The Night Club - Herbert George Jenkins - ebook
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The idea originated with Bindle, who is never so happy as when listening to or telling a story. Sooner or later he will so guide conversation as to challenge from someone a reminiscence, or failing that, he will himself assume the burden of responsibility, and tell of how he engineered one of his "little jokes," as he calls them."I likes to 'ear 'im tellin' the tale," Bindle remarked one evening, as we sat in Dick Little's flat. Dick had just finished an extravagant and highly-coloured account of an Oxford "rag." "Fancy young gentlemen be'avin' like that," Bindle continued, "instead o' learnin' to be parsons. P'raps that's why they looks such gentle Jims when they gets into a stiff collar," and Bindle buried a wink in his tankard.

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Table of contents

FORMING THE NIGHT CLUB

THE COMING OF SALLIE

THE PRIME MINISTER DECIDES TO ADVERTISE

THE BOY

THE BARABBAS CLUB

I FAIL THE NIGHT CLUB

A SURPRISE BEHIND THE VEIL

THE MAKING OF A MAN OF GENIUS

MRS. BILTOX-JONES'S EXPERIMENT

THE NIGHT CLUB VISITS BINDLE

THE GENERAL BECOMES A MEMBER

THE MATER

THE ROMANCE OF A HORSEWHIPPING

GINGER VISITS THE NIGHT CLUB

A DRAMATIC ENGAGEMENT

THE MOGGRIDGES' ZEPPELIN NIGHT

SALLIE AT THE WHEEL

FORMING THE NIGHT CLUB

The idea originated with Bindle, who is never so happy as when listening to or telling a story. Sooner or later he will so guide conversation as to challenge from someone a reminiscence, or failing that, he will himself assume the burden of responsibility, and tell of how he engineered one of his "little jokes," as he calls them."I likes to 'ear 'im tellin' the tale," Bindle remarked one evening, as we sat in Dick Little's flat. Dick had just finished an extravagant and highly-coloured account of an Oxford "rag." "Fancy young gentlemen be'avin' like that," Bindle continued, "instead o' learnin' to be parsons. P'raps that's why they looks such gentle Jims when they gets into a stiff collar," and Bindle buried a wink in his tankard.A number of us had formed the habit of drifting into Dick Little's flat in Chelsea on Sunday evenings for a smoke, a drink and a yarn. That was in Dick's bachelor days and when he was working night and day at "Tims" (St. Timothy's Hospital). There would be Jocelyn Dare, the writer and inveterate hater of publishers, Jack Carruthers, who tolerated everybody except Mr. Lloyd George, sometimes Tom Little, Dick's brother, and about a dozen others, including a lot of men from "Tims."One Sunday evening in May, when the air was heavily-scented with blackthorn and laburnum, Bindle and I arrived on Dick Little's doorstep within two seconds of each other."Hullo, J.B.," I hailed as he was closing the outer door of the mansions. We always call him "J.B.," following Dick Little's lead."Cheerio, sir," he responded, holding the door open for me to pass and, giving vent to an elaborate sigh of relief, added: "I'm glad to get in, that I am. I never feels safe till I gets 'ere. Lord! 'ow them young women do make eyes at me. I s'pose it's the Spring. It ain't safe for me to be out, it ain't really, sir."We were the first arrivals, and it was during the next ten minutes that Bindle made his proposal."Why shouldn't we 'ave a little club, sir, wot does nothink but tell the tale?" he asked.That was the inception of the whole idea. Dick grasped hold of it eagerly. He is a doctor and doing his best to kill himself with hospital work, and I think he saw in Bindle's suggestion a welcome change after a strenuous week's work. We discussed the matter during the next ten minutes, and, when the other fellows arrived, they were told of the new order of things and, with one voice, acclaimed Bindle a genius. It must be confessed that the men from "Tims" are unrivalled in their capacity for acclamation—they revel in the robustious. It frequently involves Dick Little in difficulties with his neighbours, especially with a choleric old general who lives in the flat beneath."I always wanted a night club," explained Bindle when he had disentangled his limbs from the eager hands that had hoisted him shoulder-high. "It 'ud sort o' cheer Mrs. B. up to know that 'er ole man was goin' to 'ell quicker than