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Odd Craft, Complete by W.W. Jacobs

Part 4 out of 4

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The gal seemed to change toward Ginger all in a flash, and 'er beautiful
black eyes looked at 'im so admiring that he felt quite faint. She
started talking to 'im about his fights at once, and when at last 'e
plucked up courage to ask 'er to go for a walk with 'im on Sunday
arternoon she seemed quite delighted.

"It'll be a nice change for me," she ses, smiling. "I used to walk out
with a prize-fighter once before, and since I gave 'im up I began to
think I was never going to 'ave a young man agin. You can't think 'ow
dull it's been."

"Must ha' been," ses Ginger.

"I s'pose you've got a taste for prize-fighters, miss," ses Peter Russet.

"No," ses Miss Tucker; "I don't think that it's that exactly, but, you
see, I couldn't 'ave anybody else. Not for their own sakes."

[Illustration: "Miss Tucker."]

"Why not?" ses Ginger, looking puzzled.

"Why not?" ses Miss Tucker. "Why, because o' Bill. He's such a 'orrid
jealous disposition. After I gave 'im up I walked out with a young
fellow named Smith; fine, big, strapping chap 'e was, too, and I never
saw such a change in any man as there was in 'im after Bill 'ad done with
'im. I couldn't believe it was 'im. I told Bill he ought to be ashamed
of 'imself."

"Wot did 'e say?" asks Ginger.

"Don't ask me wot 'e said," ses Miss Tucker, tossing her 'ead. "Not
liking to be beat, I 'ad one more try with a young fellow named Charlie

"Wot 'appened to 'im?" ses Peter Russet, arter waiting a bit for 'er to

"I can't bear to talk of it," ses Miss Tucker, holding up Ginger's glass
and giving the counter a wipe down. "He met Bill, and I saw 'im six
weeks afterward just as 'e was being sent away from the 'ospital to a
seaside home. Bill disappeared after that."

"Has he gone far away?" ses Ginger, trying to speak in a off-'and way.

"Oh, he's back now," ses Miss Tucker. "You'll see 'im fast enough, and,
wotever you do, don't let 'im know you're a prize-fighter."

"Why not?" ses pore Ginger.

"Because o' the surprise it'll be to 'im," ses Miss Tucker. "Let 'im
rush on to 'is doom. He'll get a lesson 'e don't expect, the bully.
Don't be afraid of 'urting 'im. Think o' pore Smith and Charlie Webb."

"I am thinkin' of 'em," ses Ginger, slow-like. "Is--is Bill--very quick
--with his 'ands?"

"Rather," ses Miss Tucker; "but o' course he ain't up to your mark; he's
on'y known in these parts."

She went off to serve a customer, and Ginger Dick tried to catch Peter's
eye, but couldn't, and when Miss Tucker came back he said 'e must be

"Sunday afternoon at a quarter past three sharp, outside 'ere," she ses.
"Never mind about putting on your best clothes, because Bill is sure to
be hanging about. I'll take care o' that."

She reached over the bar and shook 'ands with 'im, and Ginger felt a
thrill go up 'is arm which lasted 'im all the way 'ome.

He didn't know whether to turn up on Sunday or not, and if it 'adn't ha'
been for Sam and Peter Russet he'd ha' most likely stayed at home. Not
that 'e was a coward, being always ready for a scrap and gin'rally
speaking doing well at it, but he made a few inquiries about Bill Lumm
and 'e saw that 'e had about as much chance with 'im as a kitten would
'ave with a bulldog.

Sam and Peter was delighted, and they talked about it as if it was a
pantermime, and old Sam said that when he was a young man he'd ha' fought
six Bill Lumms afore he'd ha' given a gal up. He brushed Ginger's
clothes for 'im with 'is own hands on Sunday afternoon, and, when Ginger
started, 'im and Peter follered some distance behind to see fair play.

The on'y person outside the Jolly Pilots when Ginger got there was a man;
a strong-built chap with a thick neck, very large 'ands, and a nose which
'ad seen its best days some time afore. He looked 'ard at Ginger as 'e
came up, and then stuck his 'ands in 'is trouser pockets and spat on the
pavement. Ginger walked a little way past and then back agin, and just
as he was thinking that 'e might venture to go off, as Miss Tucker 'adn't
come, the door opened and out she came.

"I couldn't find my 'at-pins," she ses, taking Ginger's arm and smiling
up into 'is face.

Before Ginger could say anything the man he 'ad noticed took his 'ands
out of 'is pockets and stepped up to 'im.

"Let go o' that young lady's arm," he ses. "Sha'n't," ses Ginger,
holding it so tight that Miss Tucker nearly screamed.

"Let go 'er arm and put your 'ands up," ses the chap agin.

[Illustration: "'Let go o' that young lady's arm,' he ses."]

"Not 'ere," ses Ginger, who 'ad laid awake the night afore thinking wot
to do if he met Bill Lumm. "If you wish to 'ave a spar with me, my lad,
you must 'ave it where we can't be interrupted. When I start on a man I
like to make a good job of it."

"Good job of it!" ses the other, starting. "Do you know who I am?"

"No, I don't," ses Ginger, "and, wot's more, I don't care."

"My name," ses the chap, speaking in a slow, careful voice, "is Bill

"Wot a 'orrid name!" ses Ginger.

"Otherwise known as the Wapping Basher," ses Bill, shoving 'is face into
Ginger's and glaring at 'im.

"Ho!" ses Ginger, sniffing, "a amatoor."

"_Amatoor?_" ses Bill, shouting.

"That's wot we should call you over in Australia," ses Ginger; "my name
is Dick Duster, likewise known as the Sydney Puncher. I've killed three
men in the ring and 'ave never 'ad a defeat."

"Well, put 'em up," ses Bill, doubling up 'is fists and shaping at 'im.

"Not in the street, I tell you," ses Ginger, still clinging tight to Miss
Tucker's arm. "I was fined five pounds the other day for punching a man
in the street, and the magistrate said it would be 'ard labour for me
next time. You find a nice, quiet spot for some arternoon, and I'll
knock your 'ead off with pleasure."

"I'd sooner 'ave it knocked off now," ses Bill; "I don't like waiting for

"Thursday arternoon," ses Ginger, very firm; "there's one or two
gentlemen want to see a bit o' my work afore backing me, and we can
combine bisness with pleasure."

He walked off with Miss Tucker, leaving Bill Lumm standing on the
pavement scratching his 'ead and staring arter 'im as though 'e didn't
quite know wot to make of it. Bill stood there for pretty near five
minutes, and then arter asking Sam and Peter, who 'ad been standing by
listening, whether they wanted anything for themselves, walked off to ask
'is pals wot they knew about the Sydney Puncher.

Ginger Dick was so quiet and satisfied about the fight that old Sam and
Peter couldn't make 'im out at all. He wouldn't even practise punching
at a bolster that Peter rigged up for 'im, and when 'e got a message from
Bill Lumm naming a quiet place on the Lea Marshes he agreed to it as
comfortable as possible.

"Well, I must say, Ginger, that I like your pluck," ses Peter Russet.

"I always 'ave said that for Ginger; 'e's got pluck," ses Sam.

Ginger coughed and tried to smile at 'em in a superior sort o' way. "I
thought you'd got more sense," he ses, at last. "You don't think I'm
going, do you?"

"Wot?" ses old Sam, in a shocked voice.

"You're never going to back out of it, Ginger?" ses Peter.

"I am," ses Ginger. "If you think I'm going to be smashed up by a
prize-fighter just to show my pluck you're mistook."

"You must go, Ginger," ses old Sam, very severe. "It's too late to back
out of it now. Think of the gal. Think of 'er feelings."

"For the sake of your good name," ses Peter.

"I should never speak to you agin, Ginger," ses old Sam, pursing up 'is

"Nor me neither," ses Peter Russet.

"To think of our Ginger being called a coward," ses old Sam, with a
shudder, "and afore a gal, too."

"The loveliest gal in Wapping," ses Peter.

