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A Hero of Romance by Richard Marsh

A hopeless past and a hopeless future


"Poor

young feller!"

And the sailor turned to look at the boy. The captain slipped something into his hand. The man touched his hat and went away, looking at the piece of money as he went. And the man and the boy were left alone again.

Bertie, on the seat, clutched the rails as he had done before. The captain, standing in front, looked down at him.

"There's more in you than meets the eye; though, considering you pretend to have a turn for humour, one would have thought you would have been quicker to understand a joke. I say nothing of the noise you made, but you were wise not to answer that fellow's impertinent question. Your presence of mind saved you from accidental contact with the waters, but nothing could have saved you from my six-shooter. You can lie down again. You need have no fear of another accident; your screeching has made that fellow, and probably his comrades, too inquisitive to make it worth one's while to venture that. But when it comes to the question of letting your tongue wag too freely, nothing can save you from my revolver--mark that. It will be then a case of you or I. If you have made up your mind to spoil me, I will spoil you, my little friend. I say you can lie down."

Bertie lay down; and again the captain resumed his pacing to and fro, keeping watch, as it were, over his young prisoner.

The

boy fell asleep. The reaction which followed the short sharp struggle beguiled him, and he slept. And oddly enough he slept the sleep of peace. And more than once the captain, pausing in his solitary vigil, bent over the sleeping boy, and looked down at him.

"The young beggar's actually smiling."

And in fact a smile did flit across the sleeper's face. Perhaps he was dreaming of his mother.

"Ran away for fun, did he? Yet the youngster isn't quite a fool. Pity it should be a case of he or I, but self-preservation is Nature's first law! That was a headline in my copy-books unless I greatly err."

The captain lit a fresh cigar, and continued his patrol. What did he think of? A hopeless past and a hopeless future? God forgive him! for such as he there is no forgiveness to be had from men. That self-preservation, which is Nature's first law, is a law which cuts both ways. Honest men must destroy the Captain Loftuses, or they will be themselves destroyed.

The morning dawned; the day returned to the world. Still the boy slept on. At last the captain woke him. He got up, as if bewildered, and rubbed his eyes.

"Well, nephew mine, are you going to sleep for ever? If so, I'm sorry that I woke you. Jump up and come with me."

His "uncle" led the way into the cabin. They were preparing breakfast; the passengers were falling to. The night had been so tranquil that not one had suffered from sea-sickness, and appetite had come with the morning. A trained eye, looking at the fleecy clouds which were peeping over the horizon, would have prophesied a change, and that rough weather was at hand. But the day had dawned in splendour, and so far the morning was as tranquil as the night had been. So those passengers who were going through to Jersey sat down with light hearts to breakfast.


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