Produced by David Widger
THE LADY OF THE BARGE
AND OTHER STORIES
By W. W. Jacobs
A man came slowly over the old stone bridge, and averting his gaze from the dark river with its silent craft, looked with some satisfaction toward the feeble lights of the small town on the other side. He walked with the painful, forced step of one who has already trudged far. His worsted hose, where they were not darned, were in holes, and his coat and knee-breeches were rusty with much wear, but he straightened himself as he reached the end of the bridge and stepped out bravely to the taverns which stood in a row facing the quay.
He passed the “Queen Anne”—a mere beershop—without pausing, and after a glance apiece at the “Royal George” and the “Trusty Anchor,” kept on his way to where the “Golden Key” hung out a gilded emblem. It was the best house in Riverstone, and patronized by the gentry, but he adjusted his faded coat, and with a swaggering air entered and walked boldly into the coffee-room.
The room was empty, but a bright fire afforded a pleasant change to the chill October air outside. He drew up a chair, and placing his feet on the fender, exposed his tattered soles to the blaze, as a waiter who had just seen him enter the room came and stood aggressively inside the door.
“Brandy and water,” said the stranger; “hot.”
“The coffee-room is for gentlemen staying in the house,” said the waiter.
The stranger took his feet from the fender, and rising slowly, walked toward him. He was a short man and thin, but there was something so menacing in his attitude, and something so fearsome in his stony brown eyes, that the other, despite his disgust for ill-dressed people, moved back uneasily.
“Brandy and water, hot,” repeated the stranger; “and plenty of it. D’ye hear?”
The man turned slowly to depart.
“Stop!” said the other, imperiously. “What’s the name of the landlord here?”
“Mullet,” said the fellow, sulkily.
“Send him to me,” said the other, resuming his seat; “and hark you, my friend, more civility, or ’twill be the worse for you.”
He stirred the log on the fire with his foot until a shower of sparks whirled up the chimney. The door opened, and the landlord, with the waiter behind him, entered the room, but he still gazed placidly at the glowing embers.
“What do you want?” demanded the landlord, in a deep voice.
The stranger turned a little weazened yellow face and grinned at him familiarly.
“Send that fat rascal of yours away,” he said, slowly.
The landlord started at his voice and eyed him closely; then he signed to the man to withdraw, and closing the door behind him, stood silently watching his visitor.
“You didn’t expect to see me, Rogers,” said the latter.
“My name’s Mullet,” said the other, sternly. “What do you want?”
“Oh, Mullet?” said the other, in surprise. “I’m afraid I’ve made a mistake, then. I thought you were my old shipmate, Captain Rogers. It’s a foolish mistake of mine, as I’ve no doubt Rogers was hanged years ago. You never had a brother named Rogers, did you?”
“I say again, what do you want?” demanded the other, advancing upon him.
“Since you’re so good,” said the other. “I want new clothes, food, and lodging of the best, and my pockets filled with money.”
“You had better go and look for all those things, then,” said Mullet. “You won’t find them here.”
“Ay!” said the other, rising. “Well, well—There was a hundred guineas on the head of my old shipmate Rogers some fifteen years ago. I’ll see whether it has been earned yet.”
“If I gave you a hundred guineas,” said the innkeeper, repressing his passion by a mighty effort, “you would not be satisfied.”
“Reads like a book,” said the stranger, in tones of pretended delight. “What a man it is!”