After this declaration she made herself tea and sat down. The meal proceeded in silence, though occasionally she astonished her companions by little mysterious laughs, which caused them slight uneasiness. As she made no hostile demonstration, however, they became reassured, and congratulated themselves upon the success of their manoeuvre.
"How long shall we be getting back to London, do you think?" inquired Mrs. Blossom at last.
"We shall probably sail Tuesday night, and it may be anything from six days upwards," answered the skipper. "If this wind holds it'll probably be upwards."
To his great concern Mrs. Blossom put her handkerchief over her face, and, shaking with suppressed laughter, rose from the table and left the cabin.
The couple left eyed each other wonderingly.
"Did I say anything pertickler funny, George?" inquired the skipper, after some deliberation.
"Didn't strike me so," said the mate carelessly; "I expect she's thought o' something else to say about your family. She wouldn't be so good-tempered as all that for nothing. I feel cur'ous to know what it is."
"If you paid more attention to your own business," said the skipper, his choler rising, "you'd get on better. A mate who was a good seaman wouldn't ha' let a cook go on like this—it's not discipline."
He went off in dudgeon, and a coolness sprang up between them, which lasted until the bustle of starting in the small hours of Wednesday morning.
Once under way the day passed uneventfully, the schooner crawling sluggishly down the coast of Wales, and, when the skipper turned in that night, it was with the pleasant conviction that Mrs. Blossom had shot her last bolt, and, like a sensible woman, was going to accept her defeat. From this pleasing idea he was aroused suddenly by the watch stamping heavily on the deck overhead.
"What's up?" cried the skipper, darting up the companion-ladder, jostled by the mate.
"I dunno," said Bill, who was at the wheel, shakily. "Mrs. Blossom come up on deck a little while ago, and since then there's been three or four heavy splashes."
"She can't have gone overboard," said the skipper, in tones to which he manfully strove to impart a semblance of anxiety. "No, here she is. Anything wrong, Mrs. Blossom?"
"Not so far as I'm concerned," replied the lady, passing him and going below.
"You've been dreaming, Bill," said the skipper sharply.
"I ain't," said Bill stoutly. "I tell you I heard splashes. It's my belief she coaxed the cook up on deck, and then shoved him overboard. A woman could do anything with a man like that cook."
"I'll soon see," said the mate, and walking forward he put his head down the fore-scuttle and yelled for the cook.
"Aye, aye, sir," answered a voice sleepily, while the other men started up in their bunks. "Do you want me?"
"Bill thinks somebody has gone overboard," said the mate. "Are you all here?"
In answer to this the mystified men turned out all standing, and came on deck yawning and rubbing their eyes, while the mate explained the situation. Before he had finished the cook suddenly darted off to the galley, and the next moment the forlorn cry of a bereaved soul broke on their startled ears.
"What is it?" cried the mate.
"Come here!" shouted the cook, "look at this!"
He struck a match and held it aloft in his shaking fingers, and the men, who were worked up to a great pitch of excitement and expected to see something ghastly, after staring hard for some time in vain, profanely requested him to be more explicit.
"She's thrown all the saucepans and things overboard," said the cook with desperate calmness. "This lid of a tea kettle is all that's left for me to do the cooking in."
* * * * *
The Gannet, manned by seven famine-stricken misogynists, reached London six days later, the skipper obstinately refusing to put in at an intermediate port to replenish his stock of hardware. The most he would consent to do was to try and borrow from a passing vessel, but the unseemly behaviour of the master of a brig, who lost two hours owing to their efforts to obtain a saucepan of him, utterly discouraged any further attempts in that direction, and they settled down to a diet of biscuits and water, and salt beef scorched on the stove.
Mrs. Blossom, unwilling perhaps to witness their sufferings, remained below, and when they reached London, only consented to land under the supervision of a guard of honour, composed of all the able-bodied men on the wharf.
A BENEFIT PERFORMANCE
In the small front parlour of No. 3, Mermaid Passage, Sunset Bay, Jackson Pepper, ex-pilot, sat in a state of indignant collapse, tenderly feeling a cheek on which the print of hasty fingers still lingered.
The room, which was in excellent order, showed no signs of the tornado which had passed through it, and Jackson Pepper, looking vaguely round, was dimly reminded of those tropical hurricanes he had read about which would strike only the objects in the path, and leave all others undisturbed.
In this instance he had been the object, and the tornado, after obliterating him, had passed up the small staircase which led from the room, leaving him listening anxiously to its distant mutterings.
To his great discomfort the storm showed signs of coming up again, and he had barely time to effect an appearance of easy unconcern, which accorded but ill with the flush afore-mentioned, when a big, red-faced woman came heavily downstairs and burst into the room.
"You have made me ill again," she said severely, "and now I hope you are satisfied with your work. You'll kill me before you have done with me!"
The ex-pilot shifted on his chair.
"You're not fit to have a wife," continued Mrs. Pepper, "aggravating them and upsetting them! Any other woman would have left you long ago!"
"We've only been married three months," Pepper reminded her.
"Don't talk to me!" said his wife; "it seems more like a lifetime!"
"It seems a long time to ME" said the ex-pilot, plucking up a little courage.
"That's right!" said his wife, striding over to where he sat. "Say you're tired of me; say you wish you hadn't married me! You coward! Ah! if my poor first husband was only alive and sitting in that chair now instead of you, how happy I would be!"
"If he likes to come and take it he's welcome!" said Pepper; "it's my chair, and it was my father's before me, but there's no man living I would sooner give it to than your first. Ah! he knew what he was about when the Dolphin went down, he did. I don't blame him, though."
"What do you mean?" demanded his wife.
"It's my belief that he didn't go down with her," said Pepper, crossing over to the staircase and standing with his hand on the door.
"Didn't go down with her?" repeated his wife scornfully. "What became of him, then? Where's he been this thirty years?"
"In hiding!" said Pepper spitefully, and passed hastily upstairs.
The room above was charged with memories of the late lamented. His portrait in oils hung above the mantel-piece, smaller portraits—specimens of the photographer's want of art—were scattered about the room, while various personal effects, including a mammoth pair of sea-boots, stood in a corner. On all these articles the eye of Jackson Pepper dwelt with an air of chastened regret.
"It 'ud be a rum go if he did turn up after all," he said to himself softly, as he sat on the edge of the bed. "I've heard of such things in books. I dessay she'd be disappointed if she did see him now. Thirty years makes a bit of difference in a man."
"Jackson!" cried his wife from below, "I'm going out. If you want any dinner you can get it; if not, you can go without it!"
The front door slammed violently, and Jackson, advancing cautiously to the window, saw the form of his wife sailing majestically up the passage. Then he sat down again and resumed his meditations.
"If it wasn't for leaving all my property I'd go," he said gloomily. "There's not a bit of comfort in the place! Nag, nag, nag, from morn till night! Ah, Cap'n Budd, you let me in for a nice thing when you went down with that boat of yours. Come back and fill them boots again; they're too big for me."
He rose suddenly and stood gaping in the centre of the room, as a mad, hazy idea began to form in his brain. His eyes blinked and his face grew white with excitement. He pushed open the little lattice window, and sat looking abstractedly up the passage on to the bay beyond. Then he put on his hat, and, deep in thought, went out.
He was still thinking deeply as he boarded the train for London next morning, and watched Sunset Bay from the window until it disappeared round the curve. So many and various were the changes that flitted over his face that an old lady, whose seat he had taken, gave up her intention of apprising him of the fact, and indulged instead in a bitter conversation with her daughter, of which the erring Pepper was the unconscious object.
In the same preoccupied fashion he got on a Bayswater omnibus, and waited patiently for it to reach Poplar. Strange changes in the landscape, not to be accounted for by the mere lapse of time, led to explanations, and the conductor—a humane man, who said he had got an idiot boy at home—personally laid down the lines of his tour. Two hours later he stood in front of a small house painted in many colours, and, ringing the bell, inquired for Cap'n Crippen.
In response to his inquiry, a big man, with light blue eyes and a long grey beard, appeared, and, recognising his visitor with a grunt of surprise, drew him heartily into the passage and thrust him into the parlour. He then shook hands with him, and, clapping him on the back, bawled lustily for the small boy who had opened the door.
"Pot o' stout, bottle o' gin, and two long pipes," said he, as the boy came to the door and eyed the ex-pilot curiously.
At all these honest preparations for his welcome the heart of Jackson grew faint within him.
"Well, I call it good of you to come all this way to see me," said the captain, after the boy had disappeared; "but you always was warm-hearted, Pepper. And how's the missis?"
"Shocking!" said Pepper, with a groan.
"Ill?" inquired the captain.
"Ill-tempered," said Pepper. "In fact, cap'n, I don't mind telling you, she's killing me—slowly killing me!"
"Pooh!" said Crippen. "Nonsense! You don't know how to manage her!"
"I thought perhaps you could advise me," said the artful Pepper. "I said to myself yesterday, 'Pepper, go and see Cap'n Crippen. What he don't know about wimmen and their management ain't worth knowing! If there's anybody can get you out of a hole, it's him. He's got the power, and, what's more, he's got the will!'"
"What causes the temper?" inquired the captain, with his most judicial air, as he took the liquor from his messenger and carefully filled a couple of glasses.
"It's natural!" said his friend ruefully. "She calls it having a high spirit herself. And she's so generous. She's got a married niece living in the place, and when that gal comes round and admires the things—my things—she gives 'em to her! She gave her a sofa the other day, and, what's more, she made me help the gal to carry it home!"
