Out-Sailed by W. W. Jacobs
An Extract from
It was a momentous occasion. The two skippers sat in the private
bar of the "Old Ship," in High Street, Wapping, solemnly sipping cold
gin and smoking cigars, whose sole merit consisted in the fact that
they had been smuggled. It is well known all along the waterside that
this greatly improves their flavour.
"Draw all right?" queried Captain Berrow?-a short, fat man of few
ideas, who was the exulting owner of a bundle of them.
"Beautiful," replied Captain Tucker, who had just made an excursion
into the interior of his with the small blade of his penknife. "Why
don't you keep smokes like these, landlord?"
"He can't," chuckled Captain Berrow fatuously. "They're not to be
'ad— money couldn't buy 'em."
The landlord grunted. "Why don't you settle about that race o'
yours an' ha' done with it," he cried, as he wiped down his counter.
"Seems to me, Cap'n Tucker's hanging fire."
"I'm ready when he is," said Tucker, somewhat shortly.
"It's taking your money," said Berrow slowly; "the Thistle can't
hold a candle to the Good Intent, and you know it. Many a time that
little schooner o' mine has kept up with a steamer."
"Wher'd you ha' been if the tow rope had parted, though?" said the
master of the Thistle, with a wink at the landlord.
At this remark Captain Berrow took fire, and, with his temper
rapidly rising to fever heat, wrathfully repelled the scurvy
insinuation in language which compelled the respectful attention of
all the other customers and the hasty intervention of the landlord.
"Put up the stakes," he cried impatiently. "Put up the stakes, and
don't have so much jaw about it."
"Here's mine," said Berrow, sturdily handing over a greasy fiver.
"Now, Cap'n Tucker, cover that."
"Come on," said the landlord encouragingly; "don't let him take the
wind out of your sails like that."
Tucker handed over five sovereigns.
"High water's at 12.13," said the landlord, pocketing the stakes.
"You understand the conditions?-each of you does the best he can for
hisself after eleven, an' the one what gets to Poole first has the ten
Both gamblers breathed hard, and, fully realising the desperate
nature of the enterprise upon which they had embarked, ordered some
more gin. A rivalry of long standing as to the merits of their
respective schooners had led to them calling in the landlord to
arbitrate, and this was the result. Berrow, vaguely feeling that it
would be advisable to keep on good terms with the stakeholder, offered
him one of the famous cigars. The stakeholder, anxious to keep on good
terms with his stomach, declined it.
"You've both got your moorings up, I s'pose?" he inquired.
"Got 'em up this evening," replied Tucker. "We're just made fast
one on each side of the Dolphin now."
"The wind's light, but it's from the right quarter," said Captain
Berrow, "an' I only hope as 'ow the best ship'll win. I'd like to win
myself, but, if not, I can only say as there's no man breathing I'd
sooner have lick me than Cap'n Tucker. He's as smart a seaman as ever
comes into the London river, an' he's got a schooner angels would be
"Glasses o' gin round," said Tucker promptly. "Cap'n Berrow, here's
your very good health, an' a fair field an' no favour."
With these praiseworthy sentiments the master of the Thistle
finished his liquor, and, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand,
nodded farewell to the twain and departed. Once in the High Street he
walked slowly, as one in deep thought, then, with a sudden resolution,
turned up Nightingale Lane, and made for a small, unsavoury
thoroughfare leading out of Ratcliff Highway. A quarter of an hour
later he emerged into that famous thoroughfare again, smiling
incoherently, and, retracing his steps to the waterside, jumped into a
boat, and was pulled off to his ship.
"Comes off to-night, Joe," said he, as he descended to the cabin,
"an' it's arf a quid to you if the old gal wins."
"What's the bet?" inquired the mate, looking up from his task of
"Five quid," replied the skipper.
"Well, we ought to do it," said the mate slowly; "'t wont be my
fault if we don't."
"Mine neither," said the skipper. "As a matter o' fact, Joe, I
reckon I've about made sure of it. All's fair in love and war and
"Ay, ay," said the mate, more slowly than before, as he revolved
this addition to the proverb.
