“What was it?” he murmured. “Plain desertion, or something worse?”
I remained inscrutable.
“Well,” he conceded, “I do need a mate; and a naval man—even if he is wantin’ to get out of sight——”
“He won’t spit on your decks, anyway,” I broke in boldly.
Captain Selover’s hairy face bristled about the mouth. This I subsequently discovered was symptom of a grin.
“You saw that, eh?” he trebled.
“Aren’t you afraid he’ll bring down the police and delay your sailing?” I asked.
He grinned again, with a cunning twinkle in his eye.
“You needn’t worry. There ain’t goin’ to be any police. He had his advance money, and he won’t risk it by tryin’ to come back.”
We came to an agreement. I professed surprise at the wages. The captain guardedly explained that the expedition was secret.
“What’s our port?” I asked, to test him.
“Our papers are made out for Honolulu,” he replied.
We adjourned to sign articles.
“By the way,” said I, “I wish you wouldn’t make them out in my own name. ‘Eagen’ will do.”
“All right,” he laughed, “I sabe. Eagen it is.”
“I’ll be aboard at six,” said I. “I’ve got to make some arrangements.”
“Wish you could help with the lading,” said he. “Still, I can get along. Want any advance money?”
“No,” I replied; then I remembered that I was supposed to be broke. “Yes,” I amended.
He gave me ten dollars.
“I guess you’ll show up,” he said. “Wouldn’t do this to everybody. But a naval man—even if he is dodgin’ Uncle Sam——”
“I’ll be here,” I assured him.
At that time I wore a pointed beard. This I shaved. Also I was accustomed to use eye-glasses. The trouble was merely a slight astigmatism which bothered me only in reading or close inspection. I could get along perfectly well without the glasses, so I discarded them. I had my hair cut rather close. When I had put on sea boots, blue trousers and shirt, a pea jacket and a cap I felt quite safe from the recognition of a man like Dr. Schermerhorn. In fact, as you shall see, I hardly spoke to him during all the voyage out.
Promptly at six, then, I returned with a sea chest, bound I knew not whither, to be gone I knew not for how long, and pledged to act as second officer on a little hundred-and-fifty-ton schooner.
THE GRAVEN IMAGE
I had every reason to be satisfied with my disguise,—if such it could be called. Captain Selover at first failed to recognise me. Then he burst into his shrill cackle.
“Didn’t know you,” he trebled. “But you look shipshape. Come, I’ll show you your quarters.”
Immediately I discovered what I had suspected before; that on so small a schooner the mate took rank with the men rather than the afterguard. Cabin accommodations were of course very limited. My own lurked in the waist of the ship—a tiny little airless hole.