I whistled and my crest fell. Here was a new point of view; and also a new Captain Ezra. Where was the confidence in the might of his two hands?
He seemed to read my thoughts, and went on.
“I don’t feel sure here on this cussed land. It ain’t like a deck where a man has some show. They can scatter. They can hide. It ain’t right to put a man ashore alone with such a crew. I’m doing my best, but it ain’t goin’ to be good enough. I wisht we were safe in ’Frisco harbour——”
He would have maundered on, but I seized his arm and led him out of possible hearing of the men.
“Here, buck up!” I said to him sternly. “There’s nothing to be scared of. If it comes to a row, there’s three of us and we’ve got guns. We could even sail the schooner at a pinch, and leave them here. You’ve stood them off before.”
“Not ashore,” protested Captain Selover weakly.
“Well, they don’t know that. For God’s sake don’t let them see you’ve lost your nerve this way.” He did not even wince at the accusation. “Put up a front.”
He shook his head. The sand had completely run out of him. Yet I am convinced that if he could have felt the heave and roll of the deck beneath him, he would have faced three times the difficulties he now feared. However, I could see readily enough the wisdom of keeping the men at work.
“You can wreck the Golden Horn,” I suggested. “I don’t know whether there’s anything left worth salvage; but it’ll be something to do.”
He clapped me on the shoulder.
“Good!” he cried, “I never thought of it.”
“Another thing,” said I, “you better give them a day off a week. That can’t hurt them and it’ll waste just that much more time.”
“All right,” agreed Captain Selover.
“Another thing yet. You know I’m not lazy, so it ain’t that I’m trying to dodge work. But you’d better lay me off. It’ll be so much more for the others.”
“That’s true,” said he.
I could not recognise the man for what I knew him to be. He groped, as one in the dark, or as a sea animal taken out of its element and placed on the sands. Courage had given place to fear; decision to wavering; and singleness of purpose to a divided counsel. He who had so thoroughly dominated the entire ship, eagerly accepted advice of me—a man without experience.
That evening I sat apart considerably disturbed. I felt that the ground had dropped away beneath my feet. To be sure, everything was tranquil at present; but now I understood the source of that tranquillity and how soon it must fail. With opportunity would come more scheming, more speculation, more cupidity. How was I to meet it, with none to back me but a scared man, an absorbed man, and an indifferent man?
WRECKING OF THE GOLDEN HORN
Percy Darrow, unexpected, made his first visit to us the very next evening. He sauntered in with a Mexican corn-husk cigarette between his lips, carrying a lantern; blew the light out, and sat down with a careless greeting, as though he had seen us only the day before.