The Man up the Main
It occurred in the first watch, just after six bells. I was forward, sitting on the fore-hatch. No one was about the maindeck. The night was exceedingly fine; and the wind had dropped away almost to nothing, so that the ship was very quiet.
Suddenly, I heard the Second Mate’s voice—
“In the main-rigging, there! Who’s that going aloft?”
I sat up on the hatch, and listened. There succeeded an intense silence. Then the Second’s voice came again. He was evidently getting wild.
“Do you damn well hear me? What the hell are you doing up there? Come down!”
I rose to my feet, and walked up to wind’ard. From there, I could see the break of the poop. The Second Mate was standing by the starboard ladder. He appeared to be looking up at something that was hidden from me by the topsails. As I stared, he broke out again:
“Hell and damnation, you blasted sojer, come down when I tell you!”
He stamped on the poop, and repeated his order, savagely. But there was no answer. I started to walk aft. What had happened? Who had gone aloft? Who would be fool enough to go, without being told? And then, all at once, a thought came to me. The figure Tammy and I had seen. Had the Second Mate seen something—someone? I hurried on, and then stopped, suddenly. In the same moment there came the shrill blast of the Second’s whistle; he was whistling for the watch, and I turned and ran to the fo’cas’le to rouse them out. Another minute, and I was hurrying aft with them to see what was wanted.
His voice met us half-way:
“Up the main some of you, smartly now, and find out who that damned fool is up there. See what mischief he’s up to.”
“i, i, Sir,” several of the men sung out, and a couple jumped into the weather rigging. I joined them, and the rest were proceeding to follow; but the Second shouted for some to go up to leeward—in case the fellow tried to get down that side.
As I followed the other two aloft, I heard the Second Mate tell Tammy, whose time-keeping it was, to get down on to the maindeck with the other ’prentice, and keep an eye on the fore and aft stays.
“He may try down one of them if he’s cornered,” I heard him explain. “If you see anything, just sing out for me, right away.”
“Well?” said the Second Mate, sharply.
“Nothing, Sir,” said Tammy, and went down on to the maindeck.
The first man to wind’ard had reached the futtock shrouds; his head was above the top, and he was taking a preliminary look, before venturing higher.
“See anythin’, Jock?” asked Plummer, the man next above me.
“Na’!” said Jock, tersely, and climbed over the top, and so disappeared from my sight.
The fellow ahead of me, followed. He reached the futtock rigging, and stopped to expectorate. I was close at his heels, and he looked down to me.