It was a quarter to six in the morning as the mate of the sailing-barge Osprey came on deck and looked round for the master, who had been sleeping ashore and was somewhat overdue. Ten minutes passed before he appeared on the wharf, and the mate saw with surprise that he was leaning on the arm of a pretty girl of twenty, as he hobbled painfully down to the barge.
“Here you are then,” said the mate, his face clearing. “I began to think you weren’t coming.”
“I’m not,” said the skipper; “I’ve got the gout crool bad. My darter here’s going to take my place, an’ I’m going to take it easy in bed for a bit.”
“I’ll go an’ make it for you,” said the mate.
“I mean my bed at home,” said the skipper sharply. “I want good nursing an’ attention.”
The mate looked puzzled.
“But you don’t really mean to say this young lady is coming aboard instead of you?” he said.
“That’s just what I do mean,” said the skipper. “She knows as much about it as I do. She lived aboard with me until she was quite a big girl. You’ll take your orders from her. What are you whistling about? Can’t I do as I like about my own ship?”
“O’ course you can,” said the mate drily; “an’ I s’pose I can whistle if I like–I never heard no orders against it.”
“Gimme a kiss, Meg, an’ git aboard,” said the skipper, leaning on his stick and turning his cheek to his daughter, who obediently gave him a perfunctory kiss on the left eyebrow, and sprang lightly aboard the barge.
“Cast off,” said she, in a business-like manner, as she seized a boat- hook and pushed off from the jetty. “Ta ta, Dad, and go straight home, mind; the cab’s waiting.”
“Ay, ay, my dear,” said the proud father, his eye moistening with paternal pride as his daughter, throwing off her jacket, ran and assisted the mate with the sail. “Lord, what a fine boy she would have made!”
He watched the barge until she was well under way, and then, waving his hand to his daughter, crawled slowly back to the cab; and, being to a certain extent a believer in homeopathy, treated his complaint with a glass of rum.
“I’m sorry your father’s so bad, miss,” said the mate, who was still somewhat dazed by the recent proceedings, as the girl came up and took the wheel from him. “He was complaining a goodish bit all the way up.”
“A wilful man must have his way,” said Miss Cringle, with a shake of her head. “It’s no good me saying anything, because directly my back’s turned he has his own way again.”
The mate shook his head despondently.
“You’d better get your bedding up and make your arrangements forward,” said the new skipper presently. There was a look of indulgent admiration in the mate’s eye, and she thought it necessary to check it.
“All right,” said the other, “plenty of time for that; the river’s a little bit thick just now.”
“What do you mean?” inquired the girl hastily.
“Some o’ these things are not so careful as they might be,” said the mate, noting the ominous sparkle of her eye, “an’ they might scrape the paint off.”
“Look here, my lad,” said the new skipper grimly, “if you think you can steer better than me, you’d better keep it to yourself, that’s all. Now suppose you see about your bedding, as I said.”
The mate went, albeit he was rather surprised at himself for doing so, and hid his annoyance and confusion beneath the mattress which he brought up on his head. His job completed, he came aft again, and, sitting on the hatches, lit his pipe.
“This is just the weather for a pleasant cruise,” he said amiably, after a few whiffs. “You’ve chose a nice time for it.”