"Have you tried being sarcastic?" inquired the captain thoughtfully.
"I have," said Pepper, with a shiver. "The other day I said, very nasty, 'Is there anything else you'd like, my dear?' but she didn't understand it."
"No?" said the captain.
"No," said Pepper. "She said I was very kind, and she'd like the clock; and, what's more, she had it too! Red-'aired hussy!"
The captain poured out some gin and drank it slowly. It was evident he was thinking deeply, and that he was much affected by his friend's troubles.
"There is only one way for me to get clear," said Pepper, as he finished a thrilling recital of his wrongs, "and that is, to find Cap'n Budd, her first."
"Why, he's dead!" said Crippen, staring hard. "Don't you waste your time looking for him!"
"I'm not going to," said Pepper; "but here's his portrait. He was a big man like you; he had blue eyes and a straight handsome nose, like you. If he'd lived to now he'd be almost your age, and very likely more like you than ever. He was a sailor; you've been a sailor."
The captain stared at him in bewilderment.
"He had a wonderful way with wimmen," pursued Jackson hastily; "you've got a wonderful way with wimmen. More than that, you've got the most wonderful gift for acting I've ever seen. Ever since the time when you acted in that barn at Bristol I've never seen any actor I can honestly say I've liked—never! Look how you can imitate cats—better than Henry Irving himself!"
"I never had much chance, being at sea all my life," said Crippen modestly.
"You've got the gift," said Pepper impressively. "It was born in you, and you'll never leave off acting till the day of your death. You couldn't if you tried—you know you couldn't!"
The captain smiled deprecatingly.
"Now, I want you to do a performance for my benefit," continued Pepper. "I want you to act Cap'n Budd, what was lost in the Dolphin thirty years ago. There's only one man in England I'd trust with the part, and that's you."
"Act Cap'n Budd!" gasped the astonished Crippen, putting down his glass and staring at his friend.
"The part is written here," said the ex-pilot, producing a note-book from his breast pocket and holding it out to his friend. "I've been keeping a log day by day of all the things she said about him, in the hopes of catching her tripping, but I never did. There's notes of his family, his ships, and a lot of silly things he used to say, which she thinks funny."
"I couldn't do it!" said the captain seriously, as he took the book.
"You could do it if you liked," said Pepper. "Besides, think what a spree it'll be for you. Learn it by heart, then come down and claim her. Her name's Martha."
"What good 'ud it do you if I did?" inquired the captain. "She'd soon find out!"
"You come down to Sunset Bay," said Pepper, emphasising his remarks with his forefinger; "you claim your wife; you allude carefully to the things set down in this book; I give Martha back to you and bless you both. Then"—
"Then what?" inquired Crippen anxiously.
"You disappear!" concluded Pepper triumphantly; "and, of course, believing her first husband is alive, she has to leave me. She's a very particular woman; and, besides that, I'd take care to let the neighbours know. I'm happy, you're happy, and, if she's not happy, why, she don't deserve to be."
"I'll think it over," said Crippen, "and write and let you know."
"Make up your mind now," urged Pepper, reaching over and patting him encouragingly upon the shoulder. "If you promise to do it, the thing's as good as done. Lord! I think I see you now, coming in at that door and surprising her. Talk about acting!"
"Is she what you'd call a good-looking woman?" inquired Crippen.
"Very handsome!" said Pepper, looking out of the window.
"I couldn't do it!" said the captain. "It wouldn't be right and fair to her."
"I don't see that!" said Pepper. "I never ought to have married her without being certain her first was dead. It ain't right, Crippen; say what you like, it ain't right!"
"If you put it that way," said the captain hesitatingly.
"Have some more gin," said the artful pilot.
The captain had some more, and, what with flattery and gin, combined with the pleadings of his friend, began to consider the affair more favourably. Pepper stuck to his guns, and used them so well that when the captain saw him off that evening he was pledged up to the hilt to come down to Sunset Bay and personate the late Captain Budd on the following Thursday.
The ex-pilot passed the intervening days in a sort of trance, from which he only emerged to take nourishment, or answer the scoldings of his wife. On the eventful Thursday, however, his mood changed, and he went about in such a state of suppressed excitement that he could scarcely keep still.
"Lor' bless me!" snapped Mrs. Pepper, as he slowly perambulated the parlour that afternoon. "What ails the man? Can't you keep still for five minutes?"
The ex-pilot stopped and eyed her solemnly, but, ere he could reply, his heart gave a great bound, for, from behind the geraniums which filled the window, he saw the face of Captain Crippen slowly rise and peer cautiously into the room. Before his wife could follow the direction of her husband's eyes it had disappeared.
"Somebody looking in at the window," said Pepper, with forced calmness, in reply to his wife's eyebrows.
"Like their impudence!" said the unconscious woman, resuming her knitting, while her husband waited in vain for the captain to enter.
He waited some time, and then, half dead with excitement, sat down, and with shaking fingers lit his pipe. As he looked up the stalwart figure of the captain passed the window. During the next twenty minutes it passed seven times, and Pepper, coming to the not unnatural conclusion that his friend intended to pass the afternoon in the same unprofitable fashion, resolved to force his hand.
"Must be a tramp," he said aloud.
"Who?" inquired his wife. "Man keeps looking in at the window," said Pepper desperately. "Keeps looking in till he meets my eye, then he disappears. Looks like an old sea-captain, something."
"Old sea-captain?" said his wife, putting down her work and turning round. There was a strange hesitating note in her voice. She looked at the window, and at the same instant the head of the captain again appeared above the geraniums, and, meeting her gaze, hastily vanished. Martha Pepper sat still for a moment, and then, rising in a slow, dazed fashion, crossed to the door and opened it. Mermaid Passage was empty!
"See anybody?" quavered Pepper.
His wife shook her head, but in a strangely quiet fashion, and, sitting down, took up her knitting again.
For some time the click of the needles and the tick of the clock were the only sounds audible, and the ex-pilot had just arrived at the conclusion that his friend had abandoned him to his fate, when there came a low tapping at the door.
"Come in!" cried Pepper, starting.
The door opened slowly, and the tall figure of Captain Crippen entered and stood there eyeing them nervously. A neat little speech he had prepared failed him at the supreme moment. He leaned against the wall, and in a clumsy, shamefaced fashion lowered his gaze, and stammered out the one word—"Martha!"
At that word Mrs. Pepper rose and stood with parted lips, eyeing him wildly.
"Jem!" she gasped, "Jem!"
"Martha!" croaked the captain again.
With a choking cry Mrs. Pepper ran towards him, and, to the huge gratification of her lawful spouse, flung her arms about his neck and kissed him violently.
"Jem," she cried breathlessly, "is it really you? I can hardly believe it. Where have you been all this long time? Where have you been?"
"Lots of places," said the captain, who was not prepared to answer a question like that offhand; "but wherever I've been"—he held up his hand theatrically—"the image of my dear lost wife has been always in front of me."
"I knew you at once, Jem," said Mrs. Pepper fondly, smoothing the hair back from his forehead. "Have I altered much?"
"Not a bit," said Crippen, holding her at arm's length and carefully regarding her. "You look just the same as the first time I set eyes on you."
"Where have you been?" wailed Martha Pepper, putting her head on his shoulder.
"When the Dolphin went down from under me, and left me fighting with the waves for life and Martha, I was cast ashore on a desert island," began Crippen fluently. "There I remained for nearly three years, when I was rescued by a barque bound for New South Wales. There I met a man from Poole who told me you were dead. Having no further interest in the land of my birth, I sailed in Australian waters for many years, and it was only lately that I heard how cruelly I had been deceived, and that my little flower was still blooming."
The little flower's head being well down on his shoulder again, the celebrated actor exchanged glances with the worshipping Pepper.
"If you'd only come before, Jem," said Mrs. Pepper. "Who was he? What was his name?"
"Smith," said the cautious captain.
"If you'd only come before, Jem," said Mrs. Pepper, in a smothered voice, "it would have been better. Only three months ago I married that object over there."
The captain attempted a melodramatic start with such success, that, having somewhat underestimated the weight of his fair bride, he nearly lost his balance.
"It can't be helped, I suppose," he said reproachfully, "but you might have waited a little longer, Martha."
"Well, I'm your wife, anyhow," said Martha, "and I'll take care I never lose you again. You shall never go out of my sight again till you die. Never."
"Nonsense, my pet," said the captain, exchanging uneasy glances with the ex-pilot. "Nonsense."
"It isn't nonsense, Jem," said the lady, as she drew him on to the sofa and sat with her arms round his neck. "It may be true, all you've told me, and it may not. For all I know, you may have been married to some other woman; but I've got you now, and I intend to keep you."
"There, there," said the captain, as soothingly as a strange sinking at the heart would allow him.
"As for that other little man, I only married him because he worried me so," said Mrs. Pepper tearfully. "I never loved him, but he used to follow me about and propose. Was it twelve or thirteen times you proposed to me, Pepper?"
"I forget," said the ex-pilot shortly.
"But I never loved him," she continued. "I never loved you a bit, did I, Pepper?"
"Not a bit," said Pepper warmly. "No man could ever have a harder or more unfeeling wife than you was. I'll say that for you, willing."
As he bore this testimony to his wife's fidelity there was a knock at the door, and, upon his opening it, the rector's daughter, a lady of uncertain age, entered, and stood regarding with amazement the frantic but ineffectual struggles of Captain Crippen to release himself from a position as uncomfortable as it was ridiculous.
"Mrs. Pepper!" said the lady, aghast. "Oh, Mrs. Pepper!"
