W. W. (William Wymark) Jacobs.

The skipper's wooing, and The brown man's servant online

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The Skippers Woowg


Zhc Brown flfcan's Servant



Author of " Many Cargoes," &c.






































. 24


• 47


• 73


. 96


. 119


. 141




Chapter I. • • • • • I 55

II. * 6 7

III J 7&

IV. • l8 5



THE schooner Seamew, of London, Captain
Wilson master and owner, had just finished
loading at Northfleet with cement for Brittlesea.
Every inch of space was packed. Cement, exuded
from the cracks, imparted to the hairy faces of
honest seamen a ghastly appearance sadly out of
keeping with their characters, and even took its
place, disguised as thickening, among the multiple
ingredients of a sea- pie that was cooking for

It was not until the decks were washed and the
little schooner was once more presentable that the
mate gave a thought to his own toilet. It was a fine,
warm morning in May, and some of the cargo had
got into his hair and settled in streaks on his hot,
good-humoured face. The boy had brought aft a
wooden bucket filled with fair water, and placed
upon the hatch by its side a piece of yellow soap
and a towel. Upon these preparations the mate

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smiled pleasantly, and throwing off his shirt and
girding his loins with his braces, he bent over and
with much zestful splashing began his ablutions.

Twice did the ministering angel, who was not of
an age to be in any great concern about his own
toilet, change the water before the mate was
satisfied ; after which the latter, his face and neck
aglow with friction, descended to the cabin for a
change of raiment.

He did not appear on deck again until after
dinner, which, in the absence of the skipper, he ate
alone. The men, who had also dined, were lounging
forward, smoking, and the mate, having filled his
own pipe, sat down by himself and smoked in

" I'm keeping the skipper's dinner 'ot in a small
sorsepan, sir," said the cook, thrusting his head out
of the galley.

" All right," said the mate.

" It's a funny thing where the skipper gets to these
times," said the cook, addressing nobody in par-
ticular, but regarding the mate out of the corner of
his eye.

" Very rum," said the mate, who was affably in-
clined just then.

The cook came out of the galley, and, wiping his
wet hands on his dirty canvas trousers, drew near
and gazed in a troubled fashion ashore.

" 'E's the best cap'n I ever sailed under," he said


slowly. " Ain't it struck you, sir, he's been worried
like these 'ere last few trips? I told 'im as 'e was
goin' ashore as there was sea-pie for dinner, and 'e
ses, ' All right, Joe,' 'e ses, just as if I'd said boiled
beef and taters, or fine mornin', sir, or anythink like
that ! "

The mate shook his head, blew out a cloud of
smoke and watched it lazily as it disappeared.

"It strikes me as 'ow 'e's arter fresh cargo or
somethin'," said a stout old seaman who had joined
the cook. " Look 'ow 'e's dressing nowadays ! Why,
the cap'n of a steamer ain't smarter ! "

" Not so smart, Sam," said the remaining seaman,
who, encouraged by the peaceful aspect of the mate,
had also drawn near. " I don't think it's cargo he's
after, though — cement pays all right."

" It ain't cargo," said a small but confident voice.

" You clear out ! " said old Sam. " A boy o' your
age shovin' his spoke in when 'is elders is talkin' !
What next, I wonder ! "

"Where am I to clear to? I'm my own end of
the ship anyway," said the youth vindictively.

The men started to move, but it was too late. The
mate's latent sense of discipline was roused and he
jumped up in a fury.

" My ! " he said, " if there ain't the whole

blasted ship's company aft — every man Jack of 'em !
Come down in the cabin, gentlemen, come down and
have a drop of Hollands and a cigar apiece. All the


riffraff o' the foc'sle sitting aft and prattling about the
skipper like a parcel o' washerwomen. And smoking,

by ! smoking ! Well, when the skipper comes

aboard he'll have to get a fresh crew or a fresh mate.
I'm sick of it. Why, it might be a barge for all the
discipline that's kept ! The boy's the only sailor
among you."

He strode furiously up and down the deck; the
cook disappeared into the galley, and the two
seamen began to bustle about forward. The small
expert who had raised the storm, by no means
desirous of being caught in the tail of it, put his
pipe in his pocket and looked round for a job.

