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The Captain’s Exploit
by [?]

“The mate’s been at it again,” said the captain warmly, “that’s what he has. He’s done it afore and got left behind. Them what can’t stand drink, my man, shouldn’t take it, remember that.”

“He said we wasn’t going to sail till Wen’sday,” remarked the man, who found the captain’s attitude rather trying.

“He’ll get sacked, that’s what he’ll get,” said the captain warmly. “I shall report him as soon as I get ashore.”

The subject exhausted, the seaman returned to his work, and the captain continued steering in moody silence.

Slowly, slowly darkness gave way to light. The different portions of the craft, instead of all being blurred into one, took upon themselves shape, and stood out wet and distinct in the cold grey of the breaking day. But the lighter it became, the harder the skipper stared and rubbed his eyes, and looked from the deck to the flat marshy shore, and from the shore back to the deck again.

“Here, come here,” he cried, beckoning to one of the crew.

“Yessir,” said the man, advancing.

“There’s something in one of my eyes,” faltered the skipper. “I can’t see straight; everything seems mixed up. Now, speaking deliberate and without any hurry, which side o’ the ship do you say the cook’s galley’s on?”

“Starboard,” said the man promptly, eyeing him with astonishment.

“Starboard,” repeated the other softly. “He says starboard, and that’s what it seems to me. My lad, yesterday morning it was on the port side.”

The seaman received this astounding communication with calmness, but, as a slight concession to appearances, said “Lor!”

“And the water-cask,” said the skipper; “what colour is it?”

“Green,” said the man.

“Not white?” inquired the skipper, leaning heavily upon the wheel.

“Whitish-green,” said the man, who always believed in keeping in with his superior officers.

The captain swore at him.

By this time two or three of the crew who had over-heard part of the conversation had collected aft, and now stood in a small wondering knot before their strange captain.

“My lads,” said the latter, moistening his dry lips with his tongue, “I name no names–I don’t know ’em yet–and I cast no suspicions, but somebody has been painting up and altering this ‘ere craft, and twisting things about until a man ‘ud hardly know her. Now what’s the little game”

There was no answer, and the captain, who was seeing things clearer and clearer in the growing light, got paler and paler.

“I must be going crazy,” he muttered. “Is this the SMILING JANE, or am I dreaming?”

“It ain’t the SMILING JANE,” said one of the seamen; “leastways,” he added cautiously, “it wasn’t when I came aboard.”

“Not the SMILING JANE!” roared the skipper; “what is it, then?”

“Why, the MARY ANN,” chorused the astonished crew.

“My lads,” faltered the agonised captain after a long pause. “My lads–” He stopped and swallowed something in his throat. “I’ve been and brought away the wrong ship,” he continued with an effort; “that’s what I’ve done. I must have been bewitched.”

“Well, who’s having the little game now?” inquired a voice.

“Somebody else’ll be sacked as well as the mate,” said another.

“We must take her back,” said the captain, raising his voice to drown these mutterings. “Stand by there!”

The bewildered crew went to their posts, the captain gave his orders in a voice which had never been so subdued and mellow since it broke at the age of fourteen, and the Mary Ann took in sail, and, dropping her anchor, waited patiently for the turning of the tide.

* * * * * * *

The church bells in Wapping and Rotherhithe were just striking the hour of mid-day, though they were heard by few above the noisy din of workers on wharves and ships, as a short stout captain, and a mate with red whiskers and a pimply nose, stood up in a waterman’s boat in the centre of the river, and gazed at each other in blank astonishment.

“She’s gone, clean gone!” murmured the bewildered captain.

“Clean as a whistle,” said the mate. “The new hands must ha’ run away with her.”