Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: A Master Of Craft
Author: Jacobs, W. W. (William Wymark), 1863-1943
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Master Of Craft" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                          *A MASTER OF CRAFT*

                                  _By_

                              W. W. JACOBS


                                  1899

                                  ————



CONTENTS


    CHAPTER I.
    CHAPTER II.
    CHAPTER III.
    CHAPTER IV.
    CHAPTER V.
    CHAPTER VI.
    CHAPTER VII.
    CHAPTER VIII.
    CHAPTER IX.
    CHAPTER X.
    CHAPTER XI.
    CHAPTER XII.
    CHAPTER XIII.
    CHAPTER XIV.
    CHAPTER XV.
    CHAPTER XVI.
    CHAPTER XVII.
    CHAPTER XVIII.
    CHAPTER XIX.
    CHAPTER XX.
    CHAPTER XXI.
    CHAPTER XXII.
    CHAPTER XXIII.
    CHAPTER XXIV.

                                  ————



CHAPTER I.



A pretty girl stood alone on the jetty of an old-fashioned wharf at
Wapping, looking down upon the silent deck of a schooner below. No smoke
issued from the soot-stained cowl of the galley, and the fore-scuttle
and the companion were both inhospitably closed. The quiet of evening
was over everything, broken only by the whirr of the paddles of a
passenger steamer as it passed carefully up the centre of the river, or
the plash of a lighterman’s huge sweep as he piloted his unwieldy craft
down on the last remnant of the ebb-tide. In shore, various craft sat
lightly on the soft Thames mud: some sheeting a rigid uprightness,
others with their decks at various angles of discomfort.

The girl stood a minute or two in thought, and put her small foot out
tentatively towards the rigging some few feet distant. It was an awkward
jump, and she was still considering it, when she heard footsteps behind,
and a young man, increasing his pace as he saw her, came rapidly on to
the jetty.

"This is the Foam, isn’t it?" enquired the girl, as he stood
expectantly. "I want to see Captain Flower."

"He went ashore about half an hour ago," said the other.

The girl tapped impatiently with her foot. "You don’t know what time
he’ll be back, I suppose?" she enquired.

He shook his head. "I think he’s gone for the evening," he said,
pondering; "he was very careful about his dress."

The ghost of a smile trembled on the girl’s lips. "He has gone to call
for me," she said. "I must have missed him. I wonder what I’d better
do."

"Wait here till he comes back," said the man, without hesitation.

The girl wavered. "I suppose, he’ll guess I’ve come here," she said,
thoughtfully.

"Sure to," said the other promptly.

"It’s a long way to Poplar," she said, reflectively. "You’re Mr. Fraser,
the mate, I suppose? Captain Flower has spoken to me about you."

"That’s my name," said the other.

"My name’s Tyrell," said the girl, smiling. "I daresay you’ve heard
Captain Flower mention it?"

"Must have done," said Fraser, slowly. He stood looking at the girl
before him, at her dark hair and shining dark eyes, inwardly wondering
why the captain, a fervid admirer of the sex, had not mentioned her.

"Will you come on board and wait?" he asked. "I’ll bring a chair up on
deck for you if you will."

The girl stood a moment in consideration, and then, with another faint
reference to the distance of Poplar from Wapping, assented. The mate
sprang nimbly into the ratlins, and then, extending a hand, helped her
carefully to the deck.

"How nice it feels to be on a ship again!" said the girl, looking
contentedly about her, as the mate brought up a canvas chair from below.
"I used to go with my father sometimes when he was alive, but I haven’t
been on a ship now for two years or more."

The mate, who was watching her closely, made no reply. He was thinking
that a straw hat with scarlet flowers went remarkably well with the dark
eyes and hair beneath it, and also that the deck of the schooner had
never before seemed such an inviting place as it was at this moment.

"Captain Flower keeps his ship in good condition," said the visitor,
somewhat embarrassed by his gaze.

"He takes a pride in her," said Fraser; "and it’s his uncle’s craft, so
there’s no stint. She never wants for paint or repairs, and Flower’s as
nice a man to sail under as one could wish. We’ve had the same crew for
years."

"He’s very kind and jolly," said the girl.

"He’s one of the best fellows breathing," said the mate, warmly; "he
saved my life once—went overboard after me when we were doing over ten
knots an hour, and was nearly drowned himself."

"That was fine of him," said Miss Tyrell, eagerly. "He never told me
anything about it, and I think that’s rather fine too. I like brave men.
Have you ever been overboard after anybody?"

Fraser shook his head somewhat despondently. "I’m not much of a
swimmer," said he.

"But you’d go in for anybody if you saw them drowning?" persisted Miss
Tyrell, in a surprised voice.

"I don’t know, i’m sure," said Fraser. "I hope I should."

"Do you mean to say," said Miss Tyrell, severely, "that if I fell into
the river here, for instance, you wouldn’t jump in and try to save me?"

"Of course I should." said Fraser, hotly. "I should jump in after you if
I couldn’t swim a stroke."

Miss Tyrell, somewhat taken aback, murmured her gratification.

"I should go in after you," continued the mate who was loath to depart
from the subject, "if it was blowing a gale, and the sea full of
sharks."

"What a blessing it is there are no sharks round our coast," said Miss
Tyrell, in somewhat of a hurry to get away from the mate’s heroism.
"Have you ever seen one?"

"Saw them in the Indian Ocean when I was an apprentice," replied Fraser.

"You’ve been on foreign-going ships then?" said the girl. "I wonder you
gave it up for this."

"This suits me better," said Fraser; "my father’s an old man, and he
wanted me home. I shall have a little steamer he’s got an interest in as
soon as her present skipper goes, so it’s just as well for me to know
these waters."

In this wise they sat talking until evening gave way to night, and the
deck of the Foam was obscured in shadow. Lamps were lit on the wharves,
and passing craft hung out their side-lights. The girl rose to her feet.

"I won’t wait any longer; I must be going," she said.

"He may be back at any moment," urged the mate.

"No, I’d better go, thank you," replied the girl; "it’s getting late. I
don’t like going home alone."

"I’ll come with you, if you’ll let me," said the mate, eagerly.

"All the way?" said Miss Tyrell, with the air of one bargaining.

"Of course," said Fraser.

"Well, I’ll give him another half-hour, then," said the girl, calmly.
"Shall we go down to the cabin? It’s rather chilly up here now."

The mate showed her below, and, lighting the lamp, took a seat opposite
and told her a few tales of the sea, culled when he was an apprentice,
and credulous of ear. Miss Tyrell retaliated with some told her by her
father, from which Fraser was able to form his own opinion of that
estimable mariner. The last story was of a humourous nature, and the
laughter which ensued grated oddly on the ear of the sturdy,
good-looking seaman who had just come on board. He stopped at the
companion for a moment listening in amazement, and then, hastily
descending, entered the cabin.

"Poppy!" he cried. "Why, I’ve been waiting up at the Wheelers’ for you
for nearly a couple of hours."

"I must have missed you," said Miss Tyrell, serenely. "Annoying, isn’t
it?"

The master of the Foam said it was, and seemed from his manner to be
anxious to do more justice to the subject than that.

"I didn’t dream you’d come down here," he said, at length.

"No, you never invited me, so I came without," said the girl softly;
"it’s a dear little schooner, and I like it very much. I shall come
often."

A slight shade passed over Captain Flower’s face, but he said nothing.

"You must take me back now," said Miss Tyrell. "Good-bye, Mr. Fraser."

She held out her hand to the mate, and giving a friendly pressure, left
the cabin, followed by Flower.

The mate let them get clear of the ship, and then, clambering on to the
jetty, watched them off the wharf, and, plunging his hands into his
pockets, whistled softly.

"Poppy Tyrell," he said to himself, slowly. "Poppy Tyrell! I wonder why
the skipper has never mentioned her. I wonder why she took his arm. I
wonder whether she knows that he’s engaged to be married."

Deep in thought he paced slowly up and down the wharf, and then wandered
listlessly round the piled-up empties and bags of sugar in the open
floor beneath the warehouse. A glance through the windows of the office
showed him the watchman slumbering peacefully by the light of a solitary
gas-jet, and he went back to the schooner and gazed at the dark water
and the dim shapes of the neighbouring craft in a vein of gentle
melancholy. He walked to the place where her chair had been, and tried
to conjure up the scene again; then, becoming uncertain as to the exact
spot, went down to the cabin, where, the locker being immovable, no such
difficulty presented itself. He gazed his fill, and then, smoking a
meditative pipe, turned in and fell fast asleep.

He was awakened suddenly from a dream of rescuing a small shark
surrounded by a horde of hungry Poppies, by the hurried and dramatic
entrance of Captain Fred Flower. The captain’s eyes were wild and his
face harassed, and he unlocked the door of his state-room and stood with
the handle of it in his hand before he paused to answer the question in
the mate’s sleepy eyes.

"It’s all right, Jack," he said, breathlessly.

"I’m glad of that," said the mate, calmly.

"I hurried a bit," said the skipper.

"Anxious to see me again, I suppose," said the mate; "what are you
listening for?"

"Thought I heard somebody in the water as I came aboard," said Flower
glibly.

"What have you been up to?" enquired the other, quickly.

Captain Flower turned and regarded him with a look of offended dignity.

"Good heavens! don’t look like that," said the mate, misreading it. "You
haven’t chucked anybody overboard, have you?"

"If anybody should happen to come aboard this vessel," said Flower,
without deigning to reply to the question, "and ask questions about the
master of it, he’s as unlike me, Jack, as any two people in this world
can be. D’ye understand?"

"You’d better tell me what you’ve been up to," urged the mate.

"As for your inquisitiveness, Jack, it don’t become you," said Flower,
with severity; "but I don’t suppose it’ll be necessary to trouble you at
all."

He walked out of the cabin and stood listening at the foot of the
companion-ladder, and the mate heard him walk a little way up. When he
reentered the cabin his face had cleared, and he smiled comfortably.

"I shall just turn in for an hour," he said, amiably; "good-night,
Jack."

"Good-night," said the curious mate. "I say——" he sat up suddenly in his
bunk and looked seriously at the skipper.

"Well?" said the other.

"I suppose," said the mate, with a slight cough—"I suppose it’s nothing
about that girl that was down here?"

"Certainly not," said Flower, violently. He extinguished the lamp, and,
entering his state-room, closed the door and locked it, and the mate,
after lying a little while drowsily wondering what it all meant, fell
asleep again.



CHAPTER II.



WHILE the skipper and mate slumbered peacefully below, the watchman sat
on a post at the extreme end of the jetty, yearning for human society
and gazing fearfully behind him at the silent, dimly-lit wharf. The two
gas-lamps high up on the walls gave but a faint light, and in no way
dispelled the deep shadows thrown by the cranes and the piled-up empties
which littered the place. He gazed intently at the dark opening of the
floor beneath the warehouse, half fancying that he could again discern
the veiled apparition which had looked in at him through the office
window, and had finally vanished before his horror-struck eyes in a
corner the only outlet to which was a grating. Albeit a careful man and
tender, the watchman pinched himself. He was awake, and, rubbing the
injured part, swore softly.

"If I go down and tell ’em," he murmured softly, in allusion to the
crew, "what’ll they do? Laugh at me."

He glanced behind him again, and, rising hastily to his feet, nearly
fell on to the deck below as a dark figure appeared for a moment at the
opening and then vanished again. With more alacrity than might have been
expected of a man of his figure, he dropped into the rigging and lowered
himself on to the schooner.

The scuttle was open, and the seamen’s lusty snores fell upon his ears
like sweet music. He backed down the ladder, and groped in the darkness
towards the bunks with outstretched hand. One snore stopped instantly.

"Eh!" said a sleepy voice. "Wot! ’Ere, what the blazes are you up to?"

"A’ right, Joe," said the watchman, cheerfully.

"But it ain’t all right," said the seaman, sharply, "comin’ down in the
dark an’ ketchin’ ’old o’ people’s noses. Give me quite a start, you
did."

"It’s nothing to the start I’ve ’ad," said the other, pathetically;
"there’s a ghost on the wharf, Joe. I want you to come up with me and
see what it is.

"Yes, I’m sure to do that," said Joe, turning over in his bunk till it
creaked with his weight. "Go away, and let me get to sleep again. I
don’t get a night’s rest like you do, you know."

"What’s the matter?" enquired a sleepy voice.

"Old George ’ere ses there’s a ghost on the wharf," said Joe.

"I’ve seen it three times," said the watchman, eager for sympathy.

"I expect it’s a death-warning for you, George," said the voice,
solemnly. "The last watchman died sudden, you remember."

"So he did," said Joe.

"His ’art was wrong," said George, curtly; "’ad been for years."

"Well, we can’t do nothin’ for you, George," said Joe, kindly; "it’s no
good us going up. We sha’n’t see it. It isn’t meant for us."

"’Ow d’yer know it’s a ghost," said a third voice, impatiently; "very
likely while you’re all jawing about it down ’ere it’s a-burglin’ the
offis."

Joe gave a startled grunt, and, rolling out of his bunk, grabbed his
trousers, and began to dress. Three other shadowy forms followed suit,
and, hastily dressing, followed the watchman on deck and gained the
wharf. They went through the gloomy ground floor in a body, yawning
sleepily.

"I shouldn’t like to be a watchman," said a young ordinary seaman named
Tim, with a shiver; "a ghost might easy do anything with you while you
was all alone. P’r’aps it walks up an’ down behind you, George, makin’
faces. We shall be gorn in another hour, George."

The office, when they reached it, was undisturbed, and, staying only
long enough to drink the watchman’s coffee, which was heating on a
gas-jet, they left it and began to search the wharf, Joe leading with a
small lantern.

"Are we all ’ere?" demanded Tim, suddenly.

"I am," said the cook, emphatically.

"’Cos I see su’thing right behind them bags o’ sugar," said the youth,
clutching hold of the cook on one side and the watchman on the other.
"Spread out a bit, chaps."

Joe dashed boldly round with the lantern. There was a faint scream and
an exclamation of triumph from the seaman. "I’ve got it!" he shouted.

The others followed hastily, and saw the fearless Joe firmly gripping
the apparition. At the sight the cook furtively combed his hair with his
fingers, while Tim modestly buttoned up his jacket.

"Take this lantern, so’s I can hold her better," said Joe, extending it.

The cook took it from him, and holding it up, revealed the face of a
tall, good-looking woman of some seven or eight and twenty.

"What are you doin’ here?" demanded the watchman, with official
austerity.

"I’m waiting for a friend of mine," said the visitor, struggling with
Joe. "Make this man leave go of me, please."

"Joe," said the watchman, with severity. "I’m ashamed of you. Who is
your friend, miss?"

"His name is Robinson," said the lady. "He came on here about an hour
ago. I’m waiting for him."

"There’s nobody here," said the watchman, shaking his head.

"I’m not sure he didn’t go on that little ship," said the lady; "but if
he has, I suppose I can wait here till he comes off. I’m not doing any
harm."

"The ship’ll sail in about an hour’s time, miss," said Tim, regretfully,
"but there ain’t nobody o’ the name of Robinson aboard her. All the
crew’s ’ere, and there’s only the skipper and mate on her besides."

"You can’t deceive me, young man, so don’t try it," said the lady,
sharply. "I followed him on here, and he hasn’t gone off, because the
gate has been locked since."

"I can’t think who the lady means," said Joe.

"I ain’t seen nobody come aboard. If he did, he’s down the cabin."

"Well, I’ll go down there," said the lady, promptly.

"Well, miss, it’s nothing to do with us," said Joe, "but it’s my opinion
you’ll find the skipper and mate has turned in."

"Well, I’m going down," said the lady, gripping her parasol firmly by
the middle; "they can’t eat me."

She walked towards the Foam, followed by the perplexed crew, and with
the able assistance of five pairs of hands reached the deck. The
companion was open, and at Joe’s whispered instructions she turned and
descended the steps backwards.

It was at first quite dark in the cabin, but as the visitor’s eyes
became accustomed to it, she could just discern the outlines of a small
table, while a steady breathing assured her that somebody was sleeping
close by. Feeling her way to the table she discovered, a locker, and,
taking a seat, coughed gently. The breathing continuing quite
undisturbed, she coughed again, twice.

The breathing stopped suddenly. "Who the devil’s that coughing?" asked a
surprised voice.

"I beg pardon, I’m sure," said the visitor, "but is there a Mr. Robinson
down here?"

The reply was so faint and smothered that she could not hear it. It was
evident that the speaker, a modest man, was now speaking from beneath
the bedclothes.

"Is Mr. Robinson here?" she repeated loudly.

"Never heard of him," said the smothered voice.

"It’s my opinion," said the visitor, hotly, "that you’re trying to
deceive me. Have you got a match?"

The owner of the voice said that he had not, and with chilly propriety
added that he wouldn’t give it to her if he had. Whereupon the lady
rose, and, fumbling on the little mantel-piece, found a box and struck
one. There was a lamp nailed to the bulkhead over the mantel-piece, and
calmly removing the chimney, she lit it.

A red, excited face, with the bedclothes fast about its neck, appeared
in a small bunk and stared at her in speechless amaze. The visitor
returned his gaze calmly, and then looked carefully round the cabin.

"Where does that lead to?" she asked, pointing to the door of the
state-room.

The mate, remembering in time the mysterious behaviour of Flower,
considered the situation. "That’s the pantry," he said, untruthfully.

The visitor rose and tried the handle. The door was locked, and she
looked doubtfully at the mate. "I suppose that’s a leg of mutton I can
hear asleep in there," she said, with acerbity.

"You can suppose what you like," said the mate, testily; "why don’t you
go away? I’m surprised at you."

"You’ll be more surprised before I’ve done with you," said the lady,
with emotion. "My Fred’s in there, and you know it."

"Your Fred!" said Fraser, in great surprise.

"Mr. Robinson," said the visitor, correcting herself.

"I tell you there’s nobody in there except the skipper," said the mate.

"You said it was the pantry just now," exclaimed the other, sharply.

"The skipper sleeps in the pantry so’s he can keep his eye on the meat,"
explained Fraser.

The visitor looked at him angrily. "What sort of a man is he?" she
enquired, suddenly.

"You’ll soon know if he comes out," said the mate. "He’s the
worst-tempered man afloat, I should think. If he comes out and finds you
here, I don’t know what he’ll do."

"I’m not afraid of him," said the other, with spirit. "What do you call
him? Skipper?"

The mate nodded, and the visitor tapped loudly at the door. "Skipper!"
she cried, "Skipper!"

No answer being vouchsafed, she repeated her cry in a voice louder than
before.

"He’s a heavy sleeper," said the perturbed Fraser; "better go away,
there’s a good girl."

The lady, scornfully ignoring him, rapped on the door and again called
upon its occupant. Then, despite her assurance, she sprang back with a
scream as a reply burst through the door with the suddenness and fury of
a thunder-clap.

"Halloa!" it said.

"My goodness," said the visitor, aghast. "What a voice! What a terrible
voice!"

She recovered herself and again approached the door.

"Is there a gentleman named Robinson in there?" she asked, timidly.

"Gentleman named who?" came the thunderclap again.

"Robinson," said the lady, faintly.

"No! No!" said the thunder-clap. Then—"Go away," it rumbled. "Go away."

The reverberation of that mighty voice rolled and shook through the
cabin. It even affected the mate, for the visitor, glancing towards him,
saw that he had nervously concealed himself beneath the bedclothes, and
was shaking with fright.

"I daresay his bark is worse than his bite," said the visitor,
trembling; "anyway, I’m going to stay here. I saw Mr. Robinson come
here, and I believe he’s got him in there. Killing him, perhaps. Oh!
Oh!"

To the mate’s consternation she began to laugh, and then changed to a
piercing scream, and, unused to the sex as he was, he realised that this
was the much-dreaded hysteria of which he had often heard, and he faced
her with a face as pallid as her own.

"Chuck some water over yourself," he said, hastily, nodding at a jug
which stood on the table. "I can’t very well get up to do it myself."

The lady ignored this advice, and by dint of much strength of mind
regained her self-control. She sat down on the locker again, and folding
her arms showed clearly her intention to remain.

Half an hour passed; the visitor still sat grimly upright. Twice she
sniffed slightly, and, with a delicate handkerchief, pushed up her veil
and wiped away the faint beginnings of a tear.

"I suppose you think I’m acting strangely?" she said, catching the
mate’s eye after one of these episodes.

"Oh, don’t mind me," said the mate, with studied politeness; "don’t mind
hurting my feelings or taking my character away."

"Pooh! you’re a man," said the visitor, scornfully; "but character or no
character, I’m going to see into that room before I go away, if I sit
here for three weeks."

"How’re you going to manage about eating and drinking all that time?"
enquired Fraser.

"How are you?" said the visitor; "you can’t get up while I’m here, you
know."

"Well, we’ll see," said the mate, vaguely.

"I’m sure I don’t want to annoy anybody," said the visitor, softly, "but
I’ve had a lot of trouble, young man, and what’s worse, I’ve been made a
fool of. This day three weeks ago I ought to have been married."

"I’m sure you ought," murmured the other.

The lady ignored the interruption.

"Travelling under Government on secret service, he said he was," she
continued; "always away: here to-day, China to-morrow, and America the
day after."

"Flying?" queried the interested mate.

"I daresay," snapped the visitor; "anything to tell me, I suppose. We
were to be married by special license. I’d even got my trousseau ready."

"Got your what ready?" enquired the mate, to whom the word was new,
leaning out of his bunk.

"Everything to wear," explained the visitor. "All my relations bought
new clothes, too; leastways, those that could afford it did. He even
went and helped me choose the cake."

"Well, is that wrong?" asked the puzzled mate.

"He didn’t buy it, he only chose it," said the other, having recourse to
her handkerchief again. "He went outside the shop to see whether there
was one he would like better, and when I came out he had disappeared."

"He must have met with an accident," said the mate, politely.

"I saw him to-night," said the lady, tersely.

"Once or twice he had mentioned Wapping in conversation, and then seemed
to check himself. That was my clue. I’ve been round this dismal
heathenish place for a fortnight. To-night I saw him; he came on this
wharf, and he has not gone off.... It’s my belief he’s in that room."

Before the mate could reply the hoarse voice of the watchman came down
the company-way. "Ha’ past eleven, sir; tide’s just on the turn."

"Aye, aye," said the mate. He turned imploringly to the visitor.

"Would you do me the favour just to step on deck a minute?"

"What for?" enquired the visitor, shortly.

"Because I want to get up," said the mate.

"I sha’n’t move," said the lady.

"But I’ve got to get up, I tell you," said the mate; "we’re getting
under way in ten minutes."

"And what might that be?" asked the lady.

"Why, we make a start. You’d better go ashore unless you want to be
carried off."

"I sha’n’t move," repeated the visitor.

"Well, I’m sorry to be rude," said the mate. "George."

"Sir," said the watchman from above.

"Bring down a couple o’ men and take this lady ashore," said the mate
sternly.

"I’ll send a couple down, sir," said the watchman, and moved off to make
a selection.

"I shall scream ’murder and thieves,’" said the lady, her eyes gleaming.
"I’ll bring the police up and cause a scandal. Then perhaps I shall see
into that room."

In the face of determination like this the mate’s courage gave way, and
in a voice of much anxiety he called upon his captain for instruction.

"Cast off," bellowed the mighty voice. "If your sweetheart won’t go
ashore she must come, too. You must pay her passage."

"Well, of all the damned impudence," muttered the incensed mate. "Well,
if you’re bent on coming," he said, hotly, to the visitor, "just go on
deck while I dress."

The lady hesitated a moment and then withdrew. On deck the men eyed her
curiously, but made no attempt to interfere with her, and in a couple of
minutes the mate came running up to take charge.

"Where are we going?" enquired the lady with a trace of anxiety in her
voice.

"France," said Fraser, turning away.

The visitor looked nervously round. At the adjoining wharf a sailing
barge was also getting under way, and a large steamer was slowly turning
in the middle of the river. She took a pace or two towards the side.

"Cast off," said Fraser, impatiently, to the watchman.

"Wait a minute," said the visitor, hastily, "I want to think."

"Cast off," repeated the mate.

The watchman obeyed, and the schooner’s side moved slowly from the
wharf. At the sight the visitor’s nerve forsook her, and with a frantic
cry she ran to the side and, catching the watchman’s outstretched hand,
sprang ashore.

"Good-bye," sang out the mate; "sorry you wouldn’t come to France with
us. The lady was afraid of the foreigners, George. If it had been
England she wouldn’t have minded."

"Aye, aye," said the watchman, significantly, and, as the schooner
showed her stern, turned to answer, with such lies as he thought the
occasion demanded, the eager questions of his fair companion.



CHAPTER III.



Captain Flower, learning through the medium of Tim that the coast was
clear, came on deck at Limehouse, and took charge of his ship with a
stateliness significant of an uneasy conscience. He noticed with growing
indignation that the mate’s attitude was rather that of an accomplice
than a subordinate, and that the crew looked his way far oftener than
was necessary or desirable.

"I told her we were going to France," said the mate, in an impressive
whisper.

"Her?" said Flower, curtly. "Who?"

"The lady you didn’t want to see," said Fraser, restlessly.

"You let your ideas run away with you, Jack," said Flower, yawning. "It
wasn’t likely I was going to turn out and dress to see any girl you
liked to invite aboard."

"Or even to bawl at them through the speaking-trumpet," said Fraser,
looking at him steadily.

"What sort o’looking girl was she?" enquired Flower, craning his neck to
see what was in front of him.

"Looked like a girl who meant to find the man she wanted, if she spent
ten years over it," said the mate grimly. "I’ll bet you an even five
shillings, cap’n, that she finds this Mr. Robinson before six weeks are
out—whatever his other name is."

"Maybe," said Flower, carelessly.

"It’s her first visit to the Foam, but not the last, you mark my words,"
said Fraser, solemnly. "If she wants this rascal Robinson——"

"What?" interrupted Flower, sharply.

"I say if she wants this rascal Robinson," repeated the mate, with
relish, "she’ll naturally come where she saw the last trace of him."

Captain Flower grunted.

"Women never think," continued Fraser, judicially, "or else she’d be
glad to get rid of such a confounded scoundrel."

"What do you know about him?" demanded Flower.

"I know what she told me," said Fraser; "the idea of a man leaving a
poor girl in a cake-shop and doing a bolt. He’ll be punished for it, I
know. He’s a thoughtless, inconsiderate fellow, but one of the
best-hearted chaps in the world, and I guess I’ll do the best I can for
him."

Flower grinned safely in the darkness. "And any little help I can give
you, Jack, I’ll give freely," he said, softly. "We’ll talk it over at
breakfast."

The mate took the hint, and, moving off, folded his arms on the
taffrail, and, looking idly astern, fell into a reverie. Like the
Pharisee, he felt thankful that he was not as other men, and dimly
pitied the skipper and his prosaic entanglements, as he thought of
Poppy. He looked behind at the dark and silent city, and felt a new
affection for it, as he reflected that she was sleeping there.

The two men commenced their breakfast in silence, the skipper eating
with a zest which caused the mate to allude impatiently to the last
break-fasts of condemned men.

"Shut the skylight, Jack," said the skipper, at length, as he poured out
his third cup of coffee.

Fraser complied, and resuming his seat gazed at him with almost indecent
expectancy. The skipper dropped some sugar into his coffee, and stirring
it in a meditative fashion, sighed gently.

"I’ve been making a fool of myself, Jack," he said, at length. "I was
always one to be fond of a little bit of adventure, but this goes a
little too far, even for me."

"But what did you get engaged to her for?" enquired Fraser.

Flower shook his head. "She fell violently in love with me," he said,
mournfully. "She keeps the Blue Posts up at Chelsea. Her father left it
to her. She manages her step-mother and her brother and everybody else.
I was just a child in her hands. You know my easy-going nature."

"But you made love to her," expostulated the mate.

"In a way, I suppose I did," admitted the other. "I don’t know now
whether she could have me up for breach of promise, because when I asked
her I did it this way. I said, ’Will you be Mrs. Robinson?’ What do you
think?"

"I should think it would make it harder for you," said Fraser. "But
didn’t you remember Miss Banks while all this was going on?"

"In a way," said Flower, "yes—in a way. But after a man’s been engaged
to a woman nine years, it’s very easy to forget, and every year makes it
easier. Besides, I was only a boy when I was engaged to her."

"Twenty-eight," said Fraser.

"Anyway, I wasn’t old enough to know my own mind," said Flower, "and my
uncle and old Mrs. Banks made it up between them. They arranged
everything, and I can’t afford to offend the old man. If I married Miss
Tipping—that’s the Blue Posts girl—he’d leave his money away from me;
and if I marry Elizabeth, Miss Tipping’ll have me up for breach of
promise—if she finds me."

"If you’re not very careful," said Fraser, impressively, "you’ll lose
both of ’em."

The skipper leaned over the table, and glanced carefully round. "Just
what I want to do," he said, in a low voice. "I’m engaged to another
girl."

"What?" cried the mate, raising his voice. "Three?"

"Three," repeated the skipper. "Only three," he added, hastily, as he
saw a question trembling on the other’s lips.

"I’m ashamed of you," said the latter, severely; "you ought to know
better."

"I don’t want any of your preaching, Jack," said the skipper, briskly;
"and, what’s more, I won’t have it. I deserve more pity than blame."

"You’ll want all you can get," said Fraser, ominously. "And does the
other girl know of any of the others?"

"Of either of the others—no," corrected Flower. "Of course, none of them
know. You don’t think I’m a fool, do you?"

"Who is number three?" enquired the mate suddenly.

"Poppy Tyrell," replied the other.

"Oh," said Fraser, trying to speak unconcernedly; "the girl who came
here last evening."

Flower nodded. "She’s the one I’m going to marry," he said, colouring.
"I’d sooner marry her than command a liner. I’ll marry her if I lose
every penny I’m going to have, but I’m not going to lose the money if I
can help it. I want both."

The mate baled out his cup with a spoon and put the contents into the
saucer.

"I’m a sort of guardian to her," said Flower. "Her father, Captain
Tyrell, died about a year ago, and I promised him I’d look after her and
marry her. It’s a sacred promise."

"Besides, you want to," said Fraser, by no means in the mood to allow
his superior any credit in the matter, "else you wouldn’t do it."

"You don’t know me, Jack," said the skipper, more in sorrow than in
anger.

"No, I didn’t think you were quite so bad," said the mate, slowly.
"Is—Miss Tyrell—fond of you?"

"Of course she is," said Flower, indignantly; "they all are, that’s the
worst of it. You were never much of a favourite with the sex, Jack, were
you?"

Fraser shook his head, and, the saucer being full, spooned the contents
slowly back into the cup again.

"Captain Tyrell leave any money?" he enquired.

"Other way about," replied Flower. "I lent him, altogether, close on a
hundred pounds. He was a man of very good position, but he took to drink
and lost his ship and his self-respect, and all he left behind was his
debts and his daughter."

"Well, you’re in a tight place," said Fraser, "and I don’t see how
you’re going to get out of it. Miss Tipping’s got a bit of a clue to you
now, and if she once discovers you, you’re done. Besides, suppose Miss
Tyrell finds anything out?"

"It’s all excitement," said Flower, cheerfully. "I’ve been in worse
scrapes than this and always got out of ’em. I don’t like a quiet life.
I never worry about things, Jack, because I’ve noticed that the things
people worry about never happen."

"Well, if I were you, then," said the other, emphasizing his point with
the spoon, "I should just worry as much as I could about it. I’d get up
worrying and I’d go to bed worrying. I’d worry about it in my sleep."

"I shall come out of it all right," said Flower. "I rather enjoy it.
There’s Gibson would marry Elizabeth like a shot if she’d have him; but,
of course, she won’t look at him while I’m above ground. I have thought
of getting somebody to tell Elizabeth a lot of lies about me."

"Why, wouldn’t the truth do?" enquired the mate, artlessly.

The skipper turned a deaf ear. "But she wouldn’t believe a word against
me," he said, with mournful pride, as he rose and went on deck. "She
trusts me too much."

From his knitted brows, as he steered, it was evident, despite his
confidence, that this amiable weakness on the part of Miss Banks was
causing him some anxiety, a condition which was not lessened by the
considerate behaviour of the mate, who, when any fresh complication
suggested itself to him, dutifully submitted it to his commander.

"I shall be all right," said Flower, confidently, as they entered the
river the following afternoon and sailed slowly along the narrow channel
which wound its sluggish way through an expanse of mud-banks to
Seabridge.

The mate, who was suffering from symptoms hitherto unknown to him, made
no reply. His gaze wandered idly from the sloping uplands, stretching
away into the dim country on the starboard side, to the little
church-crowned town ahead, with its out-lying malt houses and neglected,
grass-grown quay, A couple of moribund ship’s boats lay rotting in the
mud, and the skeleton of a fishing-boat completed the picture. For the
first time perhaps in his life, the landscape struck him as dull and
dreary.

Two men of soft and restful movements appeared on the quay as they
approached, and with the slowness characteristic of the best work,
helped to make them fast in front of the red-tiled barn which served as
a warehouse. Then Captain Flower, after descending to the cabin to make
the brief shore-going toilet necessary for Seabridge society, turned to
give a last word to the mate.

"I’m not one to care much what’s said about me, Jack," he began, by way
of preface.

"That’s a good job for you," said Fraser, slowly.

"Same time let the hands know I wish ’em to keep their mouths shut,"
pursued the skipper; "just tell them it was a girl that you knew, and I
don’t want it talked about for fear of getting you into trouble. Keep me
out of it; that’s all I ask."

"If cheek will pull you through," said Fraser, with a slight display of
emotion, "you’ll do. Perhaps I’d better say that Miss Tyrell came to see
me, too. How would you like that?"

"Ah, it would be as well," said Flower, heartily. "I never thought of
it."

He stepped ashore, and at an easy pace walked along the steep road which
led to the houses above. The afternoon was merging into evening, and a
pleasant stillness was in the air. Menfolk working in their cottage
gardens saluted him as he passed, and the occasional whiteness of a face
at the back of a window indicated an interest in his affairs on the part
of the fairer citizens of Seabridge. At the gate of the first of an
ancient row of cottages, conveniently situated within hail of The
Grapes, The Thorn, and The Swan, he paused, and walking up the trim-kept
garden path, knocked at the door.

It was opened by a stranger—a woman of early middle age, dressed in a
style to which the inhabitants of the row had long been unaccustomed.
The practised eye of the skipper at once classed her as "rather
good-looking."

"Captain Barber’s in the garden," she said, smiling. "He wasn’t
expecting you’d be up just yet."

The skipper followed her in silence, and, after shaking hands with the
short, red-faced man with the grey beard and shaven lip, who sat with a
paper on his knee, stood watching in blank astonishment as the stranger
carefully filled the old man’s pipe and gave him a light. Their eyes
meeting, the uncle winked solemnly at the nephew.

"This is Mrs. Church," he said, slowly; "this is my nevy, Cap’n Fred
Flower."

"I should have known him anywhere," declared Mrs. Church; "the likeness
is wonderful."

Captain Barber chuckled—loudly enough for them to hear.

"Me and Mrs. Church have been watering the flowers," he said. "Give ’em
a good watering, we have."

"I never really knew before what a lot there was in watering," admitted
Mrs. Church.

"There’s a right way and a wrong in doing everything," said Captain
Barber, severely; "most people chooses the wrong. If it wasn’t so, those
of us who have got on, wouldn’t have got on."

"That’s very true," said Mrs. Church, shaking her head.

"And them as haven’t got on would have got on," said the philosopher,
following up his train of thought. "If you would just go out and get
them things I spoke to you about, Mrs. Church, we shall be all right."

"Who is it?" enquired the nephew, as soon as she had gone.

Captain Barber looked stealthily round, and, for the second time that
evening, winked at his nephew.

"A visitor?" said Flower.

Captain Barber winked again, and then laughed into his pipe until it
gurgled.

"It’s a little plan o’ mine." he said, when he had become a little more
composed. "She’s my housekeeper."

"Housekeeper?" repeated the astonished Flower.

"Bein’ all alone here," said Uncle Barber, "I think a lot. I sit an’
think until I get an idea. It comes quite sudden like, and I wonder I
never thought of it before."

"But what did you want a housekeeper for?" enquired his nephew. "Where’s
Lizzie?"

"I got rid of her," said Captain Barber. "I got a housekeeper because I
thought it was time you got married. Now do you see?"

"No," said Flower, shortly.

Captain Barber laughed softly and, relighting his pipe which had gone
out, leaned back in his chair and again winked at his indignant nephew.

"Mrs. Banks," he said, suggestively.

His nephew gazed at him blankly.

Captain Barber, sighing good-naturedly at his dulness, turned his chair
a bit and explained the situation.

"Mrs. Banks won’t let you and Elizabeth marry till she’s gone," said he.

His nephew nodded.

"I’ve been at her ever so long," said the other, "but she’s firm. Now
I’m trying artfulness. I’ve got a good-looking housekeeper—she’s the
pick o’ seventeen what all come here Wednesday morning—and I’m making
love to her."

"Making love to her," shouted his nephew, gazing wildly at the venerable
bald head with the smoking-cap resting on one huge ear.

"Making love to her," repeated Captain Barber, with a satisfied air.
"What’ll happen? Mrs. Banks, to prevent me getting married, as she
thinks, will give her consent to you an’ Elizabeth getting tied up."

"Haven’t you ever heard of breach of promise cases?" asked his nephew,
aghast.

"There’s no fear o’ that," said Captain Barber, confidently. "It’s all
right with Mrs. Church she’s a widder. A widder ain’t like a young girl
she knows you don’t mean anything."

It was useless to argue with such stupendous folly; Captain Flower tried
another tack.

"And suppose Mrs. Church gets fond of you," he said, gravely. "It
doesn’t seem right to trifle with a woman’s affections like that."

"I won’t go too far," said the lady-killer in the smoking-cap,
reassuringly.

"Elizabeth and her mother are still away, I suppose?" said Flower, after
a pause.

His uncle nodded.

"So, of course, you needn’t do much love-making till they come back,"
said his nephew; "it’s waste of time, isn’t it?"

"I’ll just keep my hand in," said Captain Barber, thoughtfully. "I can’t
say as I find it disagreeable. I was always one to take a little notice
of the sects."

He got up to go indoors. "Never mind about them," he said, as his nephew
was about to follow with the chair and his tobacco-jar; "Mrs. Church
likes to do that herself, and she’d be disappointed if anybody else did
it."

His nephew followed him to the house in silence, listening later on with
a gloomy feeling of alarm to the conversation at the supper-table. The
rôle of gooseberry was new to him, and when Mrs. Church got up from the
table for the sole purpose of proving her contention that Captain Barber
looked better in his black velvet smoking-cap than the one he was
wearing he was almost on the point of exceeding his duties.

He took the mate into his confidence the next day, and asked him what he
thought of it. Fraser said that it was evidently in the blood, and,
being pressed with some heat for an explanation, said that he meant
Captain Barber’s blood.

"It’s bad, any way I look at it," said Flower; "it may bring matters
between me and Elizabeth to a head, or it may end in my uncle marrying
the woman."

"Very likely both," said Fraser, cheerfully. "Is this Mrs. Church
good-looking?"

"I can hardly say," said Flower, pondering.

"Well, good-looking enough for you to feel inclined to take any notice
of her?" asked the mate.

"When you can talk seriously," said the skipper, in great wrath, "I’ll
be pleased to answer you. Just at present I don’t feel in the sort of
temper to be made fun of."

He walked off in dudgeon, and, until they were on their way to London
again, treated the mate with marked coldness. Then the necessity of
talking to somebody about his own troubles and his uncle’s idiocy put
the two men on their old footing. In the quietness of the cabin, over a
satisfying pipe, he planned out in a kindly and generous spirit careers
for both the ladies he was not going to marry. The only thing that was
wanted to complete their happiness, and his, was that they should fall
in with the measures proposed.



CHAPTER IV.



At No. 5 Liston Street, Poppy Tyrell sat at the open window of her room
reading The outside air was pleasant, despite the fact that Poplar is a
somewhat crowded neighbourhood, and it was rendered more pleasant by
comparison with the atmosphere inside, which, from a warm, soft smell
not to be described by comparison, suggested washing. In the stone-paved
yard beneath the window, a small daughter of the house hung out garments
of various hues and shapes, while inside, in the scullery, the master of
the house was doing the family washing with all the secrecy and
trepidation of one engaged in an unlawful task. The Wheeler family was a
large one, and the wash heavy, and besides misadventures to one or two
garments, sorted out for further consideration, the small girl was
severely critical about the colour, averring sharply that she was almost
ashamed to put them on the line.

"They’ll dry clean," said her father, wiping his brow with the upper
part of his arm, the only part which was dry; "and if they don’t we must
tell your mother that the line came down. I’ll show these to her now."

