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- Hard Cash - 140/145 -
"Keep the lady back," cried Green, and threw the vivid light of his bull's eye on a strange, grotesque, and ghastly scene. The floor was covered with bright sovereigns that glittered in the lamp-light. On the table was an open book, and a candle quite burnt down: the grease had run into a circle.
And, as was that grease to the expired light, so was the thing that sat there in human form to the Noah Skinner they had come to seek. Dead this many a day of charcoal fumes, but preserved from decomposition by those very fumes, sat Noah Skinner, dried into bones and leather waiting for them with his own Hard Cash, and with theirs; for, creeping awestruck round that mummified figure seated dead on his pool of sovereigns, they soon noticed in his left hand a paper: it was discoloured by the vapour, and part hid by the dead thumb; but thus much shone out clear and amazing, that it was a banker's receipt to David Dodd, Esq., for L. 14,010, drawn at Barkington, and signed for Richard Hardie by Noah Skinner. Julia had drawn back, and was hiding her face; but soon curiosity struggled with awe in the others: they peeped at the Receipt: they touched the weird figure. Its yellow skin sounded like a drum, and its joints creaked like a puppets. At last Compton suggested that Edward Dodd ought to secure that valuable document. "No no," said Edward: "it is too like robbing the dead."
"Then I will," said Compton.
But he found the dead thumb and finger would not part with the Receipt; then, as a trifle turns the scale, he hesitated in turn: and all but Julia stood motionless round the body that held the Receipt, the soul of the lost Cash, and still, as in life, seemed loth to part with it.
Then Fullalove came beside the arm-chair, and said with simple dignity, "I'm a man from foreign parts; I have no interest here but justice: and justice I'll dew." He took the dead arm, and the joint creaked: he applied the same lever to the bone and parchment hand he had to the door: it creaked too, but more faintly, and opened and let out this:--
No. 17. BARKINGTON, Nov. 10, 1847.
_Received of_ DAVID DODD, Esq., _the sum of Fourteen Thousand and Ten Pounds Twelve Shillings and Six Pence,
to account on demand
_For_ RICHARD HARDIE,
L. 14,010: 12: 6.
A stately foot came up the stair, but no one heard it. All were absorbed in the strange weird sight, and this great stroke of fate; or of Providence.
"This is yours, I reckon," said Fullalove, and handed the receipt to Edward. "No, no!" said Compton. "See: I've just found a will, bequeathing all he has in the world, with his blessing, to Miss Julia Dodd. These sovereigns are yours, then. But above all, the paper: as your legal adviser, I insist on your taking it immediately. Possession is nine points. However, it is actually yours, in virtue of this bequest."
A solemn passionless voice seemed to fall on them from the clouds,
"No; it is Mine."
MY story must now return on board the _Vulture._ Just before noon, the bell the half hours are struck on was tolled to collect the ship's company; and soon the gangways and booms were crowded, and even the yards were manned with sailors, collected to see their shipmate committed to the deep. Next came the lieutenants and midshipmen and stood reverently on the deck: the body was brought and placed on a grating. Then all heads being uncovered below and aloft, the chaplain read the solemn service of the dead.
Many tears were shied by the rough sailors, the more so that to most of them, though not to the officers, it was now known that poor Billy had not always been before the mast, but had seen better days, and commanded vessels, and saved lives; and now he had lost his own.
The service is the same as ashore, with this exception: that the words "We commit his body to the ground, ashes to ashes, dust to dust," &c., are altered at sea, thus: "We commit his body to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, when the sea shall give up her dead; and the life of the world to come." At these words the body is allowed to glide off the grating into the sea. The chaplain's solemn voice drew near those very words, and the tears of pity fell faster; and Georgie White, an affectionate boy, sobbed violently, and shivered beforehand at the sullen plunge that he knew would soon come, and then he should see no more poor Billy who had given his life for his.