"It's all right, Miss Winthrop," said the lady addressed, calmly, as she forced the captain's flushed face on to her ample shoulder again; "it's my first husband, Jem Budd."
"Good gracious!" said Miss Winthrop, starting. "Enoch Arden in the flesh!"
"Who?" inquired Pepper, with a show of polite interest.
"Enoch Arden," said Miss Winthrop. "One of our great poets wrote a noble poem about a sailor who came home and found that his wife had married again; but, in the POEM, the first husband went away without making himself known, and died of a broken heart."
She looked at Captain Crippen as though he hadn't quite come up to her expectations.
"And now," said Pepper, speaking with great cheerfulness, "it's me that's got to have the broken heart. Well, well."
"It's a most interesting case," cried Miss Winthrop; "and, if you wait till I fetch my camera, I'll take your portrait together just as you are."
"Do," said Mrs. Pepper cordially.
"I won't have my portrait took," said the captain, with much acerbity.
"Not if I wish it, dear?" inquired Mrs. Pepper tenderly.
"Not if you keep a-wishing it all your life," replied the captain sourly, making another attempt to get his head from her shoulder.
"Don't you think they ought to have their portrait taken now?" asked Miss Winthrop, turning to the ex-pilot.
"I don't see no 'arm in it," said Pepper thoughtlessly.
"You hear what Mr. Pepper says," said the lady, turning to the captain again. "Surely if he doesn't mind, you ought not to."
"I'll talk to him by-and-bye," said the captain, very grimly.
"P'raps it would be better if we kept this affair to ourselves for the present," said the ex-pilot, taking alarm at his friend's manner.
"Well, I won't intrude on you any longer," said Miss Winthrop. "Oh! Look there! How rude of them!"
The others turned hastily in time to see several heads vanish from the window. Captain Crippen was the first to speak.
"Jem!" said Mrs. Pepper severely, before he had finished.
"Captain Budd!" said Miss Winthrop, flushing.
The incensed captain rose to his feet and paced up and down the room. He looked at the ex-pilot, and that small schemer shivered.
"Easy does it, cap'n," he murmured, with a wink which he meant to be comforting.
"I'm going out a little way," said the captain, after the rector's daughter had gone. "Just to cool my head."
Mrs. Pepper took her bonnet from its peg behind the door, and, surveying herself in the glass, tied it beneath her chin.
"Alone," said Crippen nervously. "I want to do a little thinking."
"Never again, Jem," said Mrs. Pepper firmly. "My place is by your side. If you're ashamed of people looking at you, I'm not. I'm proud of you. Come along. Come and show yourself, and tell them who you are. You shall never go out of my sight again as long as I live. Never."
She began to whimper.
"What's to be done?" inquired Crippen, turning desperately on the bewildered pilot.
"What's it got to do with him?" demanded Mrs. Pepper sharply.
"He's got to be considered a little, I s'pose," said the captain, dissembling. "Besides, I think I'd better do like the man in the poetry did. Let me go away and die of a broken heart. Perhaps it's best."
Mrs. Pepper looked at him with kindling eyes.
"Let me go away and die of a broken heart," repeated the captain, with real feeling. "I'd rather do it. I would indeed."
Mrs. Pepper, bursting into angry tears, flung her arms round his neck again, and sobbed on his shoulder. The pilot, obeying the frenzied injunctions of his friend's eye, drew down the blind.
"There's quite a crowd outside," he remarked.
"I don't mind," said his wife amiably. "They'll soon know who he is."
She stood holding the captain's hand and stroking it, and whenever his feelings became too much for her put her head down on his waistcoat. At such times the captain glared fiercely at the ex-pilot, who, being of a weak nature, was unable, despite his anxiety, to give his risible faculties that control which the solemnity of the occasion demanded.
The afternoon wore slowly away. Miss Winthrop, who disliked scandal, had allowed something of the affair to leak out, and several visitors, including a local reporter, called, but were put off till the morrow, on the not unnatural plea that the long-separated couple desired a little privacy. The three sat silent, the ex-pilot, with wrinkled brows, trying hard to decipher the lip-language in which the captain addressed him whenever he had an opportunity, but could only dimly guess its purport, when the captain pressed his huge fist into the service as well.
Mrs. Pepper rose at length, and went into the back room to prepare tea. As she left the door open, however, and took the captain's hat with her, he built no hopes on her absence, but turned furiously to the ex-pilot.
"What's to be done?" he inquired in a fierce whisper. "This can't go on."
"It'll have to," whispered the other.
"Now, look here," said Crippen menacingly, "I'm going into the kitchen to make a clean breast of it. I'm sorry for you, but I've done the best I can. Come and help me to explain."
He turned to the kitchen, but the other, with the strength born of despair, seized him by the sleeve and held him back.
"She'll kill me," he whispered breathlessly.
"I can't help it," said Crippen, shaking him off. "Serve you right."
"And she'll tell the folks outside, and they'll kill you," continued Pepper.
The captain sat down again, and confronted him with a face as pale as his own.
"The last train leaves at eight," whispered the pilot hurriedly. "It's desperate, but it's the only thing you can do. Take her for a stroll up by the fields near the railway station. You can see the train coming in for a mile off nearly. Time yourself carefully, and make a bolt for it. She can't run."
The entrance of their victim with the tea-tray stopped the conversation; but the captain nodded acceptance behind her back, and then, with a forced gaiety, sat down to tea.
For the first time since his successful appearance he became loquacious, and spoke so freely of incidents in the life of the man he was impersonating that the ex-pilot sat in a perfect fever lest he should blunder. The meal finished, he proposed a stroll, and, as the unsuspecting Mrs. Pepper tied on her bonnet, slapped his leg, and winked confidently at his fellow-conspirator.
"I'm not much of a walker," said the innocent Mrs. Pepper, "so you must go slowly."
The captain nodded, and at Pepper's suggestion left by the back way, to avoid the gaze of the curious.
For some time after their departure Pepper sat smoking, with his anxious face turned to the clock, until at length, unable to endure the strain any longer, and not without a sportsmanlike idea of being in at the death, he made his way to the station, and placed himself behind a convenient coal-truck.
He waited impatiently, with his eyes fixed on the road up which he expected the captain to come. He looked at his watch. Five minutes to eight, and still no captain. The platform began to fill, a porter seized the big bell and rang it lustily; in the distance a patch of white smoke showed. Just as the watcher had given up all hope, the figure of the captain came in sight. He was swaying from side to side, holding his hat in his hand, but doggedly racing the train to the station.
"He'll never do it!" groaned the pilot. Then he held his breath, for three or four hundred yards behind the captain Mrs. Pepper pounded in pursuit.
The train rolled into the station; passengers stepped in and out; doors slammed, and the guard had already placed the whistle in his mouth, when Captain Crippen, breathing stentorously, came stumbling blindly on to the platform, and was hustled into a third class carriage.
"Close shave that, sir," said the station-master as he closed the door.
The captain sank back in his seat, fighting for breath, and turning his head, gave a last triumphant look up the road.
"All right, sir," said the station-master kindly, as he followed the direction of the other's eyes and caught sight of Mrs. Pepper. "We'll wait for your lady."
* * * * *
Jackson Pepper came from behind the coal-truck and watched the train out of sight, wondering in a dull, vague fashion what the conversation was like. He stood so long that a tender hearted porter, who had heard the news, made bold to come up and put a friendly hand on his shoulder.
"You'll never see her again, Mr. Pepper," he said sympathetically.
The ex-pilot turned and regarded him fixedly, and the last bit of spirit he was ever known to show flashed up in his face as he spoke.
"You're a blamed idiot!" he said rudely.
A CASE OF DESERTION
The sun was just rising as the small tub-like steamer, or, to be more correct, steam-barge, the Bulldog, steamed past the sleeping town of Gravesend at a good six knots per hour.
There had been a little discussion on the way between her crew and the engineer, who, down in his grimy little engine-room, did his own stoking and everything else necessary. The crew, consisting of captain, mate, and boy, who were doing their first trip on a steamer, had been transferred at the last moment from their sailing-barge the Witch, and found to their discomfort that the engineer, who had not expected to sail so soon, was terribly and abusively drunk. Every moment he could spare from his engines he thrust the upper part of his body through the small hatchway, and rowed with his commander.
"Ahoy, bargee!" he shouted, popping up like a jack-in-the-box, after a brief cessation of hostilities.
"Don't take no notice of 'im," said the mate. "'E's got a bottle of brandy down there, an' he's 'alf mad."
"If I knew anything o' them blessed engines," growled the skipper, "I'd go and hit 'im over the head."
"But you don't," said the mate, "and neither do I, so you'd better keep quiet."
"You think you're a fine feller," continued the engineer, "standing up there an' playing with that little wheel. You think you're doing all the work. What's the boy doing? Send him down to stoke."
"Go down," said the skipper, grinning with fury, and the boy reluctantly obeyed.
"You think," said the engineer pathetically, after he had cuffed the boy's head and dropped him down below by the scruff of his neck, "you think because I've got a black face I'm not a man. There's many a hoily face 'ides a good 'art."
"I don't think nothing about it," grunted the skipper; "you do your work, and I'll do mine."
"Don't you give me none of your back answers," bellowed the engineer, "'cos I won't have 'em."
The skipper shrugged his shoulders and exchanged glances with his sympathetic mate. "Wait till I get 'im ashore," he murmured.
"The biler is wore out," said the engineer, re-appearing after a hasty dive below. "It may bust at any moment."
As though to confirm his words fearful sounds were heard proceeding from below.
