“Why, I actually believe old Trendon is excited.”
For two hours after the departure of the captain and Trendon there were dull times on the quarter-deck of the Wolverine. Then the surgeon came back to them.
“Billy was right,” he said.
“But he didn’t tell us anything,” cried Ives. “He didn’t clear up the mystery.”
“That’s what,” said Trendon. “One thing Billy said,” he added, waxing unusually prolix for him, “was truer than maybe he knew.”
“Thanks,” murmured the ensign. “What was that?”
“You said ‘Not a living being aboard.’ Exact words, hey?”
“Well, what of it?” exclaimed the ensign excitedly. “You don’t mean you found dead——?”
“Keep your temperature down, my boy. No. You were exactly right. Not a living being aboard.”
“Thanks for nothing,” retorted the ensign.
“Neither human nor other,” pursued Trendon.
“Food scattered around the galley. Crumbs on the mess table. Ever see a wooden ship without cockroaches?”
“Never particularly investigated the matter.”
“Don’t believe such a thing exists,” said Ives.
“Not a cockroach on the Laughing Lass. Ever know of an old hooker that wasn’t overrun with rats?”
“No; nor anyone else. Not above water.”
“Found a dozen dead rats. No sound or sign of a live one on the Laughing Lass. No rats, no mice. No bugs. Gentlemen, the Laughing Lass is a charnel ship.”
“No wonder Billy’s tender nerves went wrong.” said Ives, with irrepressible flippancy. “She’s probably haunted by cockroach wraiths.”
“He’ll have a chance to see,” said Trendon. “Captain’s going to put him in charge.”
“By way of apology, then,” said Barnett. “That’s pretty square.”
“Captain Parkinson wishes to see you in his cabin, Mr. Edwards,” said an orderly, coming in.
“A pleasant voyage, Captain Billy,” said Ives. “Sing out if the goblins git yer.”
Fifteen minutes later Ensign Edwards, with a quartermaster, Timmins, the bo’s’n’s mate, and a crew, was heading a straight course toward his first command, with instructions to “keep company and watch for signals”; and intention to break into the brass-bound chest and ferret out what clue lay there, if it took dynamite. As he boarded, Barnett and Trendon, with both of whom the lad was a favourite, came to a sinister conclusion.
“It’s poison, I suppose,” said the first officer.
“And a mighty subtle sort,” agreed Trendon. “Don’t like the looks of it.” He shook a solemn head. “Don’t like it for a damn.”
THE SECOND PRIZE CREW