Reach by W. W. Jacobs
An Extract from
It was the mate's affair all through. He began by leaving the end
of a line dangling over the stern, and the propeller, though quite
unaccustomed to that sort of work, wound it up until only a few
fathoms remained. It then stopped, and the mischief was not discovered
until the skipper had called the engineer everything that he and the
mate and three men and a boy could think of. The skipper did the
interpreting through the tube which afforded the sole means of
communication between the wheel and the engine-room, and the indignant
engineer did the listening.
The Gem was just off Limehouse at the time, and it was evident she
was going to stay there. The skipper ran her ashore and made her fast
to a roomy old schooner which was lying alongside a wharf. He was then
able to give a little attention to the real offender, and the
unfortunate mate, who had been the most inventive of them all,
realised to the full the old saying of curses coming home to roost.
They brought some strangers with them, too.
"I'm going ashore," said the skipper at last. "We won't get off
till next tide now. When it's low water you'll have to get down and
cut the line away. A new line too! I'm ashamed o' you, Harry."
"I'm not surprised," said the engineer, who was a vindictive man.
"What do you mean by that?" demanded the mate fiercely.
"We don't want any of your bad temper," interposed the skipper
severely. "NOR bad language. The men can go ashore, and the engineer
too, provided he keeps steam up. But be ready for a start about five.
You'll have to mind the ship."
He looked over the stern again, shook his head sadly, and, after a
visit to the cabin, clambered over the schooner's side and got ashore.
The men, after looking at the propeller and shaking their heads, went
ashore too, and the boy, after looking at the propeller and getting
ready to shake his, caught the mate's eye and omitted that part of the
ceremony, from a sudden conviction that it was unhealthy.
Left alone, the mate, who was of a sensitive disposition, after a
curt nod to Captain Jansell of the schooner Aquila, who had heard of
the disaster, and was disposed to be sympathetically inquisitive, lit
his pipe and began moodily to smoke.
When he next looked up the old man had disappeared, and a girl in a
print dress and a large straw hat sat in a wicker chair reading. She
was such a pretty girl that the mate forgot his troubles at once, and,
after carefully putting his cap on straight, strolled casually up and
down the deck.
To his mortification, the girl seemed unaware of his presence, and
read steadily, occasionally looking up and chirping with a pair of
ravishing lips at a blackbird, which hung in a wicker cage from the
"That's a nice bird," said the mate, leaning against the side, and
turning a look of great admiration upon it.
"Yes," said the girl, raising a pair of dark blue eyes to the bold
brown ones, and taking him in at a glance.
"Does it sing?" inquired the mate, with a show of great interest.
"It does sometimes, when we are alone," was the reply.
"I should have thought the sea air would have affected its throat,"
said the mate, reddening. "Are you often in the London river, miss? I
don't remember seeing your craft before."
"Not often," said the girl.
"You've got a fine schooner here," said the mate, eyeing it
critically. "For my part, I prefer a sailer to a steamer."
"I should think you would," said the girl.
"Why?" inquired the mate tenderly, pleased at this show of
"No propeller," said the girl quietly, and she left her seat and
disappeared below, leaving the mate gasping painfully.
Left to himself, he became melancholy, as he realised that the
great passion of his life had commenced, and would probably end within
a few hours. The engineer came aboard to look at the fires, and, the
steamer being now on the soft mud, good-naturedly went down and
assisted him to free the propeller before going ashore again. Then he
was alone once more, gazing ruefully at the bare deck of the Aquila.
It was past two o'clock in the afternoon before any signs of life
other than the blackbird appeared there. Then the girl came on deck
again, accompanied by a stout woman of middle age, and an appearance
so affable that the mate commenced at once.
"Fine day," he said pleasantly, as he brought up in front of them.
"Lovely weather," said the mother, settling herself in her chair
and putting down her work ready for a chat. "I hope the wind lasts; we
start to-morrow morning's tide. You'll get off this afternoon, I
"About five o'clock," said the mate.
"I should like to try a steamer for a change," said the mother, and
waxed garrulous on sailing craft generally, and her own in particular.
