Story type: Literature
A REPORTED TALE OF A DUTCHMAN AND A PRIVATEER
Yes, a heap of folks have admired that teapot. Hundreds of pounds we must have been offered for it, first and last, since the night my wife’s grandfather, Captain John Tackabird–or Cap’n Jacka, as he was always called–brought it into the family over the back-garden wall, and his funny little wife went for him with the broom-handle. Poor souls, they were always a most affectionate couple, and religious too, but not much to look at; and when he took and died of a seizure in the Waterloo year she wasn’t long in following.
Ay, ay–very pleasant in their lives! though not what you would call lovely. I’ve heard that, through being allowed by his mother to run too soon, Tackabird’s legs grew up so bandy, the other children used to drive their hoops between them. And next, at fifteen, what must he do but upset a bee-skip! A bee stung him, and all his hair came off, and for three parts of his natural life be went about as bald as an egg. To cap everything, he’d scarcely began courting when he lost his left eye in a little job with the preventive men; but none of this seemed to make any difference to the woman. Peters her maiden name was–Mary Polly Peters; a little figure with beady black eyes. She believed that all Captain Jacka’s defects would be set right in another world, though not to hinder her recognising him; and meantime the more he got chipped about the more she doted on what was left of the man.
Everyone in Polperro respected the couple, for Mary Polly kept herself to herself, and Captain Jacka was known for the handiest man in the haven to run a Guernsey cargo or handle a privateer, and this though he took to privateering late in life, in the service of the “Hand and Glove” company of adventurers. By and by Mr. Zephaniah Job, who looked after these affairs in Polperro–free-trade and privateering both– started a second company called the “Pride of the West,” and put Captain Jacka to command their first ship, the old Pride lugger; a very good choice, seeing that for three years together he cleared over forty per cent. on the adventurers’ capital.
The more was his disappointment when they built a new lugger, the Unity, one hundred and sixty tons, and Job gave the command to a smart young fellow called Dick Hewitt, whose father held shares in the concern and money to buy votes beside. I’ve told you how Jacka swallowed his pride and sailed as mate under this Hewitt, and how he managed to heap coals of fire on the company’s head. Well that’s one story and this is another. I’m telling now of the second boat, when Captain Jacka, or, as you might say, Providence–for what happened was none of his seeking, and the old boy acted throughout as innocent as a sucking-child–left off shaming the company as honest men, and hit them slap in their pockets, where they could feel.
The bottom of the quarrel was that Mr. Job, the agent, took a dislike to Jacka. He was one of your sour, long-jawed sort, a bit of a lawyer, with a temper like Old Nick, and just the amount of decent feeling that makes a man the angrier for knowing he’s unjust, especially when the fellow that’s hit takes it smiling instead of cursing; and more especially still when he carries but one eye in his head, and be dashed if you can tell whether its twinkling back at you out of pure sweetness of nature or because it sees a joke of its own. I believe Captain Jacka twinkled back on Mr. Job as he twinkled on the rest of the world, willing to be friends and search for the best side of everyone, if he might be allowed. But Mr. Job couldn’t be sure of this, and I’m fain to admit the old boy was a trial to him, with his easy-going ways. Job, you see, was a stickler for order; kept his accounts like the Bank of England, all in the best penmanship, with black and red ink, and signed his name at the end with a beautiful flourish in the shape of a swan, all done with one stroke–he having been a school-master in his youth, and highly respected at it until his unfortunate temper made him shy a child out of window, which drove him out of the business, as such things will. In young Dick Hewitt he had a captain to his mind: soap and tidiness and punctuality, and oil and rotten-stone for the very gun-swivels; all the crew touching caps, and nerve and seamanship on top of all. Jacka admired the young spark, for all his boastfulness; for his own part he could do anything with a ship but keep her tidy. “What’s the use of giving yourself on-necessary work?” he’d say in his mild manner, if he saw one of his hands coiling a rope or housing a sail neatly. “We may be wantin’ it any minute, and then you’ll be sorry for labour thrown away.” The dirtiness of his decks was a caution, and this was the queerer because in his own parlour you might have eaten your dinner off the floor. “I reckon,” he’d explain, “when the Lord made sea and land He meant there should be a difference, and likewise when He made man and woman,” and stuck to his untidiness afloat because it made him the gladder to be at home again. Mary Polly, though she lived within forty yards of the sea, and was proud of her husband as any mortal woman, would never step on board a boat. The sight of one (she declared) turned her stomach, and she married their only child to a house-decorator.
