“Ay, Cap’n.” Barber Toy, knuckles on hips, regarded and approved his handiwork. “The world’s afore ’ee. Go in and win!”
As he stepped out upon the Quay, Captain Cai lifted his gaze towards the tower of the Parish Church, visible above an alley-way that led between a gable-end of the Town Hall and the bulging plank of the “King of Prussia.” Aloft there the clock began to chime out the eight notes it had chimed, at noon and at midnight, through his boyhood, and had been chiming faithfully ever since.
Yes, it was good to be home! Captain Cai would have been astonished to learn that his thirty-five years at sea had left any corner for sentiment. Yet a sudden mist gathered between him and the face of the old clock. Nor had it cleared when, almost punctually on the last stroke, a throng of children came pouring from school through the narrow alley-ways. They ran by him with no more than a glance, not interrupting their shouts. In a moment the Quay was theirs; they were at leap-frog over the bollards; they were storming the sand-heap, pelting a king of the castle, who pelted back with handfuls. Captain Cai felt an absurd sense of being left out in the cold. Not a child had recognised him.
All very well . . . but to think that these thirty-odd years had made not a scrap of difference—that the Quay lay as it had lain, neglected, untidy as ever! Thirty-odd years ago it had been bad enough. But what conscience was there in standing still and making no effort to move with the times? As Barber Toy said, it was scandalous.
“Three hundred pounds a-year . . .” mused Captain Cai between two puffs of tobacco smoke. He repeated the words, rolling them in his mouth, as though they tasted well. “You’re pretty sure ’twill come to that?”
“Sure,” answered Mr Rogers. The pair had dined, and were now promoting digestion with pipes and grog in Mr Rogers’ bow-window overlooking the harbour. “You might put your money to an annuity, o’ course, an’ live like a lord: but I’m reckonin’ it in safe ord’nary investments, averagin’ (let’s say) four per cent. An’ that’s leavin’ out your thirty-odd shares in the Hannah Hoo, when she’s for sale. Ship-auctions be chancey things in these days, an’ private purchasers hard to find.”
“I never knew ’em when they weren’t,” said Captain Cai.
“When d’ye pay off, by the way?”
“Not till Saturday. There’s no hurry. When a man drops hook on his last cruise I allow ‘tis his duty to tidy up an’ leave all ship-shape; in justice to hisself, you understand. There’s Tregaskis an’ the crew, too,—old shipmates every one—”
The chandler nodded.
“Ay, you’re to be envied, Cap’n. There’s others—masters of oil-tanks, f’r instance—as makes their pile faster; some of em’ in ways that needn’t be mentioned atween you an’ me. But slow an’ honest has been your motto; an’ here you be—What’s your age? Fifty? Say fifty at the outside.—Here you be at fifty with a tidy little income and a clean conscience to sit with in your pew o’ Sundays; nothing to do o’ week-days but look after a few steady-goin’ investments an’ draw your little dividends.”