"I just nipped round and saw a chap I used to know named Dibbs,"
said the skipper. "Keeps a boarding-house for sailors. Wonderful sharp
little chap he is. Needles ain't nothing to him. There's heaps of
needles, but only one Dibbs. He's going to make old Berrow's chaps as
drunk as lords."
"Does he know 'em?" inquired the mate.
"He knows where to find 'em," said the other. "I told him they'd
either be in the 'Duke's Head' or the 'Town o' Berwick.' But he'd find
'em wherever they was. Ah, even if they was in a coffee pallis, I
b'leeve that man 'ud find 'em."
"They're steady chaps," objected the mate, but in a weak fashion,
being somewhat staggered by this tribute to Mr. Dibbs' remarkable
"My lad," said the skipper, "it's Dibbs' business to mix sailors'
liquors so's they don't know whether they're standing on their heads
or their heels. He's the most wonderful mixer in Christendom; takes a
reg'lar pride in it. Many a sailorman has got up a ship's side,
thinking it was stairs, and gone off half acrost the world instead of
going to bed, through him."
"We'll have a easy job of it, then," said the mate. "I b'leeve we
could ha' managed it without that, though. 'Tain't quite what you'd
call sport, is it?"
"There's nothing like making sure of a thing," said the skipper
placidly. "What time's our chaps coming aboard?"
"Ten thirty, the latest," replied the mate. "Old Sam's with 'em, so
they'll be all right."
"I'll turn in for a couple of hours," said the skipper, going
towards his berth. "Lord! I'd give something to see old Berrow's face
as his chaps come up the side."
"P'raps they won't git as far as that," remarked the mate.
"Oh, yes they will," said the skipper. "Dibbs is going to see to
that. I don't want any chance of the race being scratched. Turn me out
in a couple of hours."
He closed the door behind him, and the mate, having stuffed his
clay with the coarse tobacco, took some pink note-paper with scalloped
edges from his drawer, and, placing the paper at his right side, and
squaring his shoulders, began some private correspondence.
For some time he smoked and wrote in silence, until the increasing
darkness warned him to finish his task. He signed the note, and,
having put a few marks of a tender nature below his signature, sealed
it ready for the post, and sat with half-closed eyes, finishing his
pipe. Then his head nodded, and, placing his arms on the table, he too
It seemed but a minute since he had closed his eyes when he was
awakened by the entrance of the skipper, who came blundering into the
darkness from his stateroom, vociferating loudly and nervously.
"Ay, ay!" said Joe, starting up.
"Where's the lights?" said the skipper. "What's the time? I dreamt
I'd overslept myself. What's the time?"
"Plenty o' time," said the mate vaguely, as he stifled a yawn.
"Ha'-past ten," said the skipper, as he struck a match, "You've
been asleep," he added severely.
"I ain't," said the mate stoutly, as he followed the other on deck.
"I've been thinking. I think better in the dark."
"It's about time our chaps was aboard," said the skipper, as he
looked round the deserted deck. "I hope they won't be late."
"Sam's with 'em," said the mate confidently, as he went on to the
side; "there ain't no festivities going on aboard the Good Intent,
"There will be," said his worthy skipper, with a grin, as he looked
across the intervening brig at the rival craft; "there will be."
He walked round the deck to see that everything was snug and
ship-shape, and got back to the mate just as a howl of surprising
weirdness was heard proceeding from the neighbouring stairs.
"I'm s'prised at Berrow allowing his men to make that noise," said
the skipper waggishly. "Our chaps are there too, I think. I can hear
"So can I," said the mate, with emphasis.
"Seems to be talking rather loud," said the master of the Thistle,
knitting his brows.
"Sounds as though he's trying to sing," said the mate, as, after
some delay, a heavily-laden boat put off from the stairs and made
slowly for them. "No, he ain't; he's screaming."
There was no longer any doubt about it. The respectable and
greatly- trusted Sam was letting off a series of wild howls which
would have done credit to a penny-gaff Zulu, and was evidently very
much out of temper about something.
