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

Chapter 8

The Seamew lay at Cocklemouth another three days, in which time Dick, after a twelve-mile walk, learnt all there was to learn about Piggott’s Bay. The second outrage was likely to have seriously injured his constitution, but the silver lining of the cloud caught his eye just as he was closing it in sleep, and the tension was removed.

“I’ve been thinkin’, Sam,” he said next morning, “that I’ve been rather selfish over that syndikit business. I ought to ‘ave joined it.”

“You can please yourself,” said Sam.

“But it’s better late than never,” said Dick, turning to the cook who had joined them. “I’m goin’ to put you in the way of findin’ Cap’n Gething.”

The cook portrayed gratified surprise.

“I know for certain that he’s livin’ at a place called Piggott’s Bay, a little place just up the coast here,” continued Dick. “If you two chaps like to walk out this evening and find him you can have two quid apiece and just give me one for myself.”

“Oh!” said Sam, and stood thunderstruck at his hardihood.

“But it wouldn’t be fair to you, Dick,” urged the cook. “We won’t take no advantage of you. The five pounds is yours.”

“I don’t want it,” said Dick earnestly. “I want to punish myself for being greedy. If you two ‘ll just go there and find him I’ll take it as a favor.”

“Oh, well, we’ll go then,” said the cook with deceitful joy.

“Dick’s ‘art’s in the right place, cook,” observed Sam. “We’d better get away directly arter tea.”

“I’d like to shake you by the ‘and, Dick,” said the cook warmly.

“Me too,” said Sam, taking it as the cook relinquished it. “You’re a fair brick, Dick, an’ no error.”

“True blue,” said the complimentary cook.

“We’ll start directly arter tea, if you’ll get us the flag, Dick,” said Sam.

Flag?” said Dick —“flag?

“Why, yes, the Union Jack,” said Sam, looking at him in simple surprise. “It’s no use going to Piggott’s Bay without a Union Jack? Didn’t you know that, Dick? Arter goin’ there last night too!”

He stood in an easy attitude waiting for an answer and gazed in clumsy surprise at Dick, as that arch-deceiver stamped his way down below in a fury. He even went so far as to pretend that Dick had gone down for the flag in question, and gingerly putting his head down the scuttle, said that a pair of bathing drawers would do if it was not forthcoming — a piece of pleasantry which he would willingly have withdrawn when the time came for him to meet Dick at dinner.

By the time they reached Northfleet again all interest in the search had practically ceased. For one thing it was an unpleasant thing for grown men to be exposed to the gibes of Henry, and for another, looking at it in the cold clear light of reason, they could but see that there was very little prospect of success. In the cabin pessimism was also to the front with the mate as its mouthpiece.

“It’s against all reason,” he said, after arguing the matter a little. “You can’t expect to find him. Now take my advice, you’re doing better with a safe trade between here and Brittlesea — stick to that.”

“I won’t,” said the other doggedly.

“It’s hard on ’em,” said the mate —“the old men I mean — chevying ’em and hunting ’em about just because they’ve got gray whiskers and are getting into years. Besides which, some of the crew ‘ll get into a mess sooner or later.”

“Talk as much as you like you won’t affect me,” retorted the other, who was carrying on the conversation as he was down below washing.

“There you go again,” said the mate, “making yourself look nice. What for? Another fellow’s girl. Turn it and twist it as much as you please, that’s what it comes to.”

“When I want your advice,” said the skipper, covering his confusion by a vigorous use of the towel, “I’ll ask for it.”

He finished dressing in silence and went ashore, and after looking about him in a perfunctory fashion, strolled off in the direction of Gravesend. The one gleam of light in his present condition was the regular habits of schools, and as he went along he blessed the strong sense of punctuality which possessed the teaching body at four o’clock.

To-day, however, his congratulations were somewhat premature, for long after the children had come and gone there was no sign of Annis Gething. He walked up and down the road wondering. Half-past four, five. He waited until six o’clock — an object of much interest to sundry ladies who were eyeing him stealthily from their front parlor windows — and was just going at a quarter-past when he saw her coming towards him.

“Back again,” she said as she shook hands.

“Just back,” said he.

“No news of my father, I suppose?” said Annis. “None, I’m sorry to say,” said the skipper. “You’re late to-night, aren’t you?”

“Rather.”

“You look tired,” said the skipper with tenderness.

“Well, I’m not,” said Annis. “I just stayed and had a cup of tea with Miss Grattan. Mother has gone out, so I didn’t hurry.”

“Out now?” inquired he.

Miss Gething nodded brightly, and having by this time reached the corner of a road, came to a stop.

“I’m not going in just yet,” she said, glancing up the road towards her house. “I’m going for a walk.”

“I hope it will be a pleasant one,” said Wilson, after a pause, devoted to wondering whether he might venture to offer to accompany her. “Goodbye.” He held out his hand.

“Good-bye,” said Annis; “if you like to call in and wait to see mother she will be pleased to see you, I’m sure.”

“Is there anybody to let me in?” inquired Wilson.

“Mr. Glover is there, I expect,” said Annis, looking steadily across the road.

“I— I’ll call another time,” said the perplexed Wilson, “but I should have thought —”

“Thought what?” said she.

“Nothin’,” said he. “I— Are you going for a long walk?”

“Not very far,” said she. “Why?”

“I suppose you prefer going alone?”

“I don’t mind it,” said Annis Gothing; “but you can come if you like.”

They turned down the road together, and for some time walked on in silence.

“What was that you were going to say just now?” said Annis, when the silence threatened to become awkward.

“When?” said Wilson.