wot she thought."After that it was always "The Night Club." We seemed to adopt the name as a matter of course.We arranged to meet on Sunday evenings at nine o'clock. Each member of the Club was liable to be called upon to tell a story, after being given a reasonable notice."Didn't we ought to 'ave rules, sir," enquired Bindle of Dick Little."Once you start making rules you are undone," broke in Tom Little, "for you have to frame other rules to modify those already made. At Oxford——""Is it to be a cock and hen club?" interrupted Carruthers."A cock an' wot club, sir?" enquired Bindle, pausing in the act of lighting his pipe. "A cock an' wot club?""Are ladies to be——" Carruthers got no further. Bindle deliberately replaced the match in the box, which with his pipe he returned to his jacket pocket. Then with great solemnity and deliberation he rose and walked towards the door."Hullo! J.B.," cried Dick Little. "What's up?""If you're goin' to 'ave 'ens, sir, this 'ere cock's off, see?""Come back, you silly ass," laughed Tom Little.Bindle paused irresolutely and looked from face to face. "Is it 'ens or no 'ens, sir?" he enquired of Dick Little."Why, no hens, of course," shouted Jim Colman, one of Tim's men, giving Bindle a thump between the shoulders that would have made most men wince."Right-o, gentlemen; then this 'ere cock withdraws 'is resignation, an' all's serene again," and Bindle returned to his seat and the occupation of kindling his pipe.Thus it was that women were barred from the Night Club.The first meeting, however, ended in a fiasco. A fellow named Roger Blint had been called upon to tell a yarn, which proved him to be utterly devoid of narrative skill. It was something about a man who was jilted by a girl and, in consequence, went to the war, returning a few months later with his breast a rainbow of ribbons and his pockets jingling with medals, crosses and stars. We were all much depressed.After the others had gone Bindle, Dick Little and I conferred together, and it was decided by a majority of two to one that I was first to hear the stories, write them out and read them to the club.I protested that I was too busy; but Bindle had finally over-ruled my expostulations."No, one ain't never too busy to do a little bit more," he said. "I once 'ad a special kind o' performin' fleas, wot was the busiest things I ever seen; yet they wasn't too busy to give me a nip or two now and then. You got to do it, sir," and I felt I had.We developed into a curiously motley crowd. One night Bindle brought Ginger along, and Ginger had remarked "I don't 'old wiv them sort o' clubs." He refused all other invitations. We had among us a retired policeman, a man who kept a coffee-stall, Angell Herald, the famous publicity agent, the Honourable Anthony Charles Windover (now Lord Windover), and many others. Had we accepted all the nominations, we should have been an uncomfortably mixed crowd. Dick Little was particularly anxious to introduce a "Polish" barber whose name was Schmidt, on the strength of his having exhibited in his shop-window the following notice:—"I am an alleged Russian subject,"but we had blackballed the worthy Schmidt."Because a cove says a funny thing," remarked Bindle, "doesn't always mean 'e's funny. Sometimes 'e can't 'elp it, poor chap."As a result of the story about Sallie, Jack Carruthers' sister, she became the only woman ever admitted to the Night Club. There was not a man in the assembly but was desperately in love with her from the moment he heard the tale. Never was a queen more deferred to and fussed over than Sallie. To Bindle she was "the sport of sports." "She ain't always flapping 'er petticoats," he said admiringly. "Yer wouldn't know you 'ad a bit o' skirt 'ere except when yer looks at 'er face."Bindle was Sallie's cavalier. If the atmosphere seemed to get too thick with smoke, it was he who threw up the window, or propped open the door until it cleared. When Jack Carruthers was not present, it was always Bindle who put Sallie into her taxi; it was an understood thing. One night the Boy, quite unthinkingly, endeavoured to usurp Bindle's prerogative. Bindle had looked him up and down for a moment and remarked cheerily: "All right, 'Mr. 