The Skipper's Wooing, by W. W. Jacobs

Chapter 11

He resolved that he would keep his discovery to himself. It was an expensive luxury, but he determined to indulge in it, and months or years later perhaps he would allow the skipper to learn what he had lost by his overbearing brutality. Somewhat soothed by this idea, he fell asleep.

His determination, which was strong when he arose, weakened somewhat as the morning wore on. The skipper, who had thought no more of the matter after giving his hasty instructions to the cook, was in a soft and amiable mood, and, as Henry said to himself fifty times in the course of the morning, five pounds was five pounds. By the time ten o’clock came he could hold out no longer, and with a full sense of the favor he was about to confer, he approached the unconscious skipper.

Before he could speak he was startled by a commotion on the quay, and looking up, saw the cook, who had gone ashore for vegetables, coming full tilt towards the ship. He appeared to be laboring under strong excitement, and bumped passers-by and dropped cabbages with equal unconcern.

“What on earth’s the matter with the cook,” said the skipper, as the men suspended work to gaze on the approaching figure. “What’s wrong?” he demanded sharply, as the cook, giving a tremendous leap on board, rushed up and spluttered in his ear.

“What?” he repeated.

The cook, with his hand on his distressed chest, gasped for breath.

“Captain Gething!” panted the cook at last, recovering his breath with an effort. “Round the — corner.”

Almost as excited as the cook, the skipper sprang ashore and hurried along the quay with him, violently shaking off certain respectable citizens who sought to detain the cook, and ask him what he meant by it.

“I expect you’ve made a mistake,” said the skipper, as they rapidly reached the small street. “Don’t run — we shall have a crowd.”

“If it wasn’t ’im it was his twin brother,” said the cook. “Ah, there he is! That’s the man!”

He pointed to Henry’s acquaintance of the previous day, who, with his hands in his pockets, was walking listlessly along on the other side of the road.

“You get back,” said the skipper hurriedly. “You’d better run a little, then these staring idiots ‘ll follow you.”

The cook complied, and the curious, seeing that he appeared to be the more irrational of the two, and far more likely to get into mischief, set off in pursuit. The skipper crossed the road, and began gently to overtake his quarry.

He passed him, and looking back, regarded him unobserved. The likeness was unmistakable, and for a few seconds he kept on his way in doubt how to proceed. Then he stopped, and turning round, waited till the old man should come up to him.

“Good-morning,” he said pleasantly.

“Morning,” said the old man, half stopping.

“I’m in a bit of a difficulty,” said the skipper laughing. “I’ve got a message to deliver to a man in this place and I can’t find him. I wonder whether you could help me.”

“What’s his name?” asked the other.

“Captain Gething,” said the skipper.

The old man started, and his face changed to an unwholesome white. “I never heard of him,” he muttered, thickly, trying to pass on.

“Nobody else seems to have heard of him either,” said the skipper, turning with him; “that’s the difficulty.”

He waited for a reply, but none came. The old man, with set face, walked on rapidly.

“He’s supposed to be in hiding,” continued the skipper. “If you should ever run across him you might tell him that his wife and daughter Annis have been wanting news of him for five years, and that he’s making all this trouble and fuss about a man who is as well and hearty as I am. Good-morning.”

The old man stopped abruptly, and taking his outstretched hand, drew a deep breath.

“Tell him — the — man — is alive?” he said in a trembling voice.

“Just that,” said the skipper gently, and seeing the working of the other’s face, looked away. For a little while they both stood silent, then the skipper spoke again.

“If I take you back,” he said, “I am to marry your daughter Annis.” He put his hand on the old man’s, and without a word the old man turned and went with him.

They walked back slowly towards the harbor, the young man talking, the old man listening. Outside the post office the skipper came to a sudden stop.

“How would it be to send a wire?” he asked.

“I think,” said the old man eagerly, as he followed him in, “it would be the very thing.”

He stood watching attentively as the skipper tore up form after form, meditatively sucking the chained lead pencil with a view to inspiration between whiles. Captain Gething, as an illiterate, had every sympathy with one involved in the throes of writing, and for some time watched his efforts in respectful silence. After the fifth form had rolled a little crumpled ball on to the floor, however, he interposed.

“I can’t think how to put it,” said the skipper apologetically. “I don’t want to be too sudden, you know.”

“Just so,” said the other, and stood watching him until, with a smile of triumph twitching the corners of his mouth, the skipper bent down and hastily scrawled off a message.

“You’ve done it?” he said with relief.

“How does this strike you?” asked the skipper reading. “Your father sends love to you both.”

“Beautiful,” murmured Captain Gething.

“Not too sudden,” said the skipper; “it doesn’t say I’ve found you, or anything of that sort; only hints at it. I’m proud of it.”

“You ought to be,” said Captain Gething, who was in the mood to be pleased with anything. “Lord, how pleased they’ll be, poor dears! I’m ashamed to face ’em.”

“Stuff!” said the skipper, who was in high spirits, as he clapped him on the back. “What you want is a good stiff drink.”

He led him into a neighboring bar, and a little later the crew of the schooner, who had been casting anxious and curious glances up the quay, saw the couple approaching them. Both captains were smoking big cigars in honor of the occasion, and Captain Gething, before going on board, halted, and in warm terms noticed the appearance of the Seamew.

The crew, pausing in their labors, looked on expectantly as they reached the deck. On the cook’s face was a benevolent and proprietary smile, while Henry concealed his anguish of soul under an appearance of stoic calm.

“This is the man,” said the skipper, putting his hand on the cook’s shoulder, “this is the man that found you, cap’n. Smartest and best chap I ever had sail with me!”

