The cook leaned forward and regarded his colleague favourably; then he pursed his lips, and nodded significantly at an upper bunk from which the face of Tommy, pale and scared, looked anxiously down.
"Halloa!" said Bill, "have you heard what we've been saying?"
"I heard you say something about going to drown old Ned," said Tommy guardedly.
"He's heard all about it," said the cook severely. "Do you know where little boys who tell lies go to, Tommy?"
"I'd sooner go there than down the fore 'old," said Tommy, beginning to knuckle his eyes. "I won't go. I'll tell the skipper."
"No you won't," said Bill sternly. "This is your punishment for them lies you told about us to-day, an' very cheap you've got off too. Now, get out o' that bunk. Come on afore I pull you out."
With a miserable whimper the youth dived beneath his blankets, and, clinging frantically to the edge of his berth, kicked convulsively as he was lifted down, blankets and all, and accommodated with a seat at the table.
"Pen and ink and paper, Ned," said Bill.
The old man produced them, and Bill, first wiping off with his coat-sleeve a piece of butter which the paper had obtained from the table, spread it before the victim.
"I can't write," said Tommy suddenly.
The men looked at each other in dismay.
"It's a lie," said the cook.
"I tell you I can't," said the urchin, becoming hopeful; "that's why they sent me to sea, becos I couldn't read or write."
"Pull his ear, Bill," said Ned, annoyed at these aspersions upon an honourable profession.
"It don't matter," said Bill calmly. "I'll write it for 'im; the old man don't know my fist."
He sat down at the table, and, squaring his shoulders, took a noisy dip of ink, and scratching his head, looked pensively at the paper.
"Better spell it bad, Bill," suggested Ned.
"Ay, ay," said the other. "'Ow do you think a boy would spell 'sooicide,' Ned?"
The old man pondered. "S-o-o-e-y-s-i-d-e," he said slowly.
"Why, that's the right way, ain't it?" inquired the cook, looking from one to the other.
"We mustn't spell it right," said Bill, with his pen hovering over the paper. "Be careful, Ned."
"We'll say 'killed myself instead,'" said the old man. "A boy wouldn't use such a big word as that p'raps."
Bill bent over his work, and, apparently paying great attention to his friends' entreaties not to write it too well, slowly wrote the letter.
"How's this?" he inquired, sitting back in his seat.
"'Deer captin i take my pen in hand for the larst time to innform you that i am no more suner than heat the 'orrible stuff what you kail meet i have drownded miself it is a moor easy death than starvin' i 'ave left my clasp nife to bill an' my silver wotch to it is 'ard too dee so young tommie brown.'"
"Splendid!" said Ned, as the reader finished and looked inquiringly round.
"I put in that bit about the knife and the watch to make it seem real," said Bill, with modest pride; "but, if you like, I'll leave 'em to you instead, Ned."
"I don't want 'em," said the old man generously.
"Put your cloes on," said Bill, turning to the whimpering Tommy.
"I'm not going down that fore 'old," said Tommy desperately. "You may as well know now as later on—I won't go."
"Cookie," said Bill calmly, "just 'and me them cloes, will you? Now, Tommy."
"I tell you I'm not going to," said Tommy.
"An' that little bit o' rope, cookie," said Bill; "it's just down by your 'and. Now, Tommy."
The youngest member of the crew looked from his clothes to the rope, and from the rope back to his clothes again.
"How 'm I goin' to be fed?" he demanded sullenly, as he began to dress.
"You'll have a stone bottle o' water to take down with you an' some biskits," replied Bill, "an' of a night-time we'll hand you down some o' that meat you're so fond of. Hide 'em behind the cargo, an' if you hear anybody take the hatch off in the daytime, nip behind it yourself."
"An' what about fresh air?" demanded the sacrifice.
"You'll 'ave fresh air of a night when the hatch is took off," said Bill. "Don't you worry, I've thought of everything."
The arrangements being concluded, they waited until Simpson relieved the mate at the helm, and then trooped up on deck, half pushing and half leading their reluctant victim.
"It's just as if he was going on a picnic," said old Ned, as the boy stood unwillingly on the deck, with a stone bottle in one hand and some biscuits wrapped up in an old newspaper in the other.
"Lend a 'and, Bill. Easy does it."
Noiselessly the two seamen took off the hatch, and, as Tommy declined to help in the proceedings at all, Ned clambered down first to receive him. Bill took him by the scruff of the neck and lowered him, kicking strongly, into the hold.
"Have you got him?" he inquired.
"Yes," said Ned in a smothered voice, and, depositing the boy in the hold, hastily clambered up again, wiping his mouth.
"Been having a swig at the bottle?" inquired Bill.
"Boy's heel," said Ned very shortly. "Get the hatch on."
The hatch was replaced, and Bill and his fellow conspirator, treading quietly and not without some apprehension for the morrow, went below and turned in. Tommy, who had been at sea long enough to take things as he found them, curled up in the corner of the hold, and with his bottle as a pillow fell asleep.
It was not until eight o'clock next morning that the master of the Sunbeam discovered that he was a boy short. He questioned the cook as he sat at breakfast The cook, who was a very nervous man, turned pale, set the coffee-pot down with a thump which upset some of the liquor, and bolted up on deck. The skipper, after shouting for him in some of the most alluring swear words known on the high seas, went raging up on deck, where he found the men standing in a little knot, looking very ill at ease.
"Bill," said the skipper uneasily, "what's the matter with that damned cook?"
"'E's 'ad a shock, sir," said Bill, shaking his head; "we've all 'ad a shock."
"You'll have another in a minute," said the skipper emotionally. "Where's the boy?"
For a moment Bill's hardihood forsook him, and he looked helplessly at his mates. In their anxiety to avoid his gaze they looked over the side, and a horrible fear came over the skipper. He looked at Bill mutely, and Bill held out a dirty piece of paper.
The skipper read it through in a state of stupefaction, then he handed it to the mate, who had followed him on deck. The mate read it and handed it back.
"It's yours," he said shortly.
"I don't understand it," said the skipper, shaking his head. "Why, only yesterday he was up on deck here eating his dinner, and saying it was the best meat he ever tasted. You heard him, Bob?"
"I heard him, pore little devil!" said the mate.
"You all heard him," said the skipper. "Well, there's five witnesses I've got. He must have been mad. Didn't nobody hear him go overboard?"
"I 'eard a splash, sir, in my watch," said Bill.
"Why didn't you run and see what it was?" demanded the other.
"I thought it was one of the chaps come up to throw his supper overboard," said Bill simply.
"Ah!" said the skipper, biting his lip, "did you? You're always going on about the grub. What's the matter with it?"
"It's pizon, sir," said Ned, shaking his head. "The meat's awful."
"It's as sweet as nuts," said the skipper. "Well, you can have it out of the other tank if you like. Will that satisfy you?"
The men brightened up a little and nudged each other.
"The butter's bad too, sir," said Bill.
"Butter bad!" said the skipper, frowning. "How's that, cook?"
"I ain't done nothing to it, sir," said the cook helplessly.
"Give 'em butter out o' the firkin in the cabin," growled the skipper. "It's my firm belief you'd been ill-using that boy; the food was delicious."
He walked off, taking the letter with him, and, propping it up against the sugar-basin, made but a poor breakfast.
For that day the men lived, as Ned put it, on the fat of the land, in addition to the other luxuries. Figgy duff, a luxury hitherto reserved for Sundays, being also served out to them. Bill was regarded as a big-brained benefactor of the human race; joy reigned in the foc'sle, and at night the hatch was taken off and the prisoner regaled with a portion which had been saved for him. He ate it ungratefully, and put churlish and inconvenient questions as to what was to happen at the end of the voyage.
"Well smuggle you ashore all right," said Bill; "none of us are going to sign back in this old tub. I'll take you aboard some ship with me—Eh?"
"I didn't say anything," said Tommy untruthfully.
To the wrath and confusion of the crew, next day their commanding officer put them back on the old diet again. The old meat was again served out, and the grass-fed luxury from the cabin stopped. Bill shared the fate of all leaders when things go wrong, and, from being the idol of his fellows, became a butt for their gibes.
"What about your little idea now?" grunted old Ned, scornfully, that evening as he broke his biscuit roughly with his teeth, and dropped it into his basin of tea.
"You ain't as clever as you thought you was, Bill," said the cook with the air of a discoverer.
"And there's that pore dear boy shut up in the dark for nothing," said Simpson, with somewhat belated thoughtfulness. "An' cookie doing his work."
"I'm not going to be beat," said Bill blackly; "the old man was badly scared yesterday. We must have another sooicide, that's all."
"Let Tommy do it again," suggested the cook flippantly, and they all laughed.
"Two on one trip 'll about do the old man up," said Bill, regarding the interruption unfavourably. "Now, who's going to be the next?"
"We've had enough o' this game," said Simpson, shrugging his shoulders; "you've gone cranky, Bill."
"No I ain't," said Bill; "I'm not going to be beat, that's all. Whoever goes down, they'll have a nice, easy, lazy time. Sleep all day if he likes, and nothing to do. You ain't been looking very well lately, Ned."
"Oh?" said the old man coldly.
"Well, settle it between you," said Bill carelessly; "it's all one to me, which of you goes."
"Ho, an' what about you?" demanded Simpson.
"Me?" inquired Bill in astonishment. "Why, I've got to stay up here and manage it."
"Well, we'll stay up and help you," said Simpson derisively.
Ned and the cook laughed, Simpson joined in. Bill rose, and, going to his bunk, fished out a pack of greasy cards from beneath his bedding.
"Larst cut, sooicide," he said briefly, "I'm in it."
He held the pack before the cook. The cook hesitated, and looked at the other two.
"Don't be a fool, Bill," said Simpson.
"Why, do you funk it?" sneered Bill.
"It's a fool's game, I tell you," said Simpson.
"Well, you 'elped me start it," said the other. "You're afraid, that's what you are,—afraid. You can let the boy go down there, but when it comes to yourselves you turn chicken-'arted."
"All right," said Simpson recklessly, "let Bill 'ave 'is way; cut, cookie."
Sorely against his will the cook complied, and drew a ten; Ned, after much argument, cut and drew seven; Simpson, with a king in his fist, leaned back on the locker and fingered his beard nonchalantly. "Go on, Bill," he said; "see what you can do."
Bill took the pack and shuffled it "I orter be able to beat seven," he said slowly. He handed the pack to Ned, drew a card, and the other three sat back and laughed boisterously.
