A golden venture, p.1
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       A Golden Venture, p.1

           W. W. Jacobs
 
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A Golden Venture


  Produced by David Widger

  THE LADY OF THE BARGE

  AND OTHER STORIES

  By W. W. Jacobs

  A GOLDEN VENTURE

  The elders of the Tidger family sat at breakfast--Mrs. Tidger with kneeswide apart and the youngest Tidger nestling in the valley of print-dresswhich lay between, and Mr. Tidger bearing on one moleskin knee a smallcopy of himself in a red flannel frock and a slipper. The larger Tidgerchildren took the solids of their breakfast up and down the stone-flaggedcourt outside, coming in occasionally to gulp draughts of very weak teafrom a gallipot or two which stood on the table, and to wheedle Mr.Tidger out of any small piece of bloater which he felt generous enoughto bestow.

  "Peg away, Ann," said Mr. Tidger, heartily.

  His wife's elder sister shook her head, and passing the remains of herslice to one of her small nephews, leaned back in her chair. "Noappetite, Tidger," she said, slowly.

  "You should go in for carpentering," said Mr. Tidger, in justification ofthe huge crust he was carving into mouthfuls with his pocket-knife."Seems to me I can't eat enough sometimes. Hullo, who's the letter for?"

  He took it from the postman, who stood at the door amid a bevy of Tidgerswho had followed him up the court, and slowly read the address.

  "'Mrs. Ann Pullen,'" he said, handing it over to his sister-in-law; "nicewriting, too."

  Mrs. Pullen broke the envelope, and after a somewhat lengthy search forher pocket, fumbled therein for her spectacles. She then searched themantelpiece, the chest of drawers, and the dresser, and finally ran themto earth on the copper.

  She was not a good scholar, and it took her some time to read the letter,a proceeding which she punctuated with such "Ohs" and "Ahs" and gaspingsand "God bless my souls" as nearly drove the carpenter and his wife, whowere leaning forward impatiently, to the verge of desperation.

  "Who's it from?" asked Mr. Tidger for the third time.

  "I don't know," said Mrs. Pullen. "Good gracious, who ever would ha'thought it!"

  "Thought what, Ann?" demanded the carpenter, feverishly.

  "Why don't people write their names plain?" demanded his sister-in-law,impatiently. "It's got a printed name up in the corner; perhaps that'sit. Well, I never did--I don't know whether I'm standing on my head ormy heels."

  "You're sitting down, that's what you're a-doing," said the carpenter,regarding her somewhat unfavourably.

  "Perhaps it's a take-in," said Mrs. Pullen, her lips trembling. "I'veheard o' such things. If it is, I shall never get over it--never."

  "Get--over--what?" asked the carpenter.

  "It don't look like a take-in," soliloquized Mrs. Pullen, "and Ishouldn't think anybody'd go to all that trouble and spend a penny totake in a poor thing like me."

  Mr. Tidger, throwing politeness to the winds, leaped forward, andsnatching the letter from her, read it with feverish haste, temperedby a defective education.

  "It's a take-in, Ann," he said, his voice trembling; "it must be."

  "What is?" asked Mrs. Tidger, impatiently.

  "Looks like it," said Mrs. Pullen, feebly.

  "What is it?" screamed Mrs. Tidger, wrought beyond all endurance.

  Her husband turned and regarded her with much severity, but Mrs. Tidger'sgaze was the stronger, and after a vain attempt to meet it, he handed herthe letter.

  Mrs. Tidger read it through hastily, and then snatching the baby from herlap, held it out with both arms to her husband, and jumping up, kissedher sister heartily, patting her on the back in her excitement until shecoughed with the pain of it.

  "You don't think it's a take-in, Polly?" she inquired.

  "Take-in?" said her sister; "of course it ain't. Lawyers don't playjokes; their time's too valuable. No, you're an heiress all right, Ann,and I wish you joy. I couldn't be more pleased if it was myself."

  She kissed her again, and going to pat her back once more, discoveredthat she had sunk down sufficiently low in her chair to obtain theprotection of its back.

