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A Benefit Performance
by [?]

“He had a wonderful way with wimmen,” pursued Jackson hastily; “you’ve got a wonderful way with wimmen. More than that, you’ve got the most wonderful gift for acting I’ve ever seen. Ever since the time when you acted in that barn at Bristol I’ve never seen any actor I can honestly say I’ve liked–never! Look how you can imitate cats–better than Henry Irving himself!”

“I never had much chance, being at sea all my life,” said Crippen modestly.

“You’ve got the gift,” said Pepper impressively. “It was born in you, and you’ll never leave off acting till the day of your death. You couldn’t if you tried–you know you couldn’t!”

The captain smiled deprecatingly.

“Now, I want you to do a performance for my benefit,” continued Pepper. “I want you to act Cap’n Budd, what was lost in the Dolphin thirty years ago. There’s only one man in England I’d trust with the part, and that’s you.”

“Act Cap’n Budd!” gasped the astonished Crippen, putting down his glass and staring at his friend.

“The part is written here,” said the ex-pilot, producing a note-book from his breast pocket and holding it out to his friend. I’ve been keeping a log day by day of all the things she said about him, in the hopes of catching her tripping, but I never did. There’s notes of his family, his ships, and a lot of silly things he used to say, which she thinks funny.”

“I couldn’t do it!” said the captain seriously, as he took the book.

“You could do it if you liked,” said Pepper. “Besides, think what a spree it’ll be for you. Learn it by heart, then come down and claim her. Her name’s Martha.”

“What good ‘ud it do you if I did?” inquired the captain. “She’d soon find out!”

“You come down to Sunset Bay,” said Pepper, emphasising his remarks with his forefinger; “you claim your wife; you allude carefully to the things set down in this book; I give Martha back to you and bless you both. Then”–

“Then what?” inquired Crippen anxiously.

“You disappear!” concluded Pepper triumphantly; “and, of course, believing her first husband is alive, she has to leave me. She’s a very particular woman; and, besides that, I’d take care to let the neighbours know. I’m happy, you’re happy, and, if she’s not happy, why, she don’t deserve to be.”

“I’ll think it over,” said Crippen, “and write and let you know.”

“Make up your mind now,” urged Pepper, reaching over and patting him encouragingly upon the shoulder. “If you promise to do it, the thing’s as good as done. Lord! I think I see you now, coming in at that door and surprising her. Talk about acting!”

“Is she what you’d call a good-looking woman?” inquired Crippen.

“Very handsome!” said Pepper, looking out of the window.

“I couldn’t do it!” said the captain. “It wouldn’t be right and fair to her.”

“I don’t see that!” said Pepper. “I never ought to have married her without being certain her first was dead. It ain’t right, Crippen; say what you like, it ain’t right!”

“If you put it that way,” said the captain hesitatingly.

“Have some more gin,” said the artful pilot.

The captain had some more, and, what with flattery and gin, combined with the pleadings of his friend, began to consider the affair more favourably. Pepper stuck to his guns, and used them so well that when the captain saw him off that evening he was pledged up to the hilt to come down to Sunset Bay and personate the late Captain Budd on the following Thursday.

The ex-pilot passed the intervening days in a sort of trance, from which he only emerged to take nourishment, or answer the scoldings of his wife. On the eventful Thursday, however, his mood changed, and he went about in such a state of suppressed excitement that he could scarcely keep still.

“Lor’ bless me!” snapped Mrs. Pepper, as he slowly perambulated the parlour that afternoon. “What ails the man? Can’t you keep still for five minutes?”