"Three!" said Simpson. "Bravo, Bill! I'll write your letter for you; he'd know your writing. What shall I say?"
"Say what you like," retorted Bill, breathing hard as he thought of the hold.
He sat back sneering disdainfully, as the other three merrily sat down to compose his letter, replying only by a contemptuous silence when Simpson asked him whether he wanted any kisses put in. When the letter was handed over for his inspection he only made one remark.
"I thought you could write better than that, George," he said haughtily.
"I'm writing it for you," said Simpson.
Bill's hauteur vanished and he became his old self again. "If you want a plug in the eye, George," he said feelingly, "you've only got to say so, you know."
His temper was so unpleasant that half the pleasure of the evening was spoiled, and instead of being conducted to his hiding-place with quips and light laughter, the proceedings were more like a funeral than anything else. The crowning touch to his ill-nature was furnished by Tommy, who upon coming up and learning that Bill was to be his room-mate, gave way to a fit of the most unfeigned horror.
"There's another letter for you this morning," said the mate, as the skipper came out of his stateroom buttoning up his waistcoat.
"Another what?" demanded the other, turning pale.
The mate jerked his thumb upwards. "Old Ned has got it," he continued. "I can't think what's come over the men."
The skipper dashed up on deck, and mechanically took the letter from Ned and read it through. He stood for some time like a man in a dream, and then stumbled down the forecastle, and looked in all the bunks and even under the table; then he came up and stood by the hold, with his head on one side. The men held their breath.
"What's the meaning of all this?" he demanded at length, sitting limply on the hatch, with his eyes down.
"Bad grub, sir," said Simpson, gaining courage from his manner; "that's what we'll have to say when we get ashore."
"You're not to say a word about it!" said the other, firing up.
"It's our dooty, sir," said Ned impressively.
"Look here now," said the skipper, and he looked at the remaining members of the crew entreatingly. "Don't let's have no more suicides. The old meat's gone now, and you can start the other, and when we get to port I'll ship in some fresh butter and vegetables. But I don't want you to say anything about the food being bad, or about these letters, when we get to port I shall simply say the two of 'em disappeared, an' I want you to say the same."
"It can't be done, sir," said Simpson firmly.
The skipper rose and walked to the side. "Would a fi'pun note make any difference?" he asked in a low voice.
"It 'ud make a little difference," said Ned cautiously.
The skipper looked up at Simpson. On the face of Simpson was an expression of virtuous arithmetical determination.
The skipper looked down again. "Or a fi'pun note each?" he said, in a low voice. "I can't go beyond that."
"Call it twenty pun and it's a bargain, ain't it, mates?" said Simpson.
Ned said it was, and even the cook forgot his nervousness, and said it was evident the skipper meant to do the generous thing, and they'd stand by him.
"Where's the money coming from?" inquired the mate, as the skipper went down to breakfast, and discussed the matter with him. "They wouldn't get nothing out of me!"
The skylight was open; the skipper with a glance at it bent forward and whispered in his ear.
"Wot!" said the mate. He endeavoured to suppress his laughter with hot coffee and bacon, with the result that he had to rise from his seat and stand patiently while the skipper dealt him some hearty thumps on the back.
With the prospect of riches before them the men cheerfully faced the extra work; the cook did the boy's, while Ned and Simpson did Bill's between them. When night came they removed the hatch again, and with a little curiosity waited to hear how their victims were progressing.
"Where's my dinner?" growled Bill hungrily, as he drew himself up on deck.
"Dinner!" said Ned, in surprise; "why, you ain't got none."
"Wot?" said Bill ferociously.
"You see the skipper only serves out for three now," said the cook.
"Well, why didn't you save us some?" demanded the other.
"There ain't enough of it, Bill, there ain't indeed," said Ned. "We have to do more work now, and there ain't enough even for us. You've got biscuit and water, haven't you?"
Bill swore at him.
"I've 'ad enough o' this," he said fiercely. "I'm coming up, let the old man do what he likes. I don't care."
"Don't do that, Bill," said the old man persuasively. "Everything's going beautiful. You was quite right what you said about the old man. We was wrong. He's skeered fearful, and he's going to give us twenty pun to say nothing about it when we get ashore."
"I'm going to have ten out o' that," said Bill, brightening a little, "and it's worth it too. I get the 'orrors shut up down there all day."
"Ay, ay," said Ned, with a side kick at the cook, who was about to question Bill's method of division.
"The old man sucked it all in beautiful," said the cook. "He's in a dreadful way. He's got all your clothes and things, and the boy's, and he's going to 'and 'em over to your friends. It's the best joke I ever heard."
"You're a fool!" said Bill shortly, and lighting his pipe went and squatted in the bows to wrestle grimly with a naturally bad temper.
For the ensuing four days things went on smoothly enough. The weather being fair, the watch at night was kept by the men, and regularly they had to go through the unpleasant Jack-in-the-box experience of taking the lid off Bill. The sudden way he used to pop out and rate them about his sufferings and their callousness was extremely trying, and it was only by much persuasion and reminders of his share of the hush-money that they could persuade him to return again to his lair at daybreak.
Still undisturbed they rounded the Land's End. The day had been close and muggy, but towards night the wind freshened, and the schooner began to slip at a good pace through the water. The two prisoners, glad to escape from the stifling atmosphere of the hold, sat in the bows with an appetite which the air made only too keen for the preparations made to satisfy it.
Ned was steering, and the other two men having gone below and turned in, there were no listeners to their low complaints about the food.
"It's a fool's game, Tommy," said Bill, shaking his head.
"Game?" said Tommy, sniffing. "'Ow are we going to get away when we get to Northsea?"
"You leave that to me," said Bill. "Old Ned seems to ha' got a bad cough," he added.
"He's choking, I should think," said Tommy, leaning forward. "Look! he's waving his hand at us."
Both sprang up hastily, but ere they could make any attempt to escape the skipper and mate emerged from the companion and walked towards them.
"Look here," said the skipper, turning to the mate, and indicating the culprits with his hand; "perhaps you'll disbelieve in dreams now."
"'Straordinary!" said the mate, rubbing his eyes, as Bill stood sullenly waiting events, while the miserable Tommy skulked behind him.
"I've heard o' such things," continued the skipper, in impressive tones, "but I never expected to see it You can't say you haven't seen a ghost now, Bob."
"'Straordinary!" said the mate, shaking his head again. "Lifelike!"
"The ship's haunted, Ned," cried the skipper in hollow tones. "Here's the sperrits o' Bill and the boy standing agin the windlass."
The bewildered old seaman made no reply; the smaller spirit sniffed and wiped his nose on his cuff, and the larger one began to whistle softly.
"Poor things!" said the skipper, after they had discussed these extraordinary apparitions for some time. "Can you see the windlass through the boy, Bob?"
"I can see through both of 'em," said the mate slyly.
They stayed on deck a little longer, and then coming to the conclusion that their presence on deck could do no good, and indeed seemed only to embarrass their visitors, went below again, leaving all hands a prey to the wildest astonishment.
"Wot's 'is little game?" asked Simpson, coming cautiously up on deck.
"Damned if I know," said Bill savagely.
"He don't really think you're ghosts?" suggested the cook feebly.
"O' course not," said Bill scornfully. "He's got some little game on. Well, I'm going to my bunk. You'd better come too, Tommy. We'll find out what it all means to-morrer, I've no doubt."
On the morrow they received a little enlightenment, for after breakfast the cook came forward nervously to break the news that meat and vegetables had only been served out for three. Consternation fell upon all.
"I'll go an' see 'im," said Bill ravenously.
He found the skipper laughing heartily over something with the mate. At the seaman's approach he stepped back and eyed him coolly.
"Mornin', sir," said Bill, shuffling up. "We'd like to know, sir, me an' Tommy, whether we can have our rations for dinner served out now same as before?"
"Dinner?" said the skipper in surprise. "What do you want dinner for?"
"Eat," said Bill, eyeing him reproachfully.
"Eat?" said the skipper. "What's the good o' giving dinner to a ghost? Why you've got nowhere to put it."
By dint of great self-control Bill smiled in a ghastly fashion, and patted his stomach.
"All air," said the skipper turning away.
"Can we have our clothes and things then?" said Bill grinding his teeth. "Ned says as how you've got 'em."
"Certainly not," said the skipper. "I take 'em home and give 'em to your next o' kin. That's the law, ain't it, Bob?"
"It is," said the mate.
"They'll 'ave your effects and your pay up to the night you committed suicide," said the skipper.
"We didn't commit sooicide," said Bill; "how could we when we're standing here?"
"Oh, yes, you did," said the other. "I've got your letters in my pocket to prove it; besides, if you didn't I should give you in charge for desertion directly we get to port."
He exchanged glances with the mate, and Bill, after standing first on one leg and then on the other, walked slowly away. For the rest of the morning he stayed below setting the smaller ghost a bad example in the way of language, and threatening his fellows with all sorts of fearful punishments.
Until dinner-time the skipper heard no more of them, but he had just finished that meal and lit his pipe when he heard footsteps on the deck, and the next moment old Ned, hot and angry, burst into the cabin.
"Bill's stole our dinner, sir," he panted unceremoniously.
"Who?" inquired the skipper coldly.
"Bill, sir, Bill Smith," replied Ned.
"Who?" inquired the skipper more coldly than before.
"The ghost o' Bill Smith," growled Ned, correcting himself savagely, "has took our dinner away, an' him an' the ghost o' Tommy Brown is a sitting down and boltin' of it as fast as they can bolt."
"Well, I don't see what I can do," said the skipper lazily. "What 'd you let 'em for?"
"You know what Bill is, sir," said Ned. "I'm an old man, cook's no good, and unless Simpson has a bit o' raw beef for his eyes, he won't be able to see for a week."
"Rubbish!" said the skipper jocularly. "Don't tell me, three men all afraid o' one ghost. I shan't interfere. Don't you know what to do?"
"No, sir," said Ned eagerly.
"Go up and read the Prayer-book to him, and he'll vanish in a cloud of smoke," said the skipper.
Ned gazed at him for a moment speechlessly, and then going up on deck leaned over the side and swore himself faint. The cook and Simpson came up and listened respectfully, contenting themselves with an occasional suggestion when the old man's memory momentarily failed him.
