The Little Skipper
A Son of a Sailor
G. Manville Fenn
London: Ernest Nister
New York: E. P. Dutton & Co.
Printed in Bavaria
The birds were singing their best one spring morning, and that means a great deal, for they can sing down in the New Forest on a sunny morning in May, and there was quite a chorus of joy to welcome the Skipper and Dot as they went out through the iron gate at the bottom of the garden.
The Skipper had on his last new suit of white duck, bound with blue, and his straw hat with the dark band bearing in gold letters "H.M.S. Flash"; a white plaited cord was round his waist, and a big pocket-knife dangled at his side. With his hat stuck back so as to show his curly brown hair, his blue and white collar over his shoulders, silk sailor-knot handkerchief, and his browned flushed face, he looked a thorough man-of-war's man.
Dot was in white and blue too—a bonnie-looking little girl of seven, dressed as if for a yachting trip, and as full of excitement as her nine-year-old brother, to whom she looked up as someone very big and strong, who would protect her from all the perils and dangers to which they might be exposed.
One must stop to say that "The Skipper," as his father always called him, was Bob, otherwise Robert Trevor; and Dot, so nick-named for reasons plain to see, was by rights Dorothy, and they had that morning been excused from lessons, because Captain Trevor had sent a message from Portsmouth that he was going to run over to lunch.
Mrs. Trevor had said a few words to the Skipper before they started about taking care, to which he replied rather importantly, "Of course, Ma," and about keeping his fresh suit clean; but Mrs. Trevor said nothing to Dot, because, there was no need, for she was about the most prim, neat little creature that ever lived. And, now she paced along by her brother's side, carrying two sticks with iron hooks at their ends, with which she walked in her precise measured way, as if they were wands, while the Skipper carried the "Flash."
Now, the "Flash" was supposed to be a correct model of the big despatch boat commanded by Captain Trevor, but, it was very far from perfect, and no one knew this better than its owner. For Captain Trevor's beautifully swift gun-boat had three funnels amidships, and powerful engines, while the Skipper's model, though it had sails that sent it swiftly through the water when there was a breeze, had a great deal of make-believe about it, the funnels being only pieces of zinc pipe tacked to the deck, the engines, the works of an old clock that would not go, placed in a cigar-box; the boiler, which was just under the funnels, a tin canister; and the furnace a small lamp that had once belonged to a magic lanthorn, the whole having been fitted neatly into the model by Tom Jeffs, coxswain of the captain's gig, a very big ugly sailor, who took his orders seriously and worked under the Skipper's directions. When the lamp was lighted, as the Skipper said, nobody could tell, for when the water in the tin boiled, the steam came out of the funnels, and when the wind blew, it was almost as good as having real engines.
Tom Jeffs looked very serious over the work, and shook his head a great deal when it was done.
"You see," he said, "the steam looks right as right, but you don't get no help from these engines, because it's no use to them. The vessel has to carry the weight, and the screw stops her way. I shall have to make you a real engine someday;" but "some day" had not yet come, though the Skipper did not forget to ask Tom about it every time he came back from a voyage, Tom Jeffs being his name, though the Skipper always called him "Jack Robinson," because he said he seemed so much like the sailor in a song he used to sing.
It was not far through the fir-trees. You could see the water glittering in the sunshine before you were half-way, but the Skipper had to stop twice.
"There's a nest up that tree," he said. "Wood-pigeon's. I could climb up there."
"See how dirty it would make your clothes," cried Dot.
"Well, they could be washed," said her brother, in his lordly way. But he thought better of the climbing, and they went on, with their feet slipping in the fir-needles, till Dot dropped one of the sticks she carried and caught at her brother's arm.
"What's that?" she whispered.
"Bird: woodpecker tapping. There it is again."
For a sharp sound was heard from close at hand, and directly after they caught sight of the little fellow that made the noise—a bright-looking bird with black and white markings and some scarlet feathers about its head.
The next minute it flew to another tree, and Dot picked up the stick she had dropped, and followed her brother out of the shady grove into the sunshine, to stand on the sandy shore of the beautiful lake of clear water, from which their home took its name of "The Pool House." One side of the broad piece of water was sheltered by fir-trees, but the other was open, and from where they stood they could look right across it to the deep blue sea.
"Can you see Papa's ship, Bob?" asked Dot.
"Of course you can't," cried the boy laughingly; "it's miles and miles away, at Portsmouth."
"Well, can't you see Portsmouth?" asked Dot.
"Of course not—without Pa's big telescope that he has on board."
The Skipper set down his ship in the sand, trimmed the sails a little, took out the boiler and half filled it with water, put it back, and took a box of matches from his pocket; Dot looking on with a face screwed up, from the interest she took in the business. Then a match was struck, while she held the straw hat to shelter the flame; and kneeling there, with the model's keel buried deep in the sand, the Skipper lit the lamp, but not without scorching the foresail a little.
The next minute the "Flash" was launched, but remained aground in the shallow water.
Dot knew her business, though, and handed her brother one of the sticks, with which he reached out and gave the vessel a good push, that sent it into deep water, where the light breeze filled out the sails, and away went the "Flash" toward the other side, while the two children started off to walk round past the penstock where the water was so deep, and where, during the past year Captain Trevor had brought his son to teach him how to swim, giving him lessons until he had felt brave enough to run out along the boards, and jump, head first, right out into the water.
When he could do that without feeling afraid, diving down ever so far toward the sandy bottom, and, coming up again ready to shake his head and follow his father, Captain Trevor told him he could swim.
Bob liked it then, but he never told his father how frightened he used to feel at first.
They were approaching this penstock, which was really a great square pipe, made of thick boards nailed to posts, and with a sliding door at the end, which could be pulled up to let some of the water run out when the pool was too full, and as they reached it, while the little vessel was sailing away nearly as fast as they could walk, Bob ran out to the end of the wooden drain.
"Oh! do mind!" cried Dot.
"Oh, yes! I shall mind," said the boy importantly; "but what a bother it is that the steam doesn't come. We'll bring a bottle of boiling water out of the kitchen with us next time."
"Yes," said Dot; "that will be the best way."
"And I shall take off the hatch——"
"What's a hatch?" asked Dot.
"Oh! what silly things girls are!" said the Skipper.
"That they're not," cried Dot, "I know. Of course: it's that box lid you open in the floor."
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the Skipper boisterously. "Box lid in the floor! Why, it's the hatch; and it isn't the floor, it's the deck; and I shall take it off and fill the hold with little lumps of coal."
"Oh, yes! I know that. It's called the 'hold' because it holds so much."
The boy took no notice, but went on:—"And I must have a big gun, like there is in front of Pa's ship, and a powder-magazine."
"But you mustn't let it off," cried Dot.
"But I shall let it off, and you may run away. Oh! what silly things girls are!" and he began to return.
Dot was pouting because she was called silly, but her pretty little face grew animated with trouble the next moment, for the Skipper was walking backwards, so as to keep his eyes fixed upon his sailing-boat. "Oh! Bob, Bob, mind, or you'll tumble in."
"Hoo! hoo! hoo!" he cried, and began to stamp about, and pretended to stagger as if on the point of falling, while Dot screamed aloud in agony and turned white.
