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R. AUSTIN FREEMAN & CLIFFORD PIERS

BY THE BLACK DEEP

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First published in the Windsor Magazine, May 1903

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2014
Produced by Colin Choat and Roy Glashan

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LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


I.

THE BLOCKADE OF BUENOS AYRES.
(Reuter's Special Service).
Barbadoes, June 1st.

The four-masted ship Jane and Elizabeth, with linseed from Buenos Ayres, put in here yesterday for stores and water, and sailed to-day for London, all well. She reported having successfully passed through the blockading fleet on the night of May 9th.


THUS the Daily Telegraph, and as the sun shone through the high office window, and flashed again from the tiny sample bottles of essential oils, it only heightened the dismal expression upon the face of Jenkinson Brothers. When people spoke of Jenkinson Brothers, the oldest established firm of drug merchants in Mincing Lane, they meant Josiah. Now, Josiah was ambitious, also he was young when he became the sole representative of the firm. The fluctuations of ipecacs and cumquats soon ceased to interest him; he forsook humdrum lines of business and wandered into crooked paths of speculation, until he now found himself the possessor of a seriously diminished credit and a capital which had almost ceased to exist. He had long meditated a bold stroke which should revive the sensitive plant of his credit and rob settling-day of some of its terrors, when the failure of the linseed crop of 1899 gave him his opportunity. Linseed, as a general rule, is not an article that can be cornered, but on this occasion everything conspired to render him assistance. A parasite, spreading with extraordinary rapidity from the East, had devastated the Russian crops, whilst a succession of typhoons in the Sundas and adjoining islands made short work of the large reserves which had been accumulated there. Men's eyes turned towards the New World. Argentina stepped into the breach, and every ship that had room on her manifest soon overflowed with the now precious seed; but before a single one could clear from Buenos Ayres a revolution broke out. The five-hundred-and-twentieth president took refuge in the city, and was there besieged by the Army, who had turned their general into the five-hundred-and-twenty-first; whilst the Navy, following the lead of the Army, declared for the insurgents and straightway blockaded the harbour.

It was now that Josiah, in daring mood, aspired to control the market. At first he bought cautiously and quietly; then, emboldened by success, with less and less caution, and as the price soared upwards he continued to buy, until at length the magnitude of the deal reached a figure that he trembled to contemplate. It was a small matter to him that the older men in the market looked askance at his operations; he was regarded with admiration by the smaller fry of speculators, and as they deferentially made way for him in the Lane, visions of a yacht, a country estate, and even—why not?—a seat in Parliament, floated before his eyes.

But these golden dreams were short-lived. On this particular morning of June, 1899, the price of linseed had beaten the record within the memory of the oldest broker. Already there were rumours of synthetical substitutes in the market. The crisis called for all Josiah's nerve, and he was about to commence the interesting zoological process known as "squeezing the bears" (in other words, to demand the impossible feat of delivering the seed of which he was the nominal purchaser), when his eye fell on Reuter's message; and as he read, the room swam round him.

"Captain Jenkinson to see you, sir."

At any other time Josiah would have replied with one of the numerous excuses which people find for invisibility to an impecunious relation, but at present he was too confused to do more than gaze stupidly at his visitor, who had followed close on the heels of the clerk, and took a chair without waiting to be invited.

Captain Jenkinson wore a beard trimmed in the naval style known as "torpedo-fashion," but his dress showed none of a sailor's neatness. On his jacket, some buttons were odd and some were missing, whilst the whole suit gave evidence of having suffered many things from the elements; his eyes were shaded by a cap from which the house badge had disappeared; his linen, what there was to be seen of it, was frayed and grubby; his boots were cracked, also he exhaled an atmosphere of rank cigars. Altogether, Captain Jenkinson presented an out-at-elbow appearance, as he sat regarding the drug merchant with a half-defiant, half-curious air. At length, feeling the silence oppressive—

"Jos," he said emphatically, "I'm stony broke!"

Josiah started and exclaimed irritably: "And a man who gets drunk on duty deserves to be!"—an amiable allusion to the captain's recent piling-up of a coasting tramp, with the consequent loss of his certificate.

"I suppose it's only by his own brother that a man need expect to be hit when he's down," growled the other. "But I say, Jos, I'm absolutely and completely broke."