"It's only the boy," said the mate, "he's scared—natural."
"I thought it was the biler," said the skipper, with a sigh of relief. "It was loud enough."
As he spoke the boy got his head out of the hatchway, and, rendered desperate with fear, fairly fought his way past the engineer and gained the deck.
"Very good," said the engineer, as he followed him on deck and staggered to the side. "I've had enough o' you lot."
"Hadn't you better go down to them engines?" shouted the skipper.
"Am I your SLAVE?" demanded the engineer tearfully. "Tell me that. Am I your slave?"
"Go down and do your work like a sensible man," was the reply.
At these words the engineer took umbrage at once, and, scowling fiercely, removed his greasy jacket and flung his cap on the deck. He then finished the brandy which he had brought up with him, and gazed owlishly at the Kentish shore.
"I'm going to have a wash," he said loudly, and, sitting down, removed his boots.
"Go down to the engines first," said the skipper, "and I'll send the boy to you with a bucket and some soap."
"Bucket!" replied the engineer scornfully, as he moved to the side. "I'm going to have a proper wash."
"Hold him!" roared the skipper suddenly. "Hold him!"
The mate, realising the situation, rushed to seize him, but the engineer, with a mad laugh, put his hands on the side and vaulted into the water. When he rose the steamer was twenty yards ahead.
"Go astarn!" yelled the mate.
"How can I go astarn when there's nobody at the engines?" shouted the skipper, as he hung on to the wheel and brought the boat's head sharply round. "Git a line ready."
The mate, with a coil of rope in his hand, rushed to the side, but his benevolent efforts were frustrated by the engineer, who, seeing the boat's head making straight for him, saved his life by an opportune dive. The steamer rushed by.
"Turn 'er agin!" screamed the mate.
The captain was already doing so, and in a remarkably short space of time the boat, which had described a complete circle, was making again for the engineer.
"Look out for the line!" shouted the mate warningly.
"I don't want your line," yelled the engineer. "I'm going ashore."
"Come aboard!" shouted the captain imploringly, as they swept past again. "We can't manage the engines."
"Put her round again," said the mate. "I'll go for him with the boat. Haul her in, boy."
The boat, which was dragging astern, was hauled close, and the mate tumbled into her, followed by the boy, just as the captain was in the middle of another circle?-to the intense indignation of a crowd of shipping, large and small, which was trying to get by.
"Ahoy!" yelled the master of a tug which was towing a large ship. "Take that steam roundabout out of the way. What the thunder are you doing?"
"Picking up my engineer," replied the captain, as he steamed right across the other's bows, and nearly ran down a sailing-barge, the skipper of which, a Salvation Army man, was nobly fighting with his feelings.
"Why don't you stop?" he yelled.
"'Cos I can't," wailed the skipper of the Bulldog, as he threaded his way between a huge steamer and a schooner, who, in avoiding him, were getting up a little collision on their own account.
"Ahoy, Bulldog! Ahoy!" called the mate. "Stand by to pick us up. We've got him."
The skipper smiled in an agonised fashion as he shot past, hotly pursued by his boat. The feeling on board the other craft as they got out of the way of the Bulldog, and nearly ran down her boat, and then, in avoiding that, nearly ran down something else, cannot be put into plain English, but several captains ventured into the domains of the ornamental with marked success.
"Shut off steam!" yelled the engineer, as the Bulldog went by again. "Draw the fires, then."
"Who's going to steer while I do it?" bellowed the skipper, as he left the wheel for a few seconds to try and get a line to throw them.
By this time the commotion in the river was frightful, and the captain's steering, as he went on his round again, something marvellous to behold. A strange lack of sympathy on the part of brother captains added to his troubles. Every craft he passed had something to say to him, busy as they were, and the remarks were as monotonous as they were insulting. At last, just as he was resolving to run his boat straight down the river until he came to a halt for want of steam, the mate caught the rope he flung, and the Bulldog went down the river with her boat made fast to her stern.
"Come aboard, you—you lunatic!" he shouted.
"Not afore I knows 'ow I stand," said the engineer, who was now beautifully sober, and in full possession of a somewhat acute intellect.
"What do you mean?" demanded the skipper.
"I don't come aboard," shouted the engineer, "until you and the mate and the bye all swear as you won't say nothing about this little game."
"I'll report you the moment I get ashore," roared the skipper. "I'll give you in charge for desertion. I'll"—
With a supreme gesture the engineer prepared to dive, but the watchful mate fell on his neck and tripped him over a seat.
"Come aboard!" cried the skipper, aghast at such determination. "Come aboard, and I'll give you a licking when we get ashore instead."
"Honour bright?" inquired the engineer.
"Honour bright," chorused the three.
The engineer, with all the honours of war, came on board, and, after remarking that he felt chilly bathing on an empty stomach, went down below and began to stoke. In the course of the voyage he said that it was worth while making such a fool of himself if only to see the skipper's beautiful steering, warmly asseverating that there was not another man on the river that could have done it. Before this insidious flattery the skipper's wrath melted like snow before the sun, and by the time they reached port he would as soon have thought of hitting his own father as his smooth-tongued engineer.
It was a momentous occasion. The two skippers sat in the private bar of the "Old Ship," in High Street, Wapping, solemnly sipping cold gin and smoking cigars, whose sole merit consisted in the fact that they had been smuggled. It is well known all along the waterside that this greatly improves their flavour.
"Draw all right?" queried Captain Berrow?-a short, fat man of few ideas, who was the exulting owner of a bundle of them.
"Beautiful," replied Captain Tucker, who had just made an excursion into the interior of his with the small blade of his penknife. "Why don't you keep smokes like these, landlord?"
"He can't," chuckled Captain Berrow fatuously. "They're not to be 'ad—money couldn't buy 'em."
The landlord grunted. "Why don't you settle about that race o' yours an' ha' done with it," he cried, as he wiped down his counter. "Seems to me, Cap'n Tucker's hanging fire."
"I'm ready when he is," said Tucker, somewhat shortly.
"It's taking your money," said Berrow slowly; "the Thistle can't hold a candle to the Good Intent, and you know it. Many a time that little schooner o' mine has kept up with a steamer."
"Wher'd you ha' been if the tow rope had parted, though?" said the master of the Thistle, with a wink at the landlord.
At this remark Captain Berrow took fire, and, with his temper rapidly rising to fever heat, wrathfully repelled the scurvy insinuation in language which compelled the respectful attention of all the other customers and the hasty intervention of the landlord.
"Put up the stakes," he cried impatiently. "Put up the stakes, and don't have so much jaw about it."
"Here's mine," said Berrow, sturdily handing over a greasy fiver. "Now, Cap'n Tucker, cover that."
"Come on," said the landlord encouragingly; "don't let him take the wind out of your sails like that."
Tucker handed over five sovereigns.
"High water's at 12.13," said the landlord, pocketing the stakes. "You understand the conditions?-each of you does the best he can for hisself after eleven, an' the one what gets to Poole first has the ten quid. Understand?"
Both gamblers breathed hard, and, fully realising the desperate nature of the enterprise upon which they had embarked, ordered some more gin. A rivalry of long standing as to the merits of their respective schooners had led to them calling in the landlord to arbitrate, and this was the result. Berrow, vaguely feeling that it would be advisable to keep on good terms with the stakeholder, offered him one of the famous cigars. The stakeholder, anxious to keep on good terms with his stomach, declined it.
"You've both got your moorings up, I s'pose?" he inquired.
"Got 'em up this evening," replied Tucker. "We're just made fast one on each side of the Dolphin now."
"The wind's light, but it's from the right quarter," said Captain Berrow, "an' I only hope as 'ow the best ship'll win. I'd like to win myself, but, if not, I can only say as there's no man breathing I'd sooner have lick me than Cap'n Tucker. He's as smart a seaman as ever comes into the London river, an' he's got a schooner angels would be proud of."
"Glasses o' gin round," said Tucker promptly. "Cap'n Berrow, here's your very good health, an' a fair field an' no favour."
With these praiseworthy sentiments the master of the Thistle finished his liquor, and, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, nodded farewell to the twain and departed. Once in the High Street he walked slowly, as one in deep thought, then, with a sudden resolution, turned up Nightingale Lane, and made for a small, unsavoury thoroughfare leading out of Ratcliff Highway. A quarter of an hour later he emerged into that famous thoroughfare again, smiling incoherently, and, retracing his steps to the waterside, jumped into a boat, and was pulled off to his ship.
"Comes off to-night, Joe," said he, as he descended to the cabin, "an' it's arf a quid to you if the old gal wins."
"What's the bet?" inquired the mate, looking up from his task of shredding tobacco.
"Five quid," replied the skipper.
"Well, we ought to do it," said the mate slowly; "'t wont be my fault if we don't."
"Mine neither," said the skipper. "As a matter o' fact, Joe, I reckon I've about made sure of it. All's fair in love and war and racing, Joe."
"Ay, ay," said the mate, more slowly than before, as he revolved this addition to the proverb.
"I just nipped round and saw a chap I used to know named Dibbs," said the skipper. "Keeps a boarding-house for sailors. Wonderful sharp little chap he is. Needles ain't nothing to him. There's heaps of needles, but only one Dibbs. He's going to make old Berrow's chaps as drunk as lords."
"Does he know 'em?" inquired the mate.
"He knows where to find 'em," said the other. "I told him they'd either be in the 'Duke's Head' or the 'Town o' Berwick.' But he'd find 'em wherever they was. Ah, even if they was in a coffee pallis, I b'leeve that man 'ud find 'em."