This was too much for the boy. He turned and ran back to her side, to catch her in his arms and kiss her.
"Oh, don't! don't cry, poor little old girl," he cried, kissing her wet face again, while she clung to him.
"You—you shouldn't, Bob," she sobbed. "You did frighten me so."
"And I was only pretending," he said soothingly, as he hugged her, and led her along the sand, with his arm about her little waist.
"It—it did hurt, Bob," she sighed, with a smile beginning to struggle through the clouded face.
"There, I won't do so any more," he whispered lovingly, "and——"
"Ship ahoy!" came in a hearty shout, and with the steam just beginning to appear fairly from out of the funnel, the trouble was forgotten.
"Here's Pa come!" cried the boy, and he set off to run.
"Oh, Bob! please," came after him plaintively, and the Skipper turned and hurried back, to catch his sister's hand.
"Now then, fast as you can!" he panted. "I'll help you. Run!"
Before the two children had run far along the side of the lake, two figures appeared, coming along a path. The first, that of a handsome-looking officer in undress uniform; the other, that of a grim-looking sailor, carrying a basket in one hand and a couple of large brown-paper packages, tied together, in the other. But, he did not look quite grim, for somewhere about the middle of a great cocoanut-coloured beard his big white teeth could be seen, showing that he was smiling: and higher up still, just above the top of the beard, which was divided by a brown nose, two squeezed-up eyes were twinkling in the sunshine.
"Skipper, ahoy!" cried the officer, as the boy loosed his hold of his sister's hand, made a running jump, and was caught, hugged, and set down again. "Ah! my precious little woman," came next, and Dot was lifted from the ground, and her arms went round the Captain's neck, as she nestled to him and kissed him again and again.
"Why, hullo! little woman," he cried. "Wet face—tears—crying—had a tumble?"
"Oh, no, Papa dear; it was—it was only—"
She stopped short, and coloured.
"Only what, my darling?"
"It was I," said the Skipper, flushing, but speaking out very bravely. "I frightened her—pretended I was going to tumble into the water."
"But he didn't think it would frighten me, Pa dear," cried Dot earnestly, "or he wouldn't have done it. Would you, Bob?"
"Yes," said the boy stolidly. "Did it on purpose to frighten you."
"How dare you!" cried Captain Trevor sternly. "This is pretty discipline. Have I not always told you that a big boy ought to be kind to his sister?"
"And because he's strong and ugly, because he's going some day to be a man, he ought to watch over and protect her."
"Yes, Pa," said the boy, his lip quivering, as he stared past his father at the big sailor, who was scowling and shaking his head at him fiercely.
"And now I come home for a few hours, expecting to see you all as happy as can be, I find my boy—no, I can't say my boy if you behave like this—has been as naughty as ever he could be."
"Oh, no, Pa," cried the Skipper, that is to say, nearly cried the Skipper, for his voice sounded a little shaky; "that's not half so naughty as I could be if I tried."
The Skipper stared in wonder, for as he said this, the big sailor suddenly uttered a peculiar sound, swung himself round with the bag and parcels flying out, and stood with his back to him, upon one leg, lifting the other up and down, with the toe just touching the ground from time to time.
As for Captain Trevor, the Skipper saw that he had squeezed his lips together, wrinkled up his face, and frowned heavily.
"Oh! please, Pa dear," whispered Dot, tightening her arms round his neck, "don't be cross with poor Bob. He was very sorry. Weren't you, Bob?"
"Yes, I was sorry," said the boy repentantly, but without taking his eyes off the big sailor, whose leg was still going up and down like one of the engines on board his father's ship.
"But I must be angry with him, my darling," said the Captain gravely. "Bob knows better; if he does such things now and does not check them, he will grow into a bully, and disgrace himself."
This was said at the Skipper, whose face was very red, from his efforts to keep back his tears.
"Oh! Pa dear!" cried Dot.
"Hush! my darling," said the Captain. "Here, Jeffs!"
"Ay, ay, sir!" roared the big sailor, as if he were speaking in a storm; and he swung round again, with his packages flying out, like the governor balls of the ship's engine.
"Did you bring that breech-loading cannon?"
"Ay, ay, sir!" said the sailor, holding up the hand which held the parcels.
"And the brass anchor?"
"Ay, ay, sir!" and the hand was lifted again.
"And I told you to buy a coil of well-laid cable."
"Ay, ay, sir!—best fishing-line. In my 'at, sir."
"Right then; you can take them back: they will not be wanted."
"Ay, ay, sir!" cried the man, but not so loudly and sharply; and he gazed now at the Skipper, who looked back at him in his misery; and strive how he would, he could not keep back one little tear, which squeezed itself out of his left eye and tickled his cheek very much, as it slowly ran down.
Poor little Dot was not so strong, but still she was brave, for she made no sound, while she hid her face and cried bitterly.
Meanwhile, the big sailor had faced about and was walking back, picking up his feet from the sand as if it were hot and burned him, while the Captain turned his back on his son and began to move off toward the fir-wood.
This gave the Skipper his opportunity too; he swung round to hide the tears that had beaten him, and would come trickling down.
For the boy in his misery and despair felt that he could not—thanks to his training—run to his father and beg for forgiveness, so that he might have the presents the Captain had brought for him. It would be so mean, he thought. But that cannon, and the anchor, and the ship's cable. It seemed more than he could bear.
The sand was very soft, and the Skipper would not have known that his father had come back, if Dot had not uttered a tiny sob, when the boy started round, to face his father's eyes.
"Not sulky, are you, Bob?"
The boy shook his head. He dared not try to speak.
"It was not right of my boy, was it?"
"No, father," whispered the boy.
"Shake hands, then."
The Skipper caught the firm brown hand in both of his, and clung to it tightly, and Dot began kissing her father with all her might. As soon as he could extricate himself, the Captain smiled and wiped his wet face, for Dot had been leaving little dewy tears all over it. Then he hailed the big sailor, who was out of sight among the trees.
"Ay, ay, sir!" came in a cheery roar, and the next minute he came into sight, trotting along at double quick march, and making the dry sand fly like smoke.
"Those ship's stores will be wanted to-day," said the Captain sharply; and he strode off into the fir-wood, with Dot in his arms, leaving his son to follow.
The Skipper turned his back again, so that the sailor should not see the trouble in his face, but he looked round in wonder, for there was a strange scuffling noise, the low whistling of the old tune "Jack Robinson," and there was the big sailor, with his arms swung across his breast, and the parcels dangling on the wrong side, going through the steps of the sailor's hornpipe, as if he were made of indiarubber; and kicking up the dust more than ever.
"Hooroar! Master Bob," he whispered huskily. "It's all right agen. Come on and let's get the ship, and I'll help you to hyste the tackle aboard as soon as we get up to the house."
The Skipper felt very uncomfortable when he reached home carrying his boat, for almost the first person he saw, was his mother, who met him in the hall, to catch him in her arms, without taking any notice of the big sailor, who saluted her, by pulling at a tuft of shaggy hair on his forehead, bending forward and kicking out one leg behind, before patting down his load.