"Look 'ere," ses Ginger, "you can shut up, both of you. I'm not going,
and that's the long and short of it. I don't mind an ordinary man, but I
draw the line at prize-fighters."

Old Sam sat down on the edge of 'is bed and looked the picture of
despair. "You must go, Ginger," he ses, "for my sake."

"Your sake?" ses Ginger, staring.

"I've got money on it," ses Sam, "so's Peter. If you don't turn up all
bets'll be off."

"Good job for you, too," ses Ginger. "If I did turn up you'd lose it, to
a dead certainty."

Old Sam coughed and looked at Peter, and Peter 'e coughed and looked at

"You don't understand, Ginger," said Sam, in a soft voice; "it ain't
often a chap gets the chance o' making a bit o' money these 'ard times."

"So we've put all our money on Bill Lumm," ses Peter. "It's the safest
and easiest way o' making money I ever 'eard of. You see, we know you're
not a prize-fighter and the others don't."

Pore Ginger looked at 'em, and then 'e called 'em all the names he could
lay 'is tongue to, but, with the idea o' the money they was going make,
they didn't mind a bit. They let him 'ave 'is say, and that night they
brought 'ome two other sailormen wot 'ad bet agin Ginger to share their
room, and, though they 'ad bet agin 'im, they was so fond of 'im that it
was evident that they wasn't going to leave 'im till the fight was over.

Ginger gave up then, and at twelve o'clock next day they started off to
find the place. Mr. Webson, the landlord of the Jolly Pilots, a short,
fat man o' fifty, wot 'ad spoke to Ginger once or twice, went with 'em,
and all the way to the station he kept saying wot a jolly spot it was for
that sort o' thing. Perfickly private; nice soft green grass to be
knocked down on, and larks up in the air singing away as if they'd never
leave off.

They took the train to Homerton, and, being a slack time o' the day, the
porters was surprised to see wot a lot o' people was travelling by it.
So was Ginger. There was the landlords of 'arf the public-'ouses in
Wapping, all smoking big cigars; two dock policemen in plain clothes, wot
'ad got the arternoon off--one with a raging toothache and the other with
a baby wot wasn't expected to last the day out. They was as full o' fun
as kittens, and the landlord o' the Jolly Pilots pointed out to Ginger
wot reasonable 'uman beings policemen was at 'art. Besides them there
was quite a lot o' sailormen, even skippers and mates, nearly all of 'em
smoking big cigars, too, and looking at Ginger out of the corner of one
eye and at the Wapping Basher out of the corner of the other.

"Hit 'ard and hit straight," ses the landlord to Ginger in a low voice,
as they got out of the train and walked up the road. "'Ow are you

"I've got a cold coming on," ses pore Ginger, looking at the Basher, who
was on in front, "and a splitting 'eadache, and a sharp pain all down my
left leg. I don't think----"

"Well, it's a good job it's no worse," ses the land-lord; "all you've got
to do is to hit 'ard. If you win it's a 'undered pounds in my pocket,
and I'll stand you a fiver of it. D'ye understand?"

They turned down some little streets, several of 'em going diff'rent
ways, and arter crossing the River Lea got on to the marshes, and, as the
landlord said, the place might ha' been made for it.

A little chap from Mile End was the referee, and Bill Lumm, 'aving
peeled, stood looking on while Ginger took 'is things off and slowly and
carefully folded 'em up. Then they stepped toward each other, Bill
taking longer steps than Ginger, and shook 'ands; immediately arter which
Bill knocked Ginger head over 'eels.

[Illustration: "Bill Lumm, 'aving peeled, stood looking on while Ginger
took 'is things off."]

"Time!" was called, and the landlord o' the Jolly Pilots, who was nursing
Ginger on 'is knee, said that it was nothing at all, and that bleeding at
the nose was a sign of 'ealth. But as it happened Ginger was that mad 'e
didn't want any encouragement, he on'y wanted to kill Bill Lumm.

He got two or three taps in the next round which made his 'ead ring, and
then he got 'ome on the mark and follered it up by a left-'anded punch on
Bill's jaw that surprised 'em both--Bill because he didn't think Ginger
could hit so 'ard, and Ginger because 'e didn't think that prize-fighters
'ad any feelings.

They clinched and fell that round, and the land-lord patted Ginger on the
back and said that if he ever 'ad a son he 'oped he'd grow up like 'im.

Ginger was surprised at the way 'e was getting on, and so was old Sam and
Peter Russet, and when Ginger knocked Bill down in the sixth round Sam
went as pale as death. Ginger was getting marked all over, but he stuck,
to 'is man, and the two dock policemen, wot 'ad put their money on Bill
Lumm, began to talk of their dooty, and say as 'ow the fight ought to be

At the tenth round Bill couldn't see out of 'is eyes, and kept wasting
'is strength on the empty air, and once on the referee. Ginger watched
'is opportunity, and at last, with a terrific smash on the point o'
Bill's jaw, knocked 'im down and then looked round for the landlord's

Bill made a game try to get up when "Time!" was called, but couldn't;
and the referee, who was 'olding a 'andkerchief to 'is nose, gave the
fight to Ginger.

It was the proudest moment o' Ginger Dick's life. He sat there like a
king, smiling 'orribly, and Sam's voice as he paid 'is losings sounded to
'im like music, in spite o' the words the old man see fit to use. It was
so 'ard to get Peter Russet's money that it a'most looked as though there
was going to be another prize-fight, but 'e paid up at last and went off,
arter fust telling Ginger part of wot he thought of 'im.

There was a lot o' quarrelling, but the bets was all settled at last, and
the landlord o' the Jolly Pilots, who was in 'igh feather with the money
he'd won, gave Ginger the five pounds he'd promised and took him 'ome in
a cab.

"You done well, my lad," he ses. "No, don't smile. It looks as though
your 'ead's coming off."

"I 'ope you'll tell Miss Tucker 'ow I fought," ses Ginger.

"I will, my lad," ses the landlord; "but you'd better not see 'er for
some time, for both your sakes."

"I was thinking of 'aving a day or two in bed," ses Ginger.

"Best thing you can do," ses the landlord; "and mind, don't you ever
fight Bill Lumm agin. Keep out of 'is way."

"Why? I beat 'im once, an' I can beat 'im agin," ses Ginger, offended.

"Beat 'im?" ses the landlord. He took 'is cigar out of 'is mouth as
though 'e was going to speak, and then put it back agin and looked out
of the window.

"Yes, beat 'im," ses Ginger'. "You was there and saw it."

"He lost the fight a-purpose," ses the landlord, whispering. "Miss
Tucker found out that you wasn't a prize-fighter--leastways, I did for
'er--and she told Bill that, if 'e loved 'er so much that he'd 'ave 'is
sinful pride took down by letting you beat 'im, she'd think diff'rent of
'im. Why, 'e could 'ave settled you in a minute if he'd liked. He was
on'y playing with you."

Ginger stared at 'im as if 'e couldn't believe 'is eyes. "Playing?" he
ses, feeling 'is face very gently with the tips of his fingers.

"Yes," ses the landlord; "and if he ever hits you agin you'll know I'm
speaking the truth."

Ginger sat back all of a heap and tried to think. "Is Miss Tucker going
to keep company with 'im agin, then?" he ses, in a faint voice.

"No," ses the landlord; "you can make your mind easy on that point."

"Well, then, if I walk out with 'er I shall 'ave to fight Bill all over
agin," ses Ginger.

The landlord turned to 'im and patted 'im on the shoulder. "Don't you
take up your troubles afore they come, my lad," he ses, kindly; "and mind
and keep wot I've told you dark, for all our sakes."

He put 'im down at the door of 'is lodgings and, arter shaking 'ands with
'im, gave the landlady a shilling and told 'er to get some beefsteak and
put on 'is face, and went home. Ginger went straight off to bed, and the
way he carried on when the landlady fried the steak afore bringing it up
showed 'ow upset he was.

[Illustration: "The way he carried on when the landlady fried the steak
showed 'ow upset he was."]