"So am I!"

"You! Why, the Financial Blackmailer calls you a 'Napoleon of Finance!' I read it myself just now in the clerk's office."

"Napoleon be hanged!" was the testy reply. "Here, read that!" and Josiah pushed the newspaper across to his brother, pointing to the telegram from Barbadoes.

The captain read and re-read the paragraph, then laying it down: "Well, it reads all straightforward enough. What's the matter with it?"

"Matter enough!" retorted the drug merchant. "Why, this infernal Jane and Elizabeth will spoil the game I've been playing for the last three months. The price has dropped a few points already, and the moment she's sighted off the Lizard there'll be a slump in the market. Matter, indeed!" and he snorted contemptuously.

The derelict emitted a long, low whistle.

"Yes!" roared his brother, "you'll whistle for your grub soon, when I'm going through the Court."

The sailor rose and walked slowly up and down the small office. Then having opened the baize door and looked out, he shut it carefully and drew his chair close to the explosive Josiah.

"Jos," impressively, "that ship's got to be stopped!"

"Yes, yes! What's the use of saying that? Who's to do it?"

"Name the figure, and I'm the man."

"You, Sam?"

"Yes, your 'drunk-on-duty' brother." And as Josiah gasped with the effort to realise the situation, Sam continued: "Look here, I know these four-masters—two hundred knots the most you'll get out of them. From Barbadoes it's three-and-a-half thousand miles, more or less—that's a good twenty days' sail. When does it say she left? Ah! the first; so she can't pass the Lizard before the twentieth, and it's now the eighteenth. Well, how much shall we say?"

"Five hundred pounds?"

Sam laughed derisively.

"Say a thousand, then," suggested Josiah with a somewhat injured air.

"No! ten thousand, and dirt-cheap, too," was the firm reply; and as Josiah made a gesture of deprecation, Sam led his trump-card: "Do you think I'm going to risk penal servitude for nothing?"

"Penal servitude!" echoed Josiah faintly.

"Yes, Dartmoor bogs or Portland quarries!" And he chuckled, as Josiah visibly shivered. "Of course, if you're afraid, just say so, and there's an end of it; but it seems to me as if things had got pretty near the knuckle for both of us."

It was curious to see how exactly the positions of the two brothers had become reversed within the last few minutes. The "Napoleon of Finance," as the plan was unfolded, had grown palpably limper and flabbier. His brother, on the other hand, no longer diffident with the burden of a favour to be solicited, towered as it were above him. His back stiffened, as with sparkling eye he strode feverishly up and down the little room, the while he poured forth his scheme in a flood of technicalities of which Josiah only half grasped the meaning.


Illustration

"See, now! This is the river-mouth, with the North Foreland just here;" and with a pencil he rapidly sketched a chart of the Thames estuary on the newspaper. "She'll likely lie-to for her pilot and a tug in the Downs. Then she'll round the Foreland with the flood tide and come up the Edinburgh Channel. Here's the Edinburgh Channel—Edinburgh lightship at one end, Black Deep at the other, between the Shingles and the Long Sand. Proper course, s'far as I remember just now, is head for Black Deep light, leaving the Shingles on the port-hand. There's a beacon on the Shingles during the day, and a gas-buoy at night—gas-buoy flash and dark, what the Trinity House men call 'occulting.' Now, the flood tide on the fifteenth will run strongest about midnight—anyhow, that's near enough. Now, suppose that it should happen (mind, I only say suppose) that that gas-buoy had shifted half a mile south of its berth, when that four-masted hooker was about? Well, up she'll come on the top of the tide, and rounding the buoy, fetch up hard and fast on the Shingles. If her masts don't go there and then, with the flood tide running strong, and the least little bit of a wind from the north or nor'-east, it'll be as much as they can do to get the crew off before she breaks up, let alone the stuff she's carrying, for all their rockets and lifeboats. Well I know that bank!"

"Was that where you ran ashore before, and—?" commenced Josiah innocently.

The other turned on him savagely. His mouth was hard and there was a stiff look about the "torpedo" beard.