"You can go in the kitchen, Jeffs," said the Captain, appearing at the drawing-room door, "and have your meal there."
"Ay, ay, sir!"
"There will be a portmanteau to take back with you, but, you can stay till the evening if you like. The boat will be at the stairs at seven."
"Ay, ay, sir!" said the sailor, saluting, and backing out, trying hard to catch the Skipper's eye; but the boy was watching his mother, for he saw that she had been crying.
"Father's been telling her," he said to himself; and he took the first opportunity of slipping away. But he had to come back when the big bell rang for early dinner, feeling very guilty, and longing to tell his mother that he was always going to be very brave and manly in the future, and never do anything wrong again. But, he had no chance, for soon after dinner, Mrs. Trevor, who looked very unhappy, told him to take Dot and go and play.
"Ah! yes, little ones," said the Captain gravely. "You can go, both of you, but don't go far away. I shall want to see all I can of you to-day."
Bob felt more uncomfortable still, as he reached the door, but, before he was outside, the Captain called him back. "I suppose you would like to have Jeffs to help you this afternoon?" he said quietly.
"Ye—es, please, Papa," said the boy.
"Very well. Fetch me those two parcels he brought."
Bob hurried out into the hall, closely followed by Dot, who said sagely, "You made Pa and Ma both cry by teasing me."
But the thought of the parcels chased away the trouble in the boy's heart, as he caught them up and ran with them into the drawing-room, followed by Dot, whose little face grew serious, when the parcels were opened, and found to contain little square boxes.
"Open them," said the Captain, while Mrs. Trevor stood beside them, biting her lower lip.
The boy's cheeks flushed, and his heart beat, for there, bright and new, were the things he had been longing for: a large metal model, carriage and all, of a breech-loading cannon, and a patent brass anchor.
"Oh, Pa!" he cried, half wild with joy.
"For someone who is always going to act like a man," said the Captain seriously, "and—ah! my little one, what a sad face!" he cried. "Did she think she was forgotten? Why! where's that basket, Jeffs brought?"
Dot needed no telling: she darted out of the room, to come back directly with her eves sparkling, and before the basket was open, she was upon her father's knee, laughing, and kissing his sad face, her mother directly after coming in for her share of caresses. For the basket was found to contain a long parcel and a box, the trembling little fingers having plenty of difficulty in tearing off the paper, to display a new doll, of wonderful construction, and an attractive-looking box of sweets.
"You spoil them, my dear;" said Mrs. Trevor sadly.
The Captain sighed as he said:—"I do not have much chance, love. There, it makes them happy. I don't spoil you; do I, Bob?"
"No, Pa," replied the boy quickly; and the scene by the lake came back, to make him feel guilty again.
"There, run along," cried the Captain; and the next minute all was forgotten, for there was so much to do.
"Jack Robinson" was waiting, ready to grin with pleasure as Dot rushed at him, to show him the new doll, which he was allowed to take in his hands, the child trembling and flushing a little, as she saw directly after, that there were tarry marks upon his palms; but, the dark drown did not come off.
Then "Jack Robinson" was turning over the gun and the anchor, after which, with a wink and grin, he drew a little coil of new fishing-line from out of his breast. "We shall be ship-shape now," he cried.
"Yes; come into our room," cried the Skipper. "You may come and see too, Dot;" and the next minute, they were in the play and school-room. There were plenty of expensive toys, but they were as nothing now beside the "Flash," which was placed on the table before Jack Robinson, who took his seat between the children, though the Skipper soon climbed from his chair, on to the table, where he sat, cross-legged, like a sailor making a sail, while Jack opened his big knife, to fit in the gun in its proper place, forward.
Just then the Skipper caught sight of Dot bending the new doll's legs to seat her on the table, and help see the proceedings.
In an instant the boy caught up the knife and held it out.
"Here, 'Jack,'" he cried, with mock ferocity, "get hold of that doll, and I'll cut off her head."
"Oh!" shrieked Dot, but her cry was smothered by the noise made by the sailor's fist, as he banged it down on the table.
"Avast!" he roared fiercely. "You put down that there jack-knife. Didn't the Cap'n say as you wasn't to tease your sister?"
"Oh, yes!" cried the boy; "I forgot. It was only my fun."
"Your fun!" cried the sailor, looking his ugliest. "Don't you cry, my pretty. If ever he teases you I'll mut'ny, and never help him to rig a boat agen. And look here: if he don't say he's sorry, I won't do this here."
"But I am sorry," cried the boy. "Oh, I say, Dot, don't be a little silly. I tell you it was only my fun."
"Your fun!" growled "Jack," passing his left arm round Dot, and looking very savage, as he held up a great rough finger at the offender, and shook his head at him warningly. "Now look-ye here. There was some boys once as stood round chuckin' stones at some frogs in a pond, and——"
"Yes, I know," cried the Skipper hastily, "and the frogs said—"
"Avast!" roared the sailor—"nay, I don't mean they said 'Avast,' that's what I says. Don't you int'rup' older folks, as is talking to you for your good. Mebbe you do know what the frogs said, but it won't hurt you to hear it agen. The frogs said—I mean croaked out—'Avast!'"
"Why! you told us the frogs didn't say 'Avast,'" cried the boy.
"Did I? Ay! so I did. It wasn't 'Avast'; it were 'Belay there! Don't do that,' they says. And then the boys said, just as you did, 'It was only my fun.' And then the frogs says: 'Ha!' they says, 'what's fun to you means stones come aboard and sinkin' us, and sendin' on us to the bottom.'"
"That they didn't!" cried the boy archly.
"Well, I don't say it was them werry words, but what they says meant it, and here you will come bringing your fun, as you calls it, on deck, and hurtin' your pretty little sister; and you calls yourself a man."
"I don't," said the boy. "I said I'd try and act like a man."
"Then why don't yer hack like a man?" cried the sailor. "You're a-gettin' on: some o' these days you'll be skipper of a big craft o' your own, and you promised I should be your bo'sun; and here you goes and hacks like that. Why! big as I am, I wouldn't go an' hurt a little thing like this, for a golden king's crown.—Would I, my pretty?"
"No, 'Jack,'" said Dot seriously; "I'm sure you wouldn't. And it's very cruel of Bob."
"That's right, my dear; so it is; and I just tell him if he don't stick to his word like a young gent should, him and me ain't going to be messmates no more."
The Skipper's conscience was very busy again, but, he wouldn't show his trouble, and, he tried to turn it off by saying rapidly—
"Won't do so any more—won't do so any more," three times.
"Don't sound to me as if you was sorry," growled the man. "I heered what your father says to you, and he knows, and he's the finest gentleman in all Her Majesty's Service. On'y wish I'd got such a father."
"What nonsense, 'Jack'!" cried the Skipper; "why! you're too big, isn't he, Dot?"
"Yes," said the girl, "he does seem to be very big to have a father."
"Well, I ain't a wery little un, am I, my pretty?" said the sailor, chuckling. "But, you allus mind, and do what your father tells you, Master Bob."
"Oh! do go on with the ship," cried the Skipper impatiently. "But, I say, did you always do what your father told you, 'Jack'?"
