“Shake hands, shake hands,” he said; “that’s right—you’re talking to a gentleman, though you mightn’t think it.”
I certainly should not have thought it. He was a short, thick-set man, of about five feet and two or three inches, shabbily dressed; and his unsteady lurch, swollen features, and odorous breath, told plainly of a heavy debauch. Amused by his manner, I entered into conversation with him. He was, it appeared, a sailor, a Lancashire man, and, if he was to be believed, very respectably connected in Manchester. I gathered that he had ended a boyhood of contumacy by running away to sea, his people, though they had practically disowned him, allowing him a pound a week. This allowance had for some time past been stopped, and he was coming up in person to investigate the why and wherefore. Having a week or two before come off a voyage at Liverpool, he had at that port drawn L75 in pay, which he had spent in two days and nights of revelry, an assertion to which his personal appearance bore strong corroborative testimony. He appeared, on the whole, to consider himself an exceedingly ill-used person. “I’m a houtcast,” he repeatedly said. I asked him in what capacity he served on shipboard. “A.B.,” he replied, “always A.B.;” and certainly, in speech and appearance, he seemed nothing better than a foremast man, although, shaking hands with me again and again, he each time asseverated that it was the hand of a gentleman. At length he went on his way, and I stood watching his receding figure as he reeled down the street. I was just turning away, when I heard a loud outcry; the “houtcast,” about a hundred yards distant, was hailing me. On what trifles does destiny depend! My first impulse was to walk off without taking any notice of his shouts, and on the simple decision to stay and see what he wanted, turned the whole future. It appeared that whilst talking with me his obfuscated mind had lost the directions I had given him as to the locality of Victoria Park. Having nothing in particular to do, I volunteered to walk along with him, and keep him in the right direction, and accordingly we entered the park together. With considerable difficulty, he found out the road and house he was in search of; I doubt if, without my aid, he would have found it at all in his then condition. He had not, he informed me, been in Manchester for years, and those he was looking up had changed their residence. The exterior of the place, when found, seemed to bear out his statement as to the social position of his relatives. I asked him what sort of reception he thought he would get from them.
“He did not,” he replied, “care a d——n what it might be, but he was going to see why they had stopped his quid, and no mistake about it.”