Until dinner-time, nobody interfered with him, and then Roberts, pushed forward by the others, approached him with some food. He motioned, it away with a dirty, bloated hand, and, making signs for water, drank it eagerly.
For two days he stayed there quietly, the black eyes always open, the stubby fingers always on the move. On the third morning Bill, who had conquered his fear sufficiently to give him water occasionally, called softly to us.
“Come and look at him,” said he. “What’s the matter with him?”
“He’s dying!” said the cook, with a shudder.
“He can’t be going to die yet!” said Bill, blankly.
As he spoke the man’s eyes seemed to get softer and more life-like, and he looked at us piteously and helplessly. From face to face he gazed in mute inquiry, and then, striking his chest feebly with his fist, uttered two words.
We looked at each other blankly, and he repeated them eagerly, and again touched his chest.
“It’s his name,” said the cook, and we all repeated them.
He smiled in an exhausted fashion, and then, rallying his energies, held up a forefinger; as we stared at this new riddle, he lowered it, and held up all four fingers, doubled.
“Come away,” quavered the cook; “he’s putting a spell on us.”
We drew back at that, and back farther still, as he repeated the motions. Then Bill’s face cleared suddenly, and he stepped towards him.
“He means his wife and younkers!” he shouted eagerly. “This ain’t no Jem Dadd!”
It was good then to see how our fellows drew round the dying sailor, and strove to cheer him. Bill, to show he understood the finger business, nodded cheerily, and held his hand at four different heights from the floor. The last was very low, so low that the man set his lips together, and strove to turn his heavy head from us.
“Poor devil!” said Bill, “he wants us to tell his wife and children what’s become of him. He must ha’ been dying when he come aboard. What was his name, again?”
But the name was not easy to English lips, and we had already forgotten it.
“Ask him again,” said the cook, “and write it down. Who’s got a pen?”
He went to look for one as Bill turned to the sailor to get him to repeat it. Then he turned round again, and eyed us blankly, for, by this time, the owner had himself forgotten it.
THE FOUR PIGEONS
[Illustration: “The Four Pigeons.”]
The old man took up his mug and shifted along the bench until he was in the shade of the elms that stood before the Cauliflower. The action also had the advantage of bringing him opposite the two strangers who were refreshing themselves after the toils of a long walk in the sun.
“My hearing ain’t wot it used to be,” he said, tremulously. “When you asked me to have a mug o’ ale I ’ardly heard you; and if you was to ask me to ’ave another, I mightn’t hear you at all.”