Again on board, Van Horn stated his reasoning to the mate.
“The pup didn’t just calmly walk overboard. Nor was he washed overboard. I had him fast and triced in the blanket with a rope yarn.”
He walked over, the centre of the boat’s crew and of the three-score return boys who were all on deck, and flashed his torch on the blanket still lying on the yams.
“That proves it. The rope-yarn’s cut. The knot’s still in it. Now what nigger is responsible?”
He looked about at the circle of dark faces, flashing the light on them, and such was the accusation and anger in his eyes, that all eyes fell before his or looked away.
“If only the pup could speak,” he complained. “He’d tell who it was.”
He bent suddenly down to Jerry, who was standing as close against his legs as he could, so close that his wet forepaws rested on Skipper’s bare feet.
“You know ’m, Jerry, you known the black fella boy,” he said, his words quick and exciting, his hand moving in questing circles toward the blacks.
Jerry was all alive on the instant, jumping about, barking with short yelps of eagerness.
“I do believe the dog could lead me to him,” Van Horn confided to the mate. “Come on, Jerry, find ’m, sick ’m, shake ’m down. Where is he, Jerry? Find ’m. Find ’m.”
All that Jerry knew was that Skipper wanted something. He must find something that Skipper wanted, and he was eager to serve. He pranced about aimlessly and willingly for a space, while Skipper’s urging cries increased his excitement. Then he was struck by an idea, and a most definite idea it was. The circle of boys broke to let him through as he raced for’ard along the starboard side to the tight-lashed heap of trade-boxes. He put his nose into the opening where the wild-dog laired, and sniffed. Yes, the wild-dog was inside. Not only did he smell him, but he heard the menace of his snarl.
He looked up to Skipper questioningly. Was it that Skipper wanted him to go in after the wild-dog? But Skipper laughed and waved his hand to show that he wanted him to search in other places for something else.
He leaped away, sniffing in likely places where experience had taught him cockroaches and rats might be. Yet it quickly dawned on him that it was not such things Skipper was after. His heart was wild with desire to serve, and, without clear purpose, he began sniffing legs of black boys.
This brought livelier urgings and encouragements from Skipper, and made him almost frantic. That was it. He must identify the boat’s crew and the return boys by their legs. He hurried the task, passing swiftly from boy to boy, until he came to Lerumie.
And then he forgot that Skipper wanted him to do something. All he knew was that it was Lerumie who had broken the taboo of his sacred person by laying hands on him, and that it was Lerumie who had thrown him overboard.