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[-84-]

CHAPTER CLXVII.

AN ARRIVAL AT THE WHARF.

THE collision was so powerful that the Buffer's wife was thrown from her seat; and every plank in the Fairy oscillated with a crashing sound.
    The Buffer and the Resurrection Man rushed upon the deck.
    A single glance enabled them to ascertain the cause of the sudden alarm.
    A lighter, nearly as large as the Fairy, and heavily laden, had been so clumsily brought in against the barges moored off the wharf, that it came with the whole weight of its broad-side upon the Fairy.
    "Now then, stupids!" ejaculated the Buffer applying this complimentary epithet to the two men who were on the deck of the lighter which. was putting in.
    "Hope we haven't hurt you, friends," exclaimed one of the individuals thus addressed.
    "More harm might have been done," answered the Buffer. "Who are you."
    "The Blossom," was the reply.
    "Where dye come from?" demanded Wicks.
    "Oh! up above bridge," cried the man, speaking in a surly and evasive manner. "Here — just catch hold of this rope, will you — and let us lay alongside of you."
    "No — no," shouted the Buffer. "You'd better drop astern of us, and moor alongside that chalk barge."
    "Well, so we will," said the man.
    While the Blossom was executing this manœuvre, which it did in a most clumsy manner, as if the two [-85-] men that worked her had never been entrusted with the care of a lighter before, the Buffer turned towards the Resurrection Man, and said in a whisper, "We must remain outside all the barges, 'cause of having room to run our boat alongside the Fairy and get the things on board easy, when we come back from the expedition down to the Lady Anne."
    "To be sure," answered the Resurrection Man. "You did quite right to make those lubbers get lower down. I'm pleased with you, Jack: and now I see that I can let you be spokesman on all such occasions without any fear that you'll commit yourself."
    "Why, if you want to keep in the back-ground as much as possible, Tony," replied the Buffer, "it's much better to trust these little things to me. But, I say — I think there's something queer about them chaps that have just put in here."
    "So do I, Jack," said Tidkins. "They certainly know no more about managing a lighter than you and I did when we first took to it."
    "Yes — but we had a regular man to help us at the beginning," observed the Buffer.
    "So we had. And I precious soon sent him about his business when he had taught us our own."
    "Well — p'rhaps them fellows have got a reg'lar man too," said Wicks. "But let 'em be what and who they will, my idea is, that they've taken to the same line as ourselves."
    "We must find that out, Jack," observed the Resurrection Man. "If they're what you think, they will of course be respected: If they do n't belong to the same class, we must ascertain what they've got en board, and then make up our minds whether any of their cargo will suit us."
    "Well said," returned the Buffer.
    "But in any case you must be the person to learn all this," continued the Resurrection Man. "You see, I'm so well known to a lot of different people that would show me no mercy if they got hold of me, that I'm compelled to keep myself as quiet as possible. There's Markham — there's Crankey Jem — there's the gipsies — and there's the Rattlesnake: why — if I was only to be twigged by one of them I should have to make myself scarce in a minute."
    "I know all this, Tony," cried the Buffer, impatiently; "and therefore the less you're seen about, the better. In the day time always keep below, as you have been doing; but at night, when one can't distinguish particular faces, you can take the air; — or on such occasions as to- morrow will be, for instance, — when we run down the river, and get away from London."
    "Yes, yes," interrupted Tidkins: "don't think that I shall throw away a chance. Those lubbers have managed to make their lighter fast to the chalk barge now: just step across and try and find out what you can about them."
    The Buffer immediately proceeded to obey this order. He walked across the barges, which, as we before stated, were so closely moored together that they formed one vast floating pier; and approaching as close as possible to the Blossom, without setting foot upon it, he said, "Holloa, friend, there! You mustn't think that we meant any thing by telling you not to lay alongside of us: 't was only 'cause we expect to be off to-morrow or next day."
    "No offence is taken where none's intended," answered the man who had before spoken.
    The Buffer now perceived that the other individual on board the Blossom, and who had charge of the helm, was a Black, of tall form, and dressed in the rough garb of a sailor.
    "You seem well laden," said the Butter, after a pause.
    "Yes — pretty deep," answered the first speaker.
