* * * * *
Jackson Pepper came from behind the coal-truck and watched the train out of sight, wondering in a dull, vague fashion what the conversation was like. He stood so long that a tender hearted porter, who had heard the news, made bold to come up and put a friendly hand on his shoulder.
“You’ll never see her again, Mr. Pepper,” he said sympathetically.
The ex-pilot turned and regarded him fixedly, and the last bit of spirit he was ever known to show flashed up in his face as he spoke.
“You’re a blamed idiot!” he said rudely.
A CASE OF DESERTION
The sun was just rising as the small tub-like steamer, or, to be more correct, steam-barge, the Bulldog, steamed past the sleeping town of Gravesend at a good six knots per hour.
There had been a little discussion on the way between her crew and the engineer, who, down in his grimy little engine-room, did his own stoking and everything else necessary. The crew, consisting of captain, mate, and boy, who were doing their first trip on a steamer, had been transferred at the last moment from their sailing-barge the Witch, and found to their discomfort that the engineer, who had not expected to sail so soon, was terribly and abusively drunk. Every moment he could spare from his engines he thrust the upper part of his body through the small hatchway, and rowed with his commander.
“Ahoy, bargee!” he shouted, popping up like a jack-in-the-box, after a brief cessation of hostilities.
“Don’t take no notice of ’im,” said the mate. “’E’s got a bottle of brandy down there, an’ he’s ’alf mad.”
“If I knew anything o’ them blessed engines,” growled the skipper, “I’d go and hit ’im over the head.”
“But you don’t,” said the mate, “and neither do I, so you’d better keep quiet.”
“You think you’re a fine feller,” continued the engineer, “standing up there an’ playing with that little wheel. You think you’re doing all the work. What’s the boy doing? Send him down to stoke.”
“Go down,” said the skipper, grinning with fury, and the boy reluctantly obeyed.
“You think,” said the engineer pathetically, after he had cuffed the boy’s head and dropped him down below by the scruff of his neck, “you think because I’ve got a black face I’m not a man. There’s many a hoily face ’ides a good ’art.”
“I don’t think nothing about it,” grunted the skipper; “you do your work, and I’ll do mine.”
“Don’t you give me none of your back answers,” bellowed the engineer, “’cos I won’t have ’em.”
The skipper shrugged his shoulders and exchanged glances with his sympathetic mate. “Wait till I get ’im ashore,” he murmured.
“The biler is wore out,” said the engineer, re-appearing after a hasty dive below. “It may bust at any moment.”
As though to confirm his words fearful sounds were heard proceeding from below.