The Disbursement Sheet by W. W. Jacobs

The old man was dead, and his son Edward reigned in his stead. The old man had risen from a humble position in life; his rule was easy, and his manner of conducting business eminently approved of by the rough old seamen who sailed his small craft round the coast, and by that sharp clerk Simmons, on whose discovery the old man was wont, at times, to hug himself in secret. The proceedings, when one of his skippers came home from a voyage, were severely simple. The skipper would produce a bag, and, emptying it upon the table, give an account of his voyage; whenever he came to an expenditure, raking the sum out of the heap, until, at length, the cash was divided into two portions, one of which went to the owner, the other to the skipper.

But other men other manners. The books of the inimitable Simmons being overhauled, revealed the startling fact that they were kept by single entry; in addition to which, a series of dots and dashes appeared against the figures forming a code, the only key to which was locked up somewhere in Simmons’s interior.

“It’s a wonder the firm hasn’t gone bankrupt long ago,” said the new governor, after the clerk had explained the meaning of various signs and wonders. “What does this starfish against the entry mean?”

“It isn’t a starfish, sir,” said Simmons; “it means that one bag of sugar got wetted a little; then, if the consignees notice it, we shall know we have got to allow for it.”

“A pretty way of doing business, upon my word. It’ll all have to be altered,” said the other. “I must have new offices too; this dingy little hole is enough to frighten people away.”

The conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Captain Fazackerly, of the schooner Sarah Ann, who, having just brought up in the river, had hastened to the office to report.

“Mornin’, sir,” said the captain respectfully; “I’m glad to see you here, sir, but the office don’t seem real-like without your father sitting in it. He was a good master, and we’re all sorry to lose him.”

“You’re very good,” said the new master somewhat awkwardly.

“I expect it’ll take some time for you to get into the way of it,” said the captain, with a view to giving the conversation a more cheerful turn.

“I expect it will,” said the new master, thinking of the starfish.

“It’s a mercy Simmons wasn’t took too,” said the captain, shaking his head. “As it is, he’s spared; he’ll be able to teach you. There ain’t”—he lowered his voice, not wishing to make Simmons unduly proud—“there ain’t a smarter clerk in all Liverpool than wot he is.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” said the new master, regarding the old man with raised eyebrows, as he extricated a plethoric-looking canvas bag from his jacket pocket and dropped it with a musical crash on the chipped office table. His eyebrows went still higher, as the old man unfastened the string, and emptying the contents on to the table, knitted his brows into reflective wrinkles, and began to debit the firm with all the liabilities of a slow but tenacious memory.

“Oh, come,” said the owner sharply, as the old man lovingly hooked out the sum of five-and sixpence as a first instalment, “this won’t do, cap’n.”

“Wot won’t do, Mas’r Edward?” inquired the old man in surprise.

“Why, this way of doing business,” said the other. “It’s not businesslike at all, you know.”

“Well, it’s the way me an’ your pore old father has done it this last thirty year,” said the skipper, “an’ I’m sure I’ve never knowingly cheated him out of a ha’penny; and a better man o’ business than your father never breathed.”

“Yes; well, I’m going to do things a bit differently,” said the new master. “You must give me a proper disbursement sheet, cap’n, if you please.”

“And what may that be?” inquired Captain Fazackerly, as with great slowness he gathered up the money and replaced it in the bag; “I never heard of it afore.”

“Well, I haven’t got time to teach you bookkeeping,” said the other, somewhat nettled at the old man’s manner. “Can’t you get some of your brother captains to show you? Some deep-sea man would be sure to know.”

“I’ll see what I can do, sir,” said the skipper slowly, as he turned towards the door. “My word was always good enough for your father.”

In a moody, indignant frame of mind he stuck his hands furiously in his trousers’ pockets, and passed heavily through the swing-doors. At other times he had been wont to take a genial, if heavy interest in passing events; but, in this instance, he plodded on, dwelling darkly upon his grievance, until he reached, by the mere force of habit, a certain favourite tavern. He pulled up sharply, and, as a mere matter of duty and custom, and not because he wanted it, went in and ordered a glass of gin.

He drank three, and was so hazy in his replies to the young lady behind the bar, usually a prime favourite, that she took offence, and availing herself, for private reasons, of a public weapon, coldly declined to serve him with a fourth.

“Wot?” said the astounded Fazackerly, coming out of his haze.

“You’ve had enough!” said the girl firmly. “You get aboard again, and mind how you do so.”