It was over a week afore he felt 'e could risk letting Miss Tucker see
'im, and then at seven o'clock one evening he felt 'e couldn't wait any
longer, and arter spending an hour cleaning 'imself he started out for
the Jolly Pilots.

He felt so 'appy at the idea o' seeing her agin that 'e forgot all about
Bill Lumm, and it gave 'im quite a shock when 'e saw 'im standing outside
the Pilots. Bill took his 'ands out of 'is pockets when he saw 'im and
came toward 'im.

"It's no good to-night, mate," he ses; and to Ginger's great surprise
shook 'ands with 'im.

"No good?" ses Ginger, staring.

"No," ses Bill; "he's in the little back-parlour, like a whelk in 'is
shell; but we'll 'ave 'im sooner or later."

"Him? Who?" ses Ginger, more puzzled than ever.

"Who?" ses Bill; "why, Webson, the landlord. You don't mean to tell me
you ain't heard about it?"

"Heard wot?" ses Ginger. "I haven't 'card any-thing. I've been indoors
with a bad cold all the week."

"Webson and Julia Tucker was married at eleven o'clock yesterday
morning," ses Bill Lumm, in a hoarse voice. "When I think of the way
I've been done, and wot I've suffered, I feel 'arf crazy. He won a
'undered pounds through me, and then got the gal I let myself be
disgraced for. I 'ad an idea some time ago that he'd got 'is eye on

Ginger Dick didn't answer 'im a word. He staggered back and braced
'imself up agin the wall for a bit, and arter staring at Bill Lumm in a
wild way for pretty near three minutes he crawled back to 'is lodgings
and went straight to bed agin.


Seated at his ease in the warm tap-room of the Cauliflower, the stranger
had been eating and drinking for some time, apparently unconscious of the
presence of the withered ancient who, huddled up in that corner of the
settle which was nearer to the fire, fidgeted restlessly with an empty
mug and blew with pathetic insistence through a churchwarden pipe which
had long been cold. The stranger finished his meal with a sigh of
content and then, rising from his chair, crossed over to the settle and,
placing his mug on the time-worn table before him, began to fill his

[Illustration: "Seated at his ease in the warm tap-room of the

The old man took a spill from the table and, holding it with trembling
fingers to the blaze, gave him a light. The other thanked him, and then,
leaning back in his corner of the settle, watched the smoke of his pipe
through half-closed eyes, and assented drowsily to the old man's remarks
upon the weather.

"Bad time o' the year for going about," said the latter, "though I s'pose
if you can eat and drink as much as you want it don't matter. I s'pose
you mightn't be a conjurer from London, sir?"

The traveller shook his head.

"I was 'oping you might be," said the old man. The other manifested no

"If you 'ad been," said the old man, with a sigh, "I should ha' asked you
to ha' done something useful. Gin'rally speaking, conjurers do things
that are no use to anyone; wot I should like to see a conjurer do would
be to make this 'ere empty mug full o' beer and this empty pipe full o'
shag tobacco. That's wot I should ha' made bold to ask you to do if
you'd been one."

The traveller sighed, and, taking his short briar pipe from his mouth by
the bowl, rapped three times upon the table with it. In a very short
time a mug of ale and a paper cylinder of shag appeared on the table
before the old man.

"Wot put me in mind o' your being a conjurer," said the latter, filling
his pipe after a satisfying draught from the mug, "is that you're
uncommon like one that come to Claybury some time back and give a
performance in this very room where we're now a-sitting. So far as
looks go, you might be his brother."

The traveller said that he never had a brother.

We didn't know 'e was a conjurer at fust, said the old man. He 'ad come
down for Wickham Fair and, being a day or two before 'and, 'e was going
to different villages round about to give performances. He came into the
bar 'ere and ordered a mug o' beer, and while 'e was a-drinking of it
stood talking about the weather. Then 'e asked Bill Chambers to excuse
'im for taking the liberty, and, putting his 'and to Bill's mug, took out
a live frog. Bill was a very partikler man about wot 'e drunk, and I
thought he'd ha' had a fit. He went on at Smith, the landlord, something
shocking, and at last, for the sake o' peace and quietness, Smith gave
'im another pint to make up for it.

[Illustration: "Putting his 'and to Bill's mug, he took out a live

"It must ha' been asleep in the mug," he ses.

Bill said that 'e thought 'e knew who must ha' been asleep, and was just
going to take a drink, when the conjurer asked 'im to excuse 'im agin.
Bill put down the mug in a 'urry, and the conjurer put his 'and to the
mug and took out a dead mouse. It would ha' been a 'ard thing to say
which was the most upset, Bill Chambers or Smith, the landlord, and Bill,
who was in a terrible state, asked why it was everything seemed to get
into his mug.

"P'r'aps you're fond o' dumb animals, sir," ses the conjurer. "Do you
'appen to notice your coat-pocket is all of a wriggle?"

He put his 'and to Bill's pocket and took out a little green snake; then
he put his 'and to Bill's trouser-pocket and took out a frog, while pore
Bill's eyes looked as if they was corning out o' their sockets.

"Keep still," ses the conjurer; "there's a lot more to come yet."

Bill Chambers gave a 'owl that was dreadful to listen to, and then 'e
pushed the conjurer away and started undressing 'imself as fast as he
could move 'is fingers. I believe he'd ha' taken off 'is shirt if it 'ad
'ad pockets in it, and then 'e stuck 'is feet close together and 'e kept
jumping into the air, and coming down on to 'is own clothes in his
hobnailed boots.

"He ain't fond o' dumb animals, then," ses the conjurer. Then he put his
'and on his 'art and bowed.

"Gentlemen all," he ses. "'Aving given you this specimen of wot I can
do, I beg to give notice that with the landlord's kind permission I shall
give my celebrated conjuring entertainment in the tap-room this evening
at seven o'clock; ad--mission, three-pence each."

They didn't understand 'im at fust, but at last they see wot 'e meant,
and arter explaining to Bill, who was still giving little jumps, they led
'im up into a corner and coaxed 'im into dressing 'imself agin. He wanted
to fight the conjurer, but 'e was that tired 'e could scarcely stand, and
by-and-by Smith, who 'ad said 'e wouldn't 'ave anything to do with it,
gave way and said he'd risk it.

The tap-room was crowded that night, but we all 'ad to pay threepence
each--coining money, I call it. Some o' the things wot he done was very
clever, but a'most from the fust start-off there was unpleasantness.
When he asked somebody to lend 'im a pocket-'andkercher to turn into a
white rabbit, Henery Walker rushed up and lent 'im 'is, but instead of a
white rabbit it turned into a black one with two white spots on it, and
arter Henery Walker 'ad sat for some time puzzling over it 'e got up and
went off 'ome without saying good-night to a soul.

Then the conjurer borrowed Sam Jones's hat, and arter looking into it for
some time 'e was that surprised and astonished that Sam Jones lost 'is
temper and asked 'im whether he 'adn't seen a hat afore.

"Not like this," ses the conjurer. And 'e pulled out a woman's dress and
jacket and a pair o' boots. Then 'e took out a pound or two o' taters
and some crusts o' bread and other things, and at last 'e gave it back to
Sam Jones and shook 'is head at 'im, and told 'im if he wasn't very
careful he'd spoil the shape of it.

Then 'e asked somebody to lend 'im a watch, and, arter he 'ad promised to
take the greatest care of it, Dicky Weed, the tailor, lent 'im a gold
watch wot 'ad been left 'im by 'is great-aunt when she died. Dicky Weed
thought a great deal o' that watch, and when the conjurer took a
flat-iron and began to smash it up into little bits it took three men
to hold 'im down in 'is seat.

"This is the most difficult trick o' the lot," ses the conjurer, picking
off a wheel wot 'ad stuck to the flat-iron. "Sometimes I can do it and
sometimes I can't. Last time I tried it it was a failure, and it cost me
eighteenpence and a pint o' beer afore the gentleman the watch 'ad
belonged to was satisfied. I gave 'im the bits, too."

