Bills lapse, p.1
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       Bill's Lapse, p.1

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Bills Lapse

  Produced by David Widger


  By W.W. Jacobs


  Strength and good-nature--said the night-watchman, musingly, as he felthis biceps--strength and good-nature always go together. Sometimes youfind a strong man who is not good-natured, but then, as everybody hecomes in contack with is, it comes to the same thing.

  The strongest and kindest-'earted man I ever come across was a man o' thename of Bill Burton, a ship-mate of Ginger Dick's. For that matter 'ewas a shipmate o' Peter Russet's and old Sam Small's too. Not over andabove tall; just about my height, his arms was like another man's legsfor size, and 'is chest and his back and shoulders might ha' been madefor a giant. And with all that he'd got a soft blue eye like a gal's(blue's my favourite colour for gals' eyes), and a nice, soft, curlybrown beard. He was an A.B., too, and that showed 'ow good-natured hewas, to pick up with firemen.

  He got so fond of 'em that when they was all paid off from the _OceanKing_ he asked to be allowed to join them in taking a room ashore. Itpleased every-body, four coming cheaper than three, and Bill being thatgood-tempered that 'e'd put up with anything, and when any of the threequarrelled he used to act the part of peacemaker.

  "When any of the three quarrelled he used to act the partof peacemaker."]

  The only thing about 'im that they didn't like was that 'e was ateetotaler. He'd go into public-'ouses with 'em, but he wouldn't drink;leastways, that is to say, he wouldn't drink beer, and Ginger used to saythat it made 'im feel uncomfortable to see Bill put away a bottle o'lemonade every time they 'ad a drink. One night arter 'e had 'adseventeen bottles he could 'ardly got home, and Peter Russet, who knew alot about pills and such-like, pointed out to 'im 'ow bad it was for hisconstitushon. He proved that the lemonade would eat away the coats o'Bill's stomach, and that if 'e kept on 'e might drop down dead at anymoment.

  That frightened Bill a bit, and the next night, instead of 'avinglemonade, 'e had five bottles o' stone ginger-beer, six of differentkinds of teetotal beer, three of soda-water, and two cups of coffee. I'mnot counting the drink he 'ad at the chemist's shop arterward, because hetook that as medicine, but he was so queer in 'is inside next morningthat 'e began to be afraid he'd 'ave to give up drink altogether.

  He went without the next night, but 'e was such a generous man that 'ewould pay every fourth time, and there was no pleasure to the other chapsto see 'im pay and 'ave nothing out of it. It spoilt their evening, andowing to 'aving only about 'arf wot they was accustomed to they all gotup very disagreeable next morning.

  "Why not take just a little beer, Bill?" asks Ginger.

  Bill 'ung his 'ead and looked a bit silly. "I'd rather not, mate," heses, at last. "I've been teetotal for eleven months now."

  "Think of your 'ealth, Bill," ses Peter Russet; "your 'ealth is moreimportant than the pledge. Wot made you take it?"

  Bill coughed. "I 'ad reasons," he ses, slowly. "A mate o' mine wishedme to."

  "He ought to ha' known better," ses Sam. "He 'ad 'is reasons," ses Bill.

  "Well, all I can say is, Bill," ses Ginger, "all I can say is, it's verydisobligin' of you."

  "Disobligin'?" ses Bill, with a start; "don't say that, mate."

  "I must say it," ses Ginger, speaking very firm.

  "You needn't take a lot, Bill," ses Sam; "nobody wants you to do that.Just drink in moderation, same as wot we do."

  "It gets into my 'ead," ses Bill, at last.

  "Well, and wot of it?" ses Ginger; "it gets into everybody's 'eadoccasionally. Why, one night old Sam 'ere went up behind a policeman andtickled 'im under the arms; didn't you, Sam?"

  "I did nothing o' the kind," ses Sam, firing up.

  "Well, you was fined ten bob for it next morning, that's all I know," sesGinger.