All this untidiness was poison to Mr. Job, and it worked inside the man until he was just one simmering pot of wrath, and liable to boil over at the leastest little extra provocation.
One day–it was the tenth of July in the year ‘nine; Peter’s Tide, and the Upper Town crowded with peep-shows and ranter-go-rounds, and folks keeping the feast–Mr. Job takes a stroll down the quay past the sweet-standings, and cocks his eye over the edge, down upon the deck of the old Pride that was moored alongside and fitting out for a fresh cruise. And there, in the shade of the quay wall, sat old Captain Jacka with a hammer, tap-tapping at a square of tinplate.
“Hullo!” Mr. Job hailed. “Where’s the crew?”
“Up riding the hobby-horses, I b’lieve,” answered Jacka, as friendly as you please.
“And in thirty-six hours you’ve engaged to have the Pride ready for sea!”
“She’s about ready now,” said Jacka, stopping to put a peppermint in his mouth. He had bought a packet off one of the sweet-standings, and spread it on the deck beside him. “Feast-day doesn’t come round more than once a year, and I haven’t the heart to deny them, with the work so well forward, too.” The old fellow fairly beamed across his deck, the raffle of which was something cruel. “There’s a fat woman up there, too. I’m told she’s well worth seeing.”
“You call that dirty mess ‘being fit for sea’?” asked Mr. Job, nodding down, but bottling up his anger after a fashion. “Look here, Captain Tackabird, you’re a servant of the company; and I’ll trouble you to stand up and behave respectful when the company’s agent pays you a visit of inspection.”
“Cert’nly, Mr. Job.” Jacka scrambled up to his feet as mild as milk. “Beg your pardon, sir, I thought you’d just strolled down to pass the time of day.”
“And don’t flash that plaguey thing in my eyes, as you’re doing.” For Jacka was standing in the sunshine now, with the tinplate in his hands blazing away like a looking-glass.
“Very well, sir. Perhaps you’ll allow me to fetch a hat out of the cabin; for my head feels the heat powerful, being so bald. They do say it twinkles a bit, too, when the sun catches it the right way.”
So down he went to the cabin, and up he came again to find Mr. Job with his best coat-tails spread, seated on the carriage of the Pride’s stern-chaser.
“Oh, Lord!” he couldn’t help groaning.
“What’s the matter?”
“Nothing, Mr. Job, nothing.” The fact was, Jacka had smeared a dollop of honey on that very gun-carriage to keep the wasps off him while he worked. The sweet-standings, you see, always drew a swarm of wasps on feast-days, and the old man never could abide them since his accident with the bee-skip.
Mr. Job sat there with his mouth screwed up, eyeing the whole length of the lugger.
“I’d like to know why you were hammering out that tinplate?” said he. “I can see with my own eyes you’ve been knocking dents in the deck; but I s’pose that wasn’t your only object.”
“I reckoned to tack it over this here hole in the bulwarks where the tide swung her up against the quay-end.” Captain Jacka showed him the place.
“I’d have let you have a fresh plank if you’d only reported the damage in time.”
“Oh,” said Jacka, “a scrap of tin will answer just as well–every bit.”
“I can’t think, Captain Tackabird, how it comes that you’ve no more regard for appearances. Just look at the Unity, for instance, and how young Hewitt keeps her.”
“Born different, I suppose.”
“Ay, and if you don’t look out you’ll end different. Patching a boat with tin!” Mr. Job let out a rasping kind of laugh. “But that’s Polperro, all over. Do you know what they tell about you, down to St. Ann’s?”–Mr. Job came from St. Ann’s–“They say, down there, that every man-child in Polperro is born with a patch in the seat of his–“
Mr. Job stood up and cast a hand behind him, to explain. . . .
“I put it there to keep off the wopses,” said Captain Jacka.
“But what did he say?” asked Mary Polly, when her husband brought home the tale.
“First he said, ‘I’ll make you pay for this.’ Well, that was fair enough, for I ought to have warned him; but when I asked the price, and where the stuff could be matched–for ’twas his best suit, you understand–all of a sudden he stamps his foot and lets fly with the most horrible oaths. It fairly creamed my flesh to hear him. He’s a man of wrath, my love, and the end of him will be worse than the beginning.”
