“It doesn’t matter,” said Mr. Carter. “I wish I was Bert Simmons, that’s all. Good-by.”
“Wish you was!” said Mr. Evans, who had been listening in open-mouthed astonishment. “Look here! Man to man—are you Bert Simmons or are you not?”
“No,” said Mr. Carter.
“Of course not,” said Nancy.
“And you didn’t owe that money?”
“Nobody owed it,” said Nancy. “It was done just to punish him.”
Mr. Evans, with a strange cry, blundered towards the door. “I’ll have that money out of ’em,” he roared, “if I have to hold ’em up and shake it out of their trouser-pockets. You stay here.”
He hurried up the road, and Jim, with the set face of a man going into action against heavy odds, followed him.
“Your father told me to stay,” said Mr. Carter, coming farther into the room.
Nancy looked up at him through her eyelashes. “You need not unless you want to,” she said, very softly.
“Everybody is superstitious,” said the night-watchman, as he gave utterance to a series of chirruping endearments to a black cat with one eye that had just been using a leg of his trousers as a serviette; “if that cat ’ad stole some men’s suppers they’d have acted foolish, and suffered for it all the rest of their lives.”
He scratched the cat behind the ear, and despite himself his face darkened. “Slung it over the side, they would,” he said, longingly, “and chucked bits o’ coke at it till it sank. As I said afore, everybody is superstitious, and those that ain’t ought to be night-watchmen for a time—that ’ud cure ’em. I knew one man that killed a black cat, and arter that for the rest of his life he could never get three sheets in the wind without seeing its ghost. Spoilt his life for ’im, it did.”
He scratched the cat’s other ear. “I only left it a moment, while I went round to the Bull’s Head,” he said, slowly filling his pipe, “and I thought I’d put it out o’ reach. Some men——”
His fingers twined round the animal’s neck; then, with a sigh, he rose and took a turn or two on the jetty.
Superstitiousness is right and proper, to a certain extent, he said, resuming his seat; but, o’ course, like everything else, some people carry it too far—they’d believe anything. Weak-minded they are, and if you’re in no hurry I can tell you a tale of a pal o’ mine, Bill Burtenshaw by name, that’ll prove my words.
[Illustration: “Superstitiousness is right and proper, to a certain extent.”]
His mother was superstitious afore ’im, and always knew when ’er friends died by hearing three loud taps on the wall. The on’y mistake she ever made was one night when, arter losing no less than seven friends, she found out it was the man next door hanging pictures at three o’clock in the morning. She found it out by ’im hitting ’is thumb-nail.