“The child?” the Skipper repeated, thoughtfully. “You allude to the boy called John, Senor Pike; yes, I had that suppose. Now, sir, the day before this, you tell me that this child is not well placed by that old gentleman Scraper; that the old man is cruel, is base, is a skin-the-flint, shortly. You tell me this, and I make reply to you that there are powers more high than this old person, who have of that child charge. How, if those powers had delivered to me the child? how then, I ask you, Senor Pike?”
Mr. Bill Hen wiped his brow again and gasped feebly. “’Tis as I thought!” he said. “You’ve got the child aboard.”
The Skipper nodded, and blew rings from his cigar. “I have the child,” he repeated, “aboard. What will you in this case do, Senor? I propose to take him with me away, to make of him a sailor, to care for him as my son. You think well of this; you have been kind to the child always, as he tell me? You are glad to have him remove from the slavery of this old fish, yes?” He smiled, and bent his dark eyes on his unhappy visitor.
Mr. Bill Hen writhed upon the hook. “There—there’s truth in what you say,” he admitted, at length, after seeking counsel in vain from his red bandanna. “There’s truth in what you say, I aint denyin’ that. But what I look at, you see, is my duty. You may have your idees of duty, and I may have mine; and I’m a justice of the peace, and I don’t see anything for it but to ask you to give up that child to his lawful guardeen, as has sent me for him.”
A pause ensued, during which Franci sauntered to the side with easy grace. “Shall I put a knife into him, Patron?” he asked, indicating Mr. Bill Hen with a careless nod. “How well he would stick, eh? The fatness of his person! It is but to say the word, Patron.”
Mr. Bill Hen recoiled with a look of horror, and prepared for instant flight; but the Skipper’s gesture reassured him. “Franci, look if there is a whale on the larboard bow!” said the latter.
“Perfectly, Patron!” replied Franci, withdrawing with his most courtly bow. “When I say that no one will be killed at all in this cursed place, and I shall break my heart! but as you will.”
Again there was a pause, while Mr. Bill Hen wondered if this were a floating lunatic asylum or a nest of pirates, that had come so easily up their quiet river and turned the world topsy-turvy. At length—“Your force, Senor Pike,” the Skipper said, “I perceive it not, for to take away this child. Have you the milizia—what you call soldiers, police—have you them summoned and concealed behind the rocks, as in the theatres of Havana? I see no one but your one self. Surely you have no thought to take the child of your own force from me?”
Mr. Bill Hen gasped again. “Look here!” he broke out at last. “What kind of man are you, anyway? you aint no kind that we’re used to in these parts, so now I tell you! When a man hears what is law in this part of the world, he gives in, as is right and proper, to that law and that—and—and in short to them sentiments. Are you going to stand out against the law, and keep that child? and who give you a right to do for that child? I suppose I can ask that question, if you are a grandee, or whatever you are. Who give you a right, I ask?”