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Captain Cai's sea-chest had been conveyed to the Ship Inn, Trafalgar Square (so called--as the landlord, Mr Oke, will inform you--after the famous battle of that name), and there he designed to lodge while his friend and he furnished their new quarters.
His bed, a four-poster, was luxurious indeed after his old bunk in the Hannah Hoo, and he betook himself to it early. Yet he did not sleep well. For some while sleep was forbidden by a confusion of voices in the bar-parlour downstairs; then, after a brief lull, the same voices started exchanging good-nights in the square without; and finally, when the rest had dispersed, two belated townsmen lingered in private conversation, now walking a few paces to and fro on the cobbles, but ever returning to anchorage under a street lamp beneath his window. By-and-by the town lamplighter came along, turned off the gas-jet and wished the two gossips good-night, adding that the weather was extraordinary for the time of year; but still they lingered. Captain Cai, worried by the murmur of their voices, climbed out of bed to close the window. His hand was outstretched to do so when, through the open sash, he caught a few articulate words--a fragment of a sentence.
Said one--speaking low but earnestly--"If I should survive my wife, as I hope to do--"
Unwilling to play the eavesdropper, or to startle them by shutting the window, Captain Cai very delicately withdrew, climbed back into bed, and drew the edge of the bedclothes over his ear. Soon he was asleep; but, even as he dropped off, the absurd phrase wove itself into the midnight chime from the church tower and passed on to weave itself into his dreams and vex them. "If I should survive my wife--" In his dreams he was back in Troy, indeed, and yet among foreigners. They spoke in English, too; but they conversed with one another, not with him, as though he might overhear but could not be expected to understand. One dream--merely ludicrous when he awoke and recalled it--gave him real distress while it lasted. In it he saw half a dozen townsmen--Barber Toy, Landlord Oke, the Quaymaster, and Mr Philp among them--gathered around the mound of sand on the Quay, solemnly playing a child's game with his tall hat. Mr Philp took it from the Quaymaster's head, transferred it to his own, and, lifting it by the brim, said reverently, "If I should survive my wife," &c., to pass it on to the barber, who recited the same formula to the same ritual. In the middle of the sandheap was a pit, which appeared to be somebody's grave; and somewhere in the background, on the far side of the pit, stood Mrs Bosenna and Tabb's girl together, the one watching with a queer smile, while the other kept repeating, "He's going to hell. He couldn't change his habits, and it's high time the Quay was improved."
From this dream Captain Cai awoke in a sweat, and though the rest of the night yielded none so terrifying, his sleep was fitful and unrefreshing. The return of day brought with it a sense of oppression, of a load on his mind, of a task to be performed.
Ah, yes!--he must pay a call on Mrs Bosenna. She had as good as engaged him by a promise, and, moreover, there was her cuff to be returned. . . . Well, the visit must be paid this morning. 'Bias would be arriving by the afternoon train; and, apart from that, when you've a daunting job that cannot be escaped, the wise course is to play the man and get it over.
Still, he could not well present himself at Rilla Farm before eleven o'clock--say half-past eleven--or noon even. No, that would be too late; might suggest a hint of staying to dinner--which God forbid! He resolved upon eleven.
He grudged to lose the latter half of the morning; for the gardens--his and Hunken's--had yet to be explored, and the rainwater cisterns in rear of the houses, and the back premises generally, and the patches where the cabbages grew. Also (confound the woman!) he could well have spent an hour or two about the streets and the Quay, renewing old acquaintance. The whole town had heard of his return, and there were scores of folk to remember him and bid him welcome. They would chase away this feeling of forlornness, of being an alien. . . . Strange that, wide awake though he was, it should continue to haunt him!
But Troy, on all save market mornings, is a slug-a-bed town; and even at nine o'clock, when he issued forth after an impatient breakfast, the streets wore an unkempt, unready, unsociable air. Housewives were still beating mats, shopboys washing down windows; ash-buckets stood in the gutter-ways, by door and ope, awaiting the scavenger.
