'Will your father be long?' he inquired.
'I don't know. I can't say.'
'As you supposed he was at home, it would seem that he has just gone out? How's that?'
'I supposed he had come home,' Pleasant explained.
'Oh! You supposed he had come home? Then he has been some time out? How's that?'
'I don't want to deceive you. Father's on the river in his boat.'
'At the old work?' asked the man.
'I don't know what you mean,' said Pleasant, shrinking a step back. 'What on earth d'ye want?'
'I don't want to hurt your father. I don't want to say I might, if I chose. I want to speak to him. Not much in that, is there? There shall be no secrets from you; you shall be by. And plainly, Miss Riderhood, there's nothing to be got out of me, or made of me. I am not good for the Leaving Shop, I am not good for the Boarding-House, I am not good for anything in your way to the extent of sixpenn'orth of halfpence. Put the idea aside, and we shall get on together.'
'But you're a seafaring man?' argued Pleasant, as if that were a sufficient reason for his being good for something in her way.
'Yes and no. I have been, and I may be again. But I am not for you. Won't you take my word for it?'
The conversation had arrived at a crisis to justify Miss Pleasant's hair in tumbling down. It tumbled down accordingly, and she twisted it up, looking from under her bent forehead at the man. In taking stock of his familiarly worn rough-weather nautical clothes, piece by piece, she took stock of a formidable knife in a sheath at his waist ready to his hand, and of a whistle hanging round his neck, and of a short jagged knotted club with a loaded head that peeped out of a pocket of his loose outer jacket or frock. He sat quietly looking at her; but, with these appendages partially revealing themselves, and with a quantity of bristling oakum- coloured head and whisker, he had a formidable appearance.
'Won't you take my word for it?' he asked again.
Pleasant answered with a short dumb nod. He rejoined with another short dumb nod. Then he got up and stood with his arms folded, in front of the fire, looking down into it occasionally, as she stood with her arms folded, leaning against the side of the chimney-piece.
'To wile away the time till your father comes,' he said,--'pray is there much robbing and murdering of seamen about the water-side now?'
'No,' said Pleasant.
'Complaints of that sort are sometimes made, about Ratcliffe and Wapping and up that way. But who knows how many are true?'
'To be sure. And it don't seem necessary.'
'That's what I say,' observed Pleasant. 'Where's the reason for it? Bless the sailors, it ain't as if they ever could keep what they have, without it.'
'You're right. Their money may be soon got out of them, without violence,' said the man.
'Of course it may,' said Pleasant; 'and then they ship again and get more. And the best thing for 'em, too, to ship again as soon as ever they can be brought to it. They're never so well off as when they're afloat.'
'I'll tell you why I ask,' pursued the visitor, looking up from the fire. 'I was once beset that way myself, and left for dead.'
'No?' said Pleasant. 'Where did it happen?'
'It happened,' returned the man, with a ruminative air, as he drew his right hand across his chin, and dipped the other in the pocket of his rough outer coat, 'it happened somewhere about here as I reckon. I don't think it can have been a mile from here.'
'Were you drunk?' asked Pleasant.
'I was muddled, but not with fair drinking. I had not been drinking, you understand. A mouthful did it.'
Pleasant with a grave look shook her head; importing that she understood the process, but decidedly disapproved.
'Fair trade is one thing,' said she, 'but that's another. No one has a right to carry on with Jack in THAT way.'
'The sentiment does you credit,' returned the man, with a grim smile; and added, in a mutter, 'the more so, as I believe it's not your father's.--Yes, I had a bad time of it, that time.