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The Captain’s Exploit
by [?]

The captain paused in his climb, and poising himself on one foot, gingerly felt for his tormentor’s head with the other Not finding it, he flung his leg over the bulwark, and gained the deck of the vessel as the boat swung round with the tide and disappeared in the darkness.

“All turned in,” said the captain, gazing owlishly at the deserted deck. “Well, there’s a good hour an’ a half afore we start; I’ll turn in too.”

He walked slowly aft, and sliding back the companion-hatch, descended into a small evil-smelling cabin, and stood feeling in the darkness for the matches. They were not to be found, and, growling profanely, he felt his way to the state-room, and turned in all standing.

It was still dark when he awoke, and hanging over the edge of the bunk, cautiously felt for the floor with his feet, and having found it, stood thoughtfully scratching his head, which seemed to have swollen to abnormal proportions.

“Time they were getting under weigh,” he said at length, and groping his way to the foot of the steps, he opened the door of what looked like a small pantry, but which was really the mate’s boudoir.

“Jem,” said the captain gruffly.

There was no reply, and jumping to the conclusion that he was above, the captain tumbled up the steps and gained the deck, which, as far as he could see, was in the same deserted condition as when he left it. Anxious to get some idea of the time, he staggered to the side and looked over. The tide was almost at the turn, and the steady clank, clank of neighbouring windlasses showed that other craft were just getting under weigh. A barge, its red light turning the water to blood, with a huge wall of dark sail, passed noiselessly by, the indistinct figure of a man leaning skilfully upon the tiller.

As these various signs of life and activity obtruded themselves upon the skipper of the Smiling Jane, his wrath rose higher and higher as he looked around the wet, deserted deck of his own little craft. Then he walked forward and thrust his head down the forecastle hatchway.

As he expected, there was a complete sleeping chorus below; the deep satisfied snoring of half-a-dozen seamen, who, regardless of the tide and their captain’s feelings, were slumbering sweetly, in blissful ignorance of all that the Lancet might say upon the twin subjects of overcrowding and ventilation.

“Below there, you lazy thieves!” roared the captain; “tumble up, tumble up!”

The snores stopped. “Ay, ay!” said a sleepy voice. “What’s the matter, master?”

“Matter!” repeated the other, choking violently. “Ain’t you going to sail to-night?”

“To-night!” said another voice, in surprise. “Why, I thought we wasn’t going to sail till Wen’sday.”

Not trusting himself to reply, so careful was he of the morals of his men, the skipper went and leaned over the side and communed with the silent water. In an incredibly short space of time five or six dusky figures pattered up on to the deck, and a minute or two later the harsh clank of the windlass echoed far and wide.

The captain took the wheel. A fat and very sleepy seaman put up the side-lights, and the little schooner, detaching itself by the aid of boat-hooks and fenders from the neighbouring craft, moved slowly down with the tide. The men, in response to the captain’s fervent orders, climbed aloft, and sail after sail was spread to the gentle breeze.

“Hi! you there,” cried the captain to one of the men who stood near him, coiling up some loose line.

“Sir?” said the man.

“Where is the mate?” inquired the captain.

“Man with red whiskers and pimply nose?” said the man interrogatively.

“That’s him to a hair,” answered the other.

“Ain’t seen him since he took me on at eleven,” said the man. “How many new hands are there?”

“I b’leeve we’re all fresh,” was the reply. “I don’t believe some of ’em have ever smelt salt water afore.”