.
"I--there was an idea that you went to Australia to--to better your
condition," murmured the grocer. "That--that you were not in a position
"Boy and girl nonsense," said Mr. Barrett, sharply. "Why, it's fifteen
years ago. I don't suppose I should know her if I saw her. Is her
"Rather!" said Mr. Jernshaw, with emphasis. "Louisa is something like
what her mother was when you went away."
Mr. Barrett shivered.
"But you'll see for yourself," continued the other. "You'll have to go
and see them. They'll wonder you haven't been before."
"Let 'em wonder," said the embarrassed Mr. Barrett. "I shall go and see
all my old friends in their turn; casual-like. You might let 'em hear
that I've been to see you before seeing them, and then, if they're
thinking any nonsense, it'll be a hint. I'm stopping in town while the
house is being decorated; next time I come down I'll call and see
"That'll be another hint," assented Mr. Jernshaw. "Not that hints are
much good to Mrs. Prentice."
"We'll see," said Mr. Barrett.
In accordance with his plan his return to his native town was heralded by
a few short visits at respectable intervals. A sort of human butterfly,
he streaked rapidly across one or two streets, alighted for half an hour
to resume an old friendship, and then disappeared again. Having given at
least half-a-dozen hints of this kind, he made a final return to Ramsbury
and entered into occupation of his new house.
"It does you credit, Jernshaw," he said, gratefully. "I should have made
a rare mess of it without your help."
"It looks very nice," admitted his friend. "Too nice."
"That's all nonsense," said the owner, irritably.
"All right," said Mr. Jernshaw. "I don't know the sex, then, that's all.
If you think that you're going to keep a nice house like this all to
yourself, you're mistaken. It's a home; and where there's a home a woman
comes in, somehow."
Mr. Barrett grunted his disbelief.
"I give you four days," said Mr. Jernshaw.
As a matter of fact, Mrs. Prentice and her daughter came on the fifth.
Mr. Barrett, who was in an easy-chair, wooing slumber with a handkerchief
over his head, heard their voices at the front door and the cordial
invitation of his housekeeper. They entered the room as he sat hastily
smoothing his rumpled hair.
"Good afternoon," he said, shaking hands.
Mrs. Prentice returned the greeting in a level voice, and, accepting a
chair, gazed around the room.
"Nice weather," said Mr. Barrett.
"Very," said Mrs. Prentice.
"It's--it's quite a pleasure to see you again," said Mr. Barrett.
"We thought we should have seen you before," said Mrs. Prentice, "but
I told Louisa that no doubt you were busy, and wanted to surprise her.
I like the carpet; don't you, Louisa?"
Miss Prentice said she did.
"The room is nice and airy," said Mrs. Prentice, "but it's a pity you
didn't come to me before deciding. I could have told you of a better
house for the same money."
"I'm very well satisfied with this," said Mr. Barrett. "It's all I
"It's well enough," conceded Mrs. Prentice, amiably. "And how have you
been all these years?"
Mr. Barrett, with some haste, replied that his health and spirits had
"You look well," said Mrs. Prentice. "Neither of you seem to have
changed much," she added, looking from him to her daughter. "And I think
you did quite well not to write. I think it was much the best."
Mr. Barrett sought for a question: a natural, artless question, that
would neutralize the hideous suggestion conveyed by this remark, but it
eluded him. He sat and gazed in growing fear at Mrs. Prentice.
"I--I couldn't write," he said at last, in desperation; "my wife----"
"Your what?" exclaimed Mrs. Prentice, loudly.
"Wife," said Mr. Barrett, suddenly calm now that he had taken the plunge.
"She wouldn't have liked it."
Mrs. Prentice tried to control her voice. I never heard you were
married!" she gasped. "Why isn't she here?"
"We couldn't agree," said the veracious Mr. Barrett. "She was very
difficult; so I left the children with her and----"
"Chil----" said Mrs. Prentice, and paused, unable to complete the word.
"Five," said Mr. Barrett, in tones of resignation. "It was rather a
wrench, parting with them, especially the baby. He got his first tooth
the day I left."
The information fell on deaf ears. Mrs. Prentice, for once in her life
thoroughly at a loss, sat trying to collect her scattered faculties. She
had come out prepared for a hard job, but not an impossible one. All
things considered, she took her defeat with admirable composure.
"I have no doubt it is much the best thing for the children to remain
with their mother," she said, rising.