"There's five of us down there, with my husband and the two boys,"
said she, indicating the cabin with her thumb; "naturally it gets
The mate sighed. He was thinking that under some conditions there
were worse things than stuffy cabins.
"And Nancy's so discontented," said the mother, looking at the girl
who was reading quietly by her side. "She doesn't like ships or
sailors. She gets her head turned reading those penny novelettes."
"You look after your own head," said Nancy elegantly, without
"Girls in those novels don't talk to their mothers like that," said
the elder woman severely.
"They have different sorts of mothers," said Nancy, serenely
turning over a page. "I hate little pokey ships and sailors smelling
of tar. I never saw a sailor I liked yet."
The mate's face fell. "There's sailors and sailors," he suggested
"It's no good talking to her," said the mother, with a look of fat
resignation on her face, "we can only let her go her own way; if you
talked to her twenty-four hours right off it wouldn't do her any
"I'd like to try," said the mate, plucking up spirit.
"Would you?" said the girl, for the first time raising her head and
looking him full in the face. "Impudence!"
"Perhaps you haven't seen many ships," said the impressionable
mate, his eyes devouring her face. "Would you like to come and have a
look at our cabin?"
"No, thanks!" said the girl sharply. Then she smiled maliciously.
"I daresay mother would, though; she's fond of poking her nose into
other people's business."
The mother regarded her irreverent offspring fixedly for a few
moments. The mate interposed.
"I should be very pleased to show you over, ma'am," he said
The mother hesitated; then she rose, and accepting the mate's
assistance, clambered on to the side of the steamer, and, supported by
his arms, sprang to the deck and followed him below.
"Very nice," she said, nodding approvingly, as the mate did the
honours. "Very nice."
"It's nice and roomy for a little craft like ours," said the mate,
as he drew a stone bottle from a locker and poured out a couple of
glasses of stout. "Try a little beer, ma'am."
"What you must think o' that girl o' mine I can't think," murmured
the lady, taking a modest draught.
"The young," said the mate, who had not quite reached his
twenty-fifth year, "are often like that."
"It spoils her," said her mother. "She's a good-looking girl, too,
in her way."
"I don't see how she can help being that," said the mate.
"Oh, get away with you," said the lady pleasantly. "She'll get fat
like me as she gets older."
"She couldn't do better," said the mate tenderly.
"Nonsense," said the lady, smiling.
"You're as like as two peas," persisted the mate. "I made sure you
were sisters when I saw you first."
"You ain't the first that's thought that," said the other, laughing
softly; "not by a lot."
"I like to see ladies about," said the mate, who was trying
desperately for a return invitation. "I wish you could always sit
there. You quite brighten the cabin up."
"You're a flatterer," said his visitor, as he replenished her
glass, and showed so little signs of making a move that the mate,
making a pretext of seeing the engineer, hurried up on deck to singe
his wings once more.
"Still reading?" he said softly, as he came abreast of the girl.
"All about love, I s'pose."
"Have you left my mother down there all by herself?" inquired the
"Just a minute," said the mate, somewhat crestfallen. "I just came
up to see the engineer."
"Well, he isn't here," was the discouraging reply.
The mate waited a minute or two, the girl still reading quietly,
and then walked back to the cabin. The sound of gentle regular
breathing reached his ears, and, stepping softly, he saw to his joy
that his visitor slept.
"She's asleep," said he, going back, "and she looks so comfortable
I don't think I'll wake her."
"I shouldn't advise you to," said the girl; "she always wakes up
"How strange we should run up against each other like this," said
the mate sentimentally; "it looks like Providence, doesn't it?"
"Looks like carelessness," said the girl.
"I don't care," replied the mate. "I'm glad I did let that line go
overboard. Best day's work I ever did. I shouldn't have seen you if I
"And I don't suppose you'll ever see me again," said the girl
comfortably, "so I don't see what good you've done yourself."
