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A Master Of Craft   By: (1863-1943)

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A MASTER OF CRAFT.

By W. W. JACOBS.

1899

CHAPTER I.

A pretty girl stood alone on the jetty of an old fashioned wharf at Wapping, looking down upon the silent deck of a schooner below. No smoke issued from the soot stained cowl of the galley, and the fore scuttle and the companion were both inhospitably closed. The quiet of evening was over everything, broken only by the whirr of the paddles of a passenger steamer as it passed carefully up the centre of the river, or the plash of a lighterman's huge sweep as he piloted his unwieldy craft down on the last remnant of the ebb tide. In shore, various craft sat lightly on the soft Thames mud: some sheeting a rigid uprightness, others with their decks at various angles of discomfort.

The girl stood a minute or two in thought, and put her small foot out tentatively towards the rigging some few feet distant. It was an awkward jump, and she was still considering it, when she heard footsteps behind, and a young man, increasing his pace as he saw her, came rapidly on to the jetty.

"This is the Foam , isn't it?" enquired the girl, as he stood expectantly. "I want to see Captain Flower."

"He went ashore about half an hour ago," said the other.

The girl tapped impatiently with her foot. "You don't know what time he'll be back, I suppose?" she enquired.

He shook his head. "I think he's gone for the evening," he said, pondering; "he was very careful about his dress."

The ghost of a smile trembled on the girl's lips. "He has gone to call for me," she said. "I must have missed him. I wonder what I'd better do."

"Wait here till he comes back," said the man, without hesitation.

The girl wavered. "I suppose, he'll guess I've come here," she said, thoughtfully.

"Sure to," said the other promptly.

"It's a long way to Poplar," she said, reflectively. "You're Mr. Fraser, the mate, I suppose? Captain Flower has spoken to me about you."

"That's my name," said the other.

"My name's Tyrell," said the girl, smiling. "I daresay you've heard Captain Flower mention it?"

"Must have done," said Fraser, slowly. He stood looking at the girl before him, at her dark hair and shining dark eyes, inwardly wondering why the captain, a fervid admirer of the sex, had not mentioned her.

"Will you come on board and wait?" he asked. "I'll bring a chair up on deck for you if you will."

The girl stood a moment in consideration, and then, with another faint reference to the distance of Poplar from Wapping, assented. The mate sprang nimbly into the ratlins, and then, extending a hand, helped her carefully to the deck.

"How nice it feels to be on a ship again!" said the girl, looking contentedly about her, as the mate brought up a canvas chair from below. "I used to go with my father sometimes when he was alive, but I haven't been on a ship now for two years or more."

The mate, who was watching her closely, made no reply. He was thinking that a straw hat with scarlet flowers went remarkably well with the dark eyes and hair beneath it, and also that the deck of the schooner had never before seemed such an inviting place as it was at this moment.

"Captain Flower keeps his ship in good condition," said the visitor, somewhat embarrassed by his gaze.

"He takes a pride in her," said Fraser; "and it's his uncle's craft, so there's no stint. She never wants for paint or repairs, and Flower's as nice a man to sail under as one could wish. We've had the same crew for years."

"He's very kind and jolly," said the girl.

"He's one of the best fellows breathing," said the mate, warmly; "he saved my life once went overboard after me when we were doing over ten knots an hour, and was nearly drowned himself."

"That was fine of him," said Miss Tyrell, eagerly. "He never told me anything about it, and I think that's rather fine too. I like brave men. Have you ever been overboard after anybody?"

Fraser shook his head somewhat despondently. "I'm not much of a swimmer," said he.

"But you'd go in for anybody if you saw them drowning?" persisted Miss Tyrell, in a surprised voice... Continue reading book >>




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