He took up the wet clothes and, cautiously leaving the scullery, crossed
the passage to the parlour, where Mrs. Wheeler, a confirmed invalid, was
lying on a ramshackle sofa, darning socks. Mr. Wheeler coughed to
attract her attention, and with an apologetic expression of visage held
up a small, pink garment of the knickerbocker species, and prepared for
the worst.

"They’ve never shrunk like that?" said Mrs. Wheeler, starting up.

"They have," said her husband, "all by itself," he added, in hasty
self-defence.

"You’ve had it in the soda," said Mrs. Wheeler, disregarding.

"I’ve not," said Mr. Wheeler, vehemently. "I’ve got the two tubs there,
flannels in one without soda, the other things in the other with soda.
It’s bad stuff, that’s what it is. I thought I’d show you."

"It’s management they want," said Mrs. Wheeler, wearily; "it’s the touch
you have to give ’em. I can’t explain, but I know they wouldn’t have
gone like that if I’d done ’em. What’s that you’re hiding behind you?"

Thus attacked, Mr. Wheeler produced his other hand, and shaking out a
blue and white shirt, showed how the blue had been wandering over the
white territory, and how the white had apparently accepted a permanent
occupation.

"What do you say to that?" he enquired, desperately.

"You’d better ask Bob what he says," said his wife, aghast; "you know
how pertickler he is, too. I told you as plain as a woman could speak,
not to boil that shirt."

"Well, it can’t be helped," said Mr. Wheeler, with a philosophy he hoped
his son would imitate. "I wasn’t brought up to the washing, Polly."

"It’s a sin to spoil good things like that," said Mrs. Wheeler,
fretfully. "Bob’s quite the gentleman—he will buy such expensive shirts.
Take it away, I can’t bear to look at it."

Mr. Wheeler, considerably crestfallen, was about to obey, when he was
startled by a knock at the door.

"That’s Captain Flower, I expect," said his wife, hastily; "he’s going
to take Poppy and Emma to a theatre to-night. Don’t let him see you in
that state, Peter."

But Mr. Wheeler was already fumbling at the strings of his apron, and,
despairing of undoing it, broke the string, and pitched it with the
other clothes under the sofa and hastily donned his coat.

"Good-evening," said Flower, as Mr. Wheeler opened the door; "this is my
mate."

"Glad to see you, sir," said Mr. Wheeler.

The mate made his acknowledgments, and having shaken hands, carefully
wiped his down the leg of his trousers.

"Moist hand you’ve got, Wheeler," said Flower, who had been doing the
same thing.

"Got some dye on ’em at the docks," said Wheeler, glibly. "I’ve ’ad ’em
in soak."

Flower nodded, and after a brief exchange of courtesies with Mrs.
Wheeler as he passed the door, led the way up the narrow staircase to
Miss Tyrell’s room.

"I’ve brought him with me, so that he’ll be company for Emma Wheeler,"
said the skipper, as Fraser shook hands with her, "and you must look
sharp if you want to get good seats.

"I’m ready all but my hat and jacket," said Poppy, "and Emma’s in her
room getting ready, too. All the children are up there helping her."

Fraser opened his eyes at such a toilet, and began secretly to wish that
he had paid more attention to his own.

"I hope you’re not shy?" said Miss Tyrell, who found his steadfast gaze
somewhat embarrassing.

Fraser shook his head. "No, I’m not shy," he said, quietly.

"Because Emma didn’t know you were coming," continued Miss Tyrell, "and
she’s always shy. So you must be bold, you know."

The mate nodded as confidently as he could. "Shyness has never been one
of my failings," he said, nervously.

Further conversation was rendered difficult, if not impossible, by one
which now took place outside. It was conducted between a small Wheeler
on the top of the stairs and Mrs. Wheeler in the parlour below. The
subject was hairpins, an article in which it appeared Miss Wheeler was
lamentably deficient, owing, it was suggested, to a weakness of Mrs.
Wheeler’s for picking up stray ones and putting them in her hair. The
conversation ended in Mrs. Wheeler, whose thin voice was heard hotly
combating these charges, parting with six, without prejudice; and a few
minutes later Miss Wheeler, somewhat flushed, entered the room and was
introduced to the mate.

"All ready?" enquired Flower, as Miss Tyrell drew on her gloves.

They went downstairs in single file, the builder of the house having
left no option in the matter, while the small Wheelers, breathing hard
with excitement, watched them over the balusters. Outside the house the
two ladies paired off, leaving the two men to follow behind.

The mate noticed, with a strong sense of his own unworthiness, that the
two ladies seemed thoroughly engrossed in each other’s company, and
oblivious to all else. A suggestion from Flower that he should close up
and take off Miss Wheeler, seemed to him to border upon audacity, but he
meekly followed Flower as that bold mariner ranged himself alongside the
girls, and taking two steps on the curb and three in the gutter, walked
along for some time trying to think of something to say.

"There ain’t room for four abreast," said Flower, who had been scraping
against the wall. "We’d better split up into twos."

At the suggestion the ladies drifted apart, and Flower, taking Miss
Tyrell’s arm, left the mate behind with Miss Wheeler, nervously
wondering whether he ought to do the same.

"I hope it won’t rain," he said, at last.

"I hope not," said Miss Wheeler, glancing up at a sky which was
absolutely cloudless.

"So bad for ladies’ dresses," continued the mate.

"What is?" enquired Miss Wheeler, who had covered some distance since
the last remark.

"Rain," said the mate, quite freshly. "I don’t think we shall have any,
though."

Miss Wheeler whose life had been passed in a neighbourhood in which
there was only one explanation for such conduct, concluded that he had
been drinking, and, closing her lips tightly, said no more until they
reached the theatre.

"Oh, they’re going in," she said, quickly; "we shall get a bad seat."

"Hurry up," cried Flower, beckoning.

"I’ll pay," whispered the mate.

"No, I will," said Flower. "Well, you pay for one and I’ll pay for one,
then."

He pushed his way to the window and bought a couple of pit-stalls; the
mate, who had not consulted him, bought upper-circles, and, with a
glance at the ladies, pushed open the swing-doors.

"Come on," he said, excitedly; and seeing several people racing up the
broad stone stairs, he and Miss Tyrell raced with them.

"Round this side," he cried, hastily, as he gave up the tickets, and,
followed by Miss Tyrell, quickly secured a couple of seats at the end of
the front row.

"Best seats in the house almost," said Poppy, cheerfully.

"Where are the others?" said Fraser, looking round.

"Coming on behind, I suppose," said Poppy glancing over her shoulder.

"I’ll change places when they arrive," said the other, apologetically;
"something’s detained them, I should think. I hope they’re not waiting
for us."

He stood looking about him uneasily as the seats behind rapidly filled,
and closely scanned their occupants, and then, leaving his hat on the
seat, walked back in perplexity to the door.

"Never mind," said Miss Tyrell, quietly, as he came back. "I daresay
they’ll find us."

Fraser bought a programme and sat down, the brim of Miss Tyrell’s hat
touching his face as she bent to peruse it. With her small gloved finger
she pointed out the leading characters, and taking no notice of his
restlessness, began to chat gaily about the plays she had seen, until a
tuning of violins from the orchestra caused her to lean forward, her
lips parted and her eyes beaming with anticipation.

"I do hope the others have got good seats," she said, softly, as the
overture finished; "that’s everything, isn’t it?"

"I hope so," said Fraser.

He leaned forward, excitedly. Not because the curtain was rising, but
because he had just caught sight of a figure standing up in the centre
of the pit-stalls. He had just time to call his companion’s attention to
it when the figure, in deference to the threats and entreaties of the
people behind, sat down and was lost in the crowd.

"They have got good seats," said Miss Tyrell. "I’m so glad. What a
beautiful scene."

The mate, stifling his misgivings, gave himself up to the enjoyment of
the situation, which in-eluded answering the breathless whispers of his
neighbour when she missed a sentence, and helping her to discover the
identity of the characters from the programme as they appeared.

"I should like it all over again," said Miss Tyrell, sitting back in her
seat, as the curtain fell on the first act.

Fraser agreed with her. He was closely watching the pit-stalls. In the
general movement on the part of the audience which followed the lowering
of the curtain, the master of the Foam was the first on his feet.

"I’ll go down and send him up," said Fraser, rising.

Miss Tyrell demurred, and revealed an unsuspected timidity of character.
"I don’t like being left here all alone," she remarked. "Wait till they
see us."

She spoke in the plural, for Miss Wheeler, who found the skipper
exceedingly bad company, had also risen, and was scrutinising the house
with a gaze hardly less eager than his own. A suggestion of the mate
that he should wave his handkerchief was promptly negatived by Miss
Tyrell, on the ground that it would not be the correct thing to do in
the upper-circle, and they were still undiscovered when the curtain went
up for the second act, and strong and willing hands from behind thrust
the skipper back into his seat.

"I expect you’ll catch it," said Miss Tyrell, softly, as the performance
came to an end; "we’d better go down and wait for them outside. I never
enjoyed a piece so much."

The mate rose and mingled with the crowd, conscious of a little
occasional clutch at his sleeve whenever other people threatened to come
between them. Outside the crowd dispersed slowly, and it was some
minutes before they discovered a small but compact knot of two waiting
for them.

"Where the—" began Flower.

"I hope you enjoyed the performance, Captain Flower," said Miss Tyrell,
drawing herself up with some dignity. "I didn’t know that I was supposed
to look out for myself all the evening. If it hadn’t been for Mr. Fraser
I should have been all alone."

She looked hard at Miss Wheeler as she spoke, and the couple from the
pit-stalls reddened with indignation at being so misunderstood.

"I’m sure I didn’t want him," said Miss Wheeler, hastily. "Two or three
times I thought there would have been a fight with the people behind."

"Oh, it doesn’t matter," said Miss Tyrell, composedly. "Well, it’s no
good standing here. We’d better get home."

She walked off with the mate, leaving the couple behind, who realised
that appearances were against them, to follow at their leisure.
Conversation was mostly on her side, the mate being too much occupied
with his defence to make any very long or very coherent replies.

They reached Liston Street at last, and separated at the door, Miss
Tyrell shaking hands with the skipper in a way which conveyed in the
fullest possible manner her opinion of his behaviour that evening. A
bright smile and a genial hand-shake were reserved for the mate.

"And now," said the incensed skipper, breathing deeply as the door
closed and they walked up Liston Street, "what the deuce do you mean by
it?"

"Mean by what?" demanded the mate, who, after much thought, had decided
to take a leaf out of Miss Tyrell’s book.

"Mean by leaving me in another part of the house with that Wheeler girl
while you and my intended went off together?" growled Flower
ferociously.

"Well, I could only think you wanted it," said Fraser, in a firm voice.

"What?" demanded the other, hardly able to believe his ears

"I thought you wanted Miss Wheeler for number four," said the mate,
calmly. "You know what a chap you are, cap’n."

His companion stopped and regarded him in speechless amaze, then
realising a vocabulary to which Miss Wheeler had acted as a safety-valve
all the evening, he turned up a side street and stamped his way back to
the Foam alone.



CHAPTER V.



THE same day that Flower and his friends visited the theatre, Captain
Barber gave a small and select tea-party. The astonished Mrs. Banks had
returned home with her daughter the day before to find the air full of
rumours about Captain Barber and his new housekeeper. They had been
watched for hours at a time from upper back windows of houses in the
same row, and the professional opinion of the entire female element was
that Mrs. Church could land her fish at any time she thought fit.

"Old fools are the worst of fools," said Mrs. Banks, tersely, as she
tied her bonnet strings; "the idea of Captain Barber thinking of
marrying at his time of life."

"Why shouldn’t he?" enquired her daughter.

"Why because he’s promised to leave his property to Fred and you, of
course," snapped the old lady; "if he marries that hussy it’s precious
little you and Fred will get."

"I expect it’s mostly talk," said her daughter calmly, as she closed the
street door behind her indignant parent. "People used to talk about you
and old Mr. Wilders, and there was nothing in it. He only used to come
for a glass of your ale."

This reference to an admirer who had consumed several barrels of the
liquor in question without losing his head, put the finishing touch to
the elder lady’s wrath, and she walked the rest of the way in ominous
silence.

Captain Barber received them in the elaborate velvet smoking-cap with
the gold tassel which had evoked such strong encomiums from Mrs. Church,
and in a few well-chosen words—carefully rehearsed that
afternoon—presented his housekeeper.

"Will you come up to my room and take your things off?" enquired Mrs.
Church, returning the old lady’s hostile stare with interest.

"I’ll take mine off down here, if Captain Barber doesn’t mind," said the
latter, subsiding into a chair with a gasp. "Him and me’s very old
friends."

She unfastened the strings of her bonnet, and, taking off that article
of attire, placed it in her lap while she unfastened her shawl. She then
held both out to Mrs. Church, briefly exhorting her to be careful.

"Oh, what a lovely bonnet," said that lady, in false ecstasy. "What a
perfect beauty! I’ve never seen anything like it before. Never!"

Captain Barber, smiling at the politeness of his housekeeper, was
alarmed and perplexed at the generous colour which suddenly filled the
old lady’s cheeks.

"Mrs. Banks made it herself," he said, "she’s very clever at that sort
of thing."

"There, do you know I guessed as much," said Mrs. Church, beaming;
"directly I saw it, I said to myself: ’That was never made by a
milliner. There’s too much taste in the way the flowers are arranged.’"

Mrs. Banks looked at her daughter, in a mute appeal for help.

"I’ll take yours up, too, shall I?" said the amiable housekeeper, as
Mrs. Banks, with an air of defying criticism, drew a cap from a
paper-bag and put it on.

"I’ll take mine myself, please," said Miss Banks, with coldness.

"Oh, well, you may as well take them all then," said Mrs. Church,
putting the mother’s bonnet and shawl in her arms. "I’ll go and see that
the kettle boils," she said, briskly.

She returned a minute or two later with the teapot, and setting chairs,
took the head of the table.

"And how’s the leg?" enquired Captain Barber, misinterpreting Mrs.
Banks’ screwed-up face.

"Which one?" asked Mrs. Banks, shortly.

"The bad ’un," said the captain.

"They’re both bad," said Mrs. Banks more shortly than before, as she
noticed that Mrs. Church had got real lace in her cuffs and was pouring
out the tea in full consciousness of the fact.

"Dear, dear," said the Captain sympathetically.

"Swollen?" enquired Mrs. Church, anxiously.

"Swelled right out of shape," exclaimed Captain Barber, impressively;
"like pillars almost they are."

"Poor thing," said Mrs. Church, in a voice which made Mrs. Banks itch to
slap her. "I knew a lady once just the same, but she was a drinking
woman."

Again Mrs. Banks at a loss for words, looked at her daughter for
assistance.

"Dear me, how dreadful it must be to know such people," said Mrs. Banks,
shivering.

"Yes," sighed the other. "It used to make me feel sorry for her—they
were utterly shapeless, you know. Horrid!"

"That’s how Mrs. Banks’ are," said the Captain, nodding sagely. "You
look ’ot, Mrs. Banks. Shall I open the winder a bit?"

"I’ll thank you not to talk about me like that, Captain Barber," said
Mrs. Banks, the flowers on her hat trembling.

"As you please, ma’am," said Captain Barber, with a stateliness which
deserved a better subject. "I was only repeating what Dr. Hodder told me
in your presence."

Mrs. Banks made no reply, but created a diversion by passing her cup up
for more tea; her feelings, when Mrs. Church took off the lid of the
teapot and poured in about a pint of water before helping her, belonging
to that kind known as in-describable.

"Water bewitched, and tea begrudged," she said, trying to speak
jocularly.

"Well, the fourth cup never is very good, is it," said Mrs. Church,
apologetically. "I’ll put some more tea in, so that your next cup’ll be
better."

As a matter of fact it was Mrs. Banks’ third cup, and she said so, Mrs.
Church receiving the correction with a polite smile, more than tinged
with incredulity.

"It’s wonderful what a lot of tea is drunk," said Captain Barber,
impressively, looking round the table.

"I’ve heard say it’s like spirit drinking," said Mrs. Church; "they say
it gets such a hold of people that they can’t give it up. They’re just
slaves to it, and they like it brown and strong like brandy."

Mrs. Banks, who had been making noble efforts, could contain herself no
longer. She put down the harmless beverage which had just been handed to
her, and pushed her chair back from the table.

"Are you speaking of me, young woman?" she asked, tremulous with
indignation.

"Oh, no, certainly not," said Mrs. Church, in great distress. "I never
thought of such a thing. I was alluding to the people Captain Barber was
talking of—regular tea-drinkers, you know."

"I know what you mean, ma’am," said Mrs. Banks fiercely.

"There, there," said Captain Barber, ill-advisedly.

"Don’t you say ’there, there,’ to me, Captain Barber, because I won’t
have it," said the old lady, speaking with great rapidity; "if you think
that I’m going to sit here and be insulted by—by that woman, you’re
mistaken."

"You’re quite mistook, Mrs. Banks," said the Captain, slowly. "I’ve
heard everything she said, and, where the insult comes in, I’m sure I
don’t know. I don’t think I’m wanting in common sense, ma’am."

He patted the housekeeper’s hand kindly, and, in full view of the
indignant Mrs. Banks, she squeezed his in return and gazed at him
affectionately. There is nothing humourous to the ordinary person in a
teacup, but Mrs. Banks, looking straight into hers, broke into a short,
derisive laugh.

"Anything the matter, ma’am?" enquired Cap-tain Barber, regarding her
somewhat severely.

Mrs. Banks shook her head. "Only thoughts," she said, mysteriously.

It is difficult for a man to object to his visitors finding amusement in
their thoughts, or even to enquire too closely into the nature of them.
Mrs. Banks, apparently realising this, laughed again with increased
acridity, and finally became so very amused that she shook in her chair.

"I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself, ma’am," said Captain Barber,
loftily.

With a view, perhaps, of giving his guest further amusement he patted
the housekeeper’s hand again, whereupon Mrs. Banks’ laughter ceased, and
she sat regarding Mrs. Church with a petrified stare, met by that lady
with a glance of haughty disdain.

"S’pose we go into the garden a bit?" suggested Barber, uneasily. The
two ladies had eyed each other for three minutes without blinking, and
his own eyes were watering in sympathy.

Mrs. Banks, secretly glad of the interruption, made one or two vague
remarks about going home, but after much persuasion, allowed him to lead
her into the garden, the solemn Elizabeth bringing up in the rear with a
hassock and a couple of cushions.

"It’s a new thing for you having a housekeeper," observed Mrs. Banks,
after her daughter had returned to the house to assist in washing up.

"Yes, I wonder I never thought of it before," said the artful Barber;
"you wouldn’t believe how comfortable it is."

"I daresay," said Mrs. Banks, grimly.

"It’s nice to have a woman about the house," continued Captain Barber,
slowly, "it makes it more homelike. A slip of a servant-gal ain’t no
good at all."

"How does Fred like it?" enquired Mrs. Banks.

"My ideas are Fred’s ideas," said Uncle Barber, somewhat sharply. "What
I like he has to like, naturally."

"I was thinking of my darter," said Mrs. Banks, smoothing down her apron
majestically. "The arrangement was, I think, that when they were,
married they was to live with you?"

Captain Barber nodded acquiescence.

"Elizabeth would never live in a house with that woman, or any other
woman, as housekeeper in it," said the mother.

"Well, she won’t have to," said the old man; "when they marry and
Elizabeth comes here, I sha’n’t want a housekeeper—I shall get rid of
her."

Mrs. Banks shifted in her chair, and gazed thoughtfully down the garden.
"Of course my idea was for them to wait till I was gone," she said at
length.

"Just so," replied the other, "and more’s the pity."

"But Elizabeth’s getting on and I don’t seem to go," continued the old
lady, as though mildly surprised at Providence for its unaccountable
delay; "and there’s Fred, he ain’t getting younger."

Captain Barber puffed at his pipe. "None of us are," he said profoundly.

"And Fred might get tired of waiting," said Mrs. Banks, ruminating.

"He’d better let me hear him," said the uncle, fiercely; "leastways, o’
course, he’s tired o’ waiting in a sense. He’d like to be married."

"There’s young Gibson," said Mrs. Banks in a thrilling whisper.

"What about him?" enquired Barber, surprised at her manner.

"Comes round after Elizabeth," said Mrs. Banks.

"No!" said Captain Barber, blankly.

Mrs. Banks pursed up her lips and nodded darkly.

"Pretends to come and see me," said Mrs. Banks; "always coming in
bringing something new for my legs. The worst of it is he ain’t always
careful what he brings. He brought some new-fangled stuff in a bottle
last week, and the agonies I suffered after rubbing it in wouldn’t be
believed."

"It’s like his impudence," said the Captain.

"I’ve been thinking," said Mrs. Banks, nodding her head with some
animation, "of giving Fred a little surprise. What do you think he’d do
if I said they might marry this autumn?"

"Jump out of his skin with joy," said Captain Barber, with conviction.
"Mrs. Banks, the pleasure you’ve given me this day is more than I can
say."

"And they’ll live with you just the same?" said Mrs. Banks.

"Certainly," said the Captain.

"They’ll only be a few doors off then," said Mrs. Banks, "and it’ll be
nice for you to have a woman in the house to look after you."

Captain. Barber nodded softly. "It’s what I’ve been wanting for years,"
he said, heartily.

"And that huss—husskeeper," said Mrs. Banks, correcting herself—"will
go?"

"O’ course," said Captain Barber. "I sha’n’t want no housekeeper with my
nevy’s wife in the house. You’ve told Elizabeth, I s’pose?"

"Not yet," said Mrs. Banks, who as a matter of fact had been influenced
by the proceedings of that afternoon to bring to a head a step she had
hitherto only vaguely contemplated.

Elizabeth, who came down the garden again, a little later, accompanied
by Mrs. Church, received the news stolidly. A feeling of regret, that
the attention of the devoted Gibson must now cease, certainly occurred
to her, but she never thought of contesting the arrangements made for
her, and accepted the situation with a placidity which the more ardent
Barber was utterly unable to understand.

"Fred’ll stand on his.’ed with joy," the unsophisticated mariner
declared, with enthusiasm.

"He’ll go singing about the house," declared Mrs. Church.

Mrs. Banks regarded her unfavourably.

"He’s never said much," continued Uncle Barber, in an exalted strain;
"that ain’t Fred’s way. He takes arter me; he’s one o’ the quiet ones,
one o’ the still deep waters what always feels the most. When I tell ’im
his face’ll just light up with joy."

"It’ll be nice for you, too," said Mrs. Banks, with a side glance at the
housekeeper; "you’ll have somebody to look after you and take an
interest in you, and strangers can’t be expected to do that even if
they’re nice."

"We shall have him standing on his head, too," said Mrs. Church, with a
bright smile; "you’re turning everything upside down, Mrs. Banks."

"There’s things as wants altering," said the old lady, with emphasis.
"There’s few things as I don’t see, ma’am."

"I hope you’ll live to see a lot more," said Mrs. Church, piously.

"She’ll live to be ninety," said Captain Barber, heartily.

"Oh, easily," said Mrs. Church.

Captain Barber regarding his old friend saw her face suffused with a
wrath for which he was utterly unable to account. With a hazy idea that
something had passed which he had not heard, he caused a diversion by
sending Mrs. Church indoors for a pack of cards, and solemnly celebrated
the occasion with a game of whist, at which Mrs. Church, in partnership
with Mrs. Banks, either through sheer wilfulness or absence of mind,
contrived to lose every game.



CHAPTER VI.



As a result of the mate’s ill-behaviour at the theatre, Captain Fred
Flower treated him with an air of chilly disdain, ignoring, as far as
circumstances would permit, the fact that such a person existed. So far
as the social side went the mate made no demur, but it was a different
matter when the skipper acted as though he were not present at the
breakfast table, and being chary of interfering with the other’s
self-imposed vow of silence, he rescued a couple of rashers from his
plate and put them on his own. Also, in order to put matters on a more
equal footing, he drank three cups of coffee in rapid succession,
leaving the skipper to his own reflections and an empty coffee-pot. In
this sociable fashion they got through most of the day, the skipper
refraining from speech until late in the afternoon, when, both being at
work in the hold, the mate let a heavy case fall on his foot.

"I thought you’d get it," he said, calmly, as Flower paused to take
breath; "it wasn’t my fault."

"Whose was it, then?" roared Flower, who had got his boot off and was
trying various tender experiments with his toe to see whether it was
broken or not.

"If you hadn’t been holding your head in the air and pretending that I
wasn’t here, it wouldn’t have happened," said Fraser, with some heat.

The skipper turned his back on him, and meeting a look of enquiring
solicitude from Joe, applied to him for advice.

"What had I better do with it?" he asked.

"Well, if it was my toe, sir," said Joe regarding it respectfully, "I
should stick it in a basin o’ boiling water and keep it there as long as
I could bear it."

"You’re a fool," said the skipper, briefly. "What do you think of it,
Ben? I don’t think it’s broken."

The old seaman scratched his head. "Well, if it belonged to me," he
said, slowly, "there’s some ointment down the fo’c’s’le which the cook
’ad for sore eyes. I should just put some o’ that on. It looks good
stuff."

The skipper, summarising the chief points in Ben’s character, which,
owing principally to the poverty of the English language, bore a
remarkable likeness to Joe’s and the mate’s, took his sock and boot in
his hand, and gaining the deck limped painfully to the cabin.

The foot was so painful after tea that he could hardly bear his slipper
on, and he went ashore in his working clothes to the chemist’s,
preparatory to fitting himself out for Liston Street. The chemist,
leaning over the counter, was inclined to take a serious view of it, and
shaking his head with much solemnity, prepared a bottle of medicine, a
bottle of lotion and a box of ointment.

"Let me see it again as soon as you’ve finished the medicine," he said,
as he handed the articles over the counter.

Flower promised, and hobbling towards the door turned into the street.
Then the amiable air which he had worn in the shop gave way to one of
unseemly hauteur as he saw Fraser hurrying towards him.

"Look out," cried the latter, warningly.

The skipper favoured him with a baleful stare.

"All right," said the mate, angrily, "go your own way, then. Don’t come
to me when you get into trouble, that’s all."

Flower passed on his way in silence. Then a thought struck him and he
stopped suddenly.

"You wish to speak to me?" he asked, stiffly.

"No, I’m damned if I do," said the mate, sticking his hands into his
pockets.

"If you wish to speak to me," said the other, trying in vain to conceal
a trace of anxiety in his voice, "it’s my duty to listen. What were you
going to say just now?"

The mate eyed him wrathfully, but as the pathetic figure with its
wounded toe and cargo of remedies stood there waiting for him to speak,
he suddenly softened.

"Don’t go back, old man," he said, kindly, "she’s aboard."

Eighteen pennyworth of mixture, to be taken thrice daily from
tablespoons, spilled over the curb, and the skipper, thrusting the other
packets mechanically into his pockets, disappeared hurriedly around the
corner.

"It’s no use finding fault with me," said Fraser, quickly, as he stepped
along beside him, "so don’t try it. They came down into the cabin before
I knew they were aboard, even."

"They?" repeated the distressed Flower. "Who’s they?"

"The young woman that came before and a stout woman with a little dark
moustache and earrings. They’re going to wait until you come back to ask
you a few questions about Mr. Robinson. They’ve been asking me a few.
I’ve locked the door of your state-room and here’s the key."

Flower pocketed it and, after a little deliberation thanked him.

"I did the best I could for you," said the other, with a touch of
severity. "If I’d treated you as some men would have done, I should have
just let you walk straight into the trap."

Flower gave an apologetic cough. "I’ve had a lot of worry lately, Jack,"
he said, humbly; "come in and have something. Perhaps it will clear my
head a bit."

"I told ’em you wouldn’t be back till twelve at least," said the mate,
as Flower rapidly diagnosed his complaint and ordered whisky, "perhaps
not then, and that when you did turn up you’d sure to be the worse for
liquor. The old lady said she’d wait all night for the pleasure of
seeing your bonny face, and as for you being drunk, she said she don’t
suppose there’s a woman in London that has had more experience with
drunken men than she has."

"Let this be a warning to you, Jack," said the skipper, solemnly, as he
drained his glass and put it thoughtfully on the counter.

"Don’t you trouble about me," said Fraser; "you’ve got all you can do to
look after yourself. I’ve come out to look for a policeman; at least,
that’s what I told them."

"All the police in the world couldn’t do me any good," sighed Flower.
"Poppy’s got tickets for a concert to-night, and I was going with her. I
can’t go like this."

"Well, what are you going to do?" enquired the other.

Flower shook his head and pondered. "You go back and get rid of them the
best way you can," he said, at length, "but whatever you do, don’t have
a scene. I’ll stay here till you come and tell me the coast is clear."

"And suppose it don’t clear?" said Fraser.

"Then I’ll pick you up at Greenwich in the morning," said Flower.

"And suppose they’re still aboard?" said Fraser.

"I won’t suppose any such thing," said the other, hotly; "if you can’t
get rid of two women between now and three in the morning, you’re not
much of a mate. If they catch me I’m ruined, and you’ll be responsible
for it."

The mate, staring at him blankly, opened his mouth to reply, but being
utterly unable to think of anything adequate to the occasion, took up
his glass instead, and, drinking off the contents, turned to the door.
He stood for a moment at the threshold gazing at Flower as though he had
just discovered points about him which had hitherto escaped his notice,
and then made his way back to the wharf.

"They’re still down below, sir," said Joe, softly, as he stepped aboard,
"and making as free and as comfortable as though they’re going to stay a
month."

Fraser shrugged his shoulders and went below. The appearance of the
ladies amply confirmed Joe’s remark.

"Never can find one when you want him, can you?" said the elder lady, in
playful allusion to the police.

"Well, I altered my mind," said Fraser, amiably, "I don’t like treating
ladies roughly, but if the cap’n comes on board and finds you here it’ll
be bad for me, that’s all."

"What time do you expect him?" enquired Miss Tipping.

"Not before we sail at three in the morning." said the mate, glibly;
"perhaps not then. I often have to take the ship out without him. He’s
been away six weeks at a stretch before now."

"Well, we’ll stay here till he does come," said the elder lady. "I’ll
have his cabin, and my step-daughter’ll have to put up with your bed."

"If you’re not gone by the time we start, I shall have to have you put
off," said Fraser.

"Those of us who live longest’ll see the most," said Mrs. Tipping,
calmly.

An hour or two passed, the mate sitting smoking with a philosophy which
he hoped the waiting mariner at the "Admiral Cochrane" would be able to
imitate. He lit the lamp at last, and going on deck, ordered the cook to
prepare supper.

Mother and daughter, with feelings of gratitude, against which they
fought strongly, noticed that the table was laid for three, and a little
later, in a somewhat awkward fashion, they all sat down to the meal
together.

"Very good beef," said Mrs. Tipping, politely.

"Very nice," said her daughter, who was ex-changing glances with the
mate. "I suppose you’re very comfortable here, Mr. Fraser?"

The mate sighed. "It’s all right when the old man’s away," he said,
deceitfully. "He’s got a dreadful temper."

"I hope you didn’t get into trouble through my coming aboard the other
night," said Miss Tipping, softly.

"Don’t say anything about it," replied the mate, eyeing her admiringly.
"I’d do more than that for you, if I could."

Miss Tipping, catching her mother’s eye, bestowed upon her a glance of
complacent triumph.

"You don’t mind us coming down here, do you?" she said, languishingly.

"I wish you’d live here," said the unscrupulous Fraser; "but of course I
know you only come here to try and see that fellow Robinson," he added,
gloomily.

"I like to see you, too," was the reply. "I like you very much, as a
friend."

The mate in a melancholy voice thanked her, and to the great annoyance
of the cook, who had received strict orders from the forecastle to
listen as much as he could, sat in silence while the table was cleared.

"What do you say to a hand at cards?" he said, after the cook had
finally left the cabin.

"Three-handed cribbage," said Mrs. Tipping, quickly; "it’s the only game
worth playing."

No objection being raised, the masterful lady drew closer to the table,
and concentrating energies of no mean order on the game, successfully
played hands of unvarying goodness, aided by a method of pegging which
might perhaps be best described as dot and carry one.

"You haven’t seen anything of this Mr. Robinson since you were here
last, I suppose?" said Fraser, noting with satisfaction that both ladies
gave occasional uneasy glances at the clock.

"No, an’ not likely to," said Mrs. Tipping; "fifteen two, fifteen four,
fifteen six, and a pair’s eight."

"Where’s the fifteen six?" enquired Fraser, glancing oven

"Eight and seven," said the lady, pitching the cards with the others and
beginning to shuffle for the next deal.

"It’s very strange behaviour," said the mate; "Robinson, I mean. Do you
think he’s dead?"

"No, I don’t," said Mrs. Tipping, briefly. "Where’s that captain of
yours?"

Fraser, whose anxiety was becoming too much for his play, leaned over
the table as though about to speak, and then, apparently thinking better
of it, went on with the game.

"Eh?" said Mrs. Tipping, putting her cards face downwards on the table
and catching his eye. "Where?"

"O, nowhere," said Fraser, awkwardly. "I don’t want to be dragged into
this, you know. It isn’t my business."

"If you know where he is, why can’t you tell us?" asked Mrs. Tipping,
softly. "There’s no harm in that."

"What’s the good?" enquired Fraser, in a low voice; "when you’ve seen
the old man you won’t be any forwarder—he wouldn’t tell you anything
even if he knew it."

"Well, we’d like to see him," said Mrs. Tipping, after a pause.

"You see, you put me in a difficulty," said Fraser; "if the skipper
doesn’t come aboard, you’re going with us, I understand?"

Mrs. Tipping nodded. "Exactly," she said, sharply.

"That’ll get me into trouble, if anything will," said the mate,
gloomily. "On the other hand, if I tell you where he is now, that’ll get
me into trouble, too."

He sat back and drummed on the table with his fingers. "Well, I’ll risk
it," he said, at length; "you’ll find him at 17, Beaufort Street, Bow."

The younger woman sprang excitedly to her feet, but Mrs. Tipping, eyeing
the young man with a pair of shrewd, small eyes, kept her seat.

"And while we’re going, how do we know the capt’n won’t come back and go
off with the ship?" she enquired.

Fraser hesitated. "Well, I’ll come with you, if you like," he said,
slowly.

"And suppose they go away and leave you, behind?" objected Mrs. Tipping.

"Oh, well, you’d better stay then," said the mate, wearily, "unless we
take a couple of the hands with us. How would that suit you? They can’t
sail with half a crew."

Mrs. Tipping, who was by no means as anxious for a sea voyage as she
tried to make out, carefully pondered the situation. "I’m going to take
an arm of each of ’em and Matilda’ll take yours," she said, at length.

"As you please," said Fraser, and in this way the procession actually
started up the wharf, and looking back indignantly over its shoulder saw
the watchman and Ben giving way to the most unseemly mirth, while the
cook capered joyously behind them. A belated cab was passing the gate as
they reached it, and in response to the mate’s hail pulled sharply up.

Mrs. Tipping, pushing her captives in first, stepped heavily into the
cab followed by her daughter, while the mate, after a brief discussion,
clambered onto the box.

"Go on," he said, nodding.

"Wot, ain’t the rest of you comin’?" enquired the cabman, eyeing the
crowd at the gate, in pained surprise.

"No. 17, Beaufort Street, Bow," said Mrs. Tipping, distinctly, as she
put her head out of the window.

"You could sit on ’er lap," continued the cabman, appealingly.

No reply being vouchsafed to this suggestion, he wrapped himself up in
various rugs and then sat down suddenly before they could unwind
themselves. Then, with a compassionate "click" to his horse, started up
the road. Except for a few chance wayfarers and an occasional
coffee-stall, the main streets were deserted, but they were noisy
compared with Beaufort Street. Every house was in absolute darkness as
the cab, with instinctive deference to slumber, crawled slowly up and
down looking for No. 17.

It stopped at last, and the mate, springing down, opened the door, and
handing out the ladies, led the way up a flight of steps to the street
door.

"Perhaps you won’t mind knocking," he said to Mrs. Tipping, "and don’t
forget to tell the cap’n I’ve done this to oblige you because you
insisted upon it."

Mrs. Tipping, seizing the knocker, knocked loud and long, and after a
short interval repeated the performance. Somebody was heard stirring
upstairs, and a deep voice cried out that it was coming, and
peremptorily requested them to cease knocking.

"That’s not Flower’s voice," said Fraser.

"Not loud enough," said Miss Tipping.

The bolts were drawn back loudly and the chain grated; then the door was
flung open, and a big, red-whiskered man, blinking behind a candle,
gruffly enquired what they meant by it.

"Come inside," said Mrs. Tipping to her following.

"Ain’t you come to the wrong house?" demanded the red-whiskered man,
borne slowly back by numbers.

"I don’t think so," said Mrs. Tipping, suavely; "I want to see Captain
Flower."

"Well, you’ve come to the wrong house," said the red-whiskered man,
shortly, "there’s no such name here."

"Think," said Mrs. Tipping.

The red-whiskered man waved the candle to and fro until the passage was
flecked with tallow.

"Go away directly," he roared; "how dare you come disturbing people like
this?"

"You may just as well be pleasant over it," said Mrs. Tipping, severely;
"because we sha’n’t go away until we have seen him. After all, it’s got
nothing to do with you."

"We don’t want anything to say to you," affirmed her daughter.

"Will—you—get—out—of—my—house?" demanded the owner, wildly.

"When we’ve seen Capt’n Flower," said Mrs. Tipping, calmly, "and not a
moment before. We don’t mind your getting in a temper, not a bit. You
can’t frighten us."

The frenzied and reckless reply of the red-whiskered man was drowned in
the violent slamming of the street-door, and he found himself alone with
the ladies. There was a yell of triumph outside, and the sounds of a
hurried scramble down the steps. Mrs. Tipping, fumbling wildly at the
catch of the door, opened it just in time to see the cabman, in reply to
the urgent entreaties of the mate, frantically lashing his horse up the
road.

"So far, so good," murmured the mate, as he glanced over his shoulder at
the little group posing on the steps. "I’ve done the best I could, but I
suppose there’ll be a row."

The watchman, with the remainder of the crew, in various attitudes of
expectant curiosity, were waiting to receive them at the wharf. A
curiosity which increased in intensity as the mate, slamming the gate,
put the big bar across and turned to the watchman.

"Don’t open that to anybody till we’re off," he said, sharply. "Cap’n
Flower has not turned up yet, I suppose?"

"No, sir," said Ben.

They went aboard the schooner again, and the mate, remaining on deck,
listened anxiously for the return of the redoubtable Mrs. Tipping,
occasionally glancing over the side in expectation of being boarded from
the neighbouring stairs; but with the exception of a false alarm caused
by two maddened seamen unable to obtain admittance, and preferring
insulting charges of somnolency against the watchman, the time passed
quietly until high water. With the schooner in midstream slowly picking
her way through the traffic, any twinges of remorse that he might have
had for the way he had treated two helpless women left him, and he began
to feel with his absent commander some of the charm which springs from
successful wrong-doing.



CHAPTER VII.



He brought up off Greenwich in the cold grey of the breaking day. Craft
of all shapes and sizes were passing up and down, but he looked in vain
for any sign of the skipper. It was galling to him as a seaman to stay
there with the wind blowing freshly down the river; but over an hour
elapsed before a yell from Tim, who was leaning over the bows, called
his attention to a waterman’s skiff, in the stern of which sat a
passenger of somewhat dejected appearance. He had the air of a man who
had been up all night, and in place of returning the hearty and
significant greeting of the mate, sat down in an exhausted fashion on
the cabin skylight, and eyed him in stony silence until they were under
way again.

"Well," he said at length, ungraciously.

Chilled by his manner, Fraser, in place of the dramatic fashion in which
he had intended to relate the events of the preceding night, told him in
a few curt sentences what had occurred. "And you can finish this
business for yourself," he concluded, warmly; "I’ve had enough of it."

"You’ve made a pretty mess of it," groaned the other; "there’ll be a
fine set-out now. Why couldn’t you coax ’em away? That’s what I wanted
you to do. That’s what I told you to do."

"Well, you’ll have plenty of opportunities of coaxing yourself so far as
I can see," retorted Fraser, grimly. "Then you’ll see how it works. It
was the only way of getting rid of them."

"You ought to have sent round to me and let me know what you were
doing," said Flower. "I sat in that blamed pub till they turned me out
at twelve, expecting you every minute. I’d only threepence left by then,
and I crossed the water with that, and then I had to shuffle along to
Greenwich as best I could with a bad foot. What’ll be the end of it all,
I don’t know."

"Well, you’re all right at present," said Fraser, glancing round;
"rather different to what you’d have been if those two women had come to
Ipswich and seen Cap’n Barber."

The other sat for a long time in thought. "I’ll lay up for a few weeks
with this foot," he said, slowly, "and you’ll have to tell the Tipping
family that I’ve changed into another trade. What with the worry I’ve
had lately, I shall be glad of a rest."

He made his way below, and turning in slept soundly after his fatigue
until the cook aroused him a few hours later with the information that
breakfast was ready.