"If you don't give me my watch back safe and sound," ses Dicky Weed, in a
trembling voice, "it'll cost you twenty pounds."

"'Ow much?" ses the conjurer, with a start. "Well, I wish you'd told me
that afore you lent it to me. Eighteenpence is my price."

He stirred the broken bits up with 'is finger and shook his 'ead.

"I've never tried one o' these old-fashioned watches afore," he ses.
"'Owever, if I fail, gentle-men, it'll be the fust and only trick I've
failed in to-night. You can't expect everything to turn out right, but
if I do fail this time, gentlemen, I'll try it agin if anybody else'll
lend me another watch."

Dicky Weed tried to speak but couldn't, and 'e sat there, with 'is face
pale, staring at the pieces of 'is watch on the conjurer's table. Then
the conjurer took a big pistol with a trumpet-shaped barrel out of 'is
box, and arter putting in a charge o' powder picked up the pieces o'
watch and rammed them in arter it. We could hear the broken bits grating
agin the ramrod, and arter he 'ad loaded it 'e walked round and handed it
to us to look at.

"It's all right," he ses to Dicky Weed; "it's going to be a success; I
could tell in the loading."

He walked back to the other end of the room and held up the pistol.

"I shall now fire this pistol," 'e ses, "and in so doing mend the watch.
The explosion of the powder makes the bits o' glass join together agin;
in flying through the air the wheels go round and round collecting all
the other parts, and the watch as good as new and ticking away its
'ardest will be found in the coat-pocket o' the gentleman I shoot at."

He pointed the pistol fust at one and then at another, as if 'e couldn't
make up 'is mind, and none of 'em seemed to 'ave much liking for it.
Peter Gubbins told 'im not to shoot at 'im because he 'ad a 'ole in his
pocket, and Bill Chambers, when it pointed at 'im, up and told 'im to let
somebody else 'ave a turn. The only one that didn't flinch was Bob
Pretty, the biggest poacher and the greatest rascal in Claybury. He'd
been making fun o' the tricks all along, saying out loud that he'd seen
'em all afore--and done better.

"Go on," he ses; "I ain't afraid of you; you can't shoot straight."

The conjurer pointed the pistol at 'im. Then 'e pulled the trigger and
the pistol went off bang, and the same moment o' time Bob Pretty jumped
up with a 'orrible scream, and holding his 'ands over 'is eyes danced
about as though he'd gone mad.

Everybody started up at once and got round 'im, and asked 'im wot was the
matter; but Bob didn't answer 'em. He kept on making a dreadful noise,
and at last 'e broke out of the room and, holding 'is 'andkercher to 'is
face, ran off 'ome as 'ard as he could run.

"You've done it now, mate," ses Bill Chambers to the conjurer. "I
thought you wouldn't be satisfied till you'd done some 'arm. You've been
and blinded pore Bob Pretty."

"Nonsense," ses the conjurer. "He's frightened, that's all."

"Frightened!" ses Peter Gubbins. "Why, you fired Dicky Weed's watch
straight into 'is face."

"Rubbish," ses the conjurer; "it dropped into 'is pocket, and he'll find
it there when 'e comes to 'is senses."

"Do you mean to tell me that Bob Pretty 'as gone off with my watch in 'is
pocket?" screams Dicky Weed.

"I do," ses the other.

"You'd better get 'old of Bob afore 'e finds it out, Dicky," ses Bill

Dicky Weed didn't answer 'im; he was already running along to Bob
Pretty's as fast as 'is legs would take 'im, with most of us follering
behind to see wot 'appened.

[Illustration: "He was running along to Bob Pretty's as fast as 'is legs
would take 'im."]

The door was fastened when we got to it, but Dicky Weed banged away at it
as 'ard as he could bang, and at last the bedroom winder went up and
Mrs. Pretty stuck her 'ead out.

"H'sh!" she ses, in a whisper. "Go away."

"I want to see Bob," ses Dicky Weed.

"You can't see 'im," ses Mrs. Pretty. "I'm getting 'im to bed. He's
been shot, pore dear. Can't you 'ear 'im groaning?"

We 'adn't up to then, but a'most direckly arter she 'ad spoke you could
ha' heard Bob's groans a mile away. Dreadful, they was.

"There, there, pore dear," ses Mrs. Pretty.

"Shall I come in and 'elp you get 'im to bed?" ses Dicky Weed, 'arf

"No, thank you, Mr. Weed," ses Mrs. Pretty. "It's very kind of you to
offer, but 'e wouldn't like any hands but mine to touch 'im. I'll send
in and let you know 'ow he is fust thing in the morning."

"Try and get 'old of the coat, Dicky," ses Bill Chambers, in a whisper.
"Offer to mend it for 'im. It's sure to want it."

"Well, I'm sorry I can't be no 'elp to you," ses Dicky Weed, "but I
noticed a rent in Bob's coat and, as 'e's likely to be laid up a bit, it
ud be a good opportunity for me to mend it for 'im. I won't charge 'im
nothing. If you drop it down I'll do it now."

"Thankee," ses Mrs. Pretty; "if you just wait a moment I'll clear the
pockets out and drop it down to you."

She turned back into the bedroom, and Dicky Weed ground 'is teeth
together and told Bill Chambers that the next time he took 'is advice
he'd remember it. He stood there trembling all over with temper, and
when Mrs. Pretty came to the winder agin and dropped the coat on his 'ead
and said that Bob felt his kindness very much, and he 'oped Dicky ud make
a good job of it, because it was 'is favrite coat, he couldn't speak.
He stood there shaking all over till Mrs. Pretty 'ad shut the winder down
agin, and then 'e turned to the conjurer, as 'ad come up with the rest of
us, and asked 'im wot he was going to do about it now.

"I tell you he's got the watch," ses the conjurer, pointing up at the
winder. "It went into 'is pocket. I saw it go. He was no more shot
than you were. If 'e was, why doesn't he send for the doctor?"

"I can't 'elp that," ses Dicky Weed. "I want my watch or else twenty

"We'll talk it over in a day or two," ses the conjurer. "I'm giving my
celebrated entertainment at Wickham Fair on Monday, but I'll come back
'ere to the Cauliflower the Saturday before and give another
entertainment, and then we'll see wot's to be done. I can't run away,
because in any case I can't afford to miss the fair."

Dicky Weed gave way at last and went off 'ome to bed and told 'is wife
about it, and listening to 'er advice he got up at six o'clock in the
morning and went round to see 'ow Bob Pretty was.

Mrs. Pretty was up when 'e got there, and arter calling up the stairs to
Bob told Dicky Weed to go upstairs. Bob Pretty was sitting up in bed
with 'is face covered in bandages, and he seemed quite pleased to see

"It ain't everybody that ud get up at six o'clock to see 'ow I'm getting
on," he ses. "You've got a feeling 'art, Dicky."

Dicky Weed coughed and looked round, wondering whether the watch was in
the room, and, if so, where it was hidden.

"Now I'm 'ere I may as well tidy up the room for you a bit," he ses,
getting up. "I don't like sitting idle."

"Thankee, mate," ses Bob; and 'e lay still and watched Dicky Weed out of
the corner of the eye that wasn't covered with the bandages.

I don't suppose that room 'ad ever been tidied up so thoroughly since the
Prettys 'ad lived there, but Dicky Weed couldn't see anything o' the
watch, and wot made 'im more angry than anything else was Mrs. Pretty
setting down in a chair with 'er 'ands folded in her lap and pointing out
places that he 'adn't done.

"You leave 'im alone," ses Bob. "_He knows wot 'e's arter_. Wot did you
do with those little bits o' watch you found when you was bandaging me
up, missis?"

"Don't ask me," ses Mrs. Pretty. "I was in such a state I don't know wot
I was doing 'ardly."

"Well, they must be about somewhere," ses Bob. "You 'ave a look for 'em,
Dicky, and if you find 'em, keep 'em. They belong to you."

