The Mutineers - Charles Hawes - ebook
Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1925

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A tale of old days at sea and of adventures in the Far East as Benjamin Lathrop set it down some sixty years ago.

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About

Part 1 - IN WHICH WE SAIL FOR CANTON, CHINA
Chapter 1 - MY FATHER AND I CALL ON CAPTAIN WHIDDEN
Chapter 2 - BILL HAYDEN
Chapter 3 - THE MAN OUTSIDE THE GALLEY

About Hawes:

Charles Boardman Hawes (January 24, 1889 – 1923) was an American author. He was posthumously awarded the 1924 Newbery Medal for The Dark Frigate (1923). Additionally, The Great Quest (1921) was a 1922 Newbery Honor book. Source: Wikipedia

Also available on Feedbooks Hawes:
Copyright: This work is available for countries where copyright is Life+70.
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To D.C.H.

To master, mate, and men of the ship Hunter, whose voyage is the backbone of my story; to Captain David Woodard, English mariner, who more than a hundred and twenty years ago was wrecked on the island of Celebes; to Captain R.G.F. Candage of Brookline, Massachusetts, who was party to the original contract in melon seeds; and to certain blue-water skippers who have left sailing directions for eastern ports and seas, I am grateful for fascinating narratives and journals, and indebted for incidents in this tale of an earlier generation.


Part 1
IN WHICH WE SAIL FOR CANTON, CHINA


Chapter 1 MY FATHER AND I CALL ON CAPTAIN WHIDDEN

My father’s study, as I entered it on an April morning in 1809, to learn his decision regarding a matter that was to determine the course of all my life, was dim and spacious and far removed from the bustle and clamor of the harbor-side. It was a large room paneled with dark wood. There were books along the walls, and paintings of ships, and over the fireplace there stood a beautiful model of a Burmese junk, carved by some brown artist on the bank of the Irawadi.

My father sat by the open window and looked out into the warm sunshine, which was swiftly driving the last snow from the hollows under the shrubbery.

Already crocuses were blossoming in the grass of the year before, which was still green in patches, and the bright sun and the blue sky made the study seem to me, entering, dark and sombre. It was characteristic of my father, I thought with a flash of fancy, to sit there and look out into a warm, gay world where springtime was quickening the blood and sunshine lay warm on the flowers; he always had lived in old Salem, and as he wrote his sermons, he always had looked out through study windows on a world of commerce bright with adventure. For my own part, I was of no mind to play the spectator in so stirring a drama.

With a smile he turned at my step. “So, my son, you wish to ship before the mast,” he said, in a repressed voice and manner that seemed in keeping with the dim, quiet room. “Pray what do you know of the sea?”

I thought the question idle, for all my life I had lived where I could look from my window out on the harbor.

“Why, sir,” I replied, “I know enough to realize that I want to follow the sea.”

“To follow the sea?”

There was something in my father’s eyes that I could not understand. He seemed to be dreaming, as if of voyages that he himself had made. Yet I knew he never had sailed blue water. “Well, why not?” he asked suddenly. “There was a time—­”

I was too young to realize then what has come to me since: that my father’s manner revealed a side of his nature that I never had known; that in his own heart was a love of adventure that he never had let me see. My sixteen years had given me a big, strong body, but no great insight, and I thought only of my own urgent desire of the moment.

“Many a boy of ten or twelve has gone to sea,” I said, “and the Island Princess will sail in a fortnight. If you were to speak to Captain Whidden—­”

My father sternly turned on me. “No son of mine shall climb through the cabin windows.”

“But Captain Whidden—­”

“I thought you desired to follow the sea—­to ship before the mast.”

“I do.”

“Then say no more of Captain Whidden. If you wish to go to sea, well and good. I’ll not stand in your way. But we’ll seek no favoritism, you and I. You’ll ship as boy, but you’ll take your medicine like a man.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, trying perversely to conceal my joy.

“And as for Captain Whidden,” my father added, “you’ll find he cuts a very different figure aboard ship from that he shows in our drawing-room.”

Then a smile twinkled through his severity, and he laid his hand firmly on my shoulder.

“Son, you have my permission ungrudgingly given. There was a time—­well, your grandfather didn’t see things as I did.”

