“I’ve got a friend coming down with us this trip, George,” said the master of the Wave, as they sat on deck after tea watching the river. “One of our new members, Brother Hutchins.”
“From the Mission, I s’pose?” said the mate coldly.
“From the Mission,” confirmed the skipper. “You’ll like him, George; he’s been one o’ the greatest rascals that ever breathed.”
“Well, I don’t know what you mean,” said the mate, looking up indignantly.
“He’s ‘ad a most interestin’ life,” said the skipper; “he’s been in half the jails of England. To hear ‘im talk is as good as reading a book. And ‘e’s as merry as they make ‘em.”
“Oh, and is ‘e goin’ to give us prayers afore breakfast like that fat-necked, white-faced old rascal what came down with us last summer and stole my boots?” demanded the mate.
“He never stole ‘em, George,” said the skipper.
“If you’d ‘eard that man cry when I mentioned to ‘im your unjust suspicions, you’d never have forgiven yourself. He told ‘em at the meetin’, an’ they had prayers for you.”
“You an’ your Mission are a pack o’ fools,” said the mate scornfully. “You’re always being done. A man comes to you an’ ses ‘e’s found grace, and you find ‘im a nice, easy, comfortable living. ‘E sports a bit of blue ribbon and a red nose at the same time. Don’t tell me. You ask me why I don’t join you, and I tell you it’s because I don’t want to lose my commonsense.”
“You’ll know better one o’ these days, George,” said the skipper, rising. “I earnestly hope you’ll ‘ave some great sorrow or affliction, something almost too great for you to bear. It’s the only thing that’ll save you.”
“I expect that fat chap what stole my boots would like to see it too,” said the mate.
“He would,” said the skipper solemnly. “He said so.”
The mate got up, fuming and knocking his pipe out with great violence against the side of the schooner, stamped up and down the deck two or three times, and then, despairing of regaining his accustomed calm on board, went ashore.
It was late when he returned. A light burnt in the cabin, and the skipper with his spectacles on was reading aloud from an old number of the Evangelical Magazine to a thin, white-faced man dressed in black.
“That’s my mate,” said the skipper, looking up from his book.
“Is he one of our band?” inquired the stranger.
The skipper shook his head despondently.
“Not yet,” said the stranger encouragingly.
“Seen too many of ‘em,” said the mate bluntly. “The more I see of ‘em, the less I like ‘em. It makes me feel wicked to look at ‘em.”
“Ah, that ain’t you speaking now, it’s the Evil One,” said Mr. Hutchins confidently.
“I s’pose you know ‘im pretty well,” said the mate simply.
“I lived with him thirty years,” said Mr. Hutchins solemnly, “then I got tired of him.”
“I should think he got a bit sick too,” said the mate. “Thirty days ‘ud ha’ been too long for me.”
He went to his berth, to give Mr. Hutchins time to frame a suitable reply, and returned with a full bottle of whisky and a tumbler, and having drawn the cork with a refreshing pop, mixed himself a stiff glass and lit his pipe. Mr. Hutchins with a deep groan gazed reproachfully at the skipper and shook his head at the bottle.
“You know I don’t like you to bring that filthy stuff in the cabin, George,” said the skipper.
“It’s not for me,” said the mate flippantly. “It’s for the Evil One. He ses the sight of his old pal ‘Utchins ‘as turned his stomach.”
He glanced at the stranger and saw to his astonishment that he appeared to be struggling with a strong desire to laugh. His lips tightened and his shifty little eyes watered, but he conquered himself in a moment, and rising to his feet delivered a striking address in favour of teetotalism. He condemned whisky as not only wicked, but unnecessary, declaring with a side glance at the mate that two acidulated drops dissolved in water were an excellent substitute.