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The Understudy by W.W. Jacobs

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Produced by David Widger


by W.W. Jacobs


The Understudy

"Dogs on board ship is a nuisance," said the night-watchman, gazing
fiercely at the vociferous mongrel that had chased him from the deck of
the Henry William; "the skipper asks me to keep an eye on the ship, and
then leaves a thing like that down in the cabin."

He leaned against a pile of empty casks to recover his breath, shook his
fist at the dog, and said, slowly--

Some people can't make too much of 'em. They talk about a dog's honest
eyes and his faithful 'art. I 'ad a dog once, and I never saw his eyes
look so honest as they did one day when 'e was sitting on a pound o'
beefsteak we was 'unting high and low for.

I've known dogs to cause a lot of trouble in my time. A man as used to
live in my street told me he 'ad been in jail three times because dogs
follered him 'ome and wouldn't go away when he told 'em to. He said
that some men would ha' kicked 'em out into the street, but he thought
their little lives was far too valuable to risk in that way.

Some people used to wink when 'e talked like that, but I didn't: I
remembered a dog that took a fancy to old Sam Small and Ginger Dick and
Peter Russet once in just the same way.

It was one night in a little public-'ouse down Commercial Road way.
They 'ad on'y been ashore a week, and, 'aving been turned out of a
music-'all the night afore because a man Ginger Dick had punched in the
jaw wouldn't behave 'imself, they said they'd spend the rest o' their
money on beer instead. There was just the three of 'em sitting by
themselves in a cosy little bar, when the door was pushed open and a big
black dog came in.

He came straight up to Sam and licked his 'and. Sam was eating a
arrowroot biscuit with a bit o' cheese on it at the time. He wasn't wot
you'd call a partickler sort o' man, but, seeing as 'ow the dog was so
careless that 'e licked the biscuit a'most as much as he did his 'and,
he gave it to 'im. The dog took it in one gulp, and then he jumped up
on Sam's lap and wagged his tail in 'is face for joy and thankfulness.

"He's took a fancy to you, Sam," ses Ginger.

Sam pushed the dog off on to the floor and wiped his face.

"He's a good dog, by the look of 'im," ses Peter Russet, who was country

He bought a sausage-roll, and him and the dog ate it between 'em. Then
Ginger Dick bought one and gave it to 'im, and by the time it was
finished the dog didn't seem to know which one of 'em he loved the most.

"Wonder who he belongs to?" ses Ginger. "Is there any name on the
collar, Peter?"

Peter shook his 'ead. "It's a good collar, though," he ses. "I wonder
whether he's been and lost 'imself?"

Old Sam, wot was always on the look-out for money, put his beer down and
wiped 'is mouth. "There might be a reward out for 'im," he ses. "I
think I'll take care of 'im for a day or two, in case."

"We'll all take care of 'im," ses Ginger; "and if there's a reward we'll
go shares. Mind that!"

"I found 'im," ses Sam, very disagreeable. "He came up to me as if he'd
known me all 'is life."

"No," ses Ginger. "Don't you flatter yourself. He came up to you
because he didn't know you, Sam."

"If he 'ad, he'd ha' bit your 'and," ses Peter Russet.

"Instead o' washing it," ses Ginger.

"Go on!" ses Sam, 'olding his breath with passion. "Go on!"

Peter opened 'is mouth, but just then another man came into the bar,
and, arter ordering 'is drink, turned round and patted the dog's 'ead.

"That's a good dog; 'ow old is he?" he ses to Ginger.

"Two years last April," ses Ginger, without moving a eyelid.

"Fifth of April," ses old Sam, very quick and fierce.

"At two o'clock in the morning," ses Peter.

The man took up 'is beer and looked at 'em; then 'e took a drink and
looked at 'em again. Arter which he 'ad another look at the dog.

"I could see 'e was very valuable," he ses. "I see that the moment I
set eyes on 'im. Mind you don't get 'im stole."

He finished up 'is beer and went out; and he 'ad 'ardly gone afore
Ginger took a piece o' thick string out of 'is pocket and fastened it to
the dog's collar.

"Make yourself at 'ome, Ginger," ses Sam, very nasty.

"I'm going to," ses Ginger. "That chap knows something about dogs, and,
if we can't get a reward for 'im, p'r'aps we can sell 'im."

They 'ad another arf-pint each, and then, Ginger taking 'old of the
string, they went out into the street.

"Nine o'clock," ses Peter. "It's no good going 'ome yet, Ginger."

"We can 'ave a glass or two on the way," ses Ginger; "but I sha'n't feel
comfortable in my mind till we've got the dog safe 'ome. P'r'aps the
people wot 'ave lost it are looking for it now."

