“’Tis wonderful, the power of money, Peter,” he said to me one evening when we were counting, in secret, the pearls which the king of the island had given him; “we have come through some perils, as you know, but I give you my word I was never so afraid of anything as of going back without money’s worth to satisfy the men who put their capital into this voyage. It was that which broke the great heart of Columbus, and I’d have become a pirate sooner than return empty-handed. The pious rogues who sent us out, and who never miss their churchgoing, would not have cared whence the money came so long as it filled their pouches.”
Hartog had not confided the secret of the king’s present to any but me, as he feared the crew, disappointed in the treasure hunt which they had been promised, might try to take forcible possession of it. He was so absorbed in counting the pearls and in speculating upon their value that he gave no heed to the possibility of being spied upon. But since I was to have no share in them, the pearls did not interest me as much as they did the captain, and I allowed my eyes to wander, when, in a flash of summer lightning, I saw the face of Van Luck looking down upon us from the skylight above our heads.
Making an excuse to go on deck, I stole cautiously up the companion-stairs, expecting to catch Van Luck red-handed in the act of playing the spy upon us, but when I reached the skylight I could see no sign of him. From where I stood, however, I was able to observe the captain counting the pearls, and I determined to warn him to have a cover made for the skylight, or a blind inside that might be drawn to ensure privacy. But I did not think it would be wise to say anything about my suspicion. It would be hard to prove, and might be set down to malice, though honestly I bore Van Luck no ill will.
A month after leaving Pearl Island, when it became known to the crew of the “Endraght” that a course had been set for home without having obtained the treasure which had been the object of the voyage, the spirit of discontent in the forecastle which had previously shown itself, became so marked as to threaten a mutiny. Had it not been that we held all the arms and ammunition aft, there would have been little doubt of the seamen refusing duty. As it was, they went about their work in so surly a manner, that if Hartog had not kept a check upon his temper, a serious outbreak on more than one occasion would have occurred.
“I cannot think what evil influence is at work among the men,” said Hartog to me one evening, when we sat together alone in the cabin, for Van Luck, except at meals, seldom joined us. “As sailors, they ought to know that treasure hunts often prove disappointing, and they will each receive a good round sum in back pay when the crew is disbanded after the voyage. What, then, would they gain by mutiny? Without a navigator they would either lose the ship, or, if they succeeded in making a port, they would become food for the gallows. Knowing sailors as I do, I cannot understand, in present circumstances, what it is that fosters rebellion, unless some influence is at work that we wot not of.”