Watch by W. W. Jacobs
An Extract from
Captain Polson sat in his comfortable parlour smiling benignly upon
his daughter and sister. His ship, after an absence of eighteen
months, was once more berthed in the small harbour of Barborough, and
the captain was sitting in that state of good-natured affability which
invariably characterised his first appearance after a long absence.
"No news this end, I suppose," he inquired, after a lengthy recital
of most extraordinarily uninteresting adventures.
"Not much," said his sister Jane, looking nervously at her niece.
"Young Metcalfe has gone into partnership with his father."
"I don't want to hear about those sharks," said the captain, waxing
red. "Tell me about honest men."
"Joe Lewis has had a month's imprisonment for stealing fowls," said
Miss Polson meekly. "Mrs. Purton has had twins—dear little fellows
they are, fat as butter!—she has named one of them Polson, after you.
The greedy one."
"Any deaths?" inquired the captain snappishly, as he eyed the
innocent lady suspiciously.
"Poor old Jasper Wheeler has gone," said his sister; "he was very
resigned. He borrowed enough money to get a big doctor from London,
and when he heard that there was no hope for him he said he was just
longing to go, and he was sorry he couldn't take all his dear ones
with him. Mary Hewson is married to Jack Draper, and young Metcalfe's
banns go up for the third time next Sunday."
"I hope he gets a Tartar," said the vindictive captain. "Who's the
girl? Some silly little fool, I know. She ought to be warned!"
"I don't believe in interfering in marriages," said his daughter
Chrissie, shaking her head sagely.
"Oh!" said the captain, staring, "YOU don't! Now you've put your
hair up and taken to wearing long frocks, I suppose you're beginning
to think of it."
"Yes; auntie wants to tell you something!" said his daughter,
rising and crossing the room.
"No, I don't!" said Miss Polson hastily.
"You'd better do it," said Chrissie, giving her a little push,
"there's a dear; I'll go upstairs and lock myself in my room."
The face of the captain, whilst this conversation was passing, was
a study in suppressed emotions. He was a firm advocate for importing
the manners of the quarter-deck into private life, the only drawback
being that he had to leave behind him the language usual in that
locality. To this omission he usually ascribed his failures.
"Sit down, Chrissie," he commanded; "sit down, Jane. Now, miss,
what's all this about?"
"I don't like to tell you," said Chrissie, folding her hands in her
lap. "I know you'll be cross. You're so unreasonable."
The captain stared—frightfully.
"I'm going to be married," said Chrissie suddenly,—"there! To Jack
Metcalfe—there! So you'll have to learn to love him. He's going to
try and love you for my sake." To his sister's dismay the captain got
up, and brandishing his fists walked violently to and fro. By these
simple but unusual means decorum was preserved.
"If you were only a boy," said the captain, when he had regained
his seat, "I should know what to do with you."
"If I were a boy," said Chrissie, who, having braced herself up for
the fray, meant to go through with it, "I shouldn't want to marry
Jack. Don't be silly, father!"
"Jane," said the captain, in a voice which made the lady addressed
start in her chair, "what do you mean by it?"
"It isn't my fault," said Miss Polson feebly. "I told her how it
would be. And it was so gradual; he admired my geraniums at first,
and, of course, I was deceived. There are so many people admire my
geraniums; whether it is because the window has a south aspect"—
"Oh!" said the captain rudely, "that'll do, Jane. If he wasn't a
lawyer, I'd go round and break his neck. Chrissie is only nineteen,
and she'll come for a year's cruise with me. Perhaps the sea air'll
strengthen her head. We'll see who's master in this family."
"I'm sure I don't want to be master," said his daughter, taking a
weapon of fine cambric out of her pocket, and getting ready for
action. "I can't help liking people. Auntie likes him too, don't you,
"Yes," said Miss Polson bravely.
"Very good," said the autocrat promptly, "I'll take you both for a
"You're making me very un—unhappy," said Chrissie, burying her
face in her handkerchief.