"They're steady chaps," objected the mate, but in a weak fashion, being somewhat staggered by this tribute to Mr. Dibbs' remarkable powers.
"My lad," said the skipper, "it's Dibbs' business to mix sailors' liquors so's they don't know whether they're standing on their heads or their heels. He's the most wonderful mixer in Christendom; takes a reg'lar pride in it. Many a sailorman has got up a ship's side, thinking it was stairs, and gone off half acrost the world instead of going to bed, through him."
"We'll have a easy job of it, then," said the mate. "I b'leeve we could ha' managed it without that, though. 'Tain't quite what you'd call sport, is it?"
"There's nothing like making sure of a thing," said the skipper placidly. "What time's our chaps coming aboard?"
"Ten thirty, the latest," replied the mate. "Old Sam's with 'em, so they'll be all right."
"I'll turn in for a couple of hours," said the skipper, going towards his berth. "Lord! I'd give something to see old Berrow's face as his chaps come up the side."
"P'raps they won't git as far as that," remarked the mate.
"Oh, yes they will," said the skipper. "Dibbs is going to see to that. I don't want any chance of the race being scratched. Turn me out in a couple of hours."
He closed the door behind him, and the mate, having stuffed his clay with the coarse tobacco, took some pink note-paper with scalloped edges from his drawer, and, placing the paper at his right side, and squaring his shoulders, began some private correspondence.
For some time he smoked and wrote in silence, until the increasing darkness warned him to finish his task. He signed the note, and, having put a few marks of a tender nature below his signature, sealed it ready for the post, and sat with half-closed eyes, finishing his pipe. Then his head nodded, and, placing his arms on the table, he too slept.
It seemed but a minute since he had closed his eyes when he was awakened by the entrance of the skipper, who came blundering into the darkness from his stateroom, vociferating loudly and nervously.
"Ay, ay!" said Joe, starting up.
"Where's the lights?" said the skipper. "What's the time? I dreamt I'd overslept myself. What's the time?"
"Plenty o' time," said the mate vaguely, as he stifled a yawn.
"Ha'-past ten," said the skipper, as he struck a match, "You've been asleep," he added severely.
"I ain't," said the mate stoutly, as he followed the other on deck. "I've been thinking. I think better in the dark."
"It's about time our chaps was aboard," said the skipper, as he looked round the deserted deck. "I hope they won't be late."
"Sam's with 'em," said the mate confidently, as he went on to the side; "there ain't no festivities going on aboard the Good Intent, neither."
"There will be," said his worthy skipper, with a grin, as he looked across the intervening brig at the rival craft; "there will be."
He walked round the deck to see that everything was snug and ship-shape, and got back to the mate just as a howl of surprising weirdness was heard proceeding from the neighbouring stairs.
"I'm s'prised at Berrow allowing his men to make that noise," said the skipper waggishly. "Our chaps are there too, I think. I can hear Sam's voice."
"So can I," said the mate, with emphasis.
"Seems to be talking rather loud," said the master of the Thistle, knitting his brows.
"Sounds as though he's trying to sing," said the mate, as, after some delay, a heavily-laden boat put off from the stairs and made slowly for them. "No, he ain't; he's screaming."
There was no longer any doubt about it. The respectable and greatly-trusted Sam was letting off a series of wild howls which would have done credit to a penny-gaff Zulu, and was evidently very much out of temper about something.
"Ahoy, Thistle! Ahoy!" bellowed the waterman, as he neared the schooner. "Chuck us a rope?-quick!"
The mate threw him one, and the boat came alongside. It was then seen that another waterman, using impatient and deplorable language, was forcibly holding Sam down in the boat.
"What's he done? What's the row?" demanded the mate.
"Done?" said the waterman, in disgust. "Done? He's 'ad a small lemon, an' it's got into his silly old head. He's making all this fuss 'cos he wanted to set the pub on fire, an' they wouldn't let him. Man ashore told us they belonged to the Good Intent, but I know they're your men."
"Sam!" roared the skipper, with a sinking heart, as his glance fell on the recumbent figures in the boat; "come aboard at once, you drunken disgrace! D'ye hear?"
"I can't leave him," said Sam, whimpering.
"Leave who?" growled the skipper.
"Him," said Sam, placing his arms round the waterman's neck. "Him an' me's like brothers."
"Get up, you old loonatic!" snarled the waterman, extricating himself with difficulty, and forcing the other towards the side. "Now, up you go!"
Aided by the shoulders of the waterman and the hands of his superior officers, Sam went up, and then the waterman turned his attention to the remainder of his fares, who were snoring contentedly in the bottom of the boat.
"Now, then!" he cried; "look alive with you! D'ye hear? Wake up! Wake up! Kick 'em, Bill!"
"I can't kick no 'arder," grumbled the other waterman.
"What the devil's the matter with 'em?" stormed the master of the Thistle, "Chuck a pail of water over 'em, Joe!"
Joe obeyed with gusto; and, as he never had much of a head for details, bestowed most of it upon the watermen. Through the row which ensued the Thistle's crew snored peacefully, and at last were handed up over the sides like sacks of potatoes, and the indignant watermen pulled back to the stairs.
"Here's a nice crew to win a race with!" wailed the skipper, almost crying with rage. "Chuck the water over 'em, Joe! Chuck the water over 'em!"
Joe obeyed willingly, until at length, to the skipper's great relief, one man stirred, and, sitting up on the deck, sleepily expressed his firm conviction that it was raining. For a moment they both had hopes of him, but as Joe went to the side for another bucketful, he evidently came to the conclusion that he had been dreaming, and, lying down again, resumed his nap. As he did so the first stroke of Big Ben came booming down the river.
"Eleven o'clock!" shouted the excited skipper.
It was too true. Before Big Ben had finished, the neighbouring church clocks commenced striking with feverish haste, and hurrying feet and hoarse cries were heard proceeding from the deck of the GOOD INTENT.
"Loose the sails!" yelled the furious Tucker. "Loose the sails! Damme, we'll get under way by ourselves!"
He ran forward, and, assisted by the mate, hoisted the jibs, and then, running back, cast off from the brig, and began to hoist the mainsail. As they disengaged themselves from the tier, there was just sufficient sail for them to advance against the tide; while in front of them the Good Intent, shaking out sail after sail, stood boldly down the river.
* * * * *
"This was the way of it," said Sam, as he stood before the grim Tucker at six o'clock the next morning, surrounded by his mates. "He came into the 'Town o' Berwick,' where we was, as nice a spoken little chap as ever you'd wish to see. He said he'd been a-looking at the GOOD INTENT, and he thought it was the prettiest little craft 'e ever seed, and the exact image of one his dear brother, which was a missionary, 'ad, and he'd like to stand a drink to every man of her crew. Of course, we all said we was the crew direckly, an' all I can remember after that is two coppers an' a little boy trying to giv' me the frog's march, an' somebody chucking pails o' water over me. It's crool 'ard losing a race, what we didn't know nothink about, in this way; but it warn't our fault?-it warn't, indeed. It's my belief that the little man was a missionary of some sort hisself, and wanted to convert us, an' that was his way of starting on the job. It's all very well for the mate to have highstirriks; but it's quite true, every word of it, an' if you go an' ask at the pub they'll tell you the same."
The schooner Falcon was ready for sea. The last bale of general cargo had just been shipped, and a few hairy, unkempt seamen were busy putting on the hatches under the able profanity of the mate.
"All clear?" inquired the master, a short, ruddy-faced man of about thirty-five. "Cast off there!"
"Ain't you going to wait for the passengers, then?" inquired the mate.
"No, no," replied the skipper, whose features were working with excitement. "They won't come now, I'm sure they won't. We'll lose the tide if we don't look sharp."
He turned aside to give an order just as a buxom young woman, accompanied by a loutish boy, a band-box, and several other bundles, came hurrying on to the jetty.
"Well, here we are, Cap'n Evans," said the girl, springing lightly on to the deck. "I thought we should never get here; the cabman didn't seem to know the way; but I knew you wouldn't go without us."
"Here you are," said the skipper, with attempted cheerfulness, as he gave the girl his right hand, while his left strayed vaguely in the direction of the boy's ear, which was coldly withheld from him. "Go down below, and the mate'll show you your cabin. Bill, this is Miss Cooper, a lady friend o' mine, and her brother."
The mate, acknowledging the introduction, led the way to the cabin, where they remained so long that by the time they came on deck again the schooner was off Limehouse, slipping along well under a light wind.
"How do you like the state-room?" inquired the skipper, who was at the wheel.
"Pretty fair," replied Miss Cooper. "It's a big name for it though, ain't it? Oh, what a large ship!"
She ran to the side to gaze at a big liner, and as far as Gravesend besieged the skipper and mate with questions concerning the various craft. At the mate's suggestion they had tea on deck, at which meal William Henry Cooper became a source of much discomfort to his host by his remarkable discoveries anent the fauna of lettuce. Despite his efforts, however, and the cloud under which Evans seemed to be labouring, the meal was voted a big success; and after it was over they sat laughing and chatting until the air got chilly, and the banks of the river were lost in the gathering darkness. At ten o'clock they retired for the night, leaving Evans and the mate on deck.
"Nice gal, that," said the mate, looking at the skipper, who was leaning moodily on the wheel.
"Ay, ay," replied he. "Bill," he continued, turning suddenly towards the mate. "I'm in a deuce of a mess. You've got a good square head on your shoulders. Now, what on earth am I to do? Of course you can see how the land lays?"
"Of course," said the mate, who was not going to lose his reputation by any display of ignorance. "Anyone could see it," he added.
