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The Grey Parrot
by [?]

The Chief Engineer and the Third sat at tea on the s.s. Curlew in the East India Docks. The small and not over-clean steward having placed everything he could think of upon the table, and then added everything the Chief could think of, had assiduously poured out two cups of tea and withdrawn by request. The two men ate steadily, conversing between bites, and interrupted occasionally by a hoarse and sepulchral voice, the owner of which, being much exercised by the sight of the food, asked for it, prettily at first, and afterwards in a way which at least compelled attention.

“That’s pretty good for a parrot,” said the Third critically. “Seems to know what he’s saying too. No, don’t give it anything. It’ll stop if you do.”

“There’s no pleasure to me in listening to coarse language,” said the Chief with dignity.

He absently dipped a piece of bread and butter in the Third’s tea, and losing it chased it round and round the bottom of the cap with his finger, the Third regarding the operation with an interest and emotion which he was at first unable to understand.

“You’d better pour yourself out another cup,” he said thoughtfully as he caught the Third’s eye.

“I’m going to,” said the other dryly.

“The man I bought it off,” said the Chief, giving the bird the sop, “said that it was a perfectly respectable parrot and wouldn’t know a bad word if it heard it I hardly like to give it to my wife now.”

“It’s no good being too particular,” said the Third, regarding him with an ill-concealed grin; “that’s the worst of all you young married fellows. Seem to think your wife has got to be wrapped up in brown paper. Ten chances to one she’ll be amused.”

The Chief shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. “I bought the bird to be company for her,” he said slowly; “she’ll be very lonesome without me, Rogers.”

“How do you know?” inquired the other.

“She said so,” was the reply.

“When you’ve been married as long as I have,” said the Third, who having been married some fifteen years felt that their usual positions were somewhat reversed, “you’ll know that generally speaking they’re glad to get rid of you.”

“What for?” demanded the Chief in a voice that Othello might have envied.

“Well, you get in the way a bit,” said Rogers with secret enjoyment; “you see you upset the arrangements. House-cleaning and all that sort of thing gets interrupted. They’re glad to see you back at first, and then glad to see the back of you.”

“There’s wives and wives,” said the bridegroom tenderly.

“And mine’s a good one,” said the Third, “registered A1 at Lloyd’s, but she don’t worry about me going away. Your wife’s thirty years younger than you, isn’t she?”

“Twenty-five,” corrected the other shortly. “You see what I’m afraid of is, that she’ll get too much attention.”

“Well, women like that,” remarked the Third.

“But I don’t, damn it,” cried the Chief hotly. “When I think of it I get hot all over. Boiling hot.”

“That won’t last,” said the other reassuringly; “you won’t care twopence this time next year.”

“We’re not all alike,” growled the Chief; “some of us have got finer feelings than others have. I saw the chap next door looking at her as we passed him this morning.”

“Lor’,” said the Third.

“I don’t want any of your damned impudence,” said the Chief sharply. “He put his hat on straighter when he passed us. What do you think of that?”

“Can’t say,” replied the other with commendable gravity; “it might mean anything.”

“If he has any of his nonsense while I’m away I’ll break his neck,” said the Chief passionately. “I shall know of it.”

The other raised his eyebrows.

“I’ve asked the landlady to keep her eyes open a bit,” said the Chief. “My wife was brought up in the country, and she’s very young and simple, so that it is quite right and proper for her to have a motherly old body to look after her.”