A wash and a change, together with a good breakfast, effected as much
change in his spirits as in his appearance. Refreshed in mind and body,
he slowly paced the deck, his chest expanding as he sniffed the fresh
air, and his soul, encouraged by the dangers he had already passed
through, bracing itself for fresh encounters.

"I ’ope the foot is goin’ on well, sir," said Tim, breaking in upon his
meditations, respectfully.

"Much easier this morning," said the skipper, amiably.

Tim, who was lending the cook a hand, went back into the galley to
ponder. As a result of a heated debate in the fo’c’s’le, where the last
night’s proceedings and the mysterious appearance of the skipper off
Greenwich had caused a great sensation, they had drawn lots to decide
who was to bell the cat, and Tim had won or lost according as the
subject might be viewed.

"You don’t want to walk about on it much, sir," he said, thrusting his
head out again.

The skipper nodded.

"I was alarmed last night," said Tim. "We was all alarmed," he added,
hastily, in order that the others might stand in with the risk,
"thinking that perhaps you’d walked too far and couldn’t get back."

The master of the Foam looked at him, but made no reply, and Tim’s head
was slowly withdrawn. The crew, who had been gazing over the side with
their ears at the utmost tension, gave him five minutes’ grace and then,
the skipper having gone aft again, walked up to the galley.

"I’ve done all I could," said the wretched youth.

"Done all ye could?" said Joe, derisively, "why you ain’t done nothin’
yet."

"I can’t say anything more," said Tim. "I dassent. I ain’t got your
pluck, Joe."

"Pluck be damned!" said the seaman, fiercely; "why there was a chap I
knew once, shipwrecked he was, and had to take to the boats. When the
grub give out they drew lots to see who should be killed and eaten. He
lost. Did ’e back out of it? Not a bit of it; ’e was a man, an’ ’e shook
’ands with ’em afore they ate ’im and wished ’em luck."

"Well, you can kill and eat me if that’s what you want," said Tim,
desperately. "I’d sooner ’ave that."

"Mind you," said Joe, "till you’ve arsked them questions and been
answered satisfactorily—none of us’ll ’ave anything to do with you,
besides which I’ll give you such a licking as you’ve never ’ad before."

He strolled off with Ben and the cook, as the skipper came towards them
again, and sat down in the bows. Tim, sore afraid of his shipmates’ con.
tempt, tried again.

"I wanted to ask your pardon in case I done wrong last night, sir," he
said, humbly.

"All right, it’s granted," replied the other, walking away.

Tim raised his eyes to heaven, and then lowering them, looked even more
beseechingly at his comrades.

"Go on," said Ben, shaping the words only with his mouth.

"I don’t know, sir, whether you know what I was alloodin’ to just now,"
said Tim, in trembling accents, as the skipper came within earshot
again. "I’m a-referring to a cab ride."

"And I told you that I’ve forgiven you," said Flower, sternly, "forgiven
you freely—all of you."

"It’s a relief to my mind, sir," faltered the youth, staring.

"Don’t mix yourself up in my business again, that’s all," said the
skipper; "you mightn’t get off so easy next time."

"It’s been worrying me ever since, sir," persisted Tim, who was half
fainting. "I’ve been wondering whether I ought to have answered them
ladies’ questions, and told ’em what I did tell ’em."

The skipper swung round hastily and confronted him. "Told them?" he
stuttered, "told them what?"

"I ’ardly remember, sir," said Tim, alarmed at his manner. "Wot with the
suddenness o’ the thing, an’ the luckshury o’ riding in a cab, my ’ead
was in a whirl."

"What did they ask you?" demanded the shipper.

"They asked me what Cap’n Flower was like an’ where ’e lived," said Tim,
"an’ they asked me whether I knew a Mr. Robinson."

Captain Flower, his eyes blazing, waited.

"I said I ’adn’t got the pleasure o’ Mr. Robinson’s acquaintance," said
Tim, with a grand air. "I was just goin’ to tell ’em about you when Joe
’ere gave me a pinch."

"Well?" enquired the skipper, stamping with impatience.

"I pinched ’im back agin," said Tim, smiling tenderly at the
reminiscence.

"Tim’s a fool, sir," said Joe, suddenly, as the overwrought skipper made
a move towards the galley. "’E didn’t seem to know wot ’e was a sayin’
of, so I up and told ’em all about you."

"You did, did you? Damn you," said Flower, bitterly.

"In answer to their questions, sir," said Joe, "I told ’em you was a
bald-headed chap, marked with the small-pox, and I said when you was at
’ome, which was seldom, you lived at Aberdeen."

The skipper stepped towards him and laid his hand affectionately on his
shoulder. "You ought to have been an admiral, Joe," he said, gratefully,
without intending any slur on a noble profession.

"I also told George, the watchman, to tell ’em the same thing, if they
came round again worrying," said Joe, proudly.

The skipper patted him on the shoulder again.

"One o’ these days, Joe," he remarked, "you shall know all about this
little affair; for the present it’s enough to tell you that a certain
unfortunate young female has took a fancy to a friend o’ mine named
Robinson, but it’s very important, for Robinson’s sake, that she
shouldn’t see me or get to know anything about me. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly," said Joe, sagely.

His countenance was calm and composed, but the cook’s forehead had
wrinkled itself into his hair in a strong brain effort, while Ben was
looking for light on the deck, and not finding it. Flower, as a sign
that the conversation was now ended, walked aft again, and taking the
wheel from the mate, thoughtfully suggested that he should go below and
turn in for five minutes.

"I’ll get through this all right, after all," he said, comfortably.
"I’ll lay up at Seabridge for a week or two, and after that I’ll get off
the schooner at Greenwich for a bit and let you take her up to London.
Then I’ll write a letter in the name of Robinson and send it to a man I
know in New York to post from there to Miss Tipping."

His spirits rose and he slapped Fraser heartily on the back. "That
disposes of one," he said, cheerily. "Lor’, in years to come how I shall
look back and laugh over all this!"

"Yes, I think it’ll be some time before you do any laughing to speak
of," said Fraser.

"Ah, you always look on the dark side of things," said Flower, briskly.

"Of course, as things are, you’re going to marry Miss Banks," said
Fraser, slowly.

"No, I’m not," said the other, cheerfully; "it strikes me there’s plenty
of time before that will come to a head, and that gives me time to turn
round. I don’t think she’s any more anxious for it than I am."

"But suppose it does come to a head," persisted Fraser, "what are you
going to do?"

"I shall find a way out of it," said the skipper, confidently.
"Meantime, just as an exercise for your wits, you might try and puzzle
out what would be the best thing to do in such a case."

His good spirits lasted all the way to Seabridge, and, the schooner
berthed, he went cheerfully off home. It was early afternoon when he
arrived, and, Captain Barber being out, he had a comfortable tête à tête
with Mrs. Church, in which he was able to dilate pretty largely upon the
injury to his foot. Captain Barber did not return until the tea was set,
and then shaking hands with his nephew, took a seat opposite, and in a
manner more than unusually boisterous, kept up a long conversation.

It was a matter of surprise to Flower that, though the talk was by no
means of a sorrowful nature, Mrs. Church on three separate occasions
rose from the table and left the room with her handkerchief to her eyes.
At such times his uncle’s ideas forsook him, and he broke off not only
in the middle of a sentence, but even in the middle of a word. At the
third time Flower caught his eye, and with a dumb jerk of his head
toward the door enquired what it all meant.

"Tell you presently," said his uncle, in a frightened whisper, "Hush!
Don’t take no notice of it. Not a word."

"What is it?" persisted Flower.

Captain Barber gave a hurried glance towards the door and then leaned
over the table "Broken ’art," he whispered, sorrowfully.

Flower whistled, and, full of the visions which this communication
opened up, neglected to join in the artificial mirth which his uncle was
endeavouring to provoke upon the housekeeper’s return. Finally he worked
up a little mirth on his own account, and after glancing from his uncle
to the housekeeper, and from the housekeeper back to his uncle again,
smothered his face in his handkerchief and rushed from the room.

"Bit on a bad tooth," he said, untruthfully, when he came back.

Captain Barber eyed him fiercely, but Mrs. Church regarded him with
compassionate interest, and, having got the conversation upon such a
safe subject, kept it there until the meal was finished.

"What’s it all about?" enquired Flower, as, tea finished, Captain Barber
carried his chair to the extreme end of the garden and beckoned his
nephew to do likewise.

"You’re the cause of it," said Captain Barber, severely.

"Me?" said Flower, in surprise.

"You know that little plan I told you of when you was down here?" said
the other.

His nephew nodded.

"It came off," groaned Captain Barber. "I’ve got news for you as’ll make
you dance for joy."

"I’ve got a bad foot," said Flower, paling.

"Never mind about your foot," said his uncle, regarding him fixedly.
"Your banns are up."

"Up! Up where?" gasped Flower.

"Why—in the church," said the other, staring at him; "where do you
think? I got the old lady’s consent day before yesterday, and had ’em
put up at once."

"Is she dead, then?" enquired his nephew, in a voice the hollowness of
which befitted the question.

"How the devil could she be?" returned his uncle, staring at him.

"No, I didn’t think of that," said Flower; "of course, she couldn’t give
her consent, could she—not if she was dead, I mean."

Captain Barber drew his chair back and looked at him. "His joy has
turned his brain," he said, with conviction.

"No, it’s my foot," said Flower, rallying. "I’ve had no sleep with it.
I’m delighted! Delighted! After all these years."

"You owe it to me," said his uncle, with a satisfied air. "I generally
see my way clear to what I want, and generally get it, too. I’ve played
Mrs. Banks and Mrs. Church agin one another without their knowing it.
Both ’elpless in my hands, they was."

"But what’s the matter with Mrs. Church?" said his depressed nephew.

"Oh, that’s the worst of it," said Uncle Barber, shaking his head.
"While I was in play, that pore woman must have thought I was in
earnest. She don’t say nothing. Not a word, and the efforts she makes to
control her feelings is noble."

"Have you told her she has got to go then?" enquired Flower.

Captain Barber shook his head. "Mrs. Banks saved me that trouble," he
said, grimly.

"But she can’t take notice from Mrs. Banks," said Flower, "it’ll have to
come from you."

"All in good time," said Captain Barber, wiping his face. "As I’ve done
all this for you, I was going to let you tell her."

"Me!" said Flower, with emphasis.

"Certainly," said Captain Barber, with more emphasis still. "Just get
her to yourself on the quiet and allude to it casual. Then after that
bring the subject up when I’m in the room. As it’s to make room for you
and your wife, you might fix the date for ’er to go. That’ll be the best
way to do it."

"It seems to me it is rather hard on her," said his nephew,
compassionately; "perhaps we had better wait a little longer."

"Certainly not," said Captain Barber, sharply; "don’t I tell you your
banns are up. You’re to be asked in church first time next Sunday,
You’ll both live with me as agreed, and I’m going to make over three o’
the cottages to you and a half-share in the ship. The rest you’ll have
to wait for. Why don’t you look cheerful? You ought to."

"I’m cheerful enough," said Flower, recovering himself. "I’m thinking of
you."

"Me?" said his uncle.

"You and Mrs. Church," said his nephew. "So far as I can see, you’ve
committed yourself."

"I can manage," said Uncle Barber. "I’ve always been master in my own
house. Now you’d better step round and see the bride that is to be."

"Well, you be careful," said his nephew, warningly.

"I’m coming, too," said Captain Barber, with some haste; "there’s no
need to stay and wait for trouble. When you go into the house, come back
as though you’d forgotten something, and sing out to me that you want me
to come too—hard enough for ’er to hear, mind."



CHAPTER VIII.



The bewildered master of the Foam spent the remainder of the time at
Seabridge in a species of waking nightmare.

A grey-haired dressmaker and a small apprentice sat in the Banks’ best
parlour, and from a chaos of brown paper patterns stuck over with pins a
silk dress of surpassing beauty began slowly to emerge. As a great
concession Flower was allowed to feel the material, and even to rub it
between his finger and thumb in imitation of Captain Barber, who was so
prone to the exercise that a small piece was cut for his especial
delectation. A colour of unwonted softness glowed in the cheek of
Elizabeth and an air of engaging timidity tempered her interview with
Flower, who had to run the gauntlet of much friendly criticism on the
part of his fair neighbours.

Up to the time of sailing for London again the allusion to Mrs. Church’s
departure, desired by Captain Barber, had not been made by the younger
man. The housekeeper was still in possession, and shook hands with him
at the front door as he limped slowly off with Miss Banks and his uncle
to go down to the schooner. His foot was still very bad, so bad that he
stumbled three times on the way to the quay despite the assistance
afforded by the arm of his betrothed.

"Seems to be no power in it," he said smiling faintly; "but I daresay
it’ll be all right by the time. I get back."

He shook hands with Captain Barber and, as a tribute to conventionality,
kissed Miss Banks. The last the two saw of him, he was standing at the
wheel waving his handkerchief. They waved their own in return, and as
the Foam drew rapidly away gave a final farewell and departed.

"What’s the game with the foot?" enquired the mate, in a low voice.

"Tell you by-and-by," said the skipper; "it’s far from well, but even if
it wasn’t I should pretend it was bad. I suppose that doesn’t suggest
anything to you?"

The mate shook his head.

"Can you see any way out of it?" enquired the other. "What would you do
if you were in my place?"

"Marry the girl I wanted to marry," said the mate, sturdily, "and not
trouble about anything else."

"And lose thirteen cottages and this ship and my berth in the bargain,"
said the skipper. "Now you try and think of some other way, and if you
haven’t thought of it by dinner-time, I’ll tell you what I’m going to
do."

No other scheme having suggested itself to the mate by the time that
meal arrived, he prepared to play the part of listener. The skipper,
after carefully closing both the door and the skylight, prepared to
speak.

"I’m in a desperate fix, Jack, that you’ll admit," he said, by way of
preparation.

The mate cordially agreed with him.

"There’s Poppy down at Poplar, Matilda at Chelsea, and Elizabeth at
Seabridge," continued Flower, indicating various points on the table
with his finger as he spoke. "Some men would give up in despair, but
I’ve thought of a way out of it. I’ve never got into a corner I couldn’t
get out of yet."

"You want a little help though sometimes," said Fraser.

"All part of my plans," rejoined Flower, airily. "If it hadn’t been for
my uncle’s interference I should have been all right. A man’s no
business to be so officious. As it is, I’ve got to do something
decided."

"If I were you," interrupted Fraser, "I should go to Captain Barber and
tell him straight and plain how the thing stands. You needn’t mention
anything about Miss Tipping. Tell him about the other, and that you
intend to marry her. It’ll be beat in the long run, and fairer to Miss
Tyrell, too."

"You don’t know my uncle as well as I do," retorted the skipper. "He’s
as obstinate an old fool as ever breathed. If I did as you say I should
lose everything. Now, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do:—To-night,
during your watch, I shall come up on deck and stand on the side of the
ship to look at something in the water, when I shall suddenly hear a
shout."

The mate, who had a piece of dumpling on his fork, half-way to his
mouth, put it down again and regarded him open-mouthed.

"My foot," continued the skipper, in surprisingly even tones, answering
his subject, "will then give way and I shall fall overboard."

The mate was about to speak, but the skipper, gazing in a rapt manner
before him, waved him into silence.

"You will alarm the crew and pitch a life-belt overboard," he continued;
"you will then back sails and lower the boat."

"You’d better take the lifebelt with you, hadn’t you?" enquired the
mate, anxiously.

"I shall be picked up by a Norwegian barque, bound for China," continued
the skipper, ignoring the interruption; "I shall be away at least six
months, perhaps more, according as things turn out."

The mate pushed his scarcely tasted dinner from him, and got up from the
table. It was quite evident to him that the skipper’s love affairs had
turned his brain.

"By the time I get back, Matilda’ll have ceased from troubling, anyway,"
said the skipper, "and I have strong hopes that Elizabeth’ll take
Gibson. I shall stay away long enough to give her a fair chance,
anyway."

"But s’pose you get drowned before anything can pick you up!" suggested
the mate, feebly.

"Drowned?" repeated the skipper. "Why, you didn’t think I was really
going overboard, did you? I shall be locked up in my state-room."

The mate’s brow cleared and then darkened again, suddenly. "I see, some
more lies for me to tell, I suppose," he said, angrily.

"After you’ve raised the alarm and failed to recover the body," said the
skipper, with relish, "you’ll lock my door and put the key in your
pocket. That would be the proper thing to do if I really did go
overboard, you know, and when we get to London I’ll just slip quietly
ashore."

The mate came back to his dinner and finished it in silence, while the
skipper kept up a rambling fire of instructions for his future guidance.

"And what about Miss Tyrell?" said the mate, at length. "Is she to
know?"

"Certainly not," said Flower, sharply. "I wouldn’t have her know for
anything. You’re the only person to know, Jack. You’ll have to break the
news to ’em all, and mind you do it gently, so as not to cause more
grief than you can help."

"I won’t do it at all," said the mate.

"Yes, you will," said Flower, "and if Matilda or her mother come down
again, show it to ’em in the paper. Then they’ll know it’ll be no good
worrying Cap’n Flower again. If they see it in the paper they’ll know
it’s true; it’s sure to be in the local papers, and in the London ones,
too, very likely. I should think it would; the master of a vessel!"

Fraser being in no mood to regard this vanity complacently, went up on
deck and declined to have anything to do with the matter. He maintained
this attitude of immovable virtue until tea-time, by which time Flower’s
entreaties had so won upon him that he was reluctantly compelled to
admit that it seemed to be the only thing possible in the circumstances,
and more reluctantly still to promise his aid to the most unscrupulous
extent possible.

"I’ll write to you when I’m fixed up," said the skipper, "giving you my
new name and address. You’re the only person I shall be able to keep
touch with. I shall have to rely upon you for everything. If it wasn’t
for you I should be dead to the world."

"I know what you’ll do as well as possible," said Fraser; "you’ve got
nothing to do for six months, and you’ll be getting into some more
engagements."

"I don’t think you have any call to say that, Jack," remarked Flower,
with some dignity.

"Well, I wish it was well over," said the mate, despondently. "What are
you going to do for money?"

"I drew out £40 to get married with—furniture and things," said Flower;
"that’ll go overboard with me, of course. I’m doing all this for Poppy’s
sake more than my own, and I want you to go up and see her every trip,
and let me know how she is. She mightn’t care what happened to her if
she thinks I’m gone, and she might marry somebody else in desperation."

"I don’t care about facing her," said Fraser, bitterly; "it’s a shady
business altogether."

"It’s for her sake," repeated Flower, calmly, "Take on old Ben as mate,
and ship another hand forward."

The mate ended the subject by going to his bunk and turning in; the
skipper, who realised that he himself would have plenty of time for
sleep, went on deck and sat silently smoking. Old Ben was at the wheel,
and the skipper felt a glow of self-rightousness as he thought of the
rise in life he was about to give the poor fellow.

At eight o’clock the mate relieved Ben, and the skipper with a view of
keeping up appearances announced his intention of turning in for a bit.

The sun went down behind clouds of smoky red, but the light of the
summer evening lasted for some time after. Then darkness came down over
the sea, and it was desolate except for the sidelights of distant craft.
The mate drew out his watch and by the light of the binnacle-lamp, saw
that it was ten minutes to ten. At the same moment he heard somebody
moving about forward.

"Who’s that for’ard?" he cried, smartly.

"Me, sir," answered Joe’s voice. "I’m a bit wakeful, and it’s stiflin’
’ot down below."

The mate hesitated, and then, glancing at the open skylight, saw the
skipper, who was standing on the table.

"Send him below," said the latter, in a sharp whisper.

"You’d better get below, Joe," said the mate.

"W’y, I ain’t doin’ no ’arm, sir," said Joe, in surprise.

"Get below," said the mate, sharply. "Do you hear?—get below. You’ll be
sleeping in your watch if you don’t sleep now."

The sounds of a carefully modulated grumble came faintly aft, then the
mate, leaning away from the wheel to avoid the galley which obstructed
his view, saw that his order had been obeyed.

"Now," said the skipper, quietly, "you must give a perfect scream of
horror, mind, and put this on the deck. It fell off as I went over, d’ye
see?"

He handed over the slipper he had been wearing, and the mate took it
surlily.

"There ought to be a splash," he murmured. "Joe’s awake."

The skipper vanished, to reappear a minute or two later with a sack into
which he had hastily thrust a few lumps of coal and other rubbish. The
mate took it from him, and, placing the slipper on the deck, stood with
one hand holding the wheel and the other the ridiculous sack.

"Now," said the skipper.

The sack went overboard, and, at the same moment, the mate left the
wheel with an ear-splitting yell and rushed to the galley for the
life-belt which hung there. He crashed heavily into Joe, who had rushed
on deck, but, without pausing, ran to the side and flung it overboard.

"Skipper’s overboard," he yelled, running back and putting the helm
down.

Joe put his head down the fore-scuttle and yelled like a maniac; the
others came up in their night-gear, and in a marvellously short space of
time the schooner was hove to and the cook and Joe had tumbled into the
boat and were pulling back lustily in search of the skipper.

Half an hour elapsed, during which those on the schooner hung over the
stern listening intently. They could hear the oars in the rowlocks and
the shouts of the rowers. Tim lit a lantern and dangled it over the
water.

"Have you got ’im?" cried Ben, as the boat came over the darkness and
the light of the lantern shone on the upturned faces of the men.

"No," said Joe, huskily.

Ben threw him a line, and he clambered silently aboard, followed by the
cook.

"Better put about," he said to the mate, "and cruise about until
daylight. We ain’t found the belt either, and it’s just possible he’s
got it."

The mate shook his head. "It’s no good," he said, confidently; "he’s
gone."

"Well, I vote we try, anyhow," said Joe, turning on him fiercely. "How
did it happen?"

"He came up on deck to speak to me," said the mate, shortly. "He fancied
he heard a cry from the water and jumped up on the side with his hand on
the rigging to see. I s’pose his bad foot slipped and he went over
before I could move."

"We’ll cruise about a bit," said Joe, loudly, turning to the men.

"Are you giving orders here, or am I?" said the mate sternly.

"I am," said Joe, violently. "It’s our duty to do all we can." There was
a dead silence. Joe, pushing himself in between Ben and the cook, eyed
the men eagerly.

"What do you mean by that?" said the mate at last.

"Wot I say," said Joe, meeting him eye to eye, and thrusting his face
close to his.

The mate shrugged his shoulders and walked slowly aft; then, with a
regard for appearances which the occasion fully warranted, took the
schooner for a little circular tour in the neighbourhood of the
skipper’s disappearance.

At daybreak, not feeling the loss quite as much as the men, he went
below, and, having looked stealthily round, unlocked the door of the
state-room and peeped in. It was almost uncanny, considering the
circumstances, to see in the dim light the skipper sitting on the edge
of his bunk.

"What the blazes are you doing, dodging about like this?" he burst out,
ungratefully.

"Looking for the body," said the mate. "Ain’t you heard us shouting?
It’s not my fault—the crew say they won’t leave the spot while there’s
half a chance."

"Blast the crew," said the skipper, quite untouched by this devotion.
"Ain’t you taking charge o’ the ship?"

"Joe’s about half mad," said the mate. "It’s wonderful how upset he is."

The skipper cursed Joe separately, and the mate, whose temper was
getting bad, closed the interview by locking the door.

At five o’clock, by which time they had cleared three masses of weed and
a barnacle-covered plank, they abandoned the search and resumed the
voyage. A gloom settled on the forecastle, and the cook took advantage
of the occasion to read Tim a homily upon the shortness of life and the
suddenness of death. Tim was much affected, but not nearly so much as he
was when he discovered that the men were going to pay a last tribute to
the late captain’s memory by abstaining from breakfast. He ventured to
remark that the excitement and the night air had made him feel very
hungry, and was promptly called an unfeeling little brute by the men for
his pains. The mate, who, in deference to public opinion, had to keep up
appearances the same way, was almost as much annoyed as Tim, and, as for
the drowned man himself, his state of mind was the worst of all. He was
so ungrateful that the mate at length lost his temper and when dinner
was served allowed a latent sense ot humour to have full play.

It consisted of boiled beef, with duff, carrots, and potatoes, and its
grateful incense filled the cabin.

The mate attacked it lustily listening between mouthfuls for any
interruption from the state-room. At length, unable to endure it any
longer, the prisoner ventured to scratch lightly on the door.

"Hist!" said the mate, in a whisper.

The scratching ceased, and the mate, grinning broadly, resumed his
dinner. He finished at last, and lighting his pipe sat back easily in
the locker watching the door out of the corner of his eye.

With hunger at his vitals the unfortunate skipper, hardly able to
believe his ears, heard the cook come down and clear away. The smell of
dinner gave way to that of tobacco, and the mate, having half finished
his pipe, approached the door.

"Are you there?" he asked, in a whisper.

"Of course I am, you fool!" said the skipper, wrathfully; "where’s my
dinner?"

"I’m very sorry," began the mate, in a whisper.

"What?" enquired the skipper, fiercely.

"I’ve mislaid the key," said the mate, grinning fiendishly, "an’, what’s
more, I can’t think what I’ve done with it."

At this intelligence, the remnants of the skipper’s temper vanished, and
every bad word he had heard of, or read of, or dreamt of, floated from
his hungry lips in frenzied whispers.

"I can’t hear what you say," said the mate. "What?"

The prisoner was about to repeat his remarks with a few embellishments,
when the mate stopped him with one little word. "Hist!" he said,
quietly.

At the imminent risk of bursting, or going mad, the skipper stopped
short, and the mate, addressing a remark to the cook, who was not
present, went up on deck.

He found the key by tea-time, and, his triumph having made him generous,
passed the skipper in a large hunk of the cold beef with his tea. The
skipper took it and eyed him wanly, having found an empty stomach very
conducive to accurate thinking.

"The next thing is to slip ashore at Wapping, Jack," he said, after he
had finished his meal; "the whar’ll be closed by the time we get there."

"The watchman’s nearly sure to be asleep," said Fraser, "and you can
easily climb the gate. If he’s not, I must try and get him out of the
way somehow."

The skipper’s forebodings proved to be correct. It was past twelve by
the time they reached Wapping, but the watchman was wide awake and, with
much bustle, helped them to berth their craft. He received the news of
the skipper’s untimely end with well-bred sorrow, and at once excited
the wrath of the sensitive Joe by saying that he was not surprised.

"I ’ad a warning," he said solemnly, in reply to the indignant seaman.
"Larst night exactly as Big Ben struck ten o’clock the gate-bell was
pulled three times."

"I’ve pulled it fifty times myself before now," said Joe, scathingly,
"and then had to climb over the gate and wake you up."

"I went to the gate at once," continued George, addressing himself to
the cook; "sometimes when I’m shifting a barge, or doing any little job
o’ that sort, I do ’ave to keep a man waiting, and, if he’s drunk, two
minutes seems like ages to ’im."

"You ought to know wot it seems like," muttered Joe.

"When I got to the gate an’ opened it there was nobody there," continued
the watchman, impressively, "and while I was standing there I saw the
bell-pull go up an’ down without ’ands and the bell rung agin three
times."

The cook shivered. "Wasn’t you frightened, George?" he asked,
sympathetically.

"I knew it was a warning," continued the vivacious George. "W’y’e should
come to me I don’t know. One thing is I think ’e always ’ad a bit of a
fancy for me."

"He ’ad," said Joe; "everybody wot sees you loves you, George. They
can’t help theirselves."

"And I ’ave ’ad them two ladies down agin asking for Mr. Robinson, and
also for poor Cap’n Flower," said the watchman; "they asked me some
questions about ’im, and I told ’em the lies wot you told me to tell
’em, Joe; p’r’aps that’s w’y I ’ad the warning."

Joe turned away with a growl and went below, and Tim and the cook after
greedily waiting for some time to give the watchman’s imagination a
further chance, followed his example. George left to himself took his
old seat on the post at the end of the jetty, being, if the truth must
be told, some-what alarmed by his own fertile inventions.

Three times did the mate, in response to the frenzied commands of the
skipper, come stealthily up the companion-way and look at him. Time was
passing and action of some kind was imperative.

"George," he whispered, suddenly.

"Sir," said the watchman.

"I want to speak to you," said Fraser, mysteriously; "come down here."

George rose carefully from his seat, and lowering himself gingerly on
board, crept on tiptoe to the galley after the mate.

"Wait in here till I come back," said the latter, in a thrilling
whisper; "I’ve got something to show you. Don’t move, whatever happens."

His tones were so fearful, and he put so much emphasis on the last
sentence, that the watchman burst hurriedly out of the galley.

"I don’t like these mysteries," he said, plainly.

"There’s no mystery," said the mate, pushing him back again; "something
I don’t want the crew to see, that’s all. You’re the only man I can
trust."

He closed the door and coughed, and a figure which had been lurking on
the companion-ladder, slipped hastily on deck and clambered noiselessly
onto the jetty. The mate clambered up beside it, and hurrying with it to
the gate helped it over, and with much satisfaction heard it alight on
the other side.

"Good-night, Jack," said Flower. "Don’t forget to look after Poppy."

"Good-night," said the mate. "Write as soon as you’re fixed."

He walked back leisurely to the schooner and stood in some perplexity,
eyeing the galley which contained the devoted George, He stood for so
long that his victim lost all patience, and, sliding back the door,
peered out and discovered him.

"Have you got it?" he asked, softly.

"No," replied Fraser; "there isn’t anything. I was only making a fool of
you, George. Good-night."

He walked aft, and stood at the companion watching the outraged George
as he came slowly out of the galley and stared about him.

"Good-night, George," he repeated.

The watchman made no reply to the greeting, but, breathing heavily,
resumed his old seat on the post; and, folding his arms across his
panting bosom, looked down with majestic scorn upon the schooner and all
its contents. Long after the satisfied mate had forgotten the incident
in sleep, he sat there striving to digest the insult of which he had
been the victim, and to consider a painful and fitting retribution.



CHAPTER IX.



The mate awoke next morning to a full sense of the unpleasant task
before him, and, after irritably giving orders for the removal of the
tarpaulin from the skylight, a substitution of the ingenious cook’s for
the drawn blinds ashore, sat down to a solitary breakfast and the
composition of a telegram to Captain Barber. The first, a beautiful
piece of prose, of which the key-note was resignation, contained two
shillings’ worth of sympathy and fourpence-halfpenny worth of religion.
It was too expensive as it stood, and boiled down, he was surprised to
find that it became unfeeling to the verge of flippancy. Ultimately he
embodied it in a letter, which he preceded by a telegram, breaking the
sad news in as gentle a form as could be managed for one-and-three.

The best part of the day was spent in relating the sad end of Captain
Fred Flower to various enquirers. The deceased gentleman was a popular
favourite, and clerks from the office and brother skippers came down in
little knots to learn the full particulars, and to compare the accident
with others in their experience. It reminded one skipper, who invariably
took to drink when his feelings were touched, of the death of a little
nephew from whooping-cough, and he was so moved over a picture he drew
of the meeting of the two, that it took four men to get him off the
schooner without violence.

The mate sat for some time after tea striving to summon up sufficient
courage for his journey to Poplar, and wondering whether it wouldn’t
perhaps be better to communicate the news by letter. He even went so far
as to get the writing materials ready, and then, remembering his promise
to the skipper, put them away again and prepared for his visit. The crew
who were on deck eyed him stolidly as he departed, and Joe made a remark
to the cook, which that worthy drowned in a loud and troublesome cough.

The Wheeler family were at home when he arrived, and received him with
some surprise, Mrs. Wheeler, who was in her usual place on the sofa,
shook hands with him in a genteel fashion, and calling his attention to
a somewhat loudly attired young man of unpleasant appearance, who was
making a late tea, introduced him as her son Bob.

"Is Miss Tyrell in?" enquired Fraser, shaking his head as Mr. Wheeler
dusted a small Wheeler off a chair and offered it to him.

"She’s upstairs," said Emma Wheeler; "shall I go and fetch her?"

"No, I’ll go up to her," said the mate quietly. "I think I’d better see
her alone. I’ve got rather bad news for her."

"About the captain?" enquired Mrs. Wheeler, sharply.

"Yes," said Fraser, turning somewhat red. "Very bad news."

He fixed his eyes on the ground, and, in a spasmodic fashion, made
perfect by practice, recited the disaster.

"Pore feller," said Mrs. Wheeler, when he had finished. "Pore feller,
and cut down suddenly like that. I s’pose he ’adn’t made any preparation
for it?"

"Not a bit," said the mate, starting, "quite unprepared."

"You didn’t jump over after him?" suggested Miss Wheeler, softly.

"I did not," said the mate, firmly; whereupon Miss Wheeler, who was fond
of penny romance, sighed and shook her head.

"There’s that pore gal upstairs," said Mrs. Wheeler, sorrowfully, "all
innocent and happy, probably expecting him to come to-night and take her
out. Emma’d better go up and break it to ’er."

"I will," said Fraser, shortly.

"Better to let a woman do it," said Mrs. Wheeler. "When our little Jemmy
smashed his finger we sent Emma down to break it to his father and bring
’im ’ome. It was ever so long before she let you know the truth, wasn’t
it, father?"

"Made me think all sorts of things with her mysteries," said the dutiful
Mr. Wheeler, in triumphant corroboration. "First of all she made me
think you was dead; then I thought you was all dead—give me such a turn
they ’ad to give me brandy to bring me round. When I found out it was
only Jemmy’s finger, I was nearly off my ’ed with joy."

"I’ll go and tell her," interrupted Mr. Bob Wheeler, delicately, using
the inside edge of the table-cloth as a serviette. "I can do it better
than Emma can. What she wants is comforting; Emma would go and snivel
all over her."

Mrs. Wheeler, raising her head from the sofa, regarded the speaker with
looks of tender admiration, and the young man, after a lengthy glance in
the small pier-glass ornamented with coloured paper, which stood on the
mantel-piece, walked to the door.

"You needn’t trouble," said Fraser, slowly; "I’m going to tell her."

Mrs. Wheeler’s dull eyes snapped sharply. "She’s our lodger," she said,
aggressively.

"Yes, but I’m going to tell her," rejoined the mate; "the skipper told
me to."

A startled silence was broken by Mr. Wheeler’s chair, which fell
noisily.

"I mean," stammered Fraser, meeting the perturbed gaze of the
dock-foreman, "that he told me once if anything happened to him that I
was to break the news to Miss Tyrell. It’s been such a shock to me I
hardly know what I am saying."

"Yes, you’ll go and frighten her," said Bob Wheeler, endeavouring to
push past him.

The mate blocked the doorway.

"Are you going to try to prevent me going out of a room in my own
house?" blustered the young man.

"Of course not," said Fraser, and, giving way, ascended the stairs
before him. Mr. Wheeler, junior, after a moment’s hesitation, turned
back and, muttering threats under his breath, returned to the parlour.

Miss Tyrell, who was sitting by the window reading, rose upon the mate’s
entrance, and, observing that he was alone, evinced a little surprise as
she shook hands with him. It was the one thing necessary to complete his
discomfiture, and he stood before her in a state of guilty confusion.

"Cap’n Flower couldn’t come," he stammered.

The girl said nothing, but with her dark eyes fixed upon his flushed
face waited for him to continue.

"It’s his misfortune that he couldn’t come," con-tinued Fraser, jerkily.

"Business, I suppose?" said the girl, after another wait. "Won’t you sit
down?"

"Bad business," replied Fraser. He sat down, and fancied he saw the way
clear before him.

"You’ve left him on the Foam, I suppose?" said Poppy, seeing that she
was expected to speak.

"No; farther back than that," was the response.

"Seabridge?" queried the girl, with an air of indifference.

Fraser regarded her with an expression of studied sadness. "Not so far
back as that," he said, softly.

Miss Tyrell manifested a slight restlessness. "Is it a sort of riddle?"
she demanded.

"No, it’s a tale," replied Fraser, not without a secret admiration of
his unsuspected powers of breaking bad news; "a tale with a bad ending."

The girl misunderstood him. "If you mean that Captain Flower doesn’t
want to come here, and sent you to say so—" she began, with dignity.

"He can’t come," interrupted the mate, hastily.

"Did he send you to tell me?" she asked

Fraser shook his head mournfully. "He can’t come," he said, in a low
voice; "he had a bad foot—night before last he was standing on the
ship’s side—when he lost his hold—"

He broke off and eyed the girl nervously, "and fell overboard," he
concluded.

Poppy Tyrell gave a faint cry and, springing to her feet, stood with her
hand on the back of her chair regarding him. "Poor fellow," she said,
softly—"poor fellow."

She sat down again by the open window and nervously plucked at the
leaves of a geranium. Her face was white and her dark eyes pitiful and
tender. Fraser, watching her, cursed his resourceful skipper and hated
himself.

"It’s a terrible thing for his friends," said Poppy, at length. "And for
you," said Fraser, respectfully.

"I am very grieved," said Poppy, quietly; "very shocked and very
grieved."

"I have got strong hopes that he may have got picked up," said Fraser,
cheerfully; "very strong hopes, I threw him a life-belt, and though we
got the boat out and pulled about, we couldn’t find either of them. I
shouldn’t be at all surprised if he has been picked up by some vessel
outward bound. Stranger things have happened."

The girl shook her head. "You didn’t go overboard after him?" she asked,
quietly.

"I did not," said the mate, who was somewhat tired of this tactless
question; "I had to stand by the ship, and besides, he was a much better
swimmer than I am—I did the best I could."

Miss Tyrell bowed her head in answer. "Yes," she said, softly.

"If there’s anything I can do," said Fraser, awkwardly, "or be of use to
you in any way, I hope you’ll let me know—Flower told me you were all
alone, and—"

He broke off suddenly as he saw the girl’s lips quiver. "I was very fond
of my father," she said, in extenuation of this weakness.

"I suppose you’ve got some relatives?" said Fraser.

The girl shook her head.

"No cousins?" said Fraser, staring. He had twenty-three himself.

"I have some in New Zealand," said Poppy, considering. "If I could, I
think I should go out there."

"And give up your business here?" enquired the mate, anxiously.

"It gave me up," said Poppy, with a little tremulous laugh. "I had a
week’s pay instead of notice the day before yesterday. If you know
anybody who wants a clerk who spells ’impatient’ with a ’y’ and is
off-hand when they are told of it, you might let me know."

The mate stared at her blankly. This was a far more serious case than
Captain Flower’s. "What are you going to do?" he asked.

"Try for another berth," was the reply.

"But if you don’t get it?"

"I shall get it sooner or later," said the girl.

"But suppose you don’t get one for a long time?" suggested Fraser.

"I must wait till I do," said the girl, quietly.

"You see," continued the mate, twisting his hands, "it might be a long
job, and I—I was wondering—what you would do in the meantime. I was
wondering whether you could hold out."

"Hold out?" repeated Miss Tyrell, very coldly.

"Whether you’ve got enough money," blurted the mate.

Miss Tyrell turned upon him a face in which there was now no lack of
colour. "That is my business," she said, stiffly.

"Mine, too," said Fraser, gazing steadily at the pretty picture of
indignation before him. "I was Flower’s friend as well as his mate, and
you are only a girl." The indignation became impatience. "Little more
than a child," he murmured, scrutinising her.

"I am quite big enough to mind my own business," said Poppy, reverting
to chilly politeness.

"I wish you would promise me you won’t leave here or do anything until I
have seen you again,’’ said Fraser, who was anxious to consult his
captain on this new phase of affairs.

"Certainly not," said Miss Tyrell, rising and standing by her chair,
"and thank you for calling."

Fraser rubbed his chin helplessly.

"Thank you for calling," repeated the girl, still standing.

"That is telling me to go, I suppose?" said, Fraser, looking at her
frankly. "I wish I knew how to talk to you. When I think of you being
here all alone, without friends and without employment, it seems wrong
for me to go and leave you here."

Miss Tyrell gave a faint gasp and glanced anxiously at the door. Fraser
hesitated a moment, and then rose to his feet.

"If I hear anything more, may I come and tell you?" he asked.

"Yes," said Poppy, "or write; perhaps it would be better to write; I
might not be at home. Goodbye."

The mate shook hands, and, blundering down the stairs, shouted
good-night to a segment of the Wheeler family visible through the
half-open door, and passed out into the street. He walked for some time
rapidly, gradually slowing down as he collected his thoughts.

"Flower’s a fool," he said, bitterly; "and, as for me, I don’t know what
I am. It’s so long since I told the truth I forget what it’s like, and
I’d sooner tell lies in a church than tell them to her."



CHAPTER X.



He looked expectantly on the cabin table for a letter upon his return to
the ship, but was disappointed, and the only letter yielded by the post
next morning came from Captain Barber. It was couched in terms of great
resignation, and after bemoaning the unfortunate skipper’s untimely
demise in language of great strength, wound up with a little Scripture
and asked the mate to act as master and sail the schooner home.

