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Young Robin Gray
by [?]

The good American barque Skyscraper was swinging at her moorings in the Clyde, off Bannock, ready for sea. But that good American barque–although owned in Baltimore–had not a plank of American timber in her hulk, nor a native American in her crew, and even her nautical “goodness” had been called into serious question by divers of that crew during her voyage, and answered more or less inconclusively with belaying-pins, marlin-spikes, and ropes’ ends at the hands of an Irish-American captain and a Dutch and Danish mate. So much so, that the mysterious powers of the American consul at St. Kentigern had been evoked to punish mutiny on the one hand, and battery and starvation on the other; both equally attested by manifestly false witness and subornation on each side. In the exercise of his functions the consul had opened and shut some jail doors, and otherwise effected the usual sullen and deceitful compromise, and his flag was now flying, on a final visit, from the stern sheets of a smart boat alongside. It was with a feeling of relief at the end of the interview that he at last lifted his head above an atmosphere of perjury and bilge-water and came on deck. The sun and wind were ruffling and glinting on the broadening river beyond the “measured mile”; a few gulls were wavering and dipping near the lee scuppers, and the sound of Sabbath bells, mellowed by a distance that secured immunity of conscience, came peacefully to his ear.

“Now that job’s over ye’ll be takin’ a partin’ dhrink,” suggested the captain.

The consul thought not. Certain incidents of “the job” were fresh in his memory, and he proposed to limit himself to his strict duty.

“You have some passengers, I see,” he said, pointing to a group of two men and a young girl, who had apparently just come aboard.

“Only wan; an engineer going out to Rio. Them’s just his friends seein’ him off, I’m thinkin’,” returned the captain, surveying them somewhat contemptuously.

The consul was a little disturbed. He wondered if the passenger knew anything of the quality and reputation of the ship to which he was entrusting his fortunes. But he was only a PASSENGER, and the consul’s functions–like those of the aloft-sitting cherub of nautical song–were restricted exclusively to looking after “Poor Jack.” However, he asked a few further questions, eliciting the fact that the stranger had already visited the ship with letters from the eminently respectable consignees at St. Kentigern, and contented himself with lingering near them. The young girl was accompanied by her father, a respectably rigid-looking middle-class tradesman, who, however, seemed to be more interested in the novelty of his surroundings than in the movements of his daughter and their departing friend. So it chanced that the consul re-entered the cabin–ostensibly in search of a missing glove, but really with the intention of seeing how the passenger was bestowed–just behind them. But to his great embarrassment he at once perceived that, owing to the obscurity of the apartment, they had not noticed him, and before he could withdraw, the man had passed his arm around the young girl’s half stiffened, yet half yielding figure.

“Only one, Ailsa,” he pleaded in a slow, serious voice, pathetic from the very absence of any youthful passion in it; “just one now. It’ll be gey lang before we meet again. Ye’ll not refuse me now.”

The young girl’s lips seemed to murmur some protest that, however, was lost in the beginning of a long and silent kiss.

The consul slipped out softly. His smile had died away. That unlooked-for touch of human weakness seemed to purify the stuffy and evil-reeking cabin, and the recollection of its brutal past to drop with a deck-load of iniquity behind him to the bottom of the Clyde. It is to be feared that in his unofficial moments he was inclined to be sentimental, and it seemed to him that the good ship Skyscraper henceforward carried an innocent freight not mentioned in her manifest, and that a gentle, ever-smiling figure, not entered on her books, had invisibly taken a place at her wheel.