A gentle air was stirring the swell in the east, which soon filled our sail. We kept the boat’s head away until she pointed in the direction of the African cape. And so we sailed away, with the echoes of that villain’s voice ringing in our ears, calling forth fierce curses upon the God he had denied.
I turned away from the horrible spectacle of that grisly hulk with its human burden. As I did so, my eyes met those of Miss Sackett. She lowered hers, took out her handkerchief and, bowing over, buried her face in it, crying as though her heart would break.
“If you’ll pass the pannikin, I’ll take a drink, sir,” said Jenks, after the sun had risen and warmed the chilly air of the southern ocean.
I tossed the old man-o’-war’s man the measure, and he proceeded to draw a cupful from the water breaker, which was full and lay amidships.
“It’s an uncommon quare taste the stuff has, sure enough,” said he, after he had laid aside his quid and drank a mouthful, “Try a bit, Tom,” he went on, and passed the pannikin to a sailor next him.
“You’re always lookin’ fer trouble, old man,” said the sailor, draining off the cupful.
“An’ bloomin’ well ready to get out of it by any way he can,” added another. “Fill her up agin an’ let me have some. This sun is most hot, in spite of the breeze. Blast me, Jenks, but you’re a suspicious one. It’s a wonder you ever go to sleep.”
The young sailor, Tom, put down the cup and watched Jenks draw it full again. Then he grew pale.
“Hold on a bit with that water, you men. There’s something wrong with it,” he said. He gulped and placed his hand over his abdomen, while a spasm of pain passed over his features.
“My God!” he muttered, and doubled up. Then he vomited violently and his spasms increased.
I saw Chips turn white under his tan, and Johnson look with staring eyes at the water breaker, as though it were a ghost.
“Knock in the head,” I said, “and let’s see what’s inside of it.”
Two men held the poor fellow gasping over the rail while his agony grew worse. The rest crowded around aft as much as possible to see what terrible fate was in store for us.
The breaker was upended in a moment. Jenks stove in the head with an oar handle, and we peered inside.
The water was a clear crystal, like that in the Sovereign’s tanks. It was not discolored in the least.
“Pass the bailer here,” I said; “and then turn the barrel so we can get the sunlight into it.”
I bailed out a few quarts, looked at it carefully, tasted it slightly, and then put it carefully back again. I noticed a strange acrid taste. The barrel was turned toward the sun, and its light was allowed to shine straight into its depths. I put my head down close to the surface and peered hard at the bottom. Then I was aware of a whitish powder which showed against the dark wood. Reaching down, some of this was brought up; and then I recognized the same powder Captain Sackett had told me was bichloride of mercury.