From a distance it presented a truly imposing sight. The centre shot intermittent blasts of ruddy light; explosions, deadened by distance, still reverberated strongly; the broad canopy of brown-red, split with lightnings, spread out like a huge umbrella. The lurid gloom that had enveloped us in the atmosphere apparently of a nether world had given place to a twilight. Abruptly we passed from it to a sun-kissed, sparkling sea. The breeze blew sweet and strong; the waves ran untortured in their natural long courses.
At once the men seemed to throw off the superstitious terror that had cowed them. Pulz and Thrackles went to bail the extra dory, alongside, which by a miracle had escaped swamping. The Nigger disappeared in the galley. Perdosa relieved Handy Solomon at the wheel; and Handy Solomon came directly over to me.
He approached me with a confidence that proclaimed the new leader. A brace of Colt’s revolvers swung from his belt, the tatters of his blood-stained garments hung about him.
“Well, here we are,” he remarked.
I nodded, waiting for what he had to disclose.
“And lucky for you that you’re here at all, say I,” he continued. “And now that you’re here, w’at are you going to do? That’s the question—w’at are you going to do?” He cocked his head sidewise and looked at me speculatively as a cat might look at a rather large mouse. “We been a little rough,” he went on after a moment, “and some folks is strait-laced. There might be trouble. And you know a heap too much.”
“What do you want of me?” I demanded.
“It’s just this,” he returned briskly. “If you’ll lay us our course to San Salvador, we’ll let you go as one of us and no questions asked.”
“If not?” I inquired.
He shrugged his shoulders. “I leave it to you.”
“There’s always the sea,” I suggested.
“And it’s deep,” he agreed.
We looked out to the horizon in a diplomatic silence. I did not know whether to be angry, amused, or alarmed that the man estimated my cleverness so slightly. Why, the hook was barely concealed, and the bait of the coarsest. That I would go safe to a sight of San Salvador I did not doubt: that I would never enter the harbour I was absolutely certain. The choice offered me was practically whether I preferred being thrown overboard now or several hundred miles to southeastward.
I thought rapidly. It might be possible to announce a daily false reckoning to the crew, to sail the ship within rowing distance of some coast; and then to escape while the men believed themselves many hundred miles at sea. It would take nice calculation to prevent suspicion, but as it was the only chance I resolved upon it immediately.
“That’s all very well,” I said firmly, “but you can’t get anywhere without me, and I’m not going to put in two years and then keep my mouth shut for nothing. I want a share in the swag—an even share with the rest of you.”