“It’s here,” he nodded, drawing out a small parcel wrapped about in what at first glance appeared to me an oilskin bag, tied about the neck with a tarry string. “Here. And enough to set you an’ me up for life.” His fingers fumbled with the string for two or three seconds, but presently faltered. “You come to me to-morrow,” he went on, with another mysterious wink, “and I’ll show you something. Up the hill, past Market Strand, till you come to a signboard, ’G. Goodfellow. Funerals Furnished’—first turning to the right down the court, and knock three times.”
Here he whipped the parcel back into his pocket, picked up his compasses, and made transparent pretence to be occupied in measuring distances as Captain Branscome came down the stairs from the garret.
Captain Branscome gave no sign of observing his confusion, but signalled to me to step outside with him into the alley, where he pressed an envelope into my hand. By the weight of it, I knew on the instant that he was returning Mrs. Stimcoe’s money,
“And tell her,” said he, “that I will come on Monday morning at nine o’clock as usual.”
I turned to go. I could not see his face in the gloom of the alley, but I had caught one glimpse of it by the lamplight within, and knew what had detained him upstairs. Honest man, he was starving, and had been praying up there to be delivered from temptation.
“Brooks,” said he, as I turned, “they tell me your father was once a major in the Army. Is he, by chance, the same Major Brooks—Major James Brooks, of the King’s Own—I had the honour to bring home in the Londonderry, after Corunna?”
“That must have been my father, sir.”
“A good man and a brave one. I am glad to hear he is recovered.”
I told him in a word or two of my father’s health and of his blindness.
“And he lives not far from here?” I remembered afterwards that his voice shook upon the question.
I described Minden Cottage and its position on the road towards Plymouth. He cut me short hurriedly, and remarked, with a nervous laugh, that he must be getting back to his pupil. Whereat I, too, laughed.
“Do you think it wrong of me, boy?” he asked abruptly.
“He insists upon coming; and he pays me. He will never learn anything. By the way, Brooks, I have been inhospitable. An apple, for instance?”
I declared untruthfully that I never ate apples; and perhaps the lie was pardonable, since by it I escaped eating Captain Branscome’s Sunday dinner.
A barber’s pole protruded beside the ope leading to Captain Coffin’s lodgings. It was painted in spirals of scarlet and blue, and at the end of it a cage containing a grey parrot dangled over the footway.