"Much the best," agreed Mr. Barrett. "Whatever she is like," continued
the old lady. "Are you ready, Louisa?"
Mr. Barrett followed them to the door, and then, returning to the room,
watched, with glad eyes, their progress up the street.
"Wonder whether she'll keep it to herself?" he muttered.
His doubts were set at rest next day. All Ramsbury knew by then of his
matrimonial complications, and seemed anxious to talk about them;
complications which tended to increase until Mr. Barrett wrote out a list
of his children's names and ages and learnt it off by heart.
Relieved of the attentions of the Prentice family, he walked the streets
a free man; and it was counted to him for righteousness that he never
said a hard word about his wife. She had her faults, he said, but they
were many thousand miles away, and he preferred to forget them. And he
added, with some truth, that he owed her a good deal.
For a few months he had no reason to alter his opinion. Thanks to his
presence of mind, the Prentice family had no terrors for him. Heart-
whole and fancy free, he led the easy life of a man of leisure, a
condition of things suddenly upset by the arrival of Miss Grace Lindsay
to take up a post at the elementary school. Mr. Barrett succumbed almost
at once, and, after a few encounters in the street and meetings at mutual
friends', went to unbosom him-self to Mr. Jernshaw.
"What has she got to do with you?" demanded that gentleman.
"I--I'm rather struck with her," said Mr. Barrett.
"Struck with her?" repeated his friend, sharply. "I'm surprised at you.
You've no business to think of such things."
"Why not?" demanded Mr. Barrett, in tones that were sharper still.
"Why not?" repeated the other. "Have you forgotten your wife and
Mr. Barrett, who, to do him justice, had forgotten, fell back in his
chair and sat gazing at him, open-mouthed.
"You're in a false position--in a way," said Mr. Jernshaw, sternly.
"False is no name for it," said Mr. Barrett, huskily. "What am I to do?"
"Do?" repeated the other, staring at him. "Nothing! Unless, perhaps,
you send for your wife and children. I suppose, in any case, you would
have to have the little ones if anything happened to her?"
Mr. Barrett grinned ruefully.
"Think it over," said Mr. Jernshaw. "I will," said the other, heartily.
He walked home deep in thought. He was a kindly man, and he spent some
time thinking out the easiest death for Mrs. Barrett. He decided at last
upon heart-disease, and a fort-night later all Ramsbury knew of the
letter from Australia conveying the mournful intelligence. It was
generally agreed that the mourning and the general behaviour of the
widower left nothing to be desired.
"She's at peace at last," he said, solemnly, to Jernshaw.
"I believe you killed her," said his friend. Mr. Barrett started
"I mean your leaving broke her heart," explained the other.
Mr. Barrett breathed easily again.
"It's your duty to look after the children," said Jernshaw, firmly. "And
I'm not the only one that thinks so."
"They are with their grandfather and grand-mother," said Mr. Barrett.
Mr. Jernshaw sniffed.
"And four uncles and five aunts," added Mr. Barrett, triumphantly.
"Think how they would brighten up your house," said Mr. Jernshaw.
His friend shook his head. "It wouldn't be fair to their grandmother,"
he said, decidedly. "Besides, Australia wants population."
He found to his annoyance that Mr. Jernshaw's statement that he was not
alone in his views was correct. Public opinion seemed to expect the
arrival of the children, and one citizen even went so far as to recommend
a girl he knew, as nurse.
Ramsbury understood at last that his decision was final, and, observing
his attentions to the new schoolmistress, flattered itself that it had
discovered the reason. It is possible that Miss Lindsay shared their
views, but if so she made no sign, and on the many occasions on which she
met Mr. Barrett on her way to and from school greeted him with frank
cordiality. Even when he referred to his loneliness, which he did
frequently, she made no comment.
He went into half-mourning at the end of two months, and a month later
bore no outward signs of his loss. Added to that his step was springy
and his manner youthful. Miss Lindsay was twenty-eight, and he persuaded
himself that, sexes considered, there was no disparity worth mentioning.
He was only restrained from proposing by a question of etiquette. Even a
shilling book on the science failed to state the interval that should
elapse between the death of one wife and the negotiations for another.
It preferred instead to give minute instructions with regard to the
eating of asparagus. In this dilemma he consulted Jernshaw.
"Don't know, I'm sure," said that gentle-man; "besides, it doesn't
"Doesn't matter?" repeated Mr. Barrett. "Why not?"
"Because I think Tillett is paying her attentions," was the reply. "He's
ten years younger than you are, and a bachelor. A girl would naturally
prefer him to a middle-aged widower with five children."