'Indenburg,' you jest wait till I've finished, then I'll come and take you 'ome."Bindle is a journeyman pantechnicon-man, with an unquenchable thirst for fun. He is small, bald-headed, red-nosed, cheery. To him life is one long-drawn-out joke. He is blessed with a wife and brother-in-law (Alfred Hearty, the Fulham greengrocer), whose godliness is overpowering. Bindle is a cockney by birth and in feeling. He loves mischief for its own sake; but underneath there is always gentleness and consideration for the unfortunate, and a kindly philosophy without which laughter is an insult to life.Of the other members of The Night Club little need be said. Most of them are doing war-work in some shape or form. Windover is a captain on the Staff, Carruthers is in the R.N.R., Dare is in munitions, his heart "plucked" him for the army, and the rest are doing their bit to the best of their ability. To one and all Sunday is a relaxation from a strenuous week of work, and the presiding spirit of our assemblies is our unanimously-elected chairman, Joseph Bindle.Although Bindle is a laughing philosopher, he has several streaks of granite in his composition: among them independence. One of the first questions raised was that of drinks. Dick Little, whose generosity is embarrassing, had said that was his affair."Very well, sir," was Bindle's comment; "then you breaks up the Night Club."Enquiry elicited from Bindle the announcement that unless we all paid our share, he "wasn't taking anythink." From that time it became an understood thing that each member became responsible for one evening's refreshments. We had fought Bindle as long as possible, but he was adamant.It was quite by chance we discovered later that when his turn came to pay, he had worked overtime for a whole week so that Mrs. Bindle should not go short on account of his pleasures.Bindle had suggested that when the time came a selection of the stories might be printed. It was explained to him that short stories do not sell; the British public does not like, and will not read, them.Bindle had pondered over this for a while and, finally, had said with decision: "Then we'll make 'em read ours. Me an' Mrs. B. don't neither of us seem to fancy cold mutton, an' when there's a bit over you should jest see wot she can do with it. She can turn it into anythink from stewed rabbit to mince pies." Then turning to me he continued: "You done me proud in that other little 'ymn book o' yours, sir, although 'Earty and Mrs. B. don't seem quite to 'ave recovered from the shock o' bein' famous, and now you can tell all about our Night Club."You jest tell about Miss Sallie, sir, ah' Young 'Indenburg, the Cherub (Bindle's name for Angell Herald), an' Mr. Gawd Blast (Jocelyn Dare); why them alone 'ud make any book famous. Then you might add jest a sort of 'int, yer know, sir, that I'd be in it an' then, wot-o!" Bindle did a few fancy steps towards his tankard and took a good pull. "With Miss Sallie, Young 'Indenburg, an' me, sir, you got the real thing."That settled the matter, and here is the book, short stories disguised as a book of consecutive interest, just as Mrs. Bindle's cold mutton masquerades as "stewed rabbit" or "mince pies." It's a fraud, a palpable fraud, but as Bindle says, we all keep "a-poppin' up like U-boats, that people'll sort o' get fond of us."Many will say I should have been firmer; but the man who can withstand Bindle when he is set upon having his own way is a being of finer moral fibre than I.The hour, when it came, for deciding which stories should be included and which omitted, would, I thought, be the last of the Night Club. Nobody agreed upon anything. Sallie refused to allow the story to be told of how she did what the whole power of Germany has failed to do—tricked the British Navy. At the mere suggestion of printing even a covert reference to himself, the Boy became almost hysterical. Angell Herald, on the other hand, felt that all his yarns should go in, and said so, intimating also that he had several others. Furthermore he hinted that he might get us some advertisements to go at the end of the volume, provided it satisfied him!Finally it was agreed that Dare and I should decide what stories were to be included, and from our verdict there was to be no appeal. Bindle's last words on the subject were—"You jest put me an' Miss Sallie on the cover an' you'll see."