" Come here ! " said the mate sternly.

The boy came towards him.

" What was that you were saying about the
skipper ? " demanded the other.

" I said it wasn't cargo he was after," said

" Oh, a lot you know about it ! " said the mate.

Henry scratched his leg, but said nothing.

" A lot you know about it ! " repeated the mate in
rather a disappointed tone.

Henry scratched the other leg.

" Don't let me hear you talking about your superior
officer's affairs again," said the mate sharply. " Mind
that ! "

" No, sir," said the boy humbly. " It ain't my
business, o' course."


"What isn't your business?" said the mate carelessly.

" His," said Henry.

The mate turned away seething, and hearing a
chuckle from the galley, went over there and stared
at the cook — a wretched being with no control at all
over his feelings — for quite five minutes. In that
short space of time he discovered that the galley
was the dirtiest hole under the sun and the cook the
uncleanest person that ever handled food. He im-
parted his discoveries to the cook, and after reducing
him to a state of perspiring imbecility, turned round
and rated the men again. Having charged them with
insolence when they replied, and with sulkiness when
they kept silent, he went below, having secured a
complete victory, and the incensed seamen, after
making sure that he had no intention of returning,
went towards Henry to find fault with him.

"If you was my boy," said Sam, breathing heavily,
" I'd thrash you to within a inch of your life."

" If I was your boy I should drown myself," said
Henry very positively.

Henry's father had frequently had occasion to
remark that his son favoured his mother, and his
mother possessed a tongue which was famed through-
out Wapping, and obtained honourable mention in
distant Limehouse.

" You can't expect discipline aboard a ship where
the skipper won't let you 'it the boy," said Dick
moodily. " It's bad for 'im too."


" Don't you worry about me, my lads," said Henry
with offensive patronage. " I can take care of myself
all right. You ain't seen me come aboard so drunk
that I've tried to get down the foc'sle without shoving
the scuttle back. You never knew me to buy a bundle
o' forged pawn-tickets. You never "

" Listen to 'im," said Sam, growing purple. " I'll
be 'ung for 'im yet."

" If you ain't, I will," growled Dick, with whom
the matter of the pawn-tickets was a sore subject.

" Boy ! " yelled the mate, thrusting his head out
at the companion.

" Coming, sir ! " said Henry. " Sorry I can't stop
any longer," he said politely ; " but me an' the mate's
going to have a little chat."

" I'll have to get another ship," said Dick, watching
the small spindly figure as it backed down the com-
panion-ladder. " I never was on a ship afore where
the boy could do as he liked."

Sam shook his head and sighed. " It's the best
ship I was ever on, barrin' that," he said sternly.

" What'll 'e be like when he grows up ? " demanded
Dick, as he lost himself in the immensity of the
conjecture. "It ain't right t' the boy to let him go
on like that. One good hidin' a week would do 'im
good and us too."

Meantime the object of their care had reached
the cabin, and, leaning against the fireplace, awaited
the mate's pleasure.


" Where's the cap'n ? " demanded the latter, plun-
ging at once into the subject.

Henry turned and looked at the small clock.
" Walkin' up and down a street in Gravesend," he
said deliberately.

" Oh, you've got the second-sight, I s'pose," said
the mate reddening. " And what's he doing that
for ? "

" To see 'er come out," said the boy.
The mate restrained himself, but with difficulty.
" And what'll he do when she does come out ? " he

" Nothin'," replied the seer with conviction. " What
are you lookin' for?" he inquired, with a trace of
anxiety in his voice, as the mate rose from the
locker, and, raising the lid, began groping for some-
thing in the depths.

" Bit o' rope," was the reply.

" Well, what did yer ask me for ? " said Henry with
hasty tearfulness. " It's the truth. 'E won't do
nothin' ; 'e never does — only stares."

" D'you mean to say you ain't been gammoning
me ? " demanded the mate, seizing him by the

" Come and see for yourself," said Henry.
The mate released him, and stood eyeing him with
a puzzled expression as a thousand-and-one little
eccentricities on the part of the skipper suddenly
occurred to him.


" Go and make yourself tidy," he said sharply ;
" and mind if I find you've been doing me I'll flay
you alive."