"In Australia," the other reminded him.
"Man for man, bachelor for bachelor," said Mr. Jernshaw, regarding him,
"she might prefer you; as things are--"
"I shall ask her," said Mr. Barrett, doggedly. "I was going to wait a
bit longer, but if there's any chance of her wrecking her prospects for
life by marrying that tailor's dummy it's my duty to risk it--for her
sake. I've seen him talking to her twice myself, but I never thought
he'd dream of such a thing."
Apprehension and indignation kept him awake half the night, but when he
arose next morning it was with the firm resolve to put his fortune to the
test that day. At four o'clock he changed his neck-tie for the third
time, and at ten past sallied out in the direction of the school. He met
Miss Lindsay just coming out, and, after a well-deserved compliment to
the weather, turned and walked with her.
"I was hoping to meet you," he said, slowly.
"Yes?" said the girl.
"I--I have been feeling rather lonely to-day," he continued.
"You often do," said Miss Lindsay, guardedly.
"It gets worse and worse," said Mr. Barrett, sadly.
"I think I know what is the matter with you," said the girl, in a soft
voice; "you have got nothing to do all day, and you live alone, except
for your housekeeper."
Mr. Barrett assented with some eagerness, and stole a hopeful glance at
"You--you miss something," continued Miss. Lindsay, in a faltering
"I do," said Mr. Barrett, with ardour.
"You miss"--the girl made an effort--"you miss the footsteps and voices
of your little children."
Mr. Barrett stopped suddenly in the street, and then, with a jerk, went
"I've never spoken of it before because it's your business, not mine,"
continued the girl. I wouldn't have spoken now, but when you referred to
your loneliness I thought perhaps you didn't realize the cause of it."
Mr. Barrett walked on in silent misery.
"Poor little motherless things!" said Miss Lindsay, softly. "Motherless
"Better for them," said Mr. Barrett, finding his voice at last.
"It almost looks like it," said Miss Lindsay, with a sigh.
Mr. Barrett tried to think clearly, but the circumstances were hardly
favourable. "Suppose," he said, speaking very slowly, "suppose I wanted
to get married?"
Miss Lindsay started. "What, again?" she said, with an air of surprise.
"How could I ask a girl to come and take over five children?"
"No woman that was worth having would let little children be sacrificed
for her sake," said Miss Lindsay, decidedly.
"Do you think anybody would marry me with five children?" demanded Mr.
"She might," said the girl, edging away from him a little. "It depends
on the woman."
"Would--you, for instance?" said Mr. Barrett, desperately.
Miss Lindsay shrank still farther away. "I don't know; it would depend
upon circumstances," she murmured.
"I will write and send for them," said Mr. Barrett, significantly.
Miss Lindsay made no reply. They had arrived at her gate by this time,
and, with a hurried handshake, she disappeared indoors.
Mr. Barrett, somewhat troubled in mind, went home to tea.
He resolved, after a little natural hesitation, to drown the children,
and reproached himself bitterly for not having disposed of them at the
same time as their mother. Now he would have to go through another
period of mourning and the consequent delay in pressing his suit.
Moreover, he would have to allow a decent interval between his
conversation with Miss Lindsay and their untimely end.
The news of the catastrophe arrived two or three days before the return
of the girl from her summer holidays. She learnt it in the first half-
hour from her landlady, and sat in a dazed condition listening to a
description of the grief-stricken father and the sympathy extended to him
by his fellow-citizens. It appeared that nothing had passed his lips for
[Illustration: SHE LEARNT THE NEWS IN THE FIRST HALF-HOER FROM HER
"Shocking!" said Miss Lindsay, briefly. "Shocking !"
An instinctive feeling that the right and proper thing to do was to nurse
his grief in solitude kept Mr. Barrett out of her way for nearly a week.
When she did meet him she received a limp handshake and a greeting in a
voice from which all hope seemed to have departed.
"I am very sorry," she said, with a sort of measured gentleness.
Mr. Barrett, in his hushed voice, thanked her.
"I am all alone now," he said, pathetically. "There is nobody now to
care whether I live or die."
Miss Lindsay did not contradict him.
"How did it happen?" she inquired, after they had gone some distance in
"They were out in a sailing-boat," said Mr. Barrett; "the boat capsized
in a puff of wind, and they were all drowned."
"Who was in charge of them?" inquired the girl, after a decent interval.
