Chapter XLVI: A Midnight Cruise

“His hat has blown away too, and we lost our way in the dark, so we’re rather in a mess.”

“Why, so you be!” Sampson cried, eyeing them up and down. “I thought, when I heard you, as it was they folk from Claxton as comes ‘ere for bait whenever they be short. That’s nigh about the only visitors we ever gets here; bean’t it, Jarge?”

George, thus appealed to, made no articulate reply, but he opened his great mouth and laughed vociferously.

“We’ve come for something which will pay you better than that,” said Ezra. “You remember my meeting you two or three Saturdays ago, and speaking to you about your house and your boat and one thing or another?”

The fisherman nodded.

“You said something then about your boat being a good sea-going craft, and that it was as roomy as many a yacht. I think I told you that I might give it a try some day.”

The fisherman nodded again. His wondering eyes were still surveying his visitors, dwelling on every rent in their clothes or stain on their persons.

“My father and I want to get down the coast as far as the Downs. Now we thought that we might just as well give your boat a turn and have your son and yourself to work it. I suppose she is fit to go that distance?”

“Fit! whoy she be fit to go to ‘Meriky! The Downs ain’t more’n hunder and twenty mile. With a good breeze she would do it in a day. By to-morrow afternoon we’d be ready to make a start if the wind slackens.”

“To-morrow afternoon! We must be there by that time. We want you to start to-night.”

The seaman looked round at his son, and the boy burst out laughing once again.

“It ‘ud be a rum start for a vyage at this time o’ night, with half a gale from the sou’-west. I never heard tell o’ sich a thing!”

“Look here,” said Ezra, bending forward and emphasizing his words with his uplifted hand, “we’ve set our minds on going, and we don’t mind paying for the fancy. The sooner we start the better pleased we shall be. Name your price. If you won’t take us, there are many in Claxton that will.”

“Well, it be a cruel bad night to be sure,” the fisherman answered. “Like as not we’d get the boat knocked about, an’ maybe have her riggin’ damaged. We’ve been a-fresh paintin’ of her too, and that would be spoiled. It’s a powerful long way, and then there’s the gettin’ back. It means the loss of two or three days’ work, and there’s plenty of fish on the coast now, and a good market for them.”

“Would thirty pounds pay you?” asked Ezra.

The sum was considerably more than the fisherman would have ventured to ask. The very magnificence of it, however, encouraged him to hope that more might be forthcoming.

“Five-and-thirty wouldn’t pay me for the loss and trouble,” he said; “forbye the damage to the boat.”

“Say forty, then,” said Ezra. “It’s rather much to pay for a freak of this sort, but we won’t haggle over a pound or two.”

The old seaman scratched his head as though uncertain whether to take this blessing which the gods had sent or to hold out for more.

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