The boy needed no second bidding. He dashed
up on deck and, heedless of the gibes of the crew,
began a toilet such as he had never before been
known to make within the memory of man.

" What's up, kiddy ? " inquired the cook, whose
curiosity became unbearable.

" Wot d'you mean ? " demanded Henry with

" Washin', and all that," said the cook, who was
a plain creature.

" Don't you ever wash yourself, you dirty pig ? "
said Henry elegantly. " I s'pose you think doin'
the cookin' keeps you clean, though."

The cook wrung his hands, and, unconscious of
plagiarism, told Sam he'd be 'ung for 'im.

" Me and the mate are goin' for a little stroll,
Sam," observed the youth as he struggled into his
jersey. " Keep your eyes open, and don't get into
mischief. You can give Slushy a 'and with the
sorsepans if you've got nothin' better to do. Don't
stand about idle."

The appearance of the mate impeded Sam's utter-
ance, and he stood silently by the others watching
the couple as they clambered ashore. It was noticed
that Henry carried his head very erect, but whether
this was due to the company he was keeping or the


spick-and-span appearance he made, they were unable
to determine.

" Easy — go easy," panted the mate, mopping his
red face with a handkerchief. " What are you in
such a hurry for ? "

" We shall be too late if we don't hurry," said
Henry ; " then you'll think I've been tellin'

The mate made no further protest, and at the same
rapid pace they walked on until they reached a quiet
road on the outskirts of Gravesend.

" There he is ! " said Henry triumphantly, as he
stopped and pointed up the road at the figure of a
man slowly pacing up and down. " She's at a little
school up at the other end. A teacher or somethin'.
Here they come."

As he spoke a small damsel with a satchel and a
roll of music issued from a house at the other end of
the road, the advanced guard of a small company
which in twos and threes now swarmed out and went
their various ways.

" Nice girls, some of 'em ! " said Henry, glancing
approvingly at them as they passed. " Oh, here she
comes ! I can't say I see much in her myself."

The mate looked up and regarded the girl as she
approached with considerable interest. He saw a
pretty girl with nice gray eyes and a flush, which
might be due to the master of the Seamew — who
was following at a respectful distance behind her —


trying to look unconcerned at this unexpected

" Halloa, Jack ! " he said carelessly.

" Halloa ! " said the mate, with a great attempt at
surprise. " Who'd ha' thought o' seeing you here ! "

The skipper, disdaining to reply to this hypocrisy
stared at Henry until an intelligent and friendly grin
faded slowly from that youth's face and left it expres-
sionless. " I've just been having a quiet stroll," he
said, slowly turning to the mate.

" Well, so long ! " said the latter, anxious to escape.

The other nodded, and turned to resume his quiet
stroll at a pace which made the mate hot to look at
him. " He'll have to look sharp if he's going to
catch her now," he said thoughtfully.

" He won't catch her," said Henry; "he never does
— leastways if he does he only passes and looks at her
out of the corner of his eye. He writes letters to her
of a night, but he never gives 'em to her."

" How do you know ? " demanded the other.

" Cos I look at 'im over his shoulder while I'm
puttin' things in the cupboard," said Henry.

The mate stopped and regarded his hopeful young
friend fixedly.

" I s'pose you look over my shoulder too, some-
times?" he suggested.

" You never write to anybody except your wife,"
said Henry carelessly, " or your mother. Leastways
I've never known you to."


" You'll come to a bad end, my lad," said the mate
thickly ; " that's what you'll do."

" What 'e does with 'em / can't think," continued
Henry, disregarding his future. " 'E don't give 'em
to 'er. Ain't got the pluck, I s'pose. Phew ! Ain't
it 'ot ! "

They had got down to the river again, and he
hesitated in front of a small beer-shop whose half-
open door and sanded floor offered a standing
invitation to passers-by.

" Could you do a bottle o' ginger-beer ? " inquired
the mate, attracted in his turn.

" No," said Henry shortly, " I couldn't. I don't
mind having what you're going to have."

The mate grinned, and, leading the way in, ordered
refreshment for two, exchanging a pleasant wink with
the proprietor as that humorist drew the lad's half-pint
in a quart pot.

" Ain't you goin' to blow the head off, sir?" inquired
the landlord as Henry, after glancing darkly into the
depths and nodding to the mate, buried his small face
in the pewter. " You'll get your moustache all mussed
up if you don't."