For the rest of the voyage the two culprits suffered all the inconvenience peculiar to a loss of citizenship. The skipper blandly ignored them, and on two or three occasions gave great offence by attempting to walk through Bill as he stood on the deck. Speculation was rife in the forecastle as to what would happen when they got ashore, and it was not until Northsea was sighted that the skipper showed his hand. Then he appeared on deck with their effects done up neatly in two bundles, and pitched them on the hatches. The crew stood and eyed him expectantly.
"Ned," said the skipper sharply.
"Sir," said the old man.
"As soon as we're made fast," said the other, "I want you to go ashore for me and fetch an undertaker and a policeman. I can't quite make up my mind which we want."
"Ay, ay, sir," murmured the old man.
The skipper turned away, and seizing the helm from the mate took his ship in. He was so intent upon this business that he appeared not to notice the movements of Bill and Tommy as they edged nervously towards their bundles, and waited impatiently for the schooner to get alongside the quay. Then he turned to the mate and burst into a loud laugh as the couple, bending suddenly, snatched up their bundles, and, clambering up the side ashore and took to their heels. The mate too, and a faint but mirthless echo came from the other end of the schooner.
"There's no doubt about it," said the night watchman, "but what dissipline's a very good thing, but it don't always act well. For instance, I ain't allowed to smoke on this wharf, so when I want a pipe I either 'ave to go over to the 'Queen's 'ed,' or sit in a lighter. If I'm in the 'Queen's 'ed' I can't look arter the wharf, an' once when I was sitting in a lighter smoking the chap come aboard an' cast off afore I knew what he was doing, an' took me all the way to Greenwich. He said he'd often played that trick on watchmen.
"The worst man for dissipline I ever shipped with was Cap'n Tasker, of the Lapwing. He'd got it on the brain bad. He was a prim, clean-shaved man except for a little side-whisker, an' always used to try an' look as much like a naval officer as possible.
"I never 'ad no sort of idea what he was like when I jined the ship, an' he was quite quiet and peaceable until we was out in the open water. Then the cloven hoof showed itself, an' he kicked one o' the men for coming on deck with a dirty face, an' though the man told him he never did wash becos his skin was so delikit, he sent the bos'en to turn the hose on him.
"The bos'en seemed to take a hand in everything. We used to do everything by his whistle, it was never out of his mouth scarcely, and I've known that man to dream of it o' nights, and sit up in his sleep an' try an' blow his thumb. He whistled us to swab decks, whistled us to grub, whistled us to every blessed thing.
"Though we didn't belong to any reg'ler line, we'd got a lot o' passengers aboard, going to the Cape, an' they thought a deal o' the skipper. There was one young leftenant aboard who said he reminded him o' Nelson, an' him an' the skipper was as thick as two thieves. Nice larky young chap he was, an' more than one o' the crew tried to drop things on him from aloft when he wasn't looking.
"Every morning at ten we was inspected by the skipper, but that wasn't enough for the leftenant, and he persuaded the old man to drill us. He said it would do us good an' amuse the passengers, an' we 'ad to do all sorts of silly things with our arms an' legs, an' twice he walked the skipper to the other end of the ship, leaving twenty-three sailor-men bending over touching their toes, an' wondering whether they'd ever stand straight again.
"The very worst thing o' the lot was the boat-drill. A chap might be sitting comfortable at his grub, or having a pipe in his bunk, when the bos'en's whistle would scream out to him that the ship was sinking, an' the passengers drownding, and he was to come an' git the boats out an' save 'em. Nice sort o' game it was too. We had to run like mad with kegs o' water an' bags o' biscuit, an' then run the boats out an' launch 'em. All the men were told off to certain boats, an' the passengers too. The only difference was, if a passenger didn't care about taking a hand in the game he didn't, but we had to.
"One o' the passengers who didn't play was Major Miggens. He was very much agin it, an' called it tomfoolery; he never would go to his boat, but used to sit and sneer all the time.
"'It's only teaching the men to cut an' run,' he said to the skipper one day; 'if there ever was any need they'd run to the boats an' leave us here. Don't tell me.'
"'That's not the way I should ha' expected to hear you speak of British sailors, major,' ses the skipper rather huffy.
"'British swearers,' ses the major, sniffing. 'You don't hear their remarks when that whistle is blown. It's enough to bring a judgment on the ship.'
"'If you can point 'em out to me I'll punish 'em,' says the skipper very warm.
"'I'm not going to point 'em out,' ses the major. 'I symperthise with 'em too much. They don't get any of their beauty sleep, pore chaps, an' they want it, every one of 'em.'
"I thought that was a very kind remark o' the major to make, but o' course some of the wimmin larfed. I s'pose they think men don't want beauty sleep, as it's called.
"I heard the leftenant symperthising with the skipper arter that. He said the major was simply jealous because the men drilled so beautifully, an' then they walked aft, the leftenant talking very earnest an' the skipper shaking his head at something he was saying.
"It was just two nights arter this. I'd gone below an' turned in when I began to dream that the major had borrowed the bos'en's whistle an' was practising on it. I remember thinking in my sleep what a comfort it was it was only the major, when one of the chaps give me a dig in the back an' woke me.
"'Tumble up,' ses he, 'the ship's afire.'
"I rushed up on deck, an' there was no mistake about who was blowing the whistle. The bell was jangling horrible, smoke was rolling up from the hatches, an' some o' the men was dragging out the hose an' tripping up the passengers with it as they came running up on deck. The noise and confusion was fearful.
"'Out with the boats,' ses Tom Hall to me, 'don't you hear the whistle?'
"'What, ain't we going to try an' put the fire out?' I ses.
"'Obey orders,' ses Tom, 'that's what we've got to do, an' the sooner we're away the better. You know what's in her.'
"We ran to the boats then, an', I must say, we got 'em out well, and the very fust person to git into mine was the major in his piejammers; arter all the others was in we 'ad 'im out agin. He didn't belong to our boat, an' dissipline is dissipline any day.
"Afore we could git clear o' the ship, however, he came yelling to the side an' said his boat had gone, an' though we prodded him with our oars he lowered himself over the side and dropped in.
"Fortunately for us it was a lovely clear night; there was no moon, but the stars were very bright. The engines had stopped, an' the old ship sat on the water scarcely moving. Another boat was bumping up against ours, and two more came creeping round the bows from the port side an' jined us.
"'Who's in command?' calls out the major.
"'I am,' ses the first mate very sharp-like from one of the boats.
"'Where's the cap'n then?' called out an old lady from my boat, 'o' the name o' Prendergast.'
"'He's standing by the ship,' ses the mate.
"'Doing what?' ses Mrs. Prendergast, looking at the water as though she expected to see the skipper standing there.
"'He's going down with the ship,' ses one o' the chaps.
"Then Mrs. Prendergast asked somebody to be kind enough to lend her a handkerchief, becos she had left her pocket behind aboard ship, and began to sob very bitter.
"'Just a simple British sailor,' ses she, snivelling, 'going down with his ship. There he is. Look! On the bridge.'
"We all looked, an' then some o' the other wimmin wanted to borrer handkerchiefs. I lent one of 'em a little cotton waste, but she was so unpleasant about its being a trifle oily that she forgot all about crying, and said she'd tell the mate about me as soon as ever we got ashore.
"'I'll remember him in my prayers,' ses one o' the wimmin who was crying comfortable in a big red bandana belonging to one o' the men.
"'All England shall ring with his deed,' ses another.
"'Sympathy's cheap,' ses one of the men passengers solemnly. 'If we ever reach land we must all band together to keep his widow an' orphans.'
"'Hear, hear,' cries everybody.
"'And we'll put up a granite tombstone to his memory,' ses Mrs. Prendergast.
"'S'pose we pull back to the ship an' take him off,' ses a gentleman from another boat. 'I'm thinking it 'ud come cheaper, an' perhaps the puir mon would really like it better himself.'
"'Shame,' ses most of 'em; an' I reely b'leeve they'd worked theirselves up to that pitch they'd ha' felt disapponted if the skipper had been saved.
"We pulled along slowly, the mate's boat leading, looking back every now and then at the old ship, and wondering when she would go off, for she'd got that sort o' stuff in her hold which 'ud send her up with a bang as soon as the fire got to it; an' we was all waiting for the shock.
"'Do you know where we're going, Mr. Bunce?' calls out the major.
"'Yes,' ses the mate.
"'What's the nearest land?' asks the major.
"'Bout a thousand miles,' ses the mate.
"Then the major went into figgers, an' worked out that it 'ud take us about ten days to reach land and three to reach the bottom o' the water kegs. He shouted that out to the mate; an' the young leftenant what was in the mate's boat smoking a big cigar said there'd be quite a run on granite tombstones. He said it was a blessed thing he had disinherited his children for marrying agin his wishes, so there wouldn't be any orphans left to mourn for him.
"Some o' the wimmin smiled a little at this, an' old Mrs. Prendergast shook so that she made the boat rock. We got quite cheerful somehow, and one of the other men spoke up and said that owing to his only having reckoned two pints to the gallon, the major's figgers wasn't to be relied upon.
"We got more cheerful then, and we was beginning to look on it as just a picnic, when I'm blest if the mate's boat didn't put about and head for the ship agin.
"There was a commotion then if you like, everybody talking and laughing at once; and Mrs. Prendergast said that such a thing as one single-handed cap'n staying behind to go down with his ship, and then putting the fire out all by himself after his men had fled, had never been heard of before, an' she believed it never would be again. She said he must be terribly burnt, and he'd have to be put to bed and wrapped up in oily rags.
"It didn't take us long to get aboard agin, and the ladies fairly mobbed the skipper. Tom Hall swore as 'ow Mrs. Prendergast tried to kiss him, an' the fuss they made of him was ridiculous. I heard the clang of the telegraph in the engine-room soon as the boats was hoisted up, the engines started, and off we went again.
"'Speech,' yells out somebody. 'Speech.'
"'Bravo!' ses the others. 'Bravo!"
"Then the skipper stood up an' made 'em a nice little speech. First of all he thanked 'em for their partiality and kindness shown to him, and the orderly way in which they had left the ship. He said it reflected credit on all concerned, crew and passengers, an' no doubt they'd be surprised when he told them that there hadn't been any fire at all, but that it was just a test to make sure that the boat drill was properly understood.
"He was quite right about them being surprised. Noisy, too, they was, an' the things they said about the man they'd just been wanting to give granite tombstones to was simply astonishing. It would have taken a whole cemetery o' tombstones to put down all they said about him, and then they'd ha' had to cut the letters small.
"I vote we have an indignation meeting in the saloon to record our disgust at the cap'n's behaviour,' ses the major fiercely. 'I beg to propose that Mr. Macpherson take the chair.'