“I daresay; but he’ll give you the sack before that happens.”
The two poor old souls looked at one another; for Job had control of all the privateering companies in Polperro, and influence enough to starve a man out of the place.
“Lev us take counsel of the Lord,” said the old boy, as she knew he would. So down on their knees they went, and prayed together. Jacka even put up a petition for Mr. Job, but Mary Polly couldn’t say “Amen” to that.
The next morning Captain Jacka went down to the Pride at the usual hour, but only to find his crew scrubbing decks and Mr. Job ready for him. “There’s your marching orders,” says the enemy, handing him a paper; “and if you want a character at any time, just come to me, and I’ll give you a daisy.”
Well, the old chap said no word, but turned about then and there, and back along the quay like a man in a dream. All the way he kept fumbling the document without daring to open it, and when he reached his own door he just sat down on the little low wall outside, laid the cursed thing on his knee, pulled a bandanna out of his breeches pocket, and polished the top of his poor head till it fairly blazed in the eye of the sun.
He was sitting there, dazed and quiet, when the door opened and out came Mary Polly with a rag-mat in her hand, meaning to bang it against the wall, as her custom was.
“Hullo!” says she, stopping short on the threshold. “Back again, like a bad penny?”
“Bad enough, this time,” says her husband, without turning round; and drops his head with a groan.
I must say the woman’s behaviour was peculiar. For first of all she stepped forward and gave his head a stroking, just as you might a child’s, and then she looks up and down the street, and says, “I’m ashamed of ‘ee, carryin’ on like this for all the public to see. Stick your hands in your pockets,” says she.
“What’s the use of that?” But he did it.
“Whistle a tune.”
“But I can’t.”
“You can if you try; I’ve heard you whistlin’ ‘Rule Britannia’ scores of times, or bits of it. Now I’m goin’ to beat this mat and make believe to be talkin’ to ‘ee. At the very first sound old Mrs. Scantlebury’ll poke her head out, she always does. So you go on whistlin’, and don’t mind anything I say. There’ll be no peace in life for us after she gets wind you’ve been sacked; and just now I want a little time to myself to relieve my feelin’s.”
So Jacka started to whistle, feeling mighty shy, and Mary Polly picked up the mat.
“I wish,” says she to the mat, “you was Mr. (whang) Zephaniah (whang) Job (whang). I do dearly wish for my life you was Mr. (whang) Zephaniah (whang) Job (whang). I’d take your ugly old head with its stivery grey whiskers and I’d (bang, whang)–I’d (bang, whang)–I’d treat you like this here mat, and lay you down for folks to wipe their shoes upon, Mr. (whang) Zephaniah (whang) Job (whang).”
“When Britain first at Heaven’s command,” whistled Jacka; and the Widow Scantlebury, two doors up the street, was properly taken in. An hour later, when the news of Jacka’s dismissal was all over the town, she had to sit down and consider. “I see’d him come up the street”–this was how she told the story, being the sort of woman that never knows where the truth ends–“just as Mary Polly was shaking out her mat. He came up like a whipped dog, stuck his hands in his pockets and started to whistle, for all the world like a whipped dog, you understand? Any fool could see the man had something on his mind and wanted to break it gentle. But not she! Went on banging the mat, if you’ll believe me, till my flesh ached to see a woman so dull-minded. Of course it wasn’ no business of mine, tho’ you would think, after living with a man thirty years–” and so on, and so on.
But when Mary Polly had relieved her feelings, and the two old souls were in the kitchen with the door shut behind them, they came very near to breaking down. You see, Captain Jacka had followed the trade in Polperro all his days, and his heart was in it till Mr. Job pulled him up by the roots. He and Mary Polly had saved a little, and looked forward to leaving it to their only child–my wife’s mother, that was; and anyway it wasn’t enough to maintain them, let be that to touch a penny of it would have burnt their fingers. No; Captain Jacka must find a new billet.
But in a month or so, when folks had given up sympathising–for Mary Polly hated to be pitied, and gave them no encouragement–he saw plain enough that there was no billet for him in a small place like Polperro where Mr. Job ruled the roost. Before Christmas his mind was made up; and early in Christmas week he said good-bye to his wife, marched up to Four Turnings with his kit on his back, and shipped on board Boutigo’s Two-Horse Conveyance for Falmouth.