The skipper gazed at her for a moment in open-mouthed horror, and then jamming his hat firmly over his brows, stumbled out of the door and into the street, where he ran full into the arms of another mariner who was just entering.

“Why, Zacky, my boy,” cried the latter, clapping him lustily on the back, “how goes it?”

In broken, indignant accents the other told him.

“You come in with me,” said the new-comer.

“I’ll never enter that pub again,” said the skipper.

“You come in with me,” said the master-mind firmly.

Captain Fazackerly hesitated a moment, and then, feeling that he was safe in the hands of the master of a foreign-going barque, followed him into the bar, and from behind his back glared defiantly at his fair foe.

“Two glasses o’ gin, my dear,” said Captain Tweedie with the slightest possible emphasis.

The girl, who knew her customer, served him without a murmur, deftly avoiding the gaze of ungenerous triumph with which the injured captain favoured her as he raised the cooling beverage to his lips. The glass emptied, he placed it on the counter and sighed despondently.

“There’s something up with you, Zacky,” said Tweedie, eyeing him closely as he bit the end off a cigar; “you’ve got something on your mind.”

“I’ve been crool hurt,” said his friend in a hard, cold voice. “My word ain’t good enough for the new guv’nor; he wants what he calls a disbursement sheet.”

“Well, give him one,” said Tweedie. “You know what it is, don’t you?”

Captain Fazackerly shook his head, and pushing the glasses along the counter nodded for them to be refilled.

“You come aboard with me,” said Tweedie after they had emptied them.

Captain Fazackerly, who had a doglike faith in his friend, followed him into the street and on to his barque. In a general way he experienced a social rise when he entered the commodious cabin of that noble craft, and his face grew in importance as his host, after motioning him to a seat, placed a select array of writing materials before him.

“I s’pose I’ve got to do it,” he said slowly.

“Of course you have,” said Tweedie, rolling his cigar between his thin lips; “you’ve got orders to do so, haven’t you? We must all obey those above us. What would you do if one of your men refused to obey an order of yours?”

“Hit him in the face,” said Captain Fazackerly with simple directness.

“Just so,” said Tweedie, who was always ready to impart moral teaching. “And when your governor asks for a disbursement sheet you’ve got to give him one. Now, then, head that paper—Voyage of the Sarah Ann, 180 tons register, Garston Docks to Limerick.”

The captain squared his elbows, and, for a few seconds, nothing was heard but his stertorous breathing and the scratching of the pen; then a muttered execration, and Captain Fazackerly put down his pen with a woebegone air.

“What’s the matter?” said Tweedie.

“I’ve spelt register without the ‘d,’” said the other; “that’s what comes o’ being worried.”

“It don’t matter,” said Tweedie hastily. “Now what about stores? Wait a bit, though; of course ye repaired your side-lamps before starting?”

“Lor’, no!” said Captain Fazackerly, staring; “what for? They were all right.”

“Ye lie,” said Tweedie sternly, “you did! To repairs to side-lamps, ten shillings. Now then, did you paint her this trip?”

“I did,” said the other, looking at the last entry in a fascinated fashion.

“Let’s see,” said Tweedie meditatively—“we’ll say five gallons of black varnish at one shilling and threepence a gallon—”

“No, no,” said the scribe; “I used gas tar at threepence a gallon.”

“Five gallons black varnish, one shilling and threepence a gallon, six-and-threepence,” said Tweedie, raising his voice a little; “have you got that down?”

After a prolonged struggle with his feelings the other said he had.

“Twenty-eight pounds black paint at twopence a pound,” continued Tweedie.

“Nay, nay,” said the skipper; “I allus saves the soot out of the galley for that.”

The other captain took his cigar from his lips and gazed severely at his guest.

“Am I dealing with a chimney-sweep or a ship’s captain?” he inquired plaintively; “it would simplify matters a bit if I knew.”

“Go on, Captain Tweedie,” said the other, turning a fine purple colour; “how much did you say it was?”

“Twenty-eight twos equals fifty-six; that’s four-and-ninepence,” continued Tweedie, his face relaxing to receive the cigar again; “and twenty-eight pounds white lead at twenty-eight shillings a hundredweight—”

“Three penn’orth o’ whiting’s good enough for me, matey,” said Captain Fazackerly, making a stand.

“See here,” said Tweedie, “who’s making out this disbursement sheet, you or me?”

“You are,” said the other.