"'I second that,' ses another, fierce-like.
"'I beg to propose the major instead,' ses somebody else in a heasy off-hand sort o' way; 'Mr. Macpherson's boat not having come back yet.'
"At first everybody thought he was joking, but when they found he was really speaking the truth the excitement was awful. Fortunately, as Mrs. Prendergast remarked, there was no ladies in the boat, but there was several men passengers. We were doing a good thirteen knots an hour, but we brought up at once, an' then we 'ad the most lovely firework display I ever see aboard ship in my life. Blue lights and rockets and guns going all night, while we cruised slowly about, and the passengers sat on deck arguing as to whether the skipper would be hung or only imprisoned for life.
"It was daybreak afore we sighted them, just a little speck near the sky-line, an' we bore down on them for all we was worth. Half an hour later they was alongside, an' of all the chilly, miserable-looking men I ever see they was the worst.
"They had to be helped up the side a'most, and they was so grateful it was quite affecting, until the true state o' things was explained to them. It seemed to change 'em wonderful, an' after Mr. Macpherson had had three cups o' hot coffee an' four glasses o' brandy he took the chair at the indignation meeting, an' went straight off to sleep in it. They woke him up three times, but he was so cross about it that the ladies had to go away an' the meeting was adjourned.
"I don't think it ever came to much after all, nobody being really hurt, an' the skipper being so much upset they felt sort o' sorry for 'im.
"The rest of the passage was very quiet an' comfortable, but o' course it all came out at the other end, an' the mate brought the ship home. Some o' the chaps said the skipper was a bit wrong in the 'ed, and, while I'm not gainsaying that, it's my firm opinion that he was persuaded to do what he did by that young leftenant. As I said afore, he was a larky young chap, an' very fond of a joke if he didn't have to pay for it."
"I've got a friend coming down with us this trip, George," said the master of the Wave, as they sat on deck after tea watching the river. "One of our new members, Brother Hutchins."
"From the Mission, I s'pose?" said the mate coldly.
"From the Mission," confirmed the skipper. "You'll like him, George; he's been one o' the greatest rascals that ever breathed."
"Well, I don't know what you mean," said the mate, looking up indignantly.
"He's 'ad a most interestin' life," said the skipper; "he's been in half the jails of England. To hear 'im talk is as good as reading a book. And 'e's as merry as they make 'em."
"Oh, and is 'e goin' to give us prayers afore breakfast like that fat-necked, white-faced old rascal what came down with us last summer and stole my boots?" demanded the mate.
"He never stole 'em, George," said the skipper.
"If you'd 'eard that man cry when I mentioned to 'im your unjust suspicions, you'd never have forgiven yourself. He told 'em at the meetin', an' they had prayers for you."
"You an' your Mission are a pack o' fools," said the mate scornfully. "You're always being done. A man comes to you an' ses 'e's found grace, and you find 'im a nice, easy, comfortable living. 'E sports a bit of blue ribbon and a red nose at the same time. Don't tell me. You ask me why I don't join you, and I tell you it's because I don't want to lose my commonsense."
"You'll know better one o' these days, George," said the skipper, rising. "I earnestly hope you'll 'ave some great sorrow or affliction, something almost too great for you to bear. It's the only thing that'll save you."
"I expect that fat chap what stole my boots would like to see it too," said the mate.
"He would," said the skipper solemnly. "He said so."
The mate got up, fuming and knocking his pipe out with great violence against the side of the schooner, stamped up and down the deck two or three times, and then, despairing of regaining his accustomed calm on board, went ashore.
It was late when he returned. A light burnt in the cabin, and the skipper with his spectacles on was reading aloud from an old number of the Evangelical Magazine to a thin, white-faced man dressed in black.
"That's my mate," said the skipper, looking up from his book.
"Is he one of our band?" inquired the stranger.
The skipper shook his head despondently.
"Not yet," said the stranger encouragingly.
"Seen too many of 'em," said the mate bluntly. "The more I see of 'em, the less I like 'em. It makes me feel wicked to look at 'em."
"Ah, that ain't you speaking now, it's the Evil One," said Mr. Hutchins confidently.
"I s'pose you know 'im pretty well," said the mate simply.
"I lived with him thirty years," said Mr. Hutchins solemnly, "then I got tired of him."
"I should think he got a bit sick too," said the mate. "Thirty days 'ud ha' been too long for me."
He went to his berth, to give Mr. Hutchins time to frame a suitable reply, and returned with a full bottle of whisky and a tumbler, and having drawn the cork with a refreshing pop, mixed himself a stiff glass and lit his pipe. Mr. Hutchins with a deep groan gazed reproachfully at the skipper and shook his head at the bottle.
"You know I don't like you to bring that filthy stuff in the cabin, George," said the skipper.
"It's not for me," said the mate flippantly. "It's for the Evil One. He ses the sight of his old pal 'Utchins 'as turned his stomach."
He glanced at the stranger and saw to his astonishment that he appeared to be struggling with a strong desire to laugh. His lips tightened and his shifty little eyes watered, but he conquered himself in a moment, and rising to his feet delivered a striking address in favour of teetotalism. He condemned whisky as not only wicked, but unnecessary, declaring with a side glance at the mate that two acidulated drops dissolved in water were an excellent substitute.
The sight of the whisky appeared to madden him, and the skipper sat spell-bound at his eloquence, until at length, after apostrophising the bottle in a sentence which left him breathless, he snatched it up and dashed it to pieces on the floor.
For a moment the mate was struck dumb with fury, then with a roar he leaped up and rushed for the lecturer, but the table was between them, and before he could get over it the skipper sprang up and seizing him by the arm, pushed his friend into the state-room.
"Lea' go," foamed the mate. "Let me get at him."
"George," said the skipper, still striving with him, "I'm ashamed of you."
"Ashamed be damned," yelled the mate, struggling. "What did he chuck my whisky away for?"
"He's a saint," said the skipper, relaxing his hold as he heard Mr. Hutchins lock himself in. "He's a saint, George. Seein' 'is beautiful words 'ad no effect on you, he 'ad recourse to strong measures."
"Wait till I get hold of 'im," said the mate menacingly. "Only wait, I'll saint 'im."
"Is he better, dear friend?" came the voice of Mr. Hutchins from beyond the door; "because I forgot the tumbler."
"Come out," roared the mate, "come out and upset it."
Mr. Hutchins declined the invitation, but from behind the door pleaded tearfully with the mate to lead a better life, and even rebuked the skipper for allowing the bottle of sin to be produced in the cabin. The skipper took the rebuke humbly; and after requesting Mr. Hutchins to sleep in the state-room that night in order to frustrate the evident designs of the mate, went on deck for a final look round and then came below and turned in himself.
The crew of the schooner were early astir next morning getting under way, but Mr. Hutchins kept his bed, although the mate slipped down to the cabin several times and tapped at his door. When he did come up the mate was at the wheel and the men down below getting breakfast.
"Sleep well?" inquired Mr. Hutchins softly, as he took a seat on the hatches, a little distance from him.
"I'll let you know when I haven't got this wheel," said the mate sourly.
"Do," said Mr. Hutchins genially. "We shall see you at our meeting to-night?" he asked blandly.
The mate disdained to reply, but his wrath when at Mr. Hutchins' request the cabin was invaded by the crew that evening, cannot be put into words.
For three nights they had what Mr. Hutchins described as love-feasts, and the mate as blamed bear-gardens. The crew were not particularly partial to hymns, considered as such, but hymns shouted out with the full force of their lungs while sharing the skipper's hymn-book appealed to them strongly. Besides, it maddened the mate, and to know that they were defying their superior, and at the same time doing good to their own souls, was very sweet The boy, whose voice was just breaking, got off some surprising effects, and seemed to compass about five octaves without distress.
When they were exhausted with singing Mr. Hutchins would give them a short address, generally choosing as his subject a strong, violent-tempered man given to drink and coarse language. The speaker proved conclusively that a man who drank would do other things in secret, and he pictured this man going home and beating his wife because she reproached him for breaking open the children's money-box to spend the savings on Irish whisky. At every point he made, he groaned, and the crew, as soon as they found they might groan too, did so with extraordinary gusto, the boy's groans being weird beyond conception.
They reached Plymouth, where they had to put out a few cases of goods, just in time to save the mate's reason, for the whole ship, owing to Mr. Hutchins' zeal, was topsy-turvy. The ship's cat sat up all one night cursing him and a blue ribbon he had tied round her neck, and even the battered old tea-pot came down to meals bedizened with bows of the same proselytising hue.
By the time they had got to their moorings it was too late to take the hatches off, and the crew sat gazing longingly at the lights ashore. Their delight when the visitor obtained permission for them to go ashore with him for a little stroll was unbounded, and they set off like schoolboys.
"They couldn't be with a better man," said the skipper, as the party moved off; "when I think of the good that man's done in under four days it makes me ashamed of myself."
"You'd better ship 'im as mate," said George. "There'd be a pair of you then."
"There's greater work for 'im to do," said the skipper solemnly.
He saw the mate's face in the waning light, and moved off with a sigh. The mate, for his part, leaned against the side smoking, and as the skipper declined to talk on any subject but Mr. Hutchins, relapsed into a moody silence until the return of the crew some two hours later.
"Mr. Hutchins is coming on after, sir," said the boy. "He told us to say he was paying a visit to a friend."
"What's the name of the pub?" asked the mate quietly.
"If you can't speak without showing your nasty temper, George, you'd better hold your tongue," said the skipper severely. "What's your opinion about Mr. Hutchins, my lads!"
"A more open 'arted man never breathed," said Dan, the oldest of the crew, warmly.
"Best feller I ever met in my life," said another.
"You hear that?" said the skipper.
"I hear," said the mate.
"'E's a Christian," said the boy. "I never knew what a Christian was before I met 'im. What do you think 'e give us?"
"Give you?" said the skipper.
"A pound cash," said the boy. "A golden sovring each. Tork about Christians! I wish I knew a few more of 'em."
"Well I never!" exclaimed the gratified skipper.
"An' the way 'e did it was so nice," said the oldest seaman. "'E ses, 'That's from me an' the skipper,' 'e ses. 'Thank the skipper for it as much as me,' 'e ses."
"Well now, don't waste it," said the skipper. "I should bank it if I was you. It'll make a nice little nest-egg."
"I 'ope it was come by honest, that's all," said the mate.