"You let that alone, now! Maybe I have been starving, and maybe you have chucked me a few odd sovereigns during the last year, and perhaps you've made me know it, too; but it's my turn now. You can't do without me, so you'd best be civil. If I'm to see this thing through, I've got to be boss, and don't you forget it! What's more, you've got to find some of the ready to go on with.

"How much do you want?" This very timidly.

"A fiver for exes, and another to get myself some decent slops, and three more of them for a boat."

Sam fingered the notes with the daintiness of one long a stranger to their crisp rustle, then, cramming them into his breast-pocket, exclaimed—

"As soon as I'm a bit decent, I'm off to Erith to hunt up any ship's lifeboat that's going cheap. I'll send you a wire to meet me at Margate to-morrow or next day; and if I want any more for exes, you've got to stand to it. Now, so long! Show a little pluck, man; and remember," his mouth hardened again, "we've got to sink or swim together—together, mind!"

Josiah's mental faculties had lost some of their poise during the march of recent events, but this unwonted phase of his brother's character, the shipmaster's resource, its tyranny, its brutality even, did little to restore their balance.

As Sam stood looking at him with a smile which had something of contempt in it, his hand resting on the door-knob, Josiah rose stiffly and tried to speak.

"Very well," was all he could find to say in return, and as the door closed behind the resuscitated plan of action, he unlocked a spirit-stand and helped himself with a trembling hand.

Meanwhile the sailor passed through the outer office, his jaunty air in such marked contrast to the diffident and almost timid order of his arrival as to cause much wonderment among the clerks. As he clattered down the stairs into Mincing Lane, a reminiscence of an old sea-air mingled with the noise of the traffic as it floated up through the half-opened window:—

"As I was going up Paradise Street;
With a heave-ho! Blow the man down!"


II.

THE small crowd of idlers who had stood upon the promenade which fronts the pleasant town of Deal, watching the manoeuvres of a small lug-rigged boat as it approached the shore, slowly dispersed when the little craft, having dropped her mainsail, grounded on the shingle, and her occupants leaped out and began to scramble up the steep, shelving beach.

The passengers were two in number, both elderly men and both distinguished by the nautical blue cloth caps which are commonly assumed for some unexplained reason by landsmen, even of the most terrestrial type, when they visit the neighbourhood of the sea. One of them carried, suspended from his forefinger, a string of infant whiting, while the other bore under his arm a well-worn naval telescope.

"Well, Jos," remarked he of the telescope, as the pair reached the summit of the beach and turned to gaze out across the Downs, where half-a-dozen coasters rode at anchor, "I'm glad to see that if you are a bit of a funker, you've at least got a sailor's gizzard. If you couldn't stand a bit of a swell, we should be regularly up a tree."

"I don't know what the deuce you mean by a funker," retorted the other sulkily. "Haven't I agreed to do all that you suggest, to risk my life and liberty in this accursed venture, and to pay you a fabulous sum for your part in it? Funker, indeed!" and he scowled malevolently at the dripping trophies of the angle that dangled from his finger.

"That's all right, old cock," responded the first speaker, whom the astute reader has doubtless recognised as our old friend Captain Jenkinson. "Don't you get your back up about nothing, but just you attend to my instructions. Now, you see, when you want to—hallo! what's this rounding the point there?" and the gallant captain, all on the alert in a moment, pointed his telescope at a dark speck enveloped in a cloud of smoke which had just made its appearance round the promontory.

"It's a tug," he remarked after a moment's scrutiny, "and she's got a tow rope astern—and here comes a—yes, by Jingo! it's a four-masted ship—that's her, Jos, that's our friend right enough."

"I suppose," said Josiah doubtfully, "she's not the only four-masted ship in the world, is she?"

"No, I suppose not," growled the captain, "but she's the only one that has passed Dungeness. However, we'll stroll down to the end of the pier, and then we shall be able to see her make her number. Let me see," he meditated, consulting an entry in his pocket-book, "B.T.L.W., I think it is—yes, that's right."

In half an hour the two vessels had reached the anchorage, the tall, stately ship, with her long, grey hull with its white streak and painted ports, her lofty masts, her long yards and intricate web of rigging, creeping along in the wake of the smoky, bumptious little tug; and just as the pair came abreast of Lloyd's station, a string of bright-coloured flags ran up and fluttered gaily from the ship's peak.