“But some day,” I cried, “I’ll have a counting-house of my own—­ some day—­”

My father laughed kindly, and I, taken aback, blushed at my own eagerness.

“Anyway,” I persisted, “Roger Hamlin is to go as supercargo.”

“Roger—­as supercargo?” exclaimed a low voice.

I turned and saw that my sister stood in the door.

“Where—­when is he going?”

“To Canton on the Island Princess! And so am I,” I cried.

“Oh!” she said. And she stood there, silent and a little pale.

“You’ll not see much of Roger,” my father remarked to me, still smiling. He had a way of enjoying a quiet joke at my expense, to him the more pleasing because I never was quite sure just wherein the humor lay.

“But I’m going,” I cried. “I’m going—­I’m going—­I’m going!”

“At the end of the voyage,” said my father, “we’ll find out whether you still wish to follow the sea. After all, I’ll go with you this evening, when supper is done, to see Joseph Whidden.”

The lamps were lighted when we left the house, and long beams from the windows fell on the walk and on the road. We went down the street side by side, my father absently swinging his cane, I wondering if it were not beneath the dignity of a young man about to go to sea that his parent should accompany him on such an errand.

Just as we reached the corner, a man who had come up the street a little distance behind us turned in at our own front gate, and my father, seeing me look back when the gate slammed, smiled and said, “I’ll venture a guess, Bennie-my-lad, that some one named Roger is calling at our house this evening.”

Afterwards—­long, long afterwards—­I remembered the incident.

When my father let the knocker fall against Captain Whidden’s great front door, my heart, it seemed to me, echoed the sound and then danced away at a lively pace. A servant, whom I watched coming from somewhere behind the stairs, admitted us to the quiet hall; then another door opened silently, a brighter light shone out upon us, and a big, grave man appeared. He welcomed us with a few thoughtful words and, by a motion of his hand, sent us before him into the room where he had been sitting.

“And so,” said Captain Whidden, when we had explained our errand, “I am to have this young man aboard my ship.”

“If you will, sir,” I cried eagerly, yet anxiously, too, for he did not seem nearly so well pleased as I had expected.

“Yes, Ben, you may come with us to Canton; but as your father says, you must fill your own boots and stand on your own two feet. And will you, friend Lathrop,”—­he turned to my father,—­“hazard a venture on the voyage?”

My father smiled. “I think, Joe,” he said, “that I’ve placed a considerable venture in your hands already.”

Captain Whidden nodded. “So you have, so you have. I’ll watch it as best I can, too, though of course I’ll see little of the boy. Let him go now. I’ll talk with you a while if I may.”

My father glanced at me, and I got up.

Captain Whidden rose, too. “Come down in the morning,” he said. “You can sign with us at the Websters’ counting-house.—­And good-bye, Ben,” he added, extending his hand.

“Good-bye? You don’t mean—­that I’m not to go with you?”

He smiled. “It’ll be a long time, Ben, before you and I meet again on quite such terms as these.”

Then I saw what he meant, and shook his hand and walked away without looking back. Nor did I ever learn what he and my father talked about after I left them there together.


Chapter 2 BILL HAYDEN

More than two-score years and ten have come and gone since that day when I, Benjamin Lathrop, put out from Salem harbor, a green hand on the ship Island Princess, and in them I have achieved, I think I can say with due modesty, a position of some importance in my own world. But although innumerable activities have crowded to the full each intervening year, neither the aspirations of youth nor the successes of maturity nor the dignities of later life have effaced from my memory the picture of myself, a boy on the deck of the Island Princess in April, 1809.

I thought myself very grand as the wind whipped my pantaloons against my ankles and flapped the ribbons of the sailor hat that I had pulled snugly down; and I imagined myself the hero of a thousand stirring adventures in the South Seas, which I should relate when I came back an able seaman at the very least. Never was sun so bright; never were seas so blue; never was ship so smart as the Island Princess.

On her black hull a nicely laid band of white ran sheer from stem to stern; her bows swelled to meet the seas in a gentle curve that hinted the swift lines of our clippers of more recent years. From mainmast heel to truck, from ensign halyard to tip of flying jib-boom, her well-proportioned masts and spars and taut rigging stood up so trimly in one splendidly coördinating structure, that the veriest lubber must have acknowledged her the finest handiwork of man.

