“And in the meantime,” says he, “keep your heart up. You’re not the only one, I’ll tell you that. There’s many a man hoeing tobacco over-seas that should be mounting his horse at his own door at home; many and many! And life is all a variorum, at the best. Look at me: I’m a laird’s son and more than half a doctor, and here I am, man-Jack to Hoseason!”
I thought it would be civil to ask him for his story.
He whistled loud.
“Never had one,” said he. “I like fun, that’s all.” And he skipped out of the forecastle.
One night, about eleven o’clock, a man of Mr. Riach’s watch (which was on deck) came below for his jacket; and instantly there began to go a whisper about the forecastle that “Shuan had done for him at last.” There was no need of a name; we all knew who was meant; but we had scarce time to get the idea rightly in our heads, far less to speak of it, when the scuttle was again flung open, and Captain Hoseason came down the ladder. He looked sharply round the bunks in the tossing light of the lantern; and then, walking straight up to me, he addressed me, to my surprise, in tones of kindness.
“My man,” said he, “we want ye to serve in the round-house. You and Ransome are to change berths. Run away aft with ye.”
Even as he spoke, two seamen appeared in the scuttle, carrying Ransome in their arms; and the ship at that moment giving a great sheer into the sea, and the lantern swinging, the light fell direct on the boy’s face. It was as white as wax, and had a look upon it like a dreadful smile. The blood in me ran cold, and I drew in my breath as if I had been struck.
“Run away aft; run away aft with ye!” cried Hoseason.
And at that I brushed by the sailors and the boy (who neither spoke nor moved), and ran up the ladder on deck.
The brig was sheering swiftly and giddily through a long, cresting swell. She was on the starboard tack, and on the left hand, under the arched foot of the foresail, I could see the sunset still quite bright. This, at such an hour of the night, surprised me greatly; but I was too ignorant to draw the true conclusion—that we were going north-about round Scotland, and were now on the high sea between the Orkney and Shetland Islands, having avoided the dangerous currents of the Pentland Firth. For my part, who had been so long shut in the dark and knew nothing of head-winds, I thought we might be half-way or more across the Atlantic. And indeed (beyond that I wondered a little at the lateness of the sunset light) I gave no heed to it, and pushed on across the decks, running between the seas, catching at ropes, and only saved from going overboard by one of the hands on deck, who had been always kind to me.