"Nay, that I didn't, and wery sorry I am," said the big fellow, shaking his head. "That's the wust on it; we gets to be sorry for things when it's too late; and I'm wery much afeard, Master Bob, as this here gun'll make the 'Flash' a bit crank."
"What's crank?" asked the boy.
"What you shore-going folks calls top-heavy; and that either means cutting down her rigging——"
"No, I won't have the rigging touched," cried Bob.
"Well, it would be a mortal shame, seeing how she sails, but you wouldn't like her to capsize."
"No; of course not."
"Then, I tell you what: you must put some little bags o' shot in her hold, to act as ballast, and then she'll be all right."
Then, apparently satisfied with the boy's promise of amendment, "Jack Robinson," otherwise Tom Jeffs, worked away at the model, till the gun was fixed amidships, and the anchor swung to her bows, the cable having been knotted on, and the neatly coiled rings placed inside a little hatch in front.
All this being finished, as a man-of-war's man does such things, the Skipper sprang down from the table. "Now, 'Jack,' come along!" he cried; "let's see how she'll sail." But, just then tea-time was announced, and in spite of a loud "Oh!" full of disappointment, the big sailor had to go into the kitchen and have his tea, the children's evening meal being ready too; and directly after, they were summoned to say good-bye to the coxswain, who had to go back. The Captain and Mrs. Trevor were in the hall when the former nodded shortly to his man, and went into the drawing-room, while the Skipper saw his mother slip something, that looked like a yellow sixpence, into the man's big hand.
"Good-bye, and thank you, Jeffs," she said hurriedly, and her voice sounded broken. "I pray that you may have a good voyage."
"Then we shall, ma'am, and bless and thank you, but there ain't no need for this."
"For all you have done for my children," said Bob's mother.
"For that, ma'am! Why, it's been holidays and holidays to come up here, and bless 'em too.—May I, ma'am?"
"Yes, please do," cried Mrs. Trevor, in a choking voice, and the man caught up Dot.
"Good-bye, my little dymond," he cried huskily.
"Good-bye, 'Jack.' Come and see us again soon," cried Dot, responding to his kiss, and tickling her little pinky nose with "Jack's" whiskers, for it was like kissing some loose cocoa-nut fibre.
"Good-bye, Master Robert," the man continued; and the Skipper shook hands with him, like a man.
"Good-bye, 'Jack': when are you coming again?"
The sailor looked at him with a peculiar expression of countenance, and was silent for a few moments.
"Next time," he said huskily, and, making a rough bow, he caught up a small portmanteau standing ready, and hurried out of the house, while the Skipper's mother bit her lower lip, hard, as she turned away, to hide her swimming eyes.
"What's Mamma crying for?" asked Dot.
"She wasn't crying," said the Skipper gloomily, but, he felt she was ready to do so, and he turned to go into the drawing-room, after opening the door a little way, feeling all the while that his mother's looks were all on account of his behaviour.
Just then the boy stood perfectly still, for there was a burst of pitiable sobs, and he heard his mother say, in answer to some whispered words of the Captain's—"I do try, dear, but it seems so hard, so very hard."
The next morning at breakfast the Skipper noticed that his mother looked as if she had been crying again, and the sight came like a chill over the boy.
"But she isn't very angry with me," he thought the next moment, for she kissed him eagerly. "It's only because she's sorry. I'm never going to make her unhappy again, though," he thought, as he went on to shake hands with his father.
"Morning, Bob," said the Captain, pressing his boy's hand hard, and then turning to Dot, whom he jumped up so as to kiss her lovingly.
That was a very dull breakfast, for the sad looks of Captain and Mrs. Trevor had their effect upon the young folks, who were glad to escape, at last, to their own room, where they stayed till about ten o'clock, when Mrs. Trevor came suddenly in, looking very pale.
"Come, my darlings," she said; "your poor father wants to see you."
She caught Dot's hand in hers and led her through the door, leaving poor Bob half stunned; for his mother seemed so strange to him, and he could not get the idea out of his head that this was all something to do with yesterday's trouble; but he could not find the words to ask, and so followed into the drawing-room, where Captain Trevor was looking very hard and stern, as he held out his hands to Dot, catching her in his arms and kissing her in a way that startled her.
Then taking out his watch, he glanced at it and thrust it back in his pocket, drawing himself up directly after, and looking harder than ever. His voice sounded strange too, as, without even glancing at his son, he said sharply:
"I have driven it too long. There is not a minute if I am to catch this train. Duty, my own. For pity's sake be firm, or you will unman me."
Bob saw his mother draw herself up, press her lips together, and knit her brows, as she nodded her head at her husband and took Dot, who looked frightened, from his arms.
"That's right," said the Captain sharply; "that's like my wife;" and placing his hands upon her arms, he bent down and kissed her on the forehead, turned and caught the boy's hand, wrung it hard, and strode out of the room.
The next moment they heard his step in the hall, and directly after on the gravel outside. In another moment he was passing the window, to turn and wave his hand, when, as Bob felt heartsick with the feeling of misery which attacked him, Dot, who felt that something dreadful was the matter, hid her face on her mother's shoulder and began to cry bitterly.
This had its good effect upon Mrs. Trevor, who began to kiss and soothe her.
"Hush, hush, my darling," she cried. "You must not cry, but help poor Mamma to try and bear it. You must help me to pray to God to watch over him and bring him back safely to us from that dreadful place."
These words unlocked the Skipper's silent tongue.
"What dreadful place?" he cried excitedly.
"Africa, my boy—the Gold Coast—the White Man's——"
Mrs. Trevor shuddered, and checked herself.
"Gone!" cried the boy again, with the feeling strong upon him that his father was still angry and had not forgiven him. And he had gone without a word. He had kissed Dot and her mother, but only just pressed his hand.
"Gone!" he said again.
"Yes, my boy," sobbed Mrs. Trevor. "But he is a sailor, and it is his duty to serve his country and his Queen. You, my boy, must——"
The poor Skipper heard no more. With a bitter cry he rushed out of the room, through the hall, and then along the path toward the swing gate, hatless and desperate.
"I must tell father how sorry I am," he panted—"he must bid me good-bye before he goes—I must—I must—tell him."
And then, setting his teeth hard, he ran at full speed to overtake the Captain; for he was too young to understand the workings of his gallant father's heart, and the agony he felt at parting, suddenly ordered, as he had been, to be ready to start that night on a voyage to a deadly part of the African coast—a place from which many who were sent never returned.
The Skipper ran as he had never run before. Through the gate and along the sandy road, but, before he had gone a hundred yards three rough-looking boys, who were out birds'-nesting, saw him coming, and, moved by the same mischievous feeling, formed across the road, yelling and hooting at him as he came on.
At another time the Skipper would have halted, and most likely have turned back; but he was desperate now, and if there had been a dozen boys there he would have done the same.
Clenching his fists tightly and setting his teeth harder, he charged at the biggest of the three, who was in the middle of the road, his eyes flashing as he ran. "Yah, hoo! Stop, thief! stop, thief!" yelled the boy, throwing out his arms. "Stop!"
