“You mean you furnish arms?”
“For a suitable consideration—yes. In strict confidence I will state that securely packed away in the hold of the Sea Gull—largely in boxes labeled machinery—are twenty thousand rifles, six rapid-fire guns, and a sufficiency of ammunition for a small army. Once safely landed the profits of the voyage will total one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, gold. A rather tidy sum, hey?”
I grasped the idea swiftly enough, and it cleared up some of the shadow of mystery. But the situation was rendered no more pleasant for us.
“Then you are not sailing for New Orleans?”
“Not until my hold is empty. We cleared from there, light, three weeks ago.”
“You mean to retain the lady on board?”
“Unless she prefers to jump overboard.”
“And what have I to do with all this? You said you had use for me—what use?”
I JOIN THE SEA GULL
I can see the fellow still, as he sat there smiling, his teeth revealed under his mustache, his eyes filled with cunning.
“You! why you chance to be the very sort of man I need. The devil could not have sent me a better,” he said, with some enthusiasm. “You are an American soldier, the best-drilled men in the world for irregular service. You can understand that the longer I can keep those fellows down there fighting, the more I will sell. Good! that is part of my business. And the better they are drilled, the longer they will keep it up. That is what I want you for—to help make that mob of rags into an army. By God! you can do it, and I am willing to pay the price.”
I got up, and walked across the cabin, apparently struggling with temptation, arguing the matter over with myself. In very truth, however, there was little choice. Either I must coincide with his desire, or be thrust helplessly back into my old quarters, under guard. There was no mercy, no weakness, behind the smile with which he watched me. The man was a tiger who would kill me with as little remorse as he would brush a mosquito from his cheek. If I yielded, if I exhibited a willingness to fit into his plans, well and good. But if I decided otherwise the jaws of the trap would close. I did not care so much for myself—it would be a pleasure to defy him—but the memory of the girl was vivid. What would happen to her, alone on this lawless ship, surrounded by the gang of wolves with which it was manned? The thought sickened me. Even already I had imagined a gleam of lust in the eyes of the fellow when he glanced covertly at her, and distrusted him as I would a snake. And he was owner and captain, his word on board the supreme law, even unto death. There was nothing left me but to agree to his proposition, and thus purchase freedom. Yet I must not appear too eager.
“I perceive your point,” I said at last, facing him. “But what is there in it for me?”