"These people want a Daylight Saving Bill," thought Captain Cai, and somewhat disconsolately wheeled about, setting his face for the Rope Walk. Here his spirits sensibly revived. There had been rain in the night, but the wind had flown to the northward, and the sun was already scattering the clouds with promise of a fine day. Cleansing airs played between the houses, the line of ash-buckets grew sparser, and the buckets--for he had encountered the scavenger's cart on the slope of the hill--were empty now, albeit their owners showed no hurry to fetch them indoors.
A row of houses--all erected since his young days--still blocked the view of the harbour. But just beyond them, where a roadway led down to the ferry, the exquisite scene broke upon him--the harbour entrance, with the antique castles pretending to guard it; the vessels (his own amongst them) in the land-locked anchorage; the open sea beyond, violet blue to the morning under a steady off-shore breeze; white gulls flashing aloft, and, in the offing, a pair of gannets hunting above the waters.
Captain Cai took no truck (as he would have said) in the beauties of nature; but here was a scene he understood, and he began to feel at home again. He halted, rested his elbows on a low wall and watched the gannets at their evolutions--the poise, the terrific dive, the splash clearly visible at more than a mile's distance. The wall on which he leaned overhung a trim garden, gay with scentless flowers such as tulips and late daffodils, and yet odorous--for early April has a few days during which the uncurling leaf has all the fragrance of blossom: and this was such a day, lustrous from a bath of rain. To our uninstructed seaman the scent seemed to exhale from the tulips; it recalled his attention from the gannets, and he drew in deep breaths of it, pondering the parterres of Kaiserskroon and Duchesse de Parme--bold scarlet splashed with yellow--of golden Chrysoloras, of rosy white Cottage Maids. Unknowing it, he had a sense of beauty, and he decided that horticulture, for a leisured man, was well worth a trial.
"That's the best of living ashore," he told himself. "A man can choose what hobby he will and, if he don't like it, pick up another."
He climbed the hill briskly, to view his own garden and take stock of its possibilities. . . . The roses planted by Mrs Bosenna had scarcely flagged at all, thanks to the night's rain. Around them and to right and left along the border under the walls of the two first terraces, green shoots were pushing up from the soil--sword-like spikes of iris, red noses of peonies, green fingers of lupins. Into what flowers these various shootlets would expand Captain Cai knew no more than Adam, first of gardeners. He would consult some knowledgeable person--no, not Mrs Bosenna--and label them 'as per instructions': or, stay! 'Bias Hunken had a weakness for small wagers. Here was material for a long summer game, more deliberate even than draughts; to buy a botanical book and with its help back one's fancy, flower or colour. A capital game: no doubt (thought Captain Cai) quite commonly played among landsmen possessing gardens.
At this point he made a discovery he had missed in the dusk overnight. His eyes fell on a flat-topped felt-covered roof, almost level with his feet and half-hidden between two bushes (the one a myrtle, the other a mock-orange; but he knew no such distinctions). There was yet a third terrace, then; and on this third terrace--yes, by the Lord, a summer-house fit for a king! Glass-fronted, with sliding sashes; match-boarded within, fitted with racks and shelves for garden tools; with ample room for chairs and a table at which two could sup and square their elbows. Such a view, moreover! It swept the whole harbour. . . .
Captain Cai's first impulse was to search around for a rack whereon to stow a telescope: his next, to run to the party-wall and hoist himself high enough to scan his friend's garden.
Yes! 'Bias, too, had a summer-house; not precisely similar in shape, however. Its roof was a lean-to, and its frontage narrower; but of this Captain Cai could not be sure. He was short of stature, and with toes digging into the crevices of the wall and hands clutching at its coping he could take no very accurate survey. He dropped back upon terra firma and hurried up the flights of steps to the roadway, in haste to descend from it into 'Bias's garden and resolve his doubts.
For you must understand that the two cottages comprised by the name of Harbour Terrace were (according to Mr Rogers) "as like as two peas, even down to their water-taps," and even by name distinguished only as Number 1 and Number 2: and that, taking this similarity on trust, Captain Cai had chosen Number 2, Because--well, simply because it was Number 2. If inadvertently he, being first in the field, had collared the better summer-house!--The very thought of it set him perspiring.
At the head of the garden, to his annoyance, he found Mr Philp leaning over the gate.
"Ah, Good morning!" said Mr Philp. "You was expectin' me, o' course."
"Good morning," returned Captain Cai. "Expectin' you? No, I wasn't. Why?"