"O' course it was," cried the skipper. "You've got a 'ard, cruel 'art, George. P'raps if it 'ad been a little softer you'd 'ave 'ad one too."
"Blast 'is sovrings," said the surly mate. "I'd like to know where he got 'em from, an' wot e' means by saying it come from you as much as 'im. I never knew you to give money away."
"I s'pose," said the skipper very softly, "he means that I put such-like thoughts into 'is 'art. Well, you'd better turn in, my lads. We start work at four."
The hands went forward, and the skipper and mate descended to the cabin and prepared for sleep. The skipper set a lamp on the table ready for Mr. Hutchins when he should return, and after a short inward struggle bade the mate "good-night," and in a couple of minutes was fast asleep.
At four o'clock the mate woke suddenly to find the skipper standing by his berth. The lamp still stood burning on the table, fighting feebly against the daylight which was pouring in through the skylight.
"Not turned up yet?" said the mate, with a glance at the visitor's empty berth.
The skipper shook his head spiritlessly and pointed to the table. The mate following his finger, saw a small canvas bag, and by the side of it four-pence halfpenny in coppers and an unknown amount in brace buttons.
"There was twenty-three pounds freight money in that bag when we left London," said the skipper, finding his voice at last.
"Well, what do you think's become of it?" inquired the mate, taking up the lamp and blowing it out.
"I can't think," said the skipper, "my 'ed's all confused. Bro—Mr. Hutchins ain't come back yet."
"I s'pose he was late and didn't like to disturb you," said the mate without moving a muscle, "but I've no doubt 'e's all right. Don't you worry about him."
"It's very strange where it's gone, George," faltered the skipper, "very strange."
"Well, 'Utchins is a generous sort o' chap," said the mate, "'e give the men five pounds for nothing, so perhaps he'll give you something—when 'e comes back."
"Go an' ask the crew to come down here," said the skipper, sinking on a locker and gazing at the brazen collection before him.
The mate obeyed, and a few minutes afterwards returned with the men, who, swarming into the cabin, listened sympathetically as the skipper related his loss.
"It's a mystery which nobody can understand, sir," said old Dan when he had finished, "and it's no use tryin'."
"One o' them things what won't never be cleared up properly," said the cook comfortably.
"Well, I don't like to say it," said the skipper, "but I must. The only man who could have taken it was Hutchins."
"Wot, sir," said Dan, "that blessed man! Why, I'd laugh at the idea."
"He couldn't do it," said the boy, "not if he tried he couldn't. He was too good."
"He's taken that twenty-three poun'," said the skipper deliberately; "eighteen, we'll call it, because I'm goin' to have five of it back."
"You're labourin' under a great mistake, sir," said Dan ambiguously.
"Are you going to give me that money?" said the skipper loudly.
"Beggin' your pardon, sir, no," said the cook, speaking for the rest, as he put his foot on the companion-ladder. "Brother 'Utchins gave us that money for singing them 'ims so well. 'E said so, and we ain't 'ad no call to think as it warn't honestly come by. Nothing could ever make us think that, would it, mates?"
"Nothing," said the others with exemplary firmness. "It couldn't be done."
They followed the cook up on deck, and leaning over the side, gazed in a yearning fashion toward the place where they had last seen their benefactor. Then with a sorrowful presentiment that they would never look upon his like again, they turned away and prepared for the labours of the day.
THE DISBURSEMENT SHEET.
The old man was dead, and his son Edward reigned in his stead. The old man had risen from a humble position in life; his rule was easy, and his manner of conducting business eminently approved of by the rough old seamen who sailed his small craft round the coast, and by that sharp clerk Simmons, on whose discovery the old man was wont, at times, to hug himself in secret. The proceedings, when one of his skippers came home from a voyage, were severely simple. The skipper would produce a bag, and, emptying it upon the table, give an account of his voyage; whenever he came to an expenditure, raking the sum out of the heap, until, at length, the cash was divided into two portions, one of which went to the owner, the other to the skipper.
But other men other manners. The books of the inimitable Simmons being overhauled, revealed the startling fact that they were kept by single entry; in addition to which, a series of dots and dashes appeared against the figures forming a code, the only key to which was locked up somewhere in Simmons's interior.
"It's a wonder the firm hasn't gone bankrupt long ago," said the new governor, after the clerk had explained the meaning of various signs and wonders. "What does this starfish against the entry mean?"
"It isn't a starfish, sir," said Simmons; "it means that one bag of sugar got wetted a little; then, if the consignees notice it, we shall know we have got to allow for it."
"A pretty way of doing business, upon my word. It'll all have to be altered," said the other. "I must have new offices too; this dingy little hole is enough to frighten people away."
The conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Captain Fazackerly, of the schooner Sarah Ann, who, having just brought up in the river, had hastened to the office to report.
"Mornin', sir," said the captain respectfully; "I'm glad to see you here, sir, but the office don't seem real-like without your father sitting in it. He was a good master, and we're all sorry to lose him."
"You're very good," said the new master somewhat awkwardly.
"I expect it'll take some time for you to get into the way of it," said the captain, with a view to giving the conversation a more cheerful turn.
"I expect it will," said the new master, thinking of the starfish.
"It's a mercy Simmons wasn't took too," said the captain, shaking his head. "As it is, he's spared; he'll be able to teach you. There ain't"—he lowered his voice, not wishing to make Simmons unduly proud—"there ain't a smarter clerk in all Liverpool than wot he is."
"I'm glad to hear it," said the new master, regarding the old man with raised eyebrows, as he extricated a plethoric-looking canvas bag from his jacket pocket and dropped it with a musical crash on the chipped office table. His eyebrows went still higher, as the old man unfastened the string, and emptying the contents on to the table, knitted his brows into reflective wrinkles, and began to debit the firm with all the liabilities of a slow but tenacious memory.
"Oh, come," said the owner sharply, as the old man lovingly hooked out the sum of five-and sixpence as a first instalment, "this won't do, cap'n."
"Wot won't do, Mas'r Edward?" inquired the old man in surprise.
"Why, this way of doing business," said the other. "It's not businesslike at all, you know."
"Well, it's the way me an' your pore old father has done it this last thirty year," said the skipper, "an' I'm sure I've never knowingly cheated him out of a ha'penny; and a better man o' business than your father never breathed."
"Yes; well, I'm going to do things a bit differently," said the new master. "You must give me a proper disbursement sheet, cap'n, if you please."
"And what may that be?" inquired Captain Fazackerly, as with great slowness he gathered up the money and replaced it in the bag; "I never heard of it afore."
"Well, I haven't got time to teach you bookkeeping," said the other, somewhat nettled at the old man's manner. "Can't you get some of your brother captains to show you? Some deep-sea man would be sure to know."
"I'll see what I can do, sir," said the skipper slowly, as he turned towards the door. "My word was always good enough for your father."
In a moody, indignant frame of mind he stuck his hands furiously in his trousers' pockets, and passed heavily through the swing-doors. At other times he had been wont to take a genial, if heavy interest in passing events; but, in this instance, he plodded on, dwelling darkly upon his grievance, until he reached, by the mere force of habit, a certain favourite tavern. He pulled up sharply, and, as a mere matter of duty and custom, and not because he wanted it, went in and ordered a glass of gin.
He drank three, and was so hazy in his replies to the young lady behind the bar, usually a prime favourite, that she took offence, and availing herself, for private reasons, of a public weapon, coldly declined to serve him with a fourth.
"Wot?" said the astounded Fazackerly, coming out of his haze.
"You've had enough!" said the girl firmly. "You get aboard again, and mind how you do so."
The skipper gazed at her for a moment in open-mouthed horror, and then jamming his hat firmly over his brows, stumbled out of the door and into the street, where he ran full into the arms of another mariner who was just entering.
"Why, Zacky, my boy," cried the latter, clapping him lustily on the back, "how goes it?"
In broken, indignant accents the other told him.
"You come in with me," said the new-comer.
"I'll never enter that pub again," said the skipper.
"You come in with me," said the master-mind firmly.
Captain Fazackerly hesitated a moment, and then, feeling that he was safe in the hands of the master of a foreign-going barque, followed him into the bar, and from behind his back glared defiantly at his fair foe.
"Two glasses o' gin, my dear," said Captain Tweedie with the slightest possible emphasis.
The girl, who knew her customer, served him without a murmur, deftly avoiding the gaze of ungenerous triumph with which the injured captain favoured her as he raised the cooling beverage to his lips. The glass emptied, he placed it on the counter and sighed despondently.
"There's something up with you, Zacky," said Tweedie, eyeing him closely as he bit the end off a cigar; "you've got something on your mind."
"I've been crool hurt," said his friend in a hard, cold voice. "My word ain't good enough for the new guv'nor; he wants what he calls a disbursement sheet."
"Well, give him one," said Tweedie. "You know what it is, don't you?"
Captain Fazackerly shook his head, and pushing the glasses along the counter nodded for them to be refilled.
"You come aboard with me," said Tweedie after they had emptied them.
Captain Fazackerly, who had a doglike faith in his friend, followed him into the street and on to his barque. In a general way he experienced a social rise when he entered the commodious cabin of that noble craft, and his face grew in importance as his host, after motioning him to a seat, placed a select array of writing materials before him.
"I s'pose I've got to do it," he said slowly.
"Of course you have," said Tweedie, rolling his cigar between his thin lips; "you've got orders to do so, haven't you? We must all obey those above us. What would you do if one of your men refused to obey an order of yours?"
"Hit him in the face," said Captain Fazackerly with simple directness.
"Just so," said Tweedie, who was always ready to impart moral teaching. "And when your governor asks for a disbursement sheet you've got to give him one. Now, then, head that paper—Voyage of the Sarah Ann, 180 tons register, Garston Docks to Limerick."
The captain squared his elbows, and, for a few seconds, nothing was heard but his stertorous breathing and the scratching of the pen; then a muttered execration, and Captain Fazackerly put down his pen with a woebegone air.
"What's the matter?" said Tweedie.
"I've spelt register without the 'd,'" said the other; "that's what comes o' being worried."
"It don't matter," said Tweedie hastily. "Now what about stores? Wait a bit, though; of course ye repaired your side-lamps before starting?"
"Lor', no!" said Captain Fazackerly, staring; "what for? They were all right."
"Ye lie," said Tweedie sternly, "you did! To repairs to side-lamps, ten shillings. Now then, did you paint her this trip?"
"I did," said the other, looking at the last entry in a fascinated fashion.
