He played thumb and knuckles on his table. Just when I was hoping that good would come of the senseless tune, Temple cried,
’Tell us what your exact intentions are, Captain Welsh. What do you mean to do with us?’
’Mean to take you the voyage out and the voyage home, Providence willing,’ said the captain, and he rose.
We declined his offer of tea, though I fancy we could have gnawed at a bone.
‘There’s no compulsion in that matter,’ he said. ’You share my cabin while you’re my guests, shipmates, and apprentices in the path of living; my cabin and my substance, the same as if you were what the North-countrymen call bairns o’ mine: I’ve none o’ my own. My wife was a barren woman. I’ve none but my old mother at home. Have your sulks out, lads; you’ll come round like the Priscilla on a tack, and discover you’ve made way by it.’
We quitted his cabin, bowing stiffly.
Temple declared old Rippenger was better than this canting rascal.
The sea was around us, a distant yellow twinkle telling of land.
‘His wife a barren woman! what’s that to us!’ Temple went on, exploding at intervals. ’So was Sarah. His cabin and his substance! He talks more like a preacher than a sailor. I should like to see him in a storm! He’s no sailor at all. His men hate him. It wouldn’t be difficult to get up a mutiny on board this ship. Richie, I understand the whole plot: he’s in want of cabin-boys. The fellow has impressed us. We shall have to serve till we touch land. Thank God, there’s a British consul everywhere; I say that seriously. I love my country; may she always be powerful! My life is always at her—— Did you feel that pitch of the ship? Of all the names ever given to a vessel, I do think Priscilla is without exception the most utterly detestable. Oh! there again. No, it’ll be too bad, Richie, if we ‘re beaten in this way.’
‘If you are beaten,’ said I, scarcely venturing to speak lest I should cry or be sick.
We both felt that the vessel was conspiring to ruin our self-respect. I set my head to think as hard as possible on Latin verses (my instinct must have drawn me to them as to a species of intellectual biscuit steeped in spirit, tough, and comforting, and fundamentally opposed to existing circumstances, otherwise I cannot account for the attraction). They helped me for a time; they kept off self-pity, and kept the machinery of the mind at work. They lifted me, as it were, to an upