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Rule of Three
by [?]

The long summer day had gone and twilight was just merging into night. A ray of light from the lantern at the end of the quay went trembling across the sea, and in the little harbour the dusky shapes of a few small craft lay motionless on the dark water.

The master of the schooner Harebell came slowly towards the harbour, accompanied by his mate. Both men had provided ashore for a voyage which included no intoxicants, and the dignity of the skipper, always a salient feature, had developed tremendously under the influence of brown stout. He stepped aboard his schooner importantly, and then, turning to the mate, who was about to follow, suddenly held up his hand for silence.

“What did I tell you?” he inquired severely as the mate got quietly aboard.

“About knocking down the two policemen?” guessed the mate, somewhat puzzled.

“No,” said the other shortly. “Listen.”

The mate listened. From the foc’sle came low gruff voices of men, broken by the silvery ring of women’s laughter.

“Well, I’m a Dutchman,” said the mate the air of one who felt he was expected to say something.

“After all I said to ’em,” said the skipper with weary dignity. “You ‘eard what I said to them Jack?”

“Nobody could ha’ swore louder,” testified the mate.

“An’ here they are,” said the skipper, “defying of me. After all I said to ’em. After all the threats I–I employed.”

“Employed,” repeated the mate with relish.

“They’ve been and gone and asked them females down the foc’sle again. You know what I said I’d do, Jack, if they did.”

“Said you’d eat ’em without salt,” quoted the other helpfully.

“I’ll do worse than that, Jack,” said the skipper after a moment’s discomfiture. “What’s to hinder us casting off quietly and taking them along with us?

“If you ask me,” said the mate, “I should think you couldn’t please the crew better.”

“Well, we’ll see,” said the other, nodding sagaciously, “don’t make no noise, Jack.”

He set an example of silence himself, and aided by the mate, cast off the warps which held his unconscious visitors to their native town, and the wind being off the shore the little schooner drifted silently away from the quay.

The skipper went to the wheel, and the noise of the mate hauling on the jib brought a rough head out of the foc’sle, the owner of which, after a cry to his mates below, sprang up on deck and looked round in bewilderment.

“Stand by, there!” cried the skipper as the others came rushing on deck. “Shake ’em out.”

“Beggin’ your pardin’, sir,” said one of them with more politeness in his tones than he had ever used before, “but–“

“Stand by!” said the skipper.

“Now then!” shouted the mate sharply, “lively there! Lively with it!”

The men looked at each other helplessly and went to their posts as a scream of dismay arose from the fair beings below who, having just begun to realise their position, were coming on deck to try and improve it.

“What!” roared the skipper in pretended astonishment, “what! Gells aboard after all I said? It can’t be; I must be dreaming!”

“Take us back!” wailed the damsels, ignoring the sarcasm; “take us back, captain.”

“No, I can’t go back,” said the skipper. “You see what comes o’ disobedience, my gells. Lively there on that mains’l, d’ye hear?”

“We won’t do it again,” cried the girls, as the schooner came to the mouth of the harbour and they smelt the dark sea beyond. “Take us back.”

“It can’t be done,” said the skipper cheerfully.

“It’s agin the lor, sir,” said Ephraim Biddle solemnly.

“What! Taking my own ship out?” said the skipper in affected surprise. “How was I to know they were there? I’m not going back; ’tain’t likely. As they’ve made their beds, so they must lay on ’em.”

“They ain’t got no beds,” said George Scott hastily. “It ain’t fair to punish the gals for us, sir.”