Flushed with these praises, but feeling that he fully deserved them, the cook took the hand which Captain Gething, after a short struggle with the traditions of ship masters, extended, and shook it vigorously. Having once started, he shook hands all round, winding up with the reluctant Henry.

“Why, I’ve seen this boy before,” he said, starting. “Had a chat with him yesterday. That’s what brought me down here today, to see whether I couldn’t find him again.”

“Well I’m hanged!” said the astonished skipper. “He’s as sharp as needles as a rule. What were you doing with your eyes, Henry?”

In an agony of mortification and rage, as he saw the joy depicted on the faces of the crew, the boy let the question pass. The cook, at the skipper’s invitation, followed him below, his reappearance being the signal for anxious inquiries on the part of his friends. He answered them by slapping his pocket, and then thrusting his hand in produced five gold pieces. At first it was all congratulations, then Sam, after a short, hard, cough, struck a jarring note.

“Don’t you wish now as you’d joined the syndikit, Dick?” he asked boldly.

Wot?” said the cook, hastily replacing the coins.

“I arst ’im whether he was sorry ‘e ‘adn’t joined us,” said Sam, trying to speak calmly.

The cook threw out his hand and looked round appealingly to the landscape to bear witness to this appalling attempt at brigandage.

“You needn’t look like that,” said Sam. “Two pun ten’s wot I want of you, an’ I’ll take it afore you lose it.”

Then the cook found words, and with Dick and Henry for audience made an impassioned speech in defence of vested interests and the sacred rights of property. Never in his life had he been so fluent or so inventive, and when he wound up a noble passage on the rights of the individual, in which he alluded to Sam as a fat sharper, he felt that his case was won.

“Two pun ten,” said Sam, glowering at him.

The cook, moistening his lips with his tongue, resumed his discourse.

“Two pun ten,” said Sam again; “an’ I don’t know what you’re goin’ to do with your half, but I’m goin’ to give ten bob to Dick.”

“Why don’t you give the man his money?” said Dick warmly.

“Becos the syndikit ‘ad all fell through,” said the cook. “The syndikit was only a syndikit when we was both looking for ’im together. If the syndikit —”

“That’s enough about ’em,” said Dick impatiently; “give the man ‘is money. Everybody knows you was goin’ shares. I’m ashamed of you, cook, I wouldn’t have thought it of you.”

It ended in simple division, Dick taking what was over on Sam’s side and more than hinting that he was ready to do the cook a similar service. The cook turned a deaf ear, however, and declining in emphatic language to step ashore and take something, went and sulked in the galley.

At dinner-time a telegram came from Annis, and the next morning brought a letter from her which the skipper read aloud to the proud father. He read it somewhat jerkily, omitting sentences and halves of sentences which he thought might not interest the old man, or perhaps, what was more likely, would interest him a great deal. After that they were all busy taking in the cargo, Captain Gething, in shirt and trousers, insisting upon lending a hand.

The cargo was all in by five o’clock and the hatches down. Below in the cabin the two captains and the mate sat over a substantial tea.

“Get away about three, I s’pose?” said the mate.

The skipper nodded.

“Get away about three,” he repeated, “and then for Northfleet. I’ll have all the hands to the wedding, and you shall be best man, Jim.”

“And Henry ‘ll be a little page in white satin knickers holding up the bride’s train,” said the mate, spluttering at the picture he had conjured up.

They all laughed — all except Henry, who, having come down with some hot water from the galley, surveyed the ribald scene with a scarcely concealed sneer.

Half an hour later the skipper and mate went ashore to transact a little business, leaving the old man smoking peacefully in the cabin. The crew, having adjusted their differences, had already gone ashore to treat each other to beer, leaving Henry in sole charge.

“You’ll stay by the ship, boy,” said the skipper, looking down on him from the quay.

“Ay, ay, sir,” said Henry sulkily.

The two men walked along the quay and into the High Street, the skipper shrugging his shoulders good-naturedly as he caught, through a half-open door, a glimpse of his crew settling down to business. It was an example that in the circumstances seemed to be worth following, and at the next public-house the mate, sacrificing his inclinations to the occasion, drank port wine instead of his favorite whisky. For the same reason he put his pipe back in his pocket and accepted a cigar, and then followed his superior into the street.

“Where’s a likely tailor’s?” asked the skipper, looking round.

“What for?” asked the mate.

“I’m going to get some things for Cap’n Gething,” said the other. “He’s hardly the figure to meet his family as he is.”

“Why didn’t you bring him with us?” asked the mate. “How about a fit?”

“He wouldn’t hear of it,” said the skipper, pausing in deep contemplation of three wax boys in a tailor’s window. “He’s an independent sort of man; but if I buy the clothes and take ’em aboard he can hardly refuse to wear ’em.”

He led the way into the shop and asked to see some serge suits. At the mate’s instigation he asked to see some more. At the mate’s further instigation he asked whether that was all they had got, and being told that it was, looked at them all over again. It is ever a difficult thing to fit an absent man, but he and the mate tried on every jacket in the hope of finding a golden mean, until the mate, dropping his lighted cigar in the coat-sleeve of one, and not finding it as soon as the tailor could have desired, the latter lost all patience and insisted upon their taking that one.

“It’s all right,” said the mate, as they left the shop with the parcel; “it’s only the lining. I’d fixed my mind on that one, too, from the first.”

“Well, why didn’t you say so, then?” said the skipper.

“Got it cheaper,” said the mate, with a wink. “I’d bet you, if it could only be known, if we’d been suited at first he’d ha’ wanted ten bob more for it.”

It was quite dark by now, and after buying a cap and one or two other small articles, the mate led the way into a tavern for another drink.

“There’s no hurry,” he said, putting his share of bundles on the table with some relief. “What’s your poison this time, cap’n?”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38