In the momentary silence that succeeded, I caught the voice of Stubbins.
“There hain’t hardly no wind,” he was saying, in a puzzled tone.
There was a low murmur of assent from the surrounding men.
The Second Mate said nothing, and I glanced at him, curiously. Was he beginning to see, I wondered, how useless it was to try to find any sensible explanation of the affair? Had he begun at last to couple it with that peculiar business of the man up the main? I am inclined now to think that this was so; for, after staring a few moments at Tom, in a doubtful sort of way, he went out of the fo’cas’le, saying that he would inquire further into the matter in the morning. Yet, when the morning came, he did no such thing. As for his reporting the affair to the Skipper, I much doubt it. Even did he, it must have been in a very casual way; for we heard nothing more about it; though, of course, we talked it over pretty thoroughly among ourselves.
With regard to the Second Mate, even now I am rather puzzled by his attitude to us aloft. Sometimes I have thought that he must have suspected us of trying to play off some trick on him—perhaps, at the time, he still half suspected one of us of being in some way connected with the other business. Or, again, he may have been trying to fight against the conviction that was being forced upon him, that there was really something impossible and beastly about the old packet. Of course, these are only suppositions.
And then, close upon this, there were further developments.
The End of Williams
As I have said, there was a lot of talk, among the crowd of us forrard, about Tom’s strange accident. None of the men knew that Williams and I had seen it happen. Stubbins gave it as his opinion that Tom had been sleepy, and missed the foot-rope. Tom, of course, would not have this by any means. Yet, he had no one to appeal to; for, at that time, he was just as ignorant as the rest, that we had seen the sail flap up over the yard.
Stubbins insisted that it stood to reason it couldn’t be the wind. There wasn’t any, he said; and the rest of the men agreed with him.
“Well,” I said, “I don’t know about all that. I’m a bit inclined to think Tom’s yarn is the truth.”
“How do you make that hout?” Stubbins asked, unbelievingly. “There haint nothin’ like enough wind.”
“What about the place on his forehead?” I inquired, in turn. “How are you going to explain that?”
“I ’spect he knocked himself there when he slipped,” he answered.
“Likely ’nuffli,” agreed old Jaskett, who was sitting smoking on a chest near by.
“Well, you’re both a damn long way out of it!” Tom chipped in, pretty warm. “I wasn’t asleep; an’ the sail did bloomin’ well hit me.”
“Don’t you be impertinent, young feller,” said Jaskett.