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Old Dibs
by [?]

His beginnings was a mystery, where he come from a conjecture, and his business in Manihiki Island one of them things that bothered a fellow in his sleep and yapped at his heels when he was awake. Captain Corker had picked him up at Penrhyn, and the trader there said he had been landed from a barkentine, lumber laden, from Portland, and from there back there was a haze on his past thicker than Bobby Carter’s. Leastways, with Bobby there was his forty-five different stories to account for the leg-iron scars on his ankles, but with Old Dibs you hadn’t even that to chew on. Nothing but five large new trunks and the clothes he stood in. Remarkable clothes, too, they were, for a coral island in the mid Pacific, being invariably a stovepipe hat and a Prince Albert coat, with trousers changing from pearl gray to lead color, with stripes, till you’d think he’d melt!

He was a fine man to look at, about sixty years of age, very portly and pleasant spoken, and everything he said sounded important, even if it was only about the weather or why cocoanut milk always gave him cramps. He said his name was Smith. People who change their names seem always to change it to Smith, till you wonder sometimes they don’t choose Jones, or maybe Patterson, or Wilkins. But you’ll notice it is Smith every time, though we always called him Old Dibs, because of the money that he had and threw around so regardless.

My first sight of him was on the front porch, mopping his forehead, and asking whether he might have board and lodging by the week. I told him that we hardly carried style enough for a gentleman like him, but all we had he was welcome to–and if not too long–for nothing. He seemed pleased at this, and more pleased still when he looked over our big bedroom and noticed my wife’s smiling, comely face. She’s only a Kanaka girl, but I wouldn’t trade her for a million. And he laid down a shining twenty-dollar gold piece and asked if that would do every Tuesday?

Now I am as fond of money as any man, but I’m not a pirate, and so I said it was too much. But he wouldn’t take no denial, and flung it down on the trade-room counter again, saying he counted it settled. Then I turned to with his trunks, told my wife to bundle out into the boatshed, and opened beer.

“Making a long stay, sir?” said I.

“I hardly know, Bill,” he said. (I had told him my name was Bill.) “I hardly know, Bill,” and with that he heaved a tremendous sigh.

“We don’t often have visitors here,” I said. “The last was eighteen men of the British bark Wolverine, in boats, from French Frigate Shoals, where they were cast away.”

“I’m looking for a quiet place to end my days in,” he says.

“Well, I guess you’ve found it,” I says.

“It looks as though I had, Bill,” he answers, gazing seaward where the palms was bending in the trade breeze and there was nothing but the speck of Captain Corker’s schooner beating out. I could see he was pretty downhearted, and though I set the music box going to cheer him and asked if he fancied a nice mess of gulls’ eggs for supper, it wasn’t no good, and finally he went into his room and set out the rest of the day on one of the trunks.

I went along the same evening to talk it over with Tom Riley, the other trader in Manihiki, who, in spite of our being in opposition and all that, was more like my own born brother than a rival in business. We never let down the price of shell or copra on each other, and lined up shoulder to shoulder if a third party tried to break in, and so we had enough for both of us and a tidy bit over. Tom was afire to hear all about Old Dibs, and had been getting bulletins the whole afternoon from the Kanakas, down to the twenty dollars and the five trunks, and even the way he sighed.