By H. G. Wells Directions: Read the short story and answer the questions that follow. Refer to the text to check your answers.
"You can't be TOO careful WHO you marry," said Mr. Brisher, and pulled thoughtfully with a fat-wristed hand at the lank1 moustache that hides his want of chin.
"That's why--" I ventured.
"Yes," said Mr. Brisher, with a solemn light in his bleary, blue-grey eyes, moving his head expressively and breathing alcohol intimately at me. "There's lots as 'ave 'ad a try at me--many as I could name in this town--but none 'ave done it--none."
I surveyed the flushed countenance2, the equatorial expansion, the masterly carelessness of his attire, and heaved a sigh to think that by reason of the unworthiness of women he must needs be the last of his race.
"I was a smart young chap when I was younger," said Mr. Brisher. "I 'ad my work cut out. But I was very careful--very. And I got through..."
He leant over the taproom table and thought visibly on the subject of my trustworthiness. I was relieved at last by his confidence.
"I was engaged once," he said at last, with a reminiscent eye on the shuv-a'penny3 board.
"So near as that?"
He looked at me. "So near as that. Fact is--" He looked about him, brought his face close to mine, lowered his voice, and fenced off an unsympathetic world with a grimy hand. "If she ain't dead or married to some one else or anything--I'm engaged still. Now." He confirmed this statement with nods and facial contortions. "STILL," he said, ending the pantomime4, and broke into a reckless smile at my surprise. "ME!"
"Run away," he explained further, with coruscating5 eyebrows. "Come 'ome.
"That ain't all.
"You'd 'ardly believe it," he said, "but I found a treasure. Found a regular treasure."
I fancied this was irony, and did not, perhaps, greet it with proper surprise. "Yes," he said, "I found a treasure. And come 'ome. I tell you I could surprise you with things that has happened to me." And for some time he was content to repeat that he had found a treasure--and left it.
I made no vulgar clamour for a story, but I became attentive to Mr. Brisher, and presently I led him back to the deserted lady.
"She was a nice girl," he said--a little sadly, I thought. "AND respectable."
He raised his eyebrows and tightened his mouth to express extreme respectability--beyond the likes of us elderly men.
"'Er father was quite a leadin' man in chapel. You should ha' seen him Sundays, interruptin' the minister and givin' out 'ims. He had gold spectacles, I remember, and used to look over 'em at you while he sang hearty--he was always great on singing 'earty to the Lord--and when HE got out o' toon 'arf the people went after 'im--always. 'E was that sort of man. And to walk be'ind 'im in 'is nice black clo'es--'is 'at was a brimmer8--made one regular proud to be engaged to such a father-in-law. And when the summer came I went down there and stopped a fortnight9.
"Now, you know there was a sort of Itch," said Mr. Brisher. "We wanted to marry, me and Jane did, and get things settled. But 'E said I 'ad to get a proper position first. Consequently there was a Itch. Consequently, when I went down there, I was anxious to show that I was a good useful sort of chap like. Show I could do pretty nearly everything like. See?"
I made a sympathetic noise.
"And down at the bottom of their garden was a bit of wild part like. So I says to 'im, 'Why don't you 'ave a rockery10 'ere?' I says. 'It 'ud look nice.'
"'Too much expense,' he says.
"'Not a penny,' says I. 'I'm a dab11 at rockeries. Lemme make you one.' You see, I'd 'elped my brother make a rockery in the beer garden be'ind 'is tap, so I knew 'ow to do it to rights. 'Lemme make you one,' I says. 'It's 'olidays, but I'm that sort of chap, I 'ate doing nothing,' I says. 'I'll make you one to rights.' And the long and the short of it was, he said I might.
"And that's 'ow I come on the treasure."
"What treasure?" I asked.
"Why!" said Mr. Brisher, "the treasure I'm telling you about, what's the reason why I never married."
"What!--a treasure--dug up?"
"Yes--buried wealth--treasure trove. Come out of the ground. What I kept on saying--regular treasure..." He looked at me with unusual disrespect.
"It wasn't more than a foot deep, not the top of it," he said. "I'd 'ardly got thirsty like, before I come on the corner."
"Go on," I said. "I didn't understand."
