Captain Black (Pemberton)/Chapter 6


I shall not try to tell you of the stir made upon the ship by this truly terrible affair.

Hitherto, we had treated this adventure lightly enough; but we would treat it lightly no longer. The reality of death stood between us and the jest. We knew now what the lust of gold might mean. The black secrets of this haunted haven had revealed them- selves beyond all question of doubt. It remained to do what we could both to quieten the men and to keep the dread affair as close as might be. And to this we set ourselves with all the strength of purpose we could command.

Herein both the time and the circumstance helped us. Of the two upon deck, one was old Dan, whom nothing would shake; the other a stolid Norwegian, who was made to understand that something beyond the ordinary had happened, and that there would be money if he held his tongue upon it. By the aid of these and of Mr. Farquharson, our chief officer, we got the dead man from my cabin and lowered him to the long-boat. There was a slope of the snows upon the far side of the fiord where a landing might be effected; and thither we rowed our ghastly burden and cut for it a grave of the snows. Judging no man, as Mr. Farquharson bade us, we waited while he uttered one prayer aloud to his Maker for the dead who could answer to no charge; and then we returned as we had come to the ship.

The men would know, we said, but knowledge would be easier for them and for us now that this was done. I had gone down with Captain York to his cabin directly we returned aboard, and thither Roderick followed us without delay. The new nature of our responsibilities toward the good fellows who had sailed with us put a gloom upon us all and a bit upon our tongues. I think we were afraid to tell each other exactly what we thought; afraid to say that what one had attempted, another might accomplish. The declaration of war à outrance, this message of the night, spoke no longer of a hunt for the dead man's gold; but of strife and of the mystery of strife which abject surrender alone could evade.

"It comes to this, gentlemen," said the Captain very solemnly, "either we weigh anchor and leave it to them: or we stand with rifles in our hands the sun round. That this man came aboard the ship to do us or it a mischief, I would doubt no more than I doubt my own existence. Who sent him is another affair. I have my own notions about that, and when I set foot in England I'll tell you what they are. Meanwhile the yacht is yours and it is for you to say 'Aye' or 'No.' Will you leave the other party in possession, and go as you came; or will you stand by the colours at any cost? It's for you to decide, gentlemen, and for me to obey."

Of course, he knew what answer we would make. It was so like dear old Captain York to be preaching of duty toward his crew in one breath, and fire and fury for the Yankees the next. Had we commanded him to weigh anchor and sail, I don't believe he would have obeyed us. The grit of combat was in his very bones. He would have fought a gun-boat if we had put it to him.

"If it's with us, Captain," said I, "you have our answer without waiting. This ship is here, and here she stays. There's no man living who has a better right to hunt for Black's treasure than myself, and that's a right I don't surrender while there's one stick of the old yacht left. You may take that for the decision you speak of—we'd waste time to argle-bargle at such a moment."

The Captain was very pleased.

"For yourself and Mr. Stewart?" asks he, looking from one to the other a little curiously.

"For myself and Mr. Stewart," said I, with hardly a glance at Roderick. What need to ask that born lover of a rough-and-tumble whether he would haul down his flag to the adventurers? As well ask him to deny that Scotsmen are the salt of the earth (as he tells us every day that they are).

So we were agreed finely upon it, you will see, and in the very thick of a parley, when down came Mr. Farquharson to say that a boat was hailing the ship, and that he believed Jo Mitchell was aboard her. This put us in a bit of a fluster, and we had a talk as to whether we should receive them or no; but in the end we decided to hear the man for himself. Going out to the deck together, we found a little company of strangers at the head of the gangway, and foremost among them an exceedingly pleasant and good-looking young American who introduced himself to us as their leader. Such a smooth-tongued fellow I have not met for a long time. It really would have appeared that he had come aboard our ship with no other idea than to confer an obligation upon us.

"Captain York," says he, holding out his hand to the skipper, "it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Mr. Strong, I should have known you any- where from the pictures. This would be Mr. Stewart, I suppose. I'm glad to meet you all, gentlemen, and to say a few words to you, if you please."