THE COMING OF SALLIE

When the Night Club was formed it was definitely agreed that it should be for men only, like the best stories and the most delightful women; yet at the third sitting Sallie Carruthers became the one and only woman member. The circumstance was so unexpected that it can be understood only as a result of a thorough description of Sallie, and the difficulty is to know where to begin—the end is always the same, a precipitate falling-in-love with her.It is all very tedious for Sallie, who does not seem to like being fallen-in-love-with. To use her own expression, "It spoils it." What it is that it spoils she does not seem able to explain, and if pressed she replies despairingly, "Oh! everything."To a man Sallie is an enigma. She seems desirous of rebuking Nature. She claims from a man comradeship and equality, and he who is not prepared to concede this had better keep out of her way. If some poor wretch, not knowing Sallie's views, happen to be with her in the country and pause to help her over a stile, he never does so more than once. Sallie's eyes will smile her thanks and convey a reproach at the same time. On the other hand, in a drawing-room or at a theatre, Sallie would not be likely to overlook the slightest omission.There is about her a quality that is as personal as it is irresistible. I have never known her fail to get what she wanted, just as I have never known her to appear to want what she gets. If Sallie asks me to take her up the river on the Sunday I have invited Aunt Jane to lunch, I explain things to Sallie, and there the matter appears to end; yet on that self-same Sunday Sallie and I go up the river, and on the Monday I have a letter from Aunt Jane saying that I am quite right to take every care of an internal chill!To describe Sallie is impossible. She has very large, expressive, grey eyes, exceedingly long lashes, carmine lips, nondescriptive features, masses of dark brown hair that grows low down upon her forehead, and the quality of attracting the attention of everybody in her vicinity. She dresses well, is the victim of moods, seems to eat nothing, and is as straight as the Boat Race.With a word or a glance she can annihilate or intoxicate. I call to mind one occasion, when what might have been a delightful dinner was being ruined by a bounder, who monopolised the conversation with pointless stories. Sallie waited her chance."I have a grandfather," began the bounder."Have you?" enquired Sallie in a tone full of sweetness and meaning.The man subsided.One day Sallie rang me up, and by the impatient "There? There?? There??? Oh, bother!" I knew that something important was in the air."I am," I replied."What?""Here, of course," I replied."I've got it," said Sallie; "I've got it.""Heavens!" I responded. "How did you catch it? Hadn't you better go to bed?""You're not a bit funny. Aren't you glad I've got it?" she queried."Certainly, very glad if you are.""Jack gave it to me.""Really? Has he got it too? What is it?""A car, of course!"Now this was characteristic of Sallie. I did not even know that she desired a car; probably her brother Jack, who gives her everything but the good advice she so sadly needs, was as ignorant as I. Most likely he had planned the whole thing as a surprise, just as I once gave Sallie a punt as a "surprise," and learned later that for a month previously she had been taking lessons in punting. But that's just Sallie."It's so wonderful," Sallie went on to explain. "It does such funny things. Sometimes it barks like a dog—(I shivered, I knew what that meant for the car)—and sometimes it purrs just like Wivvles." Wivvles is a Persian kitten of no manners and less——but Wivvles can wait.At times Sallie is very trying, although unconsciously. She has a habit of taking the first syllable of her friends' surnames and adding a "y." Windover, for instance, becomes "Winny." Poor Graves, who is very fat and moist, she calls "Gravy," and it hurts him just as it hurts dear old Skillington, who is long and learned, to hear himself referred to as "Skilly." It would, however, hurt them both far more if Sallie were allowed to guess their real feelings.Having to some extent explained Sallie, I must proceed to tell the story that resulted in her becoming a member of the Night Club.Bindle had arranged that I should tell the first story, and in honour of Jack Carruthers, who is Dick Little's particular pal, and a foundation member of the Club, I decided to tell how Sallie had once personated an admiral's daughter and what came of it.IOn coming down to breakfast one June morning I found awaiting me a telegram. It was from Jack Carruthers at Sheerness, and read:—"got hilda here bring malcolm sallie dora for week end cruise meet you sheerness pier four oclock friday jack""I'll be damned if I do," I cried aloud."I b-b-beg your p-p-pardon, sir?" said Peake, who entered at that moment bearing before him the eternal eggs, bacon and kidneys. Peake is entirely devoid of culinary imagination."I remarked, Peake," I replied with great