"Why! Directly I 'it the box I knew it was treasure. A sort of instinct told me. Something seemed to shout inside of me--'Now's your chance--lie low.' It's lucky I knew the laws of treasure trove12 or I'd 'ave been shoutin' there and then. I daresay you know--"
"Crown13 bags it," I said, "all but one per cent. Go on. It's a shame. What did you do?"
"Uncovered the top of the box. There wasn't anybody in the garden or about like. Jane was 'elping 'er mother do the 'ouse. I WAS excited--I tell you. I tried the lock and then gave a whack at the hinges. Open it came. Silver coins--full! Shining. It made me tremble to see 'em. And jest then--I'm blessed if the dustman14 didn't come round the back of the 'ouse. It pretty nearly gave me 'eart disease to think what a fool I was to 'ave that money showing. And directly after I 'eard the chap next door--'e was 'olidaying15, too--I 'eard him
"Sweated," said Mr. Brisher. "Regular run orf me. All that morning," said Mr. Brisher, "I was at it, pretending to make that rockery and wondering what I should do. I'd 'ave told 'er father p'r'aps, only I was doubtful of 'is honesty--I was afraid he might rob me of it like, and give it up to the authorities--and besides, considering I was marrying into the family, I thought it would be nicer like if it came through me. Put me on a better footing, so to speak. Well, I 'ad three days before me left of my 'olidays, so there wasn't no hurry, so I covered it up and went on digging, and tried to puzzle out 'ow I was to make sure of it. Only I couldn't.
"I thought," said Mr. Brisher, "AND I thought. Once I got regular doubtful whether I'd seen it or not, and went down to it and 'ad it uncovered again, just as her ma came out to 'ang up a bit of washin' she'd done. Jumps again! Afterwards I was just thinking I'd 'ave another go at it, when Jane comes to tell me dinner was ready. 'You'll want it,' she said, 'seeing all the 'ole you've dug.'
"I was in a regular daze all dinner, wondering whether that chap next door wasn't over the fence and filling 'is pockets. But in the afternoon I got easier in my mind--it seemed to me it must 'ave been there so long it was pretty sure to stop a bit longer--and I tried to get up a bit of a discussion to dror out the old man and see what 'E thought of treasure trove."
Mr. Brisher paused, and affected amusement at the memory.
"The old man was a scorcher," he said; "a regular scorcher."
"What!" said I; "did he--?"
"It was like this," explained Mr. Brisher, laying a friendly hand on my arm and breathing into my face to calm me. "Just to dror 'im out, I told a story of a chap I said I knew--pretendin', you know--who'd found a sovring20 in a novercoat 'e'd borrowed. I said 'e stuck to it, but I said I wasn't sure whether that was right or not. And then the old man began. Lor'! 'e DID let me 'ave it!" Mr. Brisher affected an insincere amusement. "'E said that was the sort of friend 'e'd naturally expect me to 'ave. Said 'e'd naturally expect that from the friend of a out-of-work loafer who took up with daughters who didn't belong to 'im. There! I couldn't tell you 'ARF 'e said. 'E went on most outrageous. I stood up to 'im about it, just to dror 'im out. 'Wouldn't you stick to a 'arf-sov'21, not if you found it in the street?' I says. 'Certainly not,' 'e says; 'certainly I wouldn't.' 'What! not if you found it as a sort of treasure?' 'Young man,' 'e says, 'there's 'i'er 'thority22 than mine--Render unto Caesar'--what is it? Yes. Well, he fetched up that. A rare 'and at 'itting you over the 'ed with the Bible, was the old man. And so he went on. 'E got to such Snacks23 about me at last I couldn't stand it. I'd promised Jane not to answer 'im back, but it got a bit TOO thick. I--I give it 'im..."
Mr. Brisher, by means of enigmatical24 facework, tried to make me think he had had the best of that argument, but I knew better.
"I went out in a 'uff at last. But not before I was pretty sure I 'ad to lift that treasure by myself. The only thing that kep' me up was thinking 'ow I'd take it out of 'im when I 'ad the cash."
There was a lengthy pause.
"On'y I wasn't going to no London," said Mr. Brisher, with sudden animation, and thrusting his face into mine. "No fear26! What do YOU think?
"I didn't go no further than Colchester--not a yard.
