Captain Selover had made a habit of coming ashore at least once during the day. He had contented himself with standing aloof, but I took pains to seem to confer with him, so that the men might suppose that I, as mate, was engaged in carrying out his directions. The dread of him was my most potent influence over them.
During the last few days of our wrecking, Captain Selover had omitted his daily visit. The fact made me uneasy, so that at my first opportunity I sculled myself out to the schooner. I found him, moist-eyed as usual, leaning against the mainmast doing nothing.
“We’ve finished, sir,” said I.
He looked at me.
“Will you come ashore and have a look, sir?” I inquired.
“I ain’t going ashore again,” he muttered thickly.
“What!” I cried.
“I ain’t going ashore again,” he repeated obstinately, “and that’s all there is to it. It’s too much of a strain on any man. Suit yourself. You run them. I shipped as captain of a vessel. I’m no dock walloper. I won’t do it—for no man!”
I gasped with dismay at the man’s complete moral collapse. It seemed incredible. I caught myself wondering whether he would recover tone were he again to put to sea.
“My God, man, but you must!” I cried at last.
“I won’t, and that’s flat,” said he, and turned deliberately on his heel and disappeared in the cabin.
I went ashore thoughtful and a little scared. But on reflection I regained a great part of my ease of mind. You see, I had been with these men now eight months, during which they had been as orderly as so many primary schoolboys. They had worked hard, without grumbling, and had even approached a sort of friendliness about the camp fire. My first impression was overlaid. As I looked back on the voyage, with what I took to be a clearer vision, I could not but admit that the incidents were in themselves trivial enough—a natural excitement by a superstitious negro, a little tall talk that meant nothing. It must have been the glamour of the adventure that had deceived me; that, and the unusual stage setting and costuming. Certainly few men would work hard for eight months without a murmur, without a chance to look about them.
In that, of course, I was deceived by my inexperience. I realised later the wonderful effect Captain Selover threw away with his empty brandy bottles. The crew might grumble and plot during the watch below; but when Captain Ezra Selover said work, they worked. He had been saying work, for eight months. They had, from force of experience, obeyed him. It was all very simple.
THE EMPTY BRANDY BOTTLE
So there I was at once deprived of my chief support. Although no danger seemed imminent, nevertheless the necessity of acting on my own initiative and responsibility oppressed me somewhat.