    "Do you discharge here, at Mossop's?"
    "Do n't know yet," was the laconic reply.
    "And what may be your freight?"
    "Bales of cotton," returned the man.
    "Then I suppose you're the master of that lighter?" continued the Buffer.
    "Yes," was the brief answer.
    Well, it's a pleasant life," observed Wicks.
    "Have you been at it long?"
    "I've only just begun it," replied the master.
    "And that sable gentleman there," said the Buffer, with a laugh, — "I should think he's not a Johnny Raw on the water?"
    "Not quite," returned the master. "Poor fellow! he's deaf and dumb!"
    "Deaf and dumb, eh?" repeated the Buffer. "Well, — p'rhaps that's convenient in more ways than one."
    "I believe you," said the master, significantly.
    "Ah! I thought so," cried Wicks, who now felt convinced that the Blossom was not a whit better than the Fairy. "Ain't there no one on board but you and Blackee?"
    "What the devil should we want any more hands for?" said the master, gruffly.
    "Oh! I understand," observed the Buffer. "Capital! you're the master — to do as you like; Blackee's deaf and dumb, and can't blab; and you and him are alone on board. I've hit it, you see."
    "You're uncommon sharp, my fine feller," said the master. "Step on board and wash your mouth out."
    The Buffer did not hesitate to accept this invitation. The Black had lighted his pipe, and was lounging on the deck over the after cabin. The master disappeared down the hatchway of the small cabin, or cuddy, forward; and in a few moments he returned with a bottle and two tin panikins.
    "What's the name of your craft?" he said, as he poured out the liquor, which exhaled the strong and saccharine flavour of rum.
    "The Fairy," replied the Buffer.
    "Then here's a health to the Fairy."
    "And here's to the Blossom."
    The master and the Buffer each took draughts of the raw spirit.
    "Now let us drink to our better acquaintance," said the master. "You seem an honest, open-hearted kind of a feller — "
    "And to be trusted, too," interrupted Wicks.
    "Well — I'm inclined to think you are," said the master, speaking deliberately, as if he were meditating upon some particular idea, which then occupied his mind; "and it's very probable — it may be, I mean — that I shall want a little of your advice; for which, remember, I should be happy to pay you well."
    "You couldn't apply to a better man," returned the Buffer.
    "And here's to you," said the master. "What sort of a. fellow is Mossop, that keeps, this wharf?"
    "He has no eyes, no ears, and no tongue for things that don't consarn him," answered Wicks.
    "Just the kind of agent I want," returned the [-86-] master. " But I shall also require two or three good fellers in a few days, — chaps that ain't over partickler, you understand, how they earn a ten pound note, so long as it's sure."
    "And you want two or three chaps of that kind?" asked the Buffer.
    "Yes. I've a good thing to hand," returned the master. "But I shan't say too much now."
    "Well, you may reckon on me at any moment — to-morrow excepted," said Wicks; "and my pal in the Fairy will also be glad to row in the same boat."
    "What sort of a man is your pal?" demanded the master: "one of the right kind?"
    "If he wasn't, him and I should n't long hold together," answered the Buffer. "But when do you think you'll want our services?"
    "Very soon. You say you're both engaged for to-morrow?"
    "Yes — both of us."
    "The day after to-morrow, in the evening, you and your friend can come and smoke your pipes with me; and we'll talk the matter over," said the master.
    "And if any thing should prevent us coming the day after to-morrow, the evening after that will do p'rhaps?" remarked the Butler, interrogatively.
    "Well — we must make that do, then," answered the master. "Good night."
    "Good night," said Wicks; and he then returned to the Fairy.
    "What can you make of them, Jack?" demanded the Resurrection Mast, who was smoking his pipe on the after deck.
    "They're of the right sort, Tony," was the reply. "The master seems a good kind of a feller: the only other man on board with him is a Black; and he's deaf and dumb. The master sounded me about Mossop; and that shows that he knows what's what. Besides, he hinted that he'd a good thing in view, but wanted more hands, and so he made an appointment for you and me to smoke a pipe with him in the course of two or three evenings, to talk over the matter."
    "You didn't say much about me?" exclaimed the Resurrection Man, hastily.
    "Not more, than was proper. It's all right — I could tell that with half an eye."
    "Well, business seems dropping in upon us," observed the Resurrection Man; "but we must be very cautious what we do. And now let's turn in, for we have to get up early, recollect."

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