Dialstone Lane

by W. W. Jacobs

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TRIED!" said Captain Bowers, indignantly. "I have tried, over and over again, but it's no use."

"Have you tried the right way?" suggested Edward Tredgold.

"I've tried every way," replied Captain Bowers, impatiently.

"We must think of another, then," said the imperturbable Edward. "Have some more beef?" The captain passed his plate up. "You should have seen her when I said that I was coming to supper with you this evening," he said, impressively. Mr. Tredgold laid down the carving knife and fork. "What did she say?" he inquired, eagerly. "Grunted," said the captain. "Nonsense," said the other, sharply.

"I tell you she did," retorted the captain. "She didn't say a word; just grunted."

"I know what you mean," said Mr. Tredgold; "only you are not using the right word."

"All right," said the captain, resignedly; "I don't know a grunt when I hear it, then; that's all. She generally does grunt if I happen to mention your name."

Mr. Tredgold resumed his meal and sat eating in silence. The captain, who was waiting for more beef, became restless.

"I hope my plate isn't in your way," he said, at last.

"Not at all," said the other, absently.

"Perhaps you'll pass it back to me, then," said the captain.

Mr. Tredgold, still deep in thought, complied. "I wish I could persuade you to have a little more," he said, in tones of polite regret. "I've often noticed that big men are small eaters. I wonder why it is?"

"Sometimes it is because they can't get it, I expect," said the indignant captain.

Mr. Tredgold said that no doubt that was the case sometimes, and was only recalled to the true position of affairs by the hungry captain marching up to the beef and carving for himself.

"I'm sorry," he said, with a laugh. "I was thinking of something else. I wonder whether you would let me use the crow's-nest for a day or two? There's a place we have got on our hands, a mile or two out, and I want to keep my eye on it."

The captain, his good humour quite restored, preserved his gravity with an effort. "I don't see that she could object to that," he said, slowly. "It's a matter of business, as you might say."

"Of course, I could go straight round to the back without troubling you," resumed Mr. Tredgold. "It's so awkward not to be able to see you when I want to."

Captain Bowers ventured a sympathetic wink. "It's awkward not to be able to see anybody when you want to," he said, softly.

Two days later Miss Drewitt, peeping cautiously from her bedroom window, saw Mr. Tredgold perched up in the crow's-nest with the telescope. It was a cold, frosty day in January, and she smiled agreeably as she hurried downstairs to the fire and tried to imagine the temperature up aloft.

Stern in his attention to duty, Mr. Tredgold climbed day after day to his post of observation and kept a bored but whimsical eye on a deserted cowhouse three miles off. On the fourth day the captain was out, and Miss Drewitt, after a casual peep from the kitchen window, shrugged her shoulders and returned to the sitting-room.

"Mr. Tredgold must be very cold up there, Miss," said Mr. Tasker, respectfully, as he brought in the tea. "He keeps slapping his chest and blowing on his fingers to keep 'imself warm."

Miss Drewitt said "Oh!" and, drawing the little table up to her easy-chair, put down her book and poured herself out a cup of tea. She had just arranged it to her taste-two lumps of sugar and a liberal allowance of cream—when a faint rap sounded on the front door.

"Come in!" she said, taking her feet from the fender and facing about.

The door opened and revealed to her indignant gaze the figure of Mr. Tredgold. His ears and nose were of a brilliant red and his eyes were watering with the cold. She eyed him inquiringly.

"Good afternoon," he said, bowing.

Miss Drewitt returned the greeting.

"Isn't Captain Bowers in?" said Mr. Tredgold, with a shade of disappointment in his voice as he glanced around.

"No," said the girl.

Mr. Tredgold hesitated. "I was going to ask him to give me a cup of tea," he said, with a shiver. "I'm half frozen, and I'm afraid that I have a taken a chill."

An illustration for the book Dialstone Lane by W.W. Jacobs

Miss Drewitt nearly dropped her tea-cup in surprise at his audacity. He was certainly very cold, and she noticed a little blue mixed with the red of his nose. She looked round the cosy room and then at the open door, which was causing a bitter draught.

"He is not in," she repeated.

"Thank you," said Mr. Tredgold, patiently. "Good afternoon."

He was so humble that the girl began to feel uncomfortable. His gratitude for nothing reminded her of a disappointed tramp; moreover, the draught from the door was abominable.

"I can give you a cup of tea, if you wish," she said, shivering. "But please make haste and shut that door."

Mr. Tredgold stepped inside and closed it with alacrity, his back being turned just long enough to permit a congratulatory wink at the unconscious oak. He took a chair the other side of the fire, and, extending his numbed fingers to the blaze, thanked her warmly.

"It is very kind of you," he said, as he took his cup from her. "I was half frozen."

"I should have thought that a brisk walk home would have been better for you," said the girl, coldly.

Mr. Tredgold shook his head dolefully. "I should probably only have had lukewarm tea when I got there," he replied. "Nobody looks after me properly."

He passed his cup up and began to talk of skating and other seasonable topics. As he got warmer and his features regained their normal colouring and his face its usual expression of cheerfulness, Miss Drewitt's pity began to evaporate.

"Are you feeling better?" she inquired, pointedly.

"A little," was the cautious reply. His face took on an expression of anxiety and he spoke of a twinge, lightly tapping his left lung by way of emphasis.

"I hope that I shall not be taken ill here," he said, gravely.

Miss Drewitt sat up with a start. "I should hope not," she said, sharply.

"So inconvenient," he murmured.

"Quite impossible," said Miss Drewitt, whose experience led her to believe him capable of anything.

"I should never forgive myself," he said, gently.

Miss Drewitt regarded him in alarm, and of her own accord gave him a third cup of tea and told him that he might smoke. She felt safer when she saw him light a cigarette, and, for fear that a worse thing might befall her, entered amiably into conversation. She even found herself, somewhat to her surprise, discussing the voyage and sympathising with Mr. Tredgold in his anxiety concerning his father's safety.

"Mrs. Chalk and Mrs. Stobell are very anxious, too," he said. "It is a long way for a small craft like that."

"And then to find no treasure at the end of it," said Miss Drewitt, with feminine sweetness.

Mr. Tredgold stole a look at her. "I did not mean to say that the captain had no treasure," he said, quietly.

"You believe in it now?" said the girl, triumphantly.

"I believe that the captain has a treasure," admitted the other, "certainly."

"Worth half a million?" persisted Miss Drewitt.

"Worth more than that," said Mr. Tredgold, gazing steadily into the fire.

The girl looked puzzled. "More?" she said, in surprise.

"Much more," said the other, still contemplating the fire. "It is priceless."

Miss Drewitt sat up suddenly and then let herself back slowly into the depths of the chair. Her face turned scarlet and she hoped fervently that if Mr. Tredgold looked at her the earth might open and swallow him up. She began to realize dimly that in the absence of an obliging miracle of that kind there would never be any getting rid of him.

"Priceless," repeated Mr. Tredgold, in challenging tones.

Miss Drewitt made no reply. Rejoinder was dangerous and silence difficult. In a state of nervous indignation she rang for Mr. Tasker and instructed him to take away the tea-things; to sweep the hearth; and to alter the position of two pictures. By the time all this was accomplished she had regained her wonted calm and was airing some rather strong views on the subject of two little boys who lived with a catapult next door but one.

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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.