“How d’you head, Bill?” said he.
“West b’ no’the,” said Bill.
The skipper came to the wheel and stuck his lean face close to the quartermaster’s. His glinting eyes grew to two little points and his hooked nose wrinkled on the sides as he showed his teeth while he drawled in a snarling tone:—
“D’you set up for a wit, Bill, that you joke with your captain, hey? Is that it, you square-toed, lantern-jawed swab? Would you like me to rip you up the back, or lam some of the dirt out of your hide, hey? Is that it? Don’t make jokes at your captain, Bill. It’s bad business.”
Then he went on in a more conciliating tone:—
“Just remember that I’m a knight of a round table, or square one either, for that matter, while I’m aboard this boat, and if you forget to mention my title of ‘Sir,’ every time you speak of me, you’ll want to get your hide sewed on tight.”
“I beg pardon, sir,” said Bill, taking a fresh grip upon the spokes with his great hands.
“That’s right, my son; you’re a beggar aboard this here boat. Don’t aspire to anything else.”
“Aye, aye, sir,” said the quartermaster.
“And now that you’ve got to your bearings, as Trunnell would say, I’ll tell you a little story about a man who lost a pet dog called Willie.”
I saw that it was high time for me to get forward, and slipped away. I turned in ready for a call, thinking that perhaps Trunnell was right in regard to our future prospects in the South Atlantic.
When I turned out for the mid-watch that night, Trunnell met me at the door of the forward cabin. It was pitch dark on deck, and the wind had died away almost entirely. The canvas had been rolled up, as it had begun to slat heavily against the masts with the heave from a long, quick swell that ran rapidly from the southward. The running gear was not new, and Trunnell was a careful mate, so the ship was down to her upper topsails on the fore and mizzen and a main t’gallant on mainmast, the courses fore and after being clewed up and left hanging.
“He’s out for trouble to-night,” said the little mate. “Blast him if he ain’t touching the boose again.”
“Who, the skipper?” I asked.
“He’s been below twice during the watch, an’ each time he’s gettin’ worse an’ worse. There he comes now to the edge of the poop.”
I looked and saw our old man rolling easily across the deck to the poop rail. There he stopped and bawled out loudly,—
“Lay aft to the main-brace.”
The men on watch hesitated a moment and then came crowding aft and began to cast off the weather-brace from its belaying-pin.
It was so dark I couldn’t see how many men were there, but I noticed Bill the quartermaster, and as I stood waiting to see what would happen, a little sailor by the name of Johnson, who had a face like a monkey’s and legs set wide apart, so they never touched clear up to his waist, spoke out to a long, lean Yankee man who jostled me in the darkness.