A small but strong lamp was burning in the fo’c’sle of the schooner Greyhound, by the light of which a middle-aged seaman of sedate appearance sat crocheting an antimacassar. Two other men were snoring with deep content in their bunks, while a small, bright-eyed boy sat up in his, reading adventurous fiction.
“Here comes old Dan,” said the man with the anti-macassar warningly, as a pair of sea boots appeared at the top of the companion-ladder; “better not let him see you with that paper, Billee.”
The boy thrust it beneath his blankets, and, lying down, closed his eyes as the new comer stepped on to the floor.
“All asleep?” inquired the latter.
The other man nodded, and Dan, without any further parley, crossed over to the sleepers and shook them roughly.
“Eh! wha’s matter?” inquired the sleepers plaintively.
“Git up,” said Dan impressively, “I want to speak to you. Something important.”
With sundry growls the men complied, and, thrusting their legs out of their bunks, rolled on to the locker, and sat crossly waiting for information.
“I want to do a pore chap a good turn,” said Dan, watching them narrowly out of his little black eyes, “an’ I want you to help me; an’ the boy too. It’s never too young to do good to your fellow-creatures, Billy.”
“I know it ain’t,” said Billy, taking this as permission to join the group; “I helped a drunken man home once when I was only ten years old, an’ when I was only–”
The speaker stopped, not because he had come to the end of his remarks, but because one of the seamen had passed his arm around his neck and was choking him.
“Go on,” said the man calmly; “I’ve got him. Spit it out, Dan, and none of your sermonising.”
“Well, it’s like this, Joe,” said the old man; “here’s a pore chap, a young sojer from the depot here, an’ he’s cut an’ run. He’s been in hiding in a cottage up the road two days, and he wants to git to London, and git honest work and employment, not shooting, an’ stabbing, an’ bayoneting–”
“Stow it,” said Joe impatiently.
“He daren’t go to the railway station, and he dursen’t go outside in his uniform,” continued Dan. “My ‘art bled for the pore young feller, an’ I’ve promised to give ‘im a little trip to London with us. The people he’s staying with won’t have him no longer. They’ve only got one bed, and directly he sees any sojers coming he goes an’ gits into it, whether he’s got his boots on or not.”
“Have you told the skipper?” inquired Joe sardonically.
“I won’t deceive you, Joe, I ‘ave not,” replied the old man. “He’ll have to stay down here of a daytime, an’ only come on deck of a night when it’s our watch. I told ‘im what a lot of good-’arted chaps you was, and how–”
“How much is he going to give you?” inquired Joe impatiently.
“It’s only fit and proper he should pay a little for the passage,” said Dan.
“How MUCH?” demanded Joe, banging the little triangular table with his fist, and thereby causing the man with the antimacassar to drop a couple of stitches.
“Twenty-five shillings,” said old Dan reluctantly; “an’ I’ll spend the odd five shillings on you chaps when we git to Limehouse.”
“I don’t want your money,” said Joe; “there’s a empty bunk he can have; and mind, you take all the responsibility–I won’t have nothing to do with it.”
“Thanks, Joe,” said the old man, with a sigh of relief; “he’s a nice young chap, you’re sure to take to him. I’ll go and give him the tip to come aboard at once.”
He ran up on deck again and whistled softly, and a figure, which had been hiding behind a pile of empties, came out, and, after looking cautiously around, dropped noiselessly on to the schooner’s deck, and followed its protector below.