"I'd left the spade just where I could find it. I'd got everything planned and right. I 'ired a little trap27 in Colchester, and pretended I wanted to go to Ipswich28 and stop the night, and come back next day, and the chap I 'ired it from made me leave two sovrings on it right away, and off I set.
"I didn't go to no Ipswich neither.
"Midnight the 'orse and trap was 'itched by the little road that ran by the cottage where 'e lived--not sixty yards off, it wasn't--and I was at it like a good 'un. It was jest the night for such games--overcast--but a trifle too 'ot, and all round the sky there was summer lightning and presently a thunderstorm. Down it came. First big drops in a sort of fizzle, then 'ail. I kep'on. I whacked at it--I didn't dream the old man would 'ear. I didn't even trouble to go quiet with the spade, and the thunder and lightning and 'ail seemed to excite me like. I shouldn't wonder if I was singing. I got so 'ard at it I clean forgot the thunder and the 'orse and trap. I precious soon got the box showing, and started to lift it..."
"Heavy?" I said.
"I couldn't no more lift it than fly. I WAS sick. I'd never thought of that I got regular wild--I tell you, I cursed. I got sort of outrageous. I didn't think of dividing it like for the minute, and even then I couldn't 'ave took money about loose in a trap. I hoisted one end sort of wild like, and over the whole show went with a tremenjous noise. Perfeck smash of silver. And then right on the heels of that, Flash! Lightning like the day! and there was the back door open and the old man coming down the garden with 'is blooming old gun. He wasn't not a 'undred yards away!
"I tell you I was that upset--I didn't think what I was doing. I never stopped-not even to fill my pockets. I went over the fence like a shot, and ran like one o'clock for the trap, cussing and swearing as I went. I WAS in a state...
"And will you believe me, when I got to the place where I'd left the 'orse and trap, they'd gone. Orf! When I saw that I 'adn't a cuss left for it. I jest danced on the grass, and when I'd danced enough I started off to London... I was done."
Mr. Brisher was pensive for an interval29. "I was done," he repeated, very bitterly.
"Well?" I said.
"That's all," said Mr. Brisher.
"It was a long way from 'ere. Essex, in fact. Near Colchester. It was when I was up in London--in the buildin' trade. I was a smart young chap then, I can tell you. Slim. 'Ad best clo'es 's good as anybody. 'At--SILK 'at, mind you." Mr. Brisher's hand shot above his head towards the infinite to indicate it as a silk hat of the highest. "Umbrella--nice umbrella with a 'orn 'andle. Very careful I was..."
He was pensive6 for a little while, thinking, as we must all come to think sooner or later, of the vanished brightness of youth. But he refrained, as one may do in taprooms, from the obvious moral.
"I got to know 'er through a chap what was engaged to 'er sister. She was stopping in London for a bit with an aunt that 'ad a 'am an' beef shop. This aunt was very particular--they was all very particular people, all 'er people was--and wouldn't let 'er sister go out with this feller except 'er other sister, MY girl that is, went with them. So 'e brought me into it, sort of to ease the crowding. We used to go walks in Battersea Park of a Sunday afternoon. Me in my topper7, and 'im in 'is; and the girl's--well--stylish. There wasn't many in Battersea Park 'ad the larf of us. She wasn't what you'd call pretty, but a nicer girl I never met. I liked 'er from the start, and, well--though I say it who shouldn't--she liked me. You know 'ow it is, I dessay?"
I pretended I did.
"And when this chap married 'er sister--'im and me was great friends--what must 'e do but arst me down to Colchester, close by where She lived. Naturally I was introjuced to 'er people, and well, very soon, her and me was engaged."
He repeated "engaged."
"She lived at 'ome with 'er father and mother, quite the lady, in a very nice little 'ouse with a garden--and remarkable respectable people they was. Rich you might call 'em a'most. They owned their own 'ouse--got it out of the Building Society, and cheap because the chap who had it before was a burglar and in prison--and they 'ad a bit of free'old land, and some cottages and money 'nvested--all nice and tight: they was what you'd call snug and warm. Furniture too. Why! They 'ad a pianner. Jane--'er name was Jane--used to play it Sundays, and very nice she played too. There wasn't 'ardly a 'im toon in the book she COULDN'T play...
"Many's the evenin' we've met and sung 'ims there, me and 'er and the family.