"You’ll act as mate, Ben, to take her back," said the new skipper,
thrusting the letter in his pocket.

"Aye, aye, sir," said Ben, with a side glance at Joe, "but I’ll keep
for’ard, if you don’t mind."

"As you please," said Fraser, staring.

"And you’re master, I s’pose?" said Joe, turning to Fraser.

Fraser, whose manner had already effected the little change rendered
necessary by his promotion from mate to master, nodded curtly, and the
crew, after another exchange of looks, resumed their work without a
word. Their behaviour all day was docile, not to say lamb-like, and it
was not until evening that the new skipper found it necessary to enforce
his authority.

The exciting cause of the unpleasantness was Mr. William Green, a slim,
furtive-eyed young man, whom Fraser took on in the afternoon to fill the
vacancy caused by Ben’s promotion. He had not been on board half an hour
before trouble arose from his attempt to introduce the manners of the
drawing-room into the forecastle.

"Mr. Will-yum Green," repeated Joe, when the new arrival had introduced
himself; "well, you’ll be Bill ’ere."

"I don’t see why, if I call you Mr. Smith, you shouldn’t call me Mr.
Green," said the other.

"Call me wot?" enquired Joe, sternly; "you let me ’ear you callin’ me
mister anythink, that’s all; you let me ’ear you."

"I’m sure the cook ’ere don’t mind me callin’ ’im Mr. Fisher," said the
new seaman.

"Cert’nly not," said the gratified cook; "only my name’s Disher."

The newcomer apologised with an urbanity that rendered Joe and old Ben
speechless. They gazed at each other in silent consternation, and then
Ben rose.

"We don’t want no misters ’ere," he said, curtly, "an’ wot’s more, we
won’t ’ave ’em. That chap’s name’s Bob, but we calls ’im Slushy. If it’s
good enough for us, it’s good enough for a ordinary seaman wot’s got an
A. B. discharge by mistake. Let me ’ear you call ’im Slushy. Go on now."

"I’ve no call to address ’im at all just now," said Mr. Green, loftily.

"You call ’im Slushy," roared Joe, advancing upon him; "call ’im Slushy
till I tell you to stop."

"Slushy," said Mr. Green, sullenly, and avoiding the pained gaze of the
cook; "Slushy, Slushy, Slushy, Slushy, Sl——"

"That’ll do," said the cook, rising, with a scowl. "You don’t want to
make a song abart it."

Joe, content with his victory, resumed his seat on the locker and
exchanged a reassuring glance with Ben; Mr. Green, with a deprecatory
glance at the cook, sat down and offered him a pipe of tobacco.

"Been to sea long?" enquired the cook, accepting it

"Not long," said the other, speaking very distinctly.

"I was brought up for something quite different. I’m just doing this
till something better turns up. I find it very difficult to be a
gentleman at sea."

The cook, with an eye on Joe, ventured on a gentle murmur of sympathy,
and said that he had experienced the same thing.

"I ’ad money," continued Mr. Green, musingly, "and I run through it;
then I ’ad more money, and I run through that."

"Ben," said Joe, suddenly, "pass me over that boot o’ yours."

"Wha’ for?" enquired Ben, who had just taken it off.

"To chuck at that swab there," said the indignant seaman.

Ben passed it over without a word, and his irritated friend, taking
careful aim, launched it at Mr. Green and caught him on the side of the
head with it. Pain standing the latter in lieu of courage, he snatched
it up and returned it, and the next moment the whole forecastle was
punching somebody else’s head, while Tim, in a state of fearful joy,
peered down on it from his bunk.

Victory, rendered cheap and easy by reason of the purblindness of the
frantic cook, who was trying to persuade Mr. Green to raise his face
from the floor so that he could punch it for him, remained with Joe and
Ben, who, in reply to the angry shouts of the skipper from above,
pointed silently to the combatants. Explanations, all different and all
ready to be sworn to if desired, ensued, and Fraser, after curtly
reminding Ben of his new position and requesting him to keep order,
walked away.

A silence broken only by the general compliments of the much gratified
Tim, followed his departure, although another outbreak nearly occurred
owing to the cook supplying raw meat for Mr. Green’s eye and refusing it
for Joe’s. It was the lack of consideration and feeling that affected
Joe, not for the want of the beef, that little difficulty being easily
surmounted by taking Mr. Green’s. The tumult was just beginning again,
when it was arrested by the sound of angry voices above. Tim, followed
by Joe, sprang up the ladder, and the couple with their heads at the
opening listened with appreciative enjoyment to a wordy duel between
Mrs. Tipping and daughter and the watchman.

"Call me a liar, then," said old George, in bereaved accents.

"I have," said Mrs. Tipping.

"Only you’re so used to it you don’t notice it," remarked her daughter,
scathingly.

"I tell you he’s drownded," said the watchman, raising his voice; "if
you don’t believe me, go and ask Mr. Fraser. He’s skipper in his place
now."

He waved his hand in the direction of Fraser, who, having heard the
noise, was coming on deck to see the cause of it. Mrs. Tipping,
compressing her lips, got on board, followed by her daughter, and
marching up to him eyed him severely.

"I wonder you can look us in the face after the trick you served us the
other night," she said, fiercely.

"You brought it on yourselves," said Fraser, calmly. "You wouldn’t go
away, you know. You can’t always be coming here worrying."

"We shall come whenever we choose," said Mrs. Tipping. "In the first
place, we want to see Mr. Robinson; anyway we intend to see Captain
Flower, so you can save that fat old man the trouble of telling us lies
about him."

"Captain Flower fell overboard night before last, if that’s what you
mean," said Fraser, gravely.

"I never saw such a man in all my life," exclaimed Mrs. Tipping,
wrathfully. "You’re a perfect—what’s the man’s name in the Scriptures?"
she asked, turning to her daughter.

Miss Tipping, shaking her head despondently, requested her parent not to
worry her.

"Well, it doesn’t signify. I shall wait here till he comes," said Mrs.
Tipping.

"What, Ananias?" cried Fraser, forgetting himself.

Mrs. Tipping, scorning to reply, stood for some time gazing thoughtfully
about her. Then, in compliance with her whispered instructions, her
daughter crossed to the side and, brushing aside the outstretched hand
of the watchman, reached the jetty and walked into the office. Two of
the clerks were still working there, and she came back hastily to her
mother with the story of the captain’s death unmistakably confirmed.

Mrs. Tipping, loath to accept defeat, stood for some time in
consideration. "What had Captain Flower to do with Mr. Robinson?" she
asked at length, turning to Fraser.

"Can’t say," was the reply.

"Have you ever seen Mr. Robinson?" enquired the girl.

"I saw him one night," said the other, after some deliberation. "Rather
good-looking man, bright blue eyes, good teeth, and a jolly laugh."

"Are you likely to see him again?" enquired Miss Tipping, nodding in
confirmation of these details.

"Not now poor Flower’s gone," replied Fraser. "I fancy we shipped some
cases of rifles for him one night. The night you first came. I don’t
know what it all was about, but he struck me as being rather a secretive
sort of man."

"He was that," sighed Miss Tipping, shaking her head.

"I heard him say that night," said the mate, forgetful of his recent
longings after truth, "that he was off abroad. He said that something
was spoiling his life, I remember, but that duty came first."

"There, do you hear that, mother?" said Miss Tipping.

"Yes, I hear," said the other, with an aggressive sniff, as she moved
slowly to the side. "But I’m not satisfied that the captain is dead.
They’d tell us anything. You’ve not seen the last of me, young man, I
can tell you."

"I hope not," said Fraser, cordially. "Any time the ship’s up in London
and you care to come down, I shall be pleased to see you."

Mrs. Tipping, heated with the climb, received this courtesy with
coldness, and having enquired concerning the fate of Captain Flower of
six different people, and verified their accounts from the landlord of
the public-house at the corner, to whom she introduced herself with much
aplomb as being in the profession, went home with her daughter, in whom
depression, in its most chronic form, had settled in the form of
unfilial disrespect.

Two hours later the Foam got under way, and, after some heated language
owing to the watchman mistaking Mr. Green’s urbanity for sarcasm, sailed
slowly down the river. The hands were unusually quiet, but their
behaviour passed unnoticed by the new skipper, who was too perturbed by
the falsehoods he had told and those he was about to tell to take much
heed of anything that was passing.

"I thought you said you preferred to keep for-’ard?" he said to Ben, as
that worthy disturbed his meditations next morning by bustling into the
cabin and taking his seat at the breakfast table.

"I’ve changed my mind; the men don’t know their place," said the mate,
shortly.

Fraser raised his eyebrows.

"Forget who I am," said Ben, gruffly. "I was never one to take much
count of such things, but when it comes to being patted on the back by
an A. B., it’s time to remind ’em."

"Did they do that?" said Fraser, in a voice of horror.

"Joe did," said Ben. "’E won’t do it ag’in, I don’t think. I didn’t say
anything, but I think ’e knows my feelings."

"There’s your berth," said Fraser, indicating it with a nod.

Ben grunted in reply, and being disinclined for conversation, busied
himself with the meal, and as soon as he had finished went up on deck.

"Wot yer been down there for, Bennie?" asked Joe, severely, as he
appeared; "your tea’s all cold."

"I’ve ’ad my breakfast with the skipper," said Ben, shortly.

"You was always fond of your stummick, Bennie," said Joe, shaking his
head, sorrowfully. "I don’t think much of a man wot leaves his old mates
for a bit o’ bacon."

The new mate turned away from him haughtily, "Tim," he said, sharply.

"Yes, Ben," said the youth. "Why, wot’s the matter? Wot are you looking
like that for? Ain’t you well?" "Wot did you call me?" demanded the new
mate.

"I didn’t call you anything," said the startled Tim.

"Let me ’ear you call me Ben ag’in and you’ll hear of it," said the
other, sharply. "Go and clean the brasswork."

The youth strolled off, gasping, with an envious glance at the cook,
who, standing just inside the galley, cheerfully flaunted a saucepan he
was cleaning, as though defying the mate to find him any work to do.

"Bill," said the mate.

"Sir," said the polite seaman.

"Help Joe scrub paintwork," was the reply.

"Me!" broke in the indignant Joe.

"Scrub—Look ’ere, Ben."

"Pore old Joe," said the cook, who had not forgiven him for the previous
night’s affair. "Pore old Joe."

"Don’t stand gaping about," commanded the new mate. "Liven up there."

"It don’t want cleaning. I won’t do it," said Joe, fiercely.

"I’ve give my orders," said the new mate, severely; "if they ain’t
attended to, or if I ’ear any more about not doing ’em, you’ll hear of
it. The idea o’ telling me you won’t do it. The idea o’ setting such an
example to the young ’uns. The idea—Wot are you making that face for?"

"I’ve got the earache," retorted Joe, with bitter sarcasm.

"I thought you would ’ave, Joe," said the vengeful cook, retiring behind
a huge frying-pan, "when I ’eard you singing this morning."

Fraser, coming on deck, was just in time to see a really creditable
imitation of a famous sculpture as represented by Joe, Tim, and Ben, but
his criticism was so sharp and destructive that the group at once broke
and never re-formed. Indeed, with a common foe in the person of Ben, the
crew adjusted their own differences, and by the time Seabridge was in
sight were united by all the fearful obligations of a secret society of
which Joe was the perpetual president.

Captain Barber, with as much mourning as he could muster at such short
notice, was waiting on the quay. His weather-beaten face was not quite
so ruddy as usual, and Fraser, with a strong sense of shame, fancied, as
the old man clambered aboard the schooner, that his movements were
slower than of yore.

"This is a dreadful business, Jack," he said, giving him a hearty grip,
when at length he stood aboard the schooner.

"Shocking," said Fraser, reddening.

"I’ve spoken to have the coast-guards look out for him," said the old
man. "He may come ashore, and I know he’d be pleased to be put in the
churchyard decent."

"I’m sure he would," said Fraser. "I suppose there’s no chance of his
having been picked up. I slung a life-belt overboard."

Captain Barber shook his head. "It’s a mysterious thing," he said
slowly; "a man who’d been at sea all his life to go and tumble overboard
in calm weather like that."

"There’s a lot that’s mysterious about it, sir," said Joe, who had drawn
near, followed by the others. "I can say that, because I was on deck
only a few minutes before it happened."

"Pity you didn’t stay up," said Captain Barber, ruefully.

"So I thought, sir," said Joe, "but the mate saw me on deck and made me
go below. Two minutes afterwards I heard a splash, and the skipper was
overboard."

There was a meaning in his words that there was no mistaking. The old
man, looking round at the faces, saw that the mate’s was very pale.

"What did he make you go below for?" he asked, turning to Joe.

"Better ask him, sir," replied the seaman. "I wanted to stay up on deck,
but I ’ad to obey orders. If I ’ad stayed on deck, he wouldn’t have been
cap’n."

Captain Barber turned and regarded the mate fixedly; the mate, after a
vain attempt to meet his gaze, lowered his eyes to the deck.

"What do you say to all this?" enquired Barber, slowly.

"Nothing," replied the mate. "I did send Joe below and the skipper fell
overboard a minute or two afterwards. It’s quite true."

"Fell?" enquired Captain Barber.

"Fell," repeated the other, and looked him squarely in the eyes.

For some time Captain Barber said nothing, and the men, finding the
silence irksome, shuffled uneasily.

"Fred saved your life once," said Barber, at length.

"He did," replied Fraser.

The old man turned and paced slowly up and down the deck.

"He was my sister’s boy," he said, halting in front of the mate, "but he
was more like my son. His father and mother were drownded too, but they
went down fair and square in a gale. He stuck by his ship, and she stuck
by him, God bless her."

Fraser nodded.

"I’m obliged to you for bringing my ship from London," said Barber,
slowly. "I sha’n’t want you to take ’er back. I sha’n’t want you to stay
in ’er at all. I don’t want to see you again."

"That’s as you please," said Fraser, trying to speak unconcernedly.
"It’s your ship, and it’s for you to do as you like about her. I’ll put
my things together now."

"You don’t ask for no reason?" asked Barber, eyeing him wistfully.

The other shook his head. "No," he said, simply, and went below.

He came up some little time later with his belongings in a couple of
chests, and, the men offering no assistance, put them ashore himself,
and hailing a man who was sitting in a cart on the quay, arranged with
him to convey them to the station.

"Is ’e to be let go like this?" said Joe, hotly.

"Will you stop me?" demanded Fraser, choking with rage, as he stepped
aboard again.

"Joe," said Ben, sharply.

The seaman glared at him offensively.

"Go for’ard," said the new mate, peremptorily, "go for’ard, and don’t
make yourself so busy."

The seaman, helpless with rage, looked to Captain Barber for guidance,
and, the old man endorsing the new mate’s order, went forward, indulging
in a soliloquy in which Ben as a proper noun was mixed up in the company
of many improper adjectives.

Fraser, clambering into the cart, looked back at the Foam. The old man
was standing with his hands clasped behind his back looking down on the
deck, while the hands stood clumsily by. With an idea that the position
had suddenly become intolerable he sat silent until they reached the
station, and being for the first time for many months in the possession
of a holiday, resolved for various reasons to pay a dutiful visit to his
father at Bittlesea.



CHAPTER XI.



Captain Barber walked to his house in thoughtful mood, and sighed as he
thought of the uncertainty of life and the futility of earthly wishes.
The blinds at his windows were all decently drawn, while the Union Jack
drooped at half-mast in the front garden. He paused at the gate, with a
strong distaste for encountering the subdued gloom and the wealth of
womanly love which awaited him indoors, and bethinking himself of the
masterless state of his craft, walked slowly back and entered the Thorn
Inn.

"No news, I suppose, Captain Barber?" said the landlady, regarding him
with great sympathy.

The captain shook his head, and exchanging greetings with a couple of
neighbours, ordered something to drink.

"It’s wonderful how you bear up, I’m sure," said the landlady. "When my
poor dear died I cried every day for five weeks. I came down to skin and
bone almost."

"Well, if I was you—" said the old man, irritably, and regarding the
lady’s ample proportions with an unfavourable eye.

"What?" enquired the other, pausing with her fingers on the whisky-tap.

"If I was you," repeated Captain Barber, slowly, in order to give time
for full measure, "I should go an’ cry for five months all day and all
night."

The landlady put the glass in front of him sharply, and after giving him
his change without looking at him, thoughtfully wiped down the counter.

"Mrs. Church quite well?" she enquired, with studied artlessness.

"Quite well," replied the captain, scenting danger.

The landlady, smiling amiably, subsided into a comfortable
Windsor-chair, and shook her head at him so severely that, against his
better sense, he felt compelled to demand an explanation.

"There, there," replied the landlady, "get along with you, do!
Innocence!"

"It’s no good, Cap’n Barber," said one of the customers, with the best
intentions in the world.

"It struck me all of a heap," said the landlady.

"So it did me," said the other man.

"My missus knew it all along," said the first man; "she said she knew it
by the way they looked at one another."

"Might I ask who you’re talking of?" demanded the incensed Barber, who
had given up the effort to appear unconscious as being beyond his
powers.

"A young engaged couple," said the landlady.

The captain hesitated. "What have you been shaking your head at me and
telling me it’s no good for, then?" he demanded.

"At your pretending not to have heard of it," said the landlady.

"I have not ’eard of it," said Captain Barber, fiercely, as he took up
his glass and walked towards the parlour. "I’ve got something better to
do than talk about my neighbours’ affairs."

"Yes, of course you have," said the landlady. "We know that."

The indignant Barber closed the door behind him with a bang, and,
excited with the controversy, returned with a short and suspicious nod
the greeting of a small man of shrunken and forlorn aspect who was
sitting at the other side of the room.

"Mornin’, Cap’n Nibletts," he growled.

"Mornin, sir," said Nibletts; "how’s things?"

Captain Barber shook his head. "Bad as bad can be," he replied, slowly;
"there’s no hope at all. I’m looking for a new master for my vessel."

Nibletts looked up at him eagerly, and then looked away again. His last
command had hoisted the green flag at the mouth of the river in a
position which claimed attention, respect, and profanity from every
craft which passed, its master having been only saved from the
traditional death of the devoted shipmaster by the unpardonable conduct
of the mate, who tore him from his craft by the scruff of his neck and
the seat of his trousers.

"What about Harris?" he suggested.

"I don’t like Harris’s ways," said Barber, slowly.

"Well, what about Fletcher?" said Nibletts.

"Fletcher’s ways are worse than wot Harris’s ways are," commented
Captain Barber.

"I can understand you being careful," said Captain Nibletts; "she’s the
prettiest little craft that ever sailed out of Seabridge. You can’t be
too careful.".

"If things ’ad been different," said the gratified owner, rolling his
whisky round his mouth and swallowing it gently, "I’d have liked you to
have ’ad her."

"Thankee," said Nibletts, quietly.

There was a pause, during which both men eyed the noble specimens of
fish which are preserved for tavern parlours. Captain Barber took
another sip of whisky.

"I’m going to use my own judgment, Nibletts," he said slowly. "I’ve
always rose superior to the opinions of other people. There’s nobody you
know would give you a ship. I’m going to give you the Foam!"

Captain Nibletts, rising from his seat, crossed over, and taking his
hand, thanked him in broken accents for this overpowering expression of
confidence in him. Then he walked back, and taking his whisky from the
table, threw it on the floor.

"I’ve had enough of that," he said briefly. "When am I to take her over,
Cap’n Barber?"

"So soon as ever you please," said his benefactor. "Old Ben’ll stay on
as mate; Fraser’s gone."

Captain Nibletts thanked him again, and, clapping on his hard hat,
passed hastily into the bar, his small visage twisted into a smile, to
which it had long been a stranger. With the customers in the bar he
exchanged remarks of so frivolous a nature in passing that the landlady
nearly dropped the glass she was wiping, and then, crimson with
indignation, as the door swung behind him, realised that the melancholy
and usually respectful Nibletts had thought fit to publicly address her
as "Gertie."

In the same high spirits the new master swung hastily down the road to
his new command. Work had already commenced, and the energetic Ben,
having been pushed over once by a set of goods in the slings owing to
the frantic attempts of the men at the hand-crane to keep pace with his
demands, was shouting instructions from a safe distance. He looked round
as Nibletts stepped aboard, and, with a wary eye on the crane, bustled
towards him.

"Wot can we do for you, Cap’n Nibletts?" he enquired, with a patronising
air.

"I’m to be master," replied the other, quietly.

"You?" said Ben, with offensive astonishment, as he saw the death of his
own ambitious hopes in that quarter. "You to be master?"

Nibletts nodded and coloured. "Cap’n Barber just gave me the berth," he
remarked.

Ben sighed and shook his head. "He’ll never be the same man ag’in," he
affirmed, positively; "’e went away: from ’ere dazed, quite dazed. ’Ow
was ’e when you saw ’im?"

"He was all right," was the reply.

Ben shook his head as one who knew better. "I ’ope he won’t get no more
shocks," he observed, gravely. "It’ll be nice for you to get to sea
ag’in, Cap’n."

Captain Nibletts raised his weather-beaten countenance and sniffed the
air with relish.

"You’ll be able to see the Diadem as we go by," continued the
sorely-aggravated Ben. "There’s just her masts showing at ’igh water."

A faint laugh rose from somebody in the hold, and Nibletts, his face a
dull red, stole quietly below and took possession of his new quarters.
In the course of the day he transferred his belongings to the schooner,
and, as though half fearful that his new command might yet slip through
his fingers, slept on board.

On the way back to London a sum in simple proportion, set by Joe, helped
to exercise the minds of the crew in the rare intervals which the new
mate allowed them for relaxation: "If Ben was bad on the fust v’y’ge,
and much wuss on the second, wot ’ud he be like on the tenth?" All
agreed that the answer would require a lot of working. They tarred the
rigging, stropped the blocks, and in monkey-like attitudes scraped the
masts. Even the cook received a little instruction in his art, and
estranged the affections of all hands by a "three-decker," made under
Ben’s personal supervision.

The secret society discussed the matter for some time in vain. The
difficulty was not so much in inventing modes of retaliation as in
finding some bold spirit to carry them out. In vain did the president
allot tasks to his admiring followers, preceded by excellent reasons why
he should not perform them himself. The only one who showed any spirit
at all was Tim, and he, being ordered to spill a little tar carelessly
from aloft, paid so much attention to the adverb that Joe half killed
him when he came down again.

Then Mr. William Green, having learnt that the mate was unable to read,
did wonders with a piece of chalk and the frying pan, which he hung
barometer fashion outside the galley when the skipper was below, the
laughter of the delighted crew bearing witness to the success of his
efforts, laughter which became almost uncontrollable as the mate, with
as stately an air as he could assume, strode towards the galley and
brought up in front of the frying-pan.

"Wot’s all that, cook?" he demanded, pointing to the writing.

"Wot, sir?" asked the innocent.

"On the frying-pan," replied Ben, scowling.

"That’s chalk-marks," explained the cook, "to clean it with."

"It looks to me like writing," snapped the mate.

"Lor, no, sir," said the cook, with a superior smile.

"I say it does," said Ben, stamping.

"Well, o’ course you know best, sir," said the cook, humbly. "I ain’t
nothing of a scholard myself. If it’s writing, wot does it say, please?"

"I don’t say it is writing," growled the old man. "I say it looks like
it."

"I can assure you you’re mistook, sir," said the cook, blandly; "you
see, I clean the sorsepans the same way. I only ’eard of it lately. Look
’ere."

He placed the articles in question upside down in a row on the deck, and
Tim, reading the legends inscribed thereon, and glancing from them to
the mate, was hastily led below in an overwrought condition by the
flattered Mr. Green.

"Cook," said the mate, ferociously.

"Sir," said the other.

"I won’t ’ave the sorsepans cleaned that way.

"No, sir," said the cook, respectfully, "it does make ’em larf, don’t
it, sir, though I can’t see wot they’re larfing at any more than wot you
can."

The mate walked off fuming, and to his other duties added that of
inspector of pots and pans, a condition of things highly offensive to
the cook, inasmuch as certain culinary arrangements of his, only
remotely connected with cleanliness, came in for much unskilled comment.

The overworked crew went ashore at the earliest possible moment after
their arrival in London, in search of recuperative draughts. Ben watched
them a trifle wistfully as they moved off, and when Nibletts soon after
followed their example without inviting him to join him in a social
glass of superior quality, smiled mournfully as he thought of the
disadvantages of rank.

He sat for some time smoking in silence, monarch of all he surveyed, and
then, gazing abstractedly at the silent craft around him, fell into a
pleasant dream, in which he saw himself in his rightful position as
master of the Foam, and Nibletts, cashiered for drunkenness, coming to
him for employment before the mast. His meditations were disturbed by a
small piece of coal breaking on the deck, at which he looked lazily,
until, finding it followed by two other pieces, he reluctantly came to
the conclusion that they were intended for him. A fourth piece, better
aimed, put the matter beyond all reasonable doubt, and, looking up
sharply, he caught the watchman in the act of launching the fifth.

"Hullo, old ’un," said George, cheerfully, "I thought you was asleep."

"You thought wrong, then," said the mate, sourly; "don’t you do that
ag’in."

"Why, did I ’urt you?" said the other, surprised at his tone.

"Next time you want to chuck coal at anybody," continued Ben, with
dignity, "pick out one o’ the ’ands; mates don’t like ’aving coal
chucked at ’em by watchmen."

"Look who we are," gasped the petrified George. "Look who we are," he
repeated, helplessly. "Look who we are."

"Keep your place, watchman," said the mate, severely; "keep your place,
and I’ll keep mine."

The watchman regarded him for some time in genuine astonishment, and
then, taking his old seat on the post, thrust his hands in his pockets,
and gave utterance to this shocking heresy, "Mates ain’t nothing."

"You mind your business, watchman," said the nettled Ben, "and I’ll mind
mine."

"You don’t know it," retorted the other, breathing heavily; "be—sides,
you don’t look like a mate. I wouldn’t chuck coal at a real mate."

He said no more, but sat gazing idly up and down the river with a face
from which all expression had been banished, except when at intervals
his gaze rested upon the mate, when it lit up with an expression of
wonder and joy which made the muscles ache with the exercise.

He was interrupted in this amusement by the sound of footsteps and
feminine voices behind him; the indefatigable Tippings were paying
another of their informal visits, and, calmly ignoring his presence,
came to the edge of the jetty and discussed ways and means of boarding
the schooner.

"Mr. Fraser’s gone," said the watchman, politely and loudly, "there’s a
new skipper now, and that tall, fine, ’andsome, smart, good-looking
young feller down there is the new mate."

The new mate, looking up fiercely, acknowledged the introduction with an
inhospitable stare, a look which gave way to one of anxiety as Mrs.
Tipping, stepping into the rigging, suddenly lost her nerve, and,
gripping it tightly, shook it in much the same fashion as a stout
bluebottle shakes the web of a spider.

"Hold tight, mar," cried her daughter, excitedly.

The watchman stepped into the rigging beside her, and patted her
soothingly on the back; the mate, coming to the side, took her foot and
assisted her to reach the deck. Miss Tipping followed, and the elder
lady, after recovering from the shock caused by her late peril, fell to
discussing the eternal subject of Mr. Robinson with the new mate.

"No, I never see ’im," said Ben, thoughtfully; "I never heard of him
till you come asking arter ’im.

"You must make up your mind he’s gone," said Mrs. Tipping, turning to
her daughter, "that’s what I keep telling you. I never was so tired of
anything in my life as tramping down here night after night. It ain’t
respectable."

"You needn’t come," said the other, dutifully. "He was last heard of on
this ship, and where else am I to look for him? You said you’d like to
find him yourself."

"I should," said Mrs. Tipping, grimly; "I should. Me an’ him are to have
a little talk, if ever we do meet."

"If he ever comes aboard this ship," said the mate, firmly, "I’ll tackle
him for you."

"Find out where he lives," said Mrs. Tipping, eagerly.

"And let us know," added her daughter, giving him a card; "that’s our
address, and any time you’re up our way we shall be very pleased to see
you, Mr.——"

"Brown," said the mate, charmed with their manners. "Mr. Brown."

"Ben," cried a voice from the wharf.

The new mate gazed austerely at the small office-boy above.

"Letter for the mate," said the youth, who was unversed in recent
history; "catch."

He pitched it to the deck and walked off whistling. There was only one
mate in Ben’s world, and he picked the letter up and put it in his
pocket.

"Don’t mind us, if you want to read it," said Mrs. Tipping, kindly.

"Only business, I expect," said Ben, grandly.

He took it from his pocket, and, tearing the envelope, threw it aside
and made a feint of reading the contents.

"Not bad news, I hope?" said Mrs. Tipping, noticing his wrinkled brow.

"I can’t read without my glasses," said the mate, with a measure of
truth in the statement. He looked at Mrs. Tipping, and saw a chance of
avoiding humiliation.

"P’r’aps you’d just look at it and see if it’s important," he suggested.

Mrs. Tipping took the letter from him, and, after remarking on the
strangeness of the handwriting, read aloud:—

"Dear Jack:—If you want to see Mr. Norton, come to 10, John Street,
Walworth, and be careful nobody sees you."

"Jack," said the mate, stooping for the envelope.

"Why it must be meant for Mr.—for Jack Fraser."

"Careful nobody sees you," murmured Miss Tipping, excitedly, as she took
the envelope from the mate; "why, the address is printed by hand."

Mother and daughter looked at each other. It was evident that their
thoughts were similar, and that one could have known them without the
expenditure of the proverbial penny.

"I’ll give it to him when I see him," remarked Ben, thrusting the letter
in his pocket. "It don’t seem to be important. He ain’t in London, at
present, I don’t think."

"I shouldn’t think it was important at all," said Mrs. Tipping,
soothingly.

"Not at all," echoed her daughter, whose cheek was burning with
excitement. "Good-night, Mr. Brown."

Ben bade them good-night, and in his capacity of host walked up the
wharf with them and saw them depart.

"Nice little thing, ain’t she?" said the watchman who was standing
there, after Mrs. Tipping had bidden the mate good-bye; "be careful wot
you’re a-doin’ of, Ben. Don’t go and spile yourself by a early marriage,
just as you’re a-beginning to get on in life. Besides, a mate might do
better than that, and she’d only marry you for your persition."



CHAPTER XII.



In happy ignorance of the changes caused by his sudden and tragic end,
Captain Flower sat at the open window of his shabby Walworth lodging,
smoking an after-breakfast pipe, and gazing idly into the dismal,
littered yard beneath. Time—owing to his injured foot, which, neatly
bandaged at a local dispensary, rested upon a second chair—hung rather
heavily upon his hands as he sat thinking of ways and means of spending
the next six months profitably and pleasantly. He had looked at the
oleographs on the walls until he was tired, and even the marvels of the
wax fruit under a cracked glass shade began to pall upon him.

"I’ll go and stay in the country a bit," he muttered; "I shall choke
here."

He took a slice of bread from the tray, and breaking it into small
pieces, began to give breakfast to three hens which passed a precarious
existence in the yard below.

"They get quite to know you now," said the small but shrewd daughter of
the house, who had come in to clear the breakfast things away. "How’d
you like your egg?"

"Very good," said Flower.

"It was new laid," said the small girl.

She came up to the window and critically inspected the birds. "She laid
it," she said, indicating one of the three.

"She’s not much to look at," said Flower, regarding the weirdest-looking
of the three with some interest.

"She’s a wonderful layer," said Miss Chiffers, "and as sharp as you make
’em. When she’s in the dust-bin the others ’ave to stay outside. They
can go in when she’s ’ad all she wants."

"I don’t think I’ll have any more eggs," said Flower, casually. "I’m
eating too much. Bacon’ll do by itself."

"Please yourself," said Miss Chiffers, turning from the window. "How’s
your foot?"

"Better," said Flower.

"It’s swelled more than it was yesterday," she said, with ill-concealed
satisfaction.

"It feels better," said the captain.

"That’s ’cos it’s goin’ dead," said the damsel; "then it’ll go black all
up your leg, and then you’ll ’ave to ’ave it orf."

Flower grinned comfortably.

"You may larf," said the small girl, severely; "but you won’t larf when
you lose it, an’ all becos you won’t poultice it with tea leaves."

She collected the things together on a tea tray of enormous size, and
holding it tightly pressed to her small waist, watched with anxious eyes
as the heavy articles slowly tobogganed to the other end. A knife fell
outside the door, and the loaf, after a moment’s hesitation which nearly
upset the tray, jumped over the edge and bounded downstairs.

Flower knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and slowly refilling it, began
to peruse the morning paper, looking in vain, as he had looked each
morning, for an account of his death.

His reading was interrupted by a loud knock at the street door, and he
threw down the paper to be ready to receive the faithful Fraser. He
heard the door open, and then the violent rushing upstairs of Miss
Chiffers to announce his visitor.

"Somebody to see you, Mr. Norton," she panted, bursting into the room.

"Well, show him up," said Flower.

"All of ’em?" demanded Miss Chiffers.

"Is there more than one?" enquired Flower in a startled voice.

"Three," said Miss Chiffers, nodding; "two gentlemen and a lady."

"Did they say what their names were?" enquired the other, turning very
pale.

Miss Chiffers shook her head, and then stooped to pick up a hairpin.
"One of ’em’s called Dick," she said, replacing the pin.

"Tell them I’m not at home," said Flower, hastily, "but that I shall be
back at twelve o’clock, See?"

He produced a shilling, and the small girl, with an appreciative nod,
left the room, and closed the door behind her. Flower, suffering
severely from nervous excitement, heard a discussion in the passage
below, and then sounds of a great multitude coming upstairs and opening
various doors on its way, in spite of the indignant opposition afforded
by the daughter of the house.

"What’s in here?" enquired a well-known voice, as a hand was placed on
his door handle.

"Nothing," said Miss Chiffers; "’ere, you go away, that’s my bedroom. Go
away, d’you ’ear?"

There was the sound of a diminutive scuffle outside, then the door
opened and a smartly-dressed young man, regardless of the fair form of
Miss Chiffers, which was coiled round his leg, entered the room.

"Why, Dick," said the skipper, rising, "Dick! Thank goodness it’s you."

"I’ve no doubt you’re delighted," said Mr. Tipping, coldly. "What are
you doing with that knife?"

"I thought it was somebody else," said Flower, putting it down. "I
thought it was another attempt on my life."

Mr. Tipping coughed behind his hand and murmured something inaudibly as
his sister entered the room, followed by the third member of the party.

"Oh, Fred!" she said, wildly, "I wonder you can look me in the face.
Where have you been all this time? Where have you been?"

"Give the man time to think," said her brother, exchanging a glance with
the other man.

"I’ve been everywhere," said Flower, facing them defiantly. "I’ve been
hunted all over the country."

"But where did you go when you left me that day?" enquired Miss Tipping.

"It’s a long story," said Flower, slowly. "But you got the letter I
wrote you?"

Miss Tipping shook her head.

"You didn’t get it?" said Flower, in surprise. "I can’t think what you
must have thought of me."

"I’ll tell you what I thought of you, if you’d like to know,"
interrupted Mr. Tipping, eagerly.

"I wrote to you to explain," said Flower, glibly "I went abroad
suddenly, called away at a moment’s notice."

"Special trains and all that sort o’ thing, I s’pose," said Mr. Tipping,
with interest.

"Dick," said Miss Tipping, fiercely.

"Well," said Dick, gruffly.

"Hold your tongue."

"I’ve not had any real sleep since," said Flower, pathetically, "what
with the danger and thinking of you."

"Why didn’t you write again?" enquired Miss Tipping.

"I asked you to write to a certain address in that letter I sent you,"
said Flower, "and when I came back to England and found there was no
letter, I concluded that you couldn’t forgive me."

Miss Tipping looked at him reproachfully, but Mr. Tipping, raising his
eyes, gasped for air.

"But who are these enemies?" asked Miss Tipping, tenderly drawing closer
to Flower.

"A man in the Government service——" began the captain.

He broke off disdainfully until such time as Mr. Tipping should have
conquered a somewhat refractory cough.

"In the secret service," continued Flower, firmly, "has got enemies all
round him."

"You’ll have to get something else to do when we are married, Fred,"
said Miss Tipping, tearfully.

"You’ve forgiven me, then?" said Flower, hoping that he had concealed a
nervous start.

"I’d forgive you anything, Fred," said Miss Tipping, tenderly; "you’ll
have to give up this job at once."

Captain Flower shook his head and smiled mournfully, thereby intimating
that his services were of too valuable a nature for any Government to
lightly dispense with.

"May I come round and see you to-morrow?" he enquired, putting his arm
about the lady’s waist.

"Come round to-morrow?" repeated Miss Tipping, in surprise; "why, you
don’t think I’m going to leave you here surrounded by dangers? You’re
coming home with us now."

"No, to-morrow," said the unhappy mariner, in a winning voice.

"You don’t go out of my sight again," said Miss Tipping, firmly. "Dick,
you and Fred shake hands."

The two gentlemen complied. Both were somewhat proud of their grip, and
a bystander might have mistaken their amiable efforts to crush each
other’s fingers for the outward and visible signs of true affection.

"You’d better settle up here now, Fred," said Miss Tipping.

Flower, putting the best face he could upon it, assented with a tender
smile, and, following them downstairs, held a long argument with Mrs.
Chiffers as to the amount due, that lady having ideas upon the subject
which did more credit to her imagination than her arithmetic.

The bill was settled at last, and the little party standing on the steps
waited for the return of Miss Chiffers, who had been dispatched for a
four-wheeler.

"Oh, what about your luggage, Fred?" enquired Miss Tipping, suddenly.

"Haven’t got any," said Flower, quickly. "I managed to get away with
what I stand up in, and glad to do that."

Miss Tipping squeezed his arm and leaned heavily upon his shoulder.

"I was very lucky to get off as I did," continued the veracious mariner.
"I wasn’t touched except for a rap over my foot with the butt-end of a
revolver. I was just over the wall in time."

"Poor fellow," said Miss Tipping, softly, as she shivered and looked up
into his face. "What are you grinning at, Dick?"

"I s’pose a fellow may grin if he likes," said Mr. Tipping, suddenly
becoming serious.

"This is the first bit of happiness I’ve had since I saw you last,"
murmured Flower.

Miss Tipping squeezed his arm again.

"It seems almost too good to be true," he continued. "I’m almost afraid
I shall wake up and find it all a dream."

"Oh, you’re wide-awake enough," said Mr. Tipping.

"Wide-awake ain’t the word for it," said the other gentleman, shaking
his head.

"Uncle," said Miss Tipping, sharply.

"Yes, my dear," said the other, uneasily.

"Keep your remarks for those that like them," said his dutiful niece,
"or else get out and walk."

Mr. Porson, being thus heckled, subsided into defiant mutterings,
intended for Dick Tipping’s ear alone, and the remainder of the drive to
Chelsea passed almost in silence. Arrived at the Blue Posts, Flower got
out with well-simulated alacrity, and going into the bar, shook hands
heartily with Mrs. Tipping before she quite knew what he was doing.

"You’ve got him, then," she said, turning to her daughter, "and now I
hope you’re satisfied. Don’t stand in the bar; I can’t say what I want
to say here—come in the parlour and shut the door."

They followed the masterful lady obediently into the room indicated.

"And now, Mr. Robinson," she said, with her hands on her hips, "now for
your explanation."

"I have explained to Matilda," said Flower, waving his hand.

"That’s quite right, mar," said Miss Tipping, nodding briskly.

"He’s had a dreadful time, poor feller," said Dick Tipping, unctuously.
"He’s been hunted all over England by—who was it, Mister Robinson?"

"The parties I’m working against," said Flower, repressing his choler by
a strong effort.

"The parties he’s working against," repeated Mr. Tipping.

"Somebody ought to talk to them parties," said Mr. Porson, speaking with
much deliberation, "that is, if they can find ’em."

"They want looking after, that’s what they want," said Dick Tipping,
with a leer.

"It’s all very well for you to make fun of it," said Mrs. Tipping,
raising her voice. "I like plain, straightforward dealing folk myself. I
don’t under-stand nothing about your secret services and Governments and
all that sort of thing. Mr. Robinson, have you come back prepared to
marry my daughter? Because, if you ain’t, we want to know why not."

"Of course I have," said Flower, hotly. "It’s the dearest wish of my
life. I should have come before, only I thought when she didn’t answer
my letter that she had given me up."

"Where ’ave you been, and what’s it all about?" demanded Mrs. Tipping.

"At present," said Flower, with an appearance of great firmness, "I
can’t tell you. I shall tell Matilda the day after we’re married—if
she’ll still trust me and marry me—and you shall all know as soon as we
think it’s safe."

"You needn’t say another word, mar," said Miss Tipping, warningly.

"I’m sure," said the elder lady, bridling. "Perhaps your uncle would
like to try and reason with you."

Mr. Porson smiled in a sickly fashion, and cleared his throat.

"You see, my dear—" he began.

"Your tie’s all shifted to one side," said his niece, sternly, "and the
stud’s out of your buttonhole. I wish you’d be a little tidier when you
come here, uncle; it looks bad for the house."

