Elopement by W. W. Jacobs
An Extract from
I have always had a slight suspicion that the following narrative
is not quite true. It was related to me by an old seaman who, among
other incidents of a somewhat adventurous career, claimed to have
received Napoleon's sword at the battle of Trafalgar, and a wound in
the back at Waterloo. I prefer to tell it in my own way, his being so
garnished with nautical terms and expletives as to be half
unintelligible and somewhat horrifying. Our talk had been of love and
courtship, and after making me a present of several tips, invented by
himself, and considered invaluable by his friends, he related this
story of the courtship of a chum of his as illustrating the great
lengths to which young bloods were prepared to go in his days to
attain their ends.
It was a fine clear day in June when Hezekiah Lewis, captain and
part owner of the schooner Thames, bound from London to Aberdeen,
anchored off the little out-of-the-way town of Orford in Suffolk.
Among other antiquities, the town possessed Hezekiah's widowed mother,
and when there was no very great hurry—the world went slower in those
days—the dutiful son used to go ashore in the ship's boat, and after
a filial tap at his mother's window, which often startled the old
woman considerably, pass on his way to see a young lady to whom he had
already proposed five times without effect.
The mate and crew of the schooner, seven all told, drew up in a
little knot as the skipper, in his shore-going clothes, appeared on
deck, and regarded him with an air of grinning, mysterious interest.
"Now you all know what you have got to do?" queried the skipper.
"Ay, ay," replied the crew, grinning still more deeply.
Hezekiah regarded them closely, and then ordering the boat to be
lowered, scrambled over the side, and was pulled swiftly towards the
A sharp scream, and a breathless "Lawk-a-mussy me!" as he tapped at
his mother's window, assured him that the old lady was alive and well,
and he continued on his way until he brought up at a small but pretty
house in the next road.
"Morning, Mr. Rumbolt," said he heartily to a stout, red-faced man,
who sat smoking in the doorway.
"Morning, cap'n, morning," said the red-faced man.
"Is the rheumatism any better?" inquired Hezekiah anxiously, as he
grasped the other's huge hand.
"So, so," said the other. "But it ain't the rheumatism so much what
troubles me," he resumed, lowering his voice, and looking round
cautiously. "It's Kate."
"What?" said the skipper.
"You've heard of a man being henpecked?" continued Mr. Rumbolt, in
tones of husky confidence.
The captain nodded.
"I'm CHICK-PECKED" murmured the other.
"What?" inquired the astonished mariner again.
"Chick-pecked," repeated Mr. Rumbolt firmly. "CHIK-PEKED. D'ye
The captain said that he did, and stood silent awhile, with the air
of a man who wants to say something, but is half afraid to. At last,
with a desperate appearance of resolution, he bent down to the old
"That's the deaf 'un," said Mr. Rumbolt promptly.
Hezekiah changed ears, speaking at first slowly and awkwardly, but
becoming more fluent as he warmed with his subject; while the
expression of his listener's face gradually changed from incredulous
bewilderment to one of uncontrollable mirth. He became so uproarious
that he was fain to push the captain away from him, and lean back in
his chair and choke and laugh until he nearly lost his breath, at
which crisis a remarkably pretty girl appeared from the back of the
house, and patted him with hearty good will.
"That'll do, my dear," said the choking Mr. Rumbolt. "Here's
"I can see him," said his daughter calmly. "What's he standing on
one leg for?"
The skipper, who really was standing in a somewhat constrained
attitude, coloured violently, and planted both feet firmly on the
"Being as I was passing close in, Miss Rumbolt," said he, "and
coming ashore to see mother"—
To the captain's discomfort, manifestations of a further attack on
the part of Mr. Rumbolt appeared, but were promptly quelled by the
"Mother?" she repeated encouragingly,
"I thought I'd come on and ask you just to pay a sort o' flying
visit to the Thames." "Thank you, I'm comfortable enough where I am,"
said the girl.