They 'ad another drink farther on, and a man in the bar took such a
fancy to the dog that 'e offered Ginger five shillings for it and drinks

"That shows 'ow valuable it is," ses Peter Russet when they got outside.
"Hold that string tight, Ginger. Wot's the matter?"

"He won't come," ses Ginger, tugging at the string. "Come on, old chap!
Good dog! Come on!"

He stood there pulling at the dog, wot was sitting down and being
dragged along on its stummick. He didn't know its name, but 'e called
it a few things that seemed to ease 'is mind, and then he 'anded over
the string to Sam, wot 'ad been asking for it, and told 'im to see wot
he could do.

"We shall 'ave a crowd round us in a minute," ses Peter. "Mind you
don't bust a blood-vessel, Sam."

"And be locked up for stealing it, p'r'aps," ses Ginger. "Better let it
go, Sam."

"Wot, arter refusing five bob for it?" ses Sam. "Talk sense, Ginger,
and give it a shove be'ind."

Ginger gave it a shove, but it was no good. There was three or four
people coming along the road, and Sam made up 'is mind in an instant,
and 'eld up his 'and to a cab that was passing.

It took the three of 'em to get the dog into the cab, and as soon as it
was in the cabman told 'em to take it out agin. They argufied with 'im
till their tongues ached, and at last, arter paying 'im four shillings
and sixpence afore they started, he climbed up on the box and drove off.

The door was open when they got to their lodgings, but they 'ad to be
careful because o' the landlady. It took the three of 'em to pull and
push that dog upstairs, and Ginger took a dislike to dogs that 'e never
really got over. They got 'im in the bedroom at last, and, arter they
'ad given 'im a drink o' water out o' the wash-hand basin, Ginger and
Peter started to find fault with Sam Small.

"I know wot I'm about," ses Sam; "but, o' course, if you don't want your
share, say so. Wot?"

"Talk sense!" ses Ginger. "We paid our share o' the cab, didn't we?
And more fools us."

"There won't be no share," ses Peter Russet; "but if there is, we're
going to'ave it."

They undressed themselves and got into bed, and Ginger 'adn't been in
his five minutes afore the dog started to get in with 'im. When Ginger
pushed 'im off 'e seemed to think he was having a game with 'im, and,
arter pretending to bite 'im in play, he took the end of the counterpane
in 'is mouth and tried to drag it off.

"Why don't you get to sleep, Ginger?" ses Sam, who was just dropping
off. "'Ave a game with 'im in the morning."

Ginger gave the dog a punch in the chest, and, arter saying a few o' the
things he'd like to do to Sam Small, he cuddled down in 'is bed and they
all went off to sleep. All but the dog, that is. He seemed uneasy in
'is mind, and if 'e woke 'em up once by standing on his 'ind-legs and
putting his fore-paws on their chest to see if they was still alive, he
did arf-a-dozen times.

He dropped off to sleep at last, scratching 'imself, but about three
o'clock in the morning Ginger woke up with a 'orrible start and sat up
in bed shivering. Sam and Peter woke up, too, and, raising themselves
in bed, looked at the dog, wot was sitting on its tail, with its 'ead
back, moaning fit to break its 'art.

"Wot's the matter?" ses old Sam, in a shaky voice. "Stop it! Stop it,
d'ye hear!"

"P'r'aps it's dying," ses Ginger, as the dog let off a 'owl like a
steamer coming up the river. "Stop it, you brute!"

"He'll wake the 'ouse up in a minute," ses Peter. "Take 'im downstairs
and kick 'im into the street, Sam."

"Take 'im yourself," ses Sam. "Hsh! Somebody's coming upstairs. Poor
old doggie. Come along, then. Come along."

The dog left off his 'owling, and went over and licked 'im just as the
landlady and one or two more came to the door and called out to know wot
they meant by it.

"It's all right, missis," ses Sam. "It's on'y pore Ginger. You keep
quiet," he ses in a whisper, turning to Ginger.

"Wot's he making that row about?" ses the landlady. "He made my blood
run cold."

"He's got a touch o' toothache," ses Sam. "Never mind, Ginger," 'e ses
in a hurry, as the dog let off another 'owl; "try and bear it."

"He's a coward, that's wot 'e is," ses the landlady, very fierce. "Why,
a child o' five wouldn't make such a fuss."

"Sounds more like a dog than a 'uman being," ses another voice. "You
come outside, Ginger, and I'll give you something to cry for."

They waited a minute or two, and then, everything being quiet, they went
back to bed, while old Sam talked to Ginger about wot 'e called 'is
"presence o' mind," and Ginger talked to 'im about wot he'd do to 'im if
'e wasn't a fat old man with one foot in the grave.

They was all in a better temper when they woke up in the morning, and
while Sam was washing they talked about wot they was to do with the dog.

"We can't lead 'im about all day," ses Ginger; "and if we let 'im off
the string he'll go off 'ome."