"I came away in a hurry to oblige you," said Mr. Porson. "I don’t think
this is a time to talk about button-holes."

"I thought you were going to say something," retorted Miss Tipping,
scathingly, "and you might as well talk about that as anything else."

"It ain’t right," said Mrs. Tipping, breaking in, "that you should marry
a man you don’t know anything about; that’s what I mean. That’s only
reasonable, I think."

"It’s quite fair," said Flower, trying hard to speak reluctantly. "Of
course, if Matilda wishes, I’m quite prepared to go away now. I don’t
wish her to tie herself up to a man who at present, at any rate, has to
go about wrapped in a mystery."

"All the same," said Mrs. Tipping, with a gleam in her eyes, "I’m not
going to have anybody playing fast and loose with my daughter. She’s got
your ring on her finger. You’re engaged to be married to her, and you
mustn’t break it off by running away or anything of that kind. If she
likes to break it off, that’s a different matter."

"I’m not going to break it off," said Miss Tipping, fiercely; "I’ve made
all the arrangements in my own mind. We shall get married as soon as we
can, and I shall put Dick in here as manager, and take a nice little inn
down in the country somewhere."

"Mark my words," said Mrs. Tipping, solemnly, "you’ll lose him again."

"If I lose him again," said Miss Tipping, dramatically, "if he’s
spirited away by these people, or anything happens to him, Dick won’t be
manager here. Uncle Porson will have as much drink and as many cigars as
he pays for, and Charlie will find another berth."

"Nobody shall hurt a hair of his head," said Mr. Tipping, with
inimitable pathos.

"He must be protected against hisself," said Mr. Porson, spitefully;
"that’s the ’ardest part. He’s a man what if ’e thinks it’s his dooty
’ll go away just as ’e did before."

"Well if he gets away from Charlie," said Mr. Tipping, "he’ll be cute.
There’s one thing, Mr. Robinson: if you try to get away from those who
love you and are looking after you, there’ll be a fight first, then
there’ll be a police court fuss, and then we shall find out what the
Government mean by it."

Captain Flower sat down in an easy posture as though he intended a long
stay, and in a voice broken with emotion murmured something about home,
and rest, and freedom from danger.

"That’s just it," said Mrs. Tipping, "here you are, and here you’ll
stay. After you’re married, it’ll be Matilda’s affair; and now let’s
have some tea."

"First of all, mar, kiss Fred," said Miss Tipping, who had been eyeing
her parent closely.

Mrs. Tipping hesitated, but the gallant captain, putting a good face on
it, sprang up and, passing his arm about her substantial waist, saluted
her, after which, as a sort of set-off, he kissed Miss Tipping.

"I can only say," he said truthfully, "that this kindness hurts me. The
day I’m married I’ll tell you all."



CHAPTER XIII.



In happy ignorance that the late master of the Foam had secured a suite
of rooms at the Blue Posts Hotel, the late mate returned to London by
train with a view of getting into communication with him as soon as
possible. The delay occasioned by his visit to Bittlesea was not
regretted, Mr. Fraser senior having at considerable trouble and expense
arranged for him to take over the Swallow at the end of the week.

Owing to this rise in his fortune he was in fairly good spirits, despite
the slur upon his character, as he made his way down to the wharf. The
hands had knocked off work for the day, and the crew of the schooner,
having finished their tea, were sprawling in the bows smoking in such
attitudes of unstudied grace as best suited the contours of their
figures. Joe looked up as he approached, and removing his pipe murmured
something inaudible to his comrades.

"The mate’s down below, sir," said Mr. William Green in reply to Fraser.
"I shall be pleased to fetch him."

He walked aft and returned shortly, followed by Ben, who, standing
stiffly before his predecessor, listened calmly to his eager enquiry
about his letter.

"No, there’s been nothing for you," he said, slowly. He had dropped the
letter overboard as the simplest way of avoiding unpleasantness. "Was
you expecting one?"

Fraser, gazing blankly at him, made no reply, being indeed staggered by
the thoroughness with which he imagined the wily Flower was playing his
part.

"He’s going to be lost his full six months, that’s evident," he thought,
in consternation. "He must have seen the way I should be affected; it
would serve him right to tell the whole thing right away to Captain
Barber."

"If anything does come I’ll send it on to you," said Ben, who had been
watching him closely.

"Thanks," said Fraser, pondering, and walked away with his eyes on the
ground. He called in at the office as he passed it; the staff had gone,
but the letter-rack which stood on the dusty, littered mantel-piece was
empty, and he went into the street again.

His programme for the evening thus suddenly arrested, he walked slowly
up Tower Hill into the Minories, wondering what to do with himself.
Something masquerading as a conscience told him severely that he ought
to keep his promise to the errant Flower and go and visit Poppy;
conscience without any masquerading at all told him he was a humbug, and
disclaimed the responsibility. In the meantime, he walked slowly in the
direction of Poplar, and having at length made up a mind which had been
indulging in civil war all the way, turned up Liston Street and knocked
at the Wheelers’ door.

A murmur of voices’ from the sitting-room stopped instantly. A double
knock was a rare occurrence on that door, and was usually the prelude to
the sudden disappearance of the fairer portion of the family, while a
small boy was told off to answer it, under dire penalties if he
officiated too soon.

This evening, however, the ladies had made their toilet, and the door
was opened after a delay merely sufficient to enable them to try and
guess the identity of the guest before the revelation. Poppy Tyrell
opened it, and turned upon him eyes which showed the faintest trace of
surprise.

"Good evening," said Fraser, holding out his hand.

"Good evening," said the girl.

"Fine weather we’re having," said the embarrassed ex-mate, "for June,"
he added, in justification of the remark.

Miss Tyrell assented gravely, and stood there waiting.

It is probable that two members at least of the family would have been
gratified by the disappearance of the caller then and there, but that
Mr. Wheeler, a man of great density and no tact whatever, came bustling
out into the passage, and having shaken hands in a hearty fashion, told
him to put his hat on a nail and come in.

"No news of the cap’n, I suppose?" he asked, solemnly, after Fraser was
comfortably seated.

"Not a word," was the reply.

The dock-foreman sighed and shook his head as he reflected on the
instability of human affairs. "There’s no certainty about anything," he
said, slowly. "Only yesterday I was walking down the Commercial Road,
and I slipped orf the curb into the road before you could say Jack
Robinson."

"Nearly run over?" queried Fraser.

Mr. Wheeler shook his head. "No," he said, quietly.

"Well, what of it?" enquired his son.

"It might just as well have been the edge of the dock as the curb;
that’s what I mean," said Mr. Wheeler, with a gravity befitting his
narrow escape.

"I’m alwis telling you not to walk on the edge, father," said his wife,
uneasily.

The dock-foreman smiled faintly. "Dooty must be done," he said, in a
firm voice. "I’m quite prepared, my life’s insured, and I’m on the club,
and some o’ the children are getting big now, that’s a comfort."

A feeling of depression settled on all present, and Augustus Wheeler,
aged eight, having gleaned from the conversation that his sire had
received instructions, which he intended promptly to obey, to fall into
the dock forthwith, suddenly opened his mouth and gave vent to his
affection and despair in a howl so terrible that the ornaments on the
mantelpiece shook with it.

"Don’t scold ’im," said the dock-foreman, tenderly, as Mrs. Wheeler’s
thin, shrill voice entered into angry competition with the howl; "never
mind, Gussie, my boy, never mind."

This gentleness had no effect, Gussie continuing to roar with much
ardour, but watching out of the corner of one tear-suffused eye the
efforts of his eldest sister to find her pocket.

"Hold your noise and I’ll give you a ha’penny," she said, tartly.

Gussie caught his breath with a sob, but kept steam up, having on some
similar occasions been treated with more diplomacy than honesty. But
to-day he got the half-penny, together with a penny from the visitor,
and, having sold his concern in his father for three halfpence, gloated
triumphantly in a corner over his envious peers.

"Death," said Mr. Wheeler, slowly, after silence had been restored, "is
always sudden. The most sudden death I knew ’appened to a man who’d been
dying for seven years. Nobody seemed to be able to believe he’d gone at
last."

"It’s a good job he wasn’t married," said Mrs. Wheeler, raising herself
on her elbow; "sailors ’ave no right to marry at all. If I thought that
one ’o my gals was goin’ to marry a sailor, I don’t know what I
shouldn’t do. Something steady on shore is the thing."

"I don’t know," said the tactless Mr. Wheeler. "I think if I was a gal I
should like to marry a sailor; there’s something romantic about them. I
often wish I’d been a sailor."

"Then you wouldn’t ’ave ’ad me," said the lady from the sofa, grimly.

Mr. Wheeler sighed, but whether at the thought of what he might have
lost or what he had gained, cannot be safely determined. Still in a
morbid mood, he relapsed into silence, leaving Fraser to glance
anxiously to where Poppy, pale and pretty, sat listening to the clumsy
overtures of Mr. Bob Wheeler.

"I might ’ave ’ad two or three sailors if I’d liked," continued Mrs.
Wheeler, musingly, "but I wouldn’t."

Fraser murmured his admiration at her firmness.

"There was Tom Rogers, ’e was the first," said Mrs. Wheeler; "you
remember ’im, father?"

"Chap with bow legs and a squint, wasn’t he?" said the dock-foreman,
anxious to please.

"I never saw ’im squint," said his wife, sharply. "Then there was Robert
Moore—he was number two, I think."

"’Ad a wife a’ready," said Mr. Wheeler, turning to the visitor; "’e was
a bright lot, ’e was."

"I don’t know what they saw in me, I’m sure," said Mrs. Wheeler, with a
little modest laugh; "it wasn’t my good looks, I’m sure."

"You ’ad something better than good looks, my dear," said the
dock-foreman, affectionately, "something what’s wore better."

Mrs. Wheeler turned on the sofa, and detecting Gussie in the act of
using his mouth as a moneybox, upbraided him shrilly and sent him into a
corner. She then brought sundry charges of omission and commission
against the other children, until the air was thick with denials and
explanations, in the midst of which Fraser turned towards Poppy.

"I want to have a few minutes’ talk with you, Miss Tyrell," he said,
nervously.

The girl looked up at him. "Yes," she said, gravely.

"I mean alone," continued the other, marvelling at his hardihood; "it’s
private."

He lowered his voice from a shout to its normal tone as Emma Wheeler in
self-defence opened the door and drove the small fry out.

"I’ve not got my rooms now," said the girl, quietly.

"Well, my dear—" began the dock-foreman.

"Don’t interfere, father," said Mrs. Wheeler somewhat sharply. "I’m sure
Mr. Fraser needn’t mind saying anything before us. It’s nothing he’s
ashamed of, I’m sure."

"Certainly not," said Fraser, sternly, "but it’s quite private for all
that. Will you put your hat on and come out a little way, Miss Tyrell?"

"That I’m sure she won’t," said the energetic Mrs. Wheeler. "She’s that
particular she won’t even go out with Bob, and they’re like brother and
sister almost. Will she, Bob?"

Mr. Bob Wheeler received the appeal somewhat sullenly, and in a low
voice requested his parent not to talk so much. Fraser, watching Poppy
closely, saw with some satisfaction a tinge of colour in her cheek, and
what in any other person he would have considered a very obstinate
appearance about her shapely chin.

"I’ll get my hat on, if you’ll wait a minute," she said, quietly.

She rose and went upstairs, and Fraser with a cheerful glance at Mrs.
Wheeler entered into conversation with her husband about overside work
in the docks, until the door was pushed open a little to reveal Miss
Tyrell ready for walking.

They walked on for some little time in silence. The sun had set, and
even in the close streets of Poplar the evening air was cool and
refreshing. When this fact had thoroughly impressed itself on Mr.
Fraser’s mind he communicated it to Miss Tyrell.

"It’s very pleasant," she answered, briefly. "What was it you wanted to
talk to me about?"

"About a lot of things," said Fraser. "What a tremendous lot of children
there are about here."

Miss Tyrell coldly admitted an obvious fact, and stepping out into the
road to avoid spoiling a small maiden’s next move at "hop scotch,"
returned to the pavement to listen to a somewhat lengthy dissertation
upon the game in question.

"What did you want to say to me?" she asked at length, turning and
regarding him.

"In the first place," said Fraser, "I wanted to tell you that, though
nothing has been heard of Captain Flower, I feel certain in my own mind
that he has not been drowned."

Miss Tyrell shook her head slowly.

"Then I ought to tell you that I have left the Foam" continued the
other. "I think that there is some idea that I knocked Flower overboard
to get his place."

The girl turned quickly, and her face flushed. "How absurd," she said,
indignantly, and her manner softened.

"Thank you," said Fraser. "If you don’t believe it, I don’t care what
anybody else thinks."

Miss Tyrell, looking straight in front of her, stole a glance at this
easily satisfied young man from the corner of her eye. "I should never
expect to hear of you doing anything wicked," she said. Fraser thanked
her again, warmly. "Or venturesome," added Miss Tyrell, thoughtfully.
"You’re not the kind."

They walked on in silence; indignant silence on the part of the ex-mate.

"Then you are out of a berth?" said Poppy, not unkindly.

Fraser shook his head and explained. "And I told my father about you,"
he added, nervously. "He knew Flower very well, and he told me to say
that he would be very pleased and proud if you would come down and stay
with him at Bittlesea for a time."

"No, thank you," said Miss Tyrell.

"The air would do you good," persisted Fraser; "you could come down by
train or come down with me on the Swallow next week."

Miss Tyrell repeated her refusal. "I must stay in London and get
something else to do," she said, quietly.

"What do you think of doing?" enquired Fraser.

"Anything I can get," was the reply.

"And in the meantime——" he began, nervously.

"In the meantime I’m living on the Wheelers," said the girl, pressing
her lips together; "that was what you were going to say, wasn’t it?"

"I was not going to say anything of the kind," said Fraser, warmly. "I
was not thinking of it."

"Well, it’s true," said Poppy, defiantly.

"It isn’t true," said Fraser, "because you will pay them back."

"Shall we turn back?" said the girl.

Fraser turned and walked beside her, and, glancing furtively at the
pale, proud face, wondered how to proceed.

"I should be delighted if you would come to Bittlesea," he said,
earnestly, "and I’m sure if Flower should ever turn up again, he would
say it was the best thing you could have done."

"Thank you, but I prefer to stay here," was the reply, "and I don’t wish
to be ungrateful, but I wish that people would not trouble me with their
charity."

She walked on in silence, with her face averted, until they reached
Liston Street, and, stopping at the door, turned to bid him good-bye.
Her face softened as she shook hands, and in the depths of her dark eyes
as they met his he fancied that he saw a little kindness. Then the door
opened, and, before he could renew his invitation, closed behind her as
rapidly as Mr. Bob Wheeler could perform the feat.



CHAPTER XIV.



When the tide is up and the sun shining, Sea-bridge has attractions
which make the absence of visitors something of a marvel to the
inhabitants. A wandering artist or two, locally known as
"painter-chaps," certainly visit it, but as they usually select subjects
for their canvases of which the progressive party of the town are
heartily ashamed, they are regarded as spies rather than visitors, and
are tolerated rather than welcomed. To a citizen who has for a score of
years regretted the decay of his town, the spectacle of a stranger
gloating over its ruins and perpetuating them on canvas is calculated to
excite strong doubts as to his mental capacity and his fitness to be at
large.

On a summer’s evening, when the tide is out and the high ground the
other side of the river is assuming undefinable shadows, the little town
has other charms to the meditative man. Such life as there is, is
confined to the taverns and the two or three narrow little streets which
comprise the town. The tree-planted walk by the river is almost
deserted, and the last light of the dying day is reflected in the pools
and mud left by the tide.

Captain Nibletts, slowly pacing along and smoking his pipe in the
serenity of the evening, felt these things dimly. His gaze wandered from
a shadowy barge crawling along in mid-channel to the cheery red blind of
Boatman’s Arms, and then to the road in search of Captain Barber, for
whom he had been enquiring since the morning. A stout lady stricken in
years sat on a seat overlooking the river, and the mariner, with a
courteous salutation, besought her assistance.

"I’ve been looking for him myself," said Mrs. Banks, breathlessly, "and
now my Elizabeth’s nowhere to be found. She’s been out since two o’clock
this afternoon."

Nibletts pointed up the road with his pipe. "I see her only ten minutes
ago with young Gibson," he said, slowly.

"Which way was they going?" demanded the old lady, rising.

"I don’t know," said Nibletts. "I don’t think they knew either an’
what’s more, I don’t think they cared."

The old lady resumed her seat, and, folding her hands in her lap, gazed
in a troubled fashion across the river, until the figure of another
woman coming along the walk brought her back to every-day affairs.

"Why, it’s Mrs. Church," said Nibletts. "He’s nowhere to be found," he
shouted, before she reached them.

"He?" said the widow, slowly. "Who?"

"Cap’n Barber," replied the mariner.

"Oh, indeed," she said, politely. "Good evening, Mrs. Banks."

Mrs. Banks returned the courtesy. "It looks as though Cap’n Barber has
run away," she said, with attempted jocularity.

Mrs. Church smiled a superior smile. "He is not far off," she said,
quietly.

"Resting, I suppose," said Mrs. Banks, with intent.

Mrs. Church took higher ground. "Of course this sad affair has upset him
terribly," she said, gravely. "His is a faithful nature, and he can’t
for-get. How is Miss Banks bearing up?"

Mrs. Banks, looking up suspiciously, said, "Wonderful, considering," and
relapsed into silence until such time as her foe should give her an
opening. Mrs. Church took a seat by her side, and Nibletts, with a
feeling of something strained in the atmosphere, for which he could not
account, resumed his walk.

He was nearly up to Captain Barber’s house when he saw a figure come out
of the lane by the side, and after glancing furtively in all directions
make silently for the door. The watching Nibletts quickening his pace,
reached it at almost the same moment.

"Mrs. Banks is looking for you," he said, as he followed him into the
parlour.

Captain Barber turned on him a weary eye, but made no reply.

"And Mrs. Church, too; at least, I think so,’ continued the other.

"Cap’n Nibletts," said the old man, slowly, "I ’ope you’ll never live
long enough to be run arter in the way I’m run arter."

The astonished mariner murmured humbly that he didn’t think it was at
all likely, and also that Mrs. Nibletts would probably have a word or
two to say in the matter.

"From the moment I get up to the moment I get to bed, I’m run arter,"
continued the hapless Barber. "Mrs. Church won’t let me go out of ’er
sight if she can help it, and Mrs. Banks is as bad as she is. While they
was saying nice things to each other this morning in a nasty way I
managed to slip out."

"Well, why not get rid o’ Mrs. Church?" said the simple Nibletts.

"Rid o’ Mrs. Church!" repeated Captain Barber, aghast; "why don’t you
get rid o’ your face, Nibletts?" he asked, by way of comparison merely.

"Because I don’t want to," replied the other, flushing.

"Because you can’t" said Captain Barber, emphatically. "And no more
can’t I get rid of ’er. You see, I ’appened to take a little notice of
’er."

"Oh, well," said the other, and sighed and shook his head
discouragingly.

"I took a little notice of ’er," repeated Captain Barber, "and then to
spare her feelings I ’ad to sort o’ let ’er know that I could never
marry for Fred’s sake, d’ye see? Then on top of all that poor Fred goes
and gets drownded."

"But have you promised to marry her?" asked Nibletts, with a cunning
look.

"Of course I’ve not," rejoined Captain Barber, testily; "but when you
know as much about wimmen as I do, you’ll know that that’s got nothing
to do with it. It gets took for granted. Mrs. Church’s whole manner to
me now is that of a engaged young person. If she was sitting here now
she’d put ’er hand on top o’ mine."

"Not before me?" said Nibletts, in a shocked voice.

"Before the Prince of Wales and all the Royal Family," replied Captain
Barber, with conviction. "You’ve no idea how silly and awkward it makes
me feel."

"Here she comes," said Nibletts, in a low voice, "and Mrs. Banks and her
daughter, too."

Captain Barber coughed and, sitting upright, strove to look unconcerned
as the three ladies came into the room and expressed their pleasure at
seeing him.

"I couldn’t think what ’ad happened to you," said Mrs. Banks, as she
sank panting into a chair, and, unfastening her bonnet-strings, sat
regarding him with her hands on her knees.

"I knew he was all right," said Mrs. Church, folding her hands and
regarding him with her head on one side; "if anything happened to him I
should know if he was a hundred miles away."

She sat down by Captain Barber, and laying her hand upon his, pressed it
affectionately. The captain, a picture of misery, exchanged a
significant glance with Nibletts, and emitted an involuntary groan.

"Don’t take on so," said Mrs. Banks, compassionately. "Do you know, I’ve
got a feeling that poor Fred has been saved!"

"That’s my feeling, too," said Captain Barber, in a firm voice.

"It’s very likely," said Captain Nibletts, slowly.

"What’s easier than for him to have been picked up by a passing vessel,
and carried off goodness knows where?" enquired Mrs. Banks, with a
glance evenly distributed between her daughter and the housekeeper.

"I heard of a man once who fell overboard," said Captain Nibletts,
softly, "and he turned up safe and sound twenty years arter."

"Married man?" enquired Miss Banks, softly.

"He was," said the captain, with the doggedness of a witness under
cross-examination.

Mrs. Church turned her eyes upwards. "Fancy the joyful meeting of
husband and wife," she said, sentimentally.

"She died just two days afore he turned up," said Captain Nibletts,
simply.

There was a frigid silence during which the three ladies, sinking for a
time their differences, eyed him with every sign of strong
disapprobation, Mrs. Banks giving vent to a sniff which disparaged the
whole race of man.

"As for men who fall overboard and get picked up and turn up months
afterwards," continued the faithful Nibletts, "why, every sailorman
knows scores of ’em."

"I knowed seven," said Captain Barber, with the exactness of untruth.
"They didn’t seem to think much of it, didn’t seem to think it anything
unusual, I mean."

"It ain’t," said Nibletts, stoutly.

The room relapsed into silence, and Captain Nibletts, finding Mrs.
Church’s gaze somewhat trying got up to admire a beautiful oil painting
on glass in a black frame which hung over the mantelpiece, and after a
few encomiums on his host’s taste, bade him good-bye.

"I’m coming with you," said Barber, rising; "I’ve got some business to
talk about."

"What, out again," said Mrs. Church, tenderly, "after being on your poor
feet all day?"

Captain Barber murmured something inaudible in reply, and taking his hat
from the sideboard went out with Nibletts, For a time they trudged along
in silence until the latter, who wanted to go to his own home, ventured
to ask where they were going.

"All places are alike to me," replied the old man, dismally. "I only
want to get away, that’s all. She an’ Mrs. Banks are sure to have a turn
and try and drag me into it."

He clasped his hands behind his back, and, pausing at a turn of the
road, looked down upon the little quay below. Out in the river two or
three small craft rode at anchor, while a bauble of cheerful voices from
a distant boat only served to emphasise the stillness of the evening.

"Looks quiet," said Captain Nibletts, after watching him for some time.

"I’m thinking of my nevy," said Captain Barber, slowly. "I remember me
an’ my sister bringing ’im here when he was three year old, and I ’ad to
carry him all the way back. He put his arms round my neck, and I can
smell peppermint-ball now."

Captain Nibletts, who did not quite follow him, attributed the outrage
to a young couple who had just passed.

"I’m all alone now," continued Captain Barber, unheeding, "but I don’t
want to marry. Why not? ’Cos I’m too old, and because it’s like
beginning where other people leave off."

"Well, make up your mind and tell her so," said the other.

"It wouldn’t do any good," said Barber, dolefully.

"Tell her to-night," said Nibletts, "Come into the Thorn and have a
glass, just so as to warm you up to it, and then get it over."

Captain Barber made no reply, but turning round led the way slowly back
to the inn, and after acknowledging the respectful salutations of the
crew of the schooner who were in the bar by ordering the landlady to
fill their pots again, led the way into the parlour and began to charge
himself for the interview.

That he did not underestimate the difficulties of the ordeal was evident
by the extent of his orders, and Captain Nibletts noted with
satisfaction as the evening wore on that the old man’s spirits were
improving considerably. Twice he sent out instructions to the bar to
have the men’s mugs replenished, a proceeding which led to Mr. William
Green being sent by the grateful crew to express their feelings in a
neat little speech.

"A very nice-spoken young fellow," said Captain Barber, approvingly.

He had some more whisky, and at the sounds of a step-dance on the brick
floor of the adjoining taproom, took up his glass, and, followed by
Nibletts, watched the proceedings from the doorway. Mr. William Green,
who worshipped wealth and position, sidled up to him, and with much
deference discussed the dancing.

He made such a favourable impression that Cap-tain Barber, who was in a
semi-maudlin mood, took him by the arm to the now deserted parlour, and
ensconcing him in a corner, told him all his troubles and warned him of
the pitfalls which beset the feet of good-looking bachelors. Mr. Green
was sympathy itself, and for some time sat silently evolving various
schemes for the deliverance of his patron.

Captain Nibletts returning to the parlour a little later found them in
close consultation. A ray of hope illuminated the somewhat heavy
features of the old man, and, catching sight of the captain, he beckoned
him to his side.

"Me an’ this young man have thought of something," he said, in a voice
rendered husky with excitement.

Nibletts waited.

"He’s goin’ to call at my place," continued the other, "and tell Mrs.
Church that I’ve been took unwell at the Cauliflower at Mapleden, and
want to see her, and he’s to bring her there at once. Arter they’ve
started I go in and get to bed, and earthquakes wouldn’t wake me, let
alone a knock at the door. D’ye see?"

"What good’s that goin’ to do?" enquired the astonished listener.

"Next day," said Barber, in thrilling tones, as he placed his forefinger
on the other’s arm, "I refuse to believe her story. Green, here, denies
of it too, and sez ’e saw her at the gate and asked her to go for a walk
with him."

Captain Nibletts fingered his beard. "It don’t seem to be the sort of
trick to play on a woman," he expostulated, "an’ it’s four miles to
Mapleden. What’s she goin’ to do?"

"That’s ’er lookout," observed Captain Barber, with much composure, "all
I know is she won’t wake me. I daresay she’ll come on to your place.
Wimmen wot sets their caps at men wot don’t want ’em set at ’em must put
up with the consequences."

"You give me half an hour, sir," said Mr. Green, impressively, "and then
you can come on as soon as you like. You’ll find the coast clear by
then."

He bit off the end of the cigar presented by Captain Barber, and,
thanking him effusively as he struck a match for him, quitted the inn.
The two captains waited restlessly for the time specified, and then,
finishing their drinks, went outside, and, standing in the light which
streamed from the windows and doorway of the Thorn, gazed at the dark
road beyond.

"It looks all right," said Barber, shaking hands. "Good-night."

"Good luck," said Nibletts.

The other, not without a little trepidation, walked towards his house,
and opening the door, after a little difficulty, stood safely inside.
The house was quiet and in darkness, except for the lamp which stood on
the parlour-table, and after a moment’s survey he proceeded to shut up
for the night.

As a rule he was careless about such matters, but to-night no gaoler saw
to his bolts and bars more carefully than he did. He returned to the
parlour, having made all secure, and lighting his pipe for a few final
whiffs before retiring, winked at himself solemnly in the glass. Then
fearful that the housekeeper might return sooner than was expected, he
blew out the lamp and smoked in the dark.

He knocked out his pipe at last, and walked slowly and ponderously
upstairs. He grinned again as he passed the door of the housekeeper’s
room, and then, with a catch in his breath, clutched heavily at the
banister as a soft female voice bade him "Good-night."

Captain Barber, surprised beyond all measure, was unable to speak.

"I thought you’d got lost again," said the voice, playfully.
"Good-night."

"Good-night," rejoined the other, in hollow tones. "Mrs. Banks stay
long?" he enquired, pausing at his door.

"She went just about half an hour before you came in," replied the
housekeeper. "Elizabeth went soon after you did, but her mother stopped
on. She went very suddenly when she did go, and was very mysterious
about it. Not that I want to know her business."

"Mysterious?" faltered the captain.

"Some young man came to the door," continued the innocent woman, "and
they were talking in a low voice. I don’t know who it was, because Mrs.
Banks let me see quite plainly that she didn’t want me to know. Then she
just called out ’Goodnight,’ and went off as fast as you please."

Captain Barber supported himself for a moment by the handle of his door,
and then in a dazed way blundered into his room. He was a good-hearted
man in a way, and pushing open the little casement he thrust out his
head and sighed with genuine feeling as he thought of his poor old
friend plodding slowly to Mapleden. Incidentally he felt a little bit
sorry for Mr. William Green.

He was awaked next morning after a somewhat restless night by the sounds
of an unwonted noise downstairs, and lay in amazement listening to a hum
of excited voices below. Knuckles rapped on his door and the voice of
Mrs. Church, much agitated, requested him to rise and attire himself.

He was out of bed at that and looking from the window. A small group of
children stood in the road outside the house, while Joe and the cook
with their arms on the fence were staring hard at his parlour window,
occasionally varying the proceedings by a little conversation with the
people next door, who were standing in their front garden. In a state of
considerable agitation he hurriedly dressed himself and went downstairs.

His sitting-room was full. Mrs. Banks, looking very tired, was sitting
in the arm-chair taking smelling-salts at intervals, and staring
fiercely at Mr. William Green, who was huddled in a corner smiling
sheepishly behind Captain Nibletts and Ben.

"What’s all this?" demanded Captain Barber, in a trembling voice, as his
eye met Mr. Green’s.

Several of Mrs. Banks’s relatives began speaking at once, assisted by
some of the neighbours. The substance of their remarks was that a man.
whose polite tongue hid the falseness of his heart, had lured Mrs. Banks
for a four-mile walk to Mapleden late the preceding night under the
pretence that Captain Barber, who was evidently hale and hearty, was
lying ill at the Cauliflower. They demanded his immediate dismissal from
the ship and his exemplary punishment by the law.

"What ’ave you got to say to this?" demanded Captain Barber of the
villain, in tones of righteous indignation tempered by fear.

"It isn’t true, sir," said Mr. Green, respectfully. "I didn’t say
anything of the kind."

"Wot did you say, then?" enquired Captain Barber, in a voice which the
company thought far too mild for the occasion.

"She was standing at the door as I passed," said Mr. Green, nervously,
"and I asked her to go for a walk with me."

"Lawk-a-mussy me!" screamed the horrified Mrs. Banks.

"We went for a nice little stroll," continued the graceless Mr. Green,
"and then I s’pose she found it was later than she thought, and she
began to make a fuss."

"Me, at my time o’ life?" demanded the indignant Mrs. Banks of the
audience.

"You did make a fuss," said Mr. Green.

"O’ course I made a fuss when I found out how I had been deceived. You
were here when he came, Mrs. Church, weren’t you?"

"I would rather not say anything about it," said the housekeeper,
freezingly.

"I insist upon your speaking," said the old lady, getting very red in
the face.

"Well, I don’t know much about it," said the housekeeper, looking round
appealingly. "I heard you speaking to somebody at the door in a low
voice."

"It wasn’t a low voice," interrupted Mrs. Banks, sharply.

"Well, I couldn’t hear what you were saying, and then when you went
outside and I asked you whether you were going home you said ’yes,’
didn’t you?"

"Are you sure she said she was going home?" said Mrs. Banks’s
brother-in-law, in an awful voice, as the old lady sank back in her
chair.

"Yes," said Mrs. Church, with a fine show of reluctance.

There was a dead silence, during which they all heard the smelling-salts
drop.

"If this man said Captain Barber was ill at Mapleden, why didn’t you
tell me?" continued Mrs. Church, in a mildly aggrieved voice. "I think
if anybody ought to have known, it should have been me."

"It’s all a fuss about nothing," said Mr. Green, brazenly. "She stayed
out a bit too late, and then wanted to put it all on to me."

A good Samaritan picked up the smelling-salts and held them to the
victim’s nose, while her scandalized relatives discussed the situation
in hurried whispers. The brother-in-law eyed her with bewildered
disapproval, and in the disjointed accents peculiar to surprise was
heard to make use of the words "friskiness" and "gallivanting" and "old
enough to know better."

Her relatives’ remarks, however, caused Mrs. Banks comparatively little
pain. Her attention was fully taken up by the housekeeper, in whose
satisfied smile she saw a perfect recognition of the reasons for her
action of the previous evening. She got up from her chair, and with a
stateliness which her brother-in-law thought somewhat misplaced, took
her daughter’s arm, and slowly left the room, her departure being the
signal for a general breakup. By twos and threes the company drifted
slowly up the road in her wake, while Captain Barber, going in the other
direction, accompanied Captain Nibletts and party as far as the
schooner, in order that he might have the opportunity of saying a few
well-chosen words to Mr. Green on the subject of precipitancy.

"If it ’adn’t been for me tipping ’im the wink, so as to let him know
what line ’e was to go on when I came down, where should I ’ave been?"
he demanded of Captain Nibletts.

And that astonished mariner, with a helpless shake of his head, gave it
up.



CHAPTER XV.



The Blue Posts, Chelsea, is an old-time public-house pleasantly situated
by the river, with an extensive connection amongst gentlemen’s servants,
’busmen, and other skilled judges of good beer, the subtle and delicate
perfume of which liquor pervades the place from cellar to basement, and
has more than once taken the policeman on duty to the back door, under
the impression that something wanted looking into.

To some men imprisonment in such a place would have been little short of
ecstasy. In the heat of summer they would have sat in the cool cellar
amid barrels of honest beer; in winter, they would have led the
conversation cosily seated around the taproom fire. For exercise,
profitable employment at the beer-engine in the bar; for intellectual
exercise, the study of practical chemistry in the cellar.

To Captain Fred Flower none of these things appealed. He had visited the
cellar certainly—in search of subterranean exits; he had sat in the
tap-room—close to the open window; but his rabid desire to get away from
the place and never see it again could not have been surpassed by the
most bitter teetotaler that ever breathed.

His greatest trouble was with Porson, whose limpet-like qualities were a
source of never-failing concern to the unfortunate mariner. Did he
ascend to the drawing-room and gaze yearningly from the windows at the
broad stream of Father Thames and the craft dropping down on the
ebb-tide to the sea, Uncle Porson, sallow of face and unclean of collar,
was there to talk beery romance of the ocean. Did he retire to the small
yard at the rear of the premises and gaze from the back door at the
passing life of a Chelsea by-street, Uncle Porson was looking over his
shoulder, pointing out milkmen with histories, and cabmen with a past.

The second week of his stay was drawing to a close before he fully
realised the horror of his position. His foot, which had been giving him
considerable trouble, was getting much better, though it was by no means
well enough to give him a chance in a foot-race with Mr. Porson or
Charles, and as the family at the Blue Posts realised the improvement,
the attentions of his personal attendants were redoubled. The key of his
bed-room door was turned every night after he had retired, a discovery
he had made the first night after carefully dressing for flight and
spending an hour over the composition of a farewell note to Miss
Tipping. There was no chance of reaching the roof from his bed-room
window, and the pavement below offered him his choice between a wedding
and a funeral.

And amid all this the fiction was maintained of preserving him from his
lawless foes and his own inconvenient devotion to duty. A struggle for
escape was not to be thought of, as the full measure of his
deceitfulness would transpire in the event of failure, and the wedding
drew nearer day by day, while his active brain was still casting about
in vain for any means of escape.

"Next Tuesday," said Mrs. Tipping to her stepdaughter, as they sat in
the much decorated drawing-room one afternoon, "you’ll be Mrs.
Robinson."

Miss Tipping, who was sitting next to the skipper, looked at him
languishingly, and put her head on his shoulder.

"I can hardly believe it," she said, coyly.

Flower, who was in the same predicament, patted her head tenderly, as
being easier than replying.

"And I must say," said Mrs. Tipping, regarding the pair, "I’m a plain
woman, and I speak my mind, that if it was me, I should want to know
more about him first."

"I’m quite satisfied, mar," said Miss Tipping, without raising her head.

"There’s your relations to be satisfied, Matilda," said Uncle Porson, in
an important voice.

Miss Tipping raised her head and favoured the interrupter with a baleful
stare, whereupon Mr. Porson, scratching his neck feebly, glanced at Mrs.
Tipping for support.

"Our relations needn’t come to see us," said his niece, at length. "He’s
marrying me, not my relations."

"He’s making me his uncle, at any rate," said Mr. Porson, with a sudden
access of dignity.

"You don’t mind, Fred, do you?" asked Miss Tipping, anxiously.

"I’d put up with more than that for your sake," said Flower. "I needn’t
tell people."

"That’s all very fine," said Mrs. Tipping, taking up the cudgels for the
speechless and glaring victim of these pleasantries, "but there’s no
mystery about your uncle; everybody knows him. He doesn’t disappear just
as he is going to get married, and be brought back in a cab months
afterwards. He isn’t full of secrets he mustn’t tell people who ought to
know."

"Never kep’ a secret in my life," agreed Uncle Porson, whose head was
buzzing under this unaccustomed praise.

"I know quite eno’ugh about Fred," said Miss Tipping, tenderly; "when I
want your opinion, mar, I’ll ask you for it."

Mrs. Tipping’s reply was interrupted by the entrance of a young man from
the jeweller’s with four brooches for Flower to present to the
bridesmaids. Mrs. Tipping had chosen them, and it did not take the
hapless skipper long to arrive at the conclusion that she was far fonder
of bridesmaids than he was. His stock of money was beginning to dwindle,
and the purchase of a second wedding suit within a month was beginning
to tell even upon his soaring spirits.

"There’s another thing about Fred I don’t quite like," said Mrs.
Tipping, as she sat with the brooches ranged upon her capacious lap;
"he’s extravagant. I don’t like a mean man, but one who flings his money
away is almost as bad. These ’ere brooches are very pretty, and they do
him credit, but I can’t say but what something cheaper wouldn’t ’ave
done as well."

"I thought you liked them," said the indignant Flower.

"I like them well enough," said Mrs. Tipping, solemnly; "there’s nothing
to dislike in them. Seems to me they must have cost a lot of money,
that’s all—I suppose I may make a remark!"

Flower changed the subject, and turning to Miss Tipping began to speak
in a low voice of their new home. Miss Tipping wanted a sort of Eden
with bar improvements, and it was rather difficult to find.

They had discussed the matter before, and the wily skipper had almost
quarrelled with his bride-elect over the part of the country in which
they were to live, Miss Tipping holding out for the east coast, while
Flower hotly championed the south. Mrs. Tipping, with some emphasis, had
suggested leaving it until after the honeymoon, but a poetic
advertisement of an inn in Essex catching her daughter’s eye, it was
decided that instant inspection should be made.

They travelled down from Fenchurch Street, accompanied by Dick and Mrs.
Tipping, the skipper, who was painfully on the alert for any chance of
escape, making a great fuss of his foot, and confessing to a feeling of
unusual indisposition. He sat in one corner of the carriage with his
eyes half closed, while Miss Tipping, with her arm affectionately drawn
through his, was the unconscious means of preventing a dash for liberty
as the train steamed slowly through a station.

The nearest station to the Rose of Essex was five miles distant, a fact
which (owing perhaps to the expensive nature of newspaper charges) did
not appear in the advertisement.

"It’s a nice little place," said the landlady of the Railway Hotel, as
they asked her opinion over lunch; "there’s a little land goes with it.
If you want to drive over, I’d better be having something got ready."

Mrs. Tipping, who halved the duties with Flower, she doing the ordering
and he the paying, assented, and in a short time they were bowling
rapidly along through narrow country lanes to their destination. The
skipper noticed with pleasure the lonely nature of the country, and his
heart beat fast as he thought of the chances of success of a little plan
of escape.

So far as appearance went, the inn was excellent. Roses clustered round
the porch and hung in fragrant bunches from the walls, while three or
four sturdy lime trees in one corner threw a grateful shade over a
rustic table and settles. Flower, with a grateful sigh, said that it was
the very thing. Even Mrs. Tipping, after a careful inspection, said that
they might do worse; Dick, with an air of professional gravity, devoted
most of his attention to the cellar, while the engaged couple walked
slowly round the immense garden in the rear exchanging tender whispers.

"We’ll think it over and let you know," said Mrs. Tipping to the
landlord.

"There’s been a lot after it," said he slowly, with a glance at his
wife.

"And yet it ain’t gone," said the business-like Mrs. Tipping,
pleasantly.

"I’m going to take it, mar," said Miss Tipping, firmly.

Mrs. Tipping sighed at her haste, but finding her determined, went down
the cellar again, accompanied by Dick, for a last look round. Captain
Flower, leaning heavily on Miss Tipping’s arm, limped slowly to the
carriage.

"Tired?" she enquired, tenderly, as he sank back in the cushions.

"Foot’s painful," he said, with a faint smile. "Good gracious!"

"What’s the matter?" asked Miss Tipping, alarmed by his manner.

"I’ve left my pipe in the garden," said Flower, rising, "the one you
gave me. I wouldn’t lose it for the world."