  "Two thousand pounds," said Mrs. Pullen, in an awestruck voice.

  "Ten hundered pounds twice over," said the carpenter, mouthing it slowly;"twenty hundered pounds."

  He got up from the table, and instinctively realizing that he could notdo full justice to his feelings with the baby in his arms, laid it on theteatray in a puddle of cold tea and stood looking hard at the heiress.

  "I was housekeeper to her eleven years ago," said Mrs. Pullen. "I wonderwhat she left it to me for?"

  "Didn't know what to do with it, I should think," said the carpenter,still staring openmouthed.

  "Tidger, I'm ashamed of you," said his wife, snatching her infant to herbosom. "I expect you was very good to her, Ann."

  "I never 'ad no luck," said the impenitent carpenter. "Nobody ever leftme no money. Nobody ever left me so much as a fi-pun note."

  He stared round disdainfully at his poor belongings, and drawing on hiscoat, took his bag from a corner, and hoisting it on his shoulder,started to his work. He scattered the news as he went, and it ran up anddown the little main street of Thatcham, and thence to the outlying lanesand cottages. Within a couple of hours it was common property, and thefortunate legatee was presented with a congratulatory address every timeshe ventured near the door.

  It is an old adage that money makes friends; the carpenter was surprisedto find that the mere fact of his having a moneyed relation had the sameeffect, and that men to whom he had hitherto shown a certain amount ofrespect due to their position now sought his company. They stood himbeer at the "Bell," and walked by his side through the street. When theytook to dropping in of an evening to smoke a pipe the carpenter wasradiant with happiness.

  "You don't seem to see beyond the end of your nose, Tidger," said thewife of his bosom after they had retired one evening.

  "H'm?" said the startled carpenter.

  "What do you think old Miller, the dealer, comes here for?" demanded hiswife.

  "Smoke his pipe," replied her husband, confidently.

  "And old Wiggett?" persisted Mrs. Tidger.

  "Smoke his pipe," was the reply. "Why, what's the matter, Polly?"

  Mrs. Tidger sniffed derisively. "You men are all alike," she snapped."What do you think Ann wears that pink bodice for?"

  "I never noticed she 'ad a pink bodice, Polly," said the carpenter.

  "No? That's what I say. You men never notice anything," said his wife."If you don't send them two old fools off, I will."

  "Don't you like 'em to see Ann wearing pink?" inquired the mystifiedTidger.

  Mrs. Tidger bit her lip and shook her head at him scornfully. "In plainEnglish, Tidger, as plain as I can speak it,"--she said, severely,"they're after Ann and 'er bit o' money."

  Mr. Tidger gazed at her open-mouthed, and taking advantage of that fact,blew out the candle to hide his discomposure. "What!" he said, blankly,"at 'er time o' life?"

  "Watch 'em to-morrer," said his wife.

  The carpenter acted upon his instructions, and his ire rose as he noticedthe assiduous attention paid by his two friends to the frivolous Mrs.Pullen. Mr. Wiggett, a sharp-featured little man, was doing most of thetalking, while his rival, a stout, clean-shaven man with a slow, oxlikeeye, looked on stolidly. Mr. Miller was seldom in a hurry, and lost manya bargain through his slowness--a fact which sometimes so painfullyaffected the individual who had outdistanced him that he would offer tolet him have it at a still lower figure.

  "You get younger than ever, Mrs. Pullen," said Wiggett, the conversationhaving turned upon ages.

  "Young ain't the word for it," said Miller, with a praiseworthydetermination not to be left behind.

  "No; it's age as you're thinking of, Mr. Wiggett," said the carpenter,slowly; "none of
us gets younger, do we, Ann?"

  "YOU GET YOUNGER THAN EVER, MRS. PULLEN."]

  "Some of us keeps young in our ways," said Mrs. Pullen, somewhat shortly.

  "How old should you say Ann is now?" persisted the watchful Tidger.

  Mr. Wiggett shook his head. "I should say she's about fifteen yearsyounger nor me," he said, slowly, "and I'm as lively as a cricket."

  "She's fifty-five," said the carpenter.

