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A Harbour of Refuge
by [?]

A waterman’s boat was lying in the river just below Greenwich, the waterman resting on his oars, while his fare, a small, perturbed-looking man in seaman’s attire, gazed expectantly up the river.

“There she is!” he cried suddenly, as a small schooner came into view from behind a big steamer. “Take me alongside.”

“Nice little thing she is too,” said the waterman, watching the other out of the corner of his eye as he bent to his oars. “Rides the water like a duck. Her cap’n knows a thing or two, I’ll bet.”

“He knows watermen’s fares,” replied the passenger coldly.

“Look out there!” cried a voice from the schooner, and the mate threw a line which the passenger skilfully caught.

The waterman ceased rowing, and, as his boat came alongside the schooner, held out his hand to his passenger, who had already commenced to scramble up the side, and demanded his fare. It was handed down to him.

“It’s all right, then,” said the fare, as he stood on the deck and closed his eyes to the painful language in which the waterman was addressing him. “Nobody been inquiring for me?”

“Not a soul,” said the mate. “What’s all the row about?”

“Well, you see, it’s this way,” said the master of the Frolic, dropping his voice. “I’ve been taking a little too much notice of a little craft down Battersea way–nice little thing, an’ she thought I was a single man, dy’e see?”

The mate sucked his teeth.

“She introduced me to her brother as a single man,” continued the skipper. “He asked me when the banns was to be put up, an’ I didn’t like to tell him I was a married man with a family.”

“Why not?” asked the mate.

“He’s a prize-fighter,” said the other, in awe-inspiring tones; “‘the Battersea Bruiser.’ Consequently when he clapped me on the back, and asked me when the banns was to be, I only smiled.”

“What did he do?” inquired the mate, who was becoming interested.

“Put ’em up,” groaned the skipper, “an’ we all went to church to hear ’em. Talk o’ people walking over your grave, George, it’s nothing to what I felt–nothing. I felt a hypocrite, almost. Somehow he found out about me, and I’ve been hiding ever since I sent you that note. He told a pal he was going to give me a licking, and come down to Fairhaven with us and make mischief between me and the missis.”

“That ‘ud be worse than the licking,” said the mate sagely.

“Ah! and she’d believe him afore she would me, too, an’ we’ve been married seventeen years,” said the skipper mournfully.

“Perhaps that’s”–began the mate, and stopped suddenly.

“Perhaps what?” inquired the other, after waiting a reasonable time for him to finish.

“H’m, I forgot what I was going to say,” said the mate. “Funny, it’s gone now. Well, you’re all right now. You’d intended this to be the last trip to London for some time.”

“Yes, that’s what made me a bit more loving than I should ha’ been,” mused the skipper. “However, all’s well that ends well. How did you get on about the cook? Did you ship one?”

“Yes, I’ve got one, but he’s only signed as far as Fairhaven,” replied the mate. “Fine strong chap he is. He’s too good for a cook. I never saw a better built man in my life. It’ll do your eyes good to look at him. Here, cook!”

At the summons a huge, close-cropped head was thrust out of the galley, and a man of beautiful muscular development stepped out before the eyes of the paralyzed skipper, and began to remove his coat.

“Ain’t he a fine chap?” said the mate admiringly. “Show him your biceps, cook.”

With a leer at the captain the cook complied. He then doubled his fists, and, ducking his head scientifically, danced all round the stupefied master of the Frolic.

“Put your dooks up,” he cried warningly. “I’m going to dot you!”