"I've got a couple of monkeys and a bear aboard, which I 'm taking
to a menagerie in Aberdeen," continued the captain, "and the thought
struck me you might possibly like to see 'em." "Well, I don't know,"
said the damsel in a flutter. "Is it a big bear?"
"Have you ever seen an elephant?" inquired Hezekiah cautiously.
"Only in pictures," replied the girl.
"Well, it's as big as that, nearly," said he.
The temptation was irresistible, and Miss Rumbolt, telling her
father that she should not be long, disappeared into the house in
search of her hat and jacket, and ten minutes later the brawny rowers
were gazing their fill into her deep blue eyes as she sat in the stern
of the boat, and told Lewis to behave himself.
It was but a short pull out to the schooner, and Miss Rumbolt was
soon on the deck, lavishing endearments on the monkey, and
energetically prodding the bear with a handspike to make him growl.
The noise of the offended animal as he strove to get through the bars
of his cage was terrific, and the girl was in the full enjoyment of
it, when she became aware of a louder noise still, and, turning round,
saw the seamen at the windlass.
"Why, what are they doing?" she demanded, "getting up anchor?"
"Ahoy, there!" shouted Hezekiah sternly. "What are you doing with
As he spoke, the anchor peeped over the edge of the bows, and one
of the seamen running past them took the helm.
"Now then," shouted the fellow, "stand by. Look lively there with
Obeying a light touch of the helm, the schooner's bow-sprit slowly
swung round from the land, and the crew, hauling lustily on the ropes,
began to hoist the sails.
"What the devil are you up to?" thundered the skipper. "Have you
all gone mad? What does it all mean?"
"It means," said one of the seamen, whose fat, amiable face was
marred by a fearful scowl, "that we've got a new skipper."
"Good heavens, a mutiny!" exclaimed the skipper, starting
melodramatically against the cage, and starting hastily away again.
"Where's the mate?"
"He's with us," said another seaman, brandishing his sheath knife,
and scowling fearfully. "He's our new captain."
In confirmation of this the mate now appeared from below with an
axe in his hand, and, approaching his captain, roughly ordered him
"I'll defend this lady with my life," cried Hezekiah, taking the
handspike from Kate, and raising it above his head.
"Nobody'll hurt a hair of her beautiful head," said the mate, with
a tender smile.
"Then I yield," said the skipper, drawing himself up, and
delivering the handspike with the air of a defeated admiral tendering
"Good," said the mate briefly, as one of the men took it.
"What!" demanded Miss Rumbolt excitedly, "aren't you going to fight
them? Here, give me the handspike."
Before the mate could interfere, the sailor, with thoughtless
obedience, handed it over, and Miss Rumbolt at once tried to knock him
over the head. Being thwarted in this design by the man taking flight,
she lost her temper entirely, and bore down like a hurricane on the
remaining members of the crew who were just approaching.
They scattered at once, and ran up the rigging like cats, and for a
few moments the girl held the deck; then the mate crept up behind her,
and with the air of a man whose job exactly suited him, clasped her
tightly round the waist, while one of the seamen disarmed her.
"You must both go below till we've settled what to do with you,"
said the mate, reluctantly releasing her.
With a wistful glance at the handspike, the girl walked to the
cabin, followed slowly by the skipper.
"This is a bad business," said the latter, shaking his head
solemnly, as the indignant Miss Rumbolt seated herself.
"Don't talk to me, you coward!" said the girl energetically.
The skipper started.
"I made three of 'em run," said Miss Rumbolt, "and you did
nothing. You just stood still, and let them take the ship. I'm ashamed
The skipper's defence was interrupted by a hoarse voice shouting to
them to come on deck, where they found the mutinous crew gathered aft
round the mate. The girl cast a look at the shore, which was now dim
and indistinct, and turned somewhat pale as the serious nature of her
position forced itself upon her.
"Lewis," said the mate.