“Very good then,” said his friend; “now don’t you interrupt. I don’t mind telling you, you must never use rubbish o’ that sort in a disbursement sheet. It looks bad for the firm. If any other owners saw that in your old man’s sheet he’d never hear the end of it, and he’d never forgive you. That’ll be—what did I say? Seven shillings. And now we come to the voyage. Ye had a tug to give ye a pluck out to the bar?”

“No; we went out with a fair wind,” said Captain Fazackerly, toying with his pen.

“Ye lie; ye had a tug out to the bar,” repeated Tweedie wearily. “Did ye share the towing?”

“Why, no, I tell ‘e—”

“That’ll be three pounds then,” said Tweedie. “If ye’d shared it it would have been two pound ten. You should always study your owner in these matters, cap’n. Now, what about bad weather? Any repairs to the sails?”

“Ay, we had a lot o’ damage,” said Fazackerly, laying down his pen; “it took us days to repair ’em. Cost us four pounds. We had to put into Holyhead for shelter.”

“Four pounds!” said Tweedie, his voice rising almost to a scream.

“Ay, all that,” said Fazackerly very solemnly.

“Look here,” said Tweedie in a choked voice. “Blown away fore lower topsail, fore-staysail, and carried away lifts to staysail. To sailmaker for above, eleven pounds eighteen shillings and ten-pence. Then ye say ye put into Holyhead for shelter. Well, here in entering harbour we’ll say loss of port anchor and thirty fathoms of chain cable—”

“Man alive,” said the overwrought skipper, hitting the table heavily with his fist, “the old anchor’s there for him to see.”

“To divers for recovering same, and placing on deck, two pound ten,” continued Tweedie, raising his voice. “Did you do any damage going into dock at Limerick?”

“More than we’ve done for years,” said Fazackerly, and shaking his head, entered into voluminous details; “total, seven pounds.”

“Seven pounds!” said the exasperated Tweedie. “Seven pounds for all that, and your insurance don’t begin till twenty-five pounds. Why, damme, you ain’t fit to be trusted out with a ship. I firmly b’lieve if you lost her you’d send in a bill for a suit of clothes, and call it square. Now take this down, and larn a business way o’ doing things. In entering dock, carried away starboard cathead and started starboard chain plates; held survey of damage done: decided to take off channel bends, renew through bolts, straighten plates and replace same; also to renew cathead and caulk ship’s side in wake of plate, six seams, &c. &c. There, now, that looks better. Twenty-seven pounds eighteen and seven-pence halfpenny, and I think, for all that damage, it’s a very reasonable bill. Can you remember anything else?”

“You’ve got a better memory than I have,” said his admiring friend. “Wait a bit, though; yes, I had my poor old dog washed overboard.”

“Dog!” said the deep-sea man; “we can’t put dogs in a disbursement sheet. ‘Tain’t business.”

“My old master would have given me another one, though,” grumbled Fazackerly. “I wouldn’t ha’ parted with that dog for anything. He knew as much as you or me, that dog did. I never knew him to bite an officer, but I don’t think there was ever a man came on the ship but what he’d have a bit out of, sooner or later.”

“Them sort of dogs do get washed overboard,” said Tweedie impatiently.

“Boys he couldn’t abear,” pursued the other, in tones of tender reminiscence; “the mere sight of a boarding-school of ’em out for a walk would give him hydrophoby almost.”

“Just so,” said Tweedie. “Ah! there’s cork fenders; ye may pick them up floating down the river, or they may come aboard in the night from a craft alongside; they’re changeable sort o’ things, but in the disbursement sheet they must go, and best quality too, four-and-sixpence each. Anything else?”

“There’s the dog,” said Fazackerly persistently.

“Copper nails, tenpence,” said Tweedie the dictator.

“Haven’t bought any for months,” said the other, but slowly entering it.

“Well, it ain’t exactly right,” said Tweedie, shrugging his shoulders, “but you’re so set on him going in.”

“Him? Who?” asked Captain Fazackerly, staring.

“The dog,” said Tweedie; “if he goes in as copper nails, he won’t be noticed.”

“If he goes in as tenpence, I’m a Dutchman,” said the bereaved owner, scoring out the copper nails. “You never knew that dog properly, Tweedie.”

“Well, never mind about the dog,” said Tweedie; “let’s cast the sheet. What do you think it comes to?”

“’Bout thirty pun’,” hazarded the other.

