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In Limehouse Reach
by [?]

It was the mate’s affair all through. He began by leaving the end of a line dangling over the stern, and the propeller, though quite unaccustomed to that sort of work, wound it up until only a few fathoms remained. It then stopped, and the mischief was not discovered until the skipper had called the engineer everything that he and the mate and three men and a boy could think of. The skipper did the interpreting through the tube which afforded the sole means of communication between the wheel and the engine-room, and the indignant engineer did the listening.

The Gem was just off Limehouse at the time, and it was evident she was going to stay there. The skipper ran her ashore and made her fast to a roomy old schooner which was lying alongside a wharf. He was then able to give a little attention to the real offender, and the unfortunate mate, who had been the most inventive of them all, realised to the full the old saying of curses coming home to roost. They brought some strangers with them, too.

“I’m going ashore,” said the skipper at last. “We won’t get off till next tide now. When it’s low water you’ll have to get down and cut the line away. A new line too! I’m ashamed o’ you, Harry.”

“I’m not surprised,” said the engineer, who was a vindictive man.

“What do you mean by that?” demanded the mate fiercely.

“We don’t want any of your bad temper,” interposed the skipper severely. “NOR bad language. The men can go ashore, and the engineer too, provided he keeps steam up. But be ready for a start about five. You’ll have to mind the ship.”

He looked over the stern again, shook his head sadly, and, after a visit to the cabin, clambered over the schooner’s side and got ashore. The men, after looking at the propeller and shaking their heads, went ashore too, and the boy, after looking at the propeller and getting ready to shake his, caught the mate’s eye and omitted that part of the ceremony, from a sudden conviction that it was unhealthy.

Left alone, the mate, who was of a sensitive disposition, after a curt nod to Captain Jansell of the schooner Aquila, who had heard of the disaster, and was disposed to be sympathetically inquisitive, lit his pipe and began moodily to smoke.

When he next looked up the old man had disappeared, and a girl in a print dress and a large straw hat sat in a wicker chair reading. She was such a pretty girl that the mate forgot his troubles at once, and, after carefully putting his cap on straight, strolled casually up and down the deck.

To his mortification, the girl seemed unaware of his presence, and read steadily, occasionally looking up and chirping with a pair of ravishing lips at a blackbird, which hung in a wicker cage from the mainmast.

“That’s a nice bird,” said the mate, leaning against the side, and turning a look of great admiration upon it.

“Yes,” said the girl, raising a pair of dark blue eyes to the bold brown ones, and taking him in at a glance.

“Does it sing?” inquired the mate, with a show of great interest.

“It does sometimes, when we are alone,” was the reply.

“I should have thought the sea air would have affected its throat,” said the mate, reddening. “Are you often in the London river, miss? I don’t remember seeing your craft before.”

“Not often,” said the girl.

“You’ve got a fine schooner here,” said the mate, eyeing it critically. “For my part, I prefer a sailer to a steamer.”

“I should think you would,” said the girl.

“Why?” inquired the mate tenderly, pleased at this show of interest.

“No propeller,” said the girl quietly, and she left her seat and disappeared below, leaving the mate gasping painfully.

Left to himself, he became melancholy, as he realised that the great passion of his life had commenced, and would probably end within a few hours. The engineer came aboard to look at the fires, and, the steamer being now on the soft mud, good-naturedly went down and assisted him to free the propeller before going ashore again. Then he was alone once more, gazing ruefully at the bare deck of the Aquila.