“But the room forward——?” I broke in.
“Well, you see, last season we were pearl fishing.”
“But you needed only your diver and your crew,” I objected.
“There was the matter of a Japanese gunboat or so,” he explained.
“Poaching!” I cried.
“So some call it. The shells are there. The islands are not inhabited. I do not see how men claim property beyond the tide water. I have heard it argued——”
“Hold on!” I cried. “There was a trouble last year in the Ishigaki Jima Islands where a poacher beat off the Oyama. It was a desperate fight.”
Captain Selover’s eye lit up.
“I’ve commanded a black brigantine, name of The Petrel,” he admitted simply. “She was a brigantine aloft, but alow she had much the same lines as the Laughing Lass.” He whirled on his heel to roll to one of the covered yacht’s cannon. “Looks like a harmless little toy to burn black powder, don’t she?” he remarked. He stripped off the tarpaulin and the false brass muzzle to display as pretty a little Maxim as you would care to see. “Now you know all about it,” he said.
“Look here, Captain Selover,” I demanded, “don’t you know that I could blow your whole shooting-match higher than Gilderoy’s kite. How do you know I won’t do it when I get back? How do you know I won’t inform the doctor at once what kind of an outfit he has tied to?”
He planted far apart his thick legs in their soiled blue trousers, pushed back his greasy linen boating hat and stared at me with some amusement.
“How do you know I won’t blow on Lieutenant or Ensign Ralph Slade, U.S.N., when I get back?” he demanded. I blessed that illusion, anyway. “Besides, I know my man. You won’t do anything of the sort.” He walked to the rail and spat carefully over the side.
“As for the doctor,” he went on, “he knows all about it. He told me all about myself, and everything I had ever done from the time I’d licked Buck Jones until last season’s little diversion. Then he told me that was why he wanted me to ship for this cruise.” The captain eyed me quizzically.
I threw out my hands in a comic gesture of surrender.
“Well, where are we bound, anyway?”
The dirty, unkempt, dishevelled figure stiffened.
“Mr. Eagen,” its falsetto shrilled, “you are mate of this vessel. Your duty is to see that my orders as to sailing are carried out. Beyond that you do not go. As to navigation, and latitude and longitude and where the hell we are, that is outside your line of duty. As to where we are bound, you are getting double wages not to get too damn curious. Remember to earn your wages, Mr. Eagen!”
He turned away to the binnacle. In spite of his personal filth, in spite of the lawless, almost piratical, character of the man, in that moment I could not but admire him. If Percy Darrow was ignorant of the purposes of this expedition, how much more so Captain Selover. Yet he accepted his trust blindly, and as far as I could then see, intended to fulfil it faithfully. I liked him none the worse for snubbing me. It indicated a streak in his moral nature akin to and quite as curious as his excessive neatness regarding his immediate surroundings.