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The Captain’s Exploit
by [?]

It was a wet, dreary night in that cheerless part of the great metropolis known as Wapping. The rain, which had been falling heavily for hours, still fell steadily on to the sloppy pavements and roads, and joining forces in the gutter, rushed impetuously to the nearest sewer. The two or three streets which had wedged themselves in between the docks and the river, and which, as a matter of fact, really comprise the beginning and end of Wapping, were deserted, except for a belated van crashing over the granite roads, or the chance form of a dock-labourer plodding doggedly along, with head bent in distaste for the rain, and hands sunk in trouser-pockets.

“Beastly night,” said Captain Bing, as he rolled out of the private bar of the “Sailor’s Friend,” and, ignoring the presence of the step, took a little hurried run across the pavement. “Not fit for a dog to be out in.”

He kicked, as he spoke, at a shivering cur which was looking in at the crack of the bar-door, with a hazy view of calling its attention to the matter, and then, pulling up the collar of his rough pea-jacket, stepped boldly out into the rain. Three or four minutes’ walk, or rather roll, brought him to a dark narrow passage, which ran between two houses to the water-side. By a slight tack to starboard at a critical moment he struck the channel safely, and followed it until it ended in a flight of old stone steps, half of which were under water.

“Where for?” inquired a man, starting up from a small penthouse formed of rough pieces of board.

“Schooner in the tier, Smiling Jane,” said the captain gruffly, as he stumbled clumsily into a boat and sat down in the stern. “Why don’t you have better seats in this ‘ere boat?”

“They’re there, if you’ll look for them,” said the waterman; “and you’ll find ’em easier sitting than that bucket.”

“Why don’t you put ’em where a man can see ’em?” inquired the captain, raising his voice a little.

The other opened his mouth to reply, but realising that it would lead to a long and utterly futile argument, contented himself with asking his fare to trim the boat better; and, pushing off from the steps, pulled strongly through the dark lumpy water. The tide was strong, so that they made but slow progress.

“When I was a young man,” said the fare with severity, “I’d ha’ pulled this boat across and back afore now.”

“When you was a young man,” said the man at the oars, who had a local reputation as a wit, “there wasn’t no boats; they was all Noah’s arks then.”

“Stow your gab,” said the captain, after a pause of deep thought.

The other, whose besetting sin was certainly not loquacity, ejected a thin stream of tobacco-juice over the side, spat on his hands, and continued his laborious work until a crowd of dark shapes, surmounted by a network of rigging, loomed up before them.

“Now, which is your little barge?” he inquired, tugging strongly to maintain his position against the fast-flowing tide.

“Smiling Jane” said his fare.

“Ah,” said the waterman, “Smiling Jane, is it? You sit there, cap’n, an’ I’ll row round all their sterns while you strike matches and look at the names. We’ll have quite a nice little evening.”

“There she is,” cried the captain, who was too muddled to notice the sarcasm; “there’s the little beauty. Steady, my lad.”

He reached out his hand as he spoke, and as the boat jarred violently against a small schooner, seized a rope which hung over the side, and, swaying to and fro, fumbled in his pocket for the fare.

“Steady, old boy,” said the waterman affectionately. He had just received twopence-halfpenny and a shilling by mistake for threepence. “Easy up the side. You ain’t such a pretty figger as you was when your old woman made such a bad bargain.”