Dicky Weed tried to be civil and thank 'im, and then he went off 'ome and
talked it over with 'is wife agin. People couldn't make up their minds
whether Bob Pretty 'ad found the watch in 'is pocket and was shamming, or
whether 'e was really shot, but they was all quite certain that,
whichever way it was, Dicky Weed would never see 'is watch agin.

On the Saturday evening this 'ere Cauliflower public-'ouse was crowded,
everybody being anxious to see the watch trick done over agin. We had
'eard that it 'ad been done all right at Cudford and Monksham; but Bob
Pretty said as 'ow he'd believe it when 'e saw it, and not afore.

He was one o' the fust to turn up that night, because 'e said 'e wanted
to know wot the conjurer was going to pay him for all 'is pain and
suffering and having things said about 'is character. He came in leaning
on a stick, with 'is face still bandaged, and sat right up close to the
conjurer's table, and watched him as 'ard as he could as 'e went through
'is tricks.

"And now," ses the conjurer, at last, "I come to my celebrated watch
trick. Some of you as wos 'ere last Tuesday when I did it will remember
that the man I fired the pistol at pretended that 'e'd been shot and run
off 'ome with it in 'is pocket."

"You're a liar!" ses Bob Pretty, standing up. "Very good," ses the
conjurer; "you take that bandage off and show us all where you're hurt."

"I shall do nothing o' the kind," ses Bob. I don't take my orders from

"Take the bandage off," ses the conjurer, "and if there's any shot marks
I'll give you a couple o' sovereigns."

"I'm afraid of the air getting to it," ses Bob Pretty.

"You don't want to be afraid o' that, Bob," ses John Biggs, the
blacksmith, coming up behind and putting 'is great arms round 'im. "Take
off that rag, somebody; I've got hold of 'im."

Bob Pretty started to struggle at fust, but then, seeing it was no good,
kept quite quiet while they took off the bandages.

"There! look at 'im," ses the conjurer, pointing. "Not a mark on 'is
face, not one."

"Wet!" ses Bob Pretty. "Do you mean to say there's no marks?"

"I do," ses the conjurer.

"Thank goodness," ses Bob Pretty, clasping his 'ands. "Thank goodness!
I was afraid I was disfigured for life. Lend me a bit o' looking-glass,
somebody. I can 'ardly believe it."

"You stole Dicky Weed's watch," ses John Biggs. "I 'ad my suspicions of
you all along. You're a thief, Bob Pretty. That's wot you are."

"Prove it," ses Bob Pretty. "You 'eard wot the conjurer said the other
night, that the last time he tried 'e failed, and 'ad to give
eighteenpence to the man wot the watch 'ad belonged to."

"That was by way of a joke like," ses the conjurer to John Biggs. "I can
always do it. I'm going to do it now. Will somebody 'ave the kindness
to lend me a watch?"

He looked all round the room, but nobody offered--except other men's
watches, wot wouldn't lend 'em.

"Come, come," he ses; "ain't none of you got any trust in me? It'll be
as safe as if it was in your pocket. I want to prove to you that this
man is a thief."

He asked 'em agin, and at last John Biggs took out 'is silver watch and
offered it to 'im on the understanding that 'e was on no account to fire
it into Bob Pretty's pocket.

"Not likely," ses the conjurer. "Now, everybody take a good look at this
watch, so as to make sure there's no deceiving."

He 'anded it round, and arter everybody 'ad taken a look at it 'e took it
up to the table and laid it down.

"Let me 'ave a look at it," ses Bob Pretty, going up to the table. "I'm
not going to 'ave my good name took away for nothing if I can 'elp it."

He took it up and looked at it, and arter 'olding it to 'is ear put it
down agin.

"Is that the flat-iron it's going to be smashed with?" he ses.

"It is," ses the conjurer, looking at 'im nasty like; "p'r'aps you'd like
to examine it."

Bob Pretty took it and looked at it. "Yes, mates," he ses, "it's a
ordinary flat-iron. You couldn't 'ave anything better for smashing a
watch with."

He 'eld it up in the air and, afore anybody could move, brought it down
bang on the face o' the watch. The conjurer sprang at 'im and caught at
'is arm, but it was too late, and in a terrible state o' mind 'e turned
round to John Biggs.

[Illustration: "Afore anybody could move, he brought it down bang on the
face o' the watch."]

"He's smashed your watch," he ses; "he's smashed your watch."

"Well," ses John Biggs, "it 'ad got to be smashed, 'adn't it?"

"Yes, but not by 'im," ses the conjurer, dancing about. "I wash my 'ands
of it now."

"Look 'ere," ses John Biggs; "don't you talk to me about washing your
'ands of it. You finish your trick and give me my watch back agin same
as it was afore."

"Not now he's been interfering with it," ses the conjurer. "He'd better
do the trick now as he's so clever."

"I'd sooner 'ave you do it," ses John Biggs. "Wot did you let 'im
interfere for?"

"'Ow was I to know wot 'e was going to do?" ses the conjurer. "You must
settle it between you now. I'll 'ave nothing more to do with it."

"All right, John Biggs," ses Bob Pretty; "if 'e won't do it, I will. If
it can be done, I don't s'pose it matters who does it. I don't think
anybody could smash up a watch better than that."

John Biggs looked at it, and then 'e asked the conjurer once more to do
the trick, but 'e wouldn't.

"It can't be done now," he ses; "and I warn you that if that pistol is
fired I won't be responsible for what'll 'appen."

"George Kettle shall load the pistol and fire it if 'e won't," ses Bob
Pretty. "'Aving been in the Militia, there couldn't be a better man for
the job."

George Kettle walked up to the table as red as fire at being praised like
that afore people and started loading the pistol. He seemed to be more
awkward about it than the conjurer 'ad been the last time, and he 'ad to
roll the watch-cases up with the flat-iron afore 'e could get 'em in.
But 'e loaded it at last and stood waiting.

"Don't shoot at me, George Kettle," ses Bob. "I've been called a thief
once, and I don't want to be agin."

"Put that pistol down, you fool, afore you do mischief," ses the

"Who shall I shoot at?" ses George Kettle, raising the pistol.

"Better fire at the conjurer, I think," ses Bob Pretty; "and if things
'appen as he says they will 'appen, the watch ought to be found in 'is

"Where is he?" ses George, looking round.

Bill Chambers laid 'old of 'im just as he was going through the door to
fetch the landlord, and the scream 'e gave as he came back and George
Kettle pointed the pistol at 'im was awful.

[Illustration: "The scream 'e gave as George Kettle pointed the pistol at
'im was awful."]

"It's no worse for you than it was for me," ses Bob.

"Put it down," screams the conjurer; "put it down. You'll kill 'arf the
men in the room if it goes off."

"Be careful where you aim, George," ses Sam Jones. "P'r'aps he'd better
'ave a chair all by hisself in the middle of the room."

It was all very well for Sam Jones to talk, but the conjurer wouldn't sit
on a chair by 'imself. He wouldn't sit on it at all. He seemed to be
all legs and arms, and the way 'e struggled it took four or five men to
'old 'im.

"Why don't you keep still?" ses John Biggs. "George Kettle'll shoot it
in your pocket all right. He's the best shot in Claybury."

"Help! Murder!" says the conjurer, struggling. "He'll kill me. Nobody
can do the trick but me."

"But you say you won't do it," ses John Biggs. "Not now," ses the
conjurer; "I can't."

"Well, I'm not going to 'ave my watch lost through want of trying," ses
John Biggs. "Tie 'im to the chair, mates."

"All right, then," ses the conjurer, very pale. "Don't tie me; I'll sit
still all right if you like, but you'd better bring the chair outside in
case of accidents. Bring it in the front."

George Kettle said it was all nonsense, but the conjurer said the trick
was always better done in the open air, and at last they gave way and
took 'im and the chair outside.

"Now," ses the conjurer, as 'e sat down, "all of you go and stand near
the man woe's going to shoot. When I say 'Three,' fire. Why! there's
the watch on the ground there!"