"Let's see," said Tweedie meditatively—"we'll say five gallons of black varnish at one shilling and threepence a gallon—"
"No, no," said the scribe; "I used gas tar at threepence a gallon."
"Five gallons black varnish, one shilling and threepence a gallon, six-and-threepence," said Tweedie, raising his voice a little; "have you got that down?"
After a prolonged struggle with his feelings the other said he had.
"Twenty-eight pounds black paint at twopence a pound," continued Tweedie.
"Nay, nay," said the skipper; "I allus saves the soot out of the galley for that."
The other captain took his cigar from his lips and gazed severely at his guest.
"Am I dealing with a chimney-sweep or a ship's captain?" he inquired plaintively; "it would simplify matters a bit if I knew."
"Go on, Captain Tweedie," said the other, turning a fine purple colour; "how much did you say it was?"
"Twenty-eight twos equals fifty-six; that's four-and-ninepence," continued Tweedie, his face relaxing to receive the cigar again; "and twenty-eight pounds white lead at twenty-eight shillings a hundredweight—"
"Three penn'orth o' whiting's good enough for me, matey," said Captain Fazackerly, making a stand.
"See here," said Tweedie, "who's making out this disbursement sheet, you or me?"
"You are," said the other.
"Very good then," said his friend; "now don't you interrupt. I don't mind telling you, you must never use rubbish o' that sort in a disbursement sheet. It looks bad for the firm. If any other owners saw that in your old man's sheet he'd never hear the end of it, and he'd never forgive you. That'll be—what did I say? Seven shillings. And now we come to the voyage. Ye had a tug to give ye a pluck out to the bar?"
"No; we went out with a fair wind," said Captain Fazackerly, toying with his pen.
"Ye lie; ye had a tug out to the bar," repeated Tweedie wearily. "Did ye share the towing?"
"Why, no, I tell 'e—"
"That'll be three pounds then," said Tweedie. "If ye'd shared it it would have been two pound ten. You should always study your owner in these matters, cap'n. Now, what about bad weather? Any repairs to the sails?"
"Ay, we had a lot o' damage," said Fazackerly, laying down his pen; "it took us days to repair 'em. Cost us four pounds. We had to put into Holyhead for shelter."
"Four pounds!" said Tweedie, his voice rising almost to a scream.
"Ay, all that," said Fazackerly very solemnly.
"Look here," said Tweedie in a choked voice. "Blown away fore lower topsail, fore-staysail, and carried away lifts to staysail. To sailmaker for above, eleven pounds eighteen shillings and ten-pence. Then ye say ye put into Holyhead for shelter. Well, here in entering harbour we'll say loss of port anchor and thirty fathoms of chain cable—"
"Man alive," said the overwrought skipper, hitting the table heavily with his fist, "the old anchor's there for him to see."
"To divers for recovering same, and placing on deck, two pound ten," continued Tweedie, raising his voice. "Did you do any damage going into dock at Limerick?"
"More than we've done for years," said Fazackerly, and shaking his head, entered into voluminous details; "total, seven pounds."
"Seven pounds!" said the exasperated Tweedie. "Seven pounds for all that, and your insurance don't begin till twenty-five pounds. Why, damme, you ain't fit to be trusted out with a ship. I firmly b'lieve if you lost her you'd send in a bill for a suit of clothes, and call it square. Now take this down, and larn a business way o' doing things. In entering dock, carried away starboard cathead and started starboard chain plates; held survey of damage done: decided to take off channel bends, renew through bolts, straighten plates and replace same; also to renew cathead and caulk ship's side in wake of plate, six seams, &c. &c. There, now, that looks better. Twenty-seven pounds eighteen and seven-pence halfpenny, and I think, for all that damage, it's a very reasonable bill. Can you remember anything else?"
"You've got a better memory than I have," said his admiring friend. "Wait a bit, though; yes, I had my poor old dog washed overboard."
"Dog!" said the deep-sea man; "we can't put dogs in a disbursement sheet. 'Tain't business."
"My old master would have given me another one, though," grumbled Fazackerly. "I wouldn't ha' parted with that dog for anything. He knew as much as you or me, that dog did. I never knew him to bite an officer, but I don't think there was ever a man came on the ship but what he'd have a bit out of, sooner or later."
"Them sort of dogs do get washed overboard," said Tweedie impatiently.
"Boys he couldn't abear," pursued the other, in tones of tender reminiscence; "the mere sight of a boarding-school of 'em out for a walk would give him hydrophoby almost."
"Just so," said Tweedie. "Ah! there's cork fenders; ye may pick them up floating down the river, or they may come aboard in the night from a craft alongside; they're changeable sort o' things, but in the disbursement sheet they must go, and best quality too, four-and-sixpence each. Anything else?"
"There's the dog," said Fazackerly persistently.
"Copper nails, tenpence," said Tweedie the dictator.
"Haven't bought any for months," said the other, but slowly entering it.
"Well, it ain't exactly right," said Tweedie, shrugging his shoulders, "but you're so set on him going in."
"Him? Who?" asked Captain Fazackerly, staring.
"The dog," said Tweedie; "if he goes in as copper nails, he won't be noticed."
"If he goes in as tenpence, I'm a Dutchman," said the bereaved owner, scoring out the copper nails. "You never knew that dog properly, Tweedie."
"Well, never mind about the dog," said Tweedie; "let's cast the sheet. What do you think it comes to?"
"'Bout thirty pun'," hazarded the other.
"Thirty fiddlesticks," retorted Tweedie; "there you are in black and white—sixty-three pounds eighteen shillings and tenpence ha'penny."
"And is that what Mas'r Edward wants?" inquired Captain Fazackerly, gasping.
"Yes; that's a properly drawn up disbursement sheet," said Tweedie in satisfied tones. "You see how it simplifies matters. The governor can see at a glance how things stand, while, if you trusted to your memory, you might forget something, or else claim something you didn't have."
"I ought to have had them things afore," said Captain Fazackerly, shaking his head solemnly. "I'd ha' been riding in my carriage by now."
"Never ye dream of having another v'y'ge without one," said Tweedie. "I doubt whether it's lawful to render an account without one."
He folded the paper, and handed it to his friend, who, after inspecting it with considerable pride, tucked it carefully away in his breast pocket.
"Take it up in the morning," said Tweedie. "We'll have a bit o' tea down here, and then we'll go round a bit afterwards."
Captain Fazackerly having no objection, they had tea first, and then, accompanied by the first mate, went out to christen the disbursement sheet. The ceremony, which was of great length, was solemnly impressive towards the finish. Captain Tweedie, who possessed a very sensitive, highly-strung nature, finding it necessary to put a licensed victualler out of his own house before it could be completed to his satisfaction.
The one thing which Captain Fazackerly remembered clearly the next morning when he awoke was the disbursement sheet. He propped it against the coffee-pot during breakfast, and read selections to his admiring mate, and after a refreshing toilet, proceeded to the office. Simmons was already there, and before the skipper could get to the purpose of his visit, the head of the firm arrived.
"I've just brought the disbursement sheet you asked for, sir," said the skipper, drawing it from his pocket.
"Ah! you've got it, then," said the new governor, with a gracious smile; "you see it wasn't so much trouble after all."
"I don't mind the trouble, sir," interrupted Captain Fazackerly.
"You see it puts things on a better footing," said the other. "I can see at a glance now how things stand, and Simmons can enter the items straight away into the books of the firm. It's more satisfactory to both of us. Sit down, cap'n."
The captain sat down, his face glowing with this satisfactory recognition of his work.
"I met Cap'n Hargreaves as I was a-coming up," he said; "and I explained to him your ideas on the subject, an' he went straight back, as straight as he could go, to make out his disbursement sheet."
"Ah! we shall soon have things on a better footing now," said the governor, unfolding the paper, while the skipper gazed abstractedly through the small, dirty panes of the office window at the bustle on the quay below.
For a short space there was silence in the office, broken only by the half-audible interjections of the reader. Then he spoke.
"Simmons!" he said sharply.
The old clerk slipped from his stool, and obeying the motions of his employer inspected, in great astonishment, the first disbursement sheet which had ever entered the office. He read through every item in an astonished whisper, and, having finished, followed the governor's example and gazed at the heavy figure by the window.
"Captain Fazackerly," said his employer, at length, breaking a painful silence.
"Sir," said the captain, turning his head a little.
"I've been talking with Simmons about these disbursement sheets," said the owner, somewhat awkwardly; "Simmons is afraid they'll give him a lot of extra trouble."
The captain turned his head a little more, and gazed stolidly at the astonished Simmons.
"A man oughtn't to mind a little extra trouble if the firm wishes it," he said somewhat severely.
"He's afraid it would throw his books out a bit," continued the owner, deftly avoiding the gaze of the injured clerk. "You see, Simmons' book-keeping is of the old-fashioned kind, cap'n, star-fishes and all that kind of thing," he continued, incoherently, as the gaze of Simmons, refusing to be longer avoided, broke the thread of his discourse. "So I think we'll put the paper on the fire, cap'n, and do business in the old way. Have you got the money with you?"
"I have, sir," said Fazackerly, feeling in his pocket, as he mournfully watched his last night's work blazing up the chimney.
"Fire away, then," said the owner, almost cordially.
Captain Fazackerly advanced to the table, and clearing his throat, fixed his eyes in a reflective stare on the opposite wall and commenced:—
"Blown away fore lower topsail, fore-staysail, and carried away lifts to staysail. To sailmaker for above, eleven pounds eighteen shillings and ten-pence," he said, with relish. "Tug out to the bar, three pounds. To twenty-eight pounds black soot, I mean paint—"
RULE OF THREE.
The long summer day had gone and twilight was just merging into night. A ray of light from the lantern at the end of the quay went trembling across the sea, and in the little harbour the dusky shapes of a few small craft lay motionless on the dark water.
The master of the schooner Harebell came slowly towards the harbour, accompanied by his mate. Both men had provided ashore for a voyage which included no intoxicants, and the dignity of the skipper, always a salient feature, had developed tremendously under the influence of brown stout. He stepped aboard his schooner importantly, and then, turning to the mate, who was about to follow, suddenly held up his hand for silence.
"What did I tell you?" he inquired severely as the mate got quietly aboard.
"About knocking down the two policemen?" guessed the mate, somewhat puzzled.
"No," said the other shortly. "Listen."
The mate listened. From the foc'sle came low gruff voices of men, broken by the silvery ring of women's laughter.
"Well, I'm a Dutchman," said the mate the air of one who felt he was expected to say something.
