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  ― 213 ―

What Did He Do with Them?

IS it an old story? Possibly! yet it is worth re-telling. New stories are generally old, and new jokes have been better told in the olden days; even Punch himself admits that he never was as good as he used to be!

The long and wearisome Session was over. It had been agonisingly prolonged by the verbosity of the “wind bags” who, like the “cheap numerosity of a stage army,” came on and on, and ever on—from afternoon to night, from night to day — until the reporters were maddened with the repetitions, and the country was sick unto death at delayed legislation. But they never wearied, those woeful wind bags. They dressed themselves in fresh garments seemingly, but the same minds, the same feelings, and the same speeches were painfully apparent throughout. They were paid for their labours, and were determined to earn the money.

The thermometer had reached a daily 100° in the shade, and a nightly never-below 80° stage; the streets of the city were blazing furnaces by day, and


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the mosquitoes were enjoying a full complement of meals by night.

Hugh Daventry had made his mark, a distinguished and ineffaceable mark on the annals of his colony. He had become a Minister, with the much-coveted prefix of Honourable to his name, and the rather less coveted privilege of answering hundreds of applications from clamouring constituents wanting billets for all of their families, J.P.-ships for themselves, and a general loan of money all round.

Now, Hugh was a man of letters—learned, and everlastingly learning. Touch him on any subject, from the deepest chaos of chemical compounds to the latest fad in economics; from the most intricate arguments on bimetalism to the simple hen-and-eggs theory of modern socialism, and he was all there. With the ordinary conventionalities of life, however, he had nothing in common. If his boots were unblacked, or his collar unbuttoned, he never heeded. A gentle suggestion that a sky-blue necktie was hardly the sort of adornment in which to attend a funeral passed unnoticed. He would appear at breakfast in carpet slippers, foxes' heads on red grounds for choice, without any feeling of being still in his bedroom; and would have cheerfully walked in Hyde Park at a Sunday parade, in a tall hat and tan boots, and with a short black pipe in his mouth, without the slightest sense of anything incongruous.

Society smiled and called him eccentric; but when he raised his voice in the House and launched out in scathing sarcasms or rattling bursts of rhetoric, Society listened with eager attention and exclaimed: “This is our man—this is a genius!”




  ― 215 ―

Gifted with a marvellous memory for every subject but conventionalism, is it to be wondered at that such trivial things as the contents of a portmanteau escaped him?

He was notorious for never knowing what he possessed, or where he left his possessions. He would start out on a journey with a full kit, and return perfectly happy with an empty one.

“Hullo, Hugh! what have you lost now?

“Most extraordinary thing,” he would reply, quite unconscious of any irony in the question; “but I can't find my left boot. Here's the right one. Are you sure I didn't leave it in your room?”

The “strangers' drawer” on the stations in his district, where his visits were always most welcome, invariably contained something he had left behind on a previous trip: a shirt, a pair of socks, a singlet, or a handkerchief. In fact, his failing in this particular line was as well known as the morning breeze, and naturally entailed a considerable amount of chaff.

This he took kindly enough, merely suggesting that if the chaffer were only as blind as he was—for he was very short-sighted—the boot might be on the other foot.

Once, however, an opportunity occurred for retaliation—an opportunity of which he took every advantage, and with the most surprising result; a result, in short, which has never yet been properly determined, and the key to which he alone possesses. And this was how.

The Session ended, the members speedily dispersed to their respective homes, and Hugh Daventry thankfully found himself on board the good steamer Krorolonga, bound, not for other climes, but for the north,


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where he lived, and where he could leave off all his clothes if he liked, and they never would be missed.

His cabin mate was Teddy Beade, a most particular chum, and much addicted to pleasantry.

Teddy was an Irishman, clever as they are made, and full of a “right merrie conceit.” No one enjoyed a joke more than he did, either at his own or any one else's expense. He preferred the latter of course, and it generally happened that his preference came off. He was seldom worsted in an argument, however abstruse, for if he found himself drifting he would turn on, Dan O'Connell-like, such a roaring cataract of words that his opponent could only feebly gasp under the douche—“What will you have to drink?”

The last bell clanged on the steamer's deck with a nerve-jarring clamour; perspiring stewards rushed through the saloon and round the quarter-deck, screaming, “Any one for the shore?” and the gangways were choked with visitors hurrying off.

