Full of liquor, fear and general madness, they had come to the opinion that the strange young female whom the skipper had saved from the fore-top and carried to his house was such an imp of darkness as had never before blighted the life and luck of Chance Along. She had bewitched the skipper. Her evil eyes had cast a curse on the wreck and that curse had been the death of their three comrades. She had put a curse on the gold, so that they had all gone mad the moment they felt the touch of it in their hands. The skipper, under her spell, had betrayed them—had given them gold so that they should fight over it and destroy one another. It was all very simple—too simple to require reasoning! In truth, the curse was upon them—the curse of dead men’s liquor, dead men’s gold—the curse of greed, blood-lust and fear! So they had picked up their dead, their wounded and their loot and continued their journey at top speed, intent on casting out the witch, and bringing the skipper to a knowledge of his desperate state even if the operation should cost him his life. What cared they for his life now that he had lost his luck?
They reached Chance Along, scattered for a few minutes to dispose of the dead and wounded, gathered again and crowded toward the skipper’s house. They were quiet now, for the superstitious fear had not entirely driven from their hearts the human fear of the skipper’s big hands and terrible eyes. They stumbled and reeled against one another, their heads and feet muddled by brandy and excitement. Some were armed with sticks, a few had drawn their knives, others had forgotten to arm themselves with anything. They trod upon each other’s feet in the dark, narrow, uneven ways between the cabins. Bill Brennen joined them in the dark. He carried a broken oar of seasoned ash in his hands. He had sent Nick Leary to warn the skipper of the approach of the mutineers; and his faith in the skipper’s prowess was such that he felt but little anxiety. He was sober and he knew that Black Dennis Nolan was sober. He kept to the rear of the mob, just far enough behind it to allow for a full swing of his broken oar, and waited for his master to make the first move against this disorderly demonstration of superstition, bottle-valor and ingratitude. He removed his mittens, stowed them in his belt and spat upon the palms of his hands while he waited. Being sober, he reasoned. Bad luck had struck the harbor this day, beyond a doubt, and brought death and mutiny. But death had not come to the skipper. Not so much as a scratch had come to the skipper. If a witch was in the harbor he trusted to Black Dennis Nolan to deal with her without bringing harm upon himself or his friends. If the devil himself visited Chance Along he would look to the skipper to outwit, outcurse and out-devil him. This is how he felt about the man he had attached himself to. He gripped his broken oar with his moistened palm and fingers and waited hopefully. He had not long to wait.