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A Benefit Performance
by [?]

He was still thinking deeply as he boarded the train for London next morning, and watched Sunset Bay from the window until it disappeared round the curve. So many and various were the changes that flitted over his face that an old lady, whose seat he had taken, gave up her intention of apprising him of the fact, and indulged instead in a bitter conversation with her daughter, of which the erring Pepper was the unconscious object.

In the same preoccupied fashion he got on a Bayswater omnibus, and waited patiently for it to reach Poplar. Strange changes in the landscape, not to be accounted for by the mere lapse of time, led to explanations, and the conductor–a humane man, who said he had got an idiot boy at home–personally laid down the lines of his tour. Two hours later he stood in front of a small house painted in many colours, and, ringing the bell, inquired for Cap’n Crippen.

In response to his inquiry, a big man, with light blue eyes and a long grey beard, appeared, and, recognising his visitor with a grunt of surprise, drew him heartily into the passage and thrust him into the parlour. He then shook hands with him, and, clapping him on the back, bawled lustily for the small boy who had opened the door.

“Pot o’ stout, bottle o’ gin, and two long pipes,” said he, as the boy came to the door and eyed the ex-pilot curiously.

At all these honest preparations for his welcome the heart of Jackson grew faint within him.

“Well, I call it good of you to come all this way to see me,” said the captain, after the boy had disappeared; “but you always was warm- hearted, Pepper. And how’s the missis?”

“Shocking!” said Pepper, with a groan.

“Ill?” inquired the captain.

“Ill-tempered,” said Pepper. “In fact, cap’n, I don’t mind telling you, she’s killing me–slowly killing me!”

“Pooh!” said Crippen. “Nonsense! You don’t know how to manage her!”

“I thought perhaps you could advise me,” said the artful Pepper. “I said to myself yesterday, ‘Pepper, go and see Cap’n Crippen. What he don’t know about wimmen and their management ain’t worth knowing! If there’s anybody can get you out of a hole, it’s him. He’s got the power, and, what’s more, he’s got the will!'”

“What causes the temper?” inquired the captain, with his most judicial air, as he took the liquor from his messenger and carefully filled a couple of glasses.

“It’s natural!” said his friend ruefully. “She calls it having a high spirit herself. And she’s so generous. She’s got a married niece living in the place, and when that gal comes round and admires the things–my things–she gives ’em to her! She gave her a sofa the other day, and, what’s more, she made me help the gal to carry it home!”

“Have you tried being sarcastic?” inquired the captain thoughtfully.

“I have,” said Pepper, with a shiver. “The other day I said, very nasty, ‘Is there anything else you’d like, my dear?’ but she didn’t understand it.”

“No?” said the captain.

“No,” said Pepper. “She said I was very kind, and she’d like the clock; and, what’s more, she had it too! Red-‘aired hussy!”

The captain poured out some gin and drank it slowly. It was evident he was thinking deeply, and that he was much affected by his friend’s troubles.

“There is only one way for me to get clear,” said Pepper, as he finished a thrilling recital of his wrongs, “and that is, to find Cap’n Budd, her first.”

“Why, he’s dead!” said Crippen, staring hard. “Don’t you waste your time looking for him!”

“I’m not going to,” said Pepper; “but here’s his portrait. He was a big man like you; he had blue eyes and a straight handsome nose, like you. If he’d lived to now he’d be almost your age, and very likely more like you than ever. He was a sailor; you’ve been a sailor.”

The captain stared at him in bewilderment.