"Well," growled the skipper.
"This ship's going in the lace and brandy trade, and if so be as
you're sensible you can go with it as mate, d'ye hear?"
"An' s'pose I do; what about the lady?" inquired the captain.
"You and the lady'll have to get spliced," said the mate sternly.
"Then there'll be no tales told. A Scotch marriage is as good as any,
and we'll just lay off and put you ashore, and you can get tied up as
right as ninepence."
"Marry a coward like that?" demanded Miss Rumbolt, with spirit;
"not if I know it. Why, I'd sooner marry that old man at the helm."
"Old Bill's got three wives a'ready to my sartin knowledge," spoke
up one of the sailors. "The lady's got to marry Cap'n Lewis, so don't
let's have no fuss about it."
"I won't," said the lady, stamping violently.
The mutineers appeared to be in a dilemma, and, following the
example of the mate, scratched their heads thoughtfully.
"We thought you liked him," said the mate, at last, feebly.
"You had no business to think," said Miss Rumbolt. "You are bad
men, and you'll all be hung, every one of you; I shall come and see
it." "The cap'n's welcome to her for me," murmured the helmsman in a
husky whisper to the man next to him. "The vixen!"
"Very good," said the mate. "If you won't, you won't. This end of
the ship'll belong to you after eight o'clock of a night. Lewis, you
must go for'ard with the men."
"And what are you going to do with me after?" inquired the fair
The seven men shrugged their shoulders helplessly, and Hezekiah,
looking depressed, lit his pipe, and went and leaned over the side.
The day passed quietly. The orders were given by the mate, and
Hezekiah lounged moodily about, a prisoner at large. At eight o'clock
Miss Rumbolt was given the key of the state-room, and the men who were
not in the watch went below.
The morning broke fine and clear with a light breeze, which,
towards mid-day, dropped entirely, and the schooner lay rocking lazily
on a sea of glassy smoothness. The sun beat fiercely down, bringing
the fresh paint on the taffrail up in blisters, and sorely trying the
tempers of the men who were doing odd jobs on deck.
The cabin, where the two victims of a mutinous crew had retired for
coolness, got more and more stuffy, until at length even the scorching
deck seemed preferable, and the girl, with a faint hope of finding a
shady corner, went languidly up the companion-ladder.
For some time the skipper sat alone, pondering gloomily over the
state of affairs as he smoked his short pipe. He was aroused at length
from his apathy by the sound of the companion being noisily closed,
while loud frightened cries and hurrying footsteps on deck announced
that something extraordinary was happening. As he rose to his feet he
was confronted by Kate Rumbolt, who, panting and excited, waved a big
key before him.
"I've done it," she cried, her eyes sparkling.
"Done what?" shouted the mystified skipper.
"Let the bear loose," said the girl. "Ha, ha! you should have seen
them run. You should have seen the fat sailor!"
"Let the—phew—let the— Good heavens! here's a pretty kettle of
fish!" he choked.
"Listen to them shouting," cried the exultant Kate, clapping her
hands. "Just listen."
"Those shouts are from aloft," said Hezekiah sternly, "where you
and I ought to be."
"I've closed the companion," said the girl reassuringly.
"Closed the companion!" repeated Hezekiah, as he drew his knife.
"He can smash it like cardboard, if the fit takes him. Go in here."
He opened the door of his state-room.
"Shan't!" said Miss Rumbolt politely.
"Go in at once!" cried the skipper. "Quick with you."
"Sha—" began Miss Rumbolt again. Then she caught his eye, and went
in like a lamb. "You come too," she said prettily.
"I've got to look after my ship and my men," said the skipper. "I
suppose you thought the ship would steer itself, didn't you?"
"Mutineers deserve to be eaten," whimpered Miss Rumbolt piously,
somewhat taken aback by the skipper's demeanour.
Hezekiah looked at her.