"You'll be more unhappy before I've done with you," said the
captain grimly. "And while I think of it, I'll step round and stop
those banns." His daughter caught him by the arm as he was passing,
and laid her face on his sleeve. "You'll make me look so foolish," she
"That'll make it easier for you to come to sea with me," said her
father. "Don't cry all over my sleeve. I'm going to see a parson. Run
upstairs and play with your dolls, and if you're a good girl, I'll
bring you in some sweets." He put on his hat, and closing the front
door with a bang, went off to the new rector to knock two years off
the age which his daughter kept for purposes of matrimony. The rector,
grieved at such duplicity in one so young, met him more than half way,
and he came out from him smiling placidly, until his attention was
attracted by a young man on the other side of the road, who was
regarding him with manifest awkwardness.
"Good evening, Captain Polson," he said, crossing the road.
"Oh," said the captain, stopping, "I wanted to speak to you. I
suppose you wanted to marry my daughter while I was out of the way, to
save trouble. Just the manly thing I should have expected of you. I've
stopped the banns, and I'm going to take her for a voyage with me.
You'll have to look elsewhere, my lad."
"The ill feeling is all on your side, captain," said Metcalfe,
"Ill feeling!" snorted the captain. "You put me in the witness-box,
and made me a laughing-stock in the place with your silly attempts at
jokes, lost me five hundred pounds, and then try and marry my daughter
while I'm at sea. Ill feeling be hanged!"
"That was business," said the other.
"It was," said the captain, "and this is business too. Mine. I'll
look after it, I'll promise you. I think I know who'll look silly this
time. I'd sooner see my girl in heaven than married to a rascal of a
"You'd want good glasses," retorted Metcalfe, who was becoming
"I don't want to bandy words with you," said the captain with
dignity, after a long pause, devoted to thinking of something worth
bandying. "You think you're a clever fellow, but I know a cleverer.
You're quite welcome to marry my daughter—if you can."
He turned on his heel, and refusing to listen to any further
remarks, went on his way rejoicing. Arrived home, he lit his pipe, and
throwing himself into an armchair, related his exploits. Chrissie had
recourse to her handkerchief again, more for effect than use, but Miss
Polson, who was a tender soul, took hers out and wept unrestrainedly.
At first the captain took it well enough. It was a tribute to his
power, but when they took to sobbing one against the other, his temper
rose, and he sternly commanded silence.
"I shall be like—this—every day at sea," sobbed Chrissie
vindictively, "only worse; making us all ridiculous."
"Stop that noise directly!" vociferated the captain.
"We c-c-can't," sobbed Miss Polson.
"And we d-don't want to," said Chrissie. "It's all we can do, and
we're going to do it. You'd better g-go out and stop something else.
You can't stop us."
The captain took the advice and went, and in the billiard-room of
the "George" heard some news which set him thinking, and which brought
him back somewhat earlier than he had at first intended. A small group
at his gate broke up into its elements at his approach, and the
captain, following his sister and daughter into the room, sat down and
eyed them severely.
"So you're going to run off to London to get married, are you,
miss?" he said ferociously. "Well, we'll see. You don't go out of my
sight until we sail, and if I catch that pettifogging lawyer round at
my gate again, I'll break every bone in his body, mind that."
For the next three days the captain kept his daughter under
observation, and never allowed her to stir abroad except in his
company. The evening of the third day, to his own great surprise, he
spent at a Dorcas. The company was not congenial, several of the
ladies putting their work away, and glaring frigidly at the intruder;
and though they could see clearly that he was suffering greatly, made
no attempt to put him at his ease. He was very thoughtful all the way
home, and the next day took a partner into the concern, in the shape
of his boatswain.
"You understand, Tucker," he concluded, as the hapless seaman stood
in a cringing attitude before Chrissie, "that you never let my
daughter out of your sight. When she goes out you go with her."
"Yessir," said Tucker; "and suppose she tells me to go home, what
am I to do then?"
"You're a fool," said the captain sharply. "It doesn't matter what
she says or does; unless you are in the same room, you are never to be
more than three yards from her."
"Make it four, cap'n," said the boatswain, in a broken voice.
"Three," said the captain; "and mind, she's artful. All girls are,
and she'll try and give you the slip. I've had information given me as
to what's going on. Whatever happens, you are not to leave her."
"I wish you'd get somebody else, sir," said Tucker, very
respectfully. "There's a lot of chaps aboard that'd like the job."