The Captain, in gold-laced cap, suddenly appeared on the wharf-side of the upper bridge and watched the retreating crowd, occasionally nodding or waving his hand to a passing friend.

The last “Goodbye,-dear,” and “Don't-forget-to-write” had been said, and the gangways rattled ashore.

“Let go that after-spring!” “All clear aft, sir.” A ting of the engine-room bell, and an answering plomp from the screw, “Let go forward,” and the Krorolonga gently sheered off into the stream.

The railings were lined from stem to stern with passengers fluttering farewells, and the wharf looking


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like a Monday morning drying ground in a gale of wind, responded.

“Well, old chappie,” said Teddy to Hugh, “are you quite sure you've got everything? You didn't leave your portmanteau on the wharf, did you? Where are your spectacles?”

Hugh Daventry clutched his coat pockets for an instant in some doubt; then, seeing the laughing face of his friend, he exclaimed—

“Oh, shut up! I'm all right. The steward's got my things, and my spec's are where they ought to be. But, come on out of this crowd, and let's talk over the new ‘ad valorem’ duties.”

And so the steamer wended her way slowly down the river full speed and across the broad bay at its mouth, and out into the open sea beyond. Here her course was set due north for a thirty hours' run to the first port of call, and the gold-laced Captain descended from his post on the bridge and gave cheery greetings to his passengers.

The sea was smooth and oily. There was no visible horizon to the eastward, nor colour to the water. The blazing, glaring sun seemed to have licked up all, and left only a faint suggestion of skimmed milk.

A long undulating swell occasionally rolled in from the south-east, telling of what had once been a mighty wind, and a pair of porpoise lovers, out for an afternoon stroll, would break the summit with their glistening backs.

Westward, a few handfuls of cotton wool flattened against the sky behind the deep blue coast range, betokened thunderstorms. As night closed in these gave out wondrous lights. A flickering fringe of


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brilliant and dazzling silver rippled along the edges, and frequent bursts of pink and gold revealed the whole mass in startling and silent beauty.

The passengers had for the most part subsided into deck chairs, or lay sprawling on the up-tilted skylights. The terrible infant had gorged his last banana and bun and was spread out on the deck apoplectically asleep, open-mouthed, and fly- tickled, his mother stooping down at intervals to flick away the aggressive insects the while she stitched at a small red garment.

Odd and disconnected laughter came from the smoking-room in the stern, where four enthusiasts in shirt sleeves were playing “the sort of whist that leaves thumb-marks on the cards,” smoking the strongest cigars, and imbibing lemon squashes with a dash.

A faint but everlasting tinkle rose up from the saloon piano, which some school misses had seized upon to display their term's acquirements in the often-encored-by-themselves rendering of the “Dewdrop on the Oyster,” and the “Snowflake in the Camp Oven,” and all the waltzes they could and couldn't play.

At times a stout, elderly traveller would awake with a snort, and indulge in audible profanity while he shifted his chair farther away from the open skylight through which the music was wafted, and settled himself for another perspiring snooze.

The swish, swish, thump, thump, thump of the screw went rhythmically on, and perhaps there was a certain element of peace around on that sweltering summer's afternoon.

Hugh and Teddy were perfectly happy. They


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talked and smoked, and talked till the dinner bell rang, talked through the dinner, and talked till the lights went out suddenly and they found themselves alone on the deck, damp with the heavy dew which had crept in under the awning.

And so to the second night, when their journey would be ended.

Their destination was one of the numerous islands on the coast, under the lee of which a small tender would be in readiness to take off passengers and mails and cargo, and convey them to the town, a few miles up a shallow, sand-shifting river.

The steward was instructed to call them when the tender was ready to start, and they peacefully slumbered. They never heard or felt the stopping of the screw, or the rattle of the anchor-chain, or the slight bump and the scrunching of fenders as the little steamer squeezed alongside in the hot, still hours of the night; neither did they heed the whisperings as the steward ushered in a new passenger, who promptly coiled himself up in the inside lower bunk and went to sleep.

“The second whistle's gone, gentlemen! You've got a quarter of an hour.”

This was the voice of the steward, and the two friends at once climbed down from their bunks and hurriedly dressed.

