UNBUSINESSLIKE PROCEEDINGS IN “THE
OFFICE” -- PEEKINS GROWS DESPERATE AND
TAKES REFUGE IN THE “THREE JOLLY TARS.”
Mr Denham stood in front of his office
fire with a coat-tail, as usual, under each arm; his
feet planted on two little roses that grew on each
side of a large bouquet which flourished perennially
on his rug, and his eyes fixed on the ceiling.
He had just arrived at Redwharf Lane, and looked
quite fresh and ruddy from the exercise of walking,
for Denham was a great walker, and frequently did
the distance between his house and his office on foot.
Mr Crumps sat shivering in his own
room, looking the reverse of ruddy, for Crumps was
old and his blood was thin, and there was no fire in
his room. It is but justice to say, however,
that this was no fault of Denham’s, for the
apartment of his junior partner did not possess a
fireplace, and it could not be expected that a fire
should be lit, a la Red Indian, on the middle
of the floor. At all events Crumps did not expect
it. He was not, therefore, liable to disappointment
in his expectations. He contented himself, poor
old man, with such genial gusts of second-hand warmth
as burst in upon him from time to time from Denham’s
room when the door was open, or poured in upon him
in ameliorating rivulets through the keyhole, like
a little gulf-stream, when the door was shut.
“The letters, sir,” said
Peekins, the meek blue tiger in buttons, entering
at that moment and laying a pile of letters on the
Had Peekins been a little dog without
a soul, capable of wagging his tail and fawning, Denham
would have patted him, but, being only a boy in blue
with a meek spirit, the great man paid no attention
to him whatever. He continued to gaze at the
ceiling as if he were reading his destiny there.
Perhaps he would have looked as blank as the ceiling
had he known what that destiny was to be; but he did
not know, fortunately (or unfortunately, if the reader
chooses), hence he turned with a calm undisturbed
countenance to peruse his letters after the boy had
We do not say that Denham was a hard
man; by no means; he was only peculiar in his views
of things in general; that was all!
For some time Denham broke seals,
read contents, and made jottings, without any expression
whatever on his countenance. Presently he took
up an ill-folded epistle addressed to “Mister
Denham” in a round and rather rugged hand.
“Begging,” he muttered with a slight frown.
“`Dear Uncle’ (`eh!’
he exclaimed, turned over the leaf in surprise,
read the signature, and turned back to the beginning
again, with the least possible tinge of surprise still
remaining), `I’m sorry’ (humph) `to have
to inform you that the Nancy has become a total
wreck,’ (`indeed!’) `on the Goodwin Sands.’
(`Amazing sands these. What a quantity of wealth
they have swallowed up!’) `The cargo has been
entirely lost,’ (`ah! it was insured
to its full value,’) `also two of the hands.’
(`H’m, their lives wouldn’t be insured.
These rough creatures never do insure their lives;
wonderfully improvident!’) `I am at present
disabled, from the effects of a blow on the head received
during the storm.’ (Very awkward; particularly
so just now.) `No doubt Bax will be up immediately
to give you particulars.’” (Humph!)
“`The cause of the loss of your
schooner was, in my opinion,’ (Mr Denham’s
eyebrows here rose in contemptuous surprise), `_unseaworthiness
of vessel and stores_.’”
Mr Denham made no comment on this
part of the epistle. A dark frown settled on
his brow as he crumpled the letter in his hand, dropped
it on the ground as if it had been a loathsome creature,
and set his foot on it.
Denham was uncommonly gruff and forbidding
all that day. He spoke harshly to old Mr Crumps;
found fault with the clerks to such an extent, that
they began to regard the office as a species of Pandemonium
which ought to have smelt sulphurous instead
of musty; and rendered the life of Peekins so insupportable
that the poor boy occupied his few moments of leisure
in speculating on the average duration of human life
and wondering whether it would not be better, on the
whole, to make himself an exception to the general
rule by leaping off London Bridge at high water blue-tights,
buttons, and all!