"B.T.L.W.," muttered the captain, removing his eyes from the telescope and peering triumphantly in his brother's drawn face. "What do you make of her?" he continued, addressing a jersey-clad sea-monster who was examining the vessel through a pocket-telescope. "She's a large vessel, isn't she? Comes from Australia, I suppose?"

The sea-monster closed his telescope deliberately and regarded the two brothers with that air of ineffable and contemptuous condescension which the 'longshoreman assumes when he addresses a denizen of the land.

"No, sir," he replied in a hoarse double-bass. "She ain't no Australian. She's the Jane and Elizabeth, four thousand tons register, from Buenos Ayres, with a cargo of linseed. Got enough linseed aboard of her, she has, for to poultice the entire population of Great Britain, sir. She ain't a fast ship, sir, d'ye understand—no, she ain't no clipper; but she's a whopper; she can carry some cargo—Lor'! she can take some stuff aboard, to be sure." Here the old man of the sea turned his back upon the two conspirators and resumed his telescopic observations.

"Come along, Jos," said the captain, "let's scoot for the station. There's just time for us to catch the five o'clock to Margate."


III.

"NOW, I call this very pleasant," said the captain genially, as he lolled on the stern locker of his newly purchased boat and gazed at the receding harbour and the long jetty, whence came faintly the sound of music across the water. "A good dinner inside, a good cigar, a fine, steady breeze and a tight, handy boat, not to speak of the prospect of unlimited dibs in the immediate future—what more could a man wish for, eh, Jos?"

Josiah Jenkinson sat bolt upright on the midship thwart, with an expression of the extremest dejection, grasping convulsively the fall of the mainsheet.

"I suppose this boat can be depended upon, Sam?" he asked wearily.

"Depended on!" explained the captain. "Why, she's got a double teak skin, and there's a copper air-case in each of the side lockers. Depended on! I tell you, man, she'll do anything but talk."

"Well, we don't want her to do that," observed Josiah, with a sour grin.

"No, we don't," chuckled Samuel. "By Jingo! what an evening it is! Just look at the sunset, my boy," and here the captain in the exuberance of his joy trolled forth in a sturdy bass voice—

"As I was walking down Paradise Street;
With a heave-ho! Blow the man down!
I met a young frigate so nice and so neat,
With a heave-ho! Blow the man down!


"By the way, Jos, as we have a little time to ourselves, we may as well rehearse the programme. You see, we're heading north-east, but we're actually travelling about north by west on the tide stream; and sailing as we are now, we shall make the buoy in about a couple of hours, by which time it'll be quite dark. Then we'll commence operations."

"Just explain to me again what your plan is," said Josiah.

"Why, you see, the Edinburgh Channel, through which our ship must pass, lies between the Long Sand to the north-east and the Shingle sands to the south-west. At the east end of the channel is the Edinburgh Channel lightship, and about a mile beyond the west end is the Black Deep lightship. The actual end of the channel is marked by the north-east Shingles gas-buoy, and as soon as the ship has fairly passed that she alters her course to the south'ard. Now, don't you see, if we can move that buoy to the south-east, our precious hooker will alter her course a trifle too soon and run slap on to the north edge of the Shingles, just near the North Beacon; and as she will probably run on just about high water flood tide, she won't be likely to get off in a hurry."

"But we can't move the buoy, can we?" protested Josiah.

"Of course we can't, you chuckle-head!" responded the captain impatiently. "Haven't I said so already? But what we can do is to put out her light and rig up a little light of our own in humble imitation, and this is how we've got to set to work. As soon as we get near the buoy, we take down our mainsail, and you work the boat alongside with the oars, and be mighty careful you don't bump her against the buoy and get stove in. Then I jump on to the buoy and hang on to the cage while I feel about for the gas-pipe, and as soon as I have found it I cut through it with this little brass-worker's saw and pull the ends apart.

