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The Cask Ashore
by [?]

“But–you’ll excuse me–I don’t quite follow–“

Mr. Jope pressed a forefinger mysteriously to his lip, then jerked a thumb in the direction of the river.

“If your Reverence wouldn’ mind steppin’ down to the creek with me?” he suggested respectfully.

Parson Spettigew fetched his hat, and together the pair descended the vale beneath the dropping petals of the cherry. At the foot of it they came to a creek, which the tide at this hour had flooded and almost overbrimmed. Hard by the water’s edge, backed by tall elms, stood a dilapidated fish-store, and below it lay a boat with nose aground on a beach of flat stones. Two men were in the boat. The barber–a slip of a fellow in rusty top-hat and suit of rusty black–sat in the stern-sheets face to face with a large cask; a cask so ample that, to find room for his knees, he was forced to crook them at a high, uncomfortable angle. In the bows, boathook in hand, stood a tall sailor, arrayed in shore-going clothes similar to Mr. Jope’s. His face was long, sallow, and expressive of taciturnity, and he wore a beard–not, however, where beards are usually worn, but as a fringe beneath his clean-shaven chin.

“Well, here we are!” announced Mr. Jope cheerfully. “Your Reverence knows A. Grigg and Son, and the others you can trust in all weathers; bein’ William Adams, otherwise Bill, and Eli Tonkin–friends o’ mine an’ shipmates both.”

The tall seaman touched his hat by way of acknowledging the introduction.

“But–but I only see one!” protested Parson Spettigew.

“This here’s Bill Adams,” said Mr. Jope, and again the tall seaman touched his hat. “Is it Eli you’re missin’? He’s in the cask.”


“We’ll hoick him up to the store, Bill, if you’re ready? It looks a nice cool place. And while you’re prizin’ him open, I’d best explain to his Reverence and the barber. Here, unship the shore-plank; and you, A. Grigg and Son, lend a hand to heave. . . . Aye, you’re right: it weighs more’n a trifle–bein’ a quarter-puncheon, an’ the best proof-spirits. Tilt her this way, . . . Ready? . . . then w’y-ho! and away she goes!”

With a heave and a lurch that canted the boat until the water poured over her gunwale, the huge tub was rolled overside into shallow water. The recoil, as the boat righted herself, cast the small barber off his balance, and he fell back over a thwart with heels in air. But before he picked himself up, the two seamen, encouraging one another with strange cries, had leapt out and were trundling the cask up the beach, using the flats of their hands. With another w’y-ho! and a tremendous lift, they ran it up to the turfy plat, whence Bill Adams steered it with ease through the ruinated doorway of the store. Mr. Jope returned, smiling and mopping his brow.

“It’s this-a-way,” he said, addressing the Parson. “Eli Tonkin his name is, or was; and, as he said, of this parish.”

“Tonkin?” queried the Parson. “There are no Tonkins surviving in Botusfleming parish. The last of them was a poor old widow I laid to rest the week after Christmas.”

“Belay there! . . . Dead, is she?” Mr. Jope’s face exhibited the liveliest disappointment. “And after the surprise we’d planned for her!” he murmured ruefully. “Hi! Bill!” he called to his shipmate, who having stored the cask, was returning to the boat.

“Wot is it?” asked Bill Adams inattentively. “Look here, where did we stow the hammer an’ chisel?”

“Take your head out o’ the boat an’ listen. The old woman’s dead!”

The tall man absorbed the news slowly.

“That’s a facer,” he said at length. “But maybe we can fix her up, too? I’ll stand my share.”

“She was buried the week after Christmas.”