There was a Mr. Rogers living at Falmouth who had been a shareholder in the old “Hand and Glove” company, but had sold out over some quarrel with Mr. Job; and to him Jacka applied.
“I’m told that seamen are scarce, sir,” says he. “I was wondering if you could find me a berth anywhere, for I’ve ‘arned forty per cent. for my employers before now, and could do it again, but for a man of my unfortunate looks ’tis hard to get a start.”
Mr. Rogers tapped the desk with his ruler, like one considering. “Why have they turned you out?” he asked. “Anything professional?”
“How could I help Mr. Job’s sitting down on a lump of honey? I put it to you, sir, as a business man.”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” said Mr. Rogers. “Let’s have the story.”
So out it all came. “He’s a man of wrath,” said Captain Jacka, “and he’ll be sorry for it when he comes to die.”
“There’s one or two,” said Mr. Rogers, “would like to hurry that reckoning a bit. Well, well, I can make shift to fit you up with something for a week or two, and maybe by that time there’ll be an opening aboard one of the Packets. Just now, in Christmas week, business is slack enough, but what do you say to going mate on a vessel as far as the Downs?”
“Nothing I should like better,” says Jacka.
“You’d better have a look at her first,” says Mr. Rogers.
So he takes Jacka off to the Market Strand, calls for a waterman’s wherry, and inside of ten minutes they were being pulled out to the Roads.
“There’s your ship,” says Mr. Rogers, as they pushed out beyond the old dock into Carrick Roads.
Jacka opened first his eyes and then his mouth. The vessel was a kind of top-sail schooner, but with a hull there was no mistaking, the more by token that the tide was swinging her stern-on, and showing him a pair of windows picked out in red paint, with shutter-boards and brass hinges shining.
“Mr. Rogers,” he said, “I han’t read the Sherborne Mercury lately, but is–is the war over?”
“No, nor likely to be.”
“But, Mr. Rogers, sir, either that there ship is a Dutchman or else I be.”
“Look at her flag, you old fool.”
“Never see’d the like of it.”
“That’s the flag of the Principality of Nibby-Gibby. Ever heard of it?”
“Can’t say I have.”
“No more did I till the day before yesterday, and I won’t swear I’ve got it right yet. But ’tis somewhere up the Baltic I understand. That there ship–her name, by the way, is the Burgomeister Van der Werf–is bound up Channel with sugar from Jamaica–with a licence. Maybe you folks up to Polperro don’t know what that means?”
“I only know that, if I’d ran across her in the old Pride, I’d have clapped a crew on board and run her into a British port and no questions asked.”
Says Mr. Rogers, “If that’s the way you Polperro men keep abreast of Board of Trade regulations, it strikes me you might have done worse than lose your billet with the Pride of the West.”
In the time left before the waterman brought them alongside, Mr. Rogers explained, as well as he could, the new system (as it was then) of licences; by which the Government winked at neutral vessels carrying goods into the enemy’s ports, in spite of the blockade, and bringing us back Baltic timber for shipbuilding.
“But a Dutchman isn’ no neutral,” Captain Jacka objected.
“I did hear,” said Mr. Rogers, stroking his chin and looking sideways, “that these licences have their market-price, and that in Amsterdam just now it’s seven hundred rix-dollars.”
“Well-a-well, if the Board of Trade’s satisfied,” says Jacka, “it’s not for the likes of me to object. But if I was a Christian ruler I should think twice afore invitin’ such a deal of hard swearin’.”
“You’ll find Captain Cornelisz a Lutheran,” Mr. Rogers assured him, “and a very sociable fellow, with the little English he can muster.”
Well, to make my story short, Jacka stepped on board and found the Dutch skipper monstrous polite and accommodating, though terrible sleepy, the reason being that, his mate falling sick at Kingston of the yellow fever, he had been forced to navigate his vessel home single-handed. He owned up, too, that he had a poor head for ciphering, so that ’twas more by luck than good management he’d hit off the Channel at all. At any rate he was glad enough of a chance to shift off responsibility and take a sound nap, and inside of half an hour the bargain was struck over a glass of hot schnapps. Mr. Rogers shook hands and put off for shore again, and a boat went with him to fetch Jacka’s kit, which he’d left in the office.