The boy was rolling over in the dust. The Skipper had jumped over him, and heard him howling as he ran on; but Bob did not turn his head; he felt sure that he should see his father, as soon as he reached the corner where the High Road ran by in a perfectly straight line through the trees for a couple of miles, down hill and up hill, right past the station at the level crossing.
But the poor Skipper was wrong; he reached the corner and stopped dead, panting hard, for there, a good half-mile away, was the station fly, with a pair of horses going at a gallop so as to catch the train. He stood breathing hard, feeling half stunned, and at last, with head and arms hanging, he turned off the road on to the grassy border, following the path by which his father and Jeffs came the previous day, till he reached the lake with its sandy edge. Then he turned in among the fir-trees in a dull, half-stupid way, but had not gone many yards, before, utterly overcome by the misery he felt, he threw himself down, hid his face in his hands, and lay there sobbing as if his heart would break.
The poor Skipper did not know how time went: he could think of nothing but that his father had gone away still angry with him, and without bidding him good-bye; and he lay there, half stunned by his misery, till a gruff voice exclaimed: "Hullo! Master Bob! why, here you are, then. Bell's rung ever so long ago; they're looking for you everywhere, and your Ma's in a orful way."
The Skipper started to his feet, but with his head averted from the gardener, who was returning, after going home to his dinner; and setting off running, he made for the house, where he hurried upstairs, into his room, to bathe his swollen eyes.
Before he had finished, his mother was at the bed-room door, looking wild and anxious, but, the sight of the boy's swollen eyes convinced her, that he had only hidden himself away in the wood so that no one should see his tears; she said nothing, but kissed him tenderly, and waited till he was ready to go down.
All that afternoon the boy spent alone, thinking. When the bell rang for tea he was thinking still, but Mrs. Trevor thought it better not to interfere with him, and she only sighed, when she saw him take his hat and go down the garden again, toward the belt of fir-trees by the big pool. "He'll be better to-morrow, poor boy," she said to herself. "How bravely he tries to master it all—how proud his father would be, if he knew."
Poor Mrs. Trevor did not know the fresh grief in store for her, and the anxiety she would have to suffer, for the Skipper had made his plans at last; and that night was spent in horror and despair.
The Skipper looked quite two years older in the face, as he trudged along through the wood as fast as he could walk, thinking of what he was about to do, for it never once came into his young mind, that he was going to add to the pain his mother was already feeling; and with his mind quite made up, he went straight to the station, to find the boy clerk behind, waggling the handle of the telegraph.
"When's the next train?" asked the Skipper.
"Portsmouth," said the Skipper.
"Town or Harbour?"
"Where my father's ship is," said the Skipper.
"That's Harbour," said the boy clerk, grinning in recognition. "Going after the Captain?"
The Skipper nodded.
"First," said the Skipper, at a venture.
"Two and four, single," said the clerk, picking out a ticket from the rack, and stamping it, by sticking it in a noisy nick, before the would-be traveller could speak. When he could, it was with a bright shilling, given him at his father's last visit, a threepenny-piece, and twopence halfpenny, in his hand.
"Two and four," said the clerk again.
"I—I haven't enough."
"Well, we don't give credit here," said the clerk, laughing.
"If you please, I'll pay the rest when I come back."
"Hum!" said the clerk, "when are you coming back?"
"Then you want a return?"
"Yes," said the Skipper, nodding.
"Well, I oughtn't to give you credit. What are you going to Portsmouth for?"
The boy choked for a moment, and felt annoyed at the question.
"To say good-bye to my Papa before he goes. I must go directly, or he will be gone."
"But a return's ever so much more, squire."
"I'll be sure and pay you when I come back."
The clerk hesitated, but he knew that the young traveller lived at The Pool House, and that his father had gone by the mid-day train, so he said good-humouredly: "Look here; you'd better have a third return; that's two shillings, and you can pay me one, and give me the other to-morrow."
"Yes, please," cried the Skipper eagerly.
"Here she comes too," said the clerk, and he took the first-class ticket, juggled another in the stamping-machine, and dabbed it down through the pigeon-hole.
"Oh, thank you," cried the Skipper, snatching it up, and rushing towards the door.
"Hi! you haven't paid," shouted the clerk, and the boy ran back, with his face scarlet, to place his bright shilling on the little bracket.
"That's your sort," said the clerk; "don't you forget you owe me another." But the Skipper did not hear him, being half-way to the door, and then, ran panting out on to the platform, just as the train glided in.
The porter knew him, clipped his ticket, and he, being the only passenger from the little station, opened the carriage door, gave it a third-class bang, which, as everyone knows, is three times as loud as a first-class bang, and the next minute, with Bob's heart beating hard like the throbbing of the engine, the eventful journey began.
There was only one other passenger in his compartment, and he was asleep, but his presence was quite comforting to Bob, for he was a sailor, who had placed his canvas bag in a corner for a pillow, and was snoring loudly, with his mouth open, and his hat had fallen on the floor.
The Skipper sat watching the man for a few minutes, as the train rattled along, and then, got softly down, picked up the hat, and placed it on the seat in front of the man, noticing as he did so, that it bore on the riband "H.M.S. Taurus."
This was comforting too, and the boy felt as if he had met a friend; but the man slept on till the train slackened speed, and then pulled up with a jerk, while Bob was looking out, to read the name of the station.
Then he started round, for from the far corner the sailor shouted fiercely: "This Portsmouth?"
"No, sir, it's Pately," said the Skipper, in alarm.
"Ho!" grunted the man. "Mustn't miss my station," and he was settling himself down to sleep again, when, as he glanced at his fellow-traveller, he caught sight of the Skipper's rig-out.
"What cheer, messm't!" he cried boisterously. "Whither bound?" and his features expanded into a broad grin.
"Portsmouth," said the Skipper.
"Right you are, messm't. So'm I. What ship? 'Flash,' eh! My stars! You aren't a middy, are yer?"
"Not yet," said the boy; "but I'm going to be some day."
"Right you are," cried the man again; and Bob felt as if he should like to tell the man he ought to say, "You are right;" but the man went on, still looking him over from head to foot: "Then you aren't going to jyne the 'Flash'? she's a-lying out yonder."
"No," said the Skipper, "I am only going to see my father. He's the Captain."
To Bob's astonishment the man jumped up, pulled his forelock, and kicked out his right leg behind.
"Why didn't you say you was a orficer afore?" he cried. "Going to see your father, eh! Well, now, that is rum. I've just been to see my old mother at Ringwood, and going back to my ship—Old Bull."
"The what?" said Bob, who felt puzzled.
"Old Bull," said the man, picking up his cap and pointing to the letters on the riband; "Tore—hus means 'old bull,' you know."
"Oh, yes; I know now."
"That's your sort. How yer going to get aboard—boat waitin' for you?"
"Oh, no!" said Bob, looking at the man wistfully.
"Then you'll have to take one, and they're reg'lar sharks."
"Are they, sir?"
"Ay! that they are, my lad; they'll want a shilling to row you aboard, or perhaps as you're a orficer, like, they'll want two shillings."
Bob's heart sank.
"But thruppence is plenty, speshly as you ain't got no kit."
Bob's spirits rose again, and the man began to whistle a very doleful tune, but left off in a minute or two.
"Like holidays?" he said suddenly.