"About that hat. I've brought you the three-an'-six." He held out the coins in his palm.
"You can't have it just now. I'm in a hurry."
"So I see," said Mr Philp deliberately, not budging from the gate. "It don't improve a hat as a rule."
"What d'ye mean?"
"Perspiration works through the linin'. I've seen hats ruined that way."
"Very well, then: we'll call the bargain off. The fact is, I'd forgot about it; and you can't very well have the hat now. 'Tis my only one, an'--well the fact is, I'm due to pay a call."
"I don't see as 'tis any business o' yours," answered Captain Cai with vexation; "but, if you want to know, I've to call on my landlady, Mrs Bosenna."
"Is that where you're hurryin' just now?"
"Well, no: not at this moment," Captain Cai had to confess.
"Oh, look here--"
"You needn't tell, if you don't want to. But I'm goin' to a funeral at eleven o'clock," said Mr Philp. "Eleven A.M.," he added pointedly. "Not that I hold with mornin' funerals in a general way: but the corpse is old Mrs Wedlake, and I wasn't consulted."
"Relative?" asked Captain Cai.
"No relation at all; though I don't see as it matters." Mr Philp was cheerful but obdurate. "A bargain's a bargain, as I take it."
"That fact is--"
"And a man's word ought to be good as his bond. Leastways that's how I look at it."
"Here, take the darned thing!" exclaimed Captain Cai. His action, however, was less impulsive than his speech: he removed the hat carefully, lowering his head and clutching the brim between both hands. A small parcel lay inside.
"What's that?" asked Mr Philp.
"It's--it's a cuff," Captain Cai admitted.
"Belongs to the Widow Bosenna, I shouldn't wonder?" Mr Philp hazarded with massive gravity. "It's the sort o' thing a woman wears now-a-days when she've lost her husband. I follows the fashions in my distant way." He paused and corrected himself carefully--"Them sort."
"I thought--it occurred to me--as it might be the handiest way of returnin' the thing."
"It seems early days to be carryin' that sort of article around in the crown o' your hat. Dangerous, too, if you use hair-oil. But you don't. I took notice that you said 'no' yesterday when Toy offered to rub something into your hair. Now that's always a temptation with me, there bein' no extra charge. . . . Did she give it to you?"
"Who? . . . Mrs Bosenna? No, she left it behind here."
"What was she doin' here, yesterday evenin', to want to take off her cuffs?"
"If you must know, she was planting roses."
"What? In April? . . . You mustn't think I'm curious."
"Not at all," Captain Cai agreed grimly.
"Nice little place you've pitched on here, I must say." Mr Philp changed his tone to one of extreme affability. "There's not a prettier little nest in all Troy than these two cottages. And which of the pair might be your choice?"
"It's not quite decided."
"Well, you can't do wrong with either. But"--Mr Philp glanced back across the roadway and lowered his voice--"I'd like to warn you o' one thing. I don't know no unhandier houses for gettin' out a corpse. There's a turn at the foot o' the stairs; most awk'ard."
"I reckon," said Captain Cai cheerfully, "'Bias an' me'll leave that to them as it concerns. But, man! what a turn you've a-got for funerals!"
"They be the breath o' life to me," Mr Philp confessed, and paused for a moment's thought. "Tell 'ee what we'll do: you shall come with me down to Fore Street an' buy yourself a new hat at Shake Benny's: 'tis on your way to Rilla Farm. There in the shop you can hand me over the one you're wearin', and Shake can send mine home in a bandbox." He twinkled cunningly. "I shall be wantin' a bandbox, an' that gets me one cost-free."
The man was inexorable. Captain Cai gave up resistance, and the pair descended the hill together towards Mr Benny's shop.
* * * * * * *
Young Mr Benny, "S. Benny, Gents' Outfitter," had suffered the misfortune to be christened Shakespeare without inheriting any of the literary aspirations to which that name bore witness. It was, in any event, a difficult name to live up to, and so incongruous with this youth in particular that, as he grew up, his acquaintances abbreviated it by consent to Shake; and, again, when, after serving an apprenticeship with a pushing firm in Exeter, he returned to open a haberdashery shop in his native town, it had been reduced, for business purposes, to a bare initial.