"Ahoy, Thistle! Ahoy!" bellowed the waterman, as he neared the
schooner. "Chuck us a rope?-quick!"
The mate threw him one, and the boat came alongside. It was then
seen that another waterman, using impatient and deplorable language,
was forcibly holding Sam down in the boat.
"What's he done? What's the row?" demanded the mate.
"Done?" said the waterman, in disgust. "Done? He's 'ad a small
lemon, an' it's got into his silly old head. He's making all this fuss
'cos he wanted to set the pub on fire, an' they wouldn't let him. Man
ashore told us they belonged to the Good Intent, but I know they're
"Sam!" roared the skipper, with a sinking heart, as his glance fell
on the recumbent figures in the boat; "come aboard at once, you
drunken disgrace! D'ye hear?"
"I can't leave him," said Sam, whimpering.
"Leave who?" growled the skipper.
"Him," said Sam, placing his arms round the waterman's neck. "Him
an' me's like brothers."
"Get up, you old loonatic!" snarled the waterman, extricating
himself with difficulty, and forcing the other towards the side. "Now,
up you go!"
Aided by the shoulders of the waterman and the hands of his
superior officers, Sam went up, and then the waterman turned his
attention to the remainder of his fares, who were snoring contentedly
in the bottom of the boat.
"Now, then!" he cried; "look alive with you! D'ye hear? Wake up!
Wake up! Kick 'em, Bill!"
"I can't kick no 'arder," grumbled the other waterman.
"What the devil's the matter with 'em?" stormed the master of the
Thistle, "Chuck a pail of water over 'em, Joe!"
Joe obeyed with gusto; and, as he never had much of a head for
details, bestowed most of it upon the watermen. Through the row which
ensued the Thistle's crew snored peacefully, and at last were handed
up over the sides like sacks of potatoes, and the indignant watermen
pulled back to the stairs.
"Here's a nice crew to win a race with!" wailed the skipper, almost
crying with rage. "Chuck the water over 'em, Joe! Chuck the water over
Joe obeyed willingly, until at length, to the skipper's great
relief, one man stirred, and, sitting up on the deck, sleepily
expressed his firm conviction that it was raining. For a moment they
both had hopes of him, but as Joe went to the side for another
bucketful, he evidently came to the conclusion that he had been
dreaming, and, lying down again, resumed his nap. As he did so the
first stroke of Big Ben came booming down the river.
"Eleven o'clock!" shouted the excited skipper.
It was too true. Before Big Ben had finished, the neighbouring
church clocks commenced striking with feverish haste, and hurrying
feet and hoarse cries were heard proceeding from the deck of the GOOD
"Loose the sails!" yelled the furious Tucker. "Loose the sails!
Damme, we'll get under way by ourselves!"
He ran forward, and, assisted by the mate, hoisted the jibs, and
then, running back, cast off from the brig, and began to hoist the
mainsail. As they disengaged themselves from the tier, there was just
sufficient sail for them to advance against the tide; while in front
of them the Good Intent, shaking out sail after sail, stood boldly
down the river.
* * * * *
"This was the way of it," said Sam, as he stood before the grim
Tucker at six o'clock the next morning, surrounded by his mates. "He
came into the 'Town o' Berwick,' where we was, as nice a spoken little
chap as ever you'd wish to see. He said he'd been a-looking at the
GOOD INTENT, and he thought it was the prettiest little craft 'e ever
seed, and the exact image of one his dear brother, which was a
missionary, 'ad, and he'd like to stand a drink to every man of her
crew. Of course, we all said we was the crew direckly, an' all I can
remember after that is two coppers an' a little boy trying to giv' me
the frog's march, an' somebody chucking pails o' water over me. It's
crool 'ard losing a race, what we didn't know nothink about, in this
way; but it warn't our fault?-it warn't, indeed. It's my belief that
the little man was a missionary of some sort hisself, and wanted to
convert us, an' that was his way of starting on the job. It's all very
well for the mate to have highstirriks; but it's quite true, every
word of it, an' if you go an' ask at the pub they'll tell you the