"You're the only man I can trust," said the captain shortly. "When
I give you orders I know they'll be obeyed; it's your watch now."
He went out humming. Chrissie took up a book and sat down, utterly
ignoring the woebegone figure which stood the regulation three yards
from her, twisting its cap in its hands.
"I hope, miss," said the boatswain, after standing patiently for
three- quarters of an hour, "as 'ow you won't think I sought arter
this 'ere little job."
"No," said Chrissie, without looking up.
"I'm just obeying orders," continued the boatswain. "I always git
let in for these 'ere little jobs, somehow. The monkeys I've had to
look arter aboard ship would frighten you. There never was a monkey on
the Monarch but what I was in charge of. That's what a man gets
through being trustworthy."
"Just so," said Chrissie, putting down her book. "Well, I'm going
into the kitchen now; come along, nursie."
"'Ere, I say, miss!" remonstrated Tucker, flushing.
"I don't know how Susan will like you going in her kitchen," said
Chrissie thoughtfully; "however, that's your business."
The unfortunate seaman followed his fair charge into the kitchen,
and, leaning against the door-post, doubled up like a limp rag before
the terrible glance of its mistress.
"Ho!" said Susan, who took the state of affairs as an insult to the
sex in general; "and what might you be wanting?"
"Cap'n's orders," murmured Tucker feebly.
"I'm captain here," said Susan, confronting him with her bare arms
"And credit it does you," said the boatswain, looking round
"Is it your wish, Miss Chrissie, that this image comes and stalks
into my kitchen as if the place belongs to him?" demanded the irate
"I didn't mean to come in in that way," said the astonished Tucker.
"I can't help being big."
"I don't want him here," said her mistress; "what do you think I
want him for?"
"You hear that?" said Susan, pointing to the door; "now go. I don't
want people to say that you come into this kitchen after me."
"I'm here by the cap'n's orders," said Tucker faintly. "I don't
want to be here—far from it. As for people saying that I come here
after you, them as knows me would laugh at the idea."
"If I had my way," said Susan, in a hard rasping voice, "I'd box
your ears for you. That's what I'd do to you, and you can go and tell
the cap'n I said so. Spy!"
This was the first verse of the first watch, and there were many
verses. To add to his discomfort he was confined to the house, as his
charge manifested no desire to go outside, and as neither she nor her
aunt cared about the trouble of bringing him to a fit and proper state
of subjection, the task became a labour of love for the energetic
Susan. In spite of everything, however, he stuck to his guns, and the
indignant Chrissie, who was in almost hourly communication with
Metcalfe through the medium of her faithful handmaiden, was rapidly
On the fourth day, time getting short, Chrissie went on a new tack
with her keeper, and Susan, sorely against her will, had to follow
suit. Chrissie smiled at him, Susan called him Mr. Tucker, and Miss
Polson gave him a glass of her best wine. From the position of an
outcast, he jumped in one bound to that of confidential adviser. Miss
Polson told him many items of family interest, and later on in the
afternoon actually consulted him as to a bad cold which Chrissie had
He prescribed half-a-pint of linseed oil hot, but Miss Polson
favoured chlorodyne. The conversation then turned on the deadly
qualities of that drug when taken in excess, of the fatal sleep in
which it lulled its victims. So disastrous were the incidents cited,
that half an hour later, when, her aunt and Susan being out, Chrissie
took a small bottle of chlorodyne from the mantel-piece, the boatswain
implored her to try his nastier but safer remedy instead.
"Nonsense!" said Chrissie, "I'm only going to take twenty
The drug suddenly poured out in a little stream.
"I should think that's about it," said Chrissie, holding the
tumbler up to the light.
"It's about five hundred!" said the horrified Tucker. "Don't take
that, miss, whatever you do; let me measure it for you."
The girl waved him away, and, before he could interfere, drank off
the contents of the glass and resumed her seat. The boatswain watched
her uneasily, and taking up the phial carefully read through the
directions. After that he was not at all surprised to see the book
fall from his charge's hand on to the floor, and her eyes close.
"I knowed it," said Tucker, in a profuse perspiration, "I knowed
it. Them blamed gals are all alike. Always knows what's best. Miss
Polson! Miss Polson!"
