At length matters came to a climax, when Van Luck ordered me to set about some menial work which I did not consider compatible with my position as the captain’s secretary, and which, therefore, I declined to perform. In his rage at my refusal Van Luck came at me with a belaying pin in his hand, but I had fought many a battle with the fisher lads upon the sands at Urk, and was well able to take my own part, so that when Van Luck was almost upon me I nimbly stepped aside, and with a trick I had been taught by an old smuggler at Urk, I tripped him as he passed so that he fell into the scuppers, when, with a muttered oath, he scrambled to his feet, and, plucking a pistol from his belt, he would have shot me had not Hartog at this moment appeared on deck, and commanded him to throw down his arms.
“How now,” said Hartog, “am I captain of this ship or not? What means this mutiny? Come both of you to my cabin that I may hear the case and see justice done.”
Without so much as a look at either of us Hartog then descended to his state room, whither we followed him in shamefaced silence, for when the captain spoke we knew he must be obeyed.
When Hartog had heard what we had to say, and the argument advanced by each on his own behalf, he delivered judgment in the following terms:
“You are both of you in the wrong,” said he. “Peter should not have refused to obey an order without referring the matter to me, and you Van Luck ought not to have taken the law into your own hands when I, your captain, am the proper judge upon such matters. Still I am willing to overlook your dereliction of duty (though by every rule of the sea you are both deserving of death at the yard arm) provided that at the first suitable place, and time, you fight out your quarrel as man to man, and pass me your words that, whatever the result, the survivor, or victor, shall bear the other no ill will.”
This was a favourite method of Hartog’s for settling disputes that were occasionally bound to arise among his crew upon so long a voyage. Order upon the ship, he maintained, must, for the common safety, be rigidly observed, but if bad blood arose between men of high spirit and hot temper, the malcontents were landed at some convenient place where, in the presence of the ship’s company to see fair play, they fought the matter out, afterwards returning on board with their ardour cooled, and their anger properly chastened. This plan, on the whole, was found to work well. Sometimes one and sometimes both of the combatants were killed, but, as a rule, the matter was settled without the sacrifice of life, and the parties returned from their blood-letting the better friends.
After hearing Hartog’s decision we both bowed and retired, and, in the terms of our promise, resumed the ordinary routine of our duties as though nothing out of the common had occurred. But the news of the coming fight spread among the crew and became the subject of gossip throughout the ship.