It was like a play to watch the men sitting here and there on deck, or talking idly around the forecastle, while Captain Whidden and the chief mate conferred together aft. I was so much taken with it all that I had no eyes for my own people who were there to see me off, until straight out from the crowded wharf there came a young man whom I knew well. His gray eyes, firm lips, square chin, and broad shoulders had been familiar to me ever since I could remember.

As he was rowed briskly to the ship, I waved to him and called out, “O Roger—­ahoy!”

I thought, when he glanced up from the boat, that his gray eyes twinkled and that there was the flutter of a smile on his well-formed lips; but he looked at me and through me and seemed not to see me, and it came over me all at once that from the cabin to the forecastle was many, many times the length of the ship.

With a quick survey of the deck, as if to see who had spoken, yet seeming not to see me at all, Roger, who had lived all his life within a cable’s length of the house where I was born, who had taught me to box the compass before I learned my ABC’s, whose interest in my own sister had partly mystified, partly amused her younger brother—­that very Roger climbed aboard the Island Princess and went on into the cabin without word or sign of recognition.

It was not the first time, of course, that I had realized what my chosen apprenticeship involved; but the incident brought it home to me more clearly than ever before. No longer was I to be known as the son of Thomas Lathrop. In my idle dreams I had been the hero of a thousand imaginary adventures; instead, in the strange experiences I am about to relate, I was to be only the ship’s “boy”—­the youngest and least important member of that little isolated community banded together for a journey to the other side of the world. But I was to see things happen such as most men have never dreamed of; and now, after fifty years, when the others are dead and gone, I may write the story.

When I saw that my father, who had watched Roger Hamlin with twinkling eyes ignore my greeting, was chuckling in great amusement, I bit my lip. What if Roger was supercargo, I thought: he needn’t feel so big.

Now on the wharf there was a flutter of activity and a stir of color; now a louder hum of voices drifted across the intervening water. Captain Whidden lifted his hand in farewell to his invalid wife, who had come in her carriage to see him sail. The mate went forward on the forecastle and the second mate took his position in the waist.

“Now then, Mr. Thomas,” Captain Whidden called in a deep voice, “is all clear forward?”

“All clear, sir,” the mate replied; and then, with all eyes upon him, he took charge, as was the custom, and proceeded to work the ship.

While the men paid out the riding cable and tripped it, and hove in the slack of the other, I stood, carried away—foolish boy!—­by the thought that here at last I was a seaman among seamen, until at my ear the second mate cried sharply, “Lay forward, there, and lend a hand to cat the anchor.”

The sails flapped loose overhead; orders boomed back and forth; there was running and racing and hauling and swarming up the rigging; and from the windlass came the chanteyman’s solo with its thunderous chorus:—­

    “Pull one and all!
      Hoy! Hoy! Cheery men.
    On this catfall!
      Hoy! Hoy! Cheery men.
    Answer the call!
      Hoy! Hoy! Cheery men.
    Hoy! Haulee!
      Hoy! Hoy!!!
        Oh, cheery men!”

As the second anchor rose to the pull of the creaking windlass, we sheeted home the topsails, topgallantsails and royals and hoisted them up, braced head-yards aback and after-yards full for the port tack, hoisted the jib and put over the helm. Thus the Island Princess fell off by the head, as we catted and fished the anchor; then took the wind in her sails and slipped slowly out toward the open sea.

Aft, by the lee rail, I saw Roger Hamlin watching the group, a little apart from the others, where my own people had gathered. My father stood half a head above the crowd, and beside him were my mother and my sister. When I, too, looked back at them, my father waved his hat and I knew his eyes were following me; I saw the flutter of white from my mother’s hand, and I knew that her heart was going out with me to the uttermost parts of the earth.

Then, almost timidly, my sister waved her handkerchief. But I saw that she was looking at the quarter-deck.

As land fell astern until it became a thin blue line on the western horizon, and as the Island Princess ran free with the wind full in her sails, I took occasion, while I jumped back and forth in response to the mate’s quick orders, to study curiously my shipmates in our little kingdom. Now that we had no means of communication with that already distant shore, we were a city unto ourselves.

