Money Changers by W. W. Jacobs

Tain’t no use waiting any longer,” said Harry Pilchard, looking over the side of the brig towards the Tower stairs. “’E’s either waiting for the money or else ‘e’s a-spending of it. Who’s coming ashore?”

“Give ‘im another five minutes, Harry,” said another seaman persuasively; “it ‘ud be uncommon ‘ard on ‘im if ‘e come aboard and then ‘ad to go an’ get another ship’s crew to ‘elp ‘im celebrate it.”

“’Ard on us too,” said the cook honestly. “There he is!”

The other glanced up at a figure waving to them from the stairs. “’E wants the boat,” he said, moving aft.

“No ‘e don’t, Steve,” piped the boy. “’E’s waving you not to. He’s coming in the waterman’s skiff.”

“Ha! same old tale,” said the seaman wisely. “Chap comes in for a bit o’ money and begins to waste it directly. There’s threepence gone; clean chucked away. Look at ‘im. Just look at him!”

“’E’s got the money all right,” said the cook, “there’s no doubt about that. Why, ‘e looks ‘arf as large again as ‘e did this morning.”

The crew bent over the side as the skiff approached, and the fare, who had been leaning back in the stern with a severely important air, rose slowly and felt in his trousers-pocket.

“There’s sixpence for you, my lad,” he said pompously. “Never mind about the change.”

“All right, old slack-breeches,” said the waterman with effusive good-fellowship: “up you get.”

Three pairs of hands assisted the offended fare on board, and the boy hovering round him slapped his legs vigorously.

“Wot are you up to?” demanded Mr. Samuel Dodds, A.B., turning on him.

“Only dusting you down, Sam,” said the boy humbly.

“You got the money all right, I s’pose, Sammy?” said Steve Martin.

Mr. Dodds nodded and slapped his breastpocket.

“Right as ninepence,” he replied genially. “I’ve been with my lawyer all the arternoon, pretty near. ‘E’s a nice feller.”

“’Ow much is it, Sam?” inquired Pilchard eagerly.

“One ‘undred and seventy-three pun seventeen shillings an’ ten pence,” said the heir, noticing with much pleasure the effect of his announcement.

“Say it agin, Sam,” said Pilchard in awed tones.

Mr. Dodds, with a happy laugh, obliged him. “If you’ll all come down the foc’sle,” he continued, “I’ve got a bundle o’ cigars an’ a drop o’ something short in my pocket.”

“Let’s ‘ave a look at the money, Sam,” said Pilchard when the cigars were alight.

“Ah, let’s ‘ave a look at it,” said Steve.

Mr. Dodds laughed again, and, producing a small canvas bag from his pocket, dusted the table with his big palm, and spread out a roll of banknotes and a little pile of gold and silver. It was an impressive sight, and the cook breathed so hard that one note fluttered off the table. Three men dived to recover it, while Sam, alive for the first time to the responsibilities of wealth, anxiously watched the remainder of his capital.

“There’s something for you to buy sweets with, my lad,” he said, restored to good-humour as the note was replaced.

He passed over a small coin, and regarded with tolerant good-humour the extravagant manifestation of joy on the part of the youth which followed. He capered joyously for a minute or two, and than taking it to the foot of the steps, where the light was better, bit it ecstatically.

“How much is it?” inquired the wondering Steve. “You do chuck your money about, Sam.”

“On’y sixpence,” said Sam, laughing. “I expect if it ‘ad been a shillin’ it ‘ud ha’ turned his brain.”

“It ain’t a sixpence,” said the boy indignantly. “It’s ‘arf a suvrin’.”

“’Arf a wot?” exclaimed Mr. Dodds with a sudden change of manner.

“’Arf a suvrin’,” repeated the boy with nervous rapidity; “and thank-you very much, Sam, for your generosity. If everybody was like you we should all be the better for it The world ‘ud be a different place to live in,” concluded the youthful philosopher.

Mr. Dodd’s face under these fulsome praises was a study in conflicting emotions. “Well, don’t waste it,” he said at length, and hastily gathering up the remainder stowed it in the bag.

“What are you going to do with it all, Sam?” inquired Harry.

“I ain’t made up my mind yet,” said Mr. Dodds deliberately. “I ‘ave thought of ‘ouse property.”