"I shall run down to Limehouse every time we're in port, anyway,"
said the mate; "it'll be odd if I don't see you sometimes. I daresay
our craft'll pass each other sometimes. Perhaps in the night," he
"I shall sit up all night watching for you," declared Miss Jansell
In this cheerful fashion the conversation proceeded, the girl, who
was by no means insensible to his bright eager face and well-knit
figure, dividing her time in the ratio of three parts to her book and
one to him. Time passed all too soon for the mate, when they were
interrupted by a series of hoarse unintelligible roars proceeding from
the schooner's cabin.
"That's father," said Miss Jansell, rising with a celerity which
spoke well for the discipline maintained on the Aquila; "he wants me
to mend his waistcoat for him."
She put down her book and left, the mate watching her until she
disappeared down the companion-way. Then he sat down and waited.
One by one the crew returned to the steamer, but the schooner's
deck showed no signs of life. Then the skipper came, and, having
peered critically over his vessel's side, gave orders to get under
"If she'd only come up," said the miserable mate to himself, "I'd
risk it, and ask whether I might write to her."
This chance of imperilling a promising career did not occur,
however; the steamer slowly edged away from the schooner, and, picking
her way between a tier of lighters, steamed slowly into clearer water.
"Full speed ahead!" roared the skipper down the tube. The engineer
responded, and the mate gazed in a melancholy fashion at the water as
it rapidly widened between the two vessels. Then his face brightened
up suddenly as the girl ran up on deck and waved her hand. Hardly able
to believe his eyes, he waved his back. The girl gesticulated
violently, now pointing to the steamer, and then to the schooner.
"By Jove, that girl's taken a fancy to you," said the skipper. "She
wants you to go back."
The mate sighed. "Seems like it," he said modestly.
To his astonishment the girl was now joined by her men folk, who
also waved hearty farewells, and, throwing their arms about, shouted
"Blamed if they haven't all took a fancy to you," said the puzzled
skipper; "the old man's got the speaking-trumpet now. What does he
"Something about life, I think," said the mate.
"They're more like jumping-jacks than anything else," said the
skipper. "Just look at 'em."
The mate looked, and, as the distance increased, sprang on to the
side, and, his eyes dim with emotion, waved tender farewells. If it
had not been for the presence of the skipper—a tremendous stickler
for decorum— he would have kissed his hand.
It was not until Gravesend was passed, and the side-lights of the
shipping were trying to show in the gathering dusk, that he awoke from
his tender apathy. It is probable that it would have lasted longer
than that but for a sudden wail of anguish and terror which proceeded
from the cabin and rang out on the still warm air.
"Sakes alive!" said the skipper, starting; "what's that?"
Before the mate could reply, the companion was pushed back, and a
middle-aged woman, labouring under strong excitement, appeared on
"You villain!" she screamed excitably, rushing up to the mate.
"Take me back; take me back!"
"What's all this, Harry?" demanded the skipper sternly.
"He—he—he—asked me to go into the cab—cabin," sobbed Mrs.
Jansell, "and sent me to sleep, and too—too—took me away. My
husband'll kill me; I know he will. Take me back."
"What do you want to be took back to be killed for?" interposed one
of the men judicially.
"I might ha' known what he meant when he said I brightened the
cabin up," said Mrs. Jansell; "and when he said he thought me and my
daughter were sisters. He said he'd like me to sit there always, the
"Did you say that?" inquired the skipper fiercely.
"Well, I did," said the miserable mate; "but I didn't mean her to
take it that way. She went to sleep, and I forgot all about her."
"What did you say such silly lies for, then?" demanded the skipper.
The mate hung his head.
"Old enough to be your mother too," said the skipper severely.
"Here's a nice thing to happen aboard my ship, and afore the boy too!"
"Blast the boy!" said the goaded mate.
"Take me back," wailed Mrs. Jansell; "you don't know how jealous my
"He won't hurt you," said the skipper kindly "he won't be jealous
of a woman your time o' life; that is, not if he's got any sense.
You'll have to go as far as Boston with us now. I've lost too much
time already to go back."
"You must take me back," said Mrs. Jansell passionately.
"I'm not going back for anybody," said the skipper. "But you can
make your mind quite easy: you're as safe aboard my ship as what you
would be alone on a raft in the middle of the Atlantic; and as for the
mate, he was only chaffing you. Wasn't you, Harry?"