Things continued in this felicitous
condition in the office until five in the afternoon,
when there was a change, not so much in the moral as
in the physical atmosphere. It came in the form
of a thick fog, which rolled down the crooked places
of Redwharf Lane, poured through keyholes, curled
round the cranes on the warehouses, and the old anchors,
cables, and buoys in the lumber-yards; travelled over
the mudflats, and crept out upon the muddy river among
the colliers, rendering light things indistinct,
black things blacker, dark places darker, and affording
such an opportunity for unrestrained enjoyment to
the rats, that these creatures held an absolute carnival
About this period of the day Mr Denham
rose, put on his hat and greatcoat, and prepared to
go. Peekins observed this through a private
scratch in the glass door, and signalised the gladsome
news in dumb-show to his comrades. Hope at once
took the place of despair in the office, for lads
and very young men are happily furnished with extremely
elastic spirits. The impulse of joy caused by
the prospect of Denham’s departure was so strong
in the breast of one youth, with red hair, a red nose,
red cheeks, large red lips, blue eyes, and red hands
(Ruggles by name), that he incontinently seized a
sheet of blotting-paper, crumpled it into a ball,
and flung it at the head of the youngest clerk, a dark
little boy, who sat opposite to him on a tall stool,
and who, being a new boy, was copying letters painfully
but diligently with a heavy heart.
The missile was well aimed.
It hit the new boy exactly on the point of the nose,
causing him to start and prolong the tail of a y an
inch and a quarter beyond its natural limits.
This little incident would not have
been worth mentioning but for the fact that it was
the hinge, so to speak, on which incidents of a more
important nature turned. Mr Denham happened to
open his door just as the missile was discharged and
saw the result, though not the thrower. He had
no difficulty, however, in discovering the offender;
for each of the other clerks looked at their comrade
in virtuous horror, as though to say, “Oh! how
could you? please, sir, it wasn’t
me, it was him;” while Ruggles
applied himself to his work with an air of abstraction
and a face of scarlet that said plainly, “It’s
of no use staring in that fashion at me, for I’m
as innocent as the unborn babe.”
Denham frowned portentously, and that
peculiarly dead calm which usually precedes the bursting
of a storm prevailed in the office. Before the
storm burst, however, the outer door was opened hastily
and our friend Bax stood in the room. He was
somewhat dishevelled in appearance, as if he had travelled
fast. To the clerks in that small office he appeared
more fierce and gigantic than usual. Peekins
regarded him with undisguised admiration, and wondered
in his heart if Jack the Giant-Killer would have dared
to encounter such a being, supposing him to have had
“I’m glad I am not too
late to find you here, sir,” said Bax, puffing
off his hat and bowing slightly to his employer.
“Humph!” ejaculated Denham, “step
They entered the inner office, and,
the door being shut, Ruggles internally blessed Bax
and breathed freely. Under the influence of
reaction he even looked defiant.
“So you have lost your schooner,”
began Denham, sitting down in his chair of state and
eyeing the seaman sternly. Bax returned the gaze
so much more sternly that Denham felt disconcerted
but did not allow his feelings to betray themselves.
“The schooner has been
lost,” said Bax, “and I am here to report
the fact and to present these letters, one from the
seamen’s missionary at Ramsgate, the other from
your nephew, both of which will show you that no blame
attaches to me. I regret the loss, deeply, but
it was un ”
Bax was going to have said unavoidable,
but he felt that the expression would have been incorrect,
“Finish your remark,” said Denham.
“I merely wished to say that it was out of my
power to prevent it.”
“Oh!” interjected Denham,
sarcastically, as he read the letters. “The
seamen’s missionary is one of whom I know nothing.
His opinion, therefore, carries no weight.
As to my nephew, his remarks are simply unworthy
of notice. But you say that no blame attaches
to you. To whom then does blame attach,
if not to the skipper of the vessel? Do you
mean to lay it at the door of Providence?”
“No, sir, I do not,” replied Bax.
“Have you, then, the presumption to insinuate
that it lies with me?”
Bax was silent.
“Am I to expect an answer?” said Denham.
“I make no insinuations,”
said Bax, after a short pause; “I do but state
facts. If the `Nancy’ had been fitted with
a new tops’l-yard and jib-boom, as I advised
last summer, I would have carried her safe into the
“So,” said Denham, in
a tone of increasing sarcasm, “you have the
hardihood to insinuate that it was my fault?”
Bax reddened with indignation at the
tone of insult in which these words were uttered.
