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A Benefit Performance
by [?]

In the small front parlour of No. 3, Mermaid Passage, Sunset Bay, Jackson Pepper, ex-pilot, sat in a state of indignant collapse, tenderly feeling a cheek on which the print of hasty fingers still lingered.

The room, which was in excellent order, showed no signs of the tornado which had passed through it, and Jackson Pepper, looking vaguely round, was dimly reminded of those tropical hurricanes he had read about which would strike only the objects in the path, and leave all others undisturbed.

In this instance he had been the object, and the tornado, after obliterating him, had passed up the small staircase which led from the room, leaving him listening anxiously to its distant mutterings.

To his great discomfort the storm showed signs of coming up again, and he had barely time to effect an appearance of easy unconcern, which accorded but ill with the flush afore-mentioned, when a big, red-faced woman came heavily downstairs and burst into the room.

“You have made me ill again,” she said severely, “and now I hope you are satisfied with your work. You’ll kill me before you have done with me!”

The ex-pilot shifted on his chair.

“You’re not fit to have a wife,” continued Mrs. Pepper, “aggravating them and upsetting them! Any other woman would have left you long ago!”

“We’ve only been married three months,” Pepper reminded her.

“Don’t talk to me!” said his wife; “it seems more like a lifetime!”

“It seems a long time to ME” said the ex-pilot, plucking up a little courage.

“That’s right!” said his wife, striding over to where he sat. “Say you’re tired of me; say you wish you hadn’t married me! You coward! Ah! if my poor first husband was only alive and sitting in that chair now instead of you, how happy I would be!”

“If he likes to come and take it he’s welcome!” said Pepper; “it’s my chair, and it was my father’s before me, but there’s no man living I would sooner give it to than your first. Ah! he knew what he was about when the Dolphin went down, he did. I don’t blame him, though.”

“What do you mean?” demanded his wife.

“It’s my belief that he didn’t go down with her,” said Pepper, crossing over to the staircase and standing with his hand on the door.

“Didn’t go down with her?” repeated his wife scornfully. “What became of him, then? Where’s he been this thirty years?”

“In hiding!” said Pepper spitefully, and passed hastily upstairs.

The room above was charged with memories of the late lamented. His portrait in oils hung above the mantel-piece, smaller portraits– specimens of the photographer’s want of art–were scattered about the room, while various personal effects, including a mammoth pair of sea- boots, stood in a corner. On all these articles the eye of Jackson Pepper dwelt with an air of chastened regret.

“It ‘ud be a rum go if he did turn up after all,” he said to himself softly, as he sat on the edge of the bed. “I’ve heard of such things in books. I dessay she’d be disappointed if she did see him now. Thirty years makes a bit of difference in a man.”

“Jackson!” cried his wife from below, “I’m going out. If you want any dinner you can get it; if not, you can go without it!”

The front door slammed violently, and Jackson, advancing cautiously to the window, saw the form of his wife sailing majestically up the passage. Then he sat down again and resumed his meditations.

“If it wasn’t for leaving all my property I’d go,” he said gloomily. “There’s not a bit of comfort in the place! Nag, nag, nag, from morn till night! Ah, Cap’n Budd, you let me in for a nice thing when you went down with that boat of yours. Come back and fill them boots again; they’re too big for me.”

He rose suddenly and stood gaping in the centre of the room, as a mad, hazy idea began to form in his brain. His eyes blinked and his face grew white with excitement. He pushed open the little lattice window, and sat looking abstractedly up the passage on to the bay beyond. Then he put on his hat, and, deep in thought, went out.