He shook her roughly, but to no purpose, and then running to the
door, shouted eagerly for Susan. No reply forthcoming he ran to the
window, but there was nobody in sight, and he came back and stood in
front of the girl, wringing his huge hands helplessly. It was a great
question for a poor sailor-man. If he went for the doctor he deserted
his post; if he didn't go his charge might die. He made one more
attempt to awaken her, and, seizing a flower-glass, splashed her
freely with cold water. She did not even wince.
"It's no use fooling with it," murmured Tucker; "I must get the
doctor, that's all."
He quitted the room, and, dashing hastily downstairs, had already
opened the hall door when a thought struck him, and he came back
again. Chrissie was still asleep in the chair, and, with a smile at
the clever way in which he had solved a difficulty, he stooped down,
and, raising her in his strong arms, bore her from the room and
downstairs. Then a hitch occurred. The triumphant progress was marred
by the behaviour of the hall door, which, despite his efforts, refused
to be opened, and, encumbered by his fair burden, he could not for
some time ascertain the reason. Then, full of shame that so much
deceit could exist in so fair and frail a habitation, he discovered
that Miss Polson's foot was pressing firmly against it. Her eyes were
still closed and her head heavy, but the fact remained that one foot
was acting in a manner that was full of intelligence and guile, and
when he took it away from the door the other one took its place. By a
sudden manoeuvre the wily Tucker turned his back on the door, and
opened it, and, at the same moment, a hand came to life again and
dealt him a stinging slap on the face.
"Idiot!" said the indignant Chrissie, slipping from his arms and
confronting him. "How dare you take such a liberty?"
The astonished boatswain felt his face, and regarded her
"Don't you ever dare to speak to me again," said the offended
maiden, drawing herself up with irreproachable dignity. "I am
disgusted with your conduct. Most unbearable!"
"I was carrying you off to the doctor," said the boatswain." How
was I to know you was only shamming?"
"SHAMMING?" said Chrissie, in tones of incredulous horror. "I was
asleep. I often go to sleep in the afternoon."
The boatswain made no reply, except to grin with great intelligence
as he followed his charge upstairs again. He grinned at intervals
until the return of Susan and Miss Polson, who, trying to look
unconcerned, came in later on, both apparently suffering from temper,
Susan especially. Amid the sympathetic interruptions of these
listeners Chrissie recounted her experiences, while the boatswain,
despite his better sense, felt like the greatest scoundrel unhung, a
feeling which was fostered by the remarks of Susan and the chilling
regards of Miss Poison.
"I shall inform the captain," said Miss Polson, bridling. "It's my
"Oh, I shall tell him," said Chrissie. "I shall tell him the moment
he comes in at the door."
"So shall I," said Susan; "the idea of taking such liberties!"
Having fired this broadside, the trio watched the enemy narrowly
"If I've done anything wrong, ladies," said the unhappy boatswain,
"I am sorry for it. I can't say anything fairer than that, and I'll
tell the cap'n myself exactly how I came to do it when he comes in."
"Pah! tell-tale!" said Susan.
"Of course, if you are here to fetch and carry," said Miss Polson,
with withering emphasis.
"The idea of a grown man telling tales," said Chrissie scornfully.
"Why, just now you were all going to tell him yourselves," said the
The two elder women rose and regarded him with looks of pitying
disdain. Miss Polson's glance said "Fool!' plainly; Susan, a simple
child of nature, given to expressing her mind freely, said
"Blockhead!" with conviction.
"I see 'ow it is," said the boatswain, after ruminating deeply.
"Well, I won't split, ladies. I can see now you was all in it, and it
was a little job to get me out of the house."
"What a head he has got," said the irritated Susan; "isn't it
wonderful how he thinks of it all! Nobody would think he was so clever
to look at him."
"Still waters run deep," said the boatswain, who was beginning to
have a high opinion of himself.
"And pride goes before a fall," said Chrissie; "remember that, Mr.
Mr. Tucker grinned, but, remembering the fable of the pitcher and
the well, pressed his superior officer that evening to relieve him
from his duties. He stated that the strain was slowly undermining a
constitution which was not so strong as appearances would warrant, and
that his knowledge of female nature was lamentably deficient on many
important points. "You're doing very well," said the captain, who had
no intention of attending any more Dorcases, "very well indeed; I am
proud of you."
