Produced by David Widger
THE LADY OF THE BARGE
AND OTHER STORIES
By W. W. Jacobs
Two men stood in the billiard-room of an old country house, talking. Play, which had been of a half-hearted nature, was over, and they sat at the open window, looking out over the park stretching away beneath them, conversing idly.
“Your time’s nearly up, Jem,” said one at length, “this time six weeks you’ll be yawning out the honeymoon and cursing the man—woman I mean— who invented them.”
Jem Benson stretched his long limbs in the chair and grunted in dissent.
“I’ve never understood it,” continued Wilfred Carr, yawning. “It’s not in my line at all; I never had enough money for my own wants, let alone for two. Perhaps if I were as rich as you or Croesus I might regard it differently.”
There was just sufficient meaning in the latter part of the remark for his cousin to forbear to reply to it. He continued to gaze out of the window and to smoke slowly.
“Not being as rich as Croesus—or you,” resumed Carr, regarding him from beneath lowered lids, “I paddle my own canoe down the stream of Time, and, tying it to my friends’ door-posts, go in to eat their dinners.”
“Quite Venetian,” said Jem Benson, still looking out of the window. “It’s not a bad thing for you, Wilfred, that you have the doorposts and dinners—and friends.”
Carr grunted in his turn. “Seriously though, Jem,” he said, slowly, “you’re a lucky fellow, a very lucky fellow. If there is a better girl above ground than Olive, I should like to see her.”
“Yes,” said the other, quietly.
“She’s such an exceptional girl,” continued Carr, staring out of the window. “She’s so good and gentle. She thinks you are a bundle of all the virtues.”
He laughed frankly and joyously, but the other man did not join him. “Strong sense—of right and wrong, though,” continued Carr, musingly. “Do you know, I believe that if she found out that you were not—-“
“Not what?” demanded Benson, turning upon him fiercely, “Not what?”
“Everything that you are,” returned his cousin, with a grin that belied his words, “I believe she’d drop you.”
“Talk about something else,” said Benson, slowly; “your pleasantries are not always in the best taste.”
Wilfred Carr rose and taking a cue from the rack, bent over the board and practiced one or two favourite shots. “The only other subject I can talk about just at present is my own financial affairs,” he said slowly, as he walked round the table.
“Talk about something else,” said Benson again, bluntly.
“And the two things are connected,” said Carr, and dropping his cue he half sat on the table and eyed his cousin.
There was a long silence. Benson pitched the end of his cigar out of the window, and leaning back closed his eyes.
“Do you follow me?” inquired Carr at length.
Benson opened his eyes and nodded at the window.
“Do you want to follow my cigar?” he demanded.
“I should prefer to depart by the usual way for your sake,” returned the other, unabashed. “If I left by the window all sorts of questions would be asked, and you know what a talkative chap I am.”
“So long as you don’t talk about my affairs,” returned the other, restraining himself by an obvious effort, “you can talk yourself hoarse.”
“I’m in a mess,” said Carr, slowly, “a devil of a mess. If I don’t raise fifteen hundred by this day fortnight, I may be getting my board and lodging free.”
“Would that be any change?” questioned Benson.