"He don't know where his 'ome is," ses Sam, very severe; "but he might
run away, and then the pore thing might be starved or else ill-treated.
I 'ave 'eard o' boys tying tin cans to their tails."

"I've done it myself," ses Ginger, nodding. "Consequently it's our
dooty to look arter 'im," ses Sam.

"I'll go down to the front door," ses Peter, "and when I whistle, bring
him down."

Ginger stuck his 'ead out o' the window, and by and by, when Peter
whistled, him and Sam took the dog downstairs and out into the street.

"So far so good," ses Sam; "now, wot about brekfuss?"

They 'ad their brekfuss in their usual coffeeshop, and the dog took bits
from all of them. Unfortunately, 'e wasn't used to haddick bones, and
arter two of the customers 'ad gorn out and two more 'ad complained to
the landlord, they 'ad to leave their brekfusses and take 'im outside
for a breath o' fresh air.

"Now, wot are we going to do?" ses Ginger. "I'm beginning to be sick
of the sight of 'im. 'Ave we got to lead 'im about all day on a bit o'

"Let's take 'im round the corner and lose 'im," ses Peter Russet.

"You give me 'old o' that string," ses Sam. "If you don't want shares,
that's all right. If I'm going to look arter 'im I'll 'ave it all."

That made Ginger and Peter look at each other. Direckly Sam began to
talk about money they began to think they might be losing something.

"And wot about 'aving 'im in our bedroom and keeping us awake all
night?" ses Peter.

"And putting it on to me with the toothache," ses Ginger. "No; you can
look arter 'im, Sam, while me and Peter goes off and enjoys ourselves;
and if you get anything we go shares, mind."

"All right," ses Sam, turning away with the dog.

"And suppose Sam gets a reward or sells it, and then tells us that it
ran away and 'e lost it?" ses Peter.

"O' course; I never thought o' that," ses Ginger. "You've got your 'ead
on straight, Peter."

"I see 'im smile, that's why," ses Peter Russet.

"You're a liar," ses Sam.

"We'll stick together," ses Ginger. "Leastways, one of us'll keep with
you, Sam."

They settled it that way at last, and while Ginger went for a walk down
round about where they 'ad found the dog, Sam Small and Peter waited for
him in a little public-'ouse down Limehouse way. Their idea was that
there would be bills up, and when Ginger came back and said there
wasn't, they 'ad a lot to say about people wot wasn't fit to 'ave dogs
because they didn't love 'em.

They 'ad a miserable day. When the dog got sick o' sitting in a pub 'e
made such a noise they 'ad to take 'im out; and when 'e got tired o'
walking about he sat down on the pavement and they 'ad to drag 'im along
to the nearest pub agin. At five o'clock in the arternoon Ginger Dick
was talking about two-penn'orth o' rat-poison.

"Wot are we to do with 'im till twelve o'clock to-night?" ses Peter.

"And s'pose we can't smuggle 'im into the 'ouse agin?" ses Ginger. "Or
suppose he makes that noise agin in the night?"

They 'ad a pint each to 'elp them to think wot was to be done. And,
arter a lot o' talking and quarrelling, they did wot a lot of other
people 'ave done when they got into trouble: they came to me.

I 'ad on'y been on dooty about arf an hour when the three of 'em turned
up at the wharf with the dog, and, arter saying 'ow well I looked and
that I seemed to get younger every time they saw me, they asked me to
take charge of the dog for 'em.

"It'll be company for you," ses old Sam. "It must be very lonely 'ere
of a night. I've often thought of it."

"And of a day-time you could take it 'ome and tie it up in your back-
yard," ses Ginger.

I wouldn't 'ave anything to do with it at fust, but at last I gave way.
They offered me fourpence a day for its keep, and, as I didn't want to
run any risk, I made 'em give me a couple o' bob to go on with.

They went off as though they'd left a load o' care be'ind 'em, and arter
tying the dog up to a crane I went on with my work. They 'adn't told me
wot the game was, but, from one or two things they'd let drop, I'd got a
pretty good idea.

The dog 'owled a bit at fust, but he quieted down arter a bit. He was a
nice-looking animal, but one dog is much the same as another to me, and
if I 'ad one ten years I don't suppose I could pick it out from two or
three others.

I took it off 'ome with me when I left at six o'clock next morning, and
tied it up in my yard. My missis 'ad words about it, o' course--that's
wot people get married for--but when she found it woke me up three times
she quieted down and said wot a nice coat it 'ad got.

The three of 'em came round next evening to see it, and they was so
afraid of its being lost that when they stood me a pint at the Bull's
Head we 'ad to take it with us. Ginger was going to buy a sausage-roll
for it, but, arter Sam 'ad pointed out that they was paying me fourpence
a day for its keep, he didn't. And Sam 'ad the cheek to tell me that it
liked a nice bit o' fried steak as well as anything.

