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The understudy, p.1
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       The Understudy, p.1

           W. W. Jacobs
 
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The Understudy


  Produced by David Widger

  NIGHT WATCHES

  by W.W. Jacobs

  THE UNDERSTUDY

  The Understudy

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

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

  Some people can't make too much of 'em. They talk about a dog's honesteyes and his faithful 'art. I 'ad a dog once, and I never saw his eyeslook 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 tolive in my street told me he 'ad been in jail three times because dogsfollered him 'ome and wouldn't go away when he told 'em to. He saidthat some men would ha' kicked 'em out into the street, but he thoughttheir 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: Iremembered a dog that took a fancy to old Sam Small and Ginger Dick andPeter 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 amusic-'all the night afore because a man Ginger Dick had punched in thejaw wouldn't behave 'imself, they said they'd spend the rest o' theirmoney on beer instead. There was just the three of 'em sitting bythemselves in a cosy little bar, when the door was pushed open and a bigblack dog came in.

  He came straight up to Sam and licked his 'and. Sam was eating aarrowroot biscuit with a bit o' cheese on it at the time. He wasn't wotyou'd call a partickler sort o' man, but, seeing as 'ow the dog was socareless 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 upon 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 countrybred.

  He bought a sausage-roll, and him and the dog ate it between 'em. ThenGinger Dick bought one and gave it to 'im, and by the time it wasfinished 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 thecollar, Peter?"

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

  Old Sam, wot was always on the look-out for money, put his beer down andwiped 'is mouth. "There might be a reward out for 'im," he ses. "Ithink 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'llgo shares. Mind that!"

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

  "No," ses Ginger. "Don't you flatter yourself. He came up to youbecause 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 andlooked 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 Iset eyes on 'im. Mind you don't get 'im stole."

  He finished up 'is beer and went out; and he 'ad 'ardly gone aforeGinger took a piece o' thick string out of 'is pocket and fastened it tothe 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 thestring, 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 feelcomfortable in my mind till we've got the dog safe 'ome. P'r'aps thepeople wot 'ave lost it are looking for it now."

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

  "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 beingdragged along on its stummick. He didn't know its name, but 'e calledit a few things that seemed to ease 'is mind, and then he 'anded overthe string to Sam, wot 'ad been asking for it, and told 'im to see wothe could do.

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

  "And be locked up for stealing it, p'r'aps," ses Ginger. "Better let itgo, 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 fourpeople 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 itwas in the cabman told 'em to take it out agin. They argufied with 'imtill their tongues ached, and at last, arter paying 'im four shillingsand 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 becareful because o' the landlady. It took the three of 'em to pull andpush that dog upstairs, and Ginger took a dislike to dogs that 'e neverreally 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 andPeter started to find fault with Sam Small.

  "I know wot I'm about," ses Sam; "but, o' course, if you don't want yourshare, 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'regoing to'ave it."

  They undressed themselves and got into bed, and Ginger 'adn't been inhis five minutes afore the dog started to get in with 'im. When Gingerpushed '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 counterpanein 'is mouth and tried to drag it off.

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

  Ginger gave the dog a punch in the chest, and, arter saying a few o' thethings he'd like to do to Sam Small, he cuddled down in 'is bed and theyall 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 andputting his fore-paws on their chest to see if they was still alive, hedid arf-a-dozen times.

  He dropped off to sleep at last, scratching 'imself, but about threeo'clock in the morning Ginger woke up with a 'orrible start and sat upin bed shivering. Sam and Peter woke up, too, and, raising
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