“When I told you that Mr. Glover was at our house you said you should have thought —” She turned and regarded him with an expression in her eyes which he tried in vain to decipher.

“Well, I should have thought,” he said desperately, “that you would have wanted to go there.”

“I don’t understand you,” said Annis coldly. “I think you are rather rude.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Wilson humbly; “I’m very sorry, very.”

There was another long silence, during which they left the road and entered a footpath. It was very narrow, and Annis walked in front.

“I would give anything to find your father,” said Wilson earnestly.

“Oh, I wish you could, I wish you could,” said Annis, looking at him over her shoulder.

“I suppose Mr. Glover is trying all he can?” said Wilson.

“I want my father!” said Annis with sudden passion —“I want him badly, but I would sooner anybody than Mr. Glover found him!”

“But you are to be married when he is found,” said the puzzled Wilson.

“If Mr. Glover finds him,” said Annis in a low voice.

“Do you mean to say,” said the skipper (in his excitement he caught her by the arm, and she did not release it)—“do you mean to say that you are not going to marry this Glover unless he finds your father?”

“Yes,” said Annis, “that is the arrangement. Mother fretted so, and I thought nothing mattered much if we could only find my father. So I promised.”

“And I suppose if anybody else finds him?” faltered Wilson, as with a ruthless disregard of growing crops he walked beside her.

“In that case,” said Annis, looking at him pleasantly, “I sha’n’t marry. Is that what you mean?”

“I didn’t mean quite that,” said Wilson. “I was going to say —”

“There!” said Annis, stopping suddenly and pointing, “isn’t there a fine view of the river from here?”

“Splendid!” said Wilson.

“It is my favorite walk,” said Annis.

Wilson made a mental note of it. “Especially when Mr. Glover is at your house,” he said foolishly.

“Mr. Glover has been very kind,” said Annis gravely. “He has been very good to my mother, and he has gone to a great deal of trouble in his search for my father.”

“Well, I hope he doesn’t find him,” said Wilson. Annis turned and regarded him fixedly. “That is very kind of you,” she said with severity.

“I want to find him myself,” said Wilson, closely watching the river; “and you know why.”

“I must get back,” said Annis, without contesting the statement.

Wilson felt his courage oozing, and tried to hint at what he dared not say. “I should like you to treat me the same as you do Mr. Glover,” he said nervously.

“I’ll do that with pleasure,” said Annis promptly. In spite of herself her lips quivered and her eyes danced.

“I’ve loved you ever since the first time I saw you!” said Wilson with sudden vehemence.

Utterly unprepared for this direct attack, Miss Gething had no weapon to meet it. The tables were turned, and reddening with confusion, she looked away and made no reply.

“I’ve spent days walking up and down the road the school is in because you were there,” continued Wilson. “I’ve wondered sometimes that the school children didn’t notice it.”

Miss Gething turned to him a cheek which was of the richest carmine, “If it’s any pleasure to you to know it, they did,” she said viciously. “I taught one small infant the blessing of silence by keeping her in three afternoons.”

“I can’t help it,” said Wilson. “You’ll have to keep the whole school in before I get over my fondness for that road. What did she say?”

“Suppose we get back,” said Annis coldly, and turning, walked silently beside him. Neither spoke until they reached the lane again, and then Wilson stopped and met her gaze full and fair. Miss Gething, after a brave trial, abandoned the contest and lowered her eyes.

“Will you serve us both alike?” said Wilson in a low voice.

“No,” said Annis. She looked up at him shyly and smiled. A light broke in upon him, and seizing her hand he drew her towards him.

“No,” said Annis, drawing back sharply; “it wouldn’t be right.”

Afraid he had gone too far, Wilson’s cowardice got the better hand again. “What wouldn’t?” he asked, with an awkward attempt at innocence. A tiny but ominous sparkle in Miss Gething’s eye showed her opinion of this unfairness.

“I beg your pardon,” he said humbly.

“What for?” asked Miss Gething innocently in her turn.

Soon tired of devious paths, in which he lost himself, Wilson tried a direct one again. “For trying to kiss you and then pretending I didn’t know what you meant when you refused,” he said bluntly.

“Captain Wilson!” said Miss Gething breathlessly, “I— I don’t know what you mean.”

“Yes you do,” said Wilson calmly.

The sparkle came in Miss Gething’s eye again, then she bit her lip and turned her head away miserably realizing her inability to treat this transgressor with the severity that he deserved.

“This is the first time you have ever said things of this sort to a girl, I should think,” she said at last.

“Yes,” said Wilson simply.

“You want practice,” said Miss Gething scornfully.

“That’s just what I do want,” said Wilson eagerly.

He was moving towards her again, but she checked him with a look.

“But not with a girl who is half engaged to another man,” she said, regarding him with soft eyes; “it isn’t right.”

“Does he know how it is?” inquired Wilson, referring, of course, to the absent Glover.

Miss Gething nodded.

“I think it’s quite right and proper, then,” said Wilson.

“I don’t,” said Annis, holding out her hand. “I’ll say good-bye,” she said steadily. “I won’t see you again until my father is found. If Mr. Glover finds him I won’t see you at all. Good-bye.”

The skipper took her hand, and marvelling at his pluck, drew her, resisting slightly, towards him again. Then he bent his head, and, with the assistance of Miss Gething, kissed the brim of her hat. Then she broke from him and ran lightly up the lane, pausing at the end to stop and wave her hand ere she disappeared. The skipper waved his in return, and glancing boldly at a horse which had witnessed all the proceedings from over the hedge, walked back to Northfleet to urge his dispirited crew to still further efforts.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/j/jacobs/ww/skipper/chapter8.html

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