The mate made some reply, but neither Mrs. Jansell, the skipper,
nor the men, who were all listening eagerly, caught it, and his
unfortunate victim, accepting the inevitable, walked to the side of
the ship and gazed disconsolately astern.
It was not until the following morning that the mate, who had
received orders to mess for'ard, saw her, and ignoring the fact that
everybody suspended work to listen, walked up and bade her good
"Harry," said the skipper warningly.
"All right," said the mate shortly. "I want to speak to you very
particularly," he said nervously, and led his listener aft, followed
by three of the crew who came to clean the brasswork, and who listened
mutinously when they were ordered to defer unwonted industry to a more
fitting time. The deck clear, the mate began, and in a long rambling
statement, which Mrs. Jansell at first thought the ravings of lunacy,
acquainted her with the real state of his feelings.
"I never did!" said she, when he had finished. "Never! Why, you
hadn't seen her before yesterday."
"Of course I shall take you back by train," said the mate, "and
tell your husband how sorry I am."
"I might have suspected something when you said all those nice
things to me," said the mollified lady. "Well, you must take your
chance, like all the rest of them. She can only say 'No,' again. It'll
explain this affair better, that's one thing; but I expect they'll
laugh at you."
"I don't care," said the mate stoutly. "You're on my side, ain't
Mrs. Jansell laughed, and the mate, having succeeded beyond his
hopes in the establishment of amicable relations, went about his
duties with a light heart.
By the time they reached Boston the morning was far advanced, and
after the Gem was comfortably berthed he obtained permission of the
skipper to accompany the fair passenger to London, beguiling the long
railway journey by every means in his power. Despite his efforts,
however, the journey began to pall upon his companion, and it was not
until evening was well advanced that they found themselves in the
narrow streets of Limehouse.
"We'll see how the land lies first," said he, as they approached
the wharf and made their way cautiously on to the quay.
The Aquila was still alongside, and the mate's heart thumped
violently as he saw the cause of all the trouble sitting alone on the
deck. She rose with a little start as her mother stepped carefully
aboard, and, running to her, kissed her affectionately, and sat her
down on the hatches.
"Poor mother," she said caressingly. "What did you bring that
lunatic back with you for?"
"He would come," said Mrs. Jansell. "Hush! here comes your father."
The master of the Aquila came on deck as she spoke, and walking
slowly up to the group, stood sternly regarding them. Under his gaze
the mate breathlessly reeled off his tale, noticing with somewhat
mixed feelings the widening grin of his listener as he proceeded.
"Well, you're a lively sort o' man," said the skipper as he
finished. "In one day you tie up your own ship, run off with my wife,
and lose us a tide. Are you always like that?"
"I want somebody to look after me, I s'pose," said the mate, with a
side glance at Nancy.
"Well, we'd put you up for the night," said the skipper, with his
arm round his wife's shoulders; "but you're such a chap. I'm afraid
you'd burn the ship down, or something. What do you think, old girl?"
"I think we'll try him this once," said his wife. "And now I'll go
down and see about supper; I want it."
The old couple went below, and the young one remained on deck.
Nancy went and leaned against the side; and as she appeared to have
quite forgotten his presence, the mate, after some hesitation, joined
"Hadn't you better go down and get some supper?" she asked.
"I'd sooner stay here, if yon don't mind," said the mate. "I like
watching the lights going up and down; I could stay here for hours."
"I'll leave you, then," said the girl; "I'm hungry."
She tripped lightly off with a smothered laugh, leaving the fairly-
trapped man gazing indignantly at the lights which had lured him to
From below he heard the cheerful clatter of crockery, accompanied
by a savoury incense, and talk and laughter. He imagined the girl
making fun of his sentimental reasons for staying on deck; but, too
proud to meet her ironical glances, stayed doggedly where he was,
resolving to be off by the first train in the morning. He was roused
from his gloom by a slight touch on his arm, and, turning sharply, saw
the girl by his side.
"Supper's quite ready," said she soberly. "And if you want to
admire the lights very much, come up and see them when I do—after