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In Borrowed Plumes
by [?]

The master of the Sarah Jane had been missing for two days, and all on board, with the exception of the boy, whom nobody troubled about, were full of joy at the circumstance. Twice before had the skipper, whose habits might, perhaps, be best described as irregular, missed his ship, and word had gone forth that the third time would be the last. His berth was a good one, and the mate wanted it in place of his own, which was wanted by Ted Jones, A. B.

“Two hours more,” said the mate anxiously to the men, as they stood leaning against the side, “and I take the ship out.”

“Under two hours’ll do it,” said Ted, peering over the side and watching the water as it slowly rose over the mud. “What’s got the old man, I wonder?”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” said the mate. “You chaps stand by me and it’ll be good for all of us. Mr. Pearson said distinct the last time that if the skipper ever missed his ship again it would be his last trip in her, and he told me afore the old man that I wasn’t to wait two minutes at any time, but to bring her out right away.”

“He’s an old fool,” said Bill Loch, the other hand; “and nobody’ll miss him but the boy, and he’s been looking reg’lar worried all the morning. He looked so worried at dinner time that I give ‘im a kick to cheer him up a bit. Look at him now.”

The mate gave a supercilious glance in the direction of the boy, and then turned away. The boy, who had no idea of courting observation, stowed himself away behind the windlass; and, taking a letter from his pocket, perused it for the fourth time.

“Dear Tommy,” it began. “I take my pen in and to inform you that I’m stayin here and cant get away for the reason that I lorst my cloes at cribage larst night, also my money, and everything beside. Dont speek to a living sole about it as the mate wants my birth, but pack up sum cloes and bring them to me without saying nuthing to noboddy. The mates cloths will do becos I havent got enny other soot, dont tell ‘im. You needen’t trouble about soks as I’ve got them left. My bed is so bad I must now conclude. Your affecshunate uncle and captin Joe Bross. P.S. Dont let the mate see you come, or else he wont let you go.”

“Two hours more,” sighed Tommy, as he put the letter back in his pocket. “How can I get any clothes when they’re all locked up? And aunt said I was to look after ‘im and see he didn’t get into no mischief.”

He sat thinking deeply, and then, as the crew of the Sarah Jane stepped ashore to take advantage of a glass offered by the mate, he crept down to the cabin again for another desperate look round. The only articles of clothing visible belonged to Mrs. Bross, who up to this trip had been sailing in the schooner to look after its master. At these he gazed hard.

“I’ll take ’em and try an’ swop ’em for some men’s clothes,” said he suddenly, snatching the garments from the pegs. “She wouldn’t mind”; and hastily rolling them into a parcel, together with a pair of carpet slippers of the captain’s, he thrust the lot into an old biscuit bag. Then he shouldered his burden, and, going cautiously on deck, gained the shore, and set off at a trot to the address furnished in the letter.

It was a long way, and the bag was heavy. His first attempt at barter was alarming, for the pawnbroker, who had just been cautioned by the police, was in such a severe and uncomfortable state of morals, that the boy quickly snatched up his bundle again and left. Sorely troubled he walked hastily along, until, in a small bye street, his glance fell upon a baker of mild and benevolent aspect, standing behind the counter of his shop.