“Thirty fiddlesticks,” retorted Tweedie; “there you are in black and white—sixty-three pounds eighteen shillings and tenpence ha’penny.”

“And is that what Mas’r Edward wants?” inquired Captain Fazackerly, gasping.

“Yes; that’s a properly drawn up disbursement sheet,” said Tweedie in satisfied tones. “You see how it simplifies matters. The governor can see at a glance how things stand, while, if you trusted to your memory, you might forget something, or else claim something you didn’t have.”

“I ought to have had them things afore,” said Captain Fazackerly, shaking his head solemnly. “I’d ha’ been riding in my carriage by now.”

“Never ye dream of having another v’y’ge without one,” said Tweedie. “I doubt whether it’s lawful to render an account without one.”

He folded the paper, and handed it to his friend, who, after inspecting it with considerable pride, tucked it carefully away in his breast pocket.

“Take it up in the morning,” said Tweedie. “We’ll have a bit o’ tea down here, and then we’ll go round a bit afterwards.”

Captain Fazackerly having no objection, they had tea first, and then, accompanied by the first mate, went out to christen the disbursement sheet. The ceremony, which was of great length, was solemnly impressive towards the finish. Captain Tweedie, who possessed a very sensitive, highly-strung nature, finding it necessary to put a licensed victualler out of his own house before it could be completed to his satisfaction.

The one thing which Captain Fazackerly remembered clearly the next morning when he awoke was the disbursement sheet. He propped it against the coffee-pot during breakfast, and read selections to his admiring mate, and after a refreshing toilet, proceeded to the office. Simmons was already there, and before the skipper could get to the purpose of his visit, the head of the firm arrived.

“I’ve just brought the disbursement sheet you asked for, sir,” said the skipper, drawing it from his pocket.

“Ah! you’ve got it, then,” said the new governor, with a gracious smile; “you see it wasn’t so much trouble after all.”

“I don’t mind the trouble, sir,” interrupted Captain Fazackerly.

“You see it puts things on a better footing,” said the other. “I can see at a glance now how things stand, and Simmons can enter the items straight away into the books of the firm. It’s more satisfactory to both of us. Sit down, cap’n.”

The captain sat down, his face glowing with this satisfactory recognition of his work.

“I met Cap’n Hargreaves as I was a-coming up,” he said; “and I explained to him your ideas on the subject, an’ he went straight back, as straight as he could go, to make out his disbursement sheet.”

“Ah! we shall soon have things on a better footing now,” said the governor, unfolding the paper, while the skipper gazed abstractedly through the small, dirty panes of the office window at the bustle on the quay below.

For a short space there was silence in the office, broken only by the half-audible interjections of the reader. Then he spoke.

“Simmons!” he said sharply.

The old clerk slipped from his stool, and obeying the motions of his employer inspected, in great astonishment, the first disbursement sheet which had ever entered the office. He read through every item in an astonished whisper, and, having finished, followed the governor’s example and gazed at the heavy figure by the window.

“Captain Fazackerly,” said his employer, at length, breaking a painful silence.

“Sir,” said the captain, turning his head a little.

“I’ve been talking with Simmons about these disbursement sheets,” said the owner, somewhat awkwardly; “Simmons is afraid they’ll give him a lot of extra trouble.”

The captain turned his head a little more, and gazed stolidly at the astonished Simmons.

“A man oughtn’t to mind a little extra trouble if the firm wishes it,” he said somewhat severely.

“He’s afraid it would throw his books out a bit,” continued the owner, deftly avoiding the gaze of the injured clerk. “You see, Simmons’ book-keeping is of the old-fashioned kind, cap’n, star-fishes and all that kind of thing,” he continued, incoherently, as the gaze of Simmons, refusing to be longer avoided, broke the thread of his discourse. “So I think we’ll put the paper on the fire, cap’n, and do business in the old way. Have you got the money with you?”

“I have, sir,” said Fazackerly, feeling in his pocket, as he mournfully watched his last night’s work blazing up the chimney.

“Fire away, then,” said the owner, almost cordially.

Captain Fazackerly advanced to the table, and clearing his throat, fixed his eyes in a reflective stare on the opposite wall and commenced:—

“Blown away fore lower topsail, fore-staysail, and carried away lifts to staysail. To sailmaker for above, eleven pounds eighteen shillings and ten-pence,” he said, with relish. “Tug out to the bar, three pounds. To twenty-eight pounds black soot, I mean paint—”

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