Chapter XXVI

THE wind, serving us to a desire, now hauled into the west. We could run so much the easier from the north-east corner of the island to the mouth of the North Inlet. Only, as we had no power to anchor, and dared not beach her till the tide had flowed a good deal farther, time hung on our hands. The coxswain told me how to lay the ship to; after a good many trials I succeeded, and we both sat in silence, over another meal.

`Cap'n,' said he, at length, with that same uncomfortable smile, `here's my old shipmate, O'Brien; s'pose you was to heave him overboard. I ain't partic'lar as a rule, and I don't take no blame for settling his hash; but I don't reckon him ornamental, now, do you?'

`I'm not strong enough, and I don't like the job; and there he lies, for me,' said I.

`This here's an unlucky ship - this Hispaniola, Jim,' he went on, blinking. `There's a power of men been killed in this Hispaniola - a sight o' poor seamen dead and gone since you and me took ship to Bristol. I never seen sich dirty luck, not I. There was this here O'Brien, now - he's dead, aint he? Well, now, I'm no scholar, and you're a lad as can read an figure; and, to put it straight, do you take it as a dead man is dead for good, or do he come alive again?'

`You can kill the body, Mr Hands, but not the spirit; you must know that already,' I replied. `O'Brien there is in another world, and maybe watching us.'

`Ah!' says he. `Well, that's unfort'nate - appears as if killing parties was a waste of time. Howsomever, sperrits don't reckon for much, by what I've seen. I'll chance it with the sperrits, Jim. And now, you've spoke up free, and I'll take it kind if you'd step down into that there cabin and get me a - well, a - shiver my timbers! I can't hit the name on't; well, you get me a bottle of wine, Jim - this here brandy's too strong for my head.'

Now, the coxswain's hesitation seemed to be unnatural; and as for the notion of his preferring wine to brandy, I entirely disbelieved it. The whole story was a pretext. He wanted me to leave the deck - so much was plain; but with what purpose I could in no way imagine. His eyes never met mine; they kept wandering to and fro, up and down, now with a look to the sky, now with a flitting glance upon the dead O'Brien. All the time he kept smiling, and putting his tongue out in the most guilty, embarrassed manner, so that a child could have told that he was bent on some deception. I was prompt with my answer, however, for I saw where my advantage lay; and that with a fellow so densely stupid I could easily conceal my suspicions to the end.

`Some wine?' I said. `Far better. Will you have white or red?'

`Well, I reckon it's about the blessed same to me, shipmate,' he replied; `so it's strong, and plenty of it, what's the odds?'

`All right,' I answered. `I'll bring you port, Mr Hands. But I'll have to dig for it.'

With that I scuttled down the companion with all the noise I could, slipped off my shoes, ran quietly along the sparred gallery, mounted the forecastle ladder, and popped my head out of the fore companion. I knew he would not expect to see me there; yet I took every precaution possible; and certainly the worst of my suspicions proved too true.

He had risen from his position to his hands and knees; and, though his leg obviously hurt him pretty sharply when he moved - for I could hear him stifle a groan - yet it was at a good, rattling rate that he trailed himself across the deck. In half a minute he had reached the port scuppers, and picked, out of a coil of rope, a long knife, or rather a short dirk, discoloured to the hilt with blood. He looked upon it for a moment, thrusting forth his under jaw, tried the point upon his hand, and then, hastily concealing it in the bosom of his jacket, trundled back again into his old place against the bulwark.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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