Yonder was the cook, a man as black as the bottom of his iron pot, whose frown, engraved deeply in his low forehead, might have marked him in my eyes as the villain of some melodrama of the sea, had I not known him for many years to be one of the most generous darkies, so far as hungry small boys were concerned, that ever ruled a galley. The second mate, who was now in the waist, I had never seen before—­to tell the truth, I was glad that he held no better berth, for I disliked the turn of his too full lips. Captain Whidden and the chief mate, Mr. Thomas, I had known a long time, and I had thought myself on terms of friendship with them, even familiarity; but so far as any outward sign was concerned, I might now have been as great a stranger to either as to the second mate.

We were twenty-two men all told: four in the cabin—­Captain Whidden, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Falk, and Roger, whose duties included oversight of the cargo, supervision of matters purely of business and trade in foreign ports, and a deal of clerical work that Captain Whidden had no mind to be bothered with; three in the steerage—­the cook (contrary, perhaps, to the more usual custom), the steward, and the carpenter; and fourteen in the forecastle.

All in all I was well pleased with my prospects, and promised myself that I would “show them a thing or two,” particularly Roger Hamlin. I’d make a name for myself aboard the Island Princess. I’d let all the men know that it would not take Benjamin Lathrop long to become as smart a seaman as they’d hope to see.

Silly lad that I was!

Within twenty minutes of that idle dream the chain of circumstances had begun that was to bring every man aboard the Island Princess face to face with death. Like the small dark cloud that foreruns a typhoon, the first act in the wild drama that came near to costing me my own life was so slight, so insignificant relatively, that no man of us then dreamed of the hidden forces that brought it to pass.

On the forecastle by the larboard rigging stood a big, broad-shouldered fellow, who nodded familiarly at the second mate, cast a bit of a leer at the captain as if to impress on the rest of us his own daring and independence, and gave me, when I caught his eye, a cold, noncommittal stare. His name, I shortly learned, was Kipping. Undeniably he was impudent; but he had, nevertheless, a mild face and a mild manner, and when I heard him talk, I discovered that he had a mild voice; I could find no place for him in the imaginary adventures that filled my mind—­he was quite too mild a man.

I perceived that he was soldiering at his work, and almost at the same moment I saw the mate come striding down on him.

“You there,” Mr. Thomas snapped out, “bear a hand! Do you think you’re waiting for the cows to come home?”

“No-o-o, sir,” the mild man drawled, starting to walk across the deck.

The slow reply, delivered with a mocking inflection, fanned to sudden laughter chuckles that the mate’s words had caused.

Mr. Thomas reddened and, stepping out, thrust his face close to the other’s. “You try any of your slick tricks on me, my man,” he said slowly and significantly, “you try any of your slick tricks on me, and so help me, I’ll show you.”

“Ye-e-es, sir,” the man replied with the same inflection, though not so pronounced this time.

Suddenly the deck became very still. The listeners checked their laughter. Behind me I heard some one mutter, “Hear that, will you?” Glancing around, I saw that Captain Whidden had gone below and that Mr. Thomas was in command. I was confident that the mild seaman was mocking the mate, yet so subtle was his challenge, you could not be sure that he actually was defiant.

Although Mr. Thomas obviously shared the opinion of the men, there was so little on which to base a charge of insubordination or affront that he momentarily hesitated.

“What is your name?” he suddenly demanded.

“Kipping, sir,” the mild man replied.

This time there was only the faintest suggestion of the derisive inflection. After all, it might have been but a mannerism. The man had such a mild face and such a mild manner!

“Well, Kipping, you go about your work, and after this, let me warn you, keep busy and keep a civil tongue in your head. We’ll have no slick tricks aboard this ship, and the sooner you men realize it, the easier it will be for all hands.”

Turning, the mate went back to the quarter-deck and resumed his station by the weather rail.

While his back was toward us, however, and just as I myself, who had listened, all ears, to the exchange of words between them, was turning to the forecastle, I saw—­or thought I saw—­on Kipping’s almost averted face just such a leer as I had seen him cast at the captain, followed, I could have taken my oath, by a shameless wink. When he noticed me gazing at him, open-mouthed, he gave me such another cold stare as he had given me before and, muttering something under his breath, walked away.

