My idea was to send her on a wild-goose chase, and while the Wild Rose was away I thought it out. I wrote a love-letter to the skipper signed with the name of “Dorothy,” and asked ’im to meet me at Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment at eight o’clock on Wednesday. I told ’im to look out for a tall girl (Mrs. Smithers was as short as they make ’em) with mischievous brown eyes, in a blue ’at with red roses on it.
I read it over careful, and arter marking it “Private,” twice in front and once on the back, I stuck it down so that it could be blown open a’most, and waited for the schooner to come back. Then I gave a van-boy twopence to ’and it to Mrs. Smithers, wot was sitting on the deck alone, and tell ’er it was a letter for Captain Smithers.
I was busy with a barge wot happened to be handy at the time, but I ’eard her say that she would take it and give it to ’im. When I peeped round she ’ad got the letter open and was leaning over the side to wind’ard trying to get ’er breath. Every now and then she’d give another look at the letter and open ’er mouth and gasp; but by and by she got calmer, and, arter putting it back in the envelope, she gave it a lick as though she was going to bite it, and stuck it down agin. Then she went off the wharf, and I’m blest if, five minutes arterwards, a young fellow didn’t come down to the ship with the same letter and ask for the skipper.
“Who gave it you?” ses the skipper, as soon as ’e could speak.
“A lady,” ses the young fellow.
The skipper waved ’im away, and then ’e walked up and down the deck like a man in a dream.
“Bad news?” I ses, looking up and catching ’is eye.
“No,” he ses, “no. Only a note about a couple o’ casks o’ soda.”
He stuffed the letter in ’is pocket and sat on the side smoking till his wife came back in five minutes’ time, smiling all over with good temper.
“It’s a nice evening,” she ses, “and I think I’ll just run over to Dalston and see my Cousin Joe.”
The skipper got up like a lamb and said he’d go and clean ’imself.
“You needn’t come if you feel tired,” she ses, smiling at ’im.
The skipper could ’ardly believe his ears.
“I do feel tired,” he ses. “I’ve had a heavy day, and I feel more like bed than anything else.”
“You turn in, then,” she ses. “I’ll be all right by myself.”
She went down and tidied herself up—not that it made much difference to ’er—and, arter patting him on the arm and giving me a stare that would ha’ made most men blink, she took herself off.
I was pretty busy that evening. Wot with shifting lighters from under the jetty and sweeping up, it was pretty near ha’-past seven afore I ’ad a minute I could call my own. I put down the broom at last, and was just thinking of stepping round to the Bull’s Head for a ’arf-pint when I see Cap’n Smithers come off the ship on to the wharf and walk to the gate.