At six o’clock the Van der Werf weighed anchor and headed out under easy canvas. The wind outside was almost dead contrary, E. by N. and half E., and blowing a little under half a gale, but the skipper seemed in a hurry, and Jacka didn’t mind.
“She’s a good boat by all seeming,” said he as they cleared St. Anthony’s light; “but she wants a sea-way. I reckon, sir, you’d better stay on deck for a tack or two, till I find how she comes about. I’m accustomed, you see, to something a bit sharper in the bows, and just at first that may tempt me to run it too fine.”
“Who wants you to run it fine at all?” asked Captain Cornelisz.
“Well, naturally you’ll work it in short tacks and hug the English side pretty close.”
“Short tacks? Not a bit of it; tide’ll be running up strong by time we’re out in deep water. Put her right across for France, keep her pretty full–she won’t bear pinching–and let her rip.”
“Chasse-marees are pretty thick, I’m told, once you get near t’other side, ‘specially between Morlaix and Guernsey, let alone a chance of dropping across a French cruiser.”
“My good man, I’ve been stopped twice on this voyage already by French cruisers: once off Brest, and the second time about fifty miles this side of Ushant.”
“You don’t tell me!” says Jacka. “How the dickens did they let you go?”
“Well,” answers the Dutchman, “I took the precaution of fitting myself with two sets of papers. Oh,” says he, as Jacka lets out a low whistle, “it’s the ordinary thing in our line of business. So you just do as I tell you and make the boards as long as you please, for I’m dropping with sleep in my boots. Keep the ship going, and if you sight anyone that looks like trouble just give me a hail down the companion, for I can talk to any frigate, British or French.”
With that he bundled away below, and Jacka, after a word or two with the man at the helm, to make sure they understood enough of each other’s lingo, settled down with his pipe for the night’s work.
The wind held pretty steady, and the Van der Werf made nothing of the cross-seas, being a beamy craft and fit for any weather in a sea-way. Jacka conned her very careful, and decided there was no use in driving her; extra sail would only fling up more water without improving her speed. So he jogged along steady, keeping her full and by, and letting her take the seas the best way she liked them. Towards morning he even began to doze a bit, till warned by a new motion of the ship that she wasn’t doing her best. He opened his eyes and shouted–
“Up with your helm, ye lubber! Hard up, I tell ye, and keep her full!”
A pretty heavy spray at that moment came over the bow and took him fair in the face, and he stumbled aft in none too sweet a temper. Then he saw what had happened: the fresh hand at the wheel had dozed off where he stood and let the Van der Werf run up in the wind. The fellow was little more than a boy, and white in the face with want of sleep. Captain Jacka was always a kind-hearted man. Said he, as he flung the spokes round, and the Van der Werf began to pay off: “Look here, my lad, if you can’t keep a better eye open, I’ll take a trick myself. So go you forward and stow yourself somewheres within call.”
With that he took the helm, and glad of it, to keep himself awake; and so held her going till daybreak.
By eight in the morning, just as the light began creeping, and Jacka was calculating his whereabouts, he lifted his eye over the weather-bow, and–
“Hullo!” he sings out. “What’s yonder to windward?”
The lad he’d relieved jumps up from where he’d been napping beside the bitts, and runs forward. But, whatever he sang out, Jacka paid no attention; for by this time his own one eye had told him all he wanted to know, and a trifle more; and he clutched at the wheel for a moment like a man dazed. Then, I believe, a sort of heavenly joy crept over his face, mixed with a sort of heavenly cunning.
“Call up the crew,” he ordered. “I’m going to put her about. The whole crew–every man-Jack of them!”
By the time the men tumbled up, Jacka had his helm up, and the Van der Werf, with sheets pinned, was leaning to it and knocking up the unholiest sputter.
“All right, my lads. Don’t stand glazing at me like stuck pigs. Stand by to slacken sheets. I’m going to gybe her.”
Well, they obeyed, though not a man of them could guess what he was after. Over went the big mainsail with a jerk that must have pitched Captain Cornelisz clean out of his bunk below; for half a minute later he comes puffing and growling up the companion and wanting to know in his best Dutch if this was the end of the world, and if not, what was it?