"Boatman," replied the other.
"How did you hear?"
"I had a letter from one of my sisters-in-law, Charlotte," said Mr.
Barrett. "A most affecting letter. Poor Charlotte was like a second
mother to them. She'll never be the same woman again. Never!"
"I should like to see the letter," said Miss Lindsay, musingly.
Mr. Barrett suppressed a start. "I should like to show it to you," he
said, "but I'm afraid I have destroyed it. It made me shudder every time
I looked at it."
"It's a pity," said the girl, dryly. "I should have liked to see it.
I've got my own idea about the matter. Are you sure she was very fond of
"She lived only for them," said Mr. Barrett, in a rapt voice.
"Exactly. I don't believe they are drowned at all," said Miss Lindsay,
suddenly. "I believe you have had all this terrible anguish for nothing.
It's too cruel."
Mr. Barrett stared at her in anxious amazement.
"I see it all now," continued the girl. "Their Aunt Charlotte was
devoted to them. She always had the fear that some day you would return
and claim them, and to prevent that she invented the story of their
"Charlotte is the most truthful woman that ever breathed," said the
distressed Mr. Barrett.
Miss Lindsay shook her head. "You are like all other honourable,
truthful people," she said, looking at him gravely. "You can't imagine
anybody else telling a falsehood. I don't believe you could tell one if
Mr. Barrett gazed about him with the despairing look of a drowning
"I'm certain I'm right," continued the girl. "I can see Charlotte
exulting in her wickedness. Why!"
"What's the matter?" inquired Mr. Barrett, greatly worried.
"I've just thought of it," said Miss Lindsay. "She's told you that your
children are drowned, and she has probably told them you are dead. A
woman like that would stick at nothing to gain her ends."
"You don't know Charlotte," said Mr. Barrett, feebly.
"I think I do," was the reply. "However, we'll make sure. I suppose
you've got friends in Melbourne?"
"A few," said Mr. Barrett, guardedly.
"Come down to the post-office and cable to one of them."
Mr. Barrett hesitated. "I'll write," he said, slowly. "It's an awkward
thing to cable; and there's no hurry. I'll write to Jack Adams,
"It's no good writing," said Miss Lindsay, firmly. "You ought to know
"Why not?" demanded the other.
"Because, you foolish man," said the girl, calmly, "before your letter
got there, there would be one from Melbourne saying that he had been
choked by a fish-bone, or died of measles, or something of that sort."
Mr. Barrett, hardly able to believe his ears, stopped short and looked at
her. The girl's eyes were moist with mirth and her lips trembling. He
put out his hand and took her wrist in a strong grip.
"That's all right," he said, with a great gasp of relief. "_Phew!_ At
one time I thought I had lost you."
"By heart-disease, or drowning?" inquired Miss Lindsay, softly.
THE WINTER OFFENSIVE
_N.B.--Having regard to the eccentricities of the Law of Libel it must be
distinctly understood that the following does not refer to the
distinguished officer, Lieut. Troup Horne, of the Inns of Court.
Anybody trying to cause mischief between a civilian of eight stone and a
soldier of seventeen by a statement to the contrary will hear from my
Aug. 29, 1916.--We returned from the sea to find our house still our
own, and the military still in undisputed possession of the remains of
the grass in the fields of Berkhamsted Place. As in previous years, it
was impossible to go in search of wild-flowers without stumbling over
sleeping members of the Inns of Court; but war is war, and we grumble as
little as possible.
Sept. 28.--Unpleasant rumours to the effect that several members of the
Inns of Court had attributed cases of curvature of the spine to sleeping
on ground that had been insufficiently rolled. Also that they had been
heard to smack their lips and speak darkly of featherbeds. Respected
neighbour of gloomy disposition said that if Pharaoh were still alive he
could suggest an eleventh plague to him beside which frogs and flies were
an afternoon's diversion.
Oct. 3.--Householders of Berkhamsted busy mending bedsteads broken by
last year's billets, and buying patent taps for their beer-barrels.
Oct. 15.--Informed that a representative of the Army wished to see me.
Instead of my old friend Q.M.S. Beddem, who generally returns to life at
this time of year, found that it was an officer of magnificent presence
and two pips. A fine figure of a man, with a great resemblance to the
late lamented Bismarck, minus the moustache and the three hairs on the
top of the head. Asked him to be seated. He selected a chair that was
all arms and legs and no hips to speak of and crushed himself into it.
