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  ― 113 ―

Jessop's Coat.

JESSOP wore a new coat—a gorgeous garment bedecked with astrakhan, and beautified by moonlike buttons. It must have cost six pounds. Lucky, luxurious dog, Jessop!

Very different was the condition of Judson and Robins. They were two chronically moneyless bank-clerks, with a holiday, a “dead bird” for the Anniversary Handicap, and not a copper to back it with. Standing at a street corner they discussed the situation and every financial possibility, concluding reluctantly that they had neither cash nor credit. Suddenly Judson said:

“Look at this blessed Crœsus coming along!”

“Who?” queried Robins.

“Why, Jessop! with a coat on him like an Angora goat.”

With an air of envy and resentment, Judson and Robins watched the fine-feathered Jessop till he entered a lodging-house near by.

“I suppose we couldn't tap him again?” Robins murmured reflectively.

“Tap him! No, indeed! If Jessop doesn't know us no one does. But, by Jove! I've got an inspiration. We'll borrow his coat.”

“You're a genius, Judson, I know,” remarked Robins; “but I don't see what good that would be to us on a sweltering day like this.”

“Couldn't we put it up the spout? Couldn't we get three or four quid on it? Couldn't we back Caravan with the stuff, make a ‘pony’ each, and redeem the coat after the race? Couldn't we, eh?” broke out Judson like a dynamited note of interrogation.

“We could, we could,” assented Robins, humbly; “but how'll


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we get the coat? Jessop would know we had no need of it on a day like this.”

“He wears it to show off. Why shouldn't one of us? But I've got a cat that will jump better than that.”

Having thus sanely delivered himself, Judson's stock of sanity seemed exhausted, for he began to act in a way which Robins liked as little as he understood. First, he wet his hand in the gutter, then he made for it a sort of mud glove by diving it into the dust. That done, he deliberately printed a filthy impression of his paw fair in the centre of Robins' shirt-front. Robins was just about to move round and curse at large, when the eccentric Judson remarked:

“Now go and borrow Jessop's coat to hide your dirty shirt.”

“Judson,” said Robins, feelingly, “you are indeed a genius. Let us go together.”

They went, and Jessop laughed very much at Robins' shirt-front, and said Judson was a wag. He was in a fine humour, and when Robins mentioned his wish to have a loan of the coat, Jessop said:

“Certainly, with the greatest of pleasure,”—and in a minute Robins was arrayed in half-a-hundred weight of coat.

“Are you fellows going into town?” said Jessop. They were in South Yarra.

“Er—yes!” said Judson, “we're going to walk.” He thought that might deter Jessop, if he had a design to accompany them.

“Oh, I'll walk,” said Jessop.

There was no escape, so Judson and Robins hypocritically ejaculated, “That's fine!”

Long before they got to town Robins felt the weight of Jessop's coat, and perspired freely. He, however, consoled himself with the prospect that they would soon get rid of Jessop, and, soon after, of his coat.

When they reached the city they all stood, Judson and Robins expecting that Jessop would go his way, and so determine theirs. They were, therefore, greatly perturbed when Jessop remarked, “Where are you fellows going to day?”




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“Er—er,” began Judson, desperately, “we were thinking of taking a stroll out to Coburg.”

That classic and compulsory resort of Victoria's criminality is a distance of five miles from Melbourne, and Judson mentioned it with a view to Jessop's possible wish to join them. Great was the horror of the conspirators when Jessop said:

“Well, I've got nothing else to do to-day, I'll go with you.”

To groan or make any other conventional demonstration would have been to betray themselves. They suffered, and Robins sweated, in silence. Their only hope was to get it over, dodge Jessop, pawn the coat, and rush away to Williamstown in time to back Caravan for the Handicap. They resigned themselves to Fate, and started upon the walk to which they had been so calamitously committed. Jessop was in jubilant spirits, and rallied his friends upon their sudden depression.

That tramp will live in the memory of Jessop, Judson, and Robins all their days, and it will be among their choicest reminiscences of earth when they meet in “the great Perhaps.” For the first couple of miles poor Robins got the worst of it, with the result that Judson, simply through seeing another man in a more unpleasant plight than himself, gradually recovered his characteristic cheerfulness. Robins perspired and grew very bloody-minded under his affliction. He knew there was a creek at Coburg, and he commenced to plot a scheme whereby Jessop might be drowned in it. Several other murderous methods he discussed, mentally, while Jessop and Judson made jokes and laughed. His condition was truly dreadful, but it was beautifully and almost completely compensated by Providence.

A thunderstorm gathered. The relentless, roasting sun became veiled by heavy clouds big with their terrible triplets—flash, crash, and splash. There was a mighty kick-up, and the rain came down as if the River Jordan had found a crack in the sky. Robins revelled in it. Jessop's coat was watertight.