"Yes, very much."
"I don't," said the sailor, "goes home to see my old mother, and she don't want me to come away again. Says she shan't never see me no more if I go, but she allus does. This makes ten times in ten years I've been, since I went to sea. Awful old."
"Is she?" said the Skipper.
"Awful. Eighty-seven, and looks ninety. You'd like her."
"Yes, I suppose so," said the Skipper.
"Nicest old woman as ever was:—I say," he added, as if struck by a sudden thought, "how much money have you got?"
The Skipper told him, and the man laughed.
"More'n I have. Spent some, give the old ooman the rest. On'y got thruppence left. Look here: you and me's shipmets,—travellers. S'pose we jyne?"
"A ship?" faltered Bob.
"No! jyne in a boat. I'll work it: I'm bigger than you. We'll go down to the stairs together. 'Boat ahoy!' says I, and half a dozen'll want to take us, but I picks one and he'll want ever so much; but I says: 'Thruppence a-piece to our ships,' and tells him we won't pay no more. He'll be glad enough to go. Only a little way. Then I sets you aboard the 'Flash'; you gives me your thruppence, and I makes him take me to the Old Bull, and pays him then."
"Yes, that will be capital," said the Skipper.
"Right you are. Sailors allus helps a messmet. I helps you and you helps me, eh!"
"Yes, of course," said Bob.
"Well, I'm going to have a caulk till we gets to Portsmouth. Will you take the watch?"
"Ay! you won't go to sleep?"
"Oh, no!" said the Skipper; "I couldn't now."
"I could," said the man, grinning; "look-ye here."
He snuggled up in his corner, laid his head on his canvas bag, shut his eyes, and the next minute he snored his hat off, ready for his fellow-traveller to pick it up again, lay it on the seat, and then look out of the window as the train dawdled along, stopping at every station, a long time at a junction.
It was rapidly growing dark when they reached the harbour, the sailor sound asleep; and the Skipper had to shake him and shout in his ear:—
"Ay, ay," growled the sleepy sailor. "What's matter?"
"We're at Portsmouth."
"Right you are, mate," cried the man, jumping up and fumbling in his pocket for his pass, just as the ticket collector came up. Then, on they went a short distance; the train stopped again, and shivering with excitement, and fear, lest the "Flash" should have sailed, the Skipper alighted with his new friend, who shouldered his kit, and they walked off rapidly to the stairs.
Bob's eyes were wandering outward, in search of his father's vessel, which he had visited three times, but it was not lying where he saw it last, and his heart was sinking again, when his companion said sharply:
"There she lies; blue Peter up—just see it. Look at 'em hysting her lights. This way."
The sailor was wonderfully quick and business-like, now, and all fell out, as he had said, about the boatmen, one of them grumbling; but he did not refuse the job, and in ten minutes they were getting very close to the soft grey side of the "Flash," with the boy trembling still, for fear he should see it begin to glide away, before he could reach the side.
But there she still swung to the buoy as they came up, and the Marine sentry at the gangway challenged.
"Good-bye," said the Skipper, handing his threepenny piece to his travelling companion, "and I wish you a pleasant voyage."
The boat floated away into the darkness, and the Skipper ran up the steps, to where the sentry stood grinning, and puzzled as to whether he should call the officer of the watch to the familiar young visitor.
"Where's my father?" said the boy; "is he in his cabin?"
"Shore, at the Port Admiral's, sir," said the sentry.
Here was a disappointment; but it was something to have got on board in time, and the Skipper began to walk aft, while the Marine, taking it as a matter of course that the Captain's son should have come on board, resumed his watch.
There were not many men on deck, and they were all too busy to pay any heed to the boy, as he looked about, in vain, for the familiar figure, the coxswain. At last, he stopped a man carrying a lanthorn.
"Can you tell me where Jack Robinson is, please?"
"Who?" said the sailor, staring. "Ain't nobody o' that name here."
"I mean Tom Jeffs," said the Skipper hurriedly.
"Oh, him! Ashore with the gig, waiting to bring the skipper aboard."
Bob looked about again and finding himself close by, and knowing his way, he went nervously into his father's cabin, where a lamp hung beneath the sky-light, but it was turned down very low. The place was empty, and all seemed very dark and lonely, but he could hear the crew stumping about and making strange noises as if busy preparing to start. Then he started, for the steam whistle gave out a dismal shriek, and then there was a low hissing and humming noise, announcing that there was too heavy a pressure of steam.
The boy, after walking about the cabin a few times, sat down on one of the lockers, and the humming, buzzing noise of the escaping steam began to have a strange effect upon him. First he began to nod, and then he dropped off fast asleep, but started up again directly and began to walk about to try and keep awake.
But he was utterly worn out with the excitement he had gone through; the gloomy cabin was hot and close, and in spite of trying hard to keep awake, his eyelids grew more and more heavy, and at last, almost without knowing what he did, he crept to his father's berth, drew the curtain back, and threw himself down; the curtain dropped back across it, and the next minute he was sleeping soundly, with the dull, snorting, humming buzz of the escaping steam going on and mingling with his dreams.
After a time he had a faint consciousness of hearing voices in the cabin, where the lamp had been turned up. One of the voices seemed to be that of his father, and a faint quiver ran through him, while he felt as if he were in among the fir-trees, where the thick rope had been fixed up to two of the stems, and he was gently swinging to and fro. But it was not nice, for the movement made him feel giddy and strange. And then it was that Bob fancied he tried to stop the swing and sit still, but somehow it would not stop, and the feeling of giddiness increased.
It did not wake him up, though, and he slept on, knowing nothing about the Captain coming on board, with his latest despatches. Then the cable was unfastened from the buoy, the swift vessel began to glide along with the tide, which was running fast, and the Captain went up on the bridge, along with his chief officer. Every now and then a sharp sound like the striking of a clock was heard, these sounds being the striking of the little gong in the engine-room, where the engineer and his assistants were tending the bright machine, which sent the screw propeller whirling round, and making the water foam astern.
The Skipper slept on heavily while Captain Trevor stayed upon the bridge all night, with his chief officer and the pilot, the fast boat tearing through the heavy swell, which they entered as soon as they were out of the shelter of the Isle of Wight. For the Captain's orders were urgent, and he was to get right away at once.
"Good-bye, dear old home," said the Captain, as he stood on the bridge, feeling his ship quiver like a live thing as she raced along. For the last link which tied them to the shore, seemed to him to be broken, when the "Flash's" engines were stopped for the pilot to go down into his boat, which dropped astern into the darkness directly the gong sounded for the engines to go on ahead: and away she raced, once more, through the black darkness, with nothing to guide her upon her journey through the pathless sea, except a little flickering quivering needle—the sailor's companion the great world round—the friend which always, no matter where they may be, points with its tiny finger constantly to the north.
Towards morning Captain Trevor went down twice into his cabin, and the second time stayed for a few minutes, to drink the cup of tea his servant brought him; but he did not hear the breath of the sleeper in his berth, and he went up again to stay upon the bridge, for the weather promised to be hot and dull and hazy, and the Captain gave his orders to the navigating officers to keep on at a good speed, for, he said, he was afraid they would find fog in the mouth of the Channel, and he hoped to get out well to sea, before the sun was high.