After which he unfastened his belt and "swelled wisibly afore my werry
eyes." Said that his name was True Born and asked if it made any
difference to me whether I had one officer or half-a-dozen men billeted
on me. Said that he was the officer, and that as the rank-and-file were
not allowed to pollute the same atmosphere, thought I should score.
After a mental review of all I could remember of the Weights and Measures
Table, accepted him. He bade a lingering farewell to the chair, and
Oct. 16.--Saw Q.M.S. Beddem on the other side of the road and gave him
an absolutely new thrill by crossing to meet him. Asked diffidently--as
diffidently as he could, that is--how many men my house would hold.
Replied eight--or ten at a pinch. He gave me a surprised and beaming
smile and whipped out a huge note-book. Informed him with as much regret
as I could put into a voice not always under perfect control, that I had
already got an officer. Q.M.S., favouring me with a look very
appropriate to the Devil's Own, turned on his heel and set off in pursuit
of a lady-billetee, pulling up short on the threshold of the baby-linen
shop in which she took refuge. Left him on guard with a Casablanca-like
look on his face.
Nov. 1.--Lieut. True Born took up his quarters with us. Gave him my
dressing-room for bedchamber. Was awakened several times in the night by
what I took to be Zeppelins, flying low.
Nov. 2.--Lieut. True Born offered to bet me five pounds to twenty that
the war would be over by 1922.
Nov. 3.--Offered to teach me auction-bridge.
Nov. 4.--Asked me whether I could play "shove ha'penny."
Nov. 10.--Lieut. True Born gave one of the regimental horses a riding-
lesson. Came home grumpy and went to bed early.
Nov. 13.--Another riding-lesson. Over-heard him asking one of the
maids whether there was such a thing as a water-bed in the house.
Nov. 17.--Complained bitterly of horse-copers. Said that his poor mount
was discovered to be suffering from saddle-soreness, broken wind,
splints, weak hocks, and two bones of the neck out of place.
Dec. 9.--7 p.m.--One of last year's billets, Private Merited, on leave
from a gunnery course, called to see me and to find out whether his old
bed had improved since last year. Left his motor-bike in the garage, and
the smell in front of the dining-room window.
8 to 12 p.m.--Sat with Private Merited, listening to Lieut. True Born on
the mistakes of Wellington.
12.5 a.m.--Rose to go to bed. Was about to turn out gas in hall when I
discovered the lieutenant standing with his face to the wall playing pat-
a-cake with it. Gave him three-parts of a tumbler of brandy. Said he
felt better and went upstairs. Arrived in his bed-room, he looked about
him carefully, and then, with a superb sweep of his left arm, swept the
best Chippendale looking-glass in the family off the dressing table and
dived face down-wards to the floor, missing death and the corner of the
chest of drawers by an inch.
12:15 a.m.--Rolled him on to his back and got his feet on the bed. They
fell off again as soon as they were cleaner than the quilt. The
lieutenant, startled by the crash, opened his eyes and climbed into bed
12.20 a.m.--Sent Private Merited for the M.O., Captain Geranium.
12.25 a.m.--Mixed a dose of brandy and castor-oil in a tumbler. Am told
it slips down like an oyster that way--bad oyster, I should think.
Lieut. True Born jibbed. Reminded him that England expects that every
man will take his castor-oil. Reply unprintable. Apologized a moment
later. Said that his mind was wandering and that he thought he was a
colonel. Reassured him.
12.40 a.m.--Private Merited returned with the M.O. Latter nicely dressed
in musical-comedy pyjamas of ravishing hue, and great-coat, with rose-
tinted feet thrust into red morocco slippers. Held consultation and
explained my treatment. M.O. much impressed, anxious to know whether I
was a doctor. Told him "No," but that I knew all the ropes. First give
patient castor-oil, then diet him and call every day to make sure that he
doesn't like his food. After that, if he shows signs of getting well too
soon, give him a tonic. . . . M.O. stuffy.
Dec. 10.--M.O. diagnosed attack as due to something which True Born
believes to be tobacco, with which he disinfects the house, the
mess-sheds, and the streets of Berkhamsted.
Dec. 11.--True Born, shorn of thirteen pipes a day out of sixteen,
disparages the whole race of M.O.'s.
Dec. 14.--He obtains leave to attend wedding of a great-aunt and
ransacks London for a specialist who advocates strong tobacco.
Dec. 15.--He classes specialists with M.O.'s. Is surprised (and
apparently disappointed) that, so far, the breaking of the looking-glass
has brought me no ill-luck. Feel somewhat uneasy myself until glass is
repaired by local cabinet-maker.