"I’ll get it," said Miss Tipping, springing out of the carriage.
"Whereabouts did you leave it, do you think?"

"By the bee-hives," said Flower, pale with excitement, as he heard Mrs.
Tipping and Dick coming up from the cellar. "Make haste; somebody might
take it."

Miss Tipping darted into the house, and immediately afterwards the
Tippings ascended from the cellar, attended by the landlady.

"Driver," said Flower, sharply.

"Sir," said the man, looking round and tenderly rubbing his back.

"Take that to the lady who has just gone in, at once," gabbled Flower;
"hurry up."

For want of anything better, he handed the astonished driver his
tobacco-pouch, and waved him to the house. The lad descended from his
perch and ran to the door just as Dick Tipping, giving vent to a sharp
cry, was rushing out. The cry acted on the skipper like magic, and,
snatching up the whip, he gave the horse a cut in which was concentrated
the fears of the last fortnight and the hopes of his future lifetime.

The animal sprang forward madly just as Dick Tipping, who had pushed the
driver out of the way, rushed out in pursuit. There was a hard white
road in front and it took it at a gallop, the vehicle rocking from side
to side behind it as Flower played on it with the whip. Tipping was
close behind, and the driver a good second. Flower, leaving the horse to
take care of itself for a time, stood upright in the carriage and hurled
cushions at his foremost pursuer. The third cushion was long and limp,
and, falling on end in front of him, twined itself round his
swift-moving legs and brought him heavily to the ground.

"He’s winded," said Flower, as he saw the coachman stop and help the
other man slowly to his feet; "shows what a cushion can do."

He clambered onto the seat, as a bend in the road shut the others from
his sight, and gathering up the reins, gave himself over to the joyous
feeling of his new-found liberty as they rushed through the air. His
ideas of driving were elementary, and his mode of turning corners was to
turn them quickly and get it over; but he drove on for miles without
mishap, and, the horse having dropped to a steady trot, began to
consider his future movements.

"They’ll be setting the wires to work, I expect," he thought, soberly.
"What a comfortable old world this must have been before they invented
steam and telegraph. I’ll go a little bit farther, and then tie it up to
a tree."

He made what he considered an endearing noise with his mouth, and the
startled animal at once bounded forward with the intention of getting
out of hearing. A gentle incline favoured the pace, which was now so
considerable that the skipper, seeing another craft approaching him,
waved his hand towards it warningly.

"I wonder who ought to get out of the way?" he said, thoughtfullly; "I
s’pose the horse knows."

He left it to that able quadruped, after giving it a little bang on the
flank with the butt end of the whip to keep its faculties fresh. There
was a frenzied shout from the other vehicle, a sudden violent stoppage,
with the crashing of wood, and Flower, crawling out of the ditch,
watched with some admiration the strenuous efforts of his noble beast to
take the carriage along on three wheels.

"Look what you’ve done!" roared the driver of the other vehicle, foaming
with passion, as he jumped out and held his plunging horse by the head.
"Look at my gig, sir! Look at it!"

Flower looked, and then returned the courtesy.

"Look at mine," he said, impressively; "mine’s much the worst."

"You were on the wrong side of the road," shouted the other.

"I was there first," said Flower; "it wouldn’t have happened if you
hadn’t tried to get out of my way. The course I was on I should have
passed you easily."

He looked up the road. His horse, trembling violently, was standing
still, with the wreck of the carriage behind it. He stooped
mechanically, and picking up the whip which was lying in the road said
that he would go off for assistance.

"You stay here, sir," said the other man with an oath.

"I won’t," said the skipper.

His adversary made no reply, but, having by this time soothed his
frightened horse, took his whip out of its socket and strode towards him
with the butt raised over his head. Flower arranged his own whip the
same way, and both men being new to the weapon, circled round each other
two or three times waiting for a little instruction. Then the owner of
the gig, whose temper was rising every second, ran in and dealt the
skipper a heavy blow on the head.

The blow dispelled an idea which was slowly forming there of asking the
extent of the damage, and, if it were not too much, offering to make it
good. Ideas of settlement vanished; ideas of honour, morality, and even
escape vanished too; all merged in the one fixed idea of giving the
other man a harder blow than he had given.

For a minute or two the battle raged fairly equally; both were securing
a fair amount of punishment. Then, under a heavy blow from Flower, his
foe went down suddenly. For a second or two the skipper held his breath
with fear, then the other man raised himself feebly on his knees, and,
throwing away his whip, staggered to his feet and, unfastening the
reins, clambered unsteadily into his gig and drove off without a word.

The victorious skipper looked up and down the lonely road, and shaking
his head sadly at the noble steed which had brought him into this mess,
tenderly felt his bruised and aching head, and then set off as fast as
his foot would permit up the road.

He looked about eagerly as he went for a place of concealment, fully
aware of the inability of a lame shipmaster to outdistance horseflesh.
Hedges and fields bounded both sides of the road, but half a mile
farther along, on the right-hand side, the field stretched away upwards
to meet a wood. Towards this wood Captain Flower, having first squeezed
himself through a gap in the hedge, progressed with all speed.

He sat on the trunk of a fallen pine to regain his breath, and eagerly
looked about him. To his disappointment he saw that the wood was of no
great depth, but was a mere belt of pines running almost parallel with
the road he had quitted. With the single idea of getting as far away
from the scene of his crime as possible, he began to walk through it.

The wood was very still, and the shade grateful after the heat of the
sun. Just beyond, the fields were shimmering in the heat, and he pricked
up his ears as the unmistakable sound of wheels and hoofs came across
the silent fields. He looked round wildly, and seeing a tiny cottage
standing in a bit of a clearing, made towards it.

A little old man twisted with rheumatism rose as he stood at the open
door and regarded him with a pair of bloodshot, but sharp, old eyes,
while an old woman sitting in a Windsor-chair looked up anxiously.

"Can I come in?" asked Flower.

"Aye," said the old man, standing aside to let him pass.

"Hot day," said the skipper, taking a seat.

"No, ’tain’t," said the old man.

"Not so hot as yesterday," said Flower, with a conciliatory smile.

"It’s ’otter than it was yesterday," said the old man. "What ha’ you
done to your face?"

"I was climbing a tree," said Flower, with a laugh, "and I fell down;
I’ve hurt my foot, too."

"Served you right if you’d broke your neck," said his amiable host,
"climbing trees at your time o’ life."

"Nice cottage you’ve got here," said the persistent Flower.

"I wish you ’ad to live in it," said the old man.

He took a proffered cigar, and after eyeing it for some time, like a
young carver with a new joint, took out a huge clasp-knife and slowly
sawed the end off.

"Can I sleep here for the night?" asked Flower, at length.

"No, you can’t," said the old man, drawing at his cigar.

He smoked on, with the air of a man who has just given a very clever
answer to a very difficult question.

"We ain’t on’y got one room besides this," said the old woman solemnly.
"Years ago we used to have four and a wash-place."

"Oh, I could sleep on the floor here," said Flower, lightly. "I’ll pay
you five shillings."

"Let’s see your money," said the old man, leaning forward.

Flower put the sum in his hand. "I’ll pay now," he said, heartily.

"The floor won’t run away," said the other, pulling out an old leathern
purse, "and you can sleep on any part of it you like."

Flower thanked him effusively. He was listening intently for any sounds
outside. If the Tippings and the man in the gig met, they would scour
the country-side, and almost certainly pay the cottage a visit.

"If you let me go upstairs and lie down for an hour or two," he said,
turning to the old man, "I’ll give you another half-crown."

The old man said nothing, but held out his hand, and after receiving the
sum got up slowly, and, opening a door by the fire-place, revealed a few
broken stairs, which he slowly ascended, after beckoning his guest to
follow.

"It’s a small place," he said, tersely, "but I daresay you’ve often
slept in a worse."

Flower made no reply. He was looking from the tiny casement. Through an
opening in the trees he saw a couple of figures crossing the field
towards the wood.

"If anybody asks you whether you have seen me, say no," he said,
rapidly, to the old man. "I’ve got into a bit of a mess, and if you hide
me here until it has blown over, I’ll make it worth your while."

"How much?" said the old man.

Flower hesitated. "Five pounds for certain," he said, hastily, "and more
if you’re put to much trouble. Run down and stop your wife’s mouth
quietly."

"Don’t order me about," said the old man, slowly; "I ain’t said I’ll do
it yet."

"They’re coming now," said Flower, impatiently; "mind, if they catch me
you lose your five pounds."

"All right," said the other. "I’m doing it for the five pounds, mind,
not for you," added this excellent man.

He went grunting and groaning down the narrow stairs, and the skipper,
closing the door, went and crouched down by the open casement. A few
indistinct words were borne in on the still air, and voices came
gradually closer, until footsteps, which had been deadened by the grass,
became suddenly audible on the stones outside the cottage.

Flower held his breath with anxiety; then he smiled softly and
pleasantly as he listened to the terms in which his somewhat difficult
host was addressed.

"Now, gaffer," said the man of the gig, roughly.

"Wake up, grandpa," said Dick Tipping; "have you seen a man go by
here?—blue serge suit, moustache, face and head knocked about?"

"No, I ain’t seen ’im," was the reply. "What’s he done?"

Tipping told him briefly. "We’ll have him," he said, savagely. "We’ve
got a mounted policeman on the job, besides others. If you can catch him
it’s worth half a sov. to you."

He went off hurriedly with the other man, and their voices died away in
the distance. Flower sat in his place on the floor for some time, and
then, seeing from the window that the coast was clear, went downstairs
again.

The old woman made him up a bed on the floor after supper, although both
he and the old man assured her that it was unnecessary, and then, taking
the lamp, bade him good-night and went upstairs.

Flower, left to himself, rolled exultingly on his poor couch, and for
the first time in a fortnight breathed freely.

"If I do get into trouble," he murmured, complacently, "I generally
manage to get out of it. It wants a good head in the first place, and a
cool one in the second."



CHAPTER XVI.



He was awake early in the morning, and, opening the door, stood
delightedly breathing the fresh, pine-scented air.

The atmosphere of the Blue Posts was already half forgotten, and he
stood looking dreamily forward to the time when he might reasonably
return to life and Poppy. He took a few steps into the wood and, after
feeling for his pipe before he remembered that Miss Tipping was probably
keeping it as a souvenir, sat on a freshly-cut log and fell into a
sentimental reverie, until the appearance of a restless old man at the
door of the cottage took him back to breakfast.

"I thought you’d run off," said his host, tartly.

"You thought wrong, then," said Flower, sharply, as he took out his
purse. "Here are two of the five pounds I promised you; I’ll give you
the rest when I go."

The old man took the money and closed his small, hard mouth until the
lips almost disappeared. "More money than sense," he remarked,
cordially, as the skipper replaced his purse.

Flower made no reply. Some slices of fat bacon were sizzling in a pan
over the wood-fire, and the pungent smell of the woods, mixed with the
sharpness of the morning air, gave him an appetite to which, since his
enforced idleness, he had been a stranger. He drew his chair up to the
rickety little table with its covering of frayed oil-cloth, and,
breaking a couple of eggs over his bacon, set to eagerly.

"Don’t get eggs like these in London," he said to the old woman.

The old woman leaned over and, inspecting the shells, paid a tribute to
the hens who were responsible for them, and traced back a genealogy
which would have baffled the entire College of Heralds—a genealogy hotly
contested by the old man, who claimed a bar sinister through three eggs
bought at the village shop some generations before.

"You’ve got a nice little place here," said Flower, by way of changing
the conversation, which was well on the way to becoming personal; "but
don’t you find it rather dull sometimes?"

"Well, I don’t know," said the old woman. "I finds plenty to do, and ’e
potters about like. ’E don’t do much, but it pleases ’im, and it don’t
hurt me."

The object of these compliments took them as a matter of course, and
after hunting up the stump of last night’s cigar, and shredding it with
his knife, crammed it into a clay pipe and smoked tranquilly. Flower
found a solitary cigar, one of the Blue Posts’ best, and with a gaze
which wandered idly from the chest of drawers on one side of the room to
the old china dogs on the little mantel-shelf on the other, smoked in
silence.

The old man brought in news at dinner-time. The village was ringing with
the news of yesterday’s affair, and a rigourous search, fanned into
excitement by an offer of two pounds reward, was taking the place of the
more prosaic labours of the country side.

"If it wasn’t for me," said the old man, in an excess of self-laudation,
"you’d be put in the gaol—where you ought to be; but I wouldn’t do it if
it wasn’t for the five pounds. You’d better keep close in the house.
There’s some more of ’em in the wood looking for you."

Captain Flower took his advice, and for the next two days became a
voluntary prisoner. On the third day the old man reported that public
excitement about him was dying out, owing partly to the fact that it
thought the villain must have made his escape good, and partly to the
fact that the landlord of the Wheatsheaf had been sitting at his front
door shooting at snakes on the King’s Highway invisible to ordinary
folk.

The skipper resolved to make a start on the following evening, walking,
the first night so as to get out of the dangerous zone, and then
training to London. At the prospect his spirits rose, and in a convivial
mood he purchased a bottle of red currant wine from the old woman at
supper, and handed it round.

He was still cheerful next morning as he arose and began to dress. Then
he paused, and in a somewhat anxious fashion patted his trousers
pockets. Minute and painful investigation revealed a bunch of keys and a
clasp-knife.

He tried his other pockets, and then, sinking in a dazed fashion into a
chair, tried to think what had become of his purse and loose change. His
watch, a silver one, was under his pillow, where he had placed it the
night before, and his ready cash was represented by the shilling which
hung upon the chain.

He completed his dressing slowly while walking about the room, looking
into all sorts of likely and unlikely hiding-places for his money, and
at length gave up the search in disgust, and sat down to wait until such
time as his host should appear. It was a complication for which he had
not bargained, and unable to endure the suspense any longer, he put his
head up the stairway and bawled to the old man to come down.

"What’s the matter now?" demanded the old man as he came downstairs,
preceded by his wife. "One would think the place belonged to you, making
all that noise."

"I’ve lost my purse," said Flower, regarding him sternly. "My purse has
been taken out of one pocket and some silver out of the other while I
was asleep."

The old man raised his eyebrows at his wife and scratched his chin
roughly.

"I s’pose you’ve lost my three pounds along with it?" he said, raspily.

"Where’s my purse?" demanded the skipper, roughly; "don’t play the fool
with me. It won’t pay."

"I don’t know nothing about your purse," said the other, regarding him
closely with his little bloodshot eyes; "you’re trying to do me out o’my
three pounds—me what’s took you in and ’id you."

The incensed skipper made no reply, but, passing upstairs, turned the
bed-room topsy-turvy in a wild search for his property. It was
unsuccessful, and he came down with a look in his face which made his
respected host get close to his wife.

"Are you going to give me my money?" demanded he, striding up to him.

"I’ve not got your money," snarled the other, "I’m an honest man."

He started back in alarm, and his wife gave a faint scream as Flower
caught him by the collar, and, holding him against the wall, went
through his pockets.

"Don’t hurt him," cried the old woman; "he’s only a little old man."

"If you were younger and bigger," said the infuriated skipper, as he
gave up the fruitless search, "I’d thrash you till you gave it up."

"I’m an honest man," said the other, recovering himself as he saw that
his adversary intended no violence; "if you think I’ve stole your money,
you know what you can do."

"What?" demanded Flower.

"Go to the police," said the old man, his little slit of a mouth twisted
into a baleful grin; "if you think I’ve stole your money, go and tell
the police."

"Let ’em come and search the house," said the old woman, plucking up
spirit. "I’ve been married forty-two years and ’ad seven children. Go
and fetch the police."

Flower stared at them in wrathful concern. Threats were of no use, and
violence was out of the question. He went to the door, and leaning
against it, stood there deep in thought until, after a time, the old
woman, taking courage from his silence, began to prepare breakfast. Then
he turned, and drawing his chair up to the table, ate silently.

He preserved this silence all day despite the occasional suggestion of
the old man that he should go for the police, and the aggrieved refrain
of the old woman as to the length of her married life and the number of
her offspring.

He left at night without a word. The old man smiled almost amiably to
see him go; and the old woman, who had been in a state of nervous
trepidation all day, glanced at her husband with a look in which wifely
devotion and admiration were almost equally blended.

Flower passed slowly through the wood, and after pausing to make sure
that he was not followed, struck across the fields, and, with his
sailor’s knowledge of the stars, steered by them in the direction of
London.

He walked all that night unmolested, his foot giving him but little
trouble, and passed the following day under a haystack, assuaging his
hunger with some bread and cheese he had put in his pocket.

Travelling by night and sleeping in secluded spots by day, he reached
the city in three days. Considering that he had no money, and was afraid
to go into a town to pawn his watch, he did not suffer so much from
hunger as might have been expected—something which he vaguely referred
to as Providence, but for which the sufferers found other terms, twice
leading his faltering footsteps to labourers’ dinners in tin cans and
red handkerchiefs.

At Stratford he pawned his watch and chain and sat down to a lengthy
meal, and then, with nearly eighteen shillings in his pocket, took train
to Liverpool Street. The roar of the city greeted his ears like music,
and, investing in a pipe and tobacco, he got on a ’bus bound eastward,
and securing cheap apartments in the Mile End Road, sat down to consider
his plans. The prompt appearance of the Tipping family after his letter
to Fraser had given him a wholesome dread of the post, and until the
connection between the two was satisfactorily explained he would not
risk another, even in his new name of Thompson. Having come to this
decision, he had another supper, and then went upstairs to the unwonted
luxury of a bed.



CHAPTER XVII.



It is one of the first laws of domestic economy that the largest
families must inhabit the smallest houses—a state of things which is
somewhat awkward when the heads wish to discuss affairs of state. Some
preserve a certain amount of secrecy by the use of fragmentary sentences
eked out by nods and blinks and by the substitution of capital letters
for surnames; a practice likely to lead to much confusion and scandal
when the names of several friends begin with the same letter. Others
improve the family orthography to an extent they little dream of by
spelling certain vital words instead of pronouncing them, some children
profiting so much by this form of vicarious instruction that they have
been known to close a most interesting conversation by thoughtlessly
correcting their parents on a point of spelling.

There were but few secrets in the Wheeler family, the younger members
relating each other’s misdeeds quite freely, and refuting the charge of
tale-bearing by keeping debit and credit accounts with each other in
which assets and liabilities could usually be balanced by simple
addition. Among the elders, the possession of a present secret merely
meant a future conversation.

On this day the juniors were quite certain that secret proceedings of a
highly interesting nature were in the air. Miss Tyrell having been out
since the morning, Mrs. Wheeler was looking forward anxiously to her
return with the view of holding a little private conversation with her,
and the entire Wheeler family were no less anxious to act as audience
for the occasion. Mr. Bob Wheeler had departed to his work that morning
in a condition which his family, who were fond of homely similes, had
likened to a bear with a sore head. The sisterly attentions of Emma
Wheeler were met with a boorish request to keep her paws off; and a
young Wheeler, rash and inexperienced in the way of this weary world,
who publicly asked what Bob had "got the hump about," was sternly
ordered to finish his breakfast in the washhouse. Consequently there was
a full meeting after tea, and when Poppy entered, it was confidently
expected that proceedings would at once open with a speech from the
sofa.

"Take the children outside a bit, Belinda," said her mother, after the
tea things had been removed.

"Got my ’ome lessons to do," said Belinda.

"Do ’em when you come back," said Mrs. Wheeler.

"Sha’n’t ’ave time," replied Belinda, taking her books from a shelf;
"they’ll take me all the evening. We’ve all got a lot of ’ome lessons
to-night."

"Never mind, you take ’em out," persisted Mrs. Wheeler.

"When I want to go out," said Belinda, rebelliously, "you won’t let me."

"Do as your mother tells you," commanded Mr. Wheeler, with excellent
sternness.

"I want a little quiet," said Mrs. Wheeler; "a little fresh air will do
you good, Peter."

"I’ll go and smoke my pipe in the washhouse," said Mr. Wheeler, who had
his own notions of healthful recreation.

"Take your pipe outside," said Mrs. Wheeler, significantly. "Did you
’ear what I said, Belinda?"

Belinda rose noisily and gathering up her untidy books, thrust them back
in a heap on the shelf, and putting on her hat stood at the door
commenting undutifully upon her parents, and shrilly demanding of the
small Wheelers whether they were coming or whether she was to stay there
all night. She also indulged in dreary prognostications concerning her
future, and finally driving her small fry before her, closed the street
door with a bang which induced Mrs. Wheeler to speak of heredity and Mr.
Wheeler’s sister Jane’s temper.

"Where are you going, Poppy?" she enquired, as the girl rose to follow
the dutiful Mr. Wheeler. "I want to speak to you a moment."

The girl resumed her seat, and taking up a small garment intended for
the youngest Wheeler but two, or the youngest but one, whichever it
happened to fit best, or whichever wanted it first, stitched on in
silence. "I want to speak to you about Bob," said Mrs. Wheeler,
impressively. "Of course you know he never keeps anything from his
mother. He ’as told me about all the gells he has walked out with, and
though, of course, he ’as been much run after, he is three-and-twenty
and not married yet. He told me that none of ’em seemed to be worthy of
him."

She paused for so long that Poppy Tyrell looked up from her work, said
"Yes," in an expressionless manner, and waited for her to continue.

"He’s been a good son," said the mother, fondly; "never no trouble,
always been pertickler, and always quite the gentleman. He always smokes
his cigar of a Sunday, and I remember the very first money ’e ever
earned ’e spent on a cane with a dog’s ’ed to it."

"Yes," said Poppy again.

"The gells he’s ’ad after ’im wouldn’t be believed," said Mrs. Wheeler,
shaking her head with a tender smile at a hole in the carpet. "Before
you came here there was a fresh one used to come in every Sunday almost,
but ’e couldn’t make up his mind. We used to joke him about it."

"He’s very young still," said Poppy.

"He’s old enough to be married," said Mrs. Wheeler. "He’s told me all
about you, he never has no secrets from ’is mother. He told me that he
asked you to walk out with ’im last night and you said ’No’; but I told
’im that that was only a gell’s way, and that you’d give ’im another
answer soon."

"That was my final answer," said Poppy Tyrell, the corners of her mouth
hardening. "I shall never say anything else."

"All young gells say that at first," said Mrs. Wheeler, making
praiseworthy efforts to keep her temper. "Wheeler ’ad to ask me five
times."

"I meant what I said," said Poppy, stitching industriously. "I shall
never change my mind."

"It’s early days to ask you perhaps, so soon after Captain Flower’s
death," suggested Mrs. Wheeler.

"That has nothing at all to do with it," said the girl. "I shall not
marry your son, in any case."

"Not good enough for you, I suppose?" said the other, her eyes snapping.
"In my time beggars couldn’t be choosers."

"They can’t choose much now," said Poppy, in a low voice; "but as you
know I’m going to a situation on Monday, I shall soon be able to pay off
my debt to you: though, of course, I can’t repay you for your kindness
in letting me live here when I had nowhere else to go."

"It isn’t me you owe it to," said Mrs. Wheeler. "I’m sure I couldn’t
’ave afforded to do it whatever Wheeler liked to say if Bob hadn’t come
forward and paid for you."

"Bob?" cried Poppy, springing to her feet and dropping her work onto the
floor.

"Yes, Bob," said the other, melodramatically; "’im what isn’t good
enough to be your husband."

"I didn’t know," said the girl, brokenly; "you should have told me. I
would sooner starve. I would sooner beg in the streets. I will go at
once."

"I daresay you know where to go, so I sha’n’t worry about you," replied
Mrs. Wheeler. "You quiet ones are generally the worst."

"I am sorry," murmured Poppy; "I did not mean to be rude, or
ungrateful."

"You’re very kind," said Mrs. Wheeler. "Is Mr. Fraser up in London?"

"I’m sure I don’t know," said the girl, pausing at the door.

"Sure to be, though," said Mrs. Wheeler, significantly; "you won’t ’ave
to starve, my dear. But, there, you know that—some people’s pride is a
funny thing."

Miss Tyrell regarded her for a moment in silence and then quitted the
room, coming back again from half-way up the stairs to answer a knock at
the door. She opened it slowly, and discovered to her horror Mr. Fraser
standing upon the doorstep, with a smile which was meant to be
propitiatory, but only succeeded in being uneasy.

"Is that Mr. Fraser?" demanded Mrs. Wheeler’s voice, shrilly.

"That’s me," said Fraser, heartily, as he shook hands with Poppy and
entered the room.

"I thought you wouldn’t be far off," said Mrs. Wheeler, in an unpleasant
voice. "Poppy’s been expecting you."

"I didn’t know that Mr. Fraser was coming," said Poppy, as the helpless
man looked from one to the other. "I suppose he has come to see you. He
has not come to see me."

"Yes, I have," said Mr. Fraser, calmly. "I wanted—"

But Miss Tyrell had gone quietly upstairs, leaving him to gaze in a
perturbed fashion at the sickly and somewhat malicious face on the sofa.

"What’s the matter?" he enquired.

"Nothing," said Mrs. Wheeler.

"Isn’t Miss Tyrell well?"

"So far as I’m permitted to know the state of ’er ’ealth, she is," was
the reply.

"Mr. Wheeler well?" enquired Fraser, after a long pause.

"Very well, I thank you," said Mrs. Wheeler.

"And Miss Wheeler, and Bob, and the whole pa—— and all of them?" said
Fraser.

"All very well," said Mrs. Wheeler.

His stock of conversation being exhausted he sat glancing uncomfortably
round the littered room, painfully conscious that Mrs. Wheeler was
regarding him with a glance that was at once hostile and impatient.
While he was wondering whether Miss Tyrell had gone upstairs for a
permanency, he heard her step on the stairs, and directly afterwards she
appeared at the door with her hat and jacket on.

"Good-bye, Mrs. Wheeler," she said, gravely.

"Good-bye," said Mrs. Wheeler, in the same way that a free-speaking
woman would have said "Good-riddance."

The girl’s eyes rested for a moment on Fraser. Then she bade him
good-bye, and, opening the door, passed into the street.

Fraser looked at Mrs. Wheeler in perplexity, then, jumping up suddenly
as Poppy passed the window, he crossed to the door.

"Good-bye, Mrs. Wheeler," he shouted, and, vaguely conscious that
something was wrong somewhere, dashed off in pursuit.

Poppy Tyrell, her face pale and her eyes burning, quickened her pace as
she heard hurrying footsteps behind her.

"I just wanted a few words with you, Miss Tyrell," said Fraser, somewhat
breathlessly.

"I—I am going on business," said Poppy, in a quiet voice.

"I didn’t understand Mrs. Wheeler just now," said Fraser. "I hope you
didn’t mind my calling?"

"Oh, no," said the girl; "call as often as you like, but this evening
I’m busy. Come to-morrow."

This hospitality over-reached itself. "Have you left the Wheelers?" he
enquired, suddenly.

"Yes," said Poppy, simply.

"What’s the good of telling me to call, then?" enquired Fraser, bluntly.

"They will be pleased to see you, I’m sure," said Miss Tyrell.

"Where are you going?" asked Fraser.

Miss Tyrell made no reply, except to favour him with a glance which
warned him not to repeat the question, and he walked beside her for some
time in silence.

"Good-bye," she said, suddenly.

"I’m not going," said Fraser, with artless surprise.

"Mr. Fraser," said the girl, reddening with anger, "will you please
understand that I wish to be alone?"

"No," said Mr. Fraser, doggedly.

"A gentleman would not have to have half as much said to him," said
Poppy, trembling.

"Well, thank God, I’m not a gentleman," said Fraser, calmly.

"If I had a father or a brother you would not behave like this," said
the girl.

"If you had a father or a brother they would do it instead," said
Fraser, gently; "it’s just because you’ve got nobody else that I’m
looking after you."

Miss Tyrell, who had softened slightly, stiffened again with temper.

"You?" she said, hotly. "What right have you to trouble yourself about
me?"

"No right at all," said Fraser, cheerfully, "but I’m going to do it. If
you’ve left the Wheelers, where are you going?"

Miss Tyrell, gazing straight in front of her, made no reply.

"Won’t you tell me?" persisted the other.

"I’m not going anywhere," said Poppy, stopping suddenly and facing him.
"I’ve got a new berth next Monday, and to-morrow morning I am going to
see them to ask them to employ me at once."

"And to-night?" suggested the other.

"I shall go for a walk," said the girl. "Now that you know all about my
concerns, will you please go?"

"Walk?" repeated Fraser. "Walk? What, all night? You can’t do it—you
don’t know what it’s like. Will you let me lend you some money? You can
repay me as soon as you like."

"No, thank you."

"For my sake?" he suggested.

Miss Tyrell raised her eyebrows.

"I’m a bad walker," he explained.

The reply trembling on Miss Tyrell’s lips realised that it was utterly
inadequate to the occasion, and remained unspoken. She walked on in
silence, apparently oblivious of the man by her side, and when he next
spoke to her made no reply. He glanced at a clock in a baker’s shop as
they passed, and saw that it was just seven.

In this sociable fashion they walked along the Commercial Road and on to
Aldgate, and then, passing up Fenchurch Street, mingled with the crowd
thronging homewards over London Bridge. They went as far as Kennington
in this direction, and then the girl turned and walked back to the City.
Fraser, glancing at the pale profile beside him, ventured to speak
again.

"Will you come down to Wapping and take my cabin for the night?" he
asked, anxiously. "The mate’s away, and I can turn in fo’ard—you can
have it all to yourself."

Miss Tyrell, still looking straight in front of her, made no reply, but
with another attempt to shake off this pertinacious young man of the sea
quickened her pace again. Fraser fell back.

"If I’m not fit to walk beside you, I’ll walk behind," he said, in a low
voice; "you won’t mind that?"

In this way they walked through the rapidly thinning streets. It was now
dark, and most of the shops had closed. The elasticity had departed from
Miss Tyrell’s step, and she walked aimlessly, noting with a sinking at
the heart the slowly passing time. Once or twice she halted from sheer
weariness, Fraser halting too, and watching her with a sympathy of which
Flower would most certainly have disapproved if he had seen it.

At length, in a quiet street beyond Stratford, she not only stopped, but
turned and walked slowly back. Frascr turned too, and his heart beat as
he fancied that she intended to overtake him. He quickened his pace in
time with the steps behind him until they slackened and faltered; then
he looked round and saw her standing in the centre of the pathway with
her head bent. He walked back slowly until he stood beside her, and saw
that she was crying softly. He placed his hand on her arm.

"Go away," she said, in a low voice.

"I shall not."

"You walked away from me just now."

"I was a brute," said Frascr, vehemently.

The arm beneath his hand trembled, and he drew it unresistingly through
his own. In the faint light from the lamp opposite he saw her look at
him.

"I’m very tired," she said, and leaned on him trustfully. "Were you
really going to leave me just now?"

"You know I was not," said Fraser, simply.

Miss Tyrell, walking very slowly, pondered. "I should never have
forgiven you if you had," she said, thoughtfully. "I’m so tired, I can
hardly stand. You must take me to your ship."

They walked slowly to the end of the road, but the time seemed very
short to Fraser. As far as he was concerned he would willingly have
dispensed with the tram which they met at the end and the antique
four-wheeler in which they completed their journey to the river. They
found a waterman’s skiff at the stairs, and sat side by side in the
stern, looking contentedly over the dark water, as the waterman pulled
in the direction of the Swallow, which was moored in the tier. There was
no response to their hail, and Fraser himself, clambering over the side
with the painter, assisted Miss Tyrell, who, as the daughter of one
sailor and the guest of another, managed to throw off her fatigue
sufficiently to admire the lines of the small steamer.

Fraser conducted her to the cabin, and motioning her to a seat on the
locker, went forward to see about some supper. He struck a match in the
forecastle and scrutinised the sleepers, and coming to the conclusion
that something which was lying doubled up in a bunk, with its head
buried in the pillow, was the cook, shook it vigourously.

"Did you want the cook, sir?" said a voice from another bunk.

"Yes," said Fraser, sharply, as he punched the figure again and again.

"Pore cookie ain’t well, sir," said the seaman, sympathetically; "’e’s
been very delikit all this evenin’; that’s the worst o’ them
teetotalers."

"All right; that’ll do," said the skipper, sharply, as he struck another
match, and gave the invalid a final disgusted punch. "Where’s the boy?"

A small, dirty face with matted hair protruded from the bunk above the
cook and eyed him sleepily.

"Get some supper," said Fraser, "quick."

"Supper, sir?" said the boy with a surprised yawn.

"And be quick about it," said the skipper, "and wash you face first and
put a comb through your hair. Come, out you get."

The small sleeper sighed disconsolately, and, first extending one
slender leg, clambered out and began to dress, yawning pathetically as
he did so.

"And some coffee," said Fraser, as he lit the lamp and turned to depart.

"Bill," said the small boy, indignantly.

"Wot d’ye want?" said the seaman.

"’Elp me to wake that drunken pig up," said the youth, pointing a
resentful finger at the cook. "I ain’t goin’ to do all the work."

"You leave ’im alone," said Bill, ferociously. The cook had been very
liberal that evening, and friendship is friendship, after all.

"That’s what a chap gets by keeping hisself sober," said the youthful
philosopher, as he poured a little cold tea out of the kettle on his
handkerchief and washed himself. "Other people’s work to do."

He went grumbling up to the galley, and, lighting some sticks, put the
kettle on, and then descended to the cabin, starting with genuine
surprise as he saw the skipper sitting opposite a pretty girl, who was
leaning back in her seat fast asleep.

"Cook’ll be sorry ’e missed this," he murmured, as he lighted up and
began briskly to set the table. He ran up on deck again to see how his
fire was progressing, and thrusting his head down the forecastle
communicated the exciting news to Bill.

To Fraser sitting watching his sleeping guest it seemed like a beautiful
dream. That Poppy Tyrell should be sitting in his cabin and looking to
him as her only friend seemed almost incredible. A sudden remembrance of
Flower subdued at once the ardour of his gaze, and he sat wondering
vaguely as to the whereabouts of that erratic mariner until his
meditations were broken by the entrance of the boy with the steaming
coffee, followed by Bill bearing a couple of teaspoons.

"I nearly went to sleep," said Poppy, as Fraser roused her gently.

She took off her hat and jacket, and Fraser, taking them from her, laid
them reverently in his bunk. Then Poppy moved farther along the seat,
and, taking some coffee pronounced herself much refreshed.

"I’ve been very rude to you," she said, softly; "but Mrs. Wheeler was
very unkind, and said that of course I should go to you. That was why."

"Mrs. Wheeler is—" began Fraser, and stopped suddenly.

"Of course it was quite true," said Poppy, healthfully attacking her
plate; "I did have to come to you."

"It was rather an odd way of coming," said Fraser; "my legs ache now."

The girl laughed softly, and continued to laugh. Then her eyes
moistened, and her face became troubled. Fraser, as the best thing to
do, made an excuse and went up on deck, to the discomfort of Bill and
the boy, who were not expecting him.

Poppy was calm again by the time he returned, and thanked him again
softly as he showed her her bunk and withdrew for the night. Bill and
the boy placed their berths at his disposal, but he declined them in
favour of a blanket in the galley, where he sat up, and slept but ill
all night, and was a source of great embarrassment to the cook next
morning when he wanted to enter to prepare breakfast.

Poppy presided over that meal, and it, and the subsequent walk to
discover lodgings, are among Fraser’s dearest memories. He trod on air
through the squalid roads by her side, and, the apartments having been
obtained, sat on the arm of the armchair—the most comfortable part—and
listened to her plans.

"And you won’t go away without letting me know?" he said, as he rose to
depart.

Miss Tyrell shook her head, and her eyes smiled at him. "You know I
won’t," she said, softly. "I don’t want to."

She saw him to the door, and until he had quitted the gate, kept it
hospitably open. Fraser, with his head in a whirl, went back to the
Swallow.



CHAPTER XVIII.



The prime result of Mrs. Banks’ nocturnal ramble with Mr. William Green,
was a feeling of great bitterness against her old friend, Captain John
Barber. Mr. Green, despite her protests, was still a member of the crew
of the Foam, and walked about Seabridge in broad daylight, while she
crept forth only after sundown, and saw a hidden meaning in every "Fine
evening, Mrs. Banks," which met her. She pointed out to Captain Barber,
that his refusal to dismiss Mr. Green was a reflection upon her
veracity, and there was a strange light in her eyes and a strange
hardening of her mouth, as the old man said that to comply with her
request would be to reflect upon the polite seaman’s veracity.

Her discomfiture was not lessened by the unbecoming behaviour of her
daughter, who in some subtle manner, managed to convey that her
acceptance of her mother’s version of the incident depended upon the way
she treated Mr. Frank Gibson. It was a hard matter to a woman of spirit,
and a harder thing still, that those of her neighbours who listened to
her account of the affair were firmly persuaded that she was setting her
cap at Captain Barber.

To clear her character from this imputation, and at the same time to
mark her sense of the captain’s treatment of her, Mrs. Banks effected a
remarkable change of front, and without giving him the slightest
warning, set herself to help along his marriage to Mrs. Church.

She bantered him upon the subject when she met him out, and,
disregarding his wrathful embarrassment, accused him in a loud voice of
wearing his tie in a love-knot. She also called him a turtledove. The
conversation ended here, the turtledove going away crimson with
indignation and cooing wickedly.

Humbled by the terrors of his position, the proud shipowner turned more
than ever to Captain Nibletts for comfort and sympathy, and it is but
due to that little man to say that anything he could have done for his
benefactor would have given him the greatest delight. He spent much of
his spare time in devising means for his rescue, all of which the old
man listened to with impatience and rejected with contumely.

"It’s no good, Nibletts," he said, as they sat in the subdued light of
the cabin one evening.

"Nothing can be done. If anything could be done, I should have thought
of it."

"Yes, that’s what struck me," said the little skipper, dutifully.

"I’ve won that woman’s ’art," said Captain Barber, miserably; "in ’er
anxiety to keep me, the woman’s natur’ has changed. There’s nothing she
wouldn’t do to make sure of me."

"It’s understandable," said Nibletts.

"It’s understandable," agreed Captain Barber, "but it’s orkard. Instead
o’ being a mild, amiable sort o’ woman, all smiles, the fear o’ losing
me has changed ’er into a determined, jealous woman. She told me herself
it was love of me as ’ad changed her."

"You ain’t written to her, I suppose?" asked Nibletts, twisting his
features into an expression of great cunning.

Captain Barber shook his head. "If you’d think afore speaking,
Nibletts," he said, severely, "you’d know as people don’t write to each
other when they’re in the same house."

The skipper apologised. "What I mean to say is this," he said, softly.
"She hasn’t got your promise in writing, and she’s done all the talking
about it. I’m the only one you’ve spoken to about it, I s’pose?"

Captain Barber nodded.

"Well, forget all about it," said Nibletts, in an excited whisper.

Captain Barber looked at him pityingly.

"What good’ll that do?" he asked.

"Forget the understanding," continued Nibletts, in a stage whisper,
"forget everything; forget Captain Flower’s death, act as you acted just
afore he went. People’ll soon see as you’re strange in your manner, and
I’ll put the news about as you’ve been so affected by that affair that
your memory’s gone."

"I was thinking of doing that the other day myself," said Captain
Barber, slowly and untruthfully.

"I thought you was, from something you said," replied Nibletts.

"I think I spoke of it, or I was going to," said Barber.

"You did say something," said Nibletts.

"I wonder what would be the best way to begin," said Barber, regarding
him attentively.

Captain Niblett’s nerve failed him at the responsibility.

"It’s your plan, Captain Barber," he said, impressively, "and nobody can
tell a man like you how it should be done. It wants acting, and you’ve
got to have a good memory to remember that you haven’t got a memory."

"Say that agin," said Captain Barber, breathing thickly.

Captain Nibletts repeated it, and Captain Barber, after clearing his
brain with a glass of spirits, bade him a solemn good-night, and
proceeded slowly to his home. The door was opened by Mrs. Church, and a
hum of voices from the front room indicated company. Captain Barber,
hanging his hat on a peg, entered the room to discover Mrs. Banks and
daughter, attended by Mr. Gibson.

"Where’s Fred?" he asked, slowly, as he took a seat.

"Who?" said Miss Banks, with a little scream.

"Lawk-a-mussy, bless the man," said her mother. "I never did."

"Not come in yet?" asked Barber, looking round with a frightful stare.
"The Foam’s up!"

The company exchanged glances of consternation.

"Why, is he alive?" enquired Mrs. Church, sharply.

"Alive!" repeated Captain Barber. "Why shouldn’t he be? He was alive
yesterday, wasn’t he?"

There was a dead silence, and then Captain Barber from beneath his
shaggy eyebrows observed with delight that Gibson, tapping his forehead
significantly, gave a warning glance at the others, while all four
sitting in a row watched anxiously for the first signs of acute mania.

"I expect he’s gone round after you, my dear," said the wily Barber to
Miss Banks.