"The question is what's to be done?" said the skipper.
"That's the question," said the mate guardedly.
"I feel that worried," said Evans, "that I've actually thought of getting into collision, or running the ship ashore. Fancy them two women meeting at Llandalock."
Such a sudden light broke in upon the square head of the mate, that he nearly whistled with the brightness of it.
"But you ain't engaged to this one?" he cried.
"We're to be married in August," said the skipper desperately. "That's my ring on her finger."
"But you're going to marry Mary Jones in September," expostulated the mate. "You can't marry both of 'em."
"That's what I say," replied Evans; "that's what I keep telling myself, but it don't seem to bring much comfort. I'm too soft-'earted where wimmen is concerned, Bill, an' that's the truth of it. D'reckly I get alongside of a nice gal my arm goes creeping round her before I know what it's doing."
"What on earth made you bring the girl on the ship?" inquired the mate. "The other one's sure to be on the quay to meet you as usual."
"I couldn't help it," groaned the skipper; "she would come; she can be very determined when she likes. She's awful gone on me, Bill."
"So's the other one apparently," said the mate.
"I can't think what it is the gals see in me," said the other mournfully. "Can you?"
"No, I'm blamed if I can," replied the mate frankly.
"I don't take no credit for it, Bill," said the skipper, "not a bit. My father was like it before me. The worry's killing me."
"Well, which are you going to have?" inquired the mate. "Which do you like the best?"
"I don't know, an' that's a fact," said the skipper. "They 've both got money coming to 'em; when I'm in Wales I like Mary Jones best, and when I'm in London it's Janey Cooper. It's dreadful to be like that, Bill."
"It is," said the mate drily. "I wouldn't be in your shoes when those two gals meet for a fortune. Then you'll have old Jones and her brothers to tackle, too. Seems to me things'll be a bit lively."
"I hev thought of being took sick, and staying in my bunk, Bill," suggested Evans anxiously.
"An' having the two of 'em to nurse you," retorted Bill. "Nice quiet time for an invalid."
Evans made a gesture of despair.
"How would it be," said the mate, after a long pause, and speaking very slowly; "how would it be if I took this one off your hands."
"You couldn't do it, Bill," said the skipper decidedly. "Not while she knew I was above ground." "Well, I can try," returned the mate shortly. "I've took rather a fancy to the girl. Is it a bargain?"
"It is," said the skipper, shaking hands upon it. "If you git me out of this hole, Bill, I'll remember it the longest day I live."
With these words he went below, and, after cautiously undoing W. H. Cooper, who had slept himself into a knot that a professional contortionist would have envied, tumbled in beside him and went to sleep.
His heart almost failed him when he encountered the radiant Jane at breakfast in the morning, but he concealed his feelings by a strong effort; and after the meal was finished, and the passengers had gone on deck, he laid hold of the mate, who was following, and drew him into the cabin.
"You haven't washed yourself this morning," he said, eyeing him closely. "How do you s'pose you are going to make an impression if you don't look smart?"
"Well, I look tidier than you do," growled the mate.
"Of course you do," said the wily Evans. "I'm going to give you all the chances I can. Now you go and shave yourself, and here—take it."
He passed the surprised mate a brilliant red silk tie, embellished with green spots.
"No, no," said the mate deprecatingly.
"Take it," repeated Evans; "if anything'll fetch her it'll be that tie; and here's a couple of collars for you; they're a new shape, quite the rage down Poplar way just now."
"It's robbing you," said the mate, "and it's no good either. I ain't got a decent suit of clothes to my back."
Evans looked up, and their eyes met; then, with a catch in his breath, he turned away, and after some hesitation went to his locker, and bringing out a new suit, bought for the edification of Miss Jones, handed it silently to the mate.
"I can't take all these things without giving you something for 'em," said the mate. "Here, wait a bit."
He dived into his cabin, and, after a hasty search, brought out some garments which he placed on the table before his commander.
"I wouldn't wear 'em, no, not to drown myself in," declared Evans after a brief glance; "they ain't even decent."
"So much the better," said the mate; "it'll be more of a contrast with me."
After a slight contest the skipper gave way, and the mate, after an elaborate toilette, went on deck and began to make himself agreeable, while his chief skulked below trying to muster up courage to put in an appearance.
"Where's the captain?" inquired Miss Cooper, after his absence had been so prolonged as to become noticeable.
"He's below, dressin', I b'leeve," replied the mate simply.
Miss Cooper, glancing at his attire, smiled softly to herself, and prepared for something startling, and she got it; for a more forlorn, sulky-looking object than the skipper, when he did appear, had never been seen on the deck of the Falcon, and his London betrothed glanced at him hot with shame and indignation.
"Whatever have you got those things on for?" she whispered.
"Work, my dear—work," replied the skipper.
"Well, mind you don't lose any of the pieces," said the dear suavely; "you mightn't be able to match that cloth."
"I'll look after that," said the skipper, reddening. "You must excuse me talkin' to you now. I'm busy."
Miss Cooper looked at him indignantly, and, biting her lip, turned away, and started a desperate flirtation with the mate, to punish him. Evans watched them with mingled feelings as he busied himself with various small jobs on the deck, his wrath being raised to boiling point by the behaviour of the cook, who, being a poor hand at disguising his feelings, came out of the galley several times to look at him.
From this incident a coolness sprang up between the skipper and the girl, which increased hourly. At times the skipper weakened, but the watchful mate was always on hand to prevent mischief. Owing to his fostering care Evans was generally busy, and always gruff; and Miss Cooper, who was used to the most assiduous attentions from him, knew not whether to be most bewildered or most indignant. Four times in one day did he remark in her hearing that a sailor's ship was his sweetheart, while his treatment of his small prospective brother in-law, when he expostulated with him on the state of his wardrobe, filled that hitherto pampered youth with amazement. At last, on the fourth night out, as the little schooner was passing the coast of Cornwall, the mate came up to him as he was steering, and patted him heavily on the back.
"It's all right, cap'n," said he. "You've lost the prettiest little girl in England."
"What?" said the skipper, in incredulous tones.
"Fact," replied the other. "Here's your ring back. I wouldn't let her wear it any longer."
"However did you do it?" inquired Evans, taking the ring in a dazed fashion.
"Oh, easy as possible," said the mate. "She liked me best, that's all."
"But what did you say to her?" persisted Evans.
The other reflected.
"I can't call to mind exactly," he said at length. "But, you may rely upon it, I said everything I could against you. But she never did care much for you. She told me so herself."
"I wish you joy of your bargain," said Evans solemnly, after a long pause.
"What do you mean?" demanded the mate sharply.
"A girl like that," said the skipper, with a lump in his throat, "who can carry on with two men at once ain't worth having. She's not my money, that's all."
The mate looked at him in honest bewilderment.
"Mark my words," continued the skipper loftily, "you'll live to regret it. A girl like that's got no ballast. She'll always be running after fresh neckties."
"You put it down to the necktie, do you?" sneered the mate wrathfully.
"That and the clothes, cert'nly," replied the skipper.
"Well, you're wrong," said the mate. "A lot you know about girls. It wasn't your old clothes, and it wasn't all your bad behaviour to her since she's been aboard. You may as well know first as last. She wouldn't have nothing to do with me at first, so I told her all about Mary Jones."
"You told her THAT?" cried the skipper fiercely.
"I did," replied the other. "She was pretty wild at first; but then the comic side of it struck her—you wearing them old clothes, and going about as you did. She used to watch you until she couldn't stand it any longer, and then go down in the cabin and laugh. Wonderful spirits that girl's got. Hush! Here she is!"
As he spoke the girl came on deck, and, seeing the two men talking together, remained at a short distance from them.
"It's all right, Jane," said the mate; "I've told him."
"Oh!" said Miss Cooper, with a little gasp.
"I can't bear deceit," said the mate; "and now it's off his mind, he's so happy he can't bear himself."
The latter part of this assertion seemed to be more warranted by facts than the former, but Evans made a choking noise, which he intended as a sign of unbearable joy, and, relinquishing the wheel to the mate, walked forward. The clear sky was thick with stars, and a mind at ease might have found enjoyment in the quiet beauty of the night, but the skipper was too interested in the behaviour of the young couple at the wheel to give it a thought. Immersed in each other, they forgot him entirely, and exchanged little playful slaps and pushes, which incensed him beyond description. Several times he was on the point of exercising his position as commander and ordering the mate below, but in the circumstances interference was impossible, and, with a low-voiced good-night, he went below. Here his gaze fell on William Henry, who was slumbering peacefully, and, with a hazy idea of the eternal fitness of things, he raised the youth in his arms, and, despite his sleepy protests, deposited him in the mate's bunk. Then, with head and heart both aching, he retired for the night.
There was a little embarrassment next day, but it soon passed off, and the three adult inmates of the cabin got on quite easy terms with each other. The most worried person aft was the boy, who had not been taken into their confidence, and whose face, when his sister sat with the mate's arm around her waist, presented to the skipper a perfect study in emotions.
"I feel quite curious to see this Miss Jones," said Miss Cooper amiably, as they sat at dinner.
"She'll be on the quay, waving her handkerchief to him," said the mate. "We'll be in to-morrow afternoon, and then you'll see her."
As it happened, the mate was a few hours out in his reckoning, for by the time the Falcon's bows were laid for the small harbour it was quite dark, and the little schooner glided in, guided by the two lights which marked the entrance. The quay, seen in the light of a few scattered lamps, looked dreary enough, and, except for two or three indistinct figures, appeared to be deserted. Beyond, the broken lights of the town stood out more clearly as the schooner crept slowly over the dark water towards her berth.
