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After The Inquest
by [?]

It was a still fair evening in late summer in the parish of Wapping. The hands had long since left, and the night watchman having abandoned his trust in favour of a neighbouring bar, the wharf was deserted.

An elderly seaman came to the gate and paused irresolute, then, seeing all was quiet, stole cautiously on to the jetty, and stood for some time gazing curiously down on to the deck of the billy-boy PSYCHE lying alongside.

With the exception of the mate, who, since the lamented disappearance of its late master and owner, was acting as captain, the deck was as deserted as the wharf. He was smoking an evening pipe in all the pride of a first command, his eye roving fondly from the blunt bows and untidy deck of his craft to her clumsy stern, when a slight cough from the man above attracted his attention.

“How do, George?” said the man on the jetty, somewhat sheepishly, as the other looked up.

The mate opened his mouth, and his pipe fell from it and smashed to pieces unnoticed.

“Got much stuff in her this trip?” continued the man, with an obvious attempt to appear at ease.

“The mate, still looking up, backed slowly to the other side of the deck, but made no reply.

“What’s the matter, man?” said the other testily. “You don’t seem overpleased to see me.”

He leaned over as he spoke, and, laying hold of the rigging, descended to the deck, while the mate took his breath in short, exhilarating gasps.

“Here I am, George,” said the intruder, “turned up like a bad penny, an’ glad to see your handsome face again, I can tell you.”

In response to this flattering remark George gurgled.

“Why,” said the other, with an uneasy laugh, “did you think I was dead, George? Ha, ha! Feel that!”

He fetched the horrified man a thump in the back, which stopped even his gurgles.

“That feel like a dead man?” asked the smiter, raising his hand again. “Feel”–

The mate moved back hastily. “That’ll do,” said he fiercely; “ghost or no ghost, don’t you hit me like that again.”

“A’ right, George,” said the other, as he meditatively felt the stiff grey whiskers which framed his red face. “What’s the news?”

“The news,” said George, who was of slow habits and speech, “is that you was found last Tuesday week off St. Katherine’s Stairs, you was sat on a Friday week at the Town o’ Ramsgate public-house, and buried on Monday afternoon at Lowestoft.”

“Buried?” gasped the other, “sat on? You’ve been drinking, George.”

“An’ a pretty penny your funeral cost, I can tell you,” continued the mate. “There’s a headstone being made now–‘Lived lamented and died respected,’ I think it is, with ‘Not lost, but gone before,’ at the bottom.”

“Lived respected and died lamented, you mean,” growled the old man; “well, a nice muddle you have made of it between you. Things always go wrong when I’m not here to look after them.”

“You ain’t dead, then?” said the mate, taking no notice of this unreasonable remark, “Where’ve you been all this long time?”

“No more than you’re master o’ this ‘ere ship,” replied Mr. Harbolt grimly. “I–I’ve been a bit queer in the stomach, an’ I took a little drink to correct it. Foolish like, I took the wrong drink, and it must have got into my head.”

“That’s the worst of not being used to it,” said the mate, without moving a muscle.

The skipper eyed him solemnly, but the mate stood firm.

“Arter that,” continued the skipper, still watching him suspiciously, “I remember no more distinctly until this morning, when I found myself sitting on a step down Poplar way and shiverin’, with the morning newspaper and a crowd round me.”

“Morning newspaper!” repeated the mystified mate. “What was that for?”

“Decency. I was wrapped up in it,” replied the skipper. “Where I came from or how I got there I don’t know more than Adam. I s’pose I must have been ill; I seem to remember taking something out of a bottle pretty often. Some old gentleman in the crowd took me into a shop and bought me these clothes, an’ here I am. My own clo’es and thirty pounds o’ freight money I had in my pocket is all gone.”