In the circumstances this was certainly cruel, and Gibson coughed
confusedly.

"I’ll go and see," said Miss Banks, hurriedly; "come along, mother."

The two ladies, followed by Mr. Gibson, shook hands and withdrew
hurriedly. Captain Barber, wondering how to greet Mrs. Church after he
had let them out, fixed his eyes on the carpet and remained silent.

"Aren’t you well?" enquired the lady, tenderly.

"Well, ma’am?" repeated Uncle Barber, with severity.

"Ma’am?" said Mrs. Church, in tones of tender reproach; "two hours ago I
was Laura. Have you been to the ’Thorn’?"

"What ’Thorn’?" demanded Captain Barber, who had decided to forget as
much as possible, as the only safe way.

"The Thorn Inn," said Mrs. Church, impatiently.

"Where is it?" enquired Captain Barber, ingenuously.

Mrs. Church looked at him with deep consideration. "Why, at the end of
the cottages, opposite the ’Swan."

"What ’Swan’?" enquired Captain Barber.

"The Swan Inn," said Mrs. Church, restraining her temper, but with
difficulty.

"Where is it?" said Uncle Barber, with breezy freshness.

"Opposite the ’Thorn,’ at the end of the row," said Mrs. Church, slowly.

"Well, what about it?" enquired Captain Barber.

"Nothing," said Mrs. Church, sharply, and proceeded to set supper.

Captain Barber, hugging himself over his scheme, watched her eagerly,
evincing a little bewilderment as she brought on a small, unappetizing
rind of cheese, bread, two glasses, and a jug of water. He checked
himself just in time from asking for the cold fowl and bacon left from
dinner, and, drawing his chair to the table, eyed the contents closely.

"Only bread and cheese?" he said, somewhat peevishly.

"That’s all," said Mrs. Church, smiling; "bread and cheese and kisses."

Captain Barber tapped his forehead. "What did we have for dinner?" he
asked, suddenly.

"Sausages," replied Mrs. Church, blandly; "we ate them all."

A piece of Captain Barber’s cheese went the wrong way, and he poured
himself out some water and drank it hurriedly. "Where’s the beer?" he
demanded.

"You’ve got the key of the cask," said the housekeeper.

Captain Barber, whose temper was rising, denied it.

"I gave it to you this morning," said Mrs. Church; "you were going to do
something to it, don’t you know?"

"I don’t remember," said Uncle Barber, surlily.

"Whatever has happened to your memory?" said Mrs. Church, sweetly.

"My memory," said the trickster, slowly, passing his hand over his brow;
"why, what’s the matter with it?"

"It doesn’t seem quite so good as it was," said the lady,
affectionately. "Never mind, my memory will have to do for both."

There was enough emphasis on this last sentence to send a little chill
through the captain’s frame.

He said nothing, but keeping his eye on his plate attacked his frugal
meal in silence, and soon after-wards went upstairs to bed to think out
his position.

If his own memory was defective, Mrs. Church’s was certainly redundant.
When he came hurrying in to dinner next day she remembered that he had
told her he should not be home to that meal. He was ungallant enough to
contemplate a raid upon hers; she, with a rare thoughtfulness, had
already eaten it. He went to the "Thorn," and had some cold salt beef,
and cursed the ingenious Nibletts, now on his way to London, sky-high.

Mrs. Banks came in the next evening with her daughter, and condoled with
the housekeeper on the affliction which had already been noised about
Seabridge. Mrs. Church, who had accepted her as an ally, but with mental
reservations, softly applied a handkerchief to her eyes.

"How are you feeling?" demanded Mrs. Banks, in the voice of one
addressing a deaf invalid.

"I’m all right," said Barber, shortly.

"That’s his pride," said Mrs. Church, mournfully; "he won’t own to it.
He can’t remember anything. He pretends he doesn’t know me."

"Who are you?" asked the sufferer, promptly.

"He’ll get the better of it," said Mrs. Banks, kindly, as her quondam
foe wiped her eyes again. "If he don’t, you’d better marry before
October."

To say that Captain Barber pricked up his ears at this, indicates but
feebly his interest in the remark. He held his breath and looked wildly
round the room as the two ladies, deftly ignoring him, made their
arrangements for his future.

"I don’t like to seem to hurry it," said the housekeeper.

"No, of course you don’t. If he said October, naturally October it ought
to be, in the usual way," remarked the other.

"I never said October," interrupted the trembling mariner.

"There’s his memory again," said Mrs. Banks, in a low voice.

"Poor dear," sighed the other.

"We’ll look after your interests," said Mrs. Banks, with a benevolent
smile. "Don’t you remember meeting me by the church the other night and
telling me that you were going to marry Mrs. Church in October?"

"No," bawled the affrighted man.

"Clean gone," said Mrs. Church, shaking her head; "it’s no use."

"Not a bit," said Mrs. Banks.

"October seems rather early," said Mrs. Church, "especially as he is in
mourning for his nephew.

"There’s no reason for waiting," said Mrs. Banks, decidedly. "I daresay
it’s his loneliness that makes him want to hurry it. After all, he ought
to know what he wants."

"I never said a word about it," interposed Captain Barber, in a loud
voice.

"All right," said Mrs. Banks, indulgently. "What are you going to wear,
my dear?" she added, turning to the housekeeper.

Mrs. Church seemed undecided, and Captain Barber, wiping the moisture
from his brow, listened as one in a dream to a long discussion on the
possibilities of her wardrobe. Thrice he interrupted, and thrice the
ladies, suspending their conversation for a moment, eyed him with tender
pity before resuming it.

"Me and Frank thought of October," said Elizabeth, speaking for the
first time. She looked at Captain Barber, and then at her mother. It was
the look of one offering to sell a casting vote.

"October’s early," said the old lady, bridling.

Mrs. Church looked up at her, and then modestly looked down again. "Why
not a double wedding?" she asked, gently.

Captain Barber’s voice was drowned in acclamations. Elizabeth kissed
Mrs. Church, and then began to discuss her own wardrobe. The owner of
the house, the owner of the very chairs on which they were sitting,
endeavoured in vain to stop them on a point of order, and discovered to
his mortification that a man without a memory is a man without
influence. In twenty minutes it was all settled, and even an approximate
date fixed. There was a slight movement on the part of Elizabeth to
obtain Captain Barber’s opinion upon that, but being reminded by her
mother that he would forget all about it in half an hour’s time, she
settled it without him.

"I’m so sorry about your memory, Captain Barber," said Mrs. Banks, as
she prepared to depart. "I can understand what a loss it is. My memory’s
a very good one. I never forget anything."

"You forget yourself, ma’am," returned her victim, with unconscious
ambiguity, and, closing the door behind her, returned to the parlour to
try and think of some means of escaping from the position to which the
ingenuity of Captain Nibletts, aided by that of Mrs. Banks, had brought
him.



CHAPTER XIX.



OPPONENTS of medicine have hit upon a means of cleansing the system by
abstaining for a time from food, and drinking a quantity of fair water.
It is stated to clear the eyes and the skin, and to cause a feeling of
lightness and buoyancy undreamt of by those who have never tried it. All
people, perhaps, are not affected exactly alike, and Captain Flower,
while admitting the lightness, would have disdainfully contested any
charge of buoyancy. Against this objection it may be said, that he was
not a model patient, and had on several occasions wilfully taken steps
to remove the feeling of lightness.

It was over a fortnight since his return to London. The few shillings
obtained for his watch had disappeared days before; rent was due and the
cupboard was empty. The time seemed so long to him, that Poppy and
Seabridge and the Foam might have belonged to another period of
existence. At the risk of detection he had hung round the Wheelers night
after night for a glimpse of the girl for whom he was enduring all these
hardships, but without success. He became a prey to nervousness and,
unable to endure the suspense any longer, determined to pay a stealthy
visit to Wapping and try and see Fraser.

He chose the night on which in the ordinary state of affairs the
schooner should be lying alongside the wharf; and keeping a keen lookout
for friends and foes both, made his way to the Minories and down Tower
Hill. He had pictured it as teeming with people he knew, and the bare
street and closed warehouses, with a chance docker or two slouching
slowly along, struck him with an odd sense of disappointment. The place
seemed changed. He hurried past the wharf; that too was deserted, and
after a loving peep at the spars of his schooner he drifted slowly
across the road to the Albion, and, pushing the door a little way open,
peeped cautiously in. The faces were all unfamiliar, and letting the
door swing quietly back he walked on until he came to the Town of
Yarmouth.

The public bar was full. Tired workers were trying to forget the labours
of the day in big draughts of beer, while one of them had thrown off his
fatigue sufficiently to show a friend a fancy step of which he was
somewhat vain. It was a difficult and intricate step for a crowded bar,
and panic-stricken men holding their beer aloft called wildly upon him
to stop, while the barman, leaning over the counter, strove to make his
voice heard above the din. The dancer’s feet subsided into a sulky
shuffle, and a tall seaman, removing the tankard which had obscured his
face, revealed the honest features of Joe. The sight of him and the row
of glasses and hunches of bread and cheese behind the bar was
irresistible. The skipper caught a departing customer by the coat and
held him.

"Do me a favour, old man," he said, heartily.

"Wot d’ye want?" asked the other, suspiciously.

"Tell that tall chap in there that a friend of his is waiting outside,"
said Flower, pointing to Joe.

He walked off a little way as the man re-entered the bar. A second or
two later, the carman came out alone.

"’E ses come inside ’e ses if you want to see ’im."

"I can’t," said Flower.

"Why not?" asked the other, as a horrible suspicion dawned upon him.
"Strewth, you ain’t a teetotaler, are you?"

"No," replied the skipper, "but I can’t go in."

"Well ’e won’t come out," said the other; "’e seems to be a
short-tempered sort o’ man."

"I must see him," said the skipper, pondering. Then a happy thought
struck him, and he smiled at his cleverness. "Tell him a little flower
wants to see him," he said, briskly.

"A little wot?" demanded the carman, blankly.

"A little flower," repeated the other.

"Where is she?" enquired the carman, casting his eyes about him.

"You just say that," said the skipper, hurriedly. "You shall have a pint
if you do. He’ll understand."

It was unfortunate for the other that the skipper had set too high an
estimation on Joe’s intelligence, for the information being imparted to
him in the audible tones of confidence, he first gave his mug to Mr.
William Green to hold, and then knocked the ambassador down. The loud
laugh consequent on the delivery of the message ceased abruptly, and in
the midst of a terrific hubbub Joe and his victim, together with two or
three innocent persons loudly complaining that they hadn’t finished
their beer, were swept into the street.

"He’ll be all right in a minute, mate," said a bystander to Joe,
anxiously; "don’t run away."

"’Tain’t so likely," said Joe, scornfully.

"Wot did you ’it me for?" demanded the victim, turning a deaf ear to two
or three strangers who were cuddling him affectionately and pointing
out, in alluring whispers, numberless weak points in Joe’s fleshly
armour.

"I’ll ’it you agin if you come into a pub making a fool of me afore
people," replied the sensitive seaman, blushing hotly with the
recollection of the message.

"He told me to," said the carman, pointing to Flower, who was lurking in
the background.

The tall seaman turned fiercely and strode up to him, and then, to the
scandal of the bystanders and the dismay of Mr. William Green, gave a
loud yell and fled full speed up the road. Flower followed in hot
pursuit, and owing, perhaps, to the feeling of lightness before
mentioned, ran him down nearly a mile farther on, Mr. Green coming in a
good second.

"Keep orf," panted the seaman, backing into a doorway. "Keep—it—orf!"

"Don’t be a fool, Joe," said the skipper.

"Keep orf," repeated the trembling seaman.

His fear was so great that Mr. Green, who had regarded him as a tower of
strength and courage, and had wormed himself into the tall seaman’s good
graces by his open admiration of these qualities, stood appalled at his
idol’s sudden lack of spirit.

"Don’t be a fool, Joe," said the skipper, sharply; "can’t you see it’s
me?"

"I thought you was drownded," said the trembling seaman, still regarding
him suspiciously. "I thought you was a ghost."

"Feel that," said Flower, and gave him a blow in the ribs which almost
made him regret that his first impression was not the correct one.

"I’m satisfied, sir," he said, hastily.

"I was picked up and carried off to Riga: but for certain reasons I
needn’t go into, I want my being alive kept a dead secret. You mustn’t
breathe a word to anybody, d’ye understand? Not a word."

"Aye, aye, sir," said Joe; "you hear that, Will-yum?"

"Who the devil’s this?" demanded the skipper, who had not bargained for
another confidant.

"It’s the new ’and, sir," said Joe. "I’ll be answerable for ’im."

Flower eyed the pair restlessly, but Mr. Green assured him with a
courtly bow that Mr. Smith’s assurances might be relied upon. "He hoped
he was a gentleman," he said, feelingly.

"Some of us thought—I thought," said Joe, with a glance at the skipper,
"that the mate shoved you overboard."

"You always were a fool," commented the skipper.

"Yes, sir," said Joe, dutifully, and as they moved slowly back along the
road gave him the latest information about Seabridge and the Foam.

"The Swallow’s just come up in the tier," he concluded; "and if you want
to see Mr. Fraser, I’ll go and see if he’s aboard."

The skipper agreed, and after exacting renewed assurances of secrecy
from both men, waited impatiently in the private bar of the Waterman’s
Arms while they put off from the stairs and boarded the steamer.

In twenty minutes, during which time the penniless skipper affected not
to notice the restless glances of the landlord, they returned with
Fraser, and a hearty meeting took place between the two men. The
famished skipper was provided with meat and drink, while the two A. B.’s
whetted their thirst in the adjourning bar.

"You’ve had a rough time," said Fraser, as the skipper concluded a
dramatic recital of his adventures.

Flower smiled broadly. "I’ve come out of it right side uppermost," he
said, taking a hearty pull at his tankard; "the worst part was losing my
money. Still, it’s all in the day’s work. Joe tells me that Elizabeth is
walking out with Gibson, so you see it has all happened as I bargained
for."

"I’ve heard so," said Fraser.

"It’s rather soon after my death," said Flower, thoughtfully; "she’s
been driven into it by her mother, I expect. How is Poppy?"

Fraser told him.

"I couldn’t wish her in better hands, Jack," said the other, heartily,
when he had finished; "one of these days when she knows everything—at
least, as much as I shall tell her—she’ll be as grateful to you as what
I am."

"You’ve come back just in time," said Fraser, slowly; "another week, and
you’d have lost her."

"Lost her?" repeated Flower, staring.

"She’s going to New Zealand," replied the other; "she’s got some
relations there. She met an old friend of her father’s the other day,
Captain Martin, master of the Golden Cloud, and he has offered her a
passage. They sail on Saturday from the Albert Dock."

Flower pushed the tankard from him, and regarded him in consternation.

"She mustn’t go," he said, decisively.

Fraser shrugged his shoulders. "I tried to persuade her not to, but it
was no use. She said there was nothing to stay in England for; she’s
quite alone, and there is nobody to miss her."

"Poor girl," said Flower, softly, and sat crumbling his bread and gazing
reflectively at a soda-water advertisement on the wall. He sat so long
in this attitude that his companion also turned and studied it.

"She mustn’t go," said Flower, at length. "I’ll go down and see her
to-morrow night. You go first and break the news to her, and I’ll follow
on. Do it gently, Jack. It’s quite safe; there’s nobody she can talk to
now; she’s left the Wheelers, and I’m simply longing to see her. You
don’t know what it is to be in love, Jack."

"What am I to tell her?" enquired the other, hastily.

"Tell her I was saved," was the reply. "I’ll do the rest. By Jove, I’ve
got it."

He banged the table so hard that his plate jumped and the glasses in the
bar rattled in protest.

"Anything wrong with the grub?" enquired the landlord, severely.

Flower, who was all excitement, shook his head.

"Because if there is," continued the landlord, "I’d sooner you spoke of
it than smash the table; never mind about hurting my feelings."

He wiped down the counter to show that Flower’s heated glances had no
effect upon him, withdrawing reluctantly to serve an impatient customer.

"I’ll go down to-morrow morning to the Golden Cloud and try and ship
before the mast," said Flower, excitably; "get married out in New
Zealand, and then come home when things are settled. What do you think
of that, my boy? How does that strike you?"

"How will it strike Cap’n Barber?" asked Fraser, as soon as he had
recovered sufficiently to speak.

Flower’s eyes twinkled. "It’s quite easy to get wrecked and picked up
once or twice," he said, cheerfully. "I’ll have my story pat by the time
I get home, even to the names of the craft I was cast away in. And I can
say I heard of Elizabeth’s marriage from somebody I met in New Zealand.
I’ll manage all right."

The master of the Swallow gazed at him in help-less fascination.

"They want hands on the Golden Cloud," he said, slowly; "but what about
your discharges?"

"I can get those," said Flower, complacently; "a man with money and
brains can do anything. Lend me a pound or two before I forget it, will
you? And if you’ll give me Poppy’s address, I’ll be outside the house at
seven to-morrow. Lord, fancy being on the same ship with her for three
months."

He threw down a borrowed sovereign on the counter, and, ordering some
more drinks, placed them on the table. Fraser had raised his to his lips
when he set it down again, and with a warning finger called the other’s
attention to the remarkable behaviour of the door communicating with the
next bar, which, in open defiance of the fact that it possessed a patent
catch of the latest pattern, stood open at least three or four inches.

"Draught?" questioned Flower, staring at the phenomenon.

The other shook his head. "I’d forgotten those two chaps," he said, in a
low voice; "they’ve been listening."

Flower shifted in his seat. "I’d trust Joe anywhere," he said, uneasily,
"but I don’t know about the other chap. If he starts talking at
Seabridge I’m done. I thought Joe was alone when I sent in for him."

Fraser tapped his chin with his fingers. "I’ll try and get ’em to ship
with me. I want a couple of hands," he said, slowly. "I’ll have them
under my eye then, and, besides, they’re better at Bittlesea than
Seabridge in any case."

He rose noisily, and followed by Flower entered the next bar. Twenty
minutes afterwards Flower bade them all a hearty good-night, and Mr.
Green, walking back to the schooner with Joe, dwelt complacently on the
advantages of possessing a style and address which had enabled them to
exchange the rudeness of Ben for the appreciative amiability of Captain
Fraser.

Flower was punctual to the minute next evening, and shaking hands
hastily with Fraser, who had gone down to the door to wait for him, went
in alone to see Miss Tyrell. Fraser, smoking his pipe on the doorstep,
gave him a quarter of an hour, and then went upstairs, Miss Tyrell
making a futile attempt to escape from the captain’s encircling arm as
he entered the room. Flower had just commenced the recital of his
adventures. He broke off as the other entered, but being urged by Miss
Tyrell to continue, glanced somewhat sheepishly at his friend before
complying.

"When I rose to the surface," he said, slowly "and saw the ship drawing
away in the darkness and heard the cries on board, I swam as strongly as
I could towards it. I was weighed down by my clothes, and I had also
struck my head going overboard, and I felt that every moment was my
last, when I suddenly bumped up against the life-belt. I had just
strength to put that on and give one faint hail, and then I think for a
time I lost my senses."

Miss Tyrell gave an exclamation of pity; Mr. Fraser made a noise which
might have been intended for the same thing.

"The rest of it was like a dream," continued Flower, pressing the girl’s
hand; "sometimes my eyes were open and sometimes not. I heard the men
pulling about and hailing me without being able to reply. By-and-by that
ceased, the sky got grey and the water brown; all feeling had gone out
of me. The sun rose and burnt in the salt on my face; then as I rose and
fell like a cork on the waters, your face seemed to come before me, and
I determined to live."

"Beautiful," said Fraser, involuntarily.

"I determined to live," repeated Flower, glancing at him defiantly. "I
brushed the wet hair from my eyes, and strove to move my chilled limbs.
Then I shouted, and anything more dreary than that shout across the
waste of water I cannot imagine, but it did me good to hear my own
voice, and I shouted again."

He paused for breath, and Fraser, taking advantage of the pause, got up
hurriedly and left the room, muttering something about matches.

"He doesn’t like to hear of your sufferings," said Poppy.

"I suppose not," said Flower, whose eloquence had received a chill, "but
there is little more to tell. I was picked up by a Russian brig bound
for Riga, and lay there some time in a state of fever. When I got better
I worked my passage home in a timber boat and landed yesterday."

"What a terrible experience," said Poppy, as Fraser entered the room
again.

"Shocking," said the latter.

"And now you’ve got your own ship again," said the girl, "weren’t your
crew delighted to see you?"

"I’ve not seen them yet," said Flower, hesitatingly. "I shipped on
another craft this morning before the mast."

"Before the mast," repeated the girl, in amazement.

"Full-rigged ship Golden Cloud bound for New Zealand," said Flower,
slowly, watching the effect of his words—"we’re to be shipmates."

Poppy Tyrell started up with a faint cry, but Flower drew her gently
down again.

"We’ll be married in New Zealand," he said, softly, "and then we’ll come
back and I’ll have my own again. Jack told me you were going out on her.
Another man has got my craft; he lost the one he had before, and I want
to give him a chance for a few months, poor chap, to redeem his
character. Besides, it’ll be a change. We shall see the world. It’ll
just be a splendid honeymoon."

"You didn’t tell Captain Martin?" enquired the girl, as she drew back in
her chair and eyed him perplexedly.

"Not likely," said Flower, with a laugh. "I’ve shipped in the name of
Robert Orth. I bought the man’s discharges this morning. He’s lying in
bed, poor chap, waiting for his last now, and hoping it’ll be marked ’v.
g.’"

Poppy was silent. For a moment her eyes, dark and inscrutable, met
Fraser’s; then she looked away, and in a low voice addressed Flower.

"I suppose you know best what is to be done," she said, quietly.

"You leave it to me," said Flower, in satisfied tones. "I’m at the
wheel."

There was a long silence. Poppy got up and crossed to the window, and,
resting her cheek on her hand, sat watching the restless life of the
street. The room darkened slowly with the approach of evening. Flower
rose and took the seat opposite, and Fraser, who had been feeling in the
way for some time, said that he must go.

"You sail to-morrow evening, Jack?" said Flower, with a careless
half-turn towards him.

"About six," was the reply.

"We sail Saturday evening at seven," said Flower, and took the girl’s
hand in his own. "It will be odd to see you on board, Poppy, and not to
be able to speak to you; but we shall be able to look at each other,
sha’n’t we?"

"Captain Martin is a strict disciplinarian," said Poppy.

"Well he can’t prevent us looking at each other," said Flower, "and he
can’t prevent us marrying when we get to the other end. Good-night,
Jack. Next time you see us we’ll be an old married couple."

"A quick passage and a safe return," said Fraser. "Good-night."

Poppy Tyrell just gave him her small hand, and that was all. Flower,
giving him a hearty grip, accompanied him as far as the door of the
room.

He looked back as he gained the pavement, and the last he saw of them
they were sitting at the open window. Flower leaned out and waved his
hand in farewell, but Poppy made no sign.



CHAPTER XX.



In the rising seaport of Bittlesea Captain Fraser, walking slowly along
the quay on the fateful Saturday, heard the hour of seven strike from
the tower of the old church wedged in between the narrow streets at the
back of the town. The little harbour with its motley collection of craft
vanished; he heard the sharp, hoarse cries of command on the Golden
Cloud, and saw the bridge slowly opening to give egress to the tug which
had her in tow. He saw her shapely hull and tapering spars glide slowly
down the river, while Poppy Tyrell, leaning against the side, took her
last look at London. He came back with a sigh to reality: the Swallow
had dwindled to microscopical proportions, and looked dirty; Bittlesea
itself had the appearance of a village with foolish aspirations to be
considered a port, and he noticed, with a strong sense of pity tempered
with disdain, the attentions of two young townsmen to a couple of gawky
girls in white frocks.

With a feeling that the confinement of the house would be insupportable,
he roamed idly about until the day gave place to twilight, and the red
eye of the lightship on the horizon peeped suddenly across the water.
Bittlesea was dull to aching point; a shirt-sleeved householder or two
sat in his fragrant front-garden smoking, and a murmur of voices and
shag tobacco floated out from tavern doorways. He paced up and down the
quay, until the necessity of putting a stop to the vagaries of his crew
furnished him with a little wholesome diversion.

In their quest for good beer Mr. Green and Joe had left themselves in
the hands of the other members of the crew, and had gone off with them
in a body to the Cap and Bells, where, in a most pointed fashion, Mr.
Green, who had been regarding the fireman’s complexion for some time
with much displeasure, told the boy to go back to the ship and get his
face washed.

"He’s all right, ain’t you, Tommy?" said the cook, coming to the rescue.

"Boys ought to keep their faces clean," said Mr. Green, impressively;
"there’s nothing more unpleasant than a face what wants washing. You
don’t want to grow up like that, do you? Look at it, Joe."

"It might be cleaner," said Joe, thus appealed to, slowly; "likewise it
might be dirtier."

"It might be much dirtier," said Mr. Green, emphatically; "anybody with
eyes in their ’ed can see that."

There was an awkward pause, during which the fireman, with one eye
peeping furtively from be-yond the rim of a quart pot, saw both Joe and
the cook kick Mr. Green’s foot to call his attention to the fact that
his words might be misconstrued by another member of the party.

"I ’ate toffs," he said, deliberately, as he placed his mug on the
counter.

"They’re all right when you know ’em, Charlie," said Joe, who was averse
to having the evening spoiled at that early hour.

"A real toff’s bad enough," continued the fireman, "but a himitation
one—pah!" He buried his face in the pewter again, and laughed
discordantly.

"You go aboard and wash you face, Tommy," repeated Mr. Green. "I should
think you’d find plenty o’ soap in Charlie’s bunk."

"Do you know what you want?" demanded the fireman, regarding him
fixedly.

"I know what you want," said Mr. Green, with a supercilious smile.

"Oh! Wot?" said the other.

The polite seaman rose to his feet and watched him carefully. "A banjo,"
he replied.

It was not the reply according to time-honoured formula, and Charlie,
who was expecting something quite different, was at no pains to hide his
perplexity. "A banjo?" he repeated, slowly, "a banjo—a ban——?"

Light came to him suddenly, and he flew at Mr. Green with his fists
whirling. In a second the bar was in an uproar, and the well-meant and
self-preservative efforts of Joe and the cook to get the combatants into
the street were frustrated by people outside blocking up the doors. They
came out at last, and Fraser, who was passing, ran over just in time to
save Mr. Green, who was doing his best, from the consequences of a
somewhat exaggerated fastidiousness. The incident, however, afforded a
welcome distraction, and having seen Mr. Green off in the direction of
the steamer, while the fireman returned to the public-house, he bent his
steps homewards and played a filial game at cards with his father before
retiring.

They sailed for London the following afternoon, Mr. Green taking a
jaundiced view of the world from a couple of black eyes, while the
fireman openly avowed that only the economical limitations of Nature
prevented him from giving him more. Fraser, a prey to gentle melancholy,
called them to order once or twice, and then left them to the mate, a
man whose talent for ready invective was at once the admiration and envy
of his peers.

The first night in London he spent on board, and with pencil and paper
sat down to work out the position of the Golden Cloud. He pictured her
with snowy pinions outspread, passing down Channel. He pictured Poppy
sitting on the poop in a deck-chair and Flower coming as near as his
work would allow, exchanging glances with her. Then he went up on deck,
and, lighting his pipe, thought of that never-to-be-forgotten night when
Poppy had first boarded the Foam.

The next night his mood changed, and unable to endure the confinement of
the ship, he went for a lonely tramp round the streets. He hung round
the Wheelers, and, after gazing at their young barbarians at play,
walked round and looked at Flower’s late lodgings. It was a dingy house,
with broken railings and an assortment of papers and bottles in the
front garden, and by no means calculated to relieve depression. From
there he instinctively wandered round to the lodgings recently inhabited
by Miss Tyrell.

He passed the house twice, and noted with gloom the already neglected
appearance of her front window. The Venetian blind, half drawn up, was
five or six inches higher one side than the other, and a vase of faded
flowers added to the forlornness of the picture. In his present state of
mind the faded blooms seemed particularly appropriate, and suddenly
determining to possess them, he walked up the steps and knocked at the
door, trembling like a young housebreaker over his first job.

"I think I left my pipe here the other night," he stammered to the small
girl who opened it.

"I’ll swear you didn’t," said the small damsel, readily.

"Can I go up and see?" enquired Fraser, handing her some coppers.

The small girl relented, and even offered to assist him in his search,
but he waved her away, and going upstairs sat down and looked drearily
round the shabby little room. An execrable ornament of green and pink
paper in the fireplace had fallen down, together with a little soot;
there was dust on the table, and other signs of neglect. He crossed over
to the window and secured two or three of the blooms, and was drying the
stalks on his handkerchief when his eye suddenly lighted on a little
white ball on the mantel-piece, and, hardly able to believe in his good
fortune, he secured a much-darned pair of cotton gloves, which had
apparently been forgotten in the hurry of departure. He unrolled them,
and pulling out the little shrivelled fingers, regarded them with
mournful tenderness. Then he smoothed them out, and folding them with
reverent fingers, placed them carefully in his breastpocket. He then
became conscious that somebody was regarding his antics with amazement
from the doorway.

"Mr. Fraser!" said a surprised voice, which tried to be severe.

Mr. Fraser bounded from his chair, and stood regarding the intruder with
a countenance in which every feature was outvying the other in
amazement.

"I thought—you—were on the Golden Cloud," he stammered.

Miss Tyrell shook her head and looked down. "I missed the ship," she
said, pensively.

"Missed the ship?" shouted the other; "missed the ship? Did Flower miss
it too?"

"I’m afraid not," said Miss Tyrell, even more pensively than before.

"Good heavens, I never heard of such a thing," said Fraser; "how ever
did you manage to do it?"

"I went to lie down a little while on Saturday afternoon," said Poppy,
reflectively; "I’d got my box packed and everything ready; when I got up
it was past seven o’clock, and then I knew it was no use. Ships won’t
wait, you know."

Fraser gazed at her in amaze. In his mind’s eye he still saw the deck of
the Golden Cloud; but Poppy’s deck-chair was empty, and Flower, in place
of exchanging glances with her, was walking about in a state equally
compounded, of wrath and bewilderment.

"And you had given up your berth in the City?" said Fraser, at length,
in concern.

The consciousness of a little colour in her cheek which she could not
repress affected Miss Tyrell’s temper. "No," she said, sharply.

"Didn’t you intend to go, then?" asked the bewildered Fraser.

"I—oh, will you give me my gloves, please, before I forget them?" said
Miss Tyrell, coldly.

It was Fraser’s turn to colour, and he burnt a rich crimson as he fished
them out.

"I was going to take care of them for you," he said, awkwardly. "I came
to look after a pipe I thought I’d left here."

"I saw you taking care of them," was the reply.

There was a pause, during which Miss Tyrell took a seat and, folding her
hands in her lap, gazed at him with the calm gaze which comes of perfect
misdoing and the feminine determination not to own up to it. The room
was no longer shabby, and Fraser was conscious of a strange exaltation.

"I understood that you had given notice in the City," he said, slowly;
"but I’m very glad that you didn’t."

Miss Tyrell shook her head, and stooping down adjusted the fire-stove
ornament.

"Didn’t you intend to go?" repeated the tactful seaman.

"I’d left it open," said Miss Tyrell, thoughtfully; "I hadn’t definitely
accepted Captain Martin’s invitation. You jump at conclusions so, but of
course when I found that Captain Flower had shipped before the mast for
my sake, why, I had to go."

"So you had," said Fraser, staring.

"There was no help for it," continued Miss Tyrell.

"Didn’t seem like it," said the more accurate Fraser.

His head was in a whirl, and he tried vainly to think of the exact terms
in which she had announced her intention to emigrate, and combated the
objections which he thought himself justified in advancing. He began to
remember in a misty, un-certain fashion that they were somewhat vague
and disjointed, and for one brief moment he wondered whether she had
ever had any idea of going at all. One glance at the small figure of
probity opposite was enough, and he repelled the idea as unworthy.

"I believe that you are sorry I didn’t go," said Poppy, suddenly.

"I’m sorry for Flower," said the other.

"He will be back in six or seven months," said Poppy, gently; "that will
soon pass away. I shall not be very old to marry even then. Perhaps it
is all for the best—I don’t like—"

"Don’t like?" prompted Fraser.

"Don’t like to be hurried," continued Miss Tyrell, looking down.

There was another pause. The girl got up and, walking to the window,
gazed out upon the street.

"There is a nice air in the streets now," she said at length, without
turning round.

Fraser started. Politeness and inclination fought with conscience. The
allies won, but inclination got none of the credit.

"Would you care to go for a walk?" he asked.

Miss Tyrell turned and regarded him with an unmistakable air of
surprise.

"No, thank you," she said, in a manner which indicated reproof.

Fraser shifted restlessly. "I thought that was what you meant," he said,
indignantly.

"You jump at conclusions, as I said before," remarked Miss Tyrell. "It
wouldn’t be right."

"I don’t see any harm in it," said Fraser, stoutly; "we’ve been before,
and Flower knows of it."

The girl shook her head. "No," she said, firmly.

To her surprise, that ended the matter. The rattle of traffic and the
hum of voices came in at the open window; the room seemed unwontedly
quiet by contrast. Miss Tyrell sat reaping the empty reward of virtue,
and bestowing occasional glances on the fine specimen of marine
obtuseness in the armchair.

"I hope that I am not keeping you from a walk," she observed, at length.

"No," said Fraser.

He rose in confusion, wondering whether this was a hint for him to go,
and after a supreme mental effort decided that it was, and murmured
something about getting back to the ship. Poppy shook hands with him
patiently. It is always a sad thing to see a fine young man lacking in
intelligence. Some of her pity perhaps showed in her eyes.

"Are you going?" she asked, with a shade of surprise in her voice.

Fraser gazed at her in perplexity. "I suppose so," he murmured.

"Which means that you want a walk, but don’t like leaving me here alone,
I suppose," said Miss Tyrell, resignedly. "Very well, I will come."

She left him for a moment in search of her hat, and then, putting aside
the gloves she was about to don in favour of those he had endeavoured to
secrete, led the way downstairs. Her composure was sufficient for two,
which was just the quantity required at that moment.



CHAPTER XXI.



The summer passed quickly. All too quickly for Captain Barber, who said
that it was the shortest he ever remembered. But, then, his memory,
although greatly improved, was still none of the best, many things which
Mrs. Church fondly and frequently referred to having escaped it
altogether.

He even forgot that he was to be married in October, and in these
circumstances Mrs. Gibson, Miss Banks, and Mrs. Church put their banns
up. This acted as a specific, and Captain Barber, putting the best face
he could on the matter, went and interviewed the verger on his own
behalf.

The wedding-day found him resigned, but dazed, The morning air was crisp
and chill, with a faint odour of dead leaves and the aromatic smell of
chrysanthemums which decked the front garden. The house was as clean as
a new pin, or the deck of the Foam, which, having been thoroughly
scrubbed down in honour of the occasion, was now slowly drying in the
sun. Down below, the crew, having finished their labours for the day,
were anxiously attiring themselves in their Sunday best.

The grizzled head of Ben popped out at the companion and sniffed
heartily at the smell of wet deck. His coat was of black, and his new
boots creaked deliciously as he slowly paced the deck and affected
ignorance of the little cluster of heads at the forecastle hatch. He
went below again, and a murmur, gentle but threatening, rose against
Tim.

"You wait," said the youth, sharply.

"If you’ve made me waste eighteenpence, Timmy," said a stout A. B. named
Jones, "the Lord ha’ mercy on you, ’cos I won’t."

The cook, who was clinging to the ladder with his head level with the
deck, gave an excited gasp. "Tim’s all right," he said; "look there."

The last words were jerked out of him by reason of the weight of his
friends, who were now leaning on him, breathing heavily under the stress
of strong excitement. Ben was on deck again, and in an obviously
unconcerned manner was displaying a silk hat of great height to all who
cared to look. The mate’s appearance alone, without the flags which
dressed the schooner, would have indicated a festival.

Three or four labourers sunning themselves on the quay were much
impressed and regarded him stolidy; a fisherman, presuming upon the fact
that they both earned their living on the water, ventured to address
him.

"Now, then," said Jones, as he took something reverently from an empty
bunk, "who’s going up fust?"

"I ain’t," said Tim.

"Wot about you, cookie?" said Jones.

"Well, wot about me?" demanded the other.

"I thought p’r’aps you’d like to lead the way," said Mr. Jones, mildly.

"You thought wrong, then," said the cook, shortly.

"It was jist a compliment," urged Mr. Jones.

"I don’t like flattery," said the cook; "never did."

Mr. Jones sighed and shook his head irresolutely. The other A.B. patted
him on the back.

"You look a fair bloomin’ treat," he said, heartily. "You go up fust;
you look as though you’ve slep’ in one a’most."

"None o’ your larks, you know," remarked Mr. Jones, with suspicious
sourness; "no backing out of it and leavin’ me there by myself."

There was a chorus of virtuous but profane indignation. It was so
indignant that Mr. Jones apologised, and stood for some time regarding
the article in his hand with the face of a small child eyeing a large
powder. Then he clapped it on his head and went on deck.

The mate was just talking to the fisherman about an uncle of his (born
since his promotion) who had commanded a brig, when his voice failed
him, and he gazed open-mouthed at a stout seaman who had just come up on
deck. On the stout seaman’s face was the look of one who sees a vision
many miles off; on the stout seaman’s head was a high hat of antique
pattern which had suffered in the brushing. To avoid the mate’s eye he
folded his arms and, leaning over the side, gazed across the river.
Words trembled on the mate’s lips, but they died away in a squeak as a
little top-hatted procession of three issued coyly from the forecastle
and, ranging itself beside Mr. Jones, helped him to look across the
river.

"I never did," said the fisherman. "What are we a-coming to?"

The mate did not stay to inform him. He walked hastily to the quartette
and, bursting with rage, asked Jones what he meant by it.

"Mean by wot, sir?" asked Jones, in surprise.

"Top-hats," said the mate, choking.

The four turned and regarded him stolidly, keeping as close together as
possible for the sake of moral support and the safety of their
head-gear.

"For the weddin’, sir," said Jones, as though that explained everything.

"You take ’em off," said the mate, sharply. "I won’t let you wear ’em."

"I beg your pardin," said Jones, with great politeness, "we got these
’ere ’ats for the weddin’, an’ we’re a-goin’ to wear ’em."

He took the offending article off and brushed it tenderly with his
coat-sleeve, while the furious mate looked assault and battery at the
other three. Tim, whose hat came well down over his eyes, felt
comparatively safe; but the cook, conscious that his perched lightly on
the top of his head, drew back a pace. Then he uttered an exclamation as
Captain Nibletts, who was officiating as best man, came hurriedly down
the cliff.

"Hats?" said the little skipper, disengaging himself from the mate’s
grasp, as he came on board. "Yes, I don’t mind."

"Wot about Capt’in Barber?" demanded the mate, impressively.

"If they was pudding-basins ’e wouldn’t mind," said Nibletts, testily;
"he’s that nervous ’e don’t know what ’e’s doing hardly. He was raving
like a madman for five minutes cos ’e couldn’t fasten his collar, and
then I found he’d forgot to put his shirt on. He don’t care."

He hurried down to the cabin and then came bustling up again. His small
face was strained with worry, and the crew eyed him respectfully as he
came forward and dealt out white satin favours.

"Cap’in Barber’ll be all right with you looking arter ’im, sir," said
Jones, with strong conviction.

"That he will," said the cook, nodding.

"There’s some whisky in a bottle in my locker, cook," said Nibletts,
dancing about nervously; "give the hands one drink each, cook. Only one,
mind."

The men thanked him, and with kindly eyes watched him go ashore. The
cook went down for the whisky, and Tim, diving into the forecastle,
brought up four mugs.

"He must ha’ meant another bottle," said Jones, as the cook came slowly
up again with a bottle containing one dose.

"There ain’t another," said the cook; "he’s ’alf off ’is ’ed."

There was a pained silence. "We must toss for it," said Jones, at
length; "that is, unless you chaps don’t want it."

"Toss," said three voices speaking as one.

Jones sighed, and the coins were produced. The prize fell to Tim, and he
leaned against the windlass and slowly poured the yellow liquid into his
mug.

"There’s more than I thought there was," remarked Mr. Jones, in
surprise.

"Bottles is deceiving," said the cook.

"It ain’t the fust toss as Tim ’as won," said the third man, darkly.

The ordinary seaman made no reply, but, stepping over to the water-cask,
added with great care a little water.

"Here’s your ’ealth, chaps," he said, good-naturedly, as he drank, "and
may you never want a drink."

"You’ve never drunk all that, Tim?" said Mr. Jones, anxiously.

Tim shook his head. "There’s too much to drink all at once," he said,
gravely, and sat, with the mug on his knee, gazing ashore. "It’s warming
me all over," he mused. "I never tasted sich whisky afore. I’m in a
gentle glow."

