"He's a bad 'un! he's a bad 'un! he's an out-and-outer!"
"Do you know which of them struck the captain down?"
"He did," he answered at once.
"I could have sworn it by the way in which he excused the murderer."
"Stevens," continued the boatswain, "is at the bottom of all this here business—him and the cook. I suppose he didn't want the cook for a chum, and so knocked him over when he was going to operate on Duckling's body. But Duckling was a bad 'un too, and so was the skipper. They've got to thank theirselves for what they got. The crew never would ha' turned had they been properly fed."
"I believe that," I said. "But I'll tell you what's troubling me, boatswain. The carpenter has some design behind all this, which he is concealing. Does he really mean that I should navigate the ship to within fifty miles of New Orleans?"
"Yes, sir, he do," answered the boatswain, regarding me stedfastly.
"And he means then to heave the ship to, lower away the boats, and make for one of the mouths of the Mississippi, or land upon some part of the coast, and represent himself and his companions as castaway sailors?"
"Quite right," said the boatswain, watching me fixedly.
"If that is really his intention," I proceeded, "I cannot believe that he will allow me to land with the others. He distrusts me. He is as suspicious as all murderers are."
The boatswain continued eyeing me intently, as a man might who strives to form a resolution from the expression in another's face.
"He means to scuttle the ship," he said, in a low voice.
"Ah!" I exclaimed, starting. "I should have foreseen this."
"He means to scuttle her just before he puts off in the boats," he added in a whisper.
I watched him anxiously, for I saw that he had more to tell me. He looked up at both skylights, then towards the cuddy door, then towards the companion ladder, bent over to me, and said—
"Mr. Royle, he don't mean to let you leave this vessel."
"He means to scuttle her, leaving me on board?"
"Did he tell you this?"
He nodded again.
"And them?" I exclaimed, pointing towards the cabin in which were Mr. Robertson and his daughter.
"They'll be left too," he replied.
I took a deep breath, and closed the knife and fork on my plate.
"Now then, mate!" bawled the carpenter's voice, down the companion; "how long are you goin' to be?"
"Coming," answered the boatswain.
A thought had flashed upon me.
"There must be others in this ship whom Stevens distrusts as well as me," I whispered. "Who are they? Give me but two other men and yourself, and I'll engage that the ship will be ours! See! if these men whom he distrusts could be told that, at the last moment, they will be left to sink in a scuttled ship, they would come over on my side to save their lives. How are they to be got at?"
He shook his head without speaking, and left the table; but turned to say, "Don't be in a hurry. I've got two hours afore me, and I'll turn it over." He then went on deck.
I remained at the cuddy table, buried in thought. The boatswain's communication had utterly taken me by surprise. That Stevens, after the promise he had made me that there should be no more bloodshed, after the sympathy I had shown the men from the beginning, should be base enough to determine upon murdering me and the inoffensive persons we had rescued, at the moment when we might think our escape from our heavy misfortunes certain, was so shocking that the thought of it made me feel as one stunned. An emotion of deep despair was bred in me, and then this, in its turn, begot a wild fit of fury. I could scarcely restrain myself from rushing on deck and shooting the ruffian as he stood there.
To escape from my own insanity, I ran into the captain's cabin, and locked the door, and plunged into deep and bitter reflection.
It was idle for me to think of resistance in my then condition. Upon whom could I count? The boatswain? I could not be sure that he would aid me single-handed, nor hope that he would try to save my life at the risk of his own. The steward? Such a feeble-hearted creature would only hamper me, would be of less use even than old Mr. Robertson. Many among the crew, if not all of them indeed, must obviously be acquainted with Stevens' murderous intentions, and would make a strong and desperate gang to oppose me; and though I should discover the men who were not in the carpenter's confidence, how could I depend on them at the last moment?
The feeling of helplessness induced in me by these considerations was profound and annihilating. I witnessed the whole murderous process as though it were happening: the ship hove to, the boats shoving away, one, perhaps, remaining to watch the vessel sink, that they might be in no doubt of our having perished. All this would happen in the dark too, for the departure of the men from the ship would only be safe at night, that no passing vessel might espy them.
An idea that will sound barbarous, though I should not have hesitated to carry it out could I have seen my way to it, occurred to me. This was to watch an opportunity when the carpenter was alone, to hurl him overboard. But here, again, the chances against me were fifty to one. To destroy the villain without risk of detection, without the act being witnessed, without suspicion attaching to me on his being missed, would imply such a host of favouring conditions as the kindliest fortune could scarcely assemble together.
What then was to be done?
I had already pointed out the course the ship was to steer, and could not alter it. But though I should plausibly alter her course a point or two, what could follow? The moment land was sighted, let it be what coast it would, they would know I had deceived them; or, giving me the credit of having mistaken my reckonings, they would heave the ship to themselves, and then would come the dastardly crime. I dared not signal any passing vessel. Let my imagination devise what it would, it could invent nothing that my judgment would adopt; since, being single-handed in this ship, no effort I could make to save the lives of the persons it was my determination to stand by, but must end in our destruction.
By such confessions I show myself no hero; but then I do not want to be thought one. I was, and am, a plain man, placed in one of the most formidable situations that any one could find himself in. In the darkness and horror of that time I saw no means of escape, and so I admit my blindness. A few strokes of the pen would easily show me other than I was, but then I should not be telling the truth, and should be falsely taking glory to myself, instead of truly showing it to be God's, by whose mercy I am alive to tell the story.
My clothes and other things belonging to me being in the cabin now occupied by Stevens, I opened the door and desired the steward to bring them to me. My voice was heard by Miss Robertson, who came round the table to where I stood, and thanked me for my kindness to her and her father.
She had made good use of the few conveniences I had been able to send her. Her hair was brushed, and most prettily looped over the comb, and she wore a collar that became her mightily, which she had found in the steward's box. She looked a sweet and true English girl; her deathlike pallor gradually yielding to a healthy white with a tinge of colour on the cheeks.
"Papa seems better," she