"After all I said to 'em," said the skipper with weary dignity. "You 'eard what I said to them Jack?"
"Nobody could ha' swore louder," testified the mate.
"An' here they are," said the skipper, "defying of me. After all I said to 'em. After all the threats I—I employed."
"Employed," repeated the mate with relish.
"They've been and gone and asked them females down the foc'sle again. You know what I said I'd do, Jack, if they did."
"Said you'd eat 'em without salt," quoted the other helpfully.
"I'll do worse than that, Jack," said the skipper after a moment's discomfiture. "What's to hinder us casting off quietly and taking them along with us?
"If you ask me," said the mate, "I should think you couldn't please the crew better."
"Well, we'll see," said the other, nodding sagaciously, "don't make no noise, Jack."
He set an example of silence himself, and aided by the mate, cast off the warps which held his unconscious visitors to their native town, and the wind being off the shore the little schooner drifted silently away from the quay.
The skipper went to the wheel, and the noise of the mate hauling on the jib brought a rough head out of the foc'sle, the owner of which, after a cry to his mates below, sprang up on deck and looked round in bewilderment.
"Stand by, there!" cried the skipper as the others came rushing on deck. "Shake 'em out."
"Beggin' your pardin', sir," said one of them with more politeness in his tones than he had ever used before, "but—"
"Stand by!" said the skipper.
"Now then!" shouted the mate sharply, "lively there! Lively with it!"
The men looked at each other helplessly and went to their posts as a scream of dismay arose from the fair beings below who, having just begun to realise their position, were coming on deck to try and improve it.
"What!" roared the skipper in pretended astonishment, "what! Gells aboard after all I said? It can't be; I must be dreaming!"
"Take us back!" wailed the damsels, ignoring the sarcasm; "take us back, captain."
"No, I can't go back," said the skipper. "You see what comes o' disobedience, my gells. Lively there on that mains'l, d'ye hear?"
"We won't do it again," cried the girls, as the schooner came to the mouth of the harbour and they smelt the dark sea beyond. "Take us back."
"It can't be done," said the skipper cheerfully.
"It's agin the lor, sir," said Ephraim Biddle solemnly.
"What! Taking my own ship out?" said the skipper in affected surprise. "How was I to know they were there? I'm not going back; 'tain't likely. As they've made their beds, so they must lay on 'em."
"They ain't got no beds," said George Scott hastily. "It ain't fair to punish the gals for us, sir."
"Hold your tongue," said the skipper sharply.
"It's agin the lor, sir," said Biddle again. "If so be they're passengers, this ship ain't licensed to carry passengers. If so be as they're took out agin their will, it's abduction—I see the other day a chap had seven years for abducting one gal, three sevens—three sevens is—three sevens is—well, it's more years than you'd like to be in prison, sir."
"Bosh," said the skipper, "they're stowaways, an' I shall put 'em ashore at the first port we touch at—Plymouth."
A heartrending series of screams from the stowaways rounded his sentence, screams which gave way to sustained sobbing, as the schooner, catching the wind, began to move through the water.
"You'd better get below, my gals," said Biddle, who was the eldest member of the crew, consolingly.
"Why don't you make him take us back?" said Jenny Evans, the biggest of the three girls, indignantly.
"'Cos we can't, my dear," said Biddle reluctantly; "it's agin the lor. You don't want to see us put into prison, do you?"
"I don't mind," said Miss Evans tearfully, "so long as we get back. George, take us back."
"I can't," said Scott sullenly.
"Well, you can look for somebody else, then," said Miss Evans with temper. "You won't marry me. How much would you get if you did make the skipper put back?"
"Very likely six months," said Biddle solemnly.
"Six months would soon pass away," said Miss Evans briskly, as she wiped her eye.
"It would be a rest," said Miss Williams coaxingly.
The men not seeing things in quite the same light, they announced their intention of having nothing more to do with them, and crowding together in the bows beneath two or three blankets, condoled tearfully with each other on their misfortunes. For some time the men stood by offering clumsy consolations, but, tired at last of repeated rebuffs and insults, went below and turned in, leaving the satisfied skipper at the wheel.
The night was clear and the wind light. As the effects of his libations wore off the skipper had some misgivings as to the wisdom of his action, but it was too late to return, and he resolved to carry on.
Looking at all the circumstances of the case, he thought it best to keep the wheel in his own hands for a time, and the dawn came in the early hours and found him still at his post.
Objects began to stand out clearly in the growing light, and three dispirited girls put their heads out from their blankets and sniffed disdainfully at the sharp morning air. Then after an animated discussion they arose, and casting their blankets aside, walked up to the skipper and eyed him thoughtfully.
"As easy as easy," said Jenny Evans confidently, as she drew herself up to her full height, and looked down at the indignant man.
"Why, he isn't any bigger than a boy," said Miss Williams savagely.
"Pity we didn't think of it before," said Miss Davies. "I s'pose the crew won't help him?"
"Not they," said Miss Evans scornfully. "If they do, we'll serve them the same."
They went off, leaving the skipper a prey to gathering uneasiness, watching their movements with wrinkled brow. From the forecastle and the galley they produced two mops and a broom, and he caught his breath sharply as Miss Evans came on deck with a pot of white paint in one hand and a pot of tar in the other.
"Now, girls," said Miss Evans.
"Put those things down," said the skipper in a peremptory voice.
"Sha'n't," said Miss Evans bluntly. "You haven't got enough on yours," she said, turning to Miss Davies. "Don't spoil the skipper for a ha'porth of tar."
At this new version of an old saw they laughed joyously, and with mops dripping tar and paint on the deck, marched in military style up to the skipper, and halted in front of him, smiling wickedly.
Then the heart of the skipper waxed sore faint within him, and, with a wild yell, he summoned his trusty crew to his side.
The crew came on deck slowly, and casting furtive glances at the scene, pushed Ephraim Biddle to the front.
"Take those mops away from 'em," said the skipper haughtily.
"Don't you interfere," said Miss Evans, looking at them over her shoulder.
"Else we'll give you some," said Miss Williams bloodthirstily.
"Take those mops away from 'em!" bawled the skipper, instinctively drawing back as Miss Evans made a pass at him.
"I don't see as 'ow we can interfere, sir," said Biddle with deep respect.
"What!" said the astonished skipper.
"It would be agin the lor for us to interfere with people," said Biddle, turning to his mates, "dead agin the lor."
"Don't you talk rubbish," said the skipper anxiously. "Take 'em away from 'em. It's my tar and my paint, and—"
"You shall have it," said Miss Evans reassuringly.
"If we touched 'em," said Biddle impressively, "it'd be an assault at lor. 'Sides which, they'd probably muss us up with 'em. All we can do, sir, is to stand by and see fair play."
"Fair play!" cried the skipper dancing with rage, and turning hastily to the mate, who had just come on the scene. "Take those things away from 'em, Jack."
"Well, if it's all the same to you," said the mate, "I'd rather not be drawn into it."
"But I'd rather you were," said the skipper sharply. "Take 'em away."
"How?" inquired the mate pertinently.
"I order you to take 'em away," said the skipper. "How, is your affair."
"I'm not goin' to raise my hand against a woman for anybody," said the mate with decision. "It's no part of my work to get messed up with tar and paint from lady passengers."
"It's part of your work to obey me, though," said the skipper, raising his voice; "all of you. There's five of you, with the mate, and only three gells. What are you afraid of?"
"Are you going to take us back?" demanded Jenny Evans.
"Run away," said the skipper with dignity. "Run away."
"I shall ask you three times," said Miss Evans sternly. "One—are you going back? Two—are you going back? Three———"
In the midst of a breathless silence she drew within striking distance, while her allies, taking up a position on either flank of the enemy, listened attentively to the instructions of their leader.
"Be careful he doesn't catch hold of the mops," said Miss Evans; "but if he does, the others are to hit him over the head with the handles. Never mind about hurting him."
"Take this wheel a minnit, Jack," said the skipper, pale but determined.
The mate came forward and took it unwillingly, and the skipper, trying hard to conceal his trepidation, walked towards Miss Evans and tried to quell her with his eye. The power of the human eye is notorious, and Miss Evans showed her sense of the danger she ran by making an energetic attempt to close the skipper's with her mop, causing him to duck with amazing nimbleness. At the same moment another mop loaded with white paint was pushed into the back of his neck. He turned with a cry of rage, and then realising the odds against him flung his dignity to the winds and dodged with the agility of a schoolboy. Through the galley and round the masts he went with the avenging mops in mad pursuit, until breathless and exhausted he suddenly sprang on to the side and climbed frantically into the rigging.
"Coward!" said Miss Evans, shaking her weapon at him.
"Come down," cried Miss Williams. "Come down like a man."
"It's no good wasting time over him," said Miss Evans, after another vain appeal to the skipper's manhood. "He's escaped. Get some more stuff on your mops."
The mate, who had been laughing boisterously, checked himself suddenly, and assumed a gravity of demeanour more in accordance with his position. The mops were dipped in solemn silence, and Miss Evans approaching regarded him significantly.
"Now, my dears," said the mate, waving his hand with a deprecatory gesture, "don't be silly."
"Don't be what?" inquired the sensitive Miss Evans, raising her mop.
"You know what I mean," said the mate hastily. "I can't help myself."
"Well, we're going to help you," said Miss Evans. "Turn the ship round."
"You obey orders, Jack," cried the skipper from aloft.
"It's all very well for you sitting up there in peace and comfort," said the mate indignantly. "I'm not going to be tarred to please you. Come down and take charge of your ship."
"Do your duty, Jack," said the skipper, who was polishing his face with a handkerchief. "They won't touch you. They daren't. They're afraid to."
"You're egging 'em on," cried the mate wrathfully. "I won't steer; come and take it yourself."
He darted behind the wheel as Miss Evans, who was getting impatient, made a thrust at him, and then, springing out, gained the side and rushed up the rigging after his captain. Biddle, who was standing close by, gazed earnestly at them and took the wheel.
"You won't hurt old Biddle, I know," he said, trying to speak confidently.
"Of course not," said Miss Evans emphatically.
"Tar don't hurt," explained Miss Williams.
"It's good for you," said the third lady positively. "One—two———"
"It's no good," said the mate as Ephraim came suddenly into the rigging; "you'll have to give in."
"I'm damned if I will," said the infuriated skipper. Then an idea occurred to him, and puckering his face shrewdly he began to descend.
"All right," he said shortly, as Miss Evans advanced to receive him. "I'll go back."