Teddy was finished first, and turned as he was leaving the cabin, to say—

“Now, my dear Hugh, be careful, and don't leave any of your belongings behind, and don't forget your spectacles!”

“You just clear out,” said Hugh, and Teddy


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disappeared into the alley-way leading to the main deck.

Hugh Daventry cast one last look round the cabin, and his eyes lit on a pair of boots. They were not his certainly, as he had got his on. Then they must be Teddy's—Teddy's boots! Hurrah! His opportunity had come at last. Now he would have revenge. Now he would stop that eternal chaff, and Teddy's tongue should be silenced for the whole of ever! What luck!

So, chuckling, he jammed a boot into each pocket of his overcoat, threw it across his arm, grasped his bag and groped his way forward as the last whistle sounded on board the tender.

A few “good-nights,” mingled with the jarring of the anchor winch, and the ting ting of the engine bell, and the lights of the big steamer gradually faded away as the little one passed off into the darkness.

Hugh hugged himself over the boots. It was but a poor little joke after all, but it meant a lot to him, and he would make the most of it.

An hour's fussing, an occasional grating of the keel as the little vessel ground her way over a shoal, a loud whistle—a long, two shorts, and a long whistle—and just as the hand of dawn spread a rose-pink film across the eastern sky, the wharf was reached.

Here a few of the early ones who seldom sleep before the pubs, are shut, and never after they are opened, and the hotel waiters who never sleep at all, were assembled with the regular wharf hands, and the tender was made fast.

A few minutes' walk brought the two friends to their


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hotel. The street they traversed was thick and soft with dust, with a dark crust of dew lying upon it. A few dogs rose lazily out of the way, leaving white patches where they had slept, and deep footprints as they slowly slunk away; and over all was the warm smell of night in a tropical town.

The room into which they were conducted by the sleepless waiter was full of that warm scent, dished up with kerosine. A faint light still issued from a smouldering lamp, the sticky glass bulb of which was thick with a mass of mosquitoes and midges and moths, and a well-defined rim on the oil-cloth table cover showed how continuous suicides of these pests had been kept up through the night.

“Phew!” said Teddy. “This is a bit sultry! But here we are safe and sound; and now, Hugh, old chap, what have you left behind?”

Hugh was tugging at both his pockets in suppressed excitement, and as the boots were released he rounded on his mate with—

“Now, look here!” and his voice was slow and deliberate. “You are always hammering away at me for losing things, but I've got you at last! Yes, I've got you. Look at those boots!”

And he triumphantly banged the boots on the table with such a force that the lamp glasses rattled again, and another blob of mixed midnighters slipped silently off on to the cloth.

“Look at those boots!”

Teddy, apparently surprised, did look at them. He picked them up, and turned them over, and put them down again.

“Well,” he inquired at last, “what about them?”




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“What about them?” almost screamed Hugh. “Why, man, don't you recognise your own boots?”

Teddy lifted one of his feet and then the other, to make sure he had got any boots on, before replying.

“My boots? Why I never saw them in my life before!”

“Oh, this is too much!” sighed Hugh.

“Too much! What on earth do you mean? Where did you get them?”

“Get them? Just listen to him. Why, in the cabin, of course, after you left.”

“Then, my dear old Hugh,” said Teddy, as solemnly as he could. “They must belong to the man we left asleep there.

“What?” gasped Hugh. “Was there any one else in the cabin?”

“Of course there was! He must have come in off the tender before we were roused up, and turned straight into the lower bunk opposite you.”

“And I never saw him!” said Hugh. “Well, I am——”

“Yes, and you well may be, for you are guilty of petty larceny of the meanest and commonest description. It means fourteen days' at least, without the option of a fine, and how will that be for my right honourable friend, the Minister for——”

“Oh, do shut up,” groaned Hugh. “And let me think.”

Then after a pause—

“I say, Teddy.”

“Well, what is it, my gentle burglar?”

“Look here, old man, you—well, hang it all—you won't——”




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“No,” said Teddy deliberately, as he put a hand caressingly on Hugh's shoulder. “No, old chap, I won't!”

But what did he do with them? Exactly; what did he do with them?

Did he expend much money in telegraphing and forwarding the st—— lost boots to their rightful owner, or did he leave them on the table in the company of that smouldering and smelling lamp, and those monumental mounds of kerosined insects? What would you have done with them?

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