"Fine night, cap'n," said the watchman, as the schooner came gently alongside the quay.
The skipper grunted assent. He was peering anxiously at the quay.
"It's too late," said the mate. "You couldn't expect her this time o'night. It's ten o'clock."
"I'll go over in the morning," said Evans, who, now that things had been adjusted, was secretly disappointed that Miss Cooper had not witnessed the meeting. "If you're not going ashore, we might have a hand o' cards as soon's we're made fast."
The mate assenting, they went below, and were soon deep in the mysteries of three-hand cribbage. Evans, who was a good player, surpassed himself, and had just won the first game, the others being nowhere, when a head was thrust down the companion-way, and a voice like a strained foghorn called the captain by name.
"Ay, ay!" yelled Evans, laying down his hand.
"I'll come down, cap'n," said the voice, and the mate just had time to whisper "Old Jones" to Miss Cooper, when a man of mighty bulk filled up the doorway of the little cabin, and extended a huge paw to Evans and the mate. He then looked at the lady, and, breathing hard, waited.
"Young lady o' the mate's," said Evans breathlessly,—"Miss Cooper. Sit down, cap'n. Get the gin out, Bill."
"Not for me," said Captain Jones firmly, but with an obvious effort.
The surprise of Evans and the mate admitted of no concealment; but it passed unnoticed by their visitor, who, fidgeting in his seat, appeared to be labouring with some mysterious problem. After a long pause, during which all watched him anxiously, he reached over the table and shook hands with Evans again.
"Put it there, cap'n," said Evans, much affected by this token of esteem.
The old man rose and stood looking at him, with his hand on his shoulder; he then shook hands for the third time, and patted him encouragingly on the back.
"Is anything the matter?" demanded the skipper of the Falcon as he rose to his feet, alarmed by these manifestations of feeling. "Is Mary—is she ill?"
"Worse than that," said the other—"worse'n that, my poor boy; she's married a lobster!"
The effect of this communication upon Evans was tremendous; but it may be doubted whether he was more surprised than Miss Cooper, who, utterly unversed in military terms, strove in vain to realize the possibility of such a mesalliance, as she gazed wildly at the speaker and squeaked with astonishment.
"When was it?" asked Evans at last, in a dull voice.
"Thursday fortnight, at ha' past eleven," said the old man. "He's a sergeant in the line. I would have written to you, but I thought it was best to come and break it to you gently. Cheer up, my boy; there's more than one Mary Jones in the world."
With this undeniable fact, Captain Jones waved a farewell to the party and went off, leaving them to digest his news. For some time they sat still, the mate and Miss Cooper exchanging whispers, until at length, the stillness becoming oppressive, they withdrew to their respective berths, leaving the skipper sitting at the table, gazing hard at a knot in the opposite locker.
For long after their departure he sat thus, amid a deep silence, broken only by an occasional giggle from the stateroom, or an idiotic sniggering from the direction of the mate's bunk, until, recalled to mundane affairs by the lamp burning itself out, he went, in befitting gloom, to bed.
THE RIVAL BEAUTIES
"If you hadn't asked me," said the night watchman, "I should never have told you; but, seeing as you've put the question point blank, I will tell you my experience of it. You're the first person I've ever opened my lips to upon the subject, for it was so eggstraordinary that all our chaps swore as they'd keep it to theirselves for fear of being disbelieved and jeered at.
"It happened in '84, on board the steamer George Washington, bound from Liverpool to New York. The first eight days passed without anything unusual happening, but on the ninth I was standing aft with the first mate, hauling in the log, when we hears a yell from aloft, an' a chap what we called Stuttering Sam come down as if he was possessed, and rushed up to the mate with his eyes nearly starting out of his 'ed.
"'There's the s-s-s-s-s-s-sis-sis-sip!' ses he.
"'The what?' ses the mate.
"'Look here, my lad,' ses the mate, taking out a pocket-hankerchief an' wiping his face, 'you just tarn your 'ed away till you get your breath. It's like opening a bottle o' soda water to stand talking to you. Now, what is it?'
"'It's the ssssssis-sea-sea-sea-sarpint!' ses Sam, with a bust.
"'Rather a long un by your account of it,' ses the mate, with a grin.
"'What's the matter?' ses the skipper, who just came up.
"'This man has seen the sea-sarpint, sir, that's all,' ses the mate.
"'Y-y-yes,' said Sam, with a sort o' sob.
"'Well, there ain't much doing just now,' ses the skipper, 'so you'd better get a slice o' bread and feed it.'
"The mate bust out larfing, an' I could see by the way the skipper smiled he was rather tickled at it himself.
"The skipper an' the mate was still larfing very hearty when we heard a dreadful 'owl from the bridge, an' one o' the chaps suddenly leaves the wheel, jumps on to the deck, and bolts below as though he was mad. T'other one follows 'm a'most d'reckly, and the second mate caught hold o' the wheel as he left it, and called out something we couldn't catch to the skipper.
"'What the d——'s the matter?' yells the skipper.
"The mate pointed to starboard, but as 'is 'and was shaking so that one minute it was pointing to the sky an' the next to the bottom o' the sea, it wasn't much of a guide to us. Even when he got it steady we couldn't see anything, till all of a sudden, about two miles off, something like a telegraph pole stuck up out of the water for a few seconds, and then ducked down again and made straight for the ship.
"Sam was the fust to speak, and, without wasting time stuttering or stammering, he said he'd go down and see about that bit o' bread, an' he went afore the skipper or the mate could stop 'im.
"In less than 'arf a minute there was only the three officers an' me on deck. The second mate was holding the wheel, the skipper was holding his breath, and the first mate was holding me. It was one o' the most exciting times I ever had.
"'Better fire the gun at it,' ses the skipper, in a trembling voice, looking at the little brass cannon we had for signalling.
"'Better not give him any cause for offence,' ses the mate, shaking his head.
"'I wonder whether it eats men,' ses the skipper. 'Perhaps it'll come for some of us.'
"'There ain't many on deck for it to choose from,' ses the mate, looking at 'im significant like.
"'That's true,' ses the skipper, very thoughtful; 'I'll go an' send all hands on deck. As captain, it's my duty not to leave the ship till the LAST, if I can anyways help it.'
"How he got them on deck has always been a wonder to me, but he did it. He was a brutal sort o' a man at the best o' times, an' he carried on so much that I s'pose they thought even the sarpint couldn't be worse. Anyway, up they came, an' we all stood in a crowd watching the sarpint as it came closer and closer.
"We reckoned it to be about a hundred yards long, an' it was about the most awful-looking creetur you could ever imagine. If you took all the ugliest things in the earth and mixed 'em up—gorillas an' the like—you'd only make a hangel compared to what that was. It just hung off our quarter, keeping up with us, and every now and then it would open its mouth and let us see about four yards down its throat.
"'It seems peaceable,' whispers the fust mate, arter awhile.
"'P'raps it ain't hungry,' ses the skipper. 'We'd better not let it get peckish. Try it with a loaf o' bread.'
"The cook went below and fetched up half-a-dozen, an' one o' the chaps, plucking up courage, slung it over the side, an' afore you could say 'Jack Robinson' the sarpint had woffled it up an' was looking for more. It stuck its head up and came close to the side just like the swans in Victoria Park, an' it kept that game up until it had 'ad ten loaves an' a hunk o' pork.
"'I'm afraid we're encouraging it,' ses the skipper, looking at it as it swam alongside with an eye as big as a saucer cocked on the ship.
"'P'raps it'll go away soon if we don't take no more notice of it,' ses the mate. 'Just pretend it isn't here.'
"Well, we did pretend as well as we could; but everybody hugged the port side o' the ship, and was ready to bolt down below at the shortest notice; and at last, when the beast got craning its neck up over the side as though it was looking for something, we gave it some more grub. We thought if we didn't give it he might take it, and take it off the wrong shelf, so to speak. But, as the mate said, it was encouraging it, and long arter it was dark we could hear it snorting and splashing behind us, until at last it 'ad such an effect on us the mate sent one o' the chaps down to rouse the skipper.
"'I don't think it'll do no 'arm,' ses the skipper, peering over the side, and speaking as though he knew all about sea-sarpints and their ways.
"'S'pose it puts its 'ead over the side and takes one o' the men,' ses the mate.
"'Let me know at once,' ses the skipper firmly; an' he went below agin and left us.
"Well, I was jolly glad when eight bells struck, an' I went below; an' if ever I hoped anything I hoped that when I go up that ugly brute would have gone, but, instead o' that, when I went on deck it was playing alongside like a kitten a'most, an' one o' the chaps told me as the skipper had been feeding it agin.
"'It's a wonderful animal,' ses the skipper, 'an' there's none of you now but has seen the sea-sarpint; but I forbid any man here to say a word about it when we get ashore.'
"'Why not, sir?' ses the second mate.
"'Becos you wouldn't be believed,' said the skipper sternly. 'You might all go ashore and kiss the Book an' make affidavits an' not a soul 'ud believe you. The comic papers 'ud make fun of it, and the respectable papers 'ud say it was seaweed or gulls.'
"Why not take it to New York with us?' ses the fust mate suddenly.
"'What?' ses the skipper.
"'Feed it every day,' ses the mate, getting excited, 'and bait a couple of shark hooks and keep 'em ready, together with some wire rope. Git 'im to foller us as far as he will, and then hook him. We might git him in alive and show him at a sovereign a head. Anyway, we can take in his carcase if we manage it properly.'
