A MYSTERY SHIP
It bobbed about in the boating pool on the Western Under cliff rocks, secured by a string to an old iron ring that in its day had held many a craft and cargo safe. It was one of the kind sold in shops for five shillings---- a lump of wood shaped like a ship and painted here and there in red and blue. But the sail had gone and the mast was broken short.
Two eyes, bright with excitement, peeped round a nearby rock covered in seaweed, showing that I was not alone. "This your ship?" I asked; whereupon a small boy stood up, though I noticed he came no nearer.
" I say mister, you 're not a Customs office, are you?" he almost shouted across the short distance between us, in a strange sort of way there showed suspicion in his young voice. When I had assured him that I was nothing so romantic, he came and stood by me; but I noticed he kept a sharp look-out towards the promenade behind us. "I slipped behind the rock because I thought you might be a Customs officer," he explained.
"Smuggling, eh ?" I said; and the sea-imp with curly hair and a face brown as his bare arms and legs looked full of the mischief that makes a successful smuggler. Whatever his enterprise, there was adventure in his eyes, and more excitement than he could control, he was quivering.
"Little beauty, isn't she ?" he said, pointing to the ship. "Safe as a house. D' you remember how rough it was last Thursday ? Well, she never sank once all the morning. She's sailing to-night," he added in a whisper, and I noticed there was another nervous glance towards the promenade, "before the moon is up."
"But her sail has gone and the mast is broken." I ventured.
"No that's the funnel. She was a sailing ship, but of course I had to disguise her, so I made her into a steamship. It's all the better, because a steamship will get there quicker. I suppose it wouldn't take more than a week to get to Portugal ? or would you have chosen Brazil if you were me?"
"You're playing a dangerous game mate," I said, in a low voice.
"Fearfully dangerous!" he agreed, in a whisper, which he made as hoarse as possible. "Did you see that torpedo boat pass this morning? She nearly had me; but before she could fire, I fastened my shirt to the handle of my shrimping net and waved at her, like the Scouts do, you know. I had ripping luck; I must have hit on the signal for ' All's well,' for she went on without taking any more notice. It was a near squeak, though. Do you happen to know if the ebb-tide begins before or after the moon rises? I suppose you don't know of a good drug for an Irish terrier do you? Mrs Wiggins's makes such an awful row whenever anybody goes in or out of the house, and I'm afraid it will wake them all up when I creep downstairs.
"Shss! There's a coast-guard; come on!" and he dragged me down behind a rock. "He's got his eye on us; what shall we do? If you happen to be a strong swimmer, I could get on your back and we could perhaps escape round the point. No? Well, I must bluff him somehow. You stay here." He went and picked up his ship, tucked it under his arm, and marched boldly up to the coast-guard and stood talking to him a moment. Then he proceeded up the cliff slope; the coast-guard however, came over the rocks towards me.
"Young gentleman says you particularly want to see me, Sir," he said.
To gain time, I offered him a cigarette. From the cliff slope came frantic signals urging me to secrecy, so I proceeded to ask a few questions about the currents and the tides round Pegwell-Bay.
I have not seen the young filibuster again; but as the papers have contained nothing exciting from Portugal, I expect in a few days time to learn of strange happenings way down in Brazil.