“That’s capital,” says Jacka, “for I was just about stepping down to call you. See that lugger, yonder?” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder at a speck in the grey from which the Van der Werf was now running at something like nine knots an hour.
“I know that lugger, and we’re running away from her.”
“Pack of stuff!” says Captain Cornelisz, or Dutch to that effect. “D’ee want to be told a dozen times that this is a licensed ship?” And he called for his flag, to hoist it.
“Oh, drop your fancy pocket-handkerchiefs, and listen to reason, that’s a dear man! O’ course I know you carry a licence; but the point is– the lugger don’t know. O’ course I’m running away from her, by your leave; but the point is–she can run and reach three miles to our two. And lastly, o’ course you’re master here, and can do what you please; but, if you’re not pressed for time, there’s money in it, and you shan’t say I didn’t give you the chance.”
Captain Cornelisz eyed Jacka for a full minute, and then a dinky little smile started in one eye and spread till it covered the whole of his wide face.
“You’re a knowing one,” said he.
“Was never considered so,” answered Jacka, very modest.
“She’s put about and after us,” said the skipper, after a long stare over his right shoulder.
“She’ll have us in less than three hours. There’s one thing to be done, and that’s to stow me somewheres out of the way; for if anyone on board of her catches sight of me, the game’s up. S’pose we try the lazarette, if you have such a place. I like fresh air as a rule, but for once in a while I don’t mind bein’ squoze; and, as lazarettes go, yours ought to be nice and roomy.”
“You shall have a bottle of Hollands for company,” promised Captain Cornelisz.
So the hatch was pulled up, and down Jacka crept and curled himself up in the darkness. The Dutchman provisioned him there with a bottle of strong waters and a bag of biscuits, and–what’s more–called down to him so long as was prudent and kept him informed how the chase was going.
By this time the lugger–which I needn’t tell you was Mr. Zephaniah Job’s pet Unity, with Captain Dick Hewitt commanding–was closing down on the Van der Werf, overhauling her hand-over-fist. Down in the lazarette Jacka had scarcely finished prising the cork out of his bottle of Hollands when he heard the bang of a gun. This was the lugger’s command to round-to and surrender; and the old boy, who had been vexing himself with fear that some cruiser might drop in and spoil sport, put the bottle to his mouth and drank Mr. Job’s very good health.
“For I think,” says he to himself, with a chuckle, “I can trust Cap’n Dick Hewitt to put his foot into this little mess just as deep as it will go.”
With that, being heavy after his night’s watch, he tied up his chin in his bandanna handkerchief to keep him from snoring, curled round, and dropped off to sleep like a babe.
Well, sir, Cap’n Dick Hewitt brought-to his prize, as he reckoned her; and when he came aboard and sized up the cargo and the Unity’s luck, as he reckoned it, his boastfulness was neither to hold nor to bind. No such windfall had been picked up for the Pride of the West during the four years he’d been in the company’s service. He scarce stayed to give a glance at the Van der Werf’s papers, though Captain Cornelisz was ready for him with the wrong set. “I guess,” says he, “you’ll spare yourself the trouble to pretend you ain’t a Dutchman”; and when the skipper flung his arms about and began to jabber like a play-actor, ’twas “All right, Mynheer; we’ll talk about that at Falmouth. Look here, boys,” he sings out to his boarding party, “we’ve something here too good to be let out of sight. My idea is to reach back for Polperro in company, and let Mr. Job and the shareholders have a view of her before taking her round to Falmouth. It won’t cost us three hours extra,” says he, “and a little bit of a flourish is excusable under the circumstances.”
So up for Polperro they bore, half a dozen men from the lugger working the Van der Werf, and old Captain Jacka asleep in her lazarette till roused out of his dreams by the rattle as they cast anchor half a cable’s length outside the haven. The tide was drawing to flood and the evening dusking down, and in sails Captain Dick in the Unity as big as bull’s beef, and shouts his news to all the loafers on the quay.
“But come and take a look at her for yourself,” says he to Mr. Job, who had stepped down with his best telescope.
Job put off that evening in something like a flutter of spirits; for to tell the truth half a dozen of the shareholders had been cutting up rough over his treatment of Jacka, and here was an answer for them, and proof that he’d been right in preaching up Dick Hewitt to be worth ten of the old man.