I looked aft to discover at whom he could have winked, but I saw only the second mate, who scowled at me angrily.

“Now what,” thought I, “can all this mean?” Then, being unable to make anything of it, I forgot it and devoted myself industriously to my own affairs until the hoarse call of “All hands on deck” brought the men who were below tumbling up, to be summoned aft and addressed by the captain.

Apparently Captain Whidden was not aware that there was a soul on board ship except himself. With his eyes on the sea and his hands clasped behind him, he paced the deck, while we fidgeted and twisted and grew more and more impatient. At last, with a sort of a start, as if he had just seen that we were waiting, he stopped and surveyed us closely. He was a fine figure of a man and he affected the fashions of a somewhat earlier day. A beaver with sweeping brim surmounted his strong, smooth-shaven face, and a white stock, deftly folded, swathed his throat to his resolute chin. Trim waistcoat, ample coat, and calmly folded arms completed his picture as he stood there, grave yet not severe, waiting to address us.

What he said to us in his slow, even voice was the usual speech of a captain in those times; and except for a finer dignity than common, he did not deviate from the well-worn customary phrases until he had outlined the voyage that lay before us and had summed up the advantages of prompt, willing obedience and the penalties of any other course. His tone then suddenly changed. “If any man here thinks that he can give me slovenly work or back talk and arguing,” he said, “it’ll be better for that man if he jumps overboard and swims for shore.” I was certain—­and I still am—­that he glanced sharply at Kipping, who stood with a faint, nervous smile, looking at no one in particular. “Well, Mr. Thomas,” he said at last, “we’ll divide the watches. Choose your first man.”

When we went forward, I found myself, as the green hand of the voyage, one of six men in the starboard watch. I liked the arrangement little enough, for the second mate commanded us and Kipping was the first man he had chosen; but it was all in the day’s work, so I went below to get my jacket before eight bells should strike.

The voices in the forecastle suddenly stopped when my feet sounded on the steps; but as soon as the men saw that it was only the boy, they resumed their discussion without restraint.

“I tell you,” some one proclaimed from the darkest corner, “the second mate, he had it all planned to get the chief mate’s berth this voyage, and the captain, he put him out no end because he wouldn’t let him have it. Yes, sir. And he bears a grudge against the mate, he does, him and that sly friend of his, Kipping. Perhaps you didn’t see Kipping wink at the second mate after he was called down. I did, and I says to myself then, says I, ‘There’s going to be troublous times ere this voyage is over.’ Yes, sir.”

“Right you are, Davie!” a higher, thinner voice proclaimed, “right you are. I was having my future told, I was, and the lady—­”

A roar of laughter drowned the words of the luckless second speaker, and some one yelled vociferously, “Neddie the fortune-teller! Don’t tell me he’s shipped with us again!”

“But I tell you,” Neddie persisted shrilly, “I tell you they hit it right, they do, often. And the lady, she says, ’Neddie Benson, don’t you go reckless on this next voyage. There’s trouble in store,’ she says. ‘There’ll be a dark man and a light man, and a terrible danger.’ And I paid the lady two dollars and I—­”

Again laughter thundered in the forecastle.

“All the same,” the deep-voiced Davie growled, “that sly, slippery—­”

“Hist!” A man raised his hand against the light that came faintly from on deck.

Then a mild voice asked, “What are you men quidding about anyway? One of you’s sitting on my chest.”

“Listen to them talk,” some one close beside me whispered. “You’d think this voyage was all of life, the way they run on about it. Now it don’t mean so much to me. My name’s Bill Hayden, and I’ve got a little wee girl, I have, over to Newburyport, that will be looking for her dad to come home. Two feet long she is, and cute as they make them.”

Aware that the speaker was watching me closely, I perfunctorily nodded. At that he edged nearer. “Now I’m glad we’re in the same watch,” he said. “So many men just cut a fellow off with a curse.”

I observed him more sharply, and saw that he was a stupid-looking but rather kindly soul whose hair was just turning gray.

