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jump, to judge by the sounds and the words that came to me from above. “What? What? A hail?” “Boat near?” “In English, sir.”
“Dive for the captain, one of you,” an authoritative voice directed. "He's just run below for a minute. Don't frighten the missus. Call him out quietly.”
Talking, in confidential understones, followed.
“See him?” “Can't, sir.” “What's the dodge, I wonder.” “Astern, I think, sir.” “D- n this fog, it lies as thick as pea soup on the water."
I waited, and after a perplexed sort of pause, heard a stern “Keep off.”
à, as men ap That's versed consul
THEY did not suspect how close I was to them. And their temper struck me at once as unsafe. They seemed very much on the alert, and, as I imagined, disposed to precipitate action. I called out, deadening my voice warily:
“I am an Englishman, escaping from the pirates here. We want your help.”
To this no answer was made, but by that time the captain had come on deck. The dinghy must have drifted in a little closer, for I made out behind the shadowy rail one, two, three figures in a row, looming bulkily above my head, as men appear enlarged in mist.
“'Englishman,' he says.” “That's very likely,” pronounced a new voice. They held a hurried consultation up there, of which I caught only detached sentences, and the general tone of concern. “It's perfectly well known that there is an Englishman here. . . . Aye, a runaway second mate... Killed a man in a Bristol ship. . . . What was his name, now?”
“Won't you answer me?” I called out.
“Aye, we will answer you as soon as we see you. ... Keep your eyes skinned fore and aft on deck there. ... Ready, boys?”
“All ready, sir"; voices came from further off. "Listen to me,” I entreated.
Someone called out briskly, “This is a bad place for pretty tales of Englishmen in distress. We know very well where we are."
“You are off Rio Medio," I began anxiously; "and
“Speaks the truth like a Briton, anyhow,” commented a lazy drawl.
“I would send another man to the pump,” a reflective voice suggested. “To make sure of the force, Mr. Sebright, you know.”
“Certainly, sir.... Another hand to the brakes, bo’sun.”
“I have been held captive on shore," I said. “I escaped this evening, three hours ago.”
“And found this ship in the fog? You made a good shot at it, didn't you?”
“It's no time for trifling, I swear to you,” I continued. “They are out looking for you, in force. I've heard them. I was with them when they started.”
“I believe you.”
“So you came to have a friendly chat meantime. That's kind. Beastly weather, aint it?”
“I want to come aboard,” I shouted. “You must be crazy not to believe me.”
“But we do believe every single word you say,” bantered the Sebright voice with serenity.
Suddenly another struck in, “Nichols, I call to mind,
“Of course, of course. This is the man.” “My name's not Nichols,” I protested.
“Now, now. You mustn't begin to lie,” remonstrated Sebright. Somebody laughed discreetly.
“You are mistaken, on my honour,” I said. “Nichols left Rio Medio some time ago.”
“About three hours, eh?” came the drawl of insufferable folly in these precious minutes.
It was clear that Manuel had gone astray, but I feared not for long. They would spread out in search. And now I had found this hopeless ship, it seemed impossible that anybody else could miss her.
“You may be boarded any moment by more than a dozen boats. I warn you solemnly. Will you let me come?”
A low whistle was heard on board. They were impressed, “Why should he tell us this?" an undertone inquired.
“Why the devil shouldn't he? It's no great news, is it? Some scoundrelly trick. This man's up to any dodge. Why, the Jane was taken in broad day by two boats that pretended they were going to sell vegetables.”
“Look out, or by heavens you'll be taken by surprise. There's a lot of them,” I said as impressively as I could.
“Look out, look out. There's a lot of them,” someone yelled in a sort of panic.
"Oh, that's your game,” Sebright's voice said to me. “Frighten us, eh? Never you mind what this skunk says, men. Stand fast. We shall take a lot of killing.” He was answered by a sort of pugnacious uproar, a clash of cutlasses and laughter, as if at some
“That's right, boys; mind and send them away with clean faces, you gunners. Jack, you keep a good lookout for that poor distressed Englishman. What's that? a noise in the fog? Stand by. Now then, cook!.. .” “All ready to dish up, sir,” a voice answered him.
It was like a sort of madness. Were they thinking of eating? Even at that the English talk made my heart expand—the homeliness of it. I seemed to know all their voices, as if I had talked to each man before. It brought back memories, like the voices of friends. But there was the strange irrelevancy, levity, the enmity—the irrational, baffling nature of the anguishing conversation, as if with the unapproachable men we meet in nightmares.
We in the dinghy, as well as those on board, were listening anxiously. A profound silence reigned for a time.
“I don't care for myself,” I tried once more, speaking distinctly. “But a lady in the boat here is in great danger, too. Won't you do something for a woman?”
I perceived, from the sort of stir on board, that this caused some sensation.
“Or is the whole ship's company afraid to let one little boat come alongside?” I added, after waiting for an answer.
A throat was cleared on board mildly, “Hem . . . you see, we don't know who you are."
“I've told you who I am. The lady is Spanish.”
“Just so. But there are Englishmen and Englishmen in these days. Some of them keep very bad company ashore, and others afloat. I couldn't think of taking you on board, unless I know something more of you."
I seemed to detect an intention of malice in the mild voice. The more so that I overheard a rapid interchange of mutterings up there. “See him yet?” “Not a thing, sir.” “Wait, I say.”
Nothing could overcome the fixed idea of these men, who seemed to enjoy so much the cleverness of their suspicions. It was the most dangerous of tempers to deal with. It made them as untrustworthy as so many lunatics. They were capable of anything, of decoying us alongside, and stoving the bottom out of the boat, and drowning us before they discovered their mistake, if they ever did. Even as it was, there was danger; and