distinctness, "that I'll be damned if I do.""Yes, sir," he responded, as he placed the dish of reiterations on the table before me; "b-b-b-but you said 'addock on W-w-Wednesdays and F-f-fridays, sir: this is only T-t-tuesday.""I wasn't referring to fish, Peake," I said severely, "but to Mr. Carruthers and the Hilda. He has invited me to take another cruise with him."A look of fear came into Peake's eyes. I had recently threatened to take him with me on the next occasion that I sailed with Carruthers. Peake is an excellent servant; but he has three great shortcomings: he has no imagination, stutters like a machine-gun, and is a wretched sailor. For stuttering he has tried every known cure from the Demosthenian pebble to patent medicines, and for sea-sickness he has swallowed the contents of innumerable boxes and bottles. The result is that he stutters as much as ever, and during a Channel crossing is about as useful as a fishing-rod. It has never come to my knowledge that he has sought a cure for his lack of imagination."I b-b-beg pardon, sir. I thought you m-m-meant the breakfast. S-s-shall I pack your things, sir?" he questioned, as he stood regarding me wistfully, his hand on the handle of the door."What I said, Peake, was that I'll be damned if I do, which does not involve packing. You will not pack my things, and please don't again suggest doing so; it annoys me intensely. That is all."Peake withdrew with the air of a man who has heard, but does not believe. I was convinced that he was already planning how he should spend his time during my absence. I ate my breakfast in silence, read the shipping casualties to steady my determination to decline Carruthers' invitation, and smoked four cigarettes.Being unable to get my mind away from the Hilda and her skipper, I determined, therefore, to go out at once and send him a telegram of curt refusal. With my fifth cigarette between my lips I set forth.The reason for my determination was Dora coupled with Malcolm. Dora bores me, and when Malcolm tries to flirt with her, which he does in a manner that reminds me of a cod making love to a trout, I become demoralised. Dora is Sallie's pal and the wife of some man or other whom I have met and forgotten: no one would think of burdening his mind with anything belonging to Dora that she is not actually wearing at the moment. Dora is extremely modish and regards a husband as she would a last year's frock.In the Earl's Court Road I encountered Sallie. She was engaged in meditatively prodding with the forefinger of her right hand the lifeless carcass of a chicken. I approached unseen."We should reverence the dead, my friend," I remarked gravely. She turned suddenly, with a little cry of pleasure that digested the kidneys and dismissed Malcolm and the Hilda from my overburdened mind."Oh, I am glad to see you," she said, "awfully glad. Can you remember whether a good chicken should be blue or yellow? I know it's one of the primary colours, because that's why I remember it?" And she knit her brows as, with a puzzled expression of doubt, she regarded the row of trussed birds upon the poulterer's slab."You are confusing the primary colours with the primary pigments. They——""Please try and help me," she pleaded; "I'm so worried. The housekeeper has gone to see a sick relative, and I have to forage for food. It's awful. I hate eating."Sallie looked so wretched, and her grey eyes so luminous and pathetic, that I took the chickens in hand, purchased two saffron-coloured specimens at a venture, and we proceeded to the fishmonger's.Sallie's shopping completed, I told her of Jack's wire and my determination."Oh! but we must go," she said with conviction. "We can't let him down."I explained that I could not get away."I wish I were a man," Sallie sighed mournfully, and gazed down at her very dainty tailor-made skirt, a habit of hers when she wants to engage upon something a woman should not do. Then turning half round and dancing before me backwards, she burst out, "But I should so love it. Do take me, pleeeeeeeeease.""Sallie," I said, "there's an old lady opposite who is struck speechless by your salvation tactics.""Oh! bother the old lady," she laughed. "Now we'll go and telegraph."When I left Sallie, I had telegraphed an acceptance to Jack and wired to Malcolm. Sallie composed telegrams, which must have caused them some surprise on account of their extreme cordiality. We then parted, Sallie to call on Dora, I to telephone to Peake that he might after all pack my bag, although there were three days in which to do it. As a matter of fact I did not feel equal to that I-never-doubted-you'd-go-sir look in his eyes.IIVictoria Station had been agreed upon as the rendezvous, and there we met. Sallie looked demurely trim and appropriately dressed. Dora seemed to have got confused between a yachting-trip and a garden-party, and had struck an unhappy medium between the two. Dora has what is known to women as "a French figure"; but what to man remains a mystery; she also has fair hair and a something in the eye that