"Out goes the light, and I hail you to come alongside again and take me off—and mind, while I am at work on the buoy, you keep at least five or six lengths away until I hail you, or you will certainly get stove in. Then we shall make our first appearance in public in the character of a gas-buoy, and please pay great attention to this, as you will probably have to work the light while I attend to the management of the boat. As we approach the buoy, you must study the character of its light. You will see that it appears to suddenly go out at regular intervals, or 'undergo occultation,' as the Trinity House people say. This is managed by a small metal screen which drops over the light, and is then raised again, by a kind of clockwork. This particular buoy has, I find, an occultation lasting two seconds, and the light is visible for six; that is to say, you can see the light for six seconds at a time, when it disappears for two seconds, then reappears for another six seconds, and so on. Now, my inventive genius has evolved a very simple arrangement which we may substitute for this complicated clockwork mechanism. In the stern locker you will find a common lantern and a still commoner chimney-pot hat. Before we dowse the glim of that jolly old buoy we shall light our lantern; then, when our friend appears in the offing, while I conduct the boat to a suitable spot (she won't want much management, for with this breeze she will drift just where I want her to go), you will hold the lantern in one hand and the pot-hat in the other. You pop the hat over the lantern and the light will be occulted; then you count two seconds and whisk off the hat, letting the light shine upon the face of the vasty deep. Count six seconds, and then clap on the hat again, and out she goes. Do you understand?"

"I understand," replied Josiah drearily.

"That's right. You clap on the hat, one—two—off. One—two—three—four—five—six—on. One—two—off, and so on. Sure you understand?"

"I understand," reiterated Josiah.

"Very well, then," returned the captain, and he proceeded to light a fresh cigar.

About two hours and a half from the time they left Margate found our two philanthropists but a few cables from the Edinburgh Channel lightship, at the flashing lantern of which Josiah gazed with the bewildered air of a somnambulistic owl, and another twenty minutes' sailing brought the boat close alongside the gas-buoy.

At this new apparition Josiah stared with a feeling of stupefaction; and even as he stared, the light vanished as if by magic, but before he had time to wonder at its disappearance, there it was again bobbing and jigging about like some peculiarly agile will-o'-the-wisp.

Josiah gazed at the light like one in a dream, and he found himself following its vanishings and reappearances involuntarily—one—two—off; one—two—three—four—five—six—on—over and over again. Presently he was sharply awakened by the rattle of the falling mainsail, as the captain let go the halyards, and then an oar was thrust into his hand as his brother called out—

"Come, pull yourself together, Jos, and help me to work her alongside the buoy, and don't forget what I told you to do; and while I am at work, you keep a bright lookout for the Jane and Elizabeth. Remember, the tug carries two white lights, one over the other, and you'll see both her coloured sidelights at once, and both the side-lights of the ship. Keep a good look-out with your glasses, and keep the boat clear of the buoy until you hear me call. Now, then, here we are."

Josiah had a momentary glimpse of a large dark object surmounted by a gleaming light, swaying about right over the boat. Then there was a grinding noise, and the next moment he saw his brother clinging to the great cage, while his voice came hoarsely out of the gloom.


Illustration

"Keep the boat clear!"

Josiah backed a few strokes and then sat down on a thwart, and while the boat drifted slowly he watched the light coming and going.

Soon a rasping sound reached his ear, growing gradually fainter as the boat drifted further from the buoy. Still the light kept vanishing and reappearing in its strange, disquieting fashion, until at length, after an occultation, it failed to appear again, and all around was formless gloom.

The captain's little saw had done its work.

Seized with a sudden terrible loneliness, Josiah plied the oars vigorously. But where was the buoy? In the black darkness nothing was visible but the winking light of the Edinburgh lightship and the more slowly repeated glare of the Black Deep.

The terrified merchant wrenched at the oars, shouting aloud his brother's name, and peering on all sides into the gloom.

Suddenly there was a crash, and Josiah, looking round, saw the great dark shape, no longer crowned with light, swinging about over the tossing boat.

"Sam!" he shouted. "Sam! aren't you ready to come off?"

But there was no reply.

"Sam!" screamed Josiah, trembling and sweating with a horrible dread, "what are you doing, Sam?"

Just then the pale full moon peeped momentarily out of a bank of clouds, revealing the painted checkers and the great cage, the bars of which stood out black against the dim sky.

There was no one on the buoy.