"They're not mutineers, Kate," he said quietly. "It was just a
piece of mad folly of mine. They're as honest a set of old sea dogs as
ever breathed, and I only hope they are all safe up aloft. I'm going
to lock you in; but don't be frightened, it shan't hurt you."
He slammed the door on her protests, and locked it, and, slipping
the key of the cage in his pocket, took a firm grip of his knife, and,
running up the steps, gained the deck. Then his breath came more
freely, for the mate, who was standing a little way up the fore
rigging, after tempting the bear with his foot, had succeeded in
dropping a noose over its head. The brute made a furious attempt to
extricate itself, but the men hurried down with other lines, and in a
short space of time the bear presented much the same appearance as the
lion in Aesop's Fables, and was dragged and pushed, a heated and
indignant mass of fur, back to its cage.
Having locked up one prisoner the skipper went below and released
the other, who passed quickly from a somewhat hysterical condition to
one of such haughty disdain that the captain was thoroughly cowed, and
stood humbly aside to let her pass.
The fat seaman was standing in front of the cage as she reached it,
and regarding the bear with much satisfaction until Kate sidled up to
him, and begged him, as a personal favour, to go in the cage and undo
"Undo it! Why he'd kill me!" gasped the fat seaman, aghast at such
"I don't think he would," said his tormenter, with a bewitching
smile; "and I'll wear a lock of your hair all my life if you do. But
you'd better give it to me before you go in."
"I ain't going in," said the fat sailor shortly.
"Not for me?" queried Kate archly,
"Not for fifty like you," replied the old man firmly. "He nearly
had me when he was loose. I can't think how he got out."
"Why, I let him out," said Miss Rumbolt airily. "Just for a little
run. How would you like to be shut up all day?"
The sailor was just going to tell her with more fluency than
politeness when he was interrupted. "That'll do," said the skipper,
who had come behind them. "Go for'ard, you. There's been enough of
this fooling; the lady thought you had taken the ship. Thompson, I'll
take the helm; there's a little wind coming. Stand by there."
He walked aft and relieved the steersman, awkwardly conscious that
the men were becoming more and more interested in the situation, and
also that Kate could hear some of their remarks. As he pondered over
the subject, and tried to think of a way out of it, the cause of all
the trouble came and stood by him.
"Did my father know of this?" she inquired.
"I don't know that he did exactly," said the skipper uneasily. "I
just told him not to expect you back that night."
"And what did he say?" said she.
"Said he wouldn't sit up," said the skipper, grinning, despite
Kate drew a breath the length of which boded no good to her parent,
and looked over the side.
"I was afraid of that traveller chap from Ipswich," said Hezekiah,
after a pause. "Your father told me he was hanging round you again, so
I thought I—well, I was a blamed fool anyway."
"See how ridiculous you have made me look before all these men,"
said the girl angrily.
"They've been with me for years," said Hezekiah apologetically,
"and the mate said it was a magnificent idea. He quite raved about it,
he did. I wouldn't have done it with some crews, but we've had some
dirty times together, and they've stood by me well. But of course
that's nothing to do with you. It's been an adventure I'm very sorry
"A pretty safe adventure for YOU," said the girl scornfully. "YOU
didn't risk much. Look here, I like brave men. If you go in the cage
and undo that bear, I'll marry you. That's what I call an
"Smith," called the skipper quietly, "come and take the helm a
The seaman obeyed, and Lewis, accompanied by the girl, walked
At the bear's cage he stopped, and, fumbling in his pocket for the
key, steadily regarded the brute as it lay gnashing its teeth, and
trying in vain to bite the ropes which bound it.
"You're afraid," said the girl tauntingly; "you're quite white."
The captain made no reply, but eyed her so steadily that her gaze
fell. He drew the key from his pocket and inserted it in the huge
lock, and was just turning it, when a soft arm was drawn through his,
and a soft voice murmured sweetly in his ear, "Never mind about the
And he did not mind.