A lot o' people admired that dog. I remember, on the fourth night I
think it was, the barge Dauntless came alongside, and arter she was made
fast the skipper came ashore and took a little notice of it.

"Where did you get 'im?" he ses.

I told 'im 'ow it was, and he stood there for some time patting the dog
on the 'ead and whistling under 'is breath.

"It's much the same size as my dog," he ses; "that's a black retriever,

I ses "Oh!"

"I'm afraid I shall 'ave to get rid of it," he ses. "It's on the barge
now. My missis won't 'ave it in the 'ouse any more cos it bit the baby.
And o' course it was no good p'inting out to 'er that it was its first
bite. Even the law allows one bite, but it's no good talking about the
law to wimmen."

"Except when it's on their side," I ses.

He patted the dog's 'ead agin and whistled, and a big black dog came up
out of the cabin and sprang ashore. It went up and put its nose to
Sam's dog, and they both growled like thunderstorms.

"Might be brothers," ses the skipper, "on'y your dog's got a better
'eead and a better coat. It's a good dog."

"They're all alike to me," I ses. "I couldn't tell 'em apart, not if
you paid me."

The skipper stood there a moment, and then he ses: "I wish you'd let me
see 'ow my dog looks in your dog's collar," he ses.

"Whaffor?" I ses.

"On'y fancy," he ses. "Oh, Bill!"

"Yes," I ses.

"It ain't Christmas," he ses, taking my arm and walking up and down a
bit, "but it will be soon, and then I mightn't see you. You've done me
one or two good turns, and I should like to make you a Christmas-box of
three 'arf-dollars."

I let 'im give 'em to me, and then, just to please 'im, I let 'im try
the collar on 'is dog, while I swept up a bit.

"It looked beautiful on 'im," he ses, when I'd finished; "but I've put
it back agin. Come on, Bruno. Good-night, Bill."

He got 'is dog on the barge agin arter a bit o' trouble, and arter
making sure 'that my dog 'ad got its own collar on I went on with my

The dog didn't seem to be quite 'imself next day, and he was so fierce
in the yard that my missis was afraid to go near 'im. I was going to
ask the skipper about it, as 'e seemed to know more about dogs than I
did, but when I got to the wharf the barge had sailed.

It was just getting dark when there came a ring at the gate-bell, and
afore I could answer it arf-a-dozen more, as fast as the bell could go.
And when I opened the wicket Sam Small and Ginger and Peter Russet all
tried to get in at once.

"Where's the dog?" ses Sam.

"Tied up," I ses. "Wot's the matter? 'Ave you all gorn mad?"

They didn't answer me. They ran on to the jetty, and afore I could turn
round a'most they 'ad got the dog loose and was dragging it towards me,
smiling all over their faces.

"Reward," ses Ginger, as I caught 'old of 'im by the coat. "Five pounds
--landlord of a pub--at Bow--come on, Sam!"

"Why don't you keep your mouth shut, Ginger?" ses Sam.

"Five pounds!" I ses. "Five pounds! Hurrah!"

"Wot are you hurraying about?" ses Sam, very short.

"Why," I ses, "I s'pose----Here, arf a moment!"

"Can't stop," ses Sam, going arter the others.

I watched 'em up the road, and then I locked the gate and walked up and
down the wharf thinking wot a funny thing money is, and 'ow it alters
people's natures. And arter all, I thought that three arf-dollars
earned honest was better than a reward for hiding another man's dog.

I finished tidying up, and at nine o'clock I went into the office for a
quiet smoke. I couldn't 'elp wondering 'ow them three 'ad got on, and
just as I was thinking about it there came the worst ringing at the
gate-bell I 'ave ever 'eard in my life, and the noise of heavy boots
kicking the gate. It was so violent I 'ardly liked to go at fust,
thinking it might be bad news, but I opened it at last, and in bust Sam
Small, with Ginger and Peter.

For five minutes they all talked at once, with their nasty fists 'eld
under my nose. I couldn't make lead or tail of it at fust, and then I
found as 'ow they 'ad got the dog back with them, and that the landlord
'ad said 'e wasn't the one.

"But 'e said as he thought the collar was his," ses Sam. "'Ow do you
account for that?"

"P'r'aps he made a mistake," I ses; "or p'r'aps he thought you'd turn
the dog adrift and he'd get it back for nothing. You know wot landlords
are. Try 'im agin."

"I'd pretty well swear he ain't the same dog," ses Peter Russet, looking
in a puzzled way at Sam and Ginger.

"You take 'im back to-morrow night," I ses. "It's a nice walk to Bow.
And then come back and beg my pardon. I want to 'ave a word with this
policeman here. Goodnight."


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