His bass voice grew deeper and sterner as he said:
“If you insist on plain speaking,
sir, you shall have it. I do think the
blame of the loss of the `Nancy’ lies at your
door, and worse than that, the loss of two human lives
lies there also. There was not a sound timber
or a seaworthy article aboard of the schooner from
stem to stern. You know well enough that I have
told you this, in more civil language it
may be, again and again; and I hope that
the telling of it now, flatly, will induce you to
consider the immense responsibility that lies on your
shoulders; for there are other ships belonging to your
firm in much the same condition ships with
inferior charts and instruments, unsound spars, not
enough of boats, and with anchors and chains scarce
powerful enough to hold a Deal lugger in a moderate
Mr Denham was not prepared for this
sudden and wholesale condemnation of himself and his
property. He gazed at the seaman’s flushed
countenance for a few seconds in mute surprise.
At last he recovered self-possession, and said in
a calm voice
“You applied last year, if I
remember rightly, for the situation of mate aboard
our ship the `Trident’ now on her
second voyage from Australia?”
“I did,” said Bax, shortly,
not knowing how to take this sudden change of subject.
“Do you suppose,” said
Denham, with a peculiar curl of his lip, “that
this interview will tend to improve your chance of
obtaining that situation?”
Denham put the question with the full
expectation of humbling Bax, and with the further
intention of following up his reply with the assurance
that there was much greater probability of the moon
being turned into green cheese than of his promotion
taking place; but his intentions were frustrated by
Bax starting, and, in a voice of indignation, exclaiming “Sir,
do you suppose I have come here to beg? If you
were to offer me the command of the `Trident,’
or any other ship that you possess, I would refuse
it with scorn. It is bad enough to risk one’s
life in the rotten craft you send to sea; but that
would be nothing compared with the shame of serving
a house that thinks only of gain, and holds human
life cheaper than the dirt I tread under my feet.
No, sir; I came here to explain how the `Nancy’
was lost. Having done so, I take my leave.”
“Stay,” said Denham, as
Bax turned to go. “Perhaps you will do
me one more service before we part. Will you
kindly inform my nephew that he need not be in a hurry
to come back here. I extend his leave.
He may continue to absent himself as long as he pleases to
all eternity if it suits him.”
Mr Denham flushed up with anger as
he said the last words. Bax, without deigning
a reply, turned on his heel and strode out of the room,
slamming the glass-door behind him with such violence
that every panel in it was shivered to atoms!
He wheeled round and re-entered the room. Denham
grew pale, supposing that the roused giant was about
to assault him; but Bax only pointed to the door,
and said sternly “Part of the wages
due me will pay for that. You can keep the balance,
and buy yourself a Bible with it.”
Next moment he was gone, and Peekins
stood staring at his master through the shattered
door, trembling from head to foot. Immediately
afterwards Denham took his hat and stick, and passed
through the office. Pausing at the door he looked
“There are five or six foreign
letters in my desk for tomorrow’s post.
Copy them out to-night. See that you do it to-night.
Peekins will remain with you, and lock up after you
Ruggles, who knew that this involved
work till near midnight, humbly replied, “Yes,
Having thus secured the misery of
at least two human beings, Denham went home, somewhat
relieved, to dinner.
Bax unconsciously, but naturally,
followed his example. He also went to dinner,
but, having no home in that quarter, he went to the
“Three Jolly Tars,” and found the landlord
quite willing to supply all his wants on the shortest
possible notice, namely, three-quarters of an hour.
In a snug box of that celebrated place
of entertainment, he found Tommy Bogey (whom he had
brought with him) awaiting his appearance. The
precocious youth was deeply immersed in a three-days’-old
copy of The Times.
“Hallo! Bax, you’ve
been sharp about it,” said Tommy, laying down
the paper and pulling a little black pipe out of his
pocket, which he proceeded coolly and quietly to fill
just as if he had been a bearded and grey-headed tar;
for Tommy, being a worshipper of Bax, imitated, as
all worshippers do, the bad as well as the good qualities
of his hero, ignorant of, as well as indifferent to,
the fact that it would have been more noble to imitate
the good and avoid the bad.
“Ay, we’ve settled it
all slick off in no time,” said Bax, sitting
down beside his young companion, and proceeding also
to fill his pipe.
“An’ wot about the widders
and horphans?” inquired Tommy, beginning to
smoke, and using his extremely little finger as a tobacco-stopper
in a way that might have surprised a salamander.
“The widows!” exclaimed Bax.
“Ay, the widders also
the horphans,” repeated Tommy, with a grave nod
of the head. “I ’ope he’s come
“Tommy,” said Bax, with
a disconcerted look, “I’ve forgot ’em
“Forgot ’em? Bax!”