Everything goes like clockwork on board a man-of-war, and just before breakfast-time Captain Trevor went down to his cabin to wash and prepare for the morning meal; he had hardly thrown off his coat, when, there was a faint sound in his berth, and, to his astonishment, the Skipper rolled out, bump! on to the floor, rose, staggered with his hands stretched out, and then, before his father could catch him, charged at the opposite bulkhead, and went down again.
For a few moments the Captain, in his wonder, could not speak. Then as the boy struggled to his knees, looking horribly white, he cried out angrily:
"Good gracious, boy, what are you doing here?"
Everything seemed to be swimming round poor Bob. Skipper! only a "land Skipper," who had "never been to sea," and he gazed speechless and imploringly up from his knees in his father's eyes, while the "Flash" felt as if it were going up—up—up into the skies, and then down—down—down—into the depths of the sea.
"You call, sir?" said a voice, and the Captain's neat-looking servant came to the door.
"Call? Yes! No! How came this boy here?"
"Boy, sir," said the man, gazing at the miserably limp little object before him.
"Yes, boy: my son. When did he come on board?"
"Dunno, sir. Didn't you bring him?"
"I? Absurd! That will do."
The man left the cabin, and seeing how ill the boy was, Captain Trevor lifted him up and laid him on a cushioned locker.
"How came you here, sir? What monkey's trick is this?" cried the Captain angrily.
"You—you did no—bid me good-bye," said the boy feebly, with his eyes half-closed. "I came because—you were angry with me—say good-bye."
"Tut—tut—tut—tut!" said the Captain.
"Please forgive me, father. I haven't eaten anything—I—I feel so sick."
"My poor boy!" muttered the Captain, as he grasped the meaning of it all, and his eyes turned a little dim. "There, there, Bob, it was all a mistake. I was not angry with you. Come, come, hold up," he cried, with a smile which made the boy cling to his hand. "You a Skipper, and can't stand a sea like this? But do you know where you are?"
The boy could not trust himself to speak, but he nodded and pointed down to the cabin floor.
"Here," said the Captain, looking puzzled. "Yes, you are here sir. Do you know what a muddle you've made?"
Poor Bob groaned, and his father scratched his head.
"No help for it," muttered the Captain. "Must put in at Mount's Bay. Tut—tut—tut—tut!"
The faintly heard sound of the gong made him look up sharply. The vibration ceased, for the propeller had ceased to revolve.
A glance through the cabin window explained why. The "Flash" had glided into a dense bank of dry fog, and the Captain could not see a yard beyond the panes of glass.
The next minute the cabin was filled with the dismal roaring of the fog-horn, to warn other vessels of their presence there, and, before a minute had elapsed, the Captain uttered a sharp ejaculation, and sprang to the cabin door, for a fresh roar sounded close at hand, telling that another ship was somewhere near. He rushed on deck, to hear a cry of horror raised by the watch, and the sharp tinging of the gong, for the engines to be turned astern.
Too late! For at the same moment, the huge prow of a great Atlantic liner appeared out of the fog, close at hand; there was a fearful crash, and Captain Trevor was thrown heavily down, as the "Flash" was struck amidships, and heeled over, as if the huge vessel that had struck her, were about to ride right over her, and send her to the bottom. But instead she scraped along her side, swept away two boats, and disappeared directly in the mist, with the dismal sound of the fog-horn dying away.
There was no confusion on board the "Flash"; every officer and man sprang to quarters, and after a few brief orders, all stood breathless, waiting for the report of the damage.
It was not long in coming. There was a terrible gap in the gun-boat's side, and Captain Trevor knew that, do all he might, she could only be kept afloat for an hour or so, before she sank.
For a few minutes the poor young Skipper was forgotten, in the stern duties before Captain Trevor, with so many lives depending upon him; then the father's heart spoke to him reproachfully, and he called for his coxswain.
Tom Jeffs towered up big out of the fog directly, saluting.
"Jeffs," said the Captain calmly, "get two life-belts. My little son is in the cabin. Whatever happens, stand by him. I trust him to you."
"Jack Robinson" opened his mouth, and stood as if turned to stone.
"You hear! Quick!" cried the Captain.
"Ay, ay, sir!" roared the man, and his voice was like a dismal groan. The "Flash's" head had been turned for the shore, and she was going at full speed for the Cornish coast, and, with the remaining boats ready for lowering, when necessary, the steam pumps going, and the men, under the first lieutenant's orders, toiling away, stretching sails over the terrible gap in the gun-boat's side, while the propeller spun round, to force her through the dense fog, in the hope that the nearest port might be reached.
Meanwhile, the coxswain had recovered a little from his stupor, and, armed with the life-belts, made his way to the cabin, where he found the Skipper, lying quite helpless on the floor.
"What cheer, my lad!" he cried, and his presence there, roused the boy at once; "feel a bit queery?"
"Yes; so ill, Jack," said the Skipper.
"On'y qualmy, my lad. Soon be better."
"Where's my father? Is anything the matter?"
"Oh, nothing much. Set o' lubbers shoved one o' them big 'ormous passenger boats aboard us, in the fog. Cap'n sent me to look arter you, and put this here on, but it's 'bout ten sizes too big. I shall have to cut it down. Manage it somehow, though."
"Is my father very angry with me for coming on board?" faltered Bob.
"Not a bit, my lad. Glad to see you, o' course," said the coxswain, who was busy at work altering the cords of the life-belt. "But he says you must go ashore again wi' me, and as there's rough weather ahead, you and me's got to wear these here."
"I don't think I feel quite so sick now, 'Jack,'" said the boy; the knowledge that his father was not angry, acting wonderfully upon him. "But, I say, 'Jack,' I can't move in this thing."
"Well, it is a bit ork'ard, my lad, but use is second natur'; and we'll take 'em off when we get ashore."
"But do sailors always wear these things in fogs?"
"Well, not quite allus, my lad. There you are now; makes you look quite 'ansum, if you didn't look quite so much like a young ellyfunt. Now I'll slip mine on, and we'll go on deck."
The next minute they were on the bridge, the coxswain looking upon that, as the proper place for his Captain's son. "Easily drop down to fust boat when they're going to shove off," said Jeffs, to the Captain.
Meanwhile all possible had been done, and with the swell, heavier as they neared the coast, the "Flash" tore on through the dense white mist, till the sound of breakers ahead, warned the Captain, that speed must be slackened, and the vessel's course a little changed; but, it was impossible to tell exactly where they were, for nothing was visible a dozen yards from the bows. Hardly had the course been changed, and the second officer despatched to see whether the vessel would keep afloat till the fog lifted, than there was a dull grinding sound, then a bump, a slow onward motion, and then those on board, were nearly taken off their feet by the sudden stoppage.
The "Flash" was fast on the rocks, and a wave struck her, came on board, and swept the deck.
Captain Trevor turned to look at the coxswain, who was standing making a piece of lead-line fast about the boy's waist, and gave the officer a nod. Then the orders were given, the first boat was manned, and Tom Jeffs looked at Captain Trevor for orders.