  "I was fined ten bob for punching 'im," ses old Sam, very wild. "I nevertickled a policeman in my life. I never thought o' such a thing. I'd nomore tickle a policeman than I'd fly. Anybody that ses I did is a liar.Why should I? Where does the sense come in? Wot should I want to do itfor?"

  "All right, Sam," ses Ginger, sticking 'is fingers in 'is ears, "youdidn't, then."

  "No, I didn't," ses Sam, "and don't you forget it. This ain't the fusttime you've told that lie about me. I can take a joke with any man; butanybody that goes and ses I tickled--"

  "All right," ses Ginger and Peter Russet together. "You'll 'ave tickledpoliceman on the brain if you ain't careful, Sam," ses Peter.

  Old Sam sat down growling, and Ginger Dick turned to Bill agin. "It getsinto everybody's 'ead at times," he ses, "and where's the 'arm? It's wotit was meant for."

  Bill shook his 'ead, but when Ginger called 'im disobligin' agin he gaveway and he broke the pledge that very evening with a pint o' six 'arf.

  Ginger was surprised to see the way 'e took his liquor. Arter three orfour pints he'd expected to see 'im turn a bit silly, or sing, or dosomething o' the kind, but Bill kept on as if 'e was drinking water.

  "Think of the 'armless pleasure you've been losing all these months,Bill," ses Ginger, smiling at him.

  Bill said it wouldn't bear thinking of, and, the next place they came tohe said some rather 'ard things of the man who'd persuaded 'im to takethe pledge. He 'ad two or three more there, and then they began to seethat it was beginning to have an effect on 'im. The first one thatnoticed it was Ginger Dick. Bill 'ad just lit 'is pipe, and as he threwthe match down he ses: "I don't like these 'ere safety matches," he ses.

  "Don't you, Bill?" ses Ginger. "I do, rather."

  "Oh, you do, do you?" ses Bill, turning on 'im like lightning; "well,take that for contradictin'," he ses, an' he gave Ginger a smack thatnearly knocked his 'ead off.

  It was so sudden that old Sam and Peter put their beer down and stared ateach other as if they couldn't believe their eyes. Then they stoopeddown and helped pore Ginger on to 'is legs agin and began to brush 'imdown.

  "Never mind about 'im, mates," ses Bill, looking at Ginger very wicked."P'r'aps he won't be so ready to give me 'is lip next time. Let's cometo another pub and enjoy ourselves."

  Sam and Peter followed 'im out like lambs, 'ardly daring to look overtheir shoulder at Ginger, who was staggering arter them some distancebehind a 'olding a handerchief to 'is face.

  "It's your turn to pay, Sam," ses Bill, when they'd got inside the nextplace. "Wot's it to be? Give it a name."

  "Three 'arf pints o' four ale, miss," ses Sam, not because 'e was mean,but because it wasn't 'is turn. "Three wot?" ses Bill, turning on 'im.

  "Three pots o' six ale, miss," ses Sam, in a hurry.

  "That wasn't wot you said afore," ses Bill. "Take that," he ses, givingpore old Sam a wipe in the mouth and knocking 'im over a stool; "takethat for your sauce."

  Peter Russet stood staring at Sam and wondering wot Bill ud be like whenhe'd 'ad a little more. Sam picked hisself up arter a time and wentoutside to talk to Ginger about it, and then Bill put 'is arm roundPeter's neck and began to cry a bit and say 'e was the only pal he'd gotleft in the world. It was very awkward for Peter, and more awkward stillwhen the barman came up and told 'im to take Bill outside.

  "Go on," he ses, "out with 'im."

  "He's all right," ses Peter, trembling; "we's the truest-'arted gentlemanin London. Ain't you, Bill?"

  Bill said he was, and 'e asked the barman to go and hide 'is face becauseit reminded 'im of a little dog 'e had 'ad once wot 'ad died.

  "You get outside afore you're hurt," ses the bar-man.

  Bill punched at 'im over the bar, and not being able to reach 'im threwPeter's pot o' beer at 'im. There was a fearful to-do then, and thelandlord jumped over the bar and stood in the
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