“It’s a fact,” said
Bax, with much humility, “but the truth is, that
we got to loggerheads, an’ of course you know
it was out of the question to talk on such a subject
when we were in that state.”
“In course it was,” said Tommy.
“But it’s a pity.”
The fact was that Bax had intended
to make an appeal to Mr Denham in behalf of the widows
and children of the poor men who had been drowned
on the night when the “Nancy” was wrecked;
but the unexpected turn which the conversation took
had driven that subject utterly out of his mind.
“Well, Tommy, it can’t
be helped now; and, after all, I don’t think
the widows will come by any loss by my forgetfulness,
for certain am I that Denham would as soon supply
a best-bower anchor to the `Trident’ as give
a sovereign to these poor people.”
Bax and his young friend here relapsed
into a state of silent fumigation from which they
were aroused by the entrance of dinner. This
meal consisted of beef-steaks and porter. But
it is due to Bax to say that he advised his companion
to confine his potations to water, which his companion
willingly agreed to, as he would have done had Bax
advised him to drink butter-milk, or cider, or to
go without drink altogether.
They were about done with dinner when
a weak small voice in the passage attracted their
“Is there one of the name of
Bax ’ere,” said the meek voice.
“Here I am,” shouted Bax,
“come in; what d’ye want with me?”
Peekins entered in a state of great agitation.
“Oh! sir, please sir, I’ll
never do it again; but I couldn’t help it indeed,
indeed I was dyin’, I was. It’s
a great sin I knows, but ”
Here Peekins burst into tears, and
sat down on the seat opposite.
“Wot a green ’un!”
muttered Tommy, as he gazed at the tiger in blue through
a volume of tobacco smoke.
“What’s the matter, boy?”
inquired Bax, in some surprise. “Anything
wrong at Redwharf Lane?”
to say, not exactly, only I’ve run’d away.”
“You han’t run far, then,”
said Bax, smiling. “How long is’t
since you ran away?”
“Just ten minutes.”
Tommy burst into a laugh at this,
and Peekins, feeling somewhat relieved, smiled idiotically
through his tears.
“Well now, my lad,” said
Bax, leaning forward in a confidential way which quite
won the affection of the tiger, and patting him on
the shoulder, “I would advise you strongly to
“Oh! sir, but I can’t,”
said Peekins dolefully. “I dursn’t.
My life is miserable there. Mr Denham is so
’ard on me that I feels like to die every time
I sees ‘im. It ain’t o’ no
use” (here Peekins became wildly desperate),
“I won’t go back; ‘cause if
I do I’m sure to die slow; an’ I’d
rather die quick at once and be done with it.”
Bax opened his eyes very wide at this.
It revealed a state of things that he had never before
imagined. Tommy Bogey puffed so large a cloud
that his face was quite concealed by it, and muttered
“you air a rum ’un!”
“Where d’ye stop, boy?” inquired
“In lodgin’s in Fenchurch Street.”
“D’ye owe ’em anything at the office?”
“No, nothin’; they owes me seventeen and
“D’ye want it very much?”
“O no, I don’t mind that, bless
ye,” said Peekins, earnestly.
“What d’ye mean to do?” inquired
“Go with you to sea,”
replied the tiger, promptly.
“But I’m not going to sea.”
“Then, I’ll go with you
wherever you please. I like you,” said
the boy, springing suddenly to his side and grasping
his hand, “I’ve no one in the world to
care for but you. I never heard any one speak
like you. If you’ll only let me be your
servant, I’ll go with you to the end of the
world, and and ”
Here poor Peekins was again overcome.
“Bray_vo_!” shouted Tommy
Bogey in admiration. “You’re not
such a bad fellow after all.”
“Poor boy,” said Bax,
stroking the tiger’s head, “you are willing
to trust too easily to a weak and broken reed.
But, come, I’ll take you to the coast.
Better to go there, after all, than stop with such
a tender-hearted Christian as Mr Denham. Here,
take a bit of dinner.”
Having tasted no food since breakfast,
Peekins gladly accepted the invitation, and ate heartily
of the remnants of the meal, to the great satisfaction
of his companions, especially of Tommy, who regarded
him as one might regard a pet canary or rabbit, which
requires to be fed plenteously and handled with extreme
gentleness and care.