He pointed with 'is finger, and as they all looked down he jumped up out
o' that chair and set off on the road to Wickham as 'ard as 'e could run.
It was so sudden that nobody knew wot 'ad 'appened for a moment, and then
George Kettle, wot 'ad been looking with the rest, turned round and
pulled the trigger.

There was a bang that pretty nigh deafened us, and the back o' the chair
was blown nearly out. By the time we'd got our senses agin the conjurer
was a'most out o' sight, and Bob Pretty was explaining to John Biggs wot
a good job it was 'is watch 'adn't been a gold one.

"That's wot comes o' trusting a foreigner afore a man wot you've known
all your life," he ses, shaking his 'ead. "I 'ope the next man wot tries
to take my good name away won't get off so easy. I felt all along the
trick couldn't be done; it stands to reason it couldn't. I done my best,


Mr. George Burton, naval pensioner, sat at the door of his lodgings
gazing in placid content at the sea. It was early summer, and the air
was heavy with the scent of flowers; Mr. Burton's pipe was cold and
empty, and his pouch upstairs. He shook his head gently as he realised
this, and, yielding to the drowsy quiet of his surroundings, laid aside
the useless pipe and fell into a doze.

[Illustration: "Sat at the door of his lodgings gazing in placid content
at the sea."]

He was awakened half an hour later by the sound of footsteps. A tall,
strongly built man was approaching from the direction of the town, and
Mr. Burton, as he gazed at him sleepily, began to wonder where he had
seen him before. Even when the stranger stopped and stood smiling down
at him his memory proved unequal to the occasion, and he sat staring at
the handsome, shaven face, with its little fringe of grey whisker,
waiting for enlightenment.

"George, my buck," said the stranger, giving him a hearty slap on the
shoulder, "how goes it?" "D--- _Bless_ my eyes, I mean," said Mr.
Burton, correcting himself, "if it ain't Joe Stiles. I didn't know you
without your beard."

"That's me," said the other. "It's quite by accident I heard where you
were living, George; I offered to go and sling my hammock with old Dingle
for a week or two, and he told me. Nice quiet little place, Seacombe.
Ah, you were lucky to get your pension, George."

"I deserved it," said Mr. Burton, sharply, as he fancied he detected
something ambiguous in his friend's remark.

"Of course you did," said Mr. Stiles; "so did I, but I didn't get it.
Well, it's a poor heart that never rejoices. What about that drink you
were speaking of, George?"

"I hardly ever touch anything now," replied his friend.

"I was thinking about myself," said Mr. Stiles. "I can't bear the stuff,
but the doctor says I must have it. You know what doctors are, George!"

Mr. Burton did not deign to reply, but led the way indoors.

"Very comfortable quarters, George," remarked Mr. Stiles, gazing round
the room approvingly; "ship-shape and tidy. I'm glad I met old Dingle.
Why, I might never ha' seen you again; and us such pals, too."

His host grunted, and from the back of a small cupboard, produced a
bottle of whisky and a glass, and set them on the table. After a
momentary hesitation he found another glass.

"Our noble selves," said Mr. Stiles, with a tinge of reproach in his
tones, "and may we never forget old friendships."

Mr. Burton drank the toast. "I hardly know what it's like now, Joe," he
said, slowly. "You wouldn't believe how soon you can lose the taste for

Mr. Stiles said he would take his word for it. "You've got some nice
little public-houses about here, too," he remarked. "There's one I
passed called the Cock and Flowerpot; nice cosy little place it would be
to spend the evening in."

"I never go there," said Mr. Burton, hastily. "I--a friend o' mine here
doesn't approve o' public-'ouses."

"What's the matter with him?" inquired his friend, anxiously.

"It's--it's a 'er," said Mr. Burton, in some confusion.

Mr. Stiles threw himself back in his chair and eyed him with amazement.
Then, recovering his presence of mind, he reached out his hand for the

"We'll drink her health," he said, in a deep voice. "What's her name?"

"Mrs. Dutton," was the reply.

Mr. Stiles, with one hand on his heart, toasted her feelingly; then,
filling up again, he drank to the "happy couple."

"She's very strict about drink," said Mr. Burton, eyeing these
proceedings with some severity.

"Any--dibs?" inquired Mr. Stiles, slapping a pocket which failed to ring
in response.

"She's comfortable," replied the other, awkwardly. "Got a little
stationer's shop in the town; steady, old-fashioned business. She's
chapel, and very strict."

"Just what you want," remarked Mr. Stiles, placing his glass on the
table. "What d'ye say to a stroll?"

Mr. Burton assented, and, having replaced the black bottle in the
cupboard, led the way along the cliffs toward the town some half-mile
distant, Mr. Stiles beguiling the way by narrating his adventures since
they had last met. A certain swagger and richness of deportment were
explained by his statement that he had been on the stage.

"Only walking on," he said, with a shake of his head. "The only speaking
part I ever had was a cough. You ought to ha' heard that cough, George!"

Mr. Burton politely voiced his regrets and watched him anxiously. Mr.
Stiles, shaking his head over a somewhat unsuccessful career, was making
a bee-line for the Cock and Flowerpot.

"Just for a small soda," he explained, and, once inside, changed his mind
and had whisky instead. Mr. Burton, sacrificing principle to friendship,
had one with him. The bar more than fulfilled Mr. Stiles's ideas as to
its cosiness, and within the space of ten minutes he was on excellent
terms with the regular clients. Into the little, old-world bar, with its
loud-ticking clock, its Windsor-chairs, and its cracked jug full of
roses, he brought a breath of the bustle of the great city and tales of
the great cities beyond the seas. Refreshment was forced upon him, and
Mr. Burton, pleased at his friend's success, shared mildly in his
reception. It was nine o'clock before they departed, and then they only
left to please the landlord.

"Nice lot o' chaps," said Mr. Stiles, as he stumbled out into the sweet,
cool air. "Catch hold--o' my--arm, George. Brace me--up a bit."

Mr. Burton complied, and his friend, reassured as to his footing, burst
into song. In a stentorian voice he sang the latest song from comic
opera, and then with an adjuration to Mr. Burton to see what he was
about, and not to let him trip, he began, in a lumbering fashion, to

Mr. Burton, still propping him up, trod a measure with fewer steps, and
cast uneasy glances up the lonely road. On their left the sea broke
quietly on the beach below; on their right were one or two scattered
cottages, at the doors of which an occasional figure appeared to gaze
in mute astonishment at the proceedings.

"Dance, George," said Mr. Stiles, who found his friend rather an

"Hs'h! Stop!" cried the frantic Mr. Burton, as he caught sight of a
woman's figure bidding farewell in a lighted doorway.

Mr. Stiles replied with a stentorian roar, and Mr. Burton, clinging
despairingly to his jigging friend lest a worse thing should happen, cast
an imploring glance at Mrs. Dutton as they danced by. The evening was
still light enough for him to see her face, and he piloted the corybantic
Mr. Stiles the rest of the way home in a mood which accorded but ill with
his steps.

His manner at breakfast next morning was so offensive that Mr. Stiles,
who had risen fresh as a daisy and been out to inhale the air on the
cliffs, was somewhat offended.

"You go down and see her," he said, anxiously. "Don't lose a moment; and
explain to her that it was the sea-air acting on an old sunstroke."

"She ain't a fool," said Mr. Burton, gloomily.

He finished his breakfast in silence, and, leaving the repentant Mr.
Stiles sitting in the doorway with a pipe, went down to the widow's to
make the best explanation he could think of on the way. Mrs. Dutton's
fresh-coloured face changed as he entered the shop, and her still good
eyes regarded him with scornful interrogation.

"I--saw you last night," began Mr. Burton, timidly.

"I saw you, too," said Mrs. Dutton. "I couldn't believe my eyesight at

"It was an old shipmate of mine," said Mr. Burton. "He hadn't seen me
for years, and I suppose the sight of me upset 'im."

"I dare say," replied the widow; "that and the Cock and Flowerpot, too.
I heard about it."

"He would go," said the unfortunate.