makes men look at her with interest and women with disapproval.Malcolm is all legs and arms and sketch-book. He was quite appropriately dressed in a Norfolk knickerbocker suit, with a straw hat and an umbrella—appropriately dressed, that is, for anything but yachting. Malcolm is a marine-painter, and what he does not know about the sea and boats need not concern either yachtsman or artist. He is tall and thin, with the temper of an angel, the caution of a good sailor and the courage of a lion. He waves his arms about like semaphores, rates woman lower than a barge, and never fails to earn the respect of sailormen.Malcolm is a man of strange capacities and curious limitations. Anybody will do anything for him, porters carry his luggage with no thought of tips, editors publish his drawings, whether they want to or no, people purchase his pictures without in the least understanding them, and, finally, everybody accepts him without comment, much as they do a Bank Holiday or an eclipse.Sallie and Dora between them had only a small valise, whereas Malcolm carried a sketch-book and an umbrella. He, as I, was depending upon Carruthers for all save a tooth-brush.There was the inevitable delay on the line, and we were over an hour late. Sallie was in a fever of excitement lest the Hilda should sail without us. Malcolm, with that supreme lack of tact so characteristic of him, explained what a ticklish business it was getting out of Sheerness Harbour under sail with the wind in its present quarter. He thought that in all probability the auxiliary motor had broken down, and that the Hilda would have to depend upon canvas to get out, in which case she must have sailed half-an-hour before.When we eventually drew into the station, out of the train, down the platform, through the gates, into the street, sped Malcolm, and we, like "panting time toiled after him in vain." He waved his umbrella to us to hurry, not knowing that Dora has a deplorably short wind. On he tore, and finally disappeared through the pier-gates without, as we afterwards found, paying his toll, a privilege he had generously delegated to us. When we in turn passed through the gates, it was to find Malcolm hysterically waving his umbrella, apparently at the Medway guardship. Suddenly the truth dawned upon us, the Hilda had sailed. Probably Carruthers had not received the telegram.Arrived at the pierhead we saw the Hilda off the Isle of Grain, two miles distant, slowly slipping out of the Medway against the tide with the aid of her auxiliary motor. The sight was one of the most depressing that I have ever experienced. We looked at each other blankly."It's the cup of Tantalus," I murmured, with classical resignation."It's that damned auxiliary motor," muttered the practical Malcolm."Commong faire?" enquired Dora, who is inclined occasionally to lapse into French on the strength of her figure. "Commong faire?""Noo verrong," replied Malcolm in what he conceives to be the Gallic tongue.I made no remark, but with Sallie stood idly watching a steam-pinnace approaching the pier-head from the Medway guardship that lay moored directly opposite."I know!" Sallie suddenly said, and I knew that she really did know. There are moments when I am at a loss to understand why I do not run away with Sallie and marry her in spite of herself, merely as a speculative investment. She is exquisitely ornamental, and her utility equals her æsthetic qualities; more would be impossible.At Sallie's exclamation Dora and Malcolm drew towards us."Tell me the name of an admiral," Sallie cried, her large, grey eyes diverted from epic contemplation of the universe to a lyric mischievousness. "I want an admiral.""Try a lieutenant to begin with," Malcolm suggested, and was withered."An admiral," said Dora. "Nelson; he was an admiral, wasn't——?""Van Tromp, Blake, Benbow, Villeneuve, Collingwood, St. Vincent, Cochrane——" glibly responded Malcolm.As the responses were uttered at the same time, Sallie probably heard little of what was said. Suddenly becoming very calm, she addressed herself to Malcolm."I want to know the name of an English admiral of the present day. Are there any?""Plenty," responded Malcolm. "Crosstrees (I dare not give the real name), First Sea Lord, May, Meux, Jellicoe, Beresford, Scott, Beatty.""Is Admiral Crosstrees married?" queried Sallie calmly. "Has he grown-up daughters? Is he old?""Any First Sea Lord who has not grown-up daughters has evaded his responsibilities as an officer and a gentleman," I remarked.Suddenly Sallie took command. Motioning us back, she went to the extreme end of the pier and looked down. A moment later, the white top of a naval cap appeared above the edge, followed by a fair face and five feet six of a sub-lieutenant. Sallie addressed herself to him, and, taking advantage of his obvious confusion, said: "Will you please take us out to that yacht," pointing to the Hilda. "She has gone without us, and——well, we want to get on board."When the sub. had recovered from Sallie's smile and her carnation tint, he