The boy withdrew his face, and, wiping his mouth
with the back of his hand, regarded the offender
closely. "So long as it don't turn it red I don't
mind," he said patiently, " and I don't think as *ow
your swipes would hurt anythin'."

He went out, followed by the mate, leaving the


landlord wiping down the counter with one hand
while he mechanically stroked his moustache with
the other. By the time a suitable retort occurred to
him the couple were out of earshot.


CAPTAIN WILSON, hot with the combined
effects of exercise and wrath, continued the
pursuit, but the pause to say sweet nothings to the
second in command was fatal to his success. He had
often before had occasion to comment ruefully upon
the pace of the quarry, and especially at such times
when he felt that he had strung his courage almost
up to speaking point. To-day he was just in time to
see her vanish into the front garden of a small house,
upon the door of which she knocked with expressive
vigour. She disappeared into the house just as he
reached the gate.

" Damn the mate ! " he said irritably — " and the
boy," he added, anxious to be strictly impartial.

He walked on aimlessly at a slow pace until the
houses ended and the road became a lane shaded with
tall trees and flanked by hawthorn hedges. Along
this he walked a little way, and then, nervously
fingering a note in his jacket pocket, retraced his steps.

" I'll see her and speak to her anyway," he muttered

" Here goes."



He walked slowly back to the house, and, with his
heart thumping, and a choking sensation in his throat,
walked up to the door and gave a little whisper of a
knock upon it. It was so faint that, after waiting a
considerable time, he concluded that it had not been
heard, and raised the knocker again. Then the door
opened suddenly, and the knocker, half detained in
his grasp, slipped from his fingers and fell with a
crash that made him tremble at his hardihood. An
elderly woman with white hair opened the door. She
repressed a start and looked at him inquiringly.

" Cap'n Jackson in ? " inquired the skipper, his
nerves thoroughly upset by the knocker.

" Who ? " said the other.

" Cap'n Jackson," repeated the skipper, reddening.

" There is no such man here," said the old woman.
" Are you sure it is Captain Jackson you want ? " she

" I'm — I'm not sure," said Wilson truthfully.

The old woman looked at him eagerly. "Will you
come in ? " she said slowly, and, without giving him
time to refuse, led the way into the small front room.
The skipper followed her with the conscience of a fox
invited into a poultry yard, and bringing up in the
doorway, gazed uncomfortably at the girl who had
risen at his entrance.

" This gentleman is inquiring for a Captain
Jackson," said the old woman, turning to the girl.
" I thought he — he doesn't seem quite sure whether


it is Captain Jackson he wants — he may bring news,"
she concluded incoherently.

"It's not likely, mother," said the girl, regarding
the adventurous mariner by no means favourably.
" There is no Captain Jackson here, sir."

" Have you been looking for him long ? " inquired
the mother.

"Years and years," said the other, forgetting

The old woman sighed sympathetically. " Won't
you sit down ? " she said.

" Thank you," said the skipper, and took the edge
of the sofa.

" You're not quite certain of the name ? " suggested
the girl coldly.

" It — it sounded like Jackson," murmured the
intruder in a small, modest voice. " It might
have been Blackson, or Dackson, or even Snackson
— I won't swear to it."

The old woman put her hand to her brow. " I
thought perhaps you might have brought me some
news of my poor husband," she said at length. " I
lost him some years ago, and when you came here
inquiring for a seafaring man I thought you might
somehow have brought news."

" You must see, mother, that this gentleman is
looking for somebody else," said the girl ; " you are
hindering him from finding Captain Jackson."

"If he's been looking for him for years," said the


old woman, bridling mildly, " a few minutes will not
make much difference."

" Certainly not," said Wilson, in a voice which he
tried in vain to make stronger. " When you say lost,
ma'am, you mean missing ? "

" Five years," said the old woman, shaking her
head and folding her hands in her lap. " How long
do you say you've been looking for Captain Jack-
son ? "

" Seven," said the skipper with a calmness which
surprised himself.

" And you haven't given up hope, I suppose ? "

" Not while life lasts," said the other, studying the

" That's the way I feel," said the old woman
energetically. " What a surprise it'll be when you
meet him ! "

" For both of them," said the girl.

