THE TWELVE REPEATING RIFLES
After my watch below the next morning I met Percy Darrow. In many ways he is, or was, the most extraordinary of my many acquaintances. During that first half hour’s chat with him I changed my mind at least a dozen times. One moment I thought him clever, the next an utter ass; now I found him frank, open, a good companion, eager to please,—and then a droop of his blond eyelashes, a lazy, impertinent drawl of his voice, a hint of half-bored condescension in his manner, convinced me that he was shy and affected. In a breath I appraised him as intellectual, a fool, a shallow mind, a deep schemer, an idler, and an enthusiast. One result of his spasmodic confidences was to throw a doubt upon their accuracy. This might be what he desired; or with equal probability it might be the chance reflection of a childish and aimless amiability.
He was tall and slender and pale, languid of movement, languid of eye, languid of speech. His eyes drooped, half-closed beneath blond brows; a long wiry hand lazily twisted a rather affected blond moustache, his voice drawled his speech in a manner either insufferably condescending and impertinent, or ineffably tired,—who could tell which?
I found him leaning against the taffrail, his languid graceful figure supported by his elbows, his chin propped against his hand. As I approached the binnacle, he raised his eyes and motioned me to him. The insolence of it was so superb that for a moment I was angry enough to ignore him. Then I reflected that I was here, not to stand on my personal dignity, but to get information. I joined him.
“You are the mate?” he drawled.
“Since I am on the quarter-deck,” I snapped back at him.
He eyed me thoughtfully, while he rolled with one hand a corn-husk Mexican cigarette.
“Do you know where you are going?” he inquired at length.
“Depends on the moral character of my future actions,” I rejoined tartly.
He allowed a smile to break and fade, then lighted his cigarette.
“The first mate seems to have a remarkable command of language,” said he.
I did not reply.
“Well, to tell you the truth I don’t know where we are going,” he continued. “Thought you might be able to inform me. Where did this ship and its precious gang of cutthroats come from, anyway?”
“Oh, meaning you too, for all I know,” he shrugged wearily. Suddenly he turned to me and laid his hand on my shoulder with one of those sudden bursts of confidence I came later to recognise and look for, but in which I could never quite believe—nor disbelieve.
“I am eaten with curiosity,” he stated in the least curious voice in the world. “I suppose you know who his Nibs is?”
“Dr. Schermerhorn, do you mean?”