  "That makes you seventy, Wiggett," said Mr. Miller, pointedly. "Ithought you was more than that. You look it."

  Mr. Wiggett coughed sourly. "I'm fifty-nine," he growled. "Nothing 'llmake me believe as Mrs. Pullen's fifty-five, nor anywhere near it."

  "Ho!" said the carpenter, on his mettle--"ho! Why, my wife here was thesixth child, and she---- He caught a gleam in the sixth child's eye, andexpressed her age with a cough. The others waited politely until he hadfinished, and Mr. Tidger, noticing this, coughed again.

  "And she--" prompted Mr. Miller, displaying a polite interest.

  "She ain't so young as she was," said the carpenter.

  "Cares of a family," said Mr. Wiggett, plumping boldly. "I alwaysthought Mrs. Pullen was younger than her."

  "So did I," said Mr. Miller, "much younger."

  Mr. Wiggett eyed him sharply. It was rather hard to have Miller hidinghis lack of invention by participating in his compliments and evenimproving upon them. It was the way he dealt at market-listening toother dealers' accounts of their wares, and adding to them for his own.

  "I was noticing you the other day, ma'am," continued Mr. Wiggett. "I seeyou going up the road with a step free and easy as a young girl's."

  "She allus walks like that," said Mr. Miller, in a tone of surprisedreproof.

  "It's in the family," said the carpenter, who had been uneasily watchinghis wife's face.

  "Both of you seem to notice a lot," said Mrs. Tidger; "much more than youused to."

  Mr. Tidger, who was of a nervous and sensitive disposition, coughedagain.

  "You ought to take something for that cough," said Mr. Wiggett,considerately.

  "Gin and beer," said Mr. Miller, with the air of a specialist.

  "Bed's the best thing for it," said Mrs. Tidger, whose temper wasbeginning to show signs of getting out of hand.

  Mr. Tidger rose and looked awkwardly at his visitors; Mr. Wiggett got up,and pretending to notice the time, said he must be going, and looked atMr. Miller. That gentleman, who was apparently deep in some knottyproblem, was gazing at the floor, and oblivious for the time to hissurroundings.

  "Come along," said Wiggett, with feigned heartiness, slapping him on theback.

  Mr. Miller, looking for a moment as though he would like to return thecompliment, came back to everyday life, and bidding the company good-night, stepped to the door, accompanied by his rival. It was immediatelyshut with some violence.

  "They seem in a hurry," said Wiggett. "I don't think I shall go thereagain."

  "I don't think I shall," said Mr. Miller.

  After this neither of them was surprised to meet there again the nextnight, and indeed for several nights. The carpenter and his wife, whodid not want the money to go out of the family, and were also afraid ofoffending Mrs. Pullen, were at their wits' end what to do. Ultimately itwas resolved that Tidger, in as delicate a manner as possible, was tohint to her that they were after her money. He was so vague and sodelicate that Mrs. Pullen misunderstood him, and fancying that he wastrying to borrow half a crown, made him a present of five shillings.

  It was evident to the slower-going Mr. Miller that his rival's tongue wasgiving him an advantage which only the ever-watchful presence of thecarpenter and his wife prevented him from pushing to the fullestadvantage. In these circumstances he sat for two hours after breakfastone morning in deep cogitation, and after six pipes got up with a twinklein his slow eyes which his brother dealers had got to regard as a dangersignal.

  He had only the glimmering of an idea at first, but after a couple ofpints at the "Bell" everything took shape, and he cast his eyes about foran assistant. They fell upon a man named Smith, and the dealer, aftersome thought, took up his glass and went over to him.

  "I want you to do something for me," he remarked, in a mysterious voice.

  "Ah, I've been wanting to see you," said Smith, who was also a dealer ina small way. "One o' them hins I bought off you last week is dead."

  "I'll give you another for it," said Miller.

  "And the others are so forgetful," continued Mr. Smith.

  "Forgetful?" repeated the other.

  "Forget to lay, like," said Mr. Smith, musingly.