At this moment the captain came flying on deck, and jumping on to a gun, cried sharply, "Avast! Haul that body aboard."
The sharp voice of command cut across the solemn words and tones in the most startling way. The chaplain closed his book with a look of amazement and indignation: the sailors stared, and for the first time did not obey an order. To be sure it was one they had never heard before. Then the captain got angry, and repeated his command louder, and the body was almost jerked in board.
"Carry him to my cabin; and uncover his face."
By this time nothing could surprise Jackey Tar. Four sailors executed the order promptly.
"Bosen, pipe to duty."
While the men were dispersing to their several stations, Captain Bazalgette apologised to the chaplain, and explained to him and to the officers. But I give his explanation in my own words. Finding the ship quiet, the purser went to the captain down below, and asked him coolly what entry he should make in the ship's books about this William Thompson, who was no more William Thompson than he was. "What do you mean?" said the captain. Then the purser told him that Thompson's messmates, in preparing him last night for interment, had found a little bag round his neck, and inside it, a medal of the Humane Society, and a slip of paper written on in a lady's hand; then they had sent for him; and he had seen at once that this was a mysterious case: this lady spoke of him as her husband, and skipper of a merchant vessel.
What is that?" roared the captain, who hitherto had listened with scarce half an ear.
Skipper of a merchant vessel, sir, as sure as you command her majesty's frigate _Vulture:_ and then we found his shirt marked with the same name as the lady's."
"What was the lady's name?"
"Lucy Dodd; and David Dodd is on the shirt."
"Why didn't you tell me this before?" cried the captain.
"Didn't know it till last night."
"Why it is twelve o'clock. They are burying him."
"Lucy would never forgive me," cried the captain. And to the purser's utter amazement he clapped on his cocked hat, and flew out of the cabin on the errand I have described.
He now returned to the cabin and looked: a glance was enough: there lay the kindly face that had been his friend man and boy.
He hid his own with his hands, and moaned. He cursed his own blindness and stupidity in not recognising that face among a thousand. In this he was unjust to himself. David had never looked _himself_ till now.
He sent for the surgeon, and told him the whole sad story: and asked him what could be done. His poor cousin Lucy had more than once expressed her horror of interment at sea. "It is very hot," said he; "but surely you must know some way of keeping him till we land in New Zealand: curse these flies; how they bite!"
The surgeon's eyes sparkled; he happened to be an enthusiast in the art of embalming. "Keep him to New Zealand?" said he contemptuously, "I'll embalm him so that he shall go to England looking just as he does now-- by-the-by, I never saw a drowned man keep his colour so well before--ay, and two thousand years after that, if you don't mind the expense."
"The expense! I don't care, if it cost me a year's pay. I think of nothing but repairing my blunder as far as I can."
The surgeon was delighted. Standing over his subject, who lay on the captain's table, he told that officer how he should proceed. "I have all the syringes," he said; "a capital collection. I shall inject the veins with care and patience; then I shall remove the brain and the viscera, and provided I'm not stinted in arsenic and spices----"
"I give you carte blanche on the purser: make your preparations, and send for him. Don't tell me how you do it; but do it. I must write and tell poor Lucy I have got him, and am bringing him home to her--dead."
The surgeon was gone about a quarter of an hour; he then returned with two men to remove the body, and found the captain still writing his letter, very sorrowful: but now and then slapping his face or leg with a hearty curse as the flies stung him.
The surgeon beckoned the men in softly, and pointed to the body for them to carry it out.
Now, as he pointed, his eye, following his finger, fell on something that struck that experienced eye as incredible: he uttered an exclamation of astonishment so loud that the captain looked up directly from his letter; and saw him standing with his finger pointing at the corpse, and his eyes staring astonishment "What now?" said the captain, and rose from his seat
"Look! look! look!"
The captain came and looked, and said he saw nothing at all.
"The fly; the fly!" cried the surgeon.
"Yes, I see one of them has been biting him; for there's a little blood
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