stammered his regret."I'm most awfully sorry; but I'm here to take liberty men aboard. I'm, I'm, afraid I can't, otherwise I would with er—er—er——""What are liberty men?" questioned Sallie, looking at him with grey-eyed gravity."Men who have been ashore on leave," was the response."Can you signal to that?" asked Sallie with guile, nodding at the guardship."I beg pardon," replied the bewildered sub, fast breaking up beneath Sallie's gaze."Does the captain know the First Sea Lord, Admiral Crosstrees?""I—I don't know," he replied, "I——""I am Miss Crosstrees. Will you please tell me who you are. I should like to know, because you are the first officer I have met who has been discourteous to me. I will not trouble you further," and she moved away like an outraged Mrs. Siddons."I—I'm awfully sorry, Miss Crosstrees. I didn't know——of course——if you can get down. I will most certainly——" He collapsed into confused silence."You will take us then?" Sallie questioned, approaching two steps nearer to him."Certainly: but er—er—can you—er?"Sallie looked down. A perpendicular iron ladder led down to the pinnace some thirty feet below. It was not pleasant for a woman."Will you go down and—and——" faltered Sallie. He was a nice youth, who understood and disappeared, I after him. Then came Sallie, easily and naturally as if accustomed to such ladders all her life. Dora followed, almost hysterical with fear, and finally came Malcolm, with his umbrella and the valise in one hand and his sketch-book between his teeth. I could see the men were impressed with his performance.I did not at all like the adventure. It might end very unpleasantly for some of us, and the "some," I knew, would be Malcolm and me. I was by no means reassured when I saw that the sub. was steering the pinnace directly for the guardship. Did he suspect? I racked my brains to try and recollect if the First Sea Lord were married, if he had a family, if——. It was as if from far away that I heard the sub, hailing the guardship through a megaphone."Admiral Crosstrees' daughter wishes to be put aboard that yacht, sir. Am I——""Certainly," came the reply, as the officer of the watch came to the side and saluted. Hands bobbed up from everywhere, and it seemed as if a dead ship had suddenly been galvanised into life. Sallie's bow and smile were much appreciated, every man taking it unto himself. That is Sallie's way. She can slay a regiment or a ship's company with a glance, whilst another woman is exhausting herself in trying to enlist the interest of a stockbroker.Out we rushed after the Hilda. Sallie, now that she had gained her point, became absorbed in contemplating the Isle of Grain, and watching the white wake of the pinnace. Occasionally a slight, half-sad, half-contemplative smile would flit across her features. She had forgotten everything—yachts, pinnaces, subs, and was just alone with the things that mattered, the sea, the sky, and the green fields.Dora chatted with the sub., whose eyes repeatedly wandered to where Sallie was standing quite oblivious to his presence. Malcolm was in deep converse with one of the crew, whilst I watched the others, especially Sallie. I find it difficult to keep my eyes off Sallie when she is within their range. She is an interesting study for a man with the chilled physique of a St. Anthony; for the rest of us she is a maddening problem.The Hilda was labouring dully, heavily through the broken water, whilst we raced, bobbed, jumped and tore after her.Malcolm hailed her through the megaphone, and there came back in Carruthers' drawling voice:"Awfully glad you've come!"The bowman brought the pinnace dexterously under the Hilda's port quarter, and Sallie clutched at the yacht's shrouds and sprang aboard. The sub. watched her with frank admiration. Sallie does everything in the open most thoroughly well. I have seen her fall flat on her face at the winning-post in her determination not to be beaten by a longer-legged and swifter opponent. How truly admirable she was, struck us all very vividly as we strove to hoist, pull, and push Dora, aboard. In spite of its æsthetic glory, Dora's figure possesses very obvious limitations in the matter of surmounting obstacles.Immediately she was on board, Sallie went up to Carruthers and gravely shook hands (Sallie hates being kissed, I speak from careful observation), and drew him aside."Jack, until that steam launch is out of sight I'm Miss Crosstrees, daughter of the First Sea Lord. Don't let any of the crew give me away.""Or the guardship will sink us," I added.Carruthers looked puzzled, but with a cheery, "all right, Sallie, my bonnie," he went to the side to thank the sub. Carruthers would cheerfully imperil his immortal soul for Sallie. The sub. was brought aboard, and we all drank to the eyes that are brightest, in 1900 Champagne, I have forgotten the brand. The sub. was very obvious, and we all guessed the eyes he pledged—all save Sallie.As the sub. stood at the side preparatory to descending into the pinnace, Sallie held out her hand, which he took