  "Never mind about them," said Mr. Miller, with some animation. "I wantyou to do something for me. If it comes off all right, I'll give you adozen hins and a couple of decentish-sized pigs."

  Mr. Smith called a halt. "Decentish-sized" was vague.

  "Take your pick," said Mr. Miller. "You know Mrs. Pullen's got twothousand pounds--"

  "Wiggett's going to have it," said the other; "he as good as told me so."

  "He's after her money," said the other, sadly. "Look 'ere, Smith, I wantyou to tell him she's lost it all. Say that Tidger told you, but youwasn't to tell anybody else. Wiggett 'll believe you."

  Mr. Smith turned upon him a face all wrinkles, lit by one eye. "I wantthe hins and the pigs first," he said, firmly.

  Mr. Miller, shocked at his grasping spirit, stared at him mournfully.

  "And twenty pounds the day you marry Mrs. Pullen," continued Mr. Smith.

  Mr. Miller, leading him up and down the sawdust floor, besought him tolisten to reason, and Mr. Smith allowed the better feelings of our commonhuman nature to prevail to the extent of reducing his demands to half adozen fowls on account, and all the rest on the day of the marriage.Then, with the delightful feeling that he wouldn't do any work for aweek, he went out to drop poison into the ears of Mr. Wiggett.

  "Lost all her money!" said the startled Mr. Wiggett. "How?"

  "I don't know how," said his friend. "Tidger told me, but made mepromise not to tell a soul. But I couldn't help telling you, Wiggett,'cause I know what you're after."

  "Do me a favour," said the little man.

  "I will," said the other.

  "Keep it from Miller as long as possible. If you hear any one elsetalking of it, tell 'em to keep it from him. If he marries her I'll giveyou a couple of pints."

  Mr. Smith promised faithfully, and both the Tidgers and Mrs. Pullen weresurprised to find that Mr. Miller was the only visitor that evening. Hespoke but little, and that little in a slow, ponderous voice intended forMrs. Pullen's ear alone. He spoke disparagingly of money, and shook hishead slowly at the temptations it brought in its train. Give him acrust, he said, and somebody to halve it with--a home-made crust baked bya wife. It was a pretty picture, but somewhat spoiled by Mrs. Tidgersuggesting that, though he had spoken of halving the crust, he had saidnothing about the beer.

  "Half of my beer wouldn't be much," said the dealer, slowly.

  "Not the half you would give your wife wouldn't," retorted Mrs. Tidger.

  The dealer sighed and looked mournfully at Mrs. Pullen. The lady sighedin return, and finding that her admirer's stock of conversation seemed tobe exhausted, coyly suggested a game of draughts. The dealer assentedwith eagerness, and declining the offer of a glass of beer by explainingthat he had had one the day before yesterday, sat down and lost sevengames right off. He gave up at the seventh game, and pushing back hischair, said that he thought Mrs. Pullen was the most wonderful draught-player he had ever seen, and took no notice when Mrs. Tidger, in a dryvoice charged with subtle meaning, said that she thought he was.

  "Draughts come natural to some people," said Mrs. Pullen, modestly."It's as easy as kissing your fingers."

  Mr. Miller looked doubtful; then he put his great fingers to his lips byway of experiment, and let them fall unmistakably in the widow'sdirection. Mrs. Pullen looked down and nearly blush
ed. The carpenterand his wife eyed each other in indignant consternation.

  "That's easy enough," said the dealer, and repeated the offense.

  Mrs. Pullen got up in some confusion, and began to put the draught-boardaway. One of the pieces fell on the floor, and as they both stooped torecover it their heads bumped. It was nothing to the dealer's, but Mrs.Pullen rubbed hers and sat down with her eyes watering. Mr. Miller tookout his handkerchief, and going to the scullery, dipped it into water andheld it to her head.

  "Is it better?" he inquired.

  "A little better," said the victim, with a shiver.

  Mr. Miller, in his emotion, was squeezing the handkerchief hard, and acold stream was running down her neck.

  "Thank you. It's all right now."

  The dealer replaced the handkerchief, and sat for some time regarding herearnestly. Then the
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