Josiah slipped off the thwart into the bottom of the boat, where, with his fingers twisted in his hair, he lay for a time alternately weeping and cursing. The pitching of the boat—which was kept head to wind and sea by her mizzen—rolled him about on the bottom boards as though he had been a half-filled sack, so that presently for very weariness he was fain to pull himself up on to a thwart, on which he sat staring moodily and dreamily into the darkness.

To do Josiah justice, he was not greatly affected by the sudden death of his brother; indeed, if that ancient mariner could have contrived to effect his decease under somewhat more opportune circumstances, it is even possible that the event might have been hailed by the "Napoleon of Finance" with some degree of relief. But to perish thus ingloriously while the plot was but half carried out—

Arrived at this point in his meditations, Josiah was recalled abruptly to the realities of the situation by a phenomenon the observation of which set his heart bounding and his limbs trembling. Away on the eastern horizon there had appeared two bright lights like fixed stars, one immediately above the other. Just below there was another pair, but side by side, one red and one green, while even as he watched them Josiah saw yet another pair of lights, also red and green, appear quite close to those he had first noticed.

The meaning of these lights could not be mistaken by Josiah after the captain's repeated explanations. Here, then, he thought, after all his trouble and distress, and all the risk he had faced, was this accursed ship freighted with ruin and disgrace for him, calmly heading for her destination while he sat, an idle spectator, to watch her pass. As he continued thus, with his gaze fixed upon the advancing lights, he was suddenly startled b the appearance of a tall, dark object which seemed to start out of the gloom and creep towards the boat. As it approached and slowly passed close by, he perceived that it was a lofty post or column apparently implanted in the water and surmounted by a great St. Andrew's cross. The astonishment with which he had viewed the apparition now gave place to a very different feeling. This strange, uncanny object was evidently the North Beacon of which his brother had spoken, and its presence, and the manner in which it had apparently swept by the boat, showed that the latter was drifting, as the captain had predicted it would, just in the direction in which it was wanted to go, and that it was still possible for Josiah to carry out his diabolical scheme.

As soon as he realised this, he commenced to take the necessary steps. The lantern was still burning in a box in the stern sheets, and beside it lay the hat. Having mixed and consumed a stiff jorum of whisky-and-water to steady his quivering nerves, he took up the lantern in one hand and the hat in the other, and suddenly held the former up towards the advancing vessels.

"One—two—three—four—five—six—on!" and the hat was slipped on over the light. "One—two—off!" and the light was once more uncovered.

"One—two—three—four—five—six—on!" and the light was again occulted, to reappear after another two seconds had been counted.

In tins way half an hour was consumed, Josiah's aching arm becoming more and more automatic in its action, while his senses became gradually dulled by a kind of auto-hypnotism.

By this time the starboard lights of the two vessels had vanished as the broadsides were presented to the boat, and Josiah had been obliged to creep round from the starboard side to the port bow to follow them as they passed westward. But they were very near now.

As the tug rolled, the light from her cabin skylights could be seen at intervals, and the churning of her paddles was distinctly audible to the wrecker in his boat, while from the ship there came down the wind the sound of a rollicking chorus mingled with the drone of an accordion. Evidently a forecastle concert was in progress.

Suddenly there was a report like the crack of a rifle, followed immediately by a rumbling crash. The chorus and the sound of the accordion ceased abruptly and were succeeded by a confused uproar of voices, above which could be heard a hollow roar as an officer shouted an order through a speaking-trumpet. Josiah crouched, breathless and shaking in the bow of the boat, staring at the twinkling lights, which had now begun to move about the ship, with a curious mixture of horror and satisfaction. He watched the tug round to and run alongside her consort, and presently he saw her port and masthead lights creeping away towards the Black Deep lightship. A few minutes afterwards the dark sky was rent by a streak of fire as a rocket soared up from the stranded ship. While the dull boom of its explosion was yet in his ears, and the sparks still floated aloft, the author of all the mischief felt his head swimming and his eyes growing dim, and he sank insensible into the bottom of the boat.

* * *

"AHOY, there!—anyone aboard that boat?"

Josiah sat up on the boat's floor, then pulled himself into a kneeling position so that his eyes were just above the gunwale.

