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The Cabin Passenger
by [?]

The captain of the Fearless came on to the wharf in a manner more suggestive of deer-stalking than that of a prosaic shipmaster returning to his craft. He dodged round an empty van, lurked behind an empty barrel, flitted from that to a post, and finally from the interior of a steam crane peeped melodramatically on to the deck of his craft.

To the ordinary observer there was no cause for alarm. The decks were a bit slippery but not dangerous except to a novice; the hatches were on, and in the lighted galley the cook might be discovered moving about in a manner indicative of quiet security and an untroubled conscience.

With a last glance behind him the skipper descended from the crane and stepped lightly aboard.

“Hist,” said the cook, coming out quietly. “I’ve been watching for you to come.”

“Damned fine idea of watching you’ve got,” said the skipper irritably. “What is it?”

The cook jerked his thumb towards the cabin. “He’s down there,” he said in a hoarse whisper. “The mate said when you came aboard you was just to go and stand near the companion and whistle ‘God Save the Queen’ and he’ll come up to you to see what’s to be done.”

Whistle!” said the skipper, trying to moisten his parched lips with his tongue. “I couldn’t whistle just now to save my life.”

“The mate don’t know what to do, and that was to be the signal,” said the cook. “He’s darn there with him givin’ ‘im drink and amoosin’ ‘im.”

“Well, you go and whistle it,” said the skipper.

The cook wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “‘Ow does it go?” he inquired anxiously. “I never could remember toons.”

“Oh, go and tell Bill to do it!” said the skipper impatiently.

Summoned noiselessly by the cook, Bill came up from the forecastle, and on learning what was required of him pursed up his lips and started our noble anthem with a whistle of such richness and volume that the horrified skipper was almost deafened with it. It acted on the mate like a charm, and he came from below and closed Bill’s mouth, none too gently, with a hand which shook with excitement. Then, as quietly as possible, he closed the companion and secured the fastenings.

“He’s all right,” he said to the skipper breathlessly. “He’s a prisoner. He’s ‘ad four goes o’ whisky, an’ he seems inclined to sleep.”

“Who let him go down the cabin?” demanded the skipper angrily. “It’s a fine thing I can’t leave the ship for an hour or so but what I come back and find people sitting all round my cabin.”

“He let hisself darn,” said the cook, who saw a slight opening advantageous to himself in connection with a dish smashed the day before, “an’ I was that surprised, not to say alarmed, that I dropped the large dish and smashed it.”

“What did he say?” inquired the skipper.

“The blue one, I mean,” said the cook, who wanted that matter settled for good, “the one with the place at the end for the gravy to run into.”

“What did he say?” vociferated the skipper.

“‘E ses, ‘Ullo,’ he ses, ‘you’ve done it now, old man,'” replied the truthful cook.

The skipper turned a furious face to the mate.

“When the cook come up and told me,” said the mate, in answer, “I see at once what was up, so I went down and just talked to him clever like.”

“I should like to know what you said,” muttered the skipper.

“Well, if you think you can do better than I did you’d better go down and see him,” retorted the mate hotly. “After all, it’s you what ‘e come to see. He’s your visitor.”

“No offence, Bob,” said the skipper. “I didn’t mean nothing.”

“I don’t know nothin’ o’ horse-racin’,” continued the mate, with an insufferable air, “and I never ‘ad no money troubles in my life, bein’ always brought up proper at ‘ome and warned of what would ‘appen, but I know a sheriff’s officer when I see ‘im.”