"Next boat," he said, and as the first was lowered, and floated off in safety, the second was filled, and once more the coxswain looked for his orders. "Wait for the other," said the Captain, who was afraid to let his son go in the crowd which filled the second.
He gave the order, and waiting their opportunity, without any hurry, the second lieutenant contrived to lower this boat, so that, when the next wave came, she floated away into the thick mist.
The first lieutenant now saw to the manning of the last boat, and for the third time the coxswain looked in his Captain's face for his orders, but still they did not come.
The Captain glanced round, but there was nothing, save the breaking waves sweeping over the deck, and the fog shutting all in.
"Quick, sir, please," shouted the first lieutenant.
"Yes, go now, Jeffs," said the Captain hoarsely, and he bent down and kissed his boy.
"After you, sir," said the coxswain.
"Go, sir, instantly!" roared the Captain.
"What! and leave you here?" cried the man. "Not me. It's mut'ny, but I won't desert my Captain."
Captain Trevor caught him by the hand. "To save my boy, Jeffs," he said hoarsely. "Man, I cannot desert my ship."
The coxswain looked puzzled, and hesitated.
"Quick, man!" roared the Captain. "Ah! too late!"
For a tremendous wave struck the side of the "Flash," swept over her, and deluged the boat, hanging from the other side, with spray; and when the veil of foam fell, she had disappeared, and the three left on the bridge, were all that remained.
The Skipper had stood watching all, with a scared white lace, but he had not uttered a cry, for there were two people with him, in whom he had the firmest faith; and now, amidst the roaring of the waves, he stood, and listened to the angry scene which followed.
For Tom Jells had unfastened his life-belt.
"Put that on again, instantly!" cried the Captain.
"Can't, your honour. You ain't got one."
"You are a stronger and a better swimmer than I am, Jeffs. I beg and pray you, then—I do not order you—to save my child and take him to his mother. Tell her I did my duty to the last."
Tom Jeffs tied the life-belt on again, and said gruffly: "It's your orders, sir, and I'll do it if I live."
At that moment as if by magic the fog began to grow light towards the south. Then lighter still, and floated slowly eastward after the boats, leaving the "Flash" quite clear, with the breaking waves sparkling in the sun. In another five minutes, there was the shore, not a quarter of a mile away, with a broad beach of sand beneath the towering granite cliffs.
"Ah!" cried the Captain; "you can swim that, Jeffs?"
"I think so, sir."
"Then go right forward with him, watch for a heavy wave, and over with you."
The man nodded, and held out his great fist.
"You'll shake hands with me, sir?"
The Captain clasped his man's hand directly.
"You'll come too, sir?"
"Man, my arm is broken," said the Captain.
Jeff stared at him in horror, and then, picked up the remains of the lead-line, and before the Captain could check him, he had lashed him fast to the rail of the bridge.
"I'm going to fetch a boat to take you off, sir," he cried; and he stooped down to pick up Bob, and go on to the fore part of the vessel; but in spite of the roar and confusion made by the water thundering about them, and drenching them, as every wave broke, the gallant little fellow had fully realised the terrible position in which they stood, and eluding the coxswain's grasp, he ran to his father, and clung to him.
"No, no," he cried; "I won't go. I'll stay with my father till you——"
"Spoke like a hero," cried Jeffs, "but orders must be obeyed, my lad," and seizing the little fellow round the waist, he ran down to the deck, then right to the bows, with his burden struggling and striking at him to escape. The next minute, he was up on the bulwark, and as a wave surged up, plunged overboard, rose directly well clear of the vessel on the rocks, looked back, to see the Captain on the bridge, and then, holding the boy's head well above the water with his left arm, struck out with his right, for the shore.
* * * * *
It was a hard fight to avoid the rocks, but the life-belts made the task easier, and Tom Jeffs swam and was carried on shore-ward, to where a dozen fishermen were on the look-out with ropes, one of whom ran in from the sands to the coxswain's help, and dragged him in to safety; but, in spite of all his efforts, the Skipper was insensible. He soon roused, to stand with Jeffs, watching his father, lashed to the bright brass handrail on the bridge.
"Get a boat, Jack; oh, get a boat," cried the boy.
"You be a man and listen, youngster," cried the coxswain tenderly, but firmly. "Hear what I says, and act like a man. These here, as knows the coast, says no boat could be launched now, but the tide's a-falling fast, and bimeby they'll go and fetch the skipper off—if she don't go to pieces fust," he added to himself.
"And take me too!" cried the boy wildly.
"Well, we'll see, my lad, but one on us o' course. But, Master Bob, do you know what you ought to do?"
"Save my father," panted the boy.
"But as you can't, my lad, ask Someone else."
And, as the boy looked wonderingly at him, Tom Jeffs said in a whisper: "Climb up yonder on the cliff, where Cap'n can see you, and no one else, and go down on your knees, my lad—you knows what for."
In three hours' time the sea had fallen so, that a fishing-lugger came round a headland from a mile farther west, to where the "Flash" lay fast wedged in a cleft, and amidst the cheers of the great crowd, now gathered, Captain Trevor was taken from his dangerous position, while the news was brought, that the three boats had reached the great bay to the east, without the loss of a man.
The next day at high tide, in a perfectly calm sea, the "Flash" was floated off, much injured, of course, but able to reach the harbour by the help of a tug. And when the time came for the Captain's trial, on the charge of losing the vessel under his command, and he stood there with his arm in a sling, his sword was returned to him by the President, who, in a long speech, said, that he had behaved as a seaman of whom the country might be proud. His ship was afloat again, and was waiting for its Captain, whom the Court considered in no way to blame.
"Just as if all them there bigwigs need ha' made all that fuss, Master Bob," said the coxswain one day when he was up at the house. "Why, if I'd ha' been the Adm'ral I should ha' just slapped the Cap'n on the shoulder and ha' said, 'It's a bad job, Cap'n Trevor, but the dock-yard folk'll soon put the "Flash" to rights, and, as soon as your fin feels fit, go down and take the command again.'"
"Of course, 'Jack,'" said the Skipper proudly. "It wasn't his fault a bit."
"O' course not, and it's been a lesson for you not to leave that there little darlin' sis o' yours again.'
"Yes, 'Jack,'" said the Skipper, turning away his flushed face.
"Well, you needn't be 'shamed o' doing wrong if so be as you're really sorry for it. But, I say, Master Bob."
"When you're growed up into a real big Cap'n, and we tries to save your life a-swimming ashore with you, don't you go for to punch me in the nose again, like you did that day."
"Oh, 'Jack,' I am so sorry," cried the Skipper, looking very red.
"Yes, but you punched me six times, two on the nose, one in each eye, one in the mouth, and once somewhere else; I forget now, but it hurt so I think it must ha' been on the nose."
"I'm afraid so, 'Jack,'" said the Skipper penitently.
"But I forgive you. I liked it."
"Bob, dear," said a pleasant voice from the drawing-room window, "mind that Mr. Jeffs does not go till he has had some dinner."
"All right, Ma," shouted the boy.
"And all right it is, my lad, for I was just feelin' as if it was time to pipe to mess. Ah, you're a lucky chap, Master Bob; what wouldn't I give to have a Ma like that?"