A few yards away a small cutter-rigged smack was hove-to while her skipper hailed the boat. The dawn had broken grey and cold; a leaden sky hanging over a leaden sea, with a faint line of sombre grey far away in the south, furnished a prospect that was not inspiriting.

"Is it far to Margate?" inquired Josiah.

"Good ten moile," was the encouraging answer.


Illustration

"How long will it take me to get there?"

"How long?" repeated the man, with a faint grin, "why, yer won't never get there. You'll drift out to sea and die of starvation. Now look here! I'll tow yer right into Margate Harbour for foive barb—take it or leave it."

"Very well," said Josiah.

The man clawed at the boat with a long boat-hook and asked—

"Will yer stay in the boat or will yer come aboard us?"

Josiah stood up shivering and looked at the smack. From her grimy chimney a cheerful little cloud of blue smoke issued and wandered away to leeward, and a man whose head and shoulders protruded through the tiny companion-hatch was masticating deliberately, while he grasped in his hand a large blue mug containing something that steamed.

"I'll come aboard of you," said Josiah.


IV.

THE next morning Josiah's breach of his usual punctuality was the subject of some remark in the office. Indeed, it was nearly one o'clock when, considerably less neat and spruce than usual, he appeared and, passing to his room, rang for the senior clerk. Obeying with the morning's correspondence, he brought in the last yard unrolled from the tape-machine, and on this Josiah pounced with avidity. As the clerk was sorting the papers, an exclamation from the broker made him look up. Josiah was much agitated, and the tape performed strange gyrations in his hand as he held it out.

"Have I read this aright, Mr. Sales? What's the name of the ship?"

"The Jane and Elizabeth from Buenos Ayres passed Gravesend this morning," read Sales stolidly.

"Will you send out for an evening paper?"

Sales passed through the baize door and despatched a junior for the paper, which a boy was already crying in the streets. "Bring two while you're about it," he said, in view of Josiah's evident inability to tackle the morning's work at present.

He started to read with a languid interest until on the third page he saw—


SHIP ASHORE OFF MARGATE.
A Mysterious Sailor.

"Our Margate correspondent telegraphs: Early this morning, in response to signals from the Black Deep lightship, which is stationed at the head of the Edinburgh Channel (the usual route for ingoing vessels), the Margate lifeboat Quiver proceeded to the Shingles sand, when it was found that the American barque White Cloud, laden with hides from Rio, was fast ashore on the north edge. The captain and all hands were rescued, but all attempts at salvage have been fruitless.

(Later.)

The White Cloud was in tow at the time of the disaster, and when the cable parted from the violent shock with which she took the ground, the tug steamed off for assistance. No attempt was made to tow the ship off the bank, as it was evident, from the position in which she lay, that all efforts with that object would be useless, and it is feared that she will soon become a total wreck. It is conjectured that the gas-buoy, which was anchored in the fair-way to the north-east of the Shingles, had in some way become shifted, so leading the barque on to the sands. It is understood that the Trinity House authorities have been communicated with.

The tug, in returning to the scene of the wreck, picked up a man swimming near the Shingles in a very exhausted condition. He was at first supposed to be one of the crew of the White Cloud, who had probably fallen overboard when she grounded with so much force. But on being conveyed to the Margate depôt of the Shipwrecked Mariners' Society, he was not recognised by any of the rescued men. His underclothing was marked 'S. Jenkinson,' and from other indications he is believed to follow the sea. In spite of every care and attention, his condition, as a result of the cold and exposure he had evidently endured, remained too critical to allow him to afford any explanation of his presence in the water. This must, therefore, remain a mystery for the present.

* * *

LAZILY Sales began to wonder whether there could be any possible connection between the half-drowned sailor and his employer's brother, when he jumped and dropped the newspaper as a sharp report penetrated the baize door. He ran and knocked, but there was no answer; and when he tried the handle, the bolt was shot. The added weight of his two juniors made the door shiver, and with a more strenuous thrust it gave, and the doorway framed their white faces as they paused for the air to clear. Then as the smoke rolled into the outer office, Josiah was seen huddled, an invertebrate mass, across the desk, a revolver just dropping from his hand. A clean-punched hole between the eyes was the source of a little stream, splashed in darker red across the pink sheet of the newspaper.

Josiah had found his pluck at last.


THE END


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