Jan. 10, 1917.--Lieut. True Born starts to break in another horse.
Feb. 1.--Horse broken.
March 3.--Running short of tobacco, go to my billet's room and try a pipe
of his. Take all the remedies except the castor-oil.
April 4, 8.30 a.m.--Awakened by an infernal crash and discover that my
poor looking-glass is in pieces again on the floor. True Born explains
that its position, between the open door and the open window, was too
much for it. Don't believe a word of it. Shall believe to my dying day
that it burst in a frantic but hopeless attempt to tell Lieut. True Born
the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
April 6.--The lieutenant watching for some sign of misfortune to me.
Says that I can't break a mirror twice without ill-luck following it.
April 9.--Lieut. True Born comes up to me with a face full of conflicting
emotions. "Your ill-luck has come at last," he says with gloomy
satisfaction. "We go under canvas on the 23rd. You are losing me!"
The night watchman had just returned to the office fire after leaving it
to attend a ring at the wharf bell. He sat for some time puffing
fiercely at his pipe and breathing heavily.
"Boys!" he said, at last. "That's the third time this week, and yet if I
was to catch one and skin 'im alive I suppose I should get into trouble
over it. Even 'is own father and mother would make a fuss, most like.
Some people have boys, and other people 'ave the trouble of 'em. Our
street's full of 'em, and the way they carry on would make a monkey-'ouse
ashamed of itself. The man next door to me's got seven of 'em, and when
I spoke to 'im friendly about it over a pint one night, he put the blame
on 'is wife.
"The worst boy I ever knew used to be office-boy in this 'ere office, and
I can't understand now why I wasn't 'ung for him. Undersized little chap
he was, with a face the colour o' bad pie-crust, and two little black
eyes like shoe-buttons. To see 'im with his little white cuffs, and a
stand-up collar, and a little black bow, and a little bowler-'at, was
enough to make a cat laugh. I told 'im so one day, and arter that we
knew where we was. Both of us.
"By rights he ought to 'ave left the office at six--just my time for
coming on. As it was, he used to stay late, purtending to work 'ard so
as to get a rise. Arter all the clerks 'ad gorn 'ome he used to sit
perched up on a stool yards too 'igh for him, with one eye on the ledger
and the other looking through the winder at me. I remember once going
off for 'arf a pint, and when I come back I found 'im with a policeman,
two carmen, and all the hands off of the Maid Marian, standing on the
edge of the jetty, waiting for me to come up. He said that, not finding
me on the wharf, 'e made sure that I must 'ave tumbled overboard, as he
felt certain that I wouldn't neglect my dooty while there was breath in
my body; but 'e was sorry to find 'e was mistook. He stood there talking
like a little clergyman, until one of the carmen knocked his 'at over 'is
eyes, and then he forgot 'imself for a bit.
"Arter that I used to wait until he 'ad gorn afore I 'ad my arf-pint. I
didn't want my good name taken away, and I had to be careful, and many's
the good arf-pint I 'ad to refuse because that little imitation monkey
was sitting in the office drawing faces on 'is blotting-paper. But
sometimes it don't matter 'ow careful you are, you make a mistake.
"There was a little steamer, called the Eastern Monarch, used to come up
here in them days, once a week. Fat little tub she was, with a crew o'
fattish old men, and a skipper that I didn't like. He'd been in the
coasting trade all 'is life, while I've knocked about all over the world,
but to hear 'im talk you'd think he knew more about things than I did.
"Eddication, Bill,' he ses one evening, 'that's the thing! You can't
argufy without it; you only talk foolish, like you are doing now.'
"'There's eddication and there's common sense,' I ses. 'Some people 'as
one and some people 'as the other. Give me common sense.'
"'That's wot you want,' he ses, nodding.
"'And, o' course,' I ses, looking at 'im, 'there's some people 'asn't got
either one or the other.'
"The office-boy came out of the office afore he could think of an answer,
and the pair of 'em stood there talking to show off their cleverness,
till their tongues ached. I took up my broom and went on sweeping, and
they was so busy talking long words they didn't know the meaning of to
each other that they was arf choked with dust afore they noticed it.
When they did notice it they left off using long words, and the skipper
tried to hurt my feelings with a few short ones 'e knew.
"'It's no good wasting your breath on 'im,' ses the boy. 'You might as
well talk to a beer-barrel.'