He took the wheel; the schooner came round before the wind, and the willing crew, letting the sheets go, hauled them in again on the port side.
"And now, my lads," said the skipper with a benevolent smile, "just clear that mess up off the decks, and you may as well pitch them mops overboard. They'll never be any good again."
He spoke carelessly, albeit his voice trembled a little, but his heart sank within him as Miss Evans, with a horrible contortion of her pretty face, intended for a wink, waved them back.
"You stay where you are," she said imperiously; "we'll throw them overboard—when we've done with them. What did you say, captain?"
The skipper was about to repeat it with great readiness when Miss Evans raised her trusty mop. The words died away on his lips, and after a hopeless glance from his mate to the crew and from the crew to the rigging, he accepted his defeat, and in grim silence took them home again.
There was a sudden uproar on deck, and angry shouts, accompanied by an incessant barking; the master of the brig Arethusa stopped with his knife midway to his mouth, and exchanging glances with the mate, put it down and rose to his feet.
"They're chevying that poor animal again," he said hotly. "It's scandalous."
"Rupert can take care of himself," said the mate calmly, continuing his meal. "I expect, if the truth's known, it's him 's been doin' the chevying."
"You're as bad as the rest of 'em," said the skipper angrily, as a large brown retriever came bounding into the cabin. "Poor old Rupe! what have they been doin' to you?"
The dog, with a satisfied air, sat down panting by his chair, listening quietly to the subdued hubbub which sounded from the companion.
"Well, what is it?" roared the skipper, patting his favourite's head.
"It's that blasted dawg, sir," cried an angry voice from above. "Go down and show 'im your leg, Joe."
"An' 'ave another lump took out of it, I s'pose," said another voice sourly. "Not me."
"I don't want to look at no legs while I'm at dinner," cried the skipper. "O' course the dog 'll bite you if you've been teasing him."
"There's nobody been teasing 'im," said the angry voice again. "That's the second one 'e's bit, and now Joe's goin' to have 'im killed—ain't you, Joe?"
Joe's reply was not audible, although the infuriated skipper was straining his ears to catch it.
"Who's going to have the dog killed?" he demanded, going up on deck, while Rupert, who evidently thought he had an interest in the proceedings, followed unobtrusively behind.
"I am, sir," said Joe Bates, who was sitting on the hatch while the cook bathed an ugly wound in his leg. "A dog's only allowed one bite, and he's 'ad two this week."
"He bit me on Monday," said the seaman who had spoken before. "Now he's done for hisself."
"Hold your tongue!" said the skipper angrily. "You think you know a lot about the law, Sam Clark; let me tell you a dog's entitled to have as many bites as ever he likes, so as he don't bite the same person twice."
"That ain't the way I've 'eard it put afore," said Clark, somewhat taken back.
"He's the cutest dog breathing," said the skipper fondly, "and he knows all about it. He won't bite either of you again."
"And wot about them as 'asn't been bit yet, sir?" inquired the cook.
"Don't halloo before you're hurt," advised the skipper. "If you don't tease him he won't bite you."
He went down to his dinner, followed by the sagacious Rupert, leaving the hands to go forward again, and to mutinously discuss a situation which was fast becoming unbearable.
"It can't go on no longer, Joe," said Clark firmly; "this settles it."
"Where is the stuff?" inquired the cook in a whisper.
"In my chest," said Clark softly. "I bought it the night he bit me."
"It's a risky thing to do," said Bates.
"'Ow risky?" asked Sam scornfully. "The dog eats the stuff and dies. Who's going to say what he died of? As for suspicions, let the old man suspect as much as he likes. It ain't proof."
The stronger mind had its way, as usual, and the next day the skipper, coming quietly on deck, was just in time to see Joe Bates throw down a fine fat bloater in front of the now amiable Rupert. He covered the distance between himself and the dog in three bounds, and seizing it by the neck, tore the fish from its eager jaws and held it aloft.
"I just caught 'im in the act!" he cried, as the mate came on deck. "What did you give that to my dog for?" he inquired of the conscience-stricken Bates.
"I wanted to make friends with him," stammered the other.
"It's poisoned, you rascal, and you know it," said the skipper vehemently.
"Wish I may die, sir," began Joe.
"That'll do," said the skipper harshly. "You've tried to poison my dog."
"I ain't," said Joe firmly.
"You ain't been trying to kill 'im with a poisoned bloater?" demanded the skipper.
"Certainly not, sir," said Joe. "I wouldn't do such a thing. I couldn't if I tried."
"Very good then," said the skipper; "if it's all right you eat it, and I'll beg your pardon."
"I ain't goin' to eat after a dog," said Joe, shuffling.
"The dog's as clean as you are," said the skipper. "I'd sooner eat after him than you."
"Well, you eat it then, sir," said Bates desperately. "If it's poisoned you'll die, and I'll be 'ung for it. I can't say no fairer than that, can I?"
There was a slight murmur from the men, who stood by watching the skipper with an air of unholy expectancy.
"Well, the boy shall eat it then," said the skipper. "Eat that bloater, boy, and I'll give you sixpence."
The boy came forward slowly, and looking from the men to the skipper, and from the skipper back to the men, began to whimper.
"If you think it's poisoned," interrupted the mate, "you oughtn't to make the boy eat it. I don't like boys, but you must draw the line somewhere."
"It's poisoned," said the skipper, shaking it at Bates, "and they know it. Well, I'll keep it till we get to port, and then I'll have it analysed. And it'll be a sorry day for you, Bates, when I hear it's poisoned. A month's hard labour is what you'll get."
He turned away and went below with as much dignity as could be expected of a man carrying a mangled herring, and placing it on a clean plate, solemnly locked it up in his state-room.
For two days the crew heard no more about it, though the skipper's eyes gleamed dangerously each time that they fell upon the shrinking Bates. The weather was almost tropical, with not an air stirring, and the Arethusa, bearing its dread secret still locked in its state-room, rose and fell upon a sea of glassy smoothness without making any progress worth recording.
"I wish you'd keep that thing in your berth, George," said the skipper, as they sat at tea the second evening; "it puts me in a passion every time I look at it."
"I couldn't think of it, cap'n," replied the mate firmly; "it makes me angry enough as it is. Every time I think of 'em trying to poison that poor dumb creature I sort o' choke. I try to forget it."
The skipper, eyeing him furtively, helped himself to another cup of tea.
"You haven't got a tin box with a lid to it, I s'pose?" he remarked somewhat shamefacedly.
The mate shook his head. "I looked for one this morning," he said. "There ain't so much as a bottle aboard we could shove it into, and it wants shoving into something—bad, it does."
"I don't like to be beat," said the skipper, shaking his head. "All them grinning monkeys for'ard 'ud think it a rare good joke. I'd throw it overboard if it wasn't for that. We can't keep it this weather."
"Well, look 'ere; 'ere's a way out of it," said the mate. "Call Joe down, and make him keep it in the foc'sle and take care of it. That'll punish 'em all too."
"Why, you idiot, he'd lose it!" rapped out the other impatiently.
"O' course he would," said the mate; "but that's the most digernified way out of it for you. You can call 'im all sorts o' things, and abuse 'im for the rest of his life. They'll prove themselves guilty by chucking it away, won't they?"
It really seemed the only thing to be done. The skipper finished his tea in silence, and then going on deck called the crew aft and apprised them of his intentions, threatening them with all sorts of pains and penalties if the treasure about to be confided to their keeping should be lost The cook was sent below for it, and, at the skipper's bidding, handed it to the grinning Joe.
"And mind," said the skipper as he turned away, "I leave it in your keepin', and if it's missing I shall understand that you've made away with it, and I shall take it as a sign of guilt, and act according."
The end came sooner even than he expected. They were at breakfast next morning when Joe, looking somewhat pale, came down to the cabin, followed by Clark, bearing before him an empty plate.
"Well?" said the skipper fiercely.
"It's about the 'erring, sir," said Joe, twisting his cap between his hands.
"Well?" roared the skipper again.
"It's gone, sir," said Joe, in bereaved accents.
"You mean you've thrown it away, you infernal rascal!" bellowed the skipper.
"No, sir," said Joe.
"Ah! I s'pose it walked up on deck and jumped overboard," said the mate.
"No, sir," said Joe softly. "The dog ate it, sir."
The skipper swung round in his seat and regarded him open-mouthed.
"The—dog—ate—it?" he repeated.
"Yes, sir; Clark saw 'im do it—didn't you, Clark?"
"I did," said Clark promptly. He had made his position doubly sure by throwing it overboard himself.
"It comes to the same thing, sir," said Joe sanctimoniously; "my innercence is proved just the same. You'll find the dog won't take no 'urt through it, sir. You watch 'im."
The skipper breathed hard, but made no reply.
"If you don't believe me, sir, p'raps you'd like to see the plate where 'e licked it?" said Joe. "Give me the plate, Sam."
He turned to take it, but in place of handing it to him that useful witness dropped it and made hurriedly for the companion-ladder, and by strenuous efforts reached the deck before Joe, although that veracious gentleman, assisted from below by strong and willing arms, made a good second.
TWO OF A TRADE.
"'E's a nero, that's wot 'e is, sir," said the cook, as he emptied a boiler of dirty water overboard.
"A what?" said the skipper.
"A nero," said the cook, speaking very slowly and distinctly. "A nero in real life, a chap wot, speaking for all for'ard, we're proud to have aboard along with us."
"I didn't know he was much of a swimmer," said the skipper, glancing curiously at a clumsily-built man of middle age, who sat on the hatch glancing despondently at the side.
"No more 'e ain't," said the cook, "an' that's what makes 'im more 'eroish still in my own opinion."
"Did he take his clothes off?" inquired the mate.
"Not a bit of it," said the delighted cook; "not a pair of trowsis, nor even 'is 'at, which was sunk."
"You're a liar, cook," said the hero, looking up for a moment.
"You didn't take your trowsis off, George?" said the cook anxiously.
"I chucked my 'at on the pavement," growled George, without looking up.
"Well, anyway, you went over the Embankment after that pore girl like a Briton, didn't you?" said the other.
There was no reply.
"Didn't you?" said the cook appealingly.
"Did you expect me to go over like a Dutchman, or wot?" demanded George fiercely.
"That's 'is modesty," said the cook, turning to the others with the air of a showman. "'E can't bear us to talk about it Nearly drownded 'e was. All but, and a barge came along and shoved a boat-hook right through the seat of his trowsis an' saved 'im. Stand up an' show 'em your trowsis, George."