Produced by David Widger
FROM DRAWINGS BY WILL OWEN
FRIENDS IN NEED
R. Joseph Gibbs finished his half-pint in the private bar of the Red Lion with the slowness of a man unable to see where the next was coming from, and, placing the mug on the counter, filled his pipe from a small paper of tobacco and shook his head slowly at his companions.
“First I’ve ‘ad since ten o’clock this morning,” he said, in a hard voice.
“Cheer up,” said Mr. George Brown.
“It can’t go on for ever,” said Bob Kidd, encouragingly.
“All I ask for—is work,” said Mr. Gibbs, impressively. “Not slavery, mind yer, but work.”
“It’s rather difficult to distinguish,” said Mr. Brown.
“‘Specially for some people,” added Mr. Kidd.
“Go on,” said Mr. Gibbs, gloomily. “Go on. Stand a man ‘arf a pint, and then go and hurt ‘is feelings. Twice yesterday I wondered to myself what it would feel like to make a hole in the water.”
“Lots o’ chaps do do it,” said Mr. Brown, musingly.
“And leave their wives and families to starve,” said Mr. Gibbs, icily.
“Very often the wife is better off,” said his friend. “It’s one mouth less for her to feed. Besides, she gen’rally gets something. When pore old Bill went they ‘ad a Friendly Lead at the ‘King’s Head’ and got his missis pretty nearly seventeen pounds.”
“And I believe we’d get more than that for your old woman,” said Mr. Kidd. “There’s no kids, and she could keep ‘erself easy. Not that I want to encourage you to make away with yourself.”
Mr. Gibbs scowled and, tilting his mug, peered gloomily into the interior.
“Joe won’t make no ‘ole in the water,” said Mr. Brown, wagging his head. “If it was beer, now—”
Mr. Gibbs turned and, drawing himself up to five feet three, surveyed the speaker with an offensive stare.
“I don’t see why he need make a ‘ole in anything,” said Mr. Kidd, slowly. “It ‘ud do just as well if we said he ‘ad. Then we could pass the hat round and share it.”
“Divide it into three halves and each ‘ave one,” said Mr. Brown, nodding; “but ‘ow is it to be done?”
“‘Ave some more beer and think it over,” said Mr. Kidd, pale with excitement. “Three pints, please.”
He and Mr. Brown took up their pints, and nodded at each other. Mr. Gibbs, toying idly with the handle of his, eyed them carefully. “Mind, I’m not promising anything,” he said, slowly. “Understand, I ain’t a-committing of myself by drinking this ‘ere pint.”
“You leave it to me, Joe,” said Mr. Kidd.
Mr. Gibbs left it to him after a discussion in which pints played a persuasive part; with the result that Mr. Brown, sitting in the same bar the next evening with two or three friends, was rudely disturbed by the cyclonic entrance of Mr. Kidd, who, dripping with water, sank on a bench and breathed heavily.
“What’s up? What’s the matter?” demanded several voices.
“It’s Joe—poor Joe Gibbs,” said Mr. Kidd. “I was on Smith’s wharf shifting that lighter to the next berth, and, o’ course Joe must come aboard to help. He was shoving her off with ‘is foot when—”
He broke off and shuddered and, accepting a mug of beer, pending the arrival of some brandy that a sympathizer had ordered, drank it slowly.