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A Black Affair
by [?]

“I didn’t want to bring it,” said Captain Gubson, regarding somewhat unfavourably a grey parrot whose cage was hanging against the mainmast, “but my old uncle was so set on it I had to. He said a sea-voyage would set its ‘elth up.”

“It seems to be all right at present,” said the mate, who was tenderly sucking his forefinger; “best of spirits, I should say.”

“It’s playful,” assented the skipper. “The old man thinks a rare lot of it. I think I shall have a little bit in that quarter, so keep your eye on the beggar.”

“Scratch Poll!” said the parrot, giving its bill a preliminary strop on its perch. “Scratch poor Polly!”

It bent its head against the bars, and waited patiently to play off what it had always regarded as the most consummate practical joke in existence. The first doubt it had ever had about it occurred when the mate came forward and obligingly scratched it with the stem of his pipe. It was a wholly unforeseen development, and the parrot, ruffling its feathers, edged along its perch and brooded darkly at the other end of it.

Opinion before the mast was also against the new arrival, the general view being that the wild jealousy which raged in the bosom of the ship’s cat would sooner or later lead to mischief.

“Old Satan don’t like it,” said the cook, shaking his head. “The blessed bird hadn’t been aboard ten minutes before Satan was prowling around. The blooming image waited till he was about a foot off the cage, and then he did the perlite and asked him whether he’d like a glass o’ beer. I never see a cat so took aback in all my life. Never.”

“There’ll be trouble between ’em,” said old Sam, who was the cat’s special protector, “mark my words.”

“I’d put my money on the parrot,” said one of the men confidently. “It’s ‘ad a crool bit out of the mate’s finger. Where ‘ud the cat be agin that beak?”

“Well, you’d lose your money,” said Sam. “If you want to do the cat a kindness, every time you see him near that cage cuff his ‘ed.”

The crew being much attached to the cat, which had been presented to them when a kitten by the mate’s wife, acted upon the advice with so much zest that for the next two days the indignant animal was like to have been killed with kindness. On the third day, however, the parrot’s cage being on the cabin table, the cat stole furtively down, and, at the pressing request of the occupant itself, scratched its head for it.

The skipper was the first to discover the mischief, and he came on deck and published the news in a voice which struck a chill to all hearts.

“Where’s that black devil got to?” he yelled.

“Anything wrong, sir?” asked Sam anxiously.

“Come and look here,” said the skipper. He led the way to the cabin, where the mate and one of the crew were already standing, shaking their heads over the parrot.

“What do you make of that?” demanded the skipper fiercely.

“Too much dry food, sir,” said Sam, after due deliberation.

“Too much what?” bellowed the skipper.

“Too much dry food,” repeated Sam firmly. “A parrot–a grey parrot– wants plenty o’ sop. If it don’t get it, it moults.”

“It’s had too much CAT” said the skipper fiercely, “and you know it, and overboard it goes.”

“I don’t believe it was the cat, sir,” interposed the other man; “it’s too soft-hearted to do a thing like that.”

“You can shut your jaw,” said the skipper, reddening. “Who asked you to come down here at all?”

“Nobody saw the cat do it,” urged the mate.

The skipper said nothing, but, stooping down, picked up a tail feather from the floor, and laid it on the table. He then went on deck, followed by the others, and began calling, in seductive tones, for the cat. No reply forth coming from the sagacious animal, which had gone into hiding, he turned to Sam, and bade him call it.