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The Cask Ashore
by [?]

“Oh?” Bill scratched his head. “Then we can’t–not very well.”

“Times an’ again I’ve heard Eli talk of his poor old mother,” said Mr. Jope, turning to the Parson. “Which you’ll hardly believe it, but though I knowed him for a West Country man, ’twas not till the last I larned what parish he hailed from. It happened very curiously. Bill, rout up A. Grigg and Son, an’ fetch him forra’d here to listen. You’ll find the tools underneath him in the stern-sheets.”

Bill obeyed, and possessing himself of hammer and chisel lounged off to the shore. The little barber drew near, and stood at Mr. Jope’s elbow. His face wore an unhealthy pallor, and he smelt potently of strong drink.

“Brandy it is,” apologised Mr. Jope, observing a slight contraction of the Parson’s nostril. “I reckoned ‘twould tauten him a bit for what’s ahead. . . . Well, as I was sayin’, it happened very curiously. This day fortnight we were beatin’ up an’ across the Bay o’ Biscay, after a four months’ to-an’-fro game in front of Toolon Harbour. Blowin’ fresh it was, an’ we makin’ pretty poor weather of it–the Vesoovius bein’ a powerful wet tub, an’ a slug at the best o’ times. ‘Tisn’ her fault, you understand: aboard a bombship everything’s got to be heavy–timbers, scantling, everything about her–to stand the concussion. What with this an’ her mortars, she sits pretty low; but to make up for it, what with all this dead weight, and bein’ short-sparred, she can carry all sail in a breeze that would surprise you. Well, sir, for two days she’d been carryin’ canvas that fairly smothered us, an’ Cap’n Crang not a man to care how we fared forra’d, so long as the water didn’ reach aft to his own quarters. But at last the First Lootenant, Mr. Wapshott, took pity on us, and–the Cap’n bein’ below, takin’ his nap after dinner–sends the crew o’ the maintop aloft to take a reef in the tops’le. Poor Eli was one. Whereby the men had scarcely reached the top afore Cap’n Crang comes up from his cabin an’ along the deck, not troublin’ to cast an eye aloft. Whereby he missed what was happenin’. Whereby he had just come abreast of the mainmast, when–sock at his very feet–there drops a man. ‘Twas Eli, that had missed his hold, an’ dropped somewhere on the back of his skull. ‘Hallo!’ says the Cap’n, ‘an’ where the devil might you come from?’ Eli heard it, poor fellow–an’ says he, as I lifted him, ‘If you please, sir, from Botusfleming, three miles t’other side of Saltash.’ ‘Then you’ve had a damn quick passage,’ answers Cap’n Crang, an’ turns on his heel.

“Well, sir, we all agreed the Cap’n might ha’ showed more feelin’, specially as poor Eli’d broke the base of his skull, an’ by eight bells handed in the number of his mess. Five or six of us talked it over, agreein’ as how ’twas hardly human, an’ Eli such a good fellow, too, let alone bein’ a decent seaman. Whereby the notion came to me that, as he’d come from Botusfieming–those bein’ his last words– back to Botusfleming he should go, an’ on that we cooked up a plan. Bill Adams being on duty in the sick-bay, there wasn’ no difficulty in sewin’ up a dummy in Eli’s place; an’ the dummy, sir, nex’ day we dooly committed to the deep, Cap’n Crang hisself readin’ the service. The real question was, what to do with Eli? Whereby, the purser and me bein’ friends, I goes to him an’ says, ‘Look here,’ I says, ‘we’ll be paid off in ten days or so, an’ there’s a trifle o’ prize-money, too. ‘What price’ll you sell us a cask o’ the ship’s rum–say a quarter-puncheon for choice?’ ‘What for?’ says he. ‘For shore-going purposes,’ says I. ‘Bill Adams an’ me got a use for it.’ ‘Well,’ says the purser–a decent chap, an’ by name Wilkins–‘I’m an honest man,’ says he, ‘an’ to oblige a friend you shall have it at store-valuation rate. An’ what’s more,’ said he, ‘I got the wind o’ your little game, an’ll do what I can to help it along; for I al’ays liked the deceased, an’ in my opinion Captain Crang behaved most unfeelin’. You tell Bill to bring the body to me, an’ there’ll be no more trouble about it till I hand you over the cask at Plymouth.’ Well, sir, the man was as good as his word. We smuggled the cask ashore last evenin’, an’ hid it in the woods this side o’ Mount Edgcumbe. This mornin’ we re-shipped it as you see. First along we intended no more than just to break the news to Eli’s mother, an’ hand him over to her; but Bill reckoned that to hand him over, cask an’ all, would look careless; for (as he said) ’twasn’ as if you could bury‘im in a cask. We allowed your Reverence would draw the line at that, though we hadn’ the pleasure o’ knowin’ you at the time.”