Alongside he comes in the Unity’s boat, steps aboard, and makes a polite leg to Captain Cornelisz, with any amount of sham sympathy in his eye.
“Dear, dear,” says he, “this is a very unfort’nit business for you, Cap’n What’s-your-name! In time of war I s’pose such things must happen; but I can’t help feelin’ sorry for you,” says he.
“I was thinkin’ to reckon the damage at six hundred pounds,” says the Dutch skipper, meek as you please.
“Hey?” says Mr. Job.
“Well, sir, I likes to be reasonable; but it’s a question of missing the convoy, and under the circumstances–case of illegal detention at the best–you won’t consider six hundred pounds out of the way. Of course,” says he, “I haven’t been allowed to study your lugger’s papers, so it may be flat piracy. But if your skipper had taken the trouble to study mine–“
“What in thunder is he telling about?” demanded Mr. Job.
“Only this, sir,” answered Captain Cornelisz, smiling very sweet, and pulling out his licence from his side-pocket, he read, “‘And the said vessel has our protection while bearing any flag except the French, and notwithstanding the documents accompanying the said vessel and cargo may represent the same to be destined to any neutral or hostile port, or to whomsoever such property may appear to belong.’ The wording you see, sir, is very particular, and under the circumstances I can’t say less than six hundred pounds; but, of course, if you oblige me to take it to the courts, there’s your papers to be considered, which may raise the question of piracy.”
Just an hour later, when Mr. Job had returned to shore in the devil’s own temper to call a hasty meeting of his shareholders–and Captain Hewitt along with him, with his tail between his Legs–Captain Cornelisz raised the trap of the lazarette.
“I’m thinking a little fresh air’s no more than you deserve,” said he.
“But where are we, in this world?” asked Jacka.
“So well as I can learn, ’tis a place called Polperro.”
Jacka chuckled. “Seen anything of a party called Job?”
“He’s to bring me six hundred pounds before morning,” answered the Dutchman, lighting his pipe. “And see here–I’m a fair-dealin’ man, and I own I owe you a good twenty of it. You shall have it when you leave the ship, and I’ll chance making it right with the owners.”
“Very good of you, to be sure,” allowed Jacka.
“But that isn’t all. I owe you something on my own account, and if there’s any small favour I can do you, in reason–“
“Well, since you put it so friendly, I’d like an hour or so ashore.”
“Ashore? What, to-night?”
“It’s my home, you see,” Jacka explained; “and my old woman lives there.”
“You don’t say so? Well, you shall be put ashore as soon as you please. Anything else?”
“I see’d a very pretty teapot and sugar basin in your cabin yestiddy. I don’t know if you set any particular store by them; but if you don’t, my old woman’s terrible fond of china, and you can deduct it out of the twenty pounds, it you like.”
“Shouldn’t think of it,” says Captain Cornelisz; “they’re best Nankin, and they’re yours. Anything else?”
“Well, if I might ask the loan of a pair of your breeches till to-morrow. They seem to me a bit fuller in the seat than mine, and let alone being handy to carry the china in, they’ll be a kind of disguise. For, to tell the truth, I don’t want to be seen in Polperro streets to be mixed up with this business, and my legs be so bandy that in any ordinary small clothes there’s no mistaking me, even in the dark.”
So the Van der Werf’s boat landed Jacka that night in pitch darkness half a mile west of the haven, where a ridge of rock gives shelter from the easterly swell. And just half an hour later, as Mary Polly turned in her sleep, she heard a stone trickle down the cliff at the back of the cottage and drop thud! into the yard under her window. She sat bolt upright in bed. “There’s some villain of a thief after my Minorca’s eggs,” said she.
Another stone trickled and fell. Like the woman of spirit she was, she jumped out of bed, crept downstairs to the kitchen, picked up the broom, and listened, with her hand on the latch of the back-door.
She heard the scrape of a toe-plate on the wall outside.
This was too much. “You mean, sneakin’, snivellin’, pilferin’, egg-stealin’ highwayman!” cries she, and lets fly.
Well, sir, the sugar basin was scat to atoms, but the teapot, as you see, didn’ suffer more than a chip. The wonder was, she stayed her hand at the second stroke, old Jacka being in no position to defend himself or explain. In later days when she invited her friends to tea, she used to put it down to instinct. “Something warned me,” she’d say. But that’s how the teapot came into our family.