The Unknown, p.1W. W. Jacobs
Produced by David Widger
by W.W. Jacobs
"Handsome is as 'andsome does," said the night-watchman. It's an oldsaying, but it's true. Give a chap good looks, and it's precious littleelse that is given to 'im. He's lucky when 'is good looks 'ave gorn--orpartly gorn--to get a berth as night-watchman or some other hard andbad-paid job.
One drawback to a good-looking man is that he generally marries young;not because 'e wants to, but because somebody else wants 'im to. Andthat ain't the worst of it: the handsomest chap I ever knew married fivetimes, and got seven years for it. It wasn't his fault, pore chap; hesimply couldn't say No.
One o' the best-looking men I ever knew was Cap'n Bill Smithers, wotused to come up here once a week with a schooner called the Wild Rose.Funny thing about 'im was he didn't seem to know about 'is good looks,and he was one o' the quietest, best-behaved men that ever came up theLondon river. Considering that he was mistook for me more than once, itwas just as well.
He didn't marry until 'e was close on forty; and then 'e made themistake of marrying a widder-woman. She was like all the rest of 'em--only worse. Afore she was married butter wouldn't melt in 'er mouth,but as soon as she 'ad got her "lines" safe she began to make up for it.
For the fust month or two 'e didn't mind it, 'e rather liked beingfussed arter, but when he found that he couldn't go out for arf an hourwithout having 'er with 'im he began to get tired of it. Her idea wasthat 'e was too handsome to be trusted out alone; and every trip he made'e had to write up in a book, day by day, wot 'e did with himself. Eventhen she wasn't satisfied, and, arter saying that a wife's place was bythe side of 'er husband, she took to sailing with 'im every v'y'ge.
Wot he could ha' seen in 'er I don't know. I asked 'im one evening--ina roundabout way--and he answered in such a long, roundabout way that Ididn't know wot to make of it till I see that she was standing justbehind me, listening. Arter that I heard 'er asking questions about me,but I didn't 'ave to listen: I could hear 'er twenty yards away, andsinging to myself at the same time.
Arter that she treated me as if I was the dirt beneath 'er feet. Shenever spoke to me, but used to speak against me to other people. Shewas always talking to them about the "sleeping-sickness" and things o'that kind. She said night-watchmen always made 'er think of it somehow,but she didn't know why, and she couldn't tell you if you was to askher. The only thing I was thankful for was that I wasn't 'er husband.She stuck to 'im like his shadow, and I began to think at last it was apity she 'adn't got some thing to be jealous about and something tooccupy her mind with instead o' me.
"She ought to 'ave a lesson," I ses to the skipper one evening. "Areyou going to be follered about like this all your life? If she was madeto see the foolishness of 'er ways she might get sick of it."
My idea was to send her on a wild-goose chase, and while the Wild Rosewas away I thought it out. I wrote a love-letter to the skipper signedwith the name of "Dorothy," and asked 'im to meet me at Cleopatra'sNeedle on the Embankment at eight o'clock on Wednesday. I told 'im tolook out for a tall girl (Mrs. Smithers was as short as they make 'em)with mischievous brown eyes, in a blue 'at with red roses on it.
I read it over careful, and arter marking it "Private," twice in frontand once on the back, I stuck it down so that it could be blown opena'most, and waited for the schooner to come back. Then I gave a van-boytwopence to 'and it to Mrs. Smithers, wot was sitting on the deck alone,and tell 'er it was a letter for Captain Smithers.
I was busy with a barge wot happened to be handy at the time, but I'eard her say that she would take it and give it to 'im. When I peepedround she 'ad got the letter open and was leaning over the side towind'ard trying to get 'er breath. Every now and then she'd giveanother look at the letter and open 'er mouth and gasp; but by and byshe got calmer, and, arter putting it back in the envelope, she gave ita lick as though she was going to bite it, and stuck it down agin. Thenshe went off the wharf, and I'm blest if, five minutes arterwards, ayoung fellow didn't come down to the ship with the same letter and askfor the skipper.
"Who gave it you?" ses the skipper, as soon as 'e could speak.
"A lady," ses the young fellow.
The skipper waved 'im away, and then 'e walked up and down the deck likea man in a dream.
"Bad news?" I ses, looking up and catching 'is eye.
"No," he ses, "no. Only a note about a couple o' casks o' soda."
He stuffed the letter in 'is pocket and sat on the side smoking till hiswife came back in five minutes' time, smiling all over with good temper.
"It's a nice evening," she ses, "and I think I'll just run over toDalston and see my Cousin Joe."
The skipper got up like a lamb and said he'd go and clean 'imself.
"You needn't come if you feel tired," she ses, smiling at 'im.
The skipper could 'ardly believe his ears.
"I do feel tired," he ses. "I've had a heavy day, and I feel more likebed than anything else."
"You turn in, then," she ses. "I'll be all right by myself."
She went down and tidied herself up--not that it made much difference to'er--and, arter patting him on the arm and giving me a stare that wouldha' made most men blink, she took herself off.
I was pretty busy that evening. Wot with shifting lighters from underthe jetty and sweeping up, it was pretty near ha'-past seven afore I 'ada minute I could call my own. I put down the broom at last, and wasjust thinking of stepping round to the Bull's Head for a 'arf-pint whenI see Cap'n Smithers come off the ship on to the wharf and walk to thegate.
"I thought you was going to turn in?" I ses.
"I did think of it," he ses, "then I thought p'r'aps I'd better strollas far as Broad Street and meet my wife."
It was all I could do to keep a straight face. I'd a pretty good ideawhere she 'ad gorn; and it wasn't Dalston.
"Come in and 'ave 'arf a pint fust," I ses.
"No; I shall be late," he ses, hurrying off.
I went in and 'ad a glass by myself, and stood there so long thinking ofMrs. Smithers walking up and down by Cleopatra's Needle that at last thelandlord fust asked me wot I was laughing at, and then offered to makeme laugh the other side of my face. And then he wonders why people goto the Albion.
I locked the gate rather earlier than usual that night. Sometimes ifI'm up that end I leave it a bit late, but I didn't want Mrs. Smithersto come along and nip in without me seeing her face.
It was ten o'clock afore I heard the bell go, and when I opened thewicket and looked out I was surprised to see that she 'ad got theskipper with 'er. And of all the miserable-looking objects I ever sawin my life he was the worst. She 'ad him tight by the arm, and therewas a look on 'er face that a'most scared me.
"Did you go all the way to Dalston for her?" I ses to 'im.
Mrs. Smithers made a gasping sort o' noise, but the skipper didn'tanswer a word.
She shoved him in in front of 'er and stood ever 'im while he climbedaboard. When he held out 'is hand to help 'er she struck it away.
I didn't get word with 'im till five o'clock next morning, when he cameup on deck with his 'air all rough and 'is eyes red for want of sleep.
"Haven't 'ad a wink all night," he ses, stepping on to the wharf.
I gave a little cough. "Didn't she 'ave a pleasant time at Dalston?" Ises.
He walked a little further off from the ship. "She didn't go there," heses, in a whisper.
"You've got something on your mind," I ses. "Wot is it?"
He wouldn't tell me at fust, but at last he told me all about the letterfrom Dorothy, and 'is wife reading it unbeknown to 'im and going to meet'er.
"It was an awful meeting!" he ses. "Awful!"
I couldn't think wot to make of it. "Was the gal there, then?" I ses,staring at 'im.
"No," ses the skipper; "but I was."
"You?" I ses, starting back. "You! Wot for?
The Unknown by W. W. Jacobs / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on20 votes