spite of themselves, watched her anxiously, and so did others on the forecastle, such cowards does conscience make of men. As for myself, I gazed at her with bitter indifference. The help that I stood in need of was not likely to come from such as she, or indeed from any vessel short of an inquisitive Government ship. Moreover, the part I was playing was too difficult to permit me to allow any impulse to inspire. The smallest distrust that I should occasion might cost me my life. My rôle then surely was to seem one with the men, heart and soul.
"Let her go off a point," I exclaimed to the man steering. "They'll not notice that, and she'll be across us the sooner for it."
We were slipping through the water quickly, and by the time she was on our weather bow the steamer was near enough to enable us to see the awning stretched over her after-deck, and a crowd of persons watching us. She was a great ocean steamer, and went magnificently through the water. In a few minutes she was dead on end, dwindling the people watching us, but leaving such a long wake astern of her that we went over it.
What would I have given to be on board of her!
"Let her come to again!" I sang out.
The carpenter now got off the skylight.
"I've told the steward to turn to and get the men's breakfast," said he. "Ourn's to be ready by eight; and I reckon I'll show that snivelling cockney what it is to be hungry. You don't call this a mutiny, do yer, Mr. Royle? Why, the men are like lambs."
"Yes, so they are," I answered. "All the same, I shall be glad to feel dry land under me. The law always hangs the skipper of a mutiny, you know; and I'm skipper by your appointment. So the sooner we all get out of this mess the better, eh, Mr. Stevens?"
"That's right enough," said he; "and we look to you to get us out of it."
"I'll do what you ask me—I won't do more," I answered.
"We don't want more. Enough's what we want. You'll let us see your reckonings every day—not because we doubt you—but it'll ease the minds of the men to know that we aren't like to foul the Bermudas."
"The Bermudas are well to the nor'rard of our course," I answered promptly.
"All right, Mr. Royle, we look to you," he said, with a face on him and in a tone that meant a good deal more than met the ear. "Now, mates," addressing the others, "cut for'ard and get your breakfasts, my lads. It's eight bells. Mr. Royle, I'll go below and call the boatswain; and shall him and me have our breakfast and you arterwards, or you fust? Say the word. I'm agreeable vichever way it goes."
"I'll stop on deck till you've done," I replied, wishing to have the table to myself.
Down he went, and I advanced to the poop-rail and leaned over it to watch the men come aft to receive their share of the cuddy stores.
I will do them the justice to say they were quiet enough. Whether the perception that they no longer recognized any superiors would not presently prevail; whether quarrels, deeds of violence, and all the consequences which generally attend the rebellion of ignorant men would not follow, was another matter. They were decent enough in their behaviour now; congregating on the main-deck and entering the cuddy one by one to receive the stores which the steward was serving out.
These stores, so far as I could judge by the contents of the tin dishes which the men took forward, consisted of butter, white biscuit, a rasher of ham to each man, and tea or cocoa; excellent fare for men who had been starved on rotten provisions. I also found that every man had been served with a glass of rum. They did not seem to begrudge the privilege assumed by the carpenter and boatswain of occupying the cuddy and eating at the table there. The impression conveyed to me on the whole by their aspect and demeanour was that of men subdued and to a certain extent alarmed by the position in which they had placed themselves. But for the carpenter, I believe that I at that time and working upon their then state of mind, could have won them over to submission and made them willing to bring the ship into port and face an inquiry into the circumstances of the revolt. But though I believe this now, I conceived the attempt too full of peril to undertake, seeing that my failure must not only jeopardize my own, but the lives of poor old Mr. Robertson and his daughter, in the safety of whom I was so concerned, that I do not say that my profound anxiety did not paralyse the energy with which I should have attempted my own rescue had I been alone.
How the men treated the steward I could not tell; but I noticed that Master Cook was very quiet in his manner. This was a sure sign of the efficacy of the fright he had received, and it pleased me greatly, as I had feared he would prove a dangerous and bloodthirsty mutineer and a terrible influence in the councils of the men.
The carpenter was the first to come on deck. I had seen him (through the skylight) eating like a cormorant, his arms squared, his brown tattooed hand busy with his mouth, making atonement for his long fast in the forecastle. He kept his cap on, but the boatswain had better manners, and looked, as he faced his mate, a quite superior and different order of man altogether.
I went below as soon as Stevens appeared, and the boatswain had the grace to rise, as though he would leave the table, when he saw me. I begged him to keep his seat, and, calling to the steward, asked to know how the men had treated him.
"Pretty middling, sir, thank you, sir," he replied, with a trifle more spirit in his manner. "They're not brutal, sir. The cook never spoke, sir. Mr. Stevens is rather unkind, but I daresay it's only a way he has."
The boatswain laughed, and asked him if he had breakfasted.
"No, sir—not yet. I can wait, sir."
"There's plenty to eat and drink," said the boatswain, pointing to the table.
"Yes, sir, plenty," responded the steward, who, looking on the boatswain as one of the ringleaders, was as much afraid of him as of the carpenter.
"Well, then," continued the boatswain, "why don't you tuck in? Mr. Royle won't mind. Sit there, or take what you want into the pantry."
The steward turned pale, remembering the threats that had been used towards him if he touched the cuddy stores, and looked upon the boatswain's civility as a trick to get him hanged.
"Thank you, sir," he stammered; "I've no happetite. I'd rather not eat anything at present, sir. I'll take a ship's biscuit shortly, sir, with your leave."
Saying which, and with a ghastly face, he shuffled into the pantry, no doubt to escape from what he would consider highly murderous attentions.
"Rum customer, that steward, Mr. Royle," said the boatswain, rubbing his mouth on the back of his hand.
"So should I be had I undergone his sensations," I replied.
"Well, I don't know about that. You see there ain't nothing regular about a steward. He isn't a sailor and he isn't a landsman; and when you come to them kind o' mongrels, you can't expect much sperrit. It isn't fair to expect it. It's like fallin' foul of a marmozeet, because he isn't as big as a monkey. What about them passengers o' yours, sir? They've not been sarved with breakfast since I've been here?"
"I have seen to them," I answered. "What has Stevens been talking about?" As I said this I cast my eyes on the open skylight to see that our friend was not within hearing.
He shook his head, and after a short pause exclaimed—