“I don’t mean that,” said the other. “I mean, wot are you going to do with it now, to take care of it?”

“Why, keep it in my pocket,” said Sam, staring.

“Well, if I was you,” said Harry impressively, “I should ask the skipper to take care of it for me. You know wot you are when you’re a bit on, Sam.”

“Wot d’ yer mean?” demanded Mr. Dodds hotly.

“I mean,” said Harry hastily, “that you’ve got sich a generous nature that when you’ve ‘ad a glass or two you’re just as likely as not to give it away to somebody.”

“I know what I’m about,” said Mr. Dodds with conviction. “I’m not goin’ to get on while I’ve got this about me. I’m just goin’ round to the ‘Bull’s Head,’ but I shan’t drink anything to speak of myself. Anybody that likes to come t’ave anything at my expense is welcome.”

A flattering murmur, which was music to Mr. Dodds’ ear, arose from his shipmates as they went on deck and hauled the boat alongside. The boy was first in her, and pulling out his pocket-handkerchief ostentatiously wiped down a seat for Mr. Dodds.

“Understand,” said that gentleman, with whom the affair of the half-sovereign still rankled, “your drink is shandygaff.”

They returned to the brig at eleven o’clock, Mr. Dodds slumbering peacefully in the stern of the boat, propped up on either side by Steve and the boy.

His sleep was so profound that he declined to be aroused, and was hoisted over the side with infinite difficulty and no little risk by his shipmates.

“Look at ‘im,” said Harry, as they lowered him down the forecastle. “What ‘ud ha’ become of ‘im if we hadn’t been with ‘im? Where would ‘is money ha’ been?”

“He’ll lose it as sure as eggs is heggs,” said Steve, regarding him intently. “Bear a hand to lift ‘im in his bunk, Harry.”

Harry complied, their task being rendered somewhat difficult by a slight return of consciousness in Mr. Dodds’ lower limbs, which, spreading themselves out fan wise, defied all attempts to pack them in the bunk.

“Let ’em hang out then,” said Harry savagely, wiping a little mud from his face. “Fancy that coming in for a fortin.”

“’E won’t ‘ave it long,” said the cook, shaking his head.

“Wot ‘e wants is a shock,” said Harry. “’Ow’d it be when he wakes up to tell ‘im he’s lost all ‘is money?”

“Wot’s the good o’ telling ‘im,” demanded the cook, “when ‘e’s got it in his pocket?”

“Well, let’s take it out,” said Pilchard. “I’ll hide it under my piller, and let him think he’s ‘ad his pocket picked.”

“I won’t ‘ave nothing to do with it,” said Steve peremptorily. “I don’t believe in sich games.”

“Wot do you think, cook?” inquired Harry.

“I don’t see no ‘arm in it,” said the cook slowly; “the fright might do ‘im good, p’raps.”

“It might be the saving of ‘im,” said Harry. He leaned over the sleeping seaman, and, gently inserting his fingers in his breast-pocket, drew out the canvas bag. “There it is, chaps,” he said gaily; “an’ I’ll give ‘im sich a fright in the morning as he won’t forget in a ‘urry.”

He retired to his bunk, and placing the bag under his pillow, was soon fast asleep. The other men followed his example, and Steve extinguishing the lamp, the forecastle surrendered itself to sleep.

At five o’clock they were awakened by the voice of Mr. Dodds. It was a broken, disconnected sort of voice at first, like to that of a man talking in his sleep; but as Mr. Dodds’ head cleared his ideas cleared with it, and in strong, forcible language straight from the heart he consigned the eyes and limbs of some person or persons unknown to every variety of torment; after which, in a voice broken with emotion, he addressed himself in terms of heartbreaking sympathy.

“Shut up, Sam,” said Harry in a sleepy voice. “Why can’t you go to sleep?”

“Sleep be ‘anged,” said Mr. Dodds tearfully. “I’ve lorst all my money.”

“You’re dreamin’,” said Harry lightly; “pinch yourself.”

Mr. Dodds, who had a little breath left and a few words still comparatively fresh, bestowed them upon him.

“I tell you you haven’t lorst it,” said Harry. “Don’t you remember giving it to that red-‘aired woman with a baby?”

“Wot?” said the astounded Mr. Dodds.