Jessop and Judson were dumb and depressed. Jessop was


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particularly annoyed. He cast furtive glances at his coat, and once or twice seemed about to say something. At last he blurted out:

“Look here, Robins, I don't see why I should get wet through while you're keeping yourself dry with my coat. You might be gentleman enough to return it now that you see I have need of it.”

“That be hanged!” retorted Robins. “You lent me the coat, and I want it as much as ever I did, and a great deal more.”

This delighted Judson, who made remarks calculated to make the disputants very angry. They warmed up until Jessop said that Robins was “nothing but a low cad.”

This was altogether too much for Robins, who impulsively took off the coat, flung it at Judson (who immediately put it on), and violently attacked Jessop. A fierce fight ensued, in which both belligerents got wet through, while Judson, cosy in Jessop's coat, looked on, acted referee, and immensely enjoyed himself. Finally, Jessop conquered, which perhaps was only just.

The elemental strife ceased almost simultaneously, and when the sun came out again the steamy exhalations from the soaked ground made the heat more oppressive than ever. Judson wished to return the coat to Robins. Robins couldn't see it. He was covered with mud as a consequence of his combat with Jessop, but as they were in the country he did not mind that. Nothing would induce him to again wear the infernal coat in such an atmosphere. It looked as if there would be another fight, when a friend of Judson's came along driving a covered waggonette, and offered them a lift to town. This they joyfully accepted, and soon were once more in Melbourne.

The necessity to get rid of Jessop was as strong with Judson and Robins as ever, and Jessop unexpectedly came to their relief. He said he was going to have a shave, and asked if they would come in and wait. They went and watched Jessop get lathered. As soon as he was thus secured Judson slipped out. Robins followed.

At last they were free, and they hurriedly repaired to a pawnshop. Judson took charge of the delicate business, and when safe


  ― 117 ―
within the curtained recess he exhibited the coat with the usual formula. The Hebrew proprietor closely examined the garment, and then turned and ran his swivel eye down the stolen-property list. Then he called out “Nebuchadnezzar!” and a juvenile Jew came, to whom the ancient one whispered a mission.

The unsophisticated Judson and Robins regarded all this as business, and were patient.

At last the pawnbroker asked them, “Vadt you vandt on de goat?”

“Four pounds is a fair thing, I think!” returned Judson.

Thereupon followed the inevitable haggling, which was harshly interrupted by the entrance of two policemen, who exchanged a few words with the Jew and then took the excessively-protesting Judson and Robins in charge for “larceny of the Chief Justice's coat.” This was, in two senses, “a bolt from the blue,” and gladly would the astonished adventurers have made it so in a third by a bold dash for freedom. But that was put out of the question by each constable seizing his man by the collar and running him to the lock-up.

Judson and Robins were grievously pained by this indignity. They thought of Caravan. They also thought of Jessop, and wondered in what mysterious fashion his coat was connected with that of the Chief Justice. This suggested to Judson the idea of sending for Jessop and getting him to explain. He accordingly detailed to the sergeant a statement of how they had borrowed the coat from Jessop, who had given them permission to pawn it. The sergeant listened with that incredulous air which does much to create an impression of official wisdom in the minds of an awed public, and, with lightning rapidity based a “theory” upon the prisoners' story. He decided that Jessop was an accomplice in the heinous crime of stealing the Chief Justice's coat, and, having obtained his address from the too-confiding Judson, promptly ordered his arrest.

In due course Jessop joined his former companions of the day, who explained that they had been walking along the street when


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the policeman arrested them. In return, Jessop narrated how he had been struck with the Chief Justice's coat and had obtained one exactly like it. This Judson and Robins rather resented, and they reproached Jessop with having indulged his vanity in a direction which had brought them to such trouble.

What might have been the fate of the unfortunates is not nice to surmise. What did happen is painful to relate. It gave the sergeant such a shock that he had to be pensioned shortly afterwards. Standing at the watch-house door and looking along the street he saw, being hustled along by a constable, but vigorously resisting and protesting, that Holy of Holies—the Chief Justice. None other.

The sergeant, however, had his duty to perform, and with every expression of pain he enquired the charge.

“Larceny of the Chief Justice's coat, which he is at present wearing,” quoth the last man to join; and the sergeant sank down upon a seat and begged to be excused.

There was no need for the learned and outraged dignitary to explain. The sergeant divined all. The coat had been recovered and restored to its owner, who upon again wearing it had been run in by the raw recruit.

It took a great deal to pacify the big gun of the law, but he finally departed in peace. Shortly afterwards, Jessop, Judson and Robins were released, Jessop keeping possession of his coat; and in much amazement at the ways of the law they went home.

That night Judson and Robins read in the evening papers how Caravan had been beaten by a bare head. Then they silently shook hands, and as one man blessed the frustration of their plot to hypothecate “Jessop's Coat.”

JOHN B. CASTIEAU.

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