But it is hard to escape heredity. Albeit to young Mr Benny pure literature made no appeal, and had even been summarised by him as "footle," in the business of advertising he developed a curious literary twist. He could not exhibit a new line of goods without inventing an arresting set of labels for it; and upon these labels (executed with his own hands in water-colour upon cardboard) he let play a fancy almost Asiatic. Not content with mere description, such as "Neck-wear in Up-to-date Helios" or "Braces, Indispensable," he assailed the coy purchaser with appeals frankly personal, such as "You passed us Yesterday, but We Hit you this time," or (of pyjamas) "What! You don't Tell us You Go to Bed like your Grandfather," or (of a collar) "If you Admire Lord Rosebery, Now is Your Time."
Captain Cai wanted a hat. "I be just returned from foreign," he explained; "and this here head-gear o' mine--"
Young Mr Benny smiled with a smile that deprecated his being drawn into criticism. "We keep ahead of the Germans yet, sir,--in some respects. Is it Captain Hocken I have the pleasure of addressin'?"
"Now, how did he know that?" Captain Cai murmured.
"Why, by your hat," answered Mr Philp with readiness.
"You'll be wanting something more nautical, Captain? Something yachty, if I may suggest. . . . I've a neat thing here in yachting caps." Mr Benny selected and displayed one, turning it briskly in his hands. "The Commodore. There's a something about that cap, sir,--a what shall I say?--a distinction. Or, if you prefer a straight up-and-down peak, what about the Squadron here? A little fuller in the crown, you'll observe; but that"--with a flattering glance--"would suit you. You'd carry it off."
"Better have it full in the crown," suggested Mr Philp; "by reason it's handier to carry things."
"None of your seafarin' gear, I'll thank you," said Captain Cai hastily. "I've hauled ashore."
"And mean to settle among us, I hope, sir? . . . Well, then, with the summer already upon us--so to speak--what do we say to a real Panama straw? The Boulter's Lock here, f'r instance,--extra brim--at five and sixpence? How these foreigners do it for the money is a mystery to me."
"I see they puts 'Smith Brothers, Birmingham,' in the lining," said Captain Cai.
"Importers' mark, sir,--to insure genuineness. . . . Let me see, what size were you saying? H'm, six-seven-eighths, as I should judge." Young Mr Benny pulled out a drawer with briskness, ran his hand through a number of genuine Panamas of identical pattern, selected one, and poised it on the tips of his fingers, giving it the while a seductive twist. "If you will stand so, Captain, while I tilt the glass a trifle?"
Captain Cai gazed hardily at his reflection in the mirror. "It don't seem altogether too happy wi' the rest of the togs," he hazarded, and consulted Mr Philp. "What do you think?"
"I ain't makin' no bid for your tail-coat, if that's what you mean," answered Mr Philp with sudden moroseness, pulling out his watch. "I got one."
"Our leading townsmen, sir," said young Mr Benny, "favour an alpaca lounge coat with this particular line. We stock them in all sizes. Alpacas are seldom made to measure,--'free-and-easy' being their motto, if I may so express it."
"It's mine, anyway."
"And useful for gardening, too. In an alpaca you can--" Young Mr Benny, without finishing the sentence, indued one and went through brisk motions indicative of digging, hoeing, taking cuttings and transplanting them.
The end of it was that Captain Cai purchased an alpaca coat as well as a Panama hat, and having bidden "so long" to Mr Philp, and pocketed his three-and-sixpence, steered up the street in the direction of Rilla Farm, nervously stealing glimpses of himself in the shop windows as he went. As he hove in sight of the Custom House, however, this bashfulness gave way of a sudden to bewilderment. For there, at the foot of the steps leading up to its old-fashioned doorway lounged his mate, Mr Tregaskis, sucking a pipe.
"Hullo! What are you doin' here?" asked Captain Cai.
"What the devil's that to you?" retorted Mr Tregaskis. But a moment later he gasped and all but dropped the pipe from his mouth. "Good Lord!"
"Took me for a stranger, hey?"
The mate stared, slowly passing a hand across his chin as though to make sure of his own beard. "What indooced 'ee?"
"When you're in Rome," said Captain Cai, with a somewhat forced nonchalance, "you do as the Romans do."