"You needn't have gone," was the reply.

"I 'ad to," said Mr. Burton, with a gulp; "he--he's an old officer o'
mine, and it wouldn't ha' been discipline for me to refuse."

"Officer?" repeated Mrs. Dutton.

"My old admiral," said Mr. Burton, with a gulp that nearly choked him.
"You've heard me speak of Admiral Peters?"

"_Admiral?_" gasped the astonished widow.

"What, a-carrying on like that?"

"He's a reg'lar old sea-dog," said Mr. Burton. "He's staying with me,
but of course 'e don't want it known who he is. I couldn't refuse to
'ave a drink with 'im. I was under orders, so to speak."

"No, I suppose not," said Mrs. Dutton, softening. "Fancy him staying
with you!"

"He just run down for the night, but I expect he'll be going 'ome in an
hour or two," said Mr. Burton, who saw an excellent reason now for
hastening his guest's departure.

Mrs. Dutton's face fell. "Dear me," she murmured, "I should have liked
to have seen him; you have told me so much about him. If he doesn't go
quite so soon, and you would like to bring him here when you come
to-night, I'm sure I should be very pleased."

"I'll mention it to 'im," said Mr. Burton, marvelling at the change in
her manner.

"Didn't you say once that he was uncle to Lord Buckfast?" inquired Mrs.
Dutton, casually.

"Yes," said Mr. Burton, with unnecessary doggedness; "I did."

"The idea of an admiral staying with you!" said Mrs. Dutton.

"Reg'lar old sea-dog," said Mr. Burton again; "and, besides, he don't
want it known. It's a secret between us three, Mrs. Dutton."

"To be sure," said the widow. "You can tell the admiral that I shall not
mention it to a soul," she added, mincingly.

Mr. Burton thanked her and withdrew, lest Mr. Stiles should follow him up
before apprised of his sudden promotion. He found that gentleman,
however, still sitting at the front door, smoking serenely.

"I'll stay with you for a week or two," said Mr. Stiles, briskly, as soon
as the other had told his story. "It'll do you a world o' good to be
seen on friendly terms with an admiral, and I'll put in a good word for

Mr. Burton shook his head. "No, she might find out," he said, slowly.
"I think that the best thing is for you to go home after dinner, Joe, and
just give 'er a look in on the way, p'r'aps. You could say a lot o'
things about me in 'arf an hour."

"No, George," said Mr. Stiles, beaming on him kindly; "when I put my hand
to the plough I don't draw back. It's a good speaking part, too, an
admiral's. I wonder whether I might use old Peters's language."

"Certainly not," said Mr. Burton, in alarm.

"You don't know how particular she is."

Mr. Stiles sighed, and said that he would do the best he could without
it. He spent most of the day on the beach smoking, and when evening came
shaved himself with extreme care and brushed his serge suit with great
perseverance in preparation for his visit.

Mr. Burton performed the ceremony of introduction with some awkwardness;
Mr. Stiles was affecting a stateliness of manner which was not without
distinction; and Mrs. Dutton, in a black silk dress and the cameo brooch
which had belonged to her mother, was no less important. Mr. Burton had
an odd feeling of inferiority.

[Illustration: "Mr. Stiles was affecting a stateliness of manner which
was not without distinction."]

"It's a very small place to ask you to, Admiral Peters," said the widow,
offering him a chair.

"It's comfortable, ma'am," said Mr. Stiles, looking round approvingly.
"Ah, you should see some of the palaces I've been in abroad; all show and
no comfort. Not a decent chair in the place. And, as for the

"Are you making a long stay, Admiral Peters?" inquired the delighted

"It depends," was the reply. "My intention was just to pay a flying
visit to my honest old friend Burton here--best man in my squadron--but
he is so hospitable, he's been pressing me to stay for a few weeks."

"But the admiral says he must get back to-morrow morning," interposed Mr.
Burton, firmly.

"Unless I have a letter at breakfast-time, Burton," said Mr. Stiles,

Mr. Burton favoured him with a mutinous scowl.

"Oh, I do hope you will," said Mrs. Dutton.

"I have a feeling that I shall," said Mr. Stiles, crossing glances with
his friend. "The only thing is my people; they want me to join them at
Lord Tufton's place."

Mrs. Dutton trembled with delight at being in the company of a man with
such friends. "What a change shore-life must be to you after the perils
of the sea!" she murmured.

"Ah!" said Mr. Stiles. "True! True!"

"The dreadful fighting," said Mrs. Dutton, closing her eyes and

"You get used to it," said the hero, simply. "Hottest time I had I think
was at the bombardment of Alexandria. I stood alone. All the men who
hadn't been shot down had fled, and the shells were bursting round me
like--like fireworks."

The widow clasped her hands and shuddered again.

"I was standing just behind 'im, waiting any orders he might give," said
Mr. Burton.

"Were you?" said Mr. Stiles, sharply--"were you? I don't remember it,

"Why," said Mr. Burton, with a faint laugh, "I was just behind you, sir.
If you remember, sir, I said to you that it was pretty hot work."

Mr. Stiles affected to consider. "No, Burton," he said, bluffly--"no; so
far as my memory goes I was the only man there."

"A bit of a shell knocked my cap off, sir," persisted Mr. Burton, making
laudable efforts to keep his temper.

"That'll do, my man," said the other, sharply; "not another word. You
forget yourself."

He turned to the widow and began to chat about "his people" again to
divert her attention from Mr. Burton, who seemed likely to cause
unpleasantness by either bursting a blood-vessel or falling into a fit.

"My people have heard of Burton," he said, with a slight glance to see
how that injured gentleman was progressing. "He has often shared my
dangers. We have been in many tight places together. Do you remember
those two nights when we were hidden in the chimney at the palace of the
Sultan of Zanzibar, Burton?"

"I should think I do," said Mr. Burton, recovering somewhat.

"Stuck so tight we could hardly breathe," continued the other.

"I shall never forget it as long as I live," said Mr. Burton, who thought
that the other was trying to make amends for his recent indiscretion.

"Oh, do tell me about it, Admiral Peters," cried Mrs. Dutton.

"Surely Burton has told you that?" said Mr. Stiles.

"Never breathed a word of it," said the widow, gazing somewhat
reproachfully at the discomfited Mr. Burton.

"Well, tell it now, Burton," said Mr. Stiles.

"You tell it better than I do, sir," said the other.

"No, no," said Mr. Stiles, whose powers of invention were not always to
be relied upon. "You tell it; it's your story."

The widow looked from one to the other. "It's your story, sir," said Mr.

"No, I won't tell it," said Mr. Stiles. "It wouldn't be fair to you,
Burton. I'd forgotten that when I spoke. Of course, you were young at
the time, still----"

"I done nothing that I'm ashamed of, sir," said Mr. Burton, trembling
with passion.

"I think it's very hard if I'm not to hear it," said Mrs. Dutton, with
her most fascinating air.

Mr. Stiles gave her a significant glance, and screwing up his lips nodded
in the direction of Mr. Burton.

"At any rate, you were in the chimney with me, sir," said that

"Ah!" said the other, severely. "But what was I there for, my man?"

Mr. Burton could not tell him; he could only stare at him in a frenzy of
passion and dismay.

"What were you there for, Admiral Peters?" inquired Mrs. Dutton.

"I was there, ma'am," said the unspeakable Mr. Stiles, slowly--"I was
there to save the life of Burton. I never deserted my men---never.
Whatever scrapes they got into I always did my best to get them out.
News was brought to me that Burton was suffocating in the chimney of the
Sultan's favourite wife, and I----"

"Sultan's favourite wife!" gasped Mrs. Dutton, staring hard at Mr.
Burton, who had collapsed in his chair and was regarding the ingenious
Mr. Stiles with open-mouthed stupefaction. "Good gracious! I--I never
heard of such a thing. I am surprised!"

"So am I," said Mr. Burton, thickly. "I--I---"

"How did you escape, Admiral Peters?" inquired the widow, turning from
the flighty Burton in indignation.