“Now I wish you could see that little girl of mine,” he continued. “Cute? there ain’t no word to tell you how cute she is. All a-laughing and gurgling and as good as gold. Why, she ain’t but a little old, and yet she can stand right up on her two little legs as cute as you please.”

I listened with mild interest as he rambled on. He seemed such a friendly, homely soul that I could but regard him more kindly than I did some of our keener-witted fellow seamen.

Now we heard faintly the bell as it struck, clang-clang, clang-clang, clang-clang. Feet scuffled overhead, and some one called down the hatch, “Eight bells, starbow-lines ahoy!”

Davie’s deep voice replied sonorously, “Ay-ay!” And one after another we climbed out on deck, where the wind from the sea blew cool on our faces.

I had mounted the first rung of the ladder, and was regularly signed as a member of the crew of the Island Princess, bound for Canton with a cargo of woolen goods and ginseng. There was much that puzzled me aboard-ship—­the discontent of the second mate, the perversity of the man Kipping (others besides myself had seen that wink), and a certain undercurrent of pessimism. But although I was separated a long, long way from my old friends in the cabin, I felt that in Bill Hayden I had found a friend of a sort; then, as I began my first real watch on deck at sea, I fell to thinking of my sister and Roger Hamlin.


Chapter 3 THE MAN OUTSIDE THE GALLEY

Strange events happened in our first month at sea—­events so subtle as perhaps to seem an unimportant part of this narrative of a strange voyage, yet really as necessary to the foundation of the story as the single bricks and the single dabs of mortar at the base of a tall chimney are necessary to the completed structure. I later had cause to remember each trivial incident as if it had been written in letters of fire.

In the first dog watch one afternoon, when we were a few days out of port, I was sitting with my back against the forward deck-house, practising splices and knots with a bit of rope that I had saved for the purpose. I was only a couple of feet from the corner, so of course I heard what was going on just out of sight.

The voices were low but distinct.

“Now leave me alone!” It was Bill Hayden who spoke. “I ain’t never troubled you.”

“Ah, so you ain’t troubled me, have you, you whimpering old dog?”

“No, I ain’t troubled you.”

“Oh, no! You was so glad to let me take your nice dry boots, you was, when mine was filled with water.”

The slow, mild, ostensibly patient voice could be none other than Kipping’s.

“I had to wear ’em myself.”

“Oh, had to wear ’em yourself, did you?”

“Let go o’ my arm!”

“So?”

“Let go, I tell you; let go or I’ll—­I swear I’ll hammer you good.”

“Oh, you’ll hammer me good, will you?”

“Let go!”

There was a sudden scuffle, then out from the corner of the deck-house danced Kipping with both hands pressed over his jaw.

“You bloody scoundrel!” he snarled, meek no longer. “You wait—­I’ll get you. I’ll—­” Seeing me sitting there with my bit of rope, he stopped short; then, with a sneer, he walked away.

Amazed at the sudden departure of his tormentor, Bill Hayden stuck his own head round the corner and in turn discovered me in my unintentional hiding-place.

Bill, however, instead of departing in chagrin, joined me with a puzzled expression on his kind, stupid face.

“I don’t understand that Kipping,” he said sadly. “I’ve tried to use him right. I’ve done everything I can to help him out and I’m sure I don’t want to quarrel with him, yet for all he goes around as meek as a cat that’s been in the cream, he’s always pecking at me and pestering me, till just now I was fair drove to give him a smart larrup.”

Why, indeed, should Kipping or any one else molest good, dull old Bill Hayden?

“I’m a family man, I am,” Bill continued, “with a little girl at home. I ain’t a-bothering no one. I’m sure all I want is to be left alone.”

For a time we sat in silence, watching the succession of blue waves through which the Island Princess cut her swift and almost silent passage. A man must have been a cowardly bully to annoy harmless old Bill. Yet even then, young though I was, I realized that sometimes there is no more dangerous man than a coward and a bully, “He’s great friends with the second mate,” Bill remarked at last. “And the second mate has got no use at all for Mr. Thomas because he thought he was going to get Mr. Thomas’s berth and didn’t; and for the same reason he don’t like the captain. Well, I’m glad he’s only second mate. He ain’t got his hands out of the tar-bucket yet, my boy.”

