“Why don’t you get some settled work?” she inquired, with gentle severity, as he imparted snatches of his history between bites.
“Easier said than done,” said Mr. Travers, serenely. “But don’t you run away with the idea that I’m a beggar, because I’m not. I pay my way, such as it is. And, by-the-bye, I s’pose I haven’t earned that two pounds Benn gave me?”
His face lengthened, and he felt uneasily in his pocket.
“I’ll give them to him when I’m tired of the joke,” said the widow, holding out her hand and watching him closely.
Mr. Travers passed the coins over to her. “Soft hand you’ve got,” he said, musingly. “I don’t wonder Benn was desperate. I dare say I should have done the same in his place.”
Mrs. Waters bit her lip and looked out at the window; Mr. Travers resumed his breakfast.
“There’s only one job that I’m really fit for, now that I’m too old for the Army,” he said, confidentially, as, breakfast finished, he stood at the door ready to depart.
“Playing at burglars?” hazarded Mrs. Waters.
“Landlord of a little country public-house,” said Mr. Travers, simply.
Mrs. Waters fell back and regarded him with open-eyed amazement.
“Good morning,” she said, as soon as she could trust her voice.
“Good-bye,” said Mr. Travers, reluctantly. “I should like to hear how old Benn takes this joke, though.”
Mrs. Waters retreated into the house and stood regarding him. “If you’re passing this way again and like to look in—I’ll tell you,” she said, after a long pause. “Good-bye.”
“I’ll look in in a week’s time,” said Mr. Travers.
He took the proffered hand and shook it warmly. “It would be the best joke of all,” he said, turning away.
The soldier confronted her again.
“For old Benn to come round here one evening and find me landlord. Think it over.”
Mrs. Waters met his gaze soberly. “I’ll think it over when you have gone,” she said, softly. “Now go.”
[Illustration: “The Nest Egg.”]
“Artfulness,” said the night-watch-man, smoking placidly, “is a gift; but it don’t pay always. I’ve met some artful ones in my time—plenty of ’em; but I can’t truthfully say as ’ow any of them was the better for meeting me.”
He rose slowly from the packing-case on which he had been sitting and, stamping down the point of a rusty nail with his heel, resumed his seat, remarking that he had endured it for some time under the impression that it was only a splinter.
“I’ve surprised more than one in my time,” he continued, slowly. “When I met one of these ’ere artful ones I used fust of all to pretend to be more stupid than wot I really am.”
He stopped and stared fixedly.
“More stupid than I looked,” he said. He stopped again.