I suppose it was because I was crying as well as Dennis that I did not see Mr. Johnson till he was standing by the Irish boy’s hammock. I know I got a sound scolding for the state of his pulse (which the third mate seemed to understand, as he understood most things), and was dismissed with some pithy hints about cultivating common-sense and not making a fool of myself. I sneaked off, and was thankful to meet Alister and pour out my tale to him, and ask if he thought that our new friend would have brain-fever, because I had let him talk about his shipwreck.
Alister was not quite so sympathetic as I had expected. He was so much shocked about the crucifix and about Dennis praying for Barney’s soul, that he could think of nothing else. He didn’t seem to think that he would have fever, but he said he feared we had small reason to reckon on the prayers of the idolatrous ascending to the throne of grace. He told me a long story about the Protestant martyrs who were shut up in a dungeon under the sea, on the coast of Aberdeenshire, and it would have been very interesting if I hadn’t been thinking of Dennis.
We had turned in for some sleep, and I was rolling myself in my blanket, when Alister called me—
“Jack! did ye ever read Fox’s Book of Martyrs?”
“It’s a gran’ work, and it has some awful tales in it. When we’ve a bit of holiday leesure I’ll tell ye some.”
“Thank you, Alister.”
“A very wise man believed that, if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.”—Fletcher of Saltoun in a letter to the Marquis of Montrose.
The weather was fair enough, and we went along very steadily and pleasantly that afternoon. I was undoubtedly getting my sea-legs, which was well for me, as they were put to the test unexpectedly. I happened to be standing near Alister (we were tarring ropes), when some orders rang out in Mr. Waters’ voice, which I found had reference to something to be done to some of the sails. At last came the words “Away aloft!” which were responded to by a rush of several sailors, who ran and leaped and caught ropes and began climbing the rigging with a nimbleness and dexterity which my own small powers in that line enabled me to appreciate, as I gazed upwards after them. The next order bore unexpected and far from flattering references to me.
“Hi, there. Francis!”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
“Take that gaping booby up with you. I hear he’s ‘good at athletics.’”
The sailors who were rope-tarring sniggered audibly, and Alister lifted his face with a look of anxiety, that did as much as the sniggering to stimulate me not to disgrace myself.
“Kick off your shoes, and come along,” said Francis. “Jump on the bulwarks and then follow me. Look aloft—that’s up, ye know—never mind your feet, but keep tight hold of the ratlins—so, with your hands, and when you are up aloft, don’t let one hand go till you’re sure of your hold with the other.”