He seemed to expect that we should show him into the cabin immediately; and, in truth, we had no option in the matter. The rest of his fellows, one of whom had the most villainous countenance I have ever seen on a man, began to talk to Mr. Farquharson and to Billy Eightbells, in their turn, and to show a curiosity concerning the ship which was a little disquieting. With Jo Mitchell himself, however, you could find no fault whatever. His manners were those of a charming gentleman—he was the very soul of affability.

"No," says he to the Captain, refusing our offers of morning coffee or other hospitality; "my breakfast's waiting on the yacht, and I won't make two bites of it. What I came to say is this, gentlemen. Your expedition has got fine whiskers on it. As fair-dealing men, I don't imagine you are going to dispute the ground with me. This has been a race, and the best, or the luckiest, has won. Well, I'm sorry for your bad luck, but I can't mend it. The treasure is now aboard of my ship, and the day she's coaled I sail for New York. Let's end it there and strike a bargain upon it. I'll pay you ten per cent. into any bank, English or American, you care to name on the day I make New York harbour. That's a fair offer, and few would make it. Let me hear that you are wise, and take it while I'm in the mood."

He looked from one to the other, as though searching for thoughts in our faces; and as he looked I thought that I began to know the man better. Greed, malice, the dark side of murder, were all stamped on that changing countenance. I knew that he lied—that his tale was a rigmarole of invention and subterfuge which a child might not have believed. Even so, our skipper's rejoinder amazed me.

"Captain Mitchell," says he, calmly enough, "you haven't found the treasure, or you wouldn't be aboard this ship."

Well, the fellow stared as though a blow had been struck. He looked at the Captain and looked at ns, while his face was a picture to see.

"What," he cried, "you begin by calling me a liar!"

"I do," says the skipper, "though I would not have put it that way myself. You haven't found the treasure, and you don't know where it is. That's why you came to us——"

"So help me——"

"No, no—we don't want your oaths, if you please. Keep those for your own company, Captain Mitchell. What's more, I'll tell you this—talk of your ten per cent. when your eggs are hatched. It's a long way from this cove to the American banks you speak of. I don't think we will be undertaking the voyage at present."

"I said any bank—American or English."

"Ah," says the skipper, "a cosmopolitan, it would appear," and there was so much irony in his tone that Roderick and I laughed outright. The look Mitchell shot at us upon that should have fired tinder had there been any lying thereabouts. But there wasn't, and we didn't mind it overmuch.

"Oh," says he, rising as he spoke and ramming on his cap as though to affront us, "I'm not here to barter like a down-town Jew. If you won't have the fair, you shall take the foul. This lay is mine, and the man who disputes it with me must look out for himself. I give you fair warning. Share with me, and I'll show my generosity; but try to queer my pitch, and I'll blow your ship to hell as sure as the sun is rising. That's my last word, so help me God. You may take it or leave it, gentlemen."

He asked for no answer, but bounced out of the cabin and went straight to the boat that waited for him. We, however, continued to sit about the table, and for many minutes we did not utter a word. When Roderick spoke at last, it was good to hear the sound of a voice.

"That's a man who knows what he wants," said he. The skipper took it up.

"We should join him there," he said, with a comical look somewhat foreign to him. "I want one thing very much at this moment, Mr. Stewart."

"And what's that, Captain?"

"The permission to take such steps as I please for the safety of this ship—the command ashore as well as afloat for the time being."

"Oh," said I, "that's fair enough. What do you propose, Captain?"

"To change the anchorage, if I think fit. Next, to discover what Mitchell himself is doing. There I count upon you, Mr. Strong. But you shouldn't go until sunset, which is a manner of speaking in this pretty country. Let me say that you don't go until it can be done with discretion."

"I understand. We shall be watched."

"And must find an opportunity of watching. I'll think it out during the morning. Meanwhile, there's breakfast. That wouldn't be a bad beginning, gentlemen."

He rose as he spoke, and we followed him very willingly. The whole ship was awake by this time, and little Mary herself—the "trimmest craft afloat," as old Dan remarked—waiting for us at the table. We sat down as though it were a common day, though we knew well enough that the glove had been cast down and that the momentous hour was at hand.