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by [?]

It was a momentous occasion. The two skippers sat in the private bar of the “Old Ship,” in High Street, Wapping, solemnly sipping cold gin and smoking cigars, whose sole merit consisted in the fact that they had been smuggled. It is well known all along the waterside that this greatly improves their flavour.

“Draw all right?” queried Captain Berrow?-a short, fat man of few ideas, who was the exulting owner of a bundle of them.

“Beautiful,” replied Captain Tucker, who had just made an excursion into the interior of his with the small blade of his penknife. “Why don’t you keep smokes like these, landlord?”

“He can’t,” chuckled Captain Berrow fatuously. “They’re not to be ‘ad– money couldn’t buy ’em.”

The landlord grunted. “Why don’t you settle about that race o’ yours an’ ha’ done with it,” he cried, as he wiped down his counter. “Seems to me, Cap’n Tucker’s hanging fire.”

“I’m ready when he is,” said Tucker, somewhat shortly.

“It’s taking your money,” said Berrow slowly; “the Thistle can’t hold a candle to the Good Intent, and you know it. Many a time that little schooner o’ mine has kept up with a steamer.”

“Wher’d you ha’ been if the tow rope had parted, though?” said the master of the Thistle, with a wink at the landlord.

At this remark Captain Berrow took fire, and, with his temper rapidly rising to fever heat, wrathfully repelled the scurvy insinuation in language which compelled the respectful attention of all the other customers and the hasty intervention of the landlord.

“Put up the stakes,” he cried impatiently. “Put up the stakes, and don’t have so much jaw about it.”

“Here’s mine,” said Berrow, sturdily handing over a greasy fiver. “Now, Cap’n Tucker, cover that.”

“Come on,” said the landlord encouragingly; “don’t let him take the wind out of your sails like that.”

Tucker handed over five sovereigns.

“High water’s at 12.13,” said the landlord, pocketing the stakes. “You understand the conditions?-each of you does the best he can for hisself after eleven, an’ the one what gets to Poole first has the ten quid. Understand?”

Both gamblers breathed hard, and, fully realising the desperate nature of the enterprise upon which they had embarked, ordered some more gin. A rivalry of long standing as to the merits of their respective schooners had led to them calling in the landlord to arbitrate, and this was the result. Berrow, vaguely feeling that it would be advisable to keep on good terms with the stakeholder, offered him one of the famous cigars. The stakeholder, anxious to keep on good terms with his stomach, declined it.

“You’ve both got your moorings up, I s’pose?” he inquired.

“Got ’em up this evening,” replied Tucker. “We’re just made fast one on each side of the Dolphin now.”

“The wind’s light, but it’s from the right quarter,” said Captain Berrow, “an’ I only hope as ‘ow the best ship’ll win. I’d like to win myself, but, if not, I can only say as there’s no man breathing I’d sooner have lick me than Cap’n Tucker. He’s as smart a seaman as ever comes into the London river, an’ he’s got a schooner angels would be proud of.”

“Glasses o’ gin round,” said Tucker promptly. “Cap’n Berrow, here’s your very good health, an’ a fair field an’ no favour.”

With these praiseworthy sentiments the master of the Thistle finished his liquor, and, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, nodded farewell to the twain and departed. Once in the High Street he walked slowly, as one in deep thought, then, with a sudden resolution, turned up Nightingale Lane, and made for a small, unsavoury thoroughfare leading out of Ratcliff Highway. A quarter of an hour later he emerged into that famous thoroughfare again, smiling incoherently, and, retracing his steps to the waterside, jumped into a boat, and was pulled off to his ship.

“Comes off to-night, Joe,” said he, as he descended to the cabin, “an’ it’s arf a quid to you if the old gal wins.”