“How do you know he expected to get the mate’s berth?” I asked.

“It’s common talk, my boy. The supercargo’s the only man aft he’s got any manner of use for, and cook says the steward says Mr. Hamlin ain’t got no manner of use for him. There you are.”

“No,” I thought,—­though I discreetly said nothing,—­“Roger Hamlin is not the man to be on friendly terms with a fellow of the second mate’s calibre.”

And from that time on I watched Mr. Falk, the second mate, and the mild-voiced Kipping more closely than ever—­so closely that one night I stumbled on a surprising discovery.

Ours was the middle watch, and Mr. Falk as usual was on the quarter-deck. By moonlight I saw him leaning on the weather rail as haughtily as if he were the master. His slim, slightly stooped figure, silhouetted against the moonlit sea, was unmistakable. But the winds were inconstant and drifting clouds occasionally obscured the moon. Watching, I saw him distinctly; then, as the moonlight darkened, the after part of the ship became as a single shadow against a sea almost as black. While I still watched, there came through a small fissure in the clouds a single moonbeam that swept from the sea across the quarter-deck and on over the sea again. By that momentary light I saw that Mr. Falk had left the weather rail.

Certainly it was a trifling thing to consider twice, but you must remember, in the first place, that I was only a boy, with all a boy’s curiosity about trifles, and in the second place that of the four men in the cabin no other derived such obvious satisfaction from the minor prerogatives of office as Mr. Falk. He fairly swelled like a frog in the sun as he basked in the prestige that he attributed to himself when, left in command, he occupied the captain’s place at the weather rail.

Immediately I decided that under the cover of darkness I would see what had become of him. So I ran lightly along in the shelter of the lee bulwark, dodging past the galley, the scuttle-butt, and the cabin in turn. At the quarter-deck I hesitated, knowing well that a sound thrashing was the least I could expect if Mr. Falk discovered me trespassing on his own territory, yet lured by a curiosity that was the stronger for the vague rumors on which it had fed.

On hands and knees I stopped by the farther corner of the cabin. Clouds still hid the moon and low voices came to my ears. Very cautiously I peeked from my hiding-place, and saw that Mr. Falk and the helmsman had put their heads together and were talking earnestly.

While they talked, the helmsman suddenly laughed and prodded Mr. Falk in the ribs with his thumb. Like a flash it came over me that it was Kipping’s trick at the wheel. Here was absolute proof that, when the second mate and the mild man thought no one was spying upon them, they were on uncommonly friendly terms. Yet I did not dream that I had stumbled on anything graver than to confirm one of those idle rumors that set tongues wagging in the forecastle, but that really are too trifling to be worth a second thought.

When the crew of a ship is cut off from all communication with the world at large, it is bound, for want of greater interests, to find in the monotonous daily round something about which to weave a pretty tale.

At that moment, to my consternation, the bell struck four times. As the two dark figures separated, I started back out of sight. Kipping’s trick at the wheel was over, and his relief would come immediately along the very route that I had chosen; unless I got away at once I should in all probability be discovered on the quarterdeck and trounced within an inch of my life. Then suddenly, as if to punish my temerity, the cloud passed and the moonlight streamed down on deck.

Darting lightly back to the companion-ladder, I slipped down it and was on the point of escaping forward when I heard slow steps. In terror lest the relief spy me and reveal my presence by some exclamation that Kipping or the second mate would overhear, I threw myself down flat on the deck just forward of the scuttle-butt, where the moon cast a shadow; and with the fervent hope that I should appear to be only a heap of old sail, I lay without moving a muscle.

The steps came slowly nearer. They had passed, I thought, when a pause set my heart to jumping madly. Then came a low, cautious whisper:—­

“You boy, what you doin’ dah?”

It was not the relief after all. It was the good old villainous-looking black cook, with a cup of coffee for Mr. Falk.

“Put yo’ head down dah,” he whispered, “put yo’ head down, boy.”

With a quick motion of his hand he jerked some canvas from the butt so that it concealed me, and went on, followed by the quick steps of the real relief.

Now I heard voices, but the only words I could distinguish were in the cook’s deep drawl.

