As Boutigo’s Van (officially styled the “Vivid”) slackened its already inconsiderable pace at the top of the street, to slide precipitately down into Troy upon a heated skid, the one outside passenger began to stare about him with the air of a man who compares present impressions with old memories. His eyes travelled down the inclined plane of slate roofs, glistening in a bright interval between two showers, to the masts which rocked slowly by the quays, and from thence to the silver bar of sea beyond the harbour’s mouth, where the outline of Battery Point wavered unsteadily in the dazzle of sky and water. He sniffed the fragrance of pilchards cooking and the fumes of pitch blown from the ship-builders’ yards; and scanned with some curiosity the men and women who drew aside into doorways to let the van pass.
He was a powerfully made man of about sixty-five, with a solemn, hard-set face. The upper lip was clean-shaven and the chin decorated with a square, grizzled beard–a mode of wearing the hair that gave prominence to the ugly lines of the mouth. He wore a Sunday-best suit and a silk hat. He carried a blue band-box on his knees, and his enormous hands were spread over the cover. Boutigo, who held the reins beside him, seemed, in comparison with this mighty passenger, but a trivial accessory of his own vehicle.
“Where did you say William Dendle lives?” asked the big man, as the van swung round a sharp corner and came to a halt under the signboard of “The Lugger.”
“Straight on for maybe quarter of a mile–turn down a court to the right, facin’ the toll-house. You’ll see his sign, ‘W. Dendle, Block and Pump Manufacturer.’ There’s a flight o’ steps leadin’ ‘ee slap into his workshop.”
The passenger set his band-box down on the cobbles between his ankles and counted out the fare.
“I’ll be goin’ back to-night. Is there any reduction on a return journey?”
“No, sir; ’tisn’ the rule, an’ us can’t begin to cheapen the fee wi’ a man o’ your inches.”
The stranger apparently disliked levity. He stared at Boutigo, picked up his band-box, and strode down the street without more words.
By the red and yellow board opposite the tollhouse he paused for a moment or two in the sunshine, as if to rehearse the speech with which he meant to open his business. A woman passed him with a child in her arms, and turned her head to stare. The stranger looked up and caught her eye.
“That’s Dendle’s shop down the steps,” she said, somewhat confused at being caught.
“Thank you: I know.”
He turned in at the doorway and began to descend. The noise of persistent hammering echoed within the workshop at his feet. A workman came out into the yard, carrying a plank.
“Is William Dendle here?”
The man looked up and pointed at the quay-door, which stood open, with threads of light wavering over its surface. Beyond it, against an oblong of green water, rocked a small yacht’s mast.
“He’s down on the yacht there. Shall I say you want en?”
“No.” The stranger stepped to the quay-door and looked down the ladder. On the deck below him stood a man about his own age and proportions, fitting a block. His flannel shirt hung loosely about a magnificent pair of shoulders, and was tucked up at the sleeves, about the bulge of his huge forearms. He wore no cap, and as he stooped the light wind puffed back his hair, which was grey and fine.
“Hi, there–William Dendle!”
“Hullo!” The man looked up quickly.
“Can you spare a word? Don’t trouble to come up–I’ll climb down to you.”
He went down the ladder carefully, hugging the band-box in his left arm.
“You disremember me, I dessay,” he began, as he stood on the yacht’s deck.