Produced by David Widger
List of Illustrations
Strength and good-nature—said the night-watchman, musingly, as he felt his biceps—strength and good-nature always go together. Sometimes you find a strong man who is not good-natured, but then, as everybody he comes in contack with is, it comes to the same thing.
The strongest and kindest-‘earted man I ever come across was a man o’ the name of Bill Burton, a ship-mate of Ginger Dick’s. For that matter ‘e was a shipmate o’ Peter Russet’s and old Sam Small’s too. Not over and above tall; just about my height, his arms was like another man’s legs for size, and ‘is chest and his back and shoulders might ha’ been made for 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, curly brown beard. He was an A.B., too, and that showed ‘ow good-natured he was, to pick up with firemen.
He got so fond of ’em that when they was all paid off from the Ocean King he asked to be allowed to join them in taking a room ashore. It pleased every-body, four coming cheaper than three, and Bill being that good-tempered that ‘e’d put up with anything, and when any of the three quarrelled he used to act the part of peacemaker.
The only thing about ‘im that they didn’t like was that ‘e was a teetotaler. 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 say that 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 ‘ad seventeen bottles he could ‘ardly got home, and Peter Russet, who knew a lot about pills and such-like, pointed out to ‘im ‘ow bad it was for his constitushon. 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 any moment.
That frightened Bill a bit, and the next night, instead of ‘aving lemonade, ‘e had five bottles o’ stone ginger-beer, six of different kinds of teetotal beer, three of soda-water, and two cups of coffee. I’m not counting the drink he ‘ad at the chemist’s shop arterward, because he took that as medicine, but he was so queer in ‘is inside next morning that ‘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 ‘e would pay every fourth time, and there was no pleasure to the other chaps to see ‘im pay and ‘ave nothing out of it. It spoilt their evening, and owing to ‘aving only about ‘arf wot they was accustomed to they all got up 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,” he ses, at last. “I’ve been teetotal for eleven months now.”
“Think of your ‘ealth, Bill,” ses Peter Russet; “your ‘ealth is more important than the pledge. Wot made you take it?”
Bill coughed. “I ‘ad reasons,” he ses, slowly. “A mate o’ mine wished me 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 very disobligin’ 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 ‘ead occasionally. Why, one night old Sam ‘ere went up behind a policeman and tickled ‘im under the arms; didn’t you, Sam?”
“I did nothing o’ the kind,” ses Sam, firing up.