“You give it to ‘er an’ told ‘er to buy the baby a bun with it,” continued the veracious Mr. Pilchard.

“Told ‘er to buy the baby a bun with it?” repeated Mr. Dodds in a dazed voice. “Told ‘er to—— Wot did you let me do it for? Wot was all you chaps standin’ by an’ doin’ to let me go an’ do it for?”

“We did arsk you not to,” said Steve, joining in the conversation.

Mr. Dodds finding language utterly useless to express his burning thoughts, sat down and madly smashed at the table with his fists.

“Wot was you a-doin’ to let me do it?” he demanded at length of the boy. “You ungrateful little toad. You can give me that ‘arf-suvrin back, d’ye hear?”

“I can’t,” said the boy. “I followed your example, and give it to the red-‘aired woman to buy the baby another bun with.”

There was a buzzing noise in Mr. Dodds’ head, and the bunks and their grinning occupants went round and round.

“’Ere, ‘old up, Sam,” said Pilchard, shaking him in alarm. “It’s all right; don’t be a fool. I’ve got the money.”

Sam stared at him blankly.

“I’ve got the money,” repeated the seaman.

Mr. Dodds’ colour came back.

“How’d you get it?” he inquired.

“I took it out of your pocket last night just to give you a lesson,” said Harry severely. “Don’t you never be so silly agin, Sam.”

“Gimme my money,” said Mr. Dodds, glaring at him.

“You might ha’ lorst it, you see, Sam,” continued his benefactor; “if I could take it, anybody else could. Let this be a lesson to you.”

“If you don’t grimme my money——” began Sam violently.

“It’s no good trying to do ‘im a kindness,” said Harry to the others as he turned to his bunk. “He can go an’ lose it for all I care.”

He put his hand in his bunk, and then with a sudden exclamation searched somewhat hastily amongst the bedding. Mr. Dodds, watching him with a scowl, saw him take every article separately out of his bunk, and then sink down appalled on the locker.

“You’ve took it, Sam—ain’t—you?” he gasped.

“Look ‘ere,” said Mr. Dodds, with ominous quietness, “when you’ve done your little game.”

“It’s gone,” said Harry in a scared voice; “somebody’s taken it.”

“Look ‘ere, ‘Arry, give ‘im his money,” said Steve impatiently; “a joke’s a joke, but we don’t want too much of it.”

“I ain’t got it,” said Harry, trembling. “Sure as I stand ‘ere it’s gone. I took it out of your pocket, and put it under my piller. You saw me, didn’t you, Steve?”

“Yes, and I told you not to,” said Steve. “Let this be a warning to you not to try and teach lessons to people wot don’t want ’em.”

“I’m going to the police-station to give ‘im in charge,” said Mr. Dodds fiercely; “that’s wot I’m goin’ to do.”

“For the Lord’s sake don’t do that, Sam,” said Pilchard, clutching him by the coat.

“’Arry ain’t made away with it, Sam,” said Steve. “I saw somebody take it out of his bunk while he was asleep.”

“Why didn’t you stop him?” cried Harry, starting up.

“I didn’t like to interfere,” said Steve simply; “but I saw where he went to.”

“Where?” demanded Mr. Dodds wildly. “Where?”

“He went straight up on deck,” said Steve slowly, “walked aft, and then down into the cabin. The skipper woke up, and I heard ‘im say something to him.”

“Say something to ‘im?” repeated the bewildered Dodds. “Wot was it?”

“Well, I ‘ardly like to repeat it,” said Steve, hesitating.

“Wot was it?” roared the overwrought Mr. Dodds.

“Well, I ‘eard this chap say something,” said Steve slowly, “and then I heard the skipper’s voice. But I don’t like to repeat wot ‘e said, I reely don’t.”

“Wot was it?” roared Mr. Dodds, approaching him with clenched fist.

“Well, if you will have it,” said Steve, with a little cough, “the old man said to me, ‘Well done, Steve,’ he ses, ‘you’re the only sensible man of the whole bilin’ lot. Sam’s a fool,’ ‘e ses, ‘and ‘Arrys worse, an’ if it wasn’t for men like you, Steve, life wouldn’t be worth living.’ The skipper’s got it now, Sam, and ‘e’s goin’ to give it to your wife to take care of as soon as we get home.”

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