“Yass, sah, yass, sah. Ah brought yo’ coffee, sah, Yass, sah, Ah’ll wait fo’ yo’ cup, sah.”

Next came Kipping’s step—­a mild step, if there is such a thing; even in his bullying the man was mild. Then came the slow, heavy tread of the returning African.

Flicking the canvas off me, he muttered, “All’s cleah fo’ you to git away, boy. How you done come to git in dis yeh scrape sho’ am excruciatin’. You just go ’long with you while dey’s a chanst.”

So, carrying with me the very unimportant discovery that I had made, I ran cautiously forward, away from the place where I had no business to be.

When, in the morning, just before eight bells, I was sent to the galley with the empty kids, I found the worthy cook in a solemn mood.

“You boy,” he said, fixing on me a stare, which his deeply graven frown rendered the more severe, “you boy, what you think you gwine do, prowlin’ round all hours? Hey? You tell dis nigger dat. Heah Ah’s been and put you onto all de ropes and give you more infohmative disco’se about ships and how to behave on ’em dan eveh Ah give a green hand befo’ in all de years Ah been gwine to sea, and heah you’s so tarnation foolish as go prowlin’ round de quarter-deck whar you’s like to git skun alive if Mistah Falk ketches you.”

I don’t remember what I replied, but I am sure it was flippant; to the day of my death I shall never forget the stinging, good-natured cuff with which the cook knocked my head against the wall. “Sho’ now,” he growled, “go ’long!”

I was not yet ready to go. “Tell me, doctor,” I said, “does the second mate get on well with the others in the cabin?”

The title mollified him somewhat, but he still felt that he must uphold the dignity of his office. “Sho’ now, what kind of a question is dat fo’ a ship’s boy to be askin’ de cook?” He glanced at me suspiciously, then challenged me directly, “Who put dose idea’ in yo’ head?”

By the tone of the second question, which was quite too straightforward to be confused with the bantering that we usually exchanged, I knew that he was willing, if diplomatically coaxed, to talk frankly. I then said cautiously, “Every one thinks so, but you’re the only man forward that’s likely to know.”

“Now ain’t dat jest like de assumptivity of dem dah men in de forecastle. How’d Ah know dat kind of contraptiveness, tell me?”

Looking closely at me he began to rattle his pans at a great rate while I waited in silence. He was not accomplishing much; indeed, he really was throwing things into a state of general disorder. But I observed that he was working methodically round the galley toward where I stood, until at last he bumped into me and started as if he hadn’t known that I was there at all.

“You boy,” he cried, “you still heah?” He scowled at me with a particularly savage intensity, then suddenly leaned over and tapped me on the shoulder. “You’s right, boy,” he whispered. “He ain’t got no manner of use foh dem other gen’lems, and what’s mo’, dey ain’t got no manner of use foh him. Ah’s telling you, boy, it’s darn lucky, you bet, dat Mistah Falk he eats at second table. Yass, sah. Hark! dah’s de bell—­eight bells! Yo’ watch on deck, hey?” After a short pause, he whispered, “Boy, you come sneakin’ round to-morrow night when dat yeh stew’d done gone to bed, an’ Ah’ll jest gadder you up a piece of pie f’om Cap’n’s table—­yass, sah! Eight bells is struck. Go ’long, you.” And shoving me out of his little kingdom, the villainous-looking darky sent after me a savage scowl, which I translated rightly as a token of his high regard and sincere friendship.

In my delight at the promised treat, and in my haste to join the watch, I gave too little heed to where I was going, and shot like a bullet squarely against a man who had been standing just abaft the galley window. He collapsed with a grunt. My shoulder had knocked the wind completely out of him.

“Ugh!—­” he gasped—­“ugh! You son of perdition—­ugh! Why in thunder don’t you look where you’re running—­ugh!—­I’ll break your rascally young neck—­ugh—­when I get my wind.”

It was Kipping, and for the second time he had lost his mildness.

As he clutched at me fiercely, I dodged and fled. Later, when I was hauling at his side, he seemed to have forgotten the accident; but I knew well enough that he had not. He was not the kind that forgets accidents. His silence troubled me. How much, I wondered, had he heard of what was going on in the galley?