Mr. Stiles shook his head. "To tell you that would be to bring the
French Consul into it," he said, gently. "I oughtn't to have mentioned
the subject at all. Burton had the good sense not to."

The widow murmured acquiescence, and stole a look at the prosaic figure
of the latter gentleman which was full of scornful curiosity. With some
diffidence she invited the admiral to stay to supper, and was obviously
delighted when he accepted.

In the character of admiral Mr. Stiles enjoyed himself amazingly, his one
regret being that no discriminating theatrical manager was present to
witness his performance. His dignity increased as the evening wore on,
and from good-natured patronage of the unfortunate Burton he progressed
gradually until he was shouting at him. Once, when he had occasion to
ask Mr. Burton if he intended to contradict him, his appearance was so
terrible that his hostess turned pale and trembled with excitement.

Mr. Burton adopted the air for his own use as soon as they were clear of
Mrs. Dutton's doorstep, and in good round terms demanded of Mr. Stiles
what he meant by it.

"It was a difficult part to play, George," responded his friend. "We
ought to have rehearsed it a bit. I did the best I could."

"Best you could?" stormed Mr. Burton. "Telling lies and ordering me

"I had to play the part without any preparation, George," said the other,
firmly. "You got yourself into the difficulty by saying that I was the
admiral in the first place. I'll do better next time we go."

Mr. Burton, with a nasty scowl, said that there was not going to be any
next time, but Mr. Stiles smiled as one having superior information.
Deaf first to hints and then to requests to seek his pleasure elsewhere,
he stayed on, and Mr. Burton was soon brought to realise the difficulties
which beset the path of the untruthful.

The very next visit introduced a fresh complication, it being evident to
the most indifferent spectator that Mr. Stiles and the widow were getting
on very friendly terms. Glances of unmistakable tenderness passed
between them, and on the occasion of the third visit Mr. Burton sat an
amazed and scandalised spectator of a flirtation of the most pronounced
description. A despairing attempt on his part to lead the conversation
into safer and, to his mind, more becoming channels only increased his
discomfiture. Neither of them took any notice of it, and a minute later
Mr. Stiles called the widow a "saucy little baggage," and said that she
reminded him of the Duchess of Marford.

[Illustration: "'Mr. Stiles called the widow a 'saucy little baggage.'"]

"I used to think she was the most charming woman in England," he said,

Mrs. Dutton simpered and looked down; Mr. Stiles moved his chair a little
closer to her, and then glanced thoughtfully at his friend.

"Burton," he said.

"Sir," snapped the other.

"Run back and fetch my pipe for me," said Mr. Stiles. "I left it on the

Mr. Burton hesitated, and, the widow happening to look away, shook his
fist at his superior officer.

"Look sharp," said Mr. Stiles, in a peremptory voice.

"I'm very sorry, sir," said Mr. Burton, whose wits were being sharpened
by misfortune, "but I broke it."

"Broke it?" repeated the other.

"Yes, sir," said Mr. Burton. "I knocked it on the floor and trod on it
by accident; smashed it to powder."

Mr. Stiles rated him roundly for his carelessness, and asked him whether
he knew that it was a present from the Italian Ambassador.

"Burton was always a clumsy man," he said, turning to the widow. "He had
the name for it when he was on the _Destruction_ with me; 'Bungling
Burton' they called him."

He divided the rest of the evening between flirting and recounting
various anecdotes of Mr. Burton, none of which were at all flattering
either to his intelligence or to his sobriety, and the victim, after one
or two futile attempts at contradiction, sat in helpless wrath as he saw
the infatuation of the widow. They were barely clear of the house before
his pent-up emotions fell in an avalanche of words on the faithless Mr.

"I can't help being good-looking," said the latter, with a smirk.

"Your good looks wouldn't hurt anybody," said Mr. Burton, in a grating
voice; "it's the admiral business that fetches her. It's turned 'er

Mr. Stiles smiled. "She'll say 'snap' to my 'snip' any time," he
remarked. "And remember, George, there'll always be a knife and fork
laid for you when you like to come."

"I dessay," retorted Mr. Burton, with a dreadful sneer. "Only as it
happens I'm going to tell 'er the truth about you first thing to-morrow
morning. If I can't have 'er you sha'n't."

"That'll spoil your chance, too," said Mr. Stiles. "She'd never forgive
you for fooling her like that. It seems a pity neither of us should get

"You're a sarpent," exclaimed Mr. Burton, savagely--"a sarpent that I've
warmed in my bosom and----"

"There's no call to be indelicate, George," said Mr. Stiles, reprovingly,
as he paused at the door of the house. "Let's sit down and talk it over

Mr. Burton followed him into the room and, taking a chair, waited.

"It's evident she's struck with me," said Mr. Stiles, slowly; "it's also
evident that if you tell her the truth it might spoil my chances. I
don't say it would, but it might. That being so, I'm agreeable to going
back without seeing her again by the six-forty train to-morrow morning if
it's made worth my while."

"Made worth your while?" repeated the other.

"Certainly," said the unblushing Mr. Stiles. "She's not a bad-looking
woman--for her age--and it's a snug little business."

Mr. Burton, suppressing his choler, affected to ponder. "If 'arf a
sovereign--" he said, at last.

"Half a fiddlestick!" said the other, impatiently. "I want ten pounds.
You've just drawn your pension, and, besides, you've been a saving man
all your life."

"Ten pounds?" gasped the other. "D'ye think I've got a gold-mine in the
back garden?"

Mr. Stiles leaned back in his chair and crossed his feet. "I don't go
for a penny less," he said, firmly. "Ten pounds and my ticket back. If
you call me any more o' those names I'll make it twelve."

"And what am I to explain to Mrs. Dutton?" demanded Mr. Burton, after a
quarter of an hour's altercation.

"Anything you like," said his generous friend. "Tell her I'm engaged to
my cousin, and our marriage keeps being put off and off on account of my
eccentric behaviour. And you can say that that was caused by a splinter
of a shell striking my head. Tell any lies you like; I shall never turn
up again to contradict them. If she tries to find out things about the
admiral, remind her that she promised to keep his visit here secret."

For over an hour Mr. Burton sat weighing the advantages and disadvantages
of this proposal, and then--Mr. Stiles refusing to seal the bargain
without--shook hands upon it and went off to bed in a state of mind
hovering between homicide and lunacy.

He was up in good time next morning, and, returning the shortest possible
answers to the remarks of Mr. Stiles, who was in excellent feather, went
with him to the railway station to be certain of his departure.

It was a delightful morning, cool and bright, and, despite his
misfortunes. Mr. Burton's spirits began to rise as he thought of his
approaching deliverance. Gloom again overtook him at the booking-office,
where the unconscionable Mr. Stiles insisted firmly upon a first-class

"Who ever heard of an admiral riding third?" he demanded, indignantly.

"But they don't know you're an admiral," urged Mr. Burton, trying to
humour him.

"No; but I feel like one," said Mr. Stiles, slapping his pocket. "I've
always felt curious to see what it feels like travelling first-class;
besides, you can tell Mrs. Dutton."

"I could tell 'er that in any case," returned Mr. Burton.

Mr. Stiles looked shocked, and, time pressing, Mr. Burton, breathing so
hard that it impeded his utterance, purchased a first-class ticket and
conducted him to the carriage. Mr. Stiles took a seat by the window and
lolling back put his foot up on the cushions opposite. A large bell rang
and the carriage-doors were slammed.

"Good-bye, George," said the traveller, putting his head to the window.
"I've enjoyed my visit very much."

"Good riddance," said Mr. Burton, savagely.

[Illustration: "'Good riddance,' said Mr. Burton, savagely."]

Mr. Stiles shook his head. "I'm letting you off easy," he said, slowly.
"If it hadn't ha' been for one little thing I'd have had the widow

"What little thing?" demanded the other, as the train began to glide
slowly out.

"My wife," said Mr. Stiles, as a huge smile spread slowly over his face.
"Good-bye, George, and don't forget to give my love when you go round."

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