Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > Russian, Scandinavian, etc.
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XIV: Russian—Scandinavian—Miscellaneous
 
The Ex-pirate
By Justus van Maurik (1846–1904)
 
“BUT, conductor, that is first class, for non-smokers.”  1
  “Second class is all full.”  2
  “Well, but my ticket is for the second class!”  3
  “Please get in, my dear la—, woman,” said the conductor, to whom the passenger seemed too common-looking to be addressed as “lady.” “If you please, we are just going to start.”  4
  “I hope I’ll see you again very soon, my dear,” said the woman, and nodded to a little girl who, laden with parcels and packages, was standing on the platform. “Give my love to all at home—do you hear, child? And now hand me my hat-box, please, and the little basket and the large basket, will you?”  5
  The first whistle for departure blew.  6
  “Yes, yes! But, heavens, how high!” moaned the corpulent woman. With her left hand she grasped the door of the compartment and struggled violently to get in. Her right hand held an umbrella and a little traveling-bag, and under her left arm she crushed a pasteboard box.  7
  “All in?” sounded the stentorian voice of the station-master. The doors of the last compartments shut with a bang.  8
  “Ready!”  9
  “No, not yet. Oh, what am I to do?” groaned the stout old woman, caught half-way in the door.  10
  “So—there you are!” the conductor laughed, as he pushed the rest of her in.  11
  “Now my hat-box! Thank you, my dear. And now the large basket—don’t forget to give my love to all—and now the little basket. Is it shut tight? And, child, don’t forget to take care of the cat and feed the canary.”  12
  “All in? Back there, if you please!”  13
  “My child”—the head bobbed out of the window once more—“don’t forget to have the empty preserve-bottles returned.”  14
  The second whistle blew, the train started, and the last words were lost in the rattle of wheels.  15
  “Good heavens, what a rush!” sighed the woman, quite out of breath, sitting down next to the only other passenger, who was just preparing for a nap. “Oh, dear! Oh, dear!”  16
  “For Heaven’s sake, what’s the matter?” growled the traveler, resenting this disturbance.  17
  “Oh, you were going to sleep? Then you’ll be so good as to pardon me. In the noise and hurry I overlooked you. Don’t you think this train bumps dreadfully?”  18
  “I? Yes—no—I don’t know.” And then the other passenger settled back in his corner and closed his eyes.  19
  “This is a shame, though!” complained the woman, as she tried in vain to force all her various belongings into the rack over her head. “Oh, goodness gracious! I hope you don’t mind. It’s really not my fault. It’s only the chestnuts for my brother-in-law’s children. They dote on them so, I hope you aren’t hurt! But it’s so hard to get the things up there.”  20
  “Well, perhaps it would be better if you put that bag in the rack on the other side. It might fall again, you know.”  21
  “You’re quite right, to be sure. You might have been badly hurt. It’s a good thing you got off so easily.”  22
  The traveler pushed his cap back a little, stroked his back hair with his one hand, and looked half angrily, half sleepily at the stout woman, who, smiling at him with foolish good nature over her spectacles, said, “I suppose you’re tired of the journey?” Then she went on in a loud voice, “But gracious me, now that I look at you more closely, why, I know you!”  23
  “You? Me!” the traveler exclaimed.  24
  “Yes; your name is Bolders, and you belong to the clothing-shop in the Hoogstraat.”  25
  “Sorry, but I don’t happen to be that gentleman.”  26
  “What a pity! You see, I could have sworn you were Bolders. But if you yourself say that you are not he, I suppose it’s all right. But is it possible? You have the same appearance exactly as Jan Bolders. And yet, when I look closely I see the difference. All the Bolders are red-haired, and you are quite fair.”  27
  The traveler yawned, and glared at his neighbor.  28
  “But the thick nose of the Bolders—you have that. What a strange coincidence!”  29
  “My name is van Palen, and I am sleepy.” The voice was angry and curt. Once more he closed his eyes, and again settled himself comfortably to continue his nap.  30
  The woman started up in astonishment. “Your name is van Palen! How strange! Then you are related to the van Palens of Rotterdam? Just think, I’ve known them for years, and I was great friends with Cato van Palen—your aunt, probably—a good-natured person, but so troubled with nerves that finally we got angry at each other. Is she still alive?”  31
  An inarticulate grunt silenced the old woman for a moment.  32
  “No? Well, I’d be sorry in spite of it all. I suppose you mean the van Palens van de Wynhaven?”  33
  The same grunt.  34
  “But perhaps you are related to the van Palens van de Baan? I know them too. Charming people!”  35
  “No; I have no relatives.”  36
  “Not one?”  37
  “No; I’m an orphan, and I’d like to sleep now.”  38
  “An orphan? I suppose you were brought up in an asylum. How very sad! I have always pitied the poor little orphans so! Of course they’re well treated in the asylums, but they have to eat beans and peas so often. That isn’t particularly nourishing, and it makes one so stout. And, after all, it isn’t like home. Who’d ever believe that you were a little orphan boy once! You don’t look it at all—so stylish, and traveling first class. The Lord has been good to you. You see, I’m just a plain burgher’s wife, but I have all I want. Yet I always travel third class, but to-day everything was crowded. Goodness, how fast this train is going! There are only a few stops before Rotterdam, eh? One at Nieuwersluis——”  39
