Mr. Vickers was but a poor scholar, and the handwriting was deplorable. Undotted “i’s” travelled incognito through the scrawl, and uncrossed “t’s” passed themselves off unblushingly as “l’s.” After half an hour’s steady work, his imagination excited by one or two words which he had managed to decipher, he abandoned the task in despair, and stood moodily looking out of the window. His gaze fell upon Mr. William Russell, standing on the curb nearly opposite, with his hands thrust deep in his trouser-pockets, and, after a slight hesitation, he pushed open the small casement and beckoned him in.
“You’re a bit of a scholar, ain’t you, Bill?” he inquired.
Mr. Russell said modestly that he had got the name for it.
Again Mr. Vickers hesitated, but he had no choice, and his curiosity would brook no delay. With a strong caution as to secrecy, he handed the paper over to his friend.
Mr. Russell, his brow corrugated with thought, began to read slowly to himself. The writing was certainly difficult, but the watching Mr. Vickers saw by the way his friend’s finger moved along the lines that he was conquering it. By the slow but steady dilation of Mr. Russell’s eyes and the gradual opening of his mouth, he also saw that the contents were occasioning him considerable surprise.
“What does it say?” he demanded, anxiously.
Mr. Russell paid no heed. He gave vent to a little gurgle of astonishment and went on. Then he stopped and looked up blankly.
“Well, I’m d—–d!” he said.
“What is it?” cried Mr. Vickers.
Mr. Russell read on, and such exclamations as “Well, I’m jiggered!” “Well, I’m blest!” and others of a more complicated nature continued to issue from his lips.
“What’s it all about?” shouted the excited Mr. Vickers.
Mr. Russell looked up and blinked at him. “I can’t believe it,” he murmured. “It’s like a fairy tale, ain’t it? What do you think of it?”
The exasperated Mr. Vickers, thrusting him back in his chair, shouted insults in his ear until his friend, awaking to the true position of affairs, turned to the beginning again and proceeded with much unction to read aloud the document that Mr. Tredgold had given to Selina some months before. Mr. Vickers listened in a state of amazement which surpassed his friend’s, and, the reading finished, besought him to go over it again. Mr. Russell complied, and having got to the end put the paper down and gazed enviously at his friend.
“You won’t have to do no more work,” he said, wistfully.
“Not if I ’ad my rights,” said Mr. Vickers. “It’s like a dream, ain’t it?”
“They bought a ship, so I ’eard,” murmured the other; “they’ve got eight or nine men aboard, and they’ll be away pretty near a year. Why, Selina’ll ’ave a fortune.”
Mr. Vickers, sitting with his legs stretched out stiffly before him, tried to think. “A lot o’ good it’ll do me,” he said, bitterly. “It’s young Joseph Tasker that’ll get the benefit of it.”