as if it had been some saintly relic."I shall always remember your kindness, Mr. ——" (I dare not give his name for fear of the Admiralty censuring him). Then with an arch look added, "I shall tell my father." And the pinnace that had brought a sub. went away with a potential Sea Lord. When the pinnace was about a hundred yards off Dora waved her handkerchief. "Why is it that Dora does these things?" I saw the mute question in Sallie's eyes. The men would have cheered had they dared."Carruthers," I remarked as the pinnace sped away from us, "will you put me ashore at once?""Why, old man?" he questioned blankly."Your most excellent sister," I retorted, "has been posing as the daughter of the First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, without even knowing if he be married or no. I call it disgraceful, and it is likely to produce a pained feeling in Whitehall when it becomes known. That sub. is bound to write to the Admiralty and demand the command of a Super-Dreadnought for his services. I demand to be put ashore at once."When Carruthers had heard the story he laughed loud and long, and, putting his arm round Sallie, proclaimed hers the best brain in the family.The log of the Medway guardship would persist in obtruding itself upon my vision. There would be an entry relating to the First Sea Lord's daughter and the service rendered her. The wretched business haunted me. I sought out "Who's Who"; but that gave me no assistance. If the First Sea Lord had a daughter, it might be all right; but if he had not? However, there was nothing to be done but to try to enjoy the trip, and forget the Admiralty.The Hilda is a 200-ton barge-rigged, sailing yacht, possessed of an auxiliary motor; a boon to the wind or tide-bound yachtsman. Some men affect to despise the aid of a motor, but Carruthers argues that a mariner is not less a mariner because he harnesses to his needs an explosive-engine and a propeller.Once aboard the Hilda I felt that our adventures were ended. It was perfect weather for idling. The previous day's rain had cleared the heavens of all but a few filmy clouds. There was a good sailing breeze, and the Hilda bent gravely over as she cut through the water on her way seawards. Malcolm was for'ard, lying on his back looking aloft at the swelling canvas. There is no sight so grand or pleasing to a yachtsman's eye as that obtained from this position, and Malcolm knows it. Carruthers was at the helm flirting outrageously with Dora. Sallie was talking with old Jones, the bo'sun and mate, about his latest grandson.The crew of the Hilda are to a man devoted to Sallie. Tidings that she is to be one of a cruising party means much and self-imposed extra labour, both as regards the Hilda herself and her crew. Everything and everybody are smartened up, and Vincent, the cook, ages perceptibly under the strain of thinking out a menu that shall tempt Sallie to eat. His brow never clears until Sallie has paid him the customary visit of ceremony, which to him is more in the nature of a religious rite."Chef"; (she always called him "chef") "it was delicious! Thank you very much indeed," Sallie would say with a grave and gracious smile befitting so great an occasion, a happy, boyish look would spread itself over Vincent's sombre features, and the crew would know that there was to be some dainty at their next meal; for Vincent, when happy, which was extremely seldom, radiated good-will and distributed his largess with unstinting hand.There is no ecstasy like that of idleness, and no idleness to compare with that felt upon a yacht running before a breeze. Yesterday's troubles are wiped out, and to-morrow's anxieties seem too far off for serious consideration. I was standing musing upon the beauty of the day, watching the Hilda's track which seemed to trail off into infinity, when I became conscious that the little streak of grey smoke that I had been gazing at for some time came from the funnels of a destroyer, which was evidently being pushed. She was fetching us back to her at a rare pace, and was obviously heading our way. For some minutes I continued idly to watch her. Suddenly the old misgiving assailed me.Sallie's deception had been discovered, and the irate captain of the guardship had sent to demand an explanation. I strolled over to Carruthers and told him my fears. He grinned with obvious enjoyment. Carruthers is imperturbable. He looked over his shoulder at the destroyer. After a time he called to Sallie, who was sitting amidships, musing."They're coming to fetch you, Sallie," he said cheerfully, and then explained his fears. "Shall we fight for you, my girl, or calmly give you up?"Sallie clapped her hands with glee. To be chased by a warship was a novelty she enjoyed to its fullest extent."Will they fire, do you think?" she enquired of Malcolm, trembling with eagerness."They'll probably megaphone us to come up into the wind," responded the practical Malcolm.Sallie's face fell. I really believe she half hoped that the destroyer would endeavour to sink the Hilda