  “Quite right. Thank Heaven, we do stop at Nieuwersluis!” said the other traveler, quite nervous from the woman’s persistent chatter. He had yawned several times, and looked very sleepy, but now he sat up, measured his neighbor over from head to foot with an ironical smile, and began in a voice full of emotion:  40
  “I suppose you have a good heart. One can see it in your pity for the sorrow of the wretched orphans. Is that not so?”  41
  The woman nodded slowly and with dignity. “So you never knew either mother or father?”  42
  “Never,” said the man with a suppressed sob. “My father died before my birth, and my good mother too!” He seemed deeply moved, and hid his face in his handkerchief.  43
  “How sad! How very, very sad!” said the stout woman, and wiped away a tear.  44
  “When I was three years old I went to sea.”  45
  “To sea?”  46
  “Yes, I had to.”  47
  “Gracious!”  48
  “I was stolen out of my cradle!”  49
  “What?”  50
  “Stolen!”  51
  “Merciful heavens! and who did it?”  52
  “A servant-girl who had a love-affair with a pirate.”  53
  “Oh, dearie me! And why did the girl do it?”  54
  “Because she had no child, and the pirate wanted one.”  55
  “You don’t say so! Oh, the curious things that happen in this world!”  56
  “But, you see, this pirate was very fond of children.”  57
  “So it seems. But didn’t he rob and murder?”  58
  “Certainly. Every one he captured he had hanged or shot, but he spared the innocent little ones. We had one pirate on board who had nothing to do but fill bottles with milk for the infants.”  59
  “And what became of the mothers?”  60
  “If they were young and good-looking, the pirate put them into his harem. If they were plain and elderly, they were exposed on desert islands, or butchered on board.”  61
  “Butchered? But that is awful! And you saw it all with your own eyes?”  62
  “Yes, from my tenderest years I was a witness of human slaughter. When I was thirteen I stood the test by killing two missionaries.”  63
  “Killing!” The fat old person got as far away from her neighbor as possible.  64
  “Yes; and not with a dagger or pistol. I simply poured something into their coffee.”  65
  “Oh!”  66
  “Yes, it was easy. They noticed nothing, and ten minutes later they were in heaven.”  67
  His corpulent traveling companion grew pale, wide-eyed, and open-mouthed. The man went on calmly:  68
  “After a while I became a perfect monster. I have a thirst for blood. With this little instrument, you see”—he pulled out a small pocket-knife—“I have sent at least a hundred and fifty people to a better land. They used to call me the ‘Terror of the Sea.’”  69
  “With that little knife?” She was almost choked with fright.  70
  “Yes. One skilful cut—the vein is severed—and there you are—dead! But I was converted two years ago.”  71
  “Oh! How?”  72
  “By the Salvation Army in New York; and now remorse tortures me for all the blood I have spilled.”  73
  The good-natured woman almost panted. She kept her eyes fixed on his hands. With trembling voice she asked:  74
  “And now you have given up piracy altogether?”  75
  “Yes, and it’s a pity. My profession was a pleasant one—small expenses and large income.”  76
  “Yes, and——”  77
  “I understand. You want to know what I do now. Well, I have a good deal to do with corpses now.”  78
  This made the good woman feel more comfortable.  79
  “I suppose you’re an undertaker.”  80
  “A what? Oh, no; you are mightily mistaken. I procure corpses for the dissecting-rooms of the professors of medicine.”  81
  A sudden trembling shook the great mass of flesh.  82
  “And how do you procure them?”  83
  “Oh, very simply; I buy them, dig them up, or make them.”  84
  “God help me, but that’s horrible!” Heavy beads of perspiration rolled from her forehead.  85
  The traveler went on in an icy tone:  86
  “There are always people enough who are willing to sell some old uncle or aunt, if they get money enough; and I have no end of money.”  87
  “But—but, then, why do you do it?”  88
  “Mere sport, my dear woman—mere sport! I’m so accustomed to blood and corpses.”  89
  “Wha-a-at?”  90
  “Oh, yes. To-day, for instance, I’m going from Emmerich to Rotterdam to buy an old woman—unfortunately only one, and I need two for Professor Ralph of London. I have given my word of honor to get him two large females between fifty and sixty years of age.”  91
  The uncanny individual let his hand glide into his pocket.  92
  “Perhaps it’s sensible to take the first safe chance. Do you care very much about living longer?”  93
  The woman jumped up. Speechless, she stared at the man.  94
  “Nieuwersluis!” The door flew open.  95
  “Nieuwersluis!”  96
  The woman in her terrible excitement had not noticed that the train was slowing up. Hardly was the door open, than she trundled out of it like a rubber ball, and screamed:  97
  “Conductor! I want to get into a different compartment. Quick! take my hat-box! There’s a pirate in here—please get my traveling-bag—a fellow who makes corpses! Heavens! My chestnuts—a hundred and fifty murders on his conscience! But no children. Oh, my umbrella! He wants stout corpses. Yes, yes, I’ll get into the luggage-van! I’m fainting! The monster!”  98
  The traveler once more settled into his corner. “Conductor,” he said, “here’s something for yourself—and a cigar. Please see to it that I am not disturbed; I want to get some sleep.”  99
 
 
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