"It isn't a man's work," objected the boatswain. "Besides, if
anything happens you'll blame me for it."
"Nothing can happen," declared the captain confidently. "We shall
make a start in about four days now. You're the only man I can trust
with such a difficult job, Tucker, and I shan't forget you,"
"Very good," said the other dejectedly. "I obey orders, then."
The next day passed quietly, the members of the household making a
great fuss of Tucker, and thereby filling him with forebodings of the
worst possible nature. On the day after, when the captain, having
business at a neighbouring town, left him in sole charge, his
uneasiness could not be concealed.
"I'm going for a walk," said Chrissie, as he sat by himself,
working out dangerous moves and the best means of checking them;
"would you care to come with me, Tucker?"
"I wish you wouldn't put it that way, miss," said the boatswain, as
he reached for his hat.
"I want exercise," said Chrissie; "I've been cooped up long
She set off at a good pace up the High Street, attended by her
faithful follower, and passing through the small suburbs, struck out
into the country beyond. After four miles the boatswain, who was no
walker, reminded her that they had got to go back.
"Plenty of time," said Chrissie, "we have got the day before us.
Isn't it glorious? Do you see that milestone, Tucker? I'll race you to
it; come along."
She was off on the instant, with the boatswain, who suspected
treachery, after her.
"You CAN run," she panted, thoughtfully, as she came in second;
"we'll have another one presently. You don't know how good it is for
The boatswain grinned sourly and looked at her from the corner of
his eye. The next three miles passed like a horrible nightmare; his
charge making a race for every milestone, in which the labouring
boatswain, despite his want of practice, came in the winner. The
fourth ended disastrously, Chrissie limping the last ten yards, and
seating herself with a very woebegone face on the stone itself.
"You did very well, miss," said the boatswain, who thought he could
afford to be generous. "You needn't be offended about it."
"It's my ankle," said Chrissie with a little whimper. "Oh! I
twisted it right round."
The boatswain stood regarding her in silent consternation
"It's no use looking like that," said Chrissie sharply, "you great
clumsy thing. If you hadn't have run so hard it wouldn't have
happened. It's all your fault."
"If you don't mind leaning on me a bit," said Tucker, "we might get
Chrissie took his arm petulantly, and they started on their return
journey, at the rate of about four hours a mile, with little cries and
gasps at every other yard.
"It's no use," said Chrissie as she relinquished his arm, and,
limping to the side of the road, sat down. The boatswain pricked up
his ears hopefully at the sound of approaching wheels.
"What's the matter with the young lady?" inquired a groom who was
driving a little trap, as he pulled up and regarded with interest a
grimace of extraordinary intensity on the young lady's face.
"Broke her ankle, I think," said the boatswain glibly. "Which way
are you going?"
"Well, I'm going to Barborough," said the groom; "but my guvnor's
"I'll make it all right with you," said the boatswain.
The groom hesitated a minute, and then made way for Chrissie as the
boatswain assisted her to get up beside him; then Tucker, with a grin
of satisfaction at getting a seat once more, clambered up behind, and
"Have a rug, mate," said the groom, handing the reins to Chrissie
and passing it over; "put it round your knees and tuck the ends under
"Ay, ay, mate," said the boatswain as he obeyed the instructions.
"Are you sure you are quite comfortable?" said the groom
"Quite," said the other.
The groom said no more, but in a quiet business-like fashion placed
his hands on the seaman's broad back, and shot him out into the road.
Then he snatched up the reins and drove off at a gallop.
Without the faintest hope of winning, Mr. Tucker, who realised
clearly, appearances notwithstanding, that he had fallen into a trap,
rose after a hurried rest and started on his fifth race that morning.
The prize was only a second-rate groom with plated buttons, who was
waving cheery farewells to him with a dingy top hat; but the boatswain
would have sooner had it than a silver tea-service.
He ran as he had never ran before in his life, but all to no
purpose, the trap stopping calmly a little further on to take up
another passenger, in whose favour the groom retired to the back seat;
then, with a final wave of the hand to him, they took a road to the
left and drove rapidly out of sight. The boatswain's watch was over.