“We’ll say we thought it was the mate,” said one. And another, “I know what I’ll say - that I heered a row, jumped out of my bunk, got a jolly good crack on the jaw for my pains, and sailed in myself. Couldn’t tell who or what it was in the dark and just hit out.”

“An’ ’twas me you hit, of course,” Kelly seconded, his face brightening for the moment.

Leach and Johnson took no part in the discussion, and it was plain to see that their mates looked upon them as men for whom the worst was inevitable, who were beyond hope and already dead. Leach stood their fears and reproaches for some time. Then he broke out:

“You make me tired! A nice lot of gazabas you are! If you talked less with yer mouth and did something with yer hands, he’d a-ben done with by now. Why couldn’t one of you, just one of you, get me a knife when I sung out? You make me sick! A-beefin’ and bellerin’ ’round, as though he’d kill you when he gets you! You know damn well he wont. Can’t afford to. No shipping masters or beach-combers over here, and he wants yer in his business, and he wants yer bad. Who’s to pull or steer or sail ship if he loses yer? It’s me and Johnson have to face the music. Get into yer bunks, now, and shut yer faces; I want to get some sleep.”

“That’s all right all right,” Parsons spoke up. “Mebbe he won’t do for us, but mark my words, hell ’ll be an ice-box to this ship from now on.”

All the while I had been apprehensive concerning my own predicament. What would happen to me when these men discovered my presence? I could never fight my way out as Wolf Larsen had done. And at this moment Latimer called down the scuttles:

“Hump! The old man wants you!”

“He ain’t down here!” Parsons called back.

“Yes, he is,” I said, sliding out of the bunk and striving my hardest to keep my voice steady and bold.

The sailors looked at me in consternation. Fear was strong in their faces, and the devilishness which comes of fear.

“I’m coming!” I shouted up to Latimer.

“No you don’t!” Kelly cried, stepping between me and the ladder, his right hand shaped into a veritable strangler’s clutch. “You damn little sneak! I’ll shut yer mouth!”

“Let him go,” Leach commanded.

“Not on yer life,” was the angry retort.

Leach never changed his position on the edge of the bunk. “Let him go, I say,” he repeated; but this time his voice was gritty and metallic.

The Irishman wavered. I made to step by him, and he stood aside. When I had gained the ladder, I turned to the circle of brutal and malignant faces peering at me through the semi-darkness. A sudden and deep sympathy welled up in me. I remembered the Cockney’s way of putting it. How God must have hated them that they should be tortured so!

“I have seen and heard nothing, believe me,” I said quietly.

“I tell yer, he’s all right,” I could hear Leach saying as I went up the ladder. “He don’t like the old man no more nor you or me.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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