"Do they?" asked Mr Tregaskis vaguely. "Besides, we ain't," he objected after a moment.
"Crew all right?"
"Upstairs,"--this with a jerk of the thumb.
"Hey? . . . But why? We don't pay off till Saturday, as you ought to know, for I told 'ee plain enough, an' also that the men could have any money advanced, in reason."
"Come along and see," said the mate mysteriously. "I've been waitin' here on the look-out for 'ee." He led the way up the steps, along a twisting corridor and into the Collector's office, where, sure enough, the crew of the Hannah Hoo were gathered.
"Here's the Cap'n, boys!" he announced. "An' don't call me a liar, but take your time."
The men--they were standing uneasily, with doffed hats, around a table in the centre of the room--gazed and drew a long breath. They continued to breathe hard while the Collector bustled forward from his desk and congratulated Captain Cai on a prosperous passage.
"There's one thing about it," said Ben Price the bald-headed, at length breaking through the mortuary silence that reigned around the table; "it do make partin' easier."
"But what's here?" demanded Captain Cai, as his gaze fell upon a curious object that occupied the centre of the table. It was oblong: it was covered with a large red handkerchief: and, with the men grouped respectfully around, it suggested a miniature coffin draped and ready for committal to the deep.
"Well, sir," answered Nat Berry, who was generally reckoned the wag of the ship, "it might pass, by its look, for a concealment o' birth. But it ain't. It's a testimonial."
But here the mate--who had been standing for some moments on one leg-- suddenly cleared his throat.
"Cap'n Hocken," said he in a strained unnatural voice, "we the undersigned, bein' mate and crew of the Hannah Hoo barquentine--"
"Be this an affidavit?"
"No it isn': 'tis a Musical Box. . . . As I was sayin', We the undersigned, bein' mate an' crew of the Hannah Hoo barquentine, which we hear that you're givin' up command of the same, Do hereby beg leave to express our mingled feelin's at the same in the shape of this here accompanyin' Musical Box. And our united hope as you may have live long to enjoy the noise it kicks up, which"--here Mr Tregaskis dropped to a confidential tone--"it plays 'Home, Sweet Home,' with other fashionable tunes, an' can be turned off at any time by means of a back-handed switch marked 'Stop' in plain letters. IT IS therefore--" here the speaker resumed his oratorical manner--"our united wish, sir, as you will accept the forthcoming Musical Box from the above-mentioned undersigned as a mark of respect in all weathers, and that you may live to marry an' pass it down to your offspring--"
"Hear, hear!" interjected Mr Nat Berry, and was told to shut his head.
"--to your offspring, or, in other words, progenitors," perorated Mr Tregaskis. "And if you don't like it, the man at the shop'll change it for something of equal value." Here with a sweep of the hand he withdrew the handkerchief and disclosed the gift. "I forget the chap's name for the moment, but he's a watchmaker, and lives off the Town Quay as you turn up west-an'-by-north to the Post Office. The round mark on the lid--as p'r'aps I ought to mention--was caused by a Challenge Cup of some sort standin' upon it all last summer in the eye of the sun, which don't affect the music, an' might be covered over with a brass plate in case of emergency; but time didn't permit." Thus Mr Tregaskis concluded, and stood wiping his brow.
Captain Cai stared at the gift and around at the men's faces mistily. "Friends"--he managed to say. "Friends," he began again after a painful pause, and then, "It's all very well, William Tregaskis, but you might ha' given a man warnin'--after all these years!"
"It don't want no acknowledgment: but take your time," said the mate handsomely, conscious, for his part, of having performed with credit.
At this suggestion Captain Cai with a vague gesture pulled out his watch, and amid the whirl of his brain was aware of the hour--10.45.
"I've--I've an appointment, friends, as it happens," he stammered. "And I thank you kindly, but--" On a sudden happy inspiration he fixed an eye upon the mate. "All sails unbent aboard?" he asked sternly.
"There's the mizzen, sir--"
"I thought so. We'll have discipline, lads, to the end--if you please. We'll meet here on Saturday: and when you've done your unbendin' maybe I'll start doin' mine."
He took up the musical box, tucked it under his arm, and marched out.
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