“Ah!” cried Mr. Riach, with a dreadful voice, “ye should have interfered long syne. It’s too late now.”
“Mr. Riach,” said the captain, “this night’s work must never be kennt in Dysart. The boy went overboard, sir; that’s what the story is; and I would give five pounds out of my pocket it was true!” He turned to the table. “What made ye throw the good bottle away?” he added. “There was nae sense in that, sir. Here, David, draw me another. They’re in the bottom locker;” and he tossed me a key. “Ye’ll need a glass yourself, sir,” he added to Riach. “Yon was an ugly thing to see.”
So the pair sat down and hob-a-nobbed; and while they did so, the murderer, who had been lying and whimpering in his berth, raised himself upon his elbow and looked at them and at me.
That was the first night of my new duties; and in the course of the next day I had got well into the run of them. I had to serve at the meals, which the captain took at regular hours, sitting down with the officer who was off duty; all the day through I would be running with a dram to one or other of my three masters; and at night I slept on a blanket thrown on the deck boards at the aftermost end of the round-house, and right in the draught of the two doors. It was a hard and a cold bed; nor was I suffered to sleep without interruption; for some one would be always coming in from deck to get a dram, and when a fresh watch was to be set, two and sometimes all three would sit down and brew a bowl together. How they kept their health, I know not, any more than how I kept my own.
And yet in other ways it was an easy service. There was no cloth to lay; the meals were either of oatmeal porridge or salt junk, except twice a week, when there was duff: and though I was clumsy enough and (not being firm on my sealegs) sometimes fell with what I was bringing them, both Mr. Riach and the captain were singularly patient. I could not but fancy they were making up lee-way with their consciences, and that they would scarce have been so good with me if they had not been worse with Ransome.
As for Mr. Shuan, the drink or his crime, or the two together, had certainly troubled his mind. I cannot say I ever saw him in his proper wits. He never grew used to my being there, stared at me continually (sometimes, I could have thought, with terror), and more than once drew back from my hand when I was serving him. I was pretty sure from the first that he had no clear mind of what he had done, and on my second day in the round-house I had the proof of it. We were alone, and he had been staring at me a long time, when all at once, up he got, as pale as death, and came close up to me, to my great terror. But I had no cause to be afraid of him.
“You were not here before?” he asked.
“No, sir,” said I.”
“There was another boy?” he asked again; and when I had answered him, “Ah!” says he, “I thought that,” and went and sat down, without another word, except to call for brandy.