“You’ll have to have it your own way, I suppose,” I snapped.
Thrackles grinned, and Pulz started to say something, but Handy Solomon, with a peremptory gesture, and a black scowl, stopped him short.
“Now that’s what I calls right proper and handsome!” he cried admiringly. “We reely had no right to expect that, boys, as seamen, from our first officer! You can kiss the Book on it, that very few crews have such kind masters. Mr. Eagen has the right, and we signed to it all straight, to work us as he pleases; and w’at does he do? Why, he up and gives us a week shore leave, and then he gives us light watches, and all the time our pay goes on just the same. Now that’s w’at I calls right proper and handsome conduct, or the devil’s a preacher, and I ventures with all respect to propose three cheers for Mr. Eagen.”
They gave them, grinning broadly. The villain stood looking at me, a sardonic gleam in the back of his eye. Then he gave a little hitch to his red head covering, and sauntered away humming between his teeth. I stood watching him, choked with rage and indecision. The humming broke into words.
“‘Oh, quarter, oh, quarter!’
the jolly pirates cried.
Blow high, blow low! What care we?
But the quarter that we gave them was to sink them in the sea,
Down on the coast of the high Barbare-e-e.”
“Here, you swab,” he cried to Thrackles, “and you, Pancho! get some wood, lively! And Pulz, bring us a pail of water. Doctor, let’s have duff to celebrate on.”
The men fell to work with alacrity.
That evening I smoked in a splendid isolation while the men whispered apart. I had nothing to do but smoke, and to chew my cud, which was bitter. There could be no doubt, however I may have saved my face, that command had been taken from me by that rascal, Handy Solomon. I was in two minds as to whether or not I should attempt to warn Darrow or the doctor. Yet what could I say? and against whom should I warn them? The men had grumbled, as men always do grumble in idleness, and had perhaps talked a little wildly; but that was nothing.
The only indisputable fact I could adduce was that I had allowed my authority to slip through my fingers. And adequately to excuse that, I should have to confess that I was a writer and no handler of men.
I abandoned the unpleasant train of thought with a snort of disgust, but it had led me to another. In the joy and uncertainty of living I had practically lost sight of the reason for my coming. With me it had always been more the adventure than the story; my writing was a by-product, a utilisation of what life offered me. I had set sail possessed by the sole idea of ferreting out Dr. Schermerhorn’s investigations, but the gradual development of affairs had ended by absorbing my every faculty. Now, cast into an eddy by my change of fortunes, the original idea regained its force. I was out of the active government of affairs, with leisure on my hands, and my thoughts naturally turned with curiosity again to the laboratory in the valley.