Moondyne/Captain Samuel Draper
In the inner office of Lloyd's great shipping agency, in London, on the day following Mr. Wyville's conversation with Lord Somers, the former gentleman sat, while one of the clerks in the office brought him books and documents.
"This completes Captain Draper's record," said the clerk, handing a paper to Mr. Wyville. "It is from his last ship."
"Thanks. Now, can you give me his address in London?"
"Yes; No. 37 Horton-street East."
Mr. Wyville left the office, and the clerk collected his papers, from which the visitor had taken notes.
Mr. Wyville hailed a cab, and said to the driver, "Horton street." It was a long way off, and during the slow progress through the crowded streets, Mr. Wyville examined his notes and arranged them carefully in a certain order. At last the cab stopped.
"What number?" asked the driver.
"I shall get out here," said Mr. Wyville. "But you may wait for me—say half an hour."
He walked down the quiet little street, with its uniform brick houses, green blinds, and white curtains. It was a street of comfortable residences of small business men and well-to-do mechanics. Number 37 was in no way different from the neighbouring houses.
Mr. Wyville rang the bell, and an old lady, with glasses pushed up to her forehead, and a piece of sewing in her hand, opened the door, and looked inquiringly at the caller.
"Does Captain Draper live here?" he asked.
"Yes, sir; but he is out at present," said the intelligent old lady.
"I am sorry; I will call again," said Mr. Wyville turning to go.
"He will be in soon," said the old lady; "he comes in to dinner always."
"Then I shall wait, if you please," said Mr. Wyville; and he entered the house, and sat down in a comfortable little parlour, while the old woman, drawing down her glasses, went on with her sewing
"Captain Draper is my grand-nephew," said she, after a silent interval:
"Indeed!" said Mr. Wyville. "Then you will be pleased to know that I am come to offer him a good command."
"Oh, I am delighted!" said the old lady; "he is so good, so conscientious. I always said as Samuel would come to something 'igh. He has been waiting for a ship for nearly a year. I know he doesn't please his owners, because he is too conscientious."
"You will also be pleased to hear, madam, that his owners this time will be quite conscientious, too."
"I am so delighted!" said Captain Draper's grand-aunt.
At this moment the outer door opened, and immediately after Captain Draper entered the room. It was rather a chilly day, and he had buttoned his coat close up to his throat. He was not a robust figure—rather slim, and bent forward. The past ten years bad laid a strong hand on him. The charm of his younger manhood, the boisterous laugh and hearty manner of waving his hand, was much lessened; but the cold watchfulness of his prominent blue eyes was proportionately increased.
He had a long and narrow face, thin jaws, covered with faded whiskers, worn rather long. His upper lip and chin were shaven, showing his wide mouth. His lips were dry, as of old, but now they were bluer, and more offensively cracked. On the whole, he was a decent-looking man in outward appearance; as he walked rapidly through the streets, with shoulders bent forward, one would say he was a consumptive hurrying home. But there was a compression of the mouth, accompanied with a quick watchfulness of eye, and an ugly sneer in the muscles of the nose, that would make his face detestable to anyone who had the power of rapidly perceiving character.
Mr. Wyville read the face as easily as if it were a printed page.
"Captain Draper, I presume?"
"That is my name," said the other, with a wide and unmeaning smile of the cracked lips, in which the rest of the face took no part.
"I have come from the Treasury, to offer you command of a vessel in the service of the Government."
"Ah—that's good. In what branch of the service, may I ask?"
"Transport," said Mr. Wyville.
"Troops, I suppose?" said Draper, still smiling.
Captain Draper placed a chair so as to see Mr. Wyville's face in the light. As he took his seat he had ceased to smile.
"Ah!—convicts. Where are they going?"
Captain Draper remained silent so long that Mr. Wyville spoke again.
"You are willing to take such a vessel, are you not?"
"Well, I want a ship—but these convict ships I don't like; I don't want to—Are they male convicts?" he asked, interrupting himself.
"Yes, mainly; there will be three hundred men, and only fifty female convicts on board."
"Fifty." Draper stood up and walked across the room to the mantelpiece. He leant his elbow on it for a time, then he took up a little glass ornament in an absent-minded and nervous way.
Mr. Wyville sat silently watching him. As Draper raised the piece of glass, his hand trembled and his face worked. He dropped the glass to the floor, and it was shattered to pieces. This recalled him. He smiled at first, then he laughed aloud, his eyes watching Mr. Wyville.
"Well—I don't want that ship," he said; "I don't like convicts."
"I am sorry," said Mr. Wyville, rising; "you were highly recommended, Captain Draper; and as the duty is considered onerous, the voyage will be quite remunerative for the commander."
Draper's cupidity was excited, and he seemed to hesitate.
"Do you know anything about these convicts?" he asked.
"Yes; what do you wish to know?"
"How long have they been in prison?"
"On an average, about three years."
"Three years; did you ever know any to be sent after nine or ten years?"
"No; not one such case has occurred for the past twenty years. It would be very unusual."
"Yes; well, you know, I don't care about them—but I have a curiosity. I suppose they're all right—all about three years, eh?"
"That will be the average, certainly."
"Well, I think I'll take the ship. Where does she lie, and when is she to sail?"
Mr. Wyville gave him all the particulars; and when his questions ceased, Mr. Wyville drew out a set of articles to be signed.
"You came prepared, eh?" said Draper.
"Yes," said Mr. Wyville, gravely reading over the form.
"We were anxious to secure your services, and I thought it just as well to save time. Please sign your name here—and here—and here. Thank you. Now I shall say good-day, Captain Draper."
"The ship is ready, you say?" said Draper, following him to the door; "then I am expected to take command at once, I suppose ?"
"No; not until the day of sailing. Your officers will see to the preparations for sailing. At two o'clock p.m., on the 10th, you will take command, and sail."
"Well," said Draper; and as he looked after the strong figure of Wyville, he muttered to himself— "Well—just as well; they only average three years. But I'd rather go on board at once, and see them before we sail."