" It's five years last May— the 20th of May,"
said the old woman, " since I last saw my poor hus-
band. He "

"It can't be of any interest to this gentleman,
mother," interposed the girl.

" I'm very much interested, ma'am," said the
skipper defiantly ; " besides, when I'm looking for
poor Jackson, who knows I mightn't run up against
the other."

" Ah ! who knows but what you might," said the
old woman. "There's one gentleman looking for


him now — Mr. Glover, my daughter's husband that
is to be."

There was a long pause, then the skipper, by dint
of combining his entire stock of Christianity and
politeness, found speech. " I hope he finds him,"
he said slowly.

" All that a man can do he's doing," said the old
lady. " He's a commercial traveller by trade, and he
gets about a great deal in the way of business."

" Have you tried advertising ? " inquired the
skipper, striving manfully to keep his interest up
to its former pitch.

The other shook her head and looked uneasily
at her daughter.

" It wouldn't be any good," she said in a low voice
— " it wouldn't be any good."

" Well, I don't want to pry into your business in
any way," said Wilson, " but I go into a good many
ports in the course of the year, and if you think it
would be any use my looking about I'll be pleased
and proud to do so, if you'll give me some idea of
who to look for."

The old lady fidgeted with all the manner of one
half desiring and half fearing to divulge a secret.

'You see we lost him in rather peculiar circum-
stances," she said, glancing uneasily at her daughter
again. " He "

" I don't want to know anything about that, you
know, ma'am," interposed the skipper gently.



" It would be no good advertising for my father,"
said the girl in her clear voice, " because he can
neither read nor write. He is a very passionate,
hasty man, and five years ago he struck a man down
and thought he had killed him. We have seen
nothing and heard nothing of him since."

" He must have been a strong man," commented
the skipper.

" He had something in his hand," said the girl,
bending low over her work. " But he didn't hurt
him really. The man was at work two days after,
and he bears him no ill-will at all."

" He might be anywhere," said the skipper, medi-

" He would be sure to be where there are ships,"
said the old lady ; "I'm certain of it. You see he
was captain of a ship himself a good many years,
and for one thing he couldn't live away from the
water, and for another it's the only way he has of
getting a living, poor man — unless he's gone to sea
again, which isn't likely."

" Coasting trade, I suppose ? " said the skipper,
glancing at two or three small craft which were
floating in oil round the walls.

The old lady nodded. " Those were his ships,"
she said, following his glance ; " but the painters
never could get the clouds to please him. I shouldn't
think there was a man in all England harder to
please with clouds than he was."


" What sort of looking man is he ? " inquired

" I'll get you a portrait," said the old lady, and she
rose and left the room.

The girl from her seat in the window by the
geraniums stitched on steadily. The skipper, anxious
to appear at his ease, coughed gently three times,
and was on the very verge of a remark — about the
weather — when she turned her head and became
absorbed in something outside. The skipper fell
to regarding the clouds again with even more dis-
favour than the missing captain himself could have

" That was taken just before he disappeared," said
the old lady, entering the room again and handing
him a photograph. " You can keep that."

The skipper took it and gazed intently at the like-
ness of a sturdy full-bearded man of about sixty.
Then he placed it carefully in his breast-pocket and
rose to his feet.

" And if I should happen to drop across him," he
said slowly, " what might his name be ? "

" Gething," said the old lady, " Captain Gething.
If you should see him, and would tell him that he
has nothing to fear, and that his wife and his daughter
Annis are dying to see him, you will have done what
I can never, never properly thank you for."

" I'll do my best," said the other warmly. " Good


He shook hands with the old woman, and then,
standing with his hands by his side, looked doubt-
fully at Annis.

" Good afternoon," she said cheerfully.

Mrs. Gething showed him to the door.

" Any time you are at Gravesend, captain, we shall
be pleased to see you and hear how you get on," she
said as she let him out.

The captain thanked her, pausing at the gate to
glance covertly at the window ; but the girl was
bending over her work again, and he walked away

Until he had reached his ship and was sitting
down to his belated dinner he had almost forgotten,
in the joyful excitement of having something to do
for Miss Gething, the fact that she was engaged to

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