Jack Grey, Second Mate/Chapter III

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The fore-hands of the big steel bark Carlyle were a new lot who had been signed on in Frisco, in place of the outward-bound crew of Scotch and Welsh sailormen, who had deserted on account of the high pay ruling in Frisco. The present crowd was composed chiefly of "Dutchmen," and in each watch, consisting of eight men and a boy, there were only two Americans, one Englishman and a German. The remainder were dagoes and mixed breeds.

The two Americans were in the first mate's watch, the Englishman and the German being with the second's crowd, and the whole lot of them, white, olive and mixed, were about as hard a "rough-house" crew, scraped up from the waterfront, as one could find, and acceptable only because of the aforementioned high wages and shortage of men.

And, to complete the number of undesirables aboard, there was Mr. Pathan, the half-breed passenger.

Finally, Mr. Dunn, the first mate, was a nervous little man, totally unfitted to handle anything more than an orderly crew of respectable Scandinavians. The result was that already his own watch had been once so out of hand he had been forced to call upon the second officer to help him maintain authority; since when, automatically, as it were, the second mate had taken, though unofficially, the reins of authority into his own hands.

Thus the situation five days after leaving port, on the homeward passage.

A week had passed.

"If you please, sir, I'd like a word with you."

It was the big boatswain who spoke. He had come halfway up the poop ladder, and his request was put in a low voice, yet with an apparently casual air.

"Certainly, Barton! Come up here if you have anything about which you wish to speak."

"It's about the men, sir. There's something up, an' I can't just put me finger on it."

"How do you mean, something up?"

"Well, sir, they're gettin' a bit at a loose end, an' they're gettin' a bit too free-like with their lip if I tells 'em to do anythin'."

"Well, you know, Barton, I cannot help you in that. If you cannot keep them in hand without aid, you'll never do it with."

"'Tisn't exactly that, sir. I can handle a crowd right enough along with any man; savin' it be yourself, sir"--with an acknowledging glance at his officer's gigantic proportions--"but there's somethin' in the wind, as is makin' 'em too ikey. It's only since the cap'n went, an' it's my belief as yon passenger's at the bottom of it!"

"Ah!"

"You noticed somethin' then, sir?" asked the boatswain quickly.

"Tell me what makes you think the passenger may be in anything that is brewing?" said the second mate, ignoring the man's question.

"Well, for one thing, sir, he's too familiar with the men. An' I've seen him go forrard to the fo'cas'le of a night when 'twas dark. Once I went up to the door on the quiet, thinkin' as I'd get to see what it was as he was up to; but the chap on the lookout spotted me an' started talkin'. I reckonedhe meant headin' me off; so I asked him to pass me down the end of me clothesline, for a bluff, an' then I made tracks."

"But didn't you get any idea of what the fellow was doing in the fo'cas'le?"

"Well, sir, it seemed to me as he was palaverin' to 'em like a father; but as I was sayin' I hadn't time to get the bearin's of what was goin' forrard. Then there's another matter, sir, as--"

"And you might tell the man, while he's up, to take a look at the chafing gear on the fore swifter," interjected the second mate calmly.

The irrelevancy of this remark seemed to bring the boatswain up all standing, as the saying goes. He glanced up at the officer's face, and in so doing the field of his vision included something else--the very one of whom they were talking. He understood now the reason of the second's apparently causeless remark; for that keen-sensed officer had detected the almost cat-like tread approaching them along the poop- deck, and changed the conversation on the instant.

For a couple of minutes the boatswain and the second mate kept up a talk upon certain technical details of ship work, until Mr. Pathan was out of hearing.

"I reckon as he thought he'd like to know what it was we're talkin' about, sir," remarked the boatswain, eying the broad back of the stout passenger.

"What is this other matter that you want to speak to me about?"

"Well, sir, some of the hands 'as got hold of booze somehow. I keeps smellin' of 'em whenever one of 'em comes near me, and I reckon as he"---jerking his head in the direction of Mr. Pathan--"is the one as is givin' it to 'em."

The second mate swore quietly.

"What's his game, sir? That's what's foozlin' me. I thinks it's time as you looked inter ther matter!"

"If I thought--"

"Yes, sir?" encouraged the boatswain.

But whatever the second mate thought, he did not put it into words. Instead, he asked the boatswain if he were of the opinion that any of the forecastle crowd were to be depended upon.

"Not one of 'em, sir! There isn't one as wouldn't put a knife inter you if he got half a chanst!"

The second nodded, as if the man's summing-up of the crew were in accordance with his own ideas. Then he spoke.

"Well, Barton, I cannot do anything till we know more definitely what is in the wind. You must keep your eyes open and report to me anything that seems likely to help."

Behind them they heard again the pad of Mr. Pathan's deck shoes.

"You had better overhaul the sheaves in those main lower topsail brace blocks," he remarked for the benefit of the listening passenger. "That will do for the present."

"Very good, sir," said the boatswain, and went down the ladder on to the main deck.