So was the cook; a glow which increased to fever heat as the youth
raised the mug to his lips again, and slowly drained it and handed it to
him to wash up.

A little later the men went ashore, and strolling aimlessly up and down
the road, passed the time in waiting for the ceremony and making sudden
dashes after small boys who were throwing at their hats and hitting
their heads.

Seabridge itself was quiet, but Mrs. Banks’ house was in a state of
ferment. Ladies with pins in their mouths wandered about restlessly
until, coming into the orbit of one of the brides, they stuck one or two
into her and then drew back to behold the effect. Miss Banks, in white
satin, moved about stiffly; Mrs. Church, in heliotrope, glanced
restlessly up the road every time she got near the window.

"Now you sit down," said one lady, at length, "both of you. All you’ve
got to do now is to wait for the gentlemen."

It was whispered that Mr. Gibson’s delay was due to the fact that he had
gone up for Captain Barber, and as time passed a certain restlessness
became apparent in the assembly, and sympathetic glances were thrown in
the direction of Mrs. Church. Places at the window were at a premium,
and several guests went as far as the garden gate and looked up the
road. Still no Captain Barber.

"It’s time they were here," said Mrs. Banks at last, in a stern voice.

There was a flutter at the gate, and a pretty girl heliographed with her
eyes that the parties of the other part were in sight. A minute or two
later they came into sight of the window. Captain Barber, clad in
beautiful raiment, headed the cortège, the rear of which was brought up
by the crew of the Foam and a cloud of light skirmishers which hovered
on their flanks. As they drew near, it was noticed that Captain Barber’s
face was very pale, and his hands trembled, but he entered the house
with a firm step and required no assistance.

Of his reception there was never for a moment any doubt. Young matrons
smiled and shook their heads at him, middle-aged matrons took him by the
hand, while old ladies committed themselves to the statement that they
had seen matrimony in his eye for years. He received the full measure
accorded to a very distinguished convert, and, taking a chair placed
against the wall, surveyed the company with the air of a small boy who
has strayed into a hostile alley. A little natural curiosity found vent.

"Now, what first put it into your head to get married?" ask one fair
enquirer.

"Mrs. Church," said the ex-mariner, simply.

"Yes, of course," said the matron; "but was it love at first sight, or
did it grow on you before you knew it?"

Captain Barber blushed. "It growed on me afore I knew it," he replied,
fervently.

"I suppose," said a lady of a romantic turn of mind, "that you didn’t
know what was happening at first?"

"I did not, ma’am," agreed the Captain, in trembling tones. "Nobody was
more surprised than wot I was."

"How strange," said two or three voices.

They regarded him tenderly, and the youngest bridesmaid, a terrible
child of ten, climbed up on his knee and made audible comparisons
between the two bridegrooms, which made Mr. Gibson smile.

"Time we started," said Mrs. Banks, raising her voice above the din.
"Cap’in Barber, you and Mr. Gibson and the other gentlemen had better
get to the church."

The men got up obediently, and in solemn silence formed up in the little
passage, and then started for the church some two hundred yards distant,
the crew of the Foam falling in behind unchallenged.

To this day Captain Barber does not know how he got there, and he
resolutely declines to accept Captain Niblett’s version as the mere
offspring of a disordered imagination. He also denies the truth of a
statement circulated in the town that night that, instead of replying to
a leading question in the manner plainly laid down in the Church
Service, he answered, "I suppose so."

He came out of the church with a buzzing in his ears and a mist before
his eyes. Something was clinging to his arm, which he tried several
times to shake off. Then he discovered that it was Mrs. Barber.

Of the doings of the crew of the Foam that night it were better not to
speak. Suffice it to say that when they at length boarded their ship Tim
was the only one who still possessed a hat, and in a fit of pride at the
circumstance, coupled, perhaps, with other reasons, went to bed in it.
He slept but ill, however, and at 4 A. M., the tide being then just on
the ebb, the only silk hat in the forecastle went bobbing up and down on
its way to the sea.



CHAPTER XXII.



A FINE October gave way to a damp and dreary November; a month of mists
and fogs, in which shipping of all sizes and all nations played blind
man’s buff at sea, and felt their way, mere voices crying in the
wilderness, up and down the river. The Swallow, with a soul too large
for its body, cannoned a first-class battleship off the Medway, and with
a thoughtfulness too often lacking at sea, stood by and lowered a boat,
whereupon the captain, who had been worrying about his paint, invented,
in his surprise, a brand-new adjective for the use of senior officers of
the British Navy.

Over three months had elapsed since the Golden Cloud set out on her long
voyage; three months during which Fraser, despite his better sense, had
been a constant visitor of Poppy Tyrell’s, and had assisted her in the
search for fresh lodgings to avoid the attentions of Mr. Bob Wheeler,
who, having discovered her whereabouts, had chosen to renew his suit.

On two or three occasions the girl had accompanied him on board the
steamer, and at such times it was Mr. Green’s pleasure to wink in a
frenzied manner at Mr. Joe Smith and to make divers bets of pints of
beer, which made that thirsty soul half crazy to listen to. He also said
that any one with half an eye could see what was in the wind.

"And a very nice couple they’ll make, too," said Joe, solemnly.

"An’ what about Cap’in Flower?" suggested Mr. Green; "she’s evident the
young lady he was talking about that night, and Tommy’s heard ’em
speaking about him once or twice, too."

Joe shuffled uneasily. He was beginning to entertain a considerable
regard for his new skipper, dating from the time he discovered that his
sinister suspicions concerning him were unfounded. He had moreover
conceived a dog-like admiration for Poppy Tyrell.

"That’s ’is business," he said, shortly; "judging by what you ’eard in
that pub, Cap’in Flower knows where to put ’is hand on one or two more
if ’e wants ’em."

He walked off in dudgeon, ignoring a question by Mr. Green as to whose
foot kep’ the door open, and felt dimly the force of the diction that no
man can serve two masters; and, with a view to saving himself worry,
dismissed the matter from his mind until some weeks afterwards it was
forcibly revived by the perusal of a newspaper which the engineer had
brought on board. Without giving himself time for due reflection, he ran
up on deck and approached the skipper.

"Golden Cloud’s in the paper as overdue, sir," he said, respectfully.

"What is?" enquired Fraser, sharply.

"Golden Cloud, sir; boat Cap’in Flower is on," said Joe, slowly.

Fraser regarded him sternly. "What do you know about it?" he asked.

Joe looked round helplessly. At such moments Willyum Green was a tower
of strength, but at the present time he was fooling about helping the
ship’s cat to wash itself.

"What do you know about it?" repeated Fraser.

"Will-yum told me, sir," said Joe, hastily.

Mr. Green being summoned, hastily put down the cat and came aft, while
Joe, with a full confidence in his friend’s powers, edged a few feet
away, and listened expectantly as the skipper interrogated him.

"Yes, sir, I did tell Joe, sir," he answered, with a reproachful glance
at that amateur. "I met Cap’in Flower that evening again, late, an’ he
told me himself. I’m sorry to see by this morning’s paper that his ship
is overdue."

"That’ll do," said Fraser, turning away.

The men moved off slowly, Mr. Green’s reproaches being forestalled by
the evidently genuine compliments of Joe.

"If I’d got a ’ead like you, Will-yum," he said, enviously, "I’d be a
loryer or a serlicitor, or some-think o’ the kind."

Days passed and ran into weeks, but the Golden Cloud was still unspoken.
Fraser got a paper every day when ashore, but in vain, until at length
one morning, at Bittlesea, in the news columns of the Daily Telegraph,
the name of the missing ship caught his eye. He folded the paper
hurriedly, and breathed hard as he read:—

"Missing ship, Golden Cloud.

"Rio Janeiro, Thursday.

"The barque Foxglove, from Melbourne to Rio Janeiro, has just arrived
with five men, sole survivors of the ship Golden Cloud, which they
report as sunk in collision with a steamer, name unknown, ten weeks out
from London. Their names are Smith, Larsen, Petersen, Collins and Gooch.
No others saved."

In a dazed fashion he read the paragraph over and over again, closely
scanning the names of the rescued men. Then he went up on deck, and
beckoning to Joe, pointed with a trembling finger to the fatal
paragraph. Joe read it slowly.

"And Cap’in Flower wasn’t one o’ them, sir?" he asked, pointing to the
names.

Fraser shook his head, and both men stood for some time in silence.

"He’s done it this time, and no mistake," said Joe, at last. "Well, ’e
was a good sailorman and a kind master."

He handed the paper back, and returned to his work and to confer in a
low voice with Green, who had been watching them. Fraser went back to
the cabin, and after sitting for some time in a brown study, wrote off
to Poppy Tyrell and enclosed the cutting.

He saw her three days later, and was dismayed and surprised to find her
taxing herself with being the cause of the adventurous mariner’s death.

"He would never have heard of the Golden Cloud if it hadn’t been for
me," she said, trembling. "His death is at my door."

Fraser tried to comfort her and straining metaphor to the utmost, said
that if the finger of Providence had not made her oversleep herself she
would undoubtedly have shared the same fate.

The girl shook her head.

"He shipped before the mast for the sake of being on the same ship as I
was," she said, with quivering lip; "it is not every man who would have
done that, and I—I—"

"Overslept yourself," said Fraser, consolingly.

Miss Tyrell made an impatient gesture, but listened hopefully as her
visitor suggested that it was quite possible Flower had got away in
another boat.

"I’ll watch the paper every day," she said, brightening; "you miss some
at sea."

But nothing came of the watching. The Golden Cloud had had its obituary
in the paper in large type, and that was all—a notice to certain women
and children scattered about Europe to go into mourning and to the
owners to get another ship.

By the end of the couple of months Fraser had given up all hope. He was
very sorry for his unfortunate friend, but his sorrow was at times
almost tempered by envy as he pondered over the unexpected change which
had come over his relations with Poppy Tyrell. The old friendly footing
had disappeared, and her manner had become distant as though, now that
the only link which connected them was broken, there was no need for
further intercourse. The stiffness which ensued made his visits more and
more difficult. At last he missed calling one night when he was in
London, and the next time he called the girl was out. It was a fortnight
before he saw her, and the meeting was embarrassing to both.

"I’m sorry I was out last time you came," said Poppy.

"It didn’t matter," said Fraser.

Conversation came to a standstill. Miss Tyrell, with her toes on the
fender, gazed in a contemplative fashion at the fire. "I didn’t know——"
began Fraser, who was still standing.

He cleared his voice and began again. "I didn’t know whether you would
rather I left off coming," he said, slowly.

Her gaze travelled slowly from the fire to his face. "You must please
yourself," she said, quietly.

"I would rather please you," he said, steadily.

The girl regarded him gravely. "It is rather inconvenient for you
sometimes," she suggested, "and I am afraid that I am not very good
company."

Fraser shook his head eagerly. "It is not that at all," he said hastily.

Poppy made no reply, and there was another long silence. Then Fraser
advanced and held out his hand.

"Good-bye," he said, quietly.

"Good-bye," said the girl. She smiled brightly, and got up to see him
downstairs.

"I wanted to say something before I went," said Fraser, slowly, as he
paused at the street-door, "and I will say it."

Miss Tyrell, raising her eyebrows somewhat at his vehemence, waited
patiently.

"I have loved you from the moment I saw you," said Fraser, "and I shall
go on loving you till I die. Good-bye."

He pressed her hand again, and walked down the little front garden into
the street. At the gate he paused and looked round at Poppy still
standing in the lighted doorway; he looked round again a few yards down
the street, and again farther on. The girl still stood there; in the
momentary glimpse he had of her he fancied that her arm moved. He came
back hastily, and Miss Tyrell regarded him with unmistakable surprise.

"I thought—you beckoned me," he stammered.

"Thought I beckoned you?" repeated the girl.

"I thought so," murmured Fraser. "I beg your pardon," and turned
confusedly to go again.

"So—I—did," said a low voice.

Fraser turned suddenly and faced her; then, as the girl lowered her eyes
before his, he re-entered the house, and closing the door led her gently
upstairs.

"I didn’t like you to go like that," said Miss Tyrell, in explanation,
as they entered her room.

Fraser regarded her steadfastly and her eyes smiled at him. He drew her
towards him and kissed her, and Miss Tyrell, trembling with something
which might have been indignation, hid her face on his shoulder.

For a long time, unless certain foolish ejaculations of Fraser’s might
count as conversation, they stood silent; then Poppy, extricating
herself from his arm, drew back and regarded him seriously.

"It is not right," she said, slowly; "you forget."

"It is quite right," said Fraser; "it is as right as anything can be."

Poppy shook her head. "It has been wrong all along," she said, soberly,
"and Captain Flower is dead in consequence. I never intended to go on
the Golden Cloud, but I let him go. And now he’s dead. He only went to
be near me, and while he was drowning I was going out with you. I have
been very wicked."

Fraser protested, and, taking her hand, drew her gently towards him
again.

"He was very good to my father," said Poppy, struggling faintly. "I
don’t think I can."

"You must," said Fraser, doggedly; "I’m not going to lose you now. It is
no good looking at me like that. It is too late."

He kissed her again, secretly astonished at his own audacity, and the
high-handed way in which he was conducting things. Mixed with his joy
was a half-pang, as he realised that he had lost his fear of Poppy
Tyrell.

"I promised my father," said the girl, presently. "I did not want to get
married, but I did not mind so much Until—"

"Until," Fraser reminded her, fondly.

"Until it began to get near," said the girl; "then I knew."

She took her chair by the fire again, and Fraser, placing his beside it,
they sat hand in hand discussing the future. It was a comprehensive
future, and even included Captain Flower.

"If he should be alive, after all," said Poppy, with unmistakable
firmness, "I shall still marry him if he wishes it."

Fraser assented. "If he should ever turn up again," he said,
deliberately, "I will tell him all about it. But it was his own desire
that I should watch over you if anything happened to him, so he is as
much to blame as I am. If he had lived I should never have said a word
to you. You know that."

"I know," said Poppy, softly.

Her hand trembled in his, and his grasp tightened as though nothing
should loosen it; but some thousands of miles away Captain Flower, from
the deck of a whaler, was anxiously scanning the horizon in search of
the sail which was to convey him back to England.



CHAPTER XXIII.



Time as it rolled on set at rest any doubts Miss Tyrell might have had
concerning the fate of Captain Flower, and under considerable pressure
from Fraser, she had consented to marry him in June. The only real
reason for choosing that month was, that it was close at hand, though
Fraser supplied her with several others to choose from. Their engagement
could hardly have been said to have been announced, for with the
exception of old Mr. Fraser and the crew of the Swallow, who had gleaned
the fact for themselves without any undue strain on their intellects,
there was nobody to tell.

The boy was the first to discover it. According to his own indignant
account, he went down to the cabin to see whether there was anything he
could do, and was promptly provided with three weeks’ hard labour by his
indignant skipper. A little dissertation in which he indulged in the
forecastle on division of labour met with but scant response; Joe said
that work was good for boys, and Mr. Green said that he knew a boy who
worked eighteen hours a day, and then used to do sums in his sleep to
improve his education. The other men set their wits to work then, and
proved to have so large an acquaintance with a type of boy that Tommy
loathed, that he received a mild chastisement for impertinence to his
elders and betters.

It wanted but two days to the wedding. The Swallow was lying in the
river, her deck unoccupied except for Mr. Green and the boy, who were
smoking in the bows, and the ship’s cat, which, with one eye on Mr.
Green, was stalking the frying-pan. Fraser had gone ashore on business
connected with his wedding-garments, and Poppy Tyrell, with all her
earthly belongings in a couple of boxes, sat in the cabin dreaming of
her future.

A boat bumped against the side of the steamer, and Mr. Green, looking
round, observed the long form of Joe scrambling over the side. His
appearance betokened alarm and haste, and Mr. Green, after a brief
remark on the extravagance, not to say lordliness, of a waterman’s skiff
when a hail would have taken the ship’s boat to him, demanded to know
what was the matter.

"Send that boy below," said Joe, hastily.

"What for?" enquired the gentleman interested, rebelliously.

"You go below," repeated Joe, sternly, "’fore I take you by the scruff
o’ your little neck and drop you down."

The boy, with a few remarks about the rights of man in general and
ships’ boys in particular, took his departure, and Joe, taking the
startled Mr. Green by the arm, led him farther aft.

"You’ve got a ’ead on you Will-yum, I know," he said, in a fierce
whisper.

"People have said so," remarked the other, modestly. "What’s the row?"

For answer, Joe pointed to the cabin, and that with so much expression
on his features that Mr. Green, following his gaze, half expected to see
something horrible emerge from the companion.

"It’s all up," said the tall seaman, poetically. "You can put the
wedding-dress away in brown paper, and tell the church bells as there is
no call for ’em to ring: Cap’n Flower has turned up ag’in."

"WHAT?" cried the astonished Mr. Green.

"I see ’im," replied Joe. "I was just goin’ on the wharf as I passed to
speak to old George, when I see ’im talking to ’im. He didn’t see me,
an’ I come off ’ere as fast as my legs could carry me. Now, wot’s to be
done? You’ve got the ’ead-piece."

Mr. Green scratched the article in question and smiled feebly.

"On’y two days, and they would ha’ been married," said Joe; "bit ’ard,
ain’t it? I’m glad as I can be as he’s safe, but he might ha’ waited a
day or two longer."

"Did George seem scared?" enquired his friend.

"Wot’s that got to do with it?" demanded Joe, violently. "Are you goin’
to set that ’ead-piece to work or are you not?"

Mr. Green coughed confusedly, and attempted to think with a brain which
was already giddy with responsibility.

"I don’t want to do anything that isn’t straight and gentlemanly," he
remarked.

"Straight?" repeated Joe. "Look ’ere! Cap’n Fraser’s our old man, ain’t
he? Very good, it’s our dooty to stand by ’im. But, besides that, it’s
for the young lady’s sake: it’s easy to see that she’s as fond of him as
she can be, and she’s that sort o’ young lady that if she come up now
and told me to jump overboard, I’d do it."

"You could swim ashore easy," asserted Mr. Green.

"They was to be married Thursday morning," continued Joe, "and now
here’s Cap’n Flower and no ’ead-piece on the ship. Crool, I call it."

"She’s a very nice young lady," said the mortified Mr. Green; "always a
pleasant smile for everybody."

"He’ll come aboard ’ere as safe as heggs is heggs," said Joe,
despondently. "Wot’s to be done?"

He folded his arms on the side and stood ruefully watching the stairs.
He was quite confident that there were head-pieces walking the earth, to
which a satisfactory solution of this problem would have afforded no
difficulty whatever, and he shook his own sadly, as he thought of its
limitations.

"It only wants a little artfulness, Will-yum," he suggested,
encouragingly.

"Get hold of him and make him drunk for three days," murmured Mr. Green,
in a voice so low that he half hoped Joe would not hear it.

"And then boil ’im," said the indignant seaman, without looking round.
"Ah! Here he comes. Now you’ve got to be astonished, mind; but don’t
make a noise, in case it fetches the young lady up."

He pointed to the stairs, and his friend, going to his side, saw a
passenger just stepping into a boat. The two men then turned away until,
at sight of Captain Flower’s head appearing above the side, they went
off into such silent manifestations of horror and astonishment that he
feared for their reason.

"It’s ’is voice," said Joe, hastily, as Flower bawled out to them with
inconsiderate loudness. "I never thought to see you ag’in, sir; I ’eard
you was drowned months and months ago."

He took the captain’s proffered hand somewhat awkwardly, and stood
closely scanning him. The visitor was bronzed with southern suns, and
looked strong and well. His eye was bright and his manner retained all
its old easy confidence.

"Ah, I’ve been through something since I saw you last, my lad," he said,
shaking his head. "The great thing is, Joe, to always keep your head
above water."

"Yessir," said the seaman, slowly; "but I ’eard as ’ow you went down
with the Golden Cloud, sir."

"So I did," said Flower, somewhat boastfully, "and came up again with
the nearest land a mile or two under my feet. It was dark, but the sea
was calm, and I could see the brute that sunk us keeping on her way.
Then I saw a hen-coop bobbing up and down close by, and I got to it just
in time, and hung on to it until I could get my breath again and shout.
I heard a hail a little way off, and by-and-by I got along-side two of
our chaps making themselves comfortable on two or three spars. There
were three drowned fowls in my coop, and we finished them on the fourth
day just as a whaler hove in sight and took us off. We were on her over
four months, and then we sighted the barque California, homeward bound,
and she brought us home. I landed at the Albert Docks this morning, and
here I am, hard as nails."

Joe, with a troubled eye in the direction of the cabin, murmured that it
did him credit, and Mr-Green made a low, hissing noise, intended to
signify admiration. Flower, with a cheery smile, looked round the deck.

"Where’s Fraser?" he enquired.

"He’s ashore, sir," said Joe, hastily. "I don’t know when he’ll be
back."

"Never mind, I’ll wait," was the reply. "George was telling me he is to
be married on Thursday."

Joe gasped and eyed him closely.

"So I’ve ’eard, sir."

"And, Captain Barber’s married, too, George tells me," said Flower. "I
suppose that’s right?"

"So I’ve ’eard, sir," said Joe, again.

Flower turned and paced a little up and down the deck, deep in thought.
He had arrived in London three hours before to find that Poppy had left
her old lodgings without leaving any clue as to her whereabouts. Then he
had gone on to the Wheelers, without any result, so far as he was
concerned, although the screams of the unfortunate Mrs. Wheeler were
still ringing in his ears.

"I’ll go down below and wait," he said, stopping before the men. "Tell
Fraser I’m there, or else he’ll be startled. I nearly killed poor old
George. The man’s got no pluck at all."

He moved slowly towards the cabin and Poppy, leaving the men exchanging
glances of hopeless consternation. Then, as he turned to descend, the
desperate Joe ran up and laid a detaining hand on his sleeve.

"You can’t go down there," he whispered, and dragged him forcibly away.

"Why not?" demanded the other, struggling. "Let go, you fool."

He wrenched himself free, and stood gazing angrily at the excited
seaman.

"There’s a lady down there," said the latter, in explanation.

"Well, I sha’n’t eat her," said the indignant Flower. "Don’t you put
your hands on me again, my lad, or you’ll repent it. Who Is it?"

Joe eyed him helplessly and, with a dim idea of putting off the
discovery as long as possible, mysteriously beckoned him forward.

"Who is it?" asked the puzzled Flower, advancing a pace or two.

The seaman hesitated. Then a sudden inspiration, born of the memories of
last year’s proceedings, seized him, and he shook with the brilliancy of
it. He looked significantly at Mr. Green, and his voice trembled with
excitement.

"The lady who used to come down to the Foam asking for Mr. Robinson," he
stammered.

"What?" said the dismayed Flower, coming briskly forward and interposing
two masts, the funnel, and the galley between himself and the cabin.
"Why on earth didn’t you say so before?"

"Well, I didn’t know what to do, sir," said Joe, humbly; "it ain’t for
the likes of me to interfere."

Flower knit his brows, and tapped the deck with his foot.

"What’s she doing down there?" he said, irritably; "she’s not going to
marry Fraser, is she?"

Joe gulped.

"Yessir," he said, promptly.

"Yessir," said Mr. Green, with an intuitive feeling that a lie of such
proportions required backing.

Flower stood in amaze, pondering the situation, and a grin slowly broke
the corners of his mouth.

"Don’t tell Fraser I’ve been here," he said, at length.

"No, sir," said Joe, eagerly.

"I’ll see him in a day or two," said Flower, "after he’s married. You
understand me, Joe?"

"Yessir," said Joe, again. "Shall I put you ashore, sir?"

He was almost dancing with impatience lest Fraser or Poppy should spoil
his plans by putting in an appearance, but before Flower could reply Mr.
Green gave a startled exclamation, and the captain, with a readiness
born of his adventures of the last year, promptly vanished down the
forecastle as Miss Tyrell appeared on deck. Joe closed the scuttle, and
with despair gnawing at his vitals sat on it.

Unconscious of the interest she was exciting, Poppy Tyrell, who had
tired of the solitude of the cabin, took a seat on a camp-stool, and,
folding her hands in her lap, sat enjoying the peace and calm of the
summer evening. Joe saw defeat in the very moment of victory; even while
he sat, the garrulous Tommy might be revealing State secrets to the
credulous Flower.

"Get her down below," he whispered, fiercely, to Mr. Green. "Quick!"

His friend stared at him aghast, but made no movement. He looked at the
unconscious Poppy, and then back at the mouthing figure seated on the
scuttle. His brain was numbed. Then a little performance on Charlie’s
part a week or two before, which had cost that gentleman his berth,
occurred to him, and he moved slowly forward.

For a moment the astonished Joe gazed at him in wrathful bewilderment;
then his brow cleared, and his old estimate of his friend was revived
again. Mr. Green lurched rather than walked, and, getting as far as the
galley, steadied himself with one hand, and stood, with a foolish smile,
swaying lightly in the breeze. From the galley he got with great care to
the side of the ship opposite Poppy, and, clutching the shrouds, beamed
on her amiably. The girl gave one rapid glance at him and then, as he
tottered to the wheel and hung on by the spokes, turned her head away.
What it cost the well-bred Mr. Green to stagger as he came by her again
and then roll helplessly at her feet, will never be known, and he
groaned in spirit as the girl, with one scornful glance in his
direction, rose quietly and went below again.

Satisfied that the coast was clear, he rose to his feet and signalled
hurriedly to Joe, then he mounted sentry over the companion, grinning
feebly at the success of his manoeuvres as he heard a door closed and
locked below.

"You pull me round to the wharf, Joe," said Flower, as he tumbled
hurriedly into the boat. "I don’t want to run into Fraser, and I just
want to give old George the tip to keep quiet for a day or two."

The seaman obeyed readily, and exchanged a triumphant glance with Mr.
Green as they shot by the steamer’s stern. His invention was somewhat
tried by Flower’s questions on the way to the wharf, but he answered
them satisfactorily, and left him standing on the jetty imparting to
George valuable thoughts on the maxim that speech is silver and silence
golden.

Joe tried a few of the principal points with Tommy upon his return to
the steamer, the necessity for using compliments instead of threats to a
ship’s boy being very galling to his proud nature.

"You be a good boy like you always ’ave been, Tommy," he said, with a
kindly smile, "and don’t breathe a word about wot’s ’appened this
evening, and ’ere’s a tanner for you to spend—a whole tanner."

Tommy bit it carefully, and, placing it in his pocket, whistled
thoughtfully.

"Fill your pipe out o’ that, young ’un," said Mr. Green, proffering his
pouch with a flourish.

The boy complied, and putting a few reserve charges in his pocket,
looked up at him shrewdly.

"Is it very partikler?" he enquired, softly.

"Partikler!" repeated Joe. "I should think it is. He can’t think ’ow
partikler it is, can ’e, Will-yum?"

Mr. Green shook his head.

"It’s worth more than a tanner then," said Tommy, briskly.

"Look ’ere," said Joe, suppressing his natural instincts by a strong
effort. "You keep quiet for three days, and I’ll be a friend to you for
life. And so will Will-yum, won’t you, old man?"

Mr. Green, with a smile of rare condescension, said that he would.

"Look ’ere," said the bargainer, "I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you:
you gimme another tanner each instead, and that’s letting you off cheap,
’cos your friendship ’ud be worth pounds and pounds to anybody what
wanted it."

He gazed firmly at his speechless, would-be friends and waited patiently
until such time as their emotion would permit of a reply. Joe was the
first to speak, and Tommy listened unmoved to a description of himself
which would have made a jelly-fish blush.

"Tanner each," he said, simply; "I don’t want friends who can talk like
that to save sixpence."

Mr. Green, with a sarcasm which neither Tommy nor Joe understood, gave
him the amount in coppers. His friend followed suit, and the boy, having
parted with his reputation at a fair price, went below, whistling.

Fraser came on board soon afterwards, and Mr. Green, with his celebrated
drunken scene fresh in his mind, waited nervously for developments. None
ensuing, he confided to Joe his firm conviction that Miss Tyrell was a
young lady worth dying for, and gloomily wondered whether Fraser was
good enough for her. After which, both men, somewhat elated, fell to
comparing head-pieces.

Joe was in a state of nervous tension while steam was getting up, and,
glued to the side of the steamer, strained his eyes, gazing at the
dimly-lit stairs. As they steamed rapidly down the river his spirits
rose, and he said vaguely that something inside him seemed to tell him
that his trouble would not be in vain.

"There’s two days yet," said Mr. Green. "I wish they was well over."

Captain Flower, who had secured a bed at the Three Sisters’ Hotel in
Aldgate, was for widely different reasons wishing the same thing. His
idea was to waylay Fraser immediately after the marriage and obtain
Poppy’s address, his natural vanity leading him to believe that Miss
Tipping would at once insist upon a change of bridegroom, if she heard
of his safety before the ceremony was performed. In these circumstances,
he had to control his impatience as best he could, and with a view to
preventing his safety becoming known too soon, postponed writing to his
uncle until the day before the wedding.



CHAPTER XXIV.



He posted his letter in the morning, and after a midday meal took train
to Seabridge, and here the reception of which he had dreamed for many
weary months, awaited him. The news of his escape had spread round the
town like wildfire, and he had hardly stepped out of the train before
the station-master was warmly shaking hands with him. The porters
followed suit, the only man who displayed any hesitation being the
porter from the lamp-room, who patted him on the back several times
before venturing. The centre of a little, enthusiastic knot of
fellow-townsmen, he could hardly get clear to receive the hearty grip of
Captain Barber, or the chaste salute with which Mrs. Barber inaugurated
her auntship; but he got free at last, and, taking an arm of each, set
off blithely down the road, escorted by neighbours.

As far as the cottage their journey was a veritable triumphal progress,
and it was some time before the adventuresome mariner was permitted to
go inside; but he got free at last, and Mrs. Barber, with a hazy idea of
the best way to treat a shipwrecked fellow-creature, however remote the
accident, placed before him a joint of cold beef and a quantity of hot
coffee. It was not until he had made a good meal and lit his pipe that
Uncle Barber, first quaffing a couple of glasses of ale to nerve himself
for harrowing details, requested him to begin at the beginning and go
right on.

His nephew complied, the tale which he had told Poppy serving him as far
as Riga; after which a slight collision off the Nore at night between
the brig which was bringing him home and the Golden Cloud enabled him to
climb into the bows of that ill-fated vessel before she swung clear
again. There was a slight difficulty here, Captain Barber’s views of
British seamen making no allowance for such a hasty exchange of ships,
but as it appeared that Flower was at the time still suffering from the
effects of the fever which had seized him at Riga, he waived the
objection, and listened in silence to the end of the story.

"Fancy what he must have suffered," said Mrs-Barber, shivering; "and
then to turn up safe and sound a twelvemonth afterwards. He ought
to-make a book of it."

"It’s all in a sailorman’s dooty," said Captain Barber, shaking his
head. "It’s wot ’e expects."

His wife rose, and talking the while proceeded to clear the table. The
old man closed the door after her, and with a glance at his nephew gave
a jerk of the head towards the kitchen.

"Wonderful woman, your aunt," he said, impressively; "but I was one too
many for ’er."

Flower stared.

"How?" he enquired, briefly.

"Married ’er," said the old man, chuckling. "You wouldn’t believe wot a
lot there was arter her. I got ’er afore she knew where she was a’most.
If I was to tell you all that there was arter’er, you’d hardly believe
me."

"I daresay," said the other.

"There’s good news and bad news," continued Captain Barber, shaking his
head and coughing a bit with his pipe. "I’ve got a bit o’ bad for you."

Flower waited.

"’Lizabeth’s married," said the old man, slowly; "married that stupid
young Gibson. She’ll be sorry enough now, I know."

His nephew looked down. "I’ve heard about it," he said, with an attempt
at gloom; "old George told me."

The old man, respecting his grief, smoked on for some time in silence,
then he got up and patted him on the shoulder.

"I’m on the look-out for you," he said, kindly; "there’s a niece o’ your
aunt’s. I ain’t seen her yet; but your aunt praises of her, so she’s all
right. I’ll tell your aunt to ask ’er over. Your aunt ses—"

"How many aunts have I got?" demanded Flower, with sudden irritation.

The old man raised his eyebrows and stared at him in offended amazement.

"You’re not yourself, Fred," he said, slowly; "your misfortunes ’ave
shook you up. You’ve got one aunt and one uncle what brought you up and
did the best for you ever since you was so ’igh."

"So you did," said Flower, heartily. "I didn’t mean to speak like that,
but I’m tired and worried."

"I see you was," said his uncle, amiably, "but your aunt’s a wonderful
woman. She’s got a business ’ead, and we’re doing well. I’m buying
another schooner, and you can ’ave her or have the Foam back, which you
like."

Flower thanked him warmly, and, Mrs. Barber returning, he noticed with
some surprise the evident happiness of the couple for whose marriage he
was primarily responsible. He had to go over his adventures again and
again, Captain Barber causing much inconvenience and delay at
supper-time by using the beer-jug to represent the Golden Cloud and a
dish of hot sausages the unknown craft which sank her. Flower was
uncertain which to admire most: the tactful way in which Mrs. Barber
rescued the sausages or the readiness with which his uncle pushed a
plate over a fresh stain on the tablecloth.

Supper finished, he sat silently thinking of Poppy, not quite free from
the fear that she might have followed him to New Zealand by another
boat. The idea made him nervous, and the suspense became unendurable. He
took up his cap and strolled out into the stillness of the evening.
Sea-bridge seemed strange to him after his long absence, and, under
present conditions, melancholy. There was hardly a soul to be seen, but
a murmur of voices came through the open windows of the Thorn, and a
clumsy cart jolted and creaked its way up the darkening road.

He stood for some time looking down on the quay, and the shadowy shapes
of one or two small craft lying in the river. The Foam was in her old
berth, and a patch of light aft showed that the cabin was occupied. He
walked down to her, and stepping noiselessly aboard, peered through the
open skylight at Ben, as he sat putting a fresh patch in a pair of
trousers. It struck him that the old man might know something of the
events which had led up to Fraser’s surprising marriage, and, his
curiosity being somewhat keen on the point, he descended to glean
particulars.

Ben’s favourite subject was the misdeeds of the crew, and the steps
which a kind but firm mate had to take to control them, and he left it
unwillingly to discuss Fraser’s marriage, of which faint rumours had
reached his ears. It was evident that he knew nothing of the
particulars, and Flower with some carefulness proceeded to put leading
questions.

"Did you ever see anything more of those women who used to come down to
the ship after a man named Robinson?" he enquired, carelessly.

"They come down one night soon arter you fell overboard," replied the
old man. "Very polite they was, and they asked me to go and see ’em any
time I liked. I ain’t much of a one for seeing people, but I did go one
night ’bout two or three months ago, end o’ March, I think it was, to a
pub wot they ’ave at Chelsea, to see whether they ’ad heard anything of
’im."

"Ah!" interjected the listener.

"They was very short about it," continued Ben, sourly; "the old party
got that excited she could ’ardly keep still, but the young lady she
said good riddance to bad rubbish, she ses. She hoped as ’ow he’d be
punished."

Flower started, and then smiled softly to himself.

"Perhaps she’s found somebody else," he said.

Ben grunted.

"I shouldn’t wonder, she seemed very much took up with a young feller
she called Arthur," he said, slowly; "but that was the last I see of
’em; they never even offered me a drink, and though they’d ask me to go
down any time I liked, they was barely civil. The young lady didn’t seem
to me to want Arthur to ’ear about it."

He stitched away resentfully, and his listener, after a fond look round
his old quarters, bade him good-night and went ashore again. For a
little while he walked up and down the road, pausing once to glance at
the bright drawn blind in the Gibsons’ window, and then returned home.
Captain Barber and his wife were at cribbage, and intent upon the game.

With the morning sun his spirits rose, and after a hurried breakfast he
set off for the station and booked to Bittlesea. The little platform was
bright with roses, and the air full of the sweetness of an early morning
in June. He watched the long line stretching away until it was lost in a
bend of the road, and thought out ways and means of obtaining a private
interview with the happy bridegroom; a subject which occupied him long
after the train had started, as he was benevolently anxious not to mar
his friend’s happiness by a display of useless grief and temper on the
part of the bride.

The wedding party left the house shortly before his arrival at the
station, after a morning of excitement and suspense which had tried
Messrs. Smith and Green to the utmost, both being debarred by
self-imposed etiquette from those alluring liquids by which in other
circumstances they would have soothed their nerves. They strolled
restlessly about with Tommy, for whom they had suddenly conceived an
ardent affection, and who, to do him justice, was taking fullest
advantage of the fact.

They felt a little safer when a brougham dashed up to the house and
carried off Fraser and his supporter, and safer still when his father
appeared with Poppy Tyrell on his arm, blushing sweetly and throwing a
glance in their direction, which was like to have led to a quarrel until
Tommy created a diversion by stating that it was intended for him.

By the time Flower arrived the road was clear, and the house had lapsed
into its accustomed quiet.

An old seafaring man, whose interest in weddings had ceased three days
after his own, indicated the house with the stem of his pipe. It was an
old house with a broad step and a wide-open door, and on the step a
small servant, in a huge cap with her hands clasped together, stood
gazing excitedly up the road.

"Cap’n Fraser live here?" enquired Flower, after a cautious glance at
the windows.

"Yes, sir," said the small servant; "he’s getting married at this very
instant."

"You’ll be married one of these days if you’re a good girl," said
Flower, who was in excellent humour.

The small girl forgot her cap and gave her head a toss. Then she
regarded him thoughtfully, and after adjusting the cap, smoothed down
her apron and said, "she was in no hurry; she never took any notice of
them."

Flower looked round and pondered. He was anxious, if possible, to see
Fraser and catch the first train back.

"Cap’n Fraser was in good spirits, I suppose?" he said, cautiously.

"Very good spirits," admitted the small servant, "but nervous."

"And Miss Tipping?" suggested Flower.

"Miss who?" enquired the small girl, with a superior smile. "Miss Tyrell
you mean, don’t you?"

Flower stared at her in astonishment. "No, Miss Tipping," he said,
sharply, "the bride. Is Miss Tyrell here too?"

The small girl was astonished in her turn. "Miss Tyrell is the bride,"
she said, dwelling fondly on the last word. "Who’s Miss Tipping?"

"What’s the bride’s Christian name?" demanded Flower, catching her
fiercely by the hand’.

He was certain of the reply before the now thoroughly frightened small
girl could find breath enough to utter it, and at the word "Poppy," he
turned without a word and ran up the road. Then he stopped, and coming
back hastily, called out to her for the whereabouts of the church.

"Straight up there and second turning on the left," cried the small
girl, her fear giving place to curiosity, "What’s the matter?"

But Flower was running doggedly up the road, thinking in a confused
fashion as he ran. At first he thought that Joe had blundered; then, as
he remembered his manner and his apparent haste to get rid of him,
amazement and anger jostled each other in his mind. Out of breath, his
pace slackened to a walk, and then broke into a run again as he turned
the corner, and the church came into view.

There was a small cluster of people in the porch, which was at once
reduced by two, and a couple of carriages drawn up against the curb. He
arrived breathless and peered in. A few spectators were in the seats,
but the chancel was empty.

"They’re gone into the vestry," whispered an aged but frivolous woman,
who was grimly waiting with a huge bag of rice.

Flower turned white. No efforts of his could avail now, and he smiled
bitterly as he thought of his hardships of the past year. There was a
lump in his throat, and a sense of unreality about the proceedings which
was almost dream-like. He looked up the sunny road with its sleepy,
old-time houses, and then at the group standing in the porch, wondering
dimly that a deformed girl on crutches should be smiling as gaily as
though the wedding were her own, and that yellow, wrinkled old women
should wilfully come to remind themselves of their long-dead youth. His
whole world seemed suddenly desolate and unreal, and it was only borne
in upon him slowly that there was no need now for his journey to London
in search of Poppy, and that henceforth her movements could possess no
interest for him. He ranged himself quietly with the bystanders and, not
without a certain dignity, waited.

It seemed a long time. The horses champed and rattled their harness. The
bystanders got restless. Then there was a movement.

He looked in the church again and saw them coming down the aisle:
Fraser, smiling and erect, with Poppy’s little hand upon his arm. She
looked down at first, smiling shyly, but as they drew near the door gave
her husband a glance such as Flower had never seen before. He caught his
breath then, and stood up erect as the bridegroom himself, and as they
reached the door they both saw him at the same instant. Poppy, with a
startled cry of joy and surprise, half drew her arm from her husband’s;
Fraser gazed at him as on one risen from the dead.

For a space they regarded each other without a word, then Fraser, with
his wife on his arm, took a step towards him. Flower still regarding
them steadily, drew back a little, and moved by a sudden impulse, and
that new sense of dignity, snatched a handful of rice from the old
woman’s bag and threw it over them.

Then he turned quickly, and with rapid strides made his way back to the
station.

                                  ————





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Master Of Craft" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home