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Книга Beyond The City. Содержание - Chapter 15 – Still Among Shoals

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He passed his hand over his forehead. "I would not have lost that watch for anything," said he. "No money could replace it. It was given me by the ship's company after our African cruise. It has an inscription."

The policeman shrugged his shoulders. "It comes from meddling," said he.

"What'll you give me if I tell yer where it is?" said a sharp-faced boy among the crowd. "Will you gimme a quid?"

"Certainly."

"Well, where's the quid?"

The Admiral took a sovereign from his pocket. "Here it is."

"Then 'ere's the ticker!" The boy pointed to the clenched hand of the senseless woman. A glimmer of gold shone out from between the fingers, and on opening them up, there was the Admiral's chronometer. This interesting victim had throttled her protector with one hand, while she had robbed him with the other.

The Admiral left his address with the policeman, satisfied that the woman was only stunned, not dead, and then set off upon his way once more, the poorer perhaps in his faith in human nature, but in very good spirits none the less. He walked with dilated nostrils and clenched hands, all glowing and tingling with the excitement of the combat, and warmed with the thought that he could still, when there was need, take his own part in a street brawl in spite of his three-score and odd years.

His way now led towards the river-side regions, and a cleansing whiff of tar was to be detected in the stagnant autumn air. Men with the blue jersey and peaked cap of the boatman, or the white ducks of the dockers, began to replace the cardurys and fustian of the laborers. Shops with nautical instruments in the windows, rope and paint sellers, and slop shops with long rows of oilskins dangling from hooks, all proclaimed the neighborhood of the docks. The Admiral quickened his pace and straightened his figure as his surroundings became more nautical, until at last, peeping between two high, dingy wharfs, he caught a glimpse of the mud-colored waters of the Thames, and of the bristle of masts and funnels which rose from its broad bosom. To the right lay a quiet street, with many brass plates upon either side, and wire blinds in all of the windows. The Admiral walked slowly down it until "The Saint Lawrence Shipping Company" caught his eye. He crossed the road, pushed open the door, and found himself in a low-ceilinged office, with a long counter at one end and a great number of wooden sections of ships stuck upon boards and plastered all over the walls.

"Is Mr. Henry in?" asked the Admiral.

"No, sir," answered an elderly man from a high seat in the corner. "He has not come into town to-day. I can manage any business you may wish seen to."

"You don't happen to have a first or second officer's place vacant, do you?"

The manager looked with a dubious eye at his singular applicant.

"Do you hold certificates?" he asked.

"I hold every nautical certificate there is."

"Then you won't do for us."

"Why not?"

"Your age, sir.

"I give you my word that I can see as well as ever, and am as good a man in every way."

"I don't doubt it."

"Why should my age be a bar, then?"

"Well, I must put it plainly. If a man of your age, holding certificates, has not got past a second officer's berth, there must be a black mark against him somewhere. I don't know what it is, drink or temper, or want of judgment, but something there must be."

"I assure you there is nothing, but I find myself stranded, and so have to turn to the old business again."

"Oh, that's it," said the manager, with suspicion in his eye. "How long were you in your last billet?"

"Fifty-one years."

"What!"

"Yes, sir, one-and-fifty years."

"In the same employ?"

"Yes."

"Why, you must have begun as a child."

"I was twelve when I joined."

"It must be a strangely managed business," said the manager, "which allows men to leave it who have served for fifty years, and who are still as good as ever. Who did you serve?"

"The Queen. Heaven bless her!"

"Oh, you were in the Royal Navy. What rating did you hold?"

"I am Admiral of the Fleet."

The manager started, and sprang down from his high stool.

"My name is Admiral Hay Denver. There is my card. And here are the records of my service. I don't, you understand, want to push another man from his billet; but if you should chance to have a berth open, I should be very glad of it. I know the navigation from the Cod Banks right up to Montreal a great deal better than I know the streets of London."

The astonished manager glanced over the blue papers which his visitor had handed him. "Won't you take a chair, Admiral?" said he.

"Thank you! But I should be obliged if you would drop my title now. I told you because you asked me, but I've left the quarter-deck, and I am plain Mr. Hay Denver now."

"May I ask," said the manager, "are you the same Denver who commanded at one time on the North American station?"

"I did."

"Then it was you who got one of our boats, the Comus, off the rocks in the Bay of Fundy? The directors voted you three hundred guineas as salvage, and you refused them."

"It was an offer which should not have been made," said the Admiral sternly.

"Well, it reflects credit upon you that you should think so. If Mr. Henry were here I am sure that he would arrange this matter for you at once. As it is, I shall lay it before the directors to-day, and I am sure that they will be proud to have you in our employment, and, I hope, in some more suitable position than that which you suggest."

"I am very much obliged to you, sir," said the Admiral, and started off again, well pleased, upon his homeward journey.

Chapter 15 – Still Among Shoals

Next day brought the Admiral a cheque for L5,000 from Mr. McAdam, and a stamped agreement by which he made over his pension papers to the speculative investor. It was not until he had signed and sent it off that the full significance of all that he had done broke upon him. He had sacrificed everything. His pension was gone. He had nothing save only what he could earn. But the stout old heart never quailed. He waited eagerly for a letter from the Saint Lawrence Shipping Company, and in the meanwhile he gave his landlord a quarter's notice. Hundred pound a year houses would in future be a luxury which he could not aspire to. A small lodging in some inexpensive part of London must be the substitute for his breezy Norwood villa. So be it, then! Better that a thousand fold than that his name should be associated with failure and disgrace.

On that morning Harold Denver was to meet the creditors of the firm, and to explain the situation to them. It was a hateful task, a degrading task, but he set himself to do it with quiet resolution. At home they waited in intense anxiety to learn the result of the meeting. It was late before he returned, haggard pale, like a man who has done and suffered much.

"What's this board in front of the house? he asked.

"We are going to try a little change of scene," said the Admiral. "This place is neither town nor country. But never mind that, boy. Tell us what happened in the City."

"God help me! My wretched business driving you out of house and home!" cried Harold, broken down by this fresh evidence of the effects of his misfortunes. "It is easier for me to meet my creditors than to see you two suffering so patiently for my sake."

"Tut, tut!" cried the Admiral. "There's no suffering in the matter. Mother would rather be near the theaters. That's at the bottom of it, isn't it, mother? You come and sit down here between us and tell us all about it."

Harold sat down with a loving hand in each of his.

"It's not so bad as we thought," said he, "and yet it is bad enough. I have about ten days to find the money, but I don't know which way to turn for it. Pearson, however, lied, as usual, when he spoke of L13,000. The amount is not quite L7,000."

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