“It’s for the boy’s sake,” interrupted the skipper.
“Where’d you pick him up?” inquired the other.
“He’s the son of a friend o’ mine what I’ve brought aboard to oblige,” replied the skipper. “He’s got a fancy for being a pirate, so just to oblige his father I told him we was a pirate. He wouldn’t have come if I hadn’t.”
“I’ll pirate him,” said the mate, rubbing his hands.
“He’s a dreadful ‘andful, by all accounts,” continued the other; “got his ‘ed stuffed full o’ these ‘ere penny dreadfuls till they’ve turned his brain almost. He started by being an Indian, and goin’ off on ‘is own with two other kids. When ‘e wanted to turn cannibal the other two objected, and gave ‘im in charge. After that he did a bit o’ burgling, and it cost ‘is old man no end o’ money to hush it up.”
“Well, what did you want him for?” grumbled the mate.
“I’m goin’ to knock the nonsense out of him,” said the skipper softly, as the boat grazed the side. “Just step for’ard and let the hands know what’s expected of ‘em. When we get to sea it won’t matter.”
The mate moved off grumbling, as the small fare stood on the thwarts and scrambled up over the side. The waterman passed up the chest, and dropping the coppers into his pocket, pushed off again without a word.
“Well, you’ve got here all right, Ralph?” said the skipper. “What do you think of her?”
“She’s a rakish-looking craft,” said the boy, looking round the dingy old tub with much satisfaction; “but where’s your arms?”
“Hush!” said the skipper, and laid his finger on his nose.
“Oh, all right,” said the youth testily, “but you might tell me.”
“You shall know all in good time,” said the skipper patiently, turning to the crew, who came shuffling up, masking broad grins with dirty palms.
“Here’s a new shipmate for you, my lads. He’s small, but he’s the right stuff.”
The newcomer drew himself up, and regarded the crew with some dissatisfaction. For desperadoes they looked far too good-tempered and prone to levity.
“What’s the matter with you, Jem Smithers?” inquired the skipper, scowling at a huge fair-haired man, who was laughing discordantly.
“I was thinkin’ o’ the last party I killed, sir,” said Jem, with sudden gravity. “I allers laugh when I think ‘ow he squealed.”
“You laugh too much,” said the other sternly, as he laid a hand on Ralph’s shoulder. “Take a lesson from this fine feller; he don’t laugh. He acts. Take ‘im down below an’ show him ‘is bunk.”
“Will you please to follow me, sir?” said Smithers, leading the way below. “I dessay you’ll find it a bit stuffy, but that’s owing to Bill Dobbs. A regler old sea-dog is Bill, always sleeps in ‘is clothes and never washes.”
“I don’t think the worse of him for that,” said Ralph, regarding the fermenting Dobbs kindly.
“You’d best keep a civil tongue in your ‘ed, my lad,” said Dobbs shortly.
“Never mind ‘im,” said Smithers cheerfully; “nobody takes any notice o’ old Dobbs. You can ‘it ‘im if you like. I won’t let him hurt you.”
“I don’t want to start by quarrelling,” said Ralph seriously.
“You’re afraid,” said Jem tauntingly; “you’ll never make one of us. ‘It ‘im; I won’t let him hurt you.”
Thus aroused, the boy, first directing Dobbs’ attention to his stomach by a curious duck of the head, much admired as a feint in his neighbourhood, struck him in the face. The next moment the forecastle was in an uproar and Ralph prostrate on Dobbs’ knees, frantically reminding Jem of his promise.
“All right, I won’t let him ‘urt you,” said Jem consolingly.
“But he is hurting me,” yelled the boy. “He’s hurting me now.”
“Well, wait till I get ‘im ashore,” said Jem, “his old woman won’t know him when I’ve done with him.”
The boy’s reply to this was a torrent of shrill abuse, principally directed to Jem’s facial shortcomings.
“Now don’t get rude,” said the seaman, grinning.