"'By Jove! if we only could,' ses the skipper, getting excited too.
"'We can try,' ses the mate. 'Why, we could have noosed it this mornin' if we had liked; and if it breaks the lines we must blow its head to pieces with the gun.'
"It seemed a most eggstraordinary thing to try and catch it that way; but the beast was so tame, and stuck so close to us, that it wasn't quite so ridikilous as it seemed at fust.
"Arter a couple o' days nobody minded the animal a bit, for it was about the most nervous thing of its size you ever saw. It hadn't got the soul of a mouse; and one day when the second mate, just for a lark, took the line of the foghorn in his hand and tooted it a bit, it flung up its 'ead in a scared sort o' way, and, after backing a bit, turned clean round and bolted.
"I thought the skipper 'ud have gone mad. He chucked over loaves o' bread, bits o' beef and pork, an' scores o' biskits, and by-and-bye, when the brute plucked up heart an' came arter us again, he fairly beamed with joy. Then he gave orders that nobody was to touch the horn for any reason whatever, not even if there was a fog, or chance of collision, or anything of the kind; an' he also gave orders that the bells wasn't to be struck, but that the bosen was just to shove 'is 'ead in the fo'c's'le and call 'em out instead.
"Arter three days had passed, and the thing was still follering us, everybody made certain of taking it to New York, an' I b'leeve if it hadn't been for Joe Cooper the question about the sea-sarpint would ha' been settled long ago. He was a most eggstraordinary ugly chap was Joe. He had a perfic cartoon of a face, an' he was so delikit-minded and sensitive about it that if a chap only stopped in the street and whistled as he passed him, or pointed him out to a friend, he didn't like it. He told me once when I was symperthizing with him, that the only time a woman ever spoke civilly to him was one night down Poplar way in a fog, an' he was so 'appy about it that they both walked into the canal afore he knew where they was.
"On the fourth morning, when we was only about three days from Sandy Hook, the skipper got out o' bed wrong side, an' when he went on deck he was ready to snap at anybody, an' as luck would have it, as he walked a bit forrard, he sees Joe a-sticking his phiz over the side looking at the sarpint.
"'What the d—— are you doing?' shouts the skipper, 'What do you mean by it?'
"'Mean by what, sir?' asks Joe.
"'Putting your black ugly face over the side o' the ship an' frightening my sea-sarpint!' bellows the skipper, 'You know how easy it's skeered.'
"'Frightening the sea-sarpint?' ses Joe, trembling all over, an' turning very white.
"'If I see that face o' yours over the side agin, my lad,' ses the skipper very fierce, 'I'll give it a black eye. Now cut!'
"Joe cut, an' the skipper, having worked off some of his ill-temper, went aft again and began to chat with the mate quite pleasant like. I was down below at the time, an' didn't know anything about it for hours arter, and then I heard it from one o' the firemen. He comes up to me very mysterious like, an' ses, 'Bill,' he ses, 'you're a pal o' Joe's; come down here an' see what you can make of 'im.'
"Not knowing what he meant, I follered 'im below to the engine-room, an' there was Joe sitting on a bucket staring wildly in front of 'im, and two or three of 'em standing round looking at 'im with their 'eads on one side.
"'He's been like that for three hours,' ses the second engineer in a whisper, 'dazed like.'
"As he spoke Joe gave a little shudder; 'Frighten the sea-sarpint!' ses he, 'O Lord!'
"'It's turned his brain,' ses one o' the firemen, 'he keeps saying nothing but that.'
"'If we could only make 'im cry,' ses the second engineer, who had a brother what was a medical student, 'it might save his reason. But how to do it, that's the question.'
"'Speak kind to 'im, sir,' ses the fireman. 'I'll have a try if you don't mind.' He cleared his throat first, an' then he walks over to Joe and puts his hand on his shoulder an' ses very soft an' pitiful like:
"'Don't take on, Joe, don't take on, there's many a ugly mug 'ides a good 'art,'
"Afore he could think o" anything else to say, Joe ups with his fist an' gives 'im one in the ribs as nearly broke 'em. Then he turns away 'is 'ead an' shivers again, an' the old dazed look come back.
"'Joe,' I ses, shaking him, 'Joe!'
"'Frightened the sea-sarpint!' whispers Joe, staring.
"'Joe,' I ses, 'Joe. You know me, I'm your pal, Bill.'
"'Ay, ay,' ses Joe, coming round a bit.
"'Come away,' I ses, 'come an' git to bed, that's the best place for you.'
"I took 'im by the sleeve, and he gets up quiet an' obedient and follers me like a little child. I got 'im straight into 'is bunk, an' arter a time he fell into a soft slumber, an' I thought the worst had passed, but I was mistaken. He got up in three hours' time an' seemed all right, 'cept that he walked about as though he was thinking very hard about something, an' before I could make out what it was he had a fit.
"He was in that fit ten minutes, an' he was no sooner out o' that one than he was in another. In twenty-four hours he had six full-sized fits, and I'll allow I was fairly puzzled. What pleasure he could find in tumbling down hard and stiff an' kicking at everybody an' everything I couldn't see. He'd be standing quiet and peaceable like one minute, and the next he'd catch hold o' the nearest thing to him and have a bad fit, and lie on his back and kick us while we was trying to force open his hands to pat 'em.
"The other chaps said the skipper's insult had turned his brain, but I wasn't quite so soft, an' one time when he was alone I put it to him.
"'Joe, old man,' I ses, 'you an' me's been very good pals.'
"'Ay, ay,' ses he, suspicious like.
"'Joe,' I whispers, 'what's yer little game?'
"'Wodyermean?' ses he, very short.
"'I mean the fits,' ses I, looking at 'im very steady, 'It's no good looking hinnercent like that, 'cos I see yer chewing soap with my own eyes.'
"'Soap,' ses Joe, in a nasty sneering way, 'you wouldn't reckernise a piece if you saw it.'
"Arter that I could see there was nothing to be got out of 'im, an' I just kept my eyes open and watched. The skipper didn't worry about his fits, 'cept that he said he wasn't to let the sarpint see his face when he was in 'em for fear of scaring it; an' when the mate wanted to leave him out o' the watch, he ses, 'No, he might as well have fits while at work as well as anywhere else.'
"We were about twenty-four hours from port, an' the sarpint was still following us; and at six o'clock in the evening the officers puffected all their arrangements for ketching the creetur at eight o'clock next morning. To make quite sure of it an extra watch was kept on deck all night to chuck it food every half-hour; an' when I turned in at ten o'clock that night it was so close I could have reached it with a clothes-prop.
"I think I'd been abed about 'arf-an-hour when I was awoke by the most infernal row I ever heard. The foghorn was going incessantly, an' there was a lot o' shouting and running about on deck. It struck us all as 'ow the sarpint was gitting tired o' bread, and was misbehaving himself, consequently we just shoved our 'eds out o' the fore-scuttle and listened. All the hullaballoo seemed to be on the bridge, an' as we didn't see the sarpint there we plucked up courage and went on deck.
"Then we saw what had happened. Joe had 'ad another fit while at the wheel, and, NOT KNOWING WHAT HE WAS DOING, had clutched the line of the foghorn, and was holding on to it like grim death, and kicking right and left. The skipper was in his bedclothes, raving worse than Joe; and just as we got there Joe came round a bit, and, letting go o' the line, asked in a faint voice what the foghorn was blowing for. I thought the skipper 'ud have killed him; but the second mate held him back, an', of course, when things quieted down a bit, an' we went to the side, we found the sea-sarpint had vanished.
"We stayed there all that night, but it warn't no use. When day broke there wasn't the slightest trace of it, an' I think the men was as sorry to lose it as the officers. All 'cept Joe, that is, which shows how people should never be rude, even to the humblest; for I'm sartin that if the skipper hadn't hurt his feelings the way he did we should now know as much about the sea-sarpint as we do about our own brothers."
MRS. BUNKER'S CHAPERON
Matilda stood at the open door of a house attached to a wharf situated in that dreary district which bears the high-sounding name of "St. Katharine's."
Work was over for the day. A couple of unhorsed vans were pushed up the gangway by the side of the house, and the big gate was closed. The untidy office which occupied the ground-floor was deserted, except for a grey-bearded "housemaid" of sixty, who was sweeping it through with a broom, and indulging in a few sailorly oaths at the choking qualities of the dust he was raising.
The sound of advancing footsteps stopped at the gate, a small flap-door let in it flew open, and Matilda Bunker's open countenance took a pinkish hue, as a small man in jersey and blue coat, with a hard round hat exceeding high in the crown, stepped inside.
"Good evening, Mrs. Bunker, ma'am," said he, coming slowly up to her.
"Good evening, captain," said the lady, who was Mrs. only by virtue of her age and presence.
"Fresh breeze," said the man in the high round hat. "If this lasts we'll be in Ipswich in no time."
Mrs. Bunker assented.
"Beautiful the river is at present," continued the captain. "Everything growing splendid."
"In the river?" asked the mystified Mrs. Bunker.
"On the banks," said the captain; "the trees, by Sheppey, and all round there. Now, why don't you say the word, and come? There's a cabin like a new pin ready for you to sit in—for cleanness, I mean—and every accommodation you could require. Sleep like a humming-top you will, if you come."
"Humming-top?" queried Mrs. Bunker archly.
"Any top," said the captain. "Come, make up your mind. We shan't sail afore nine."
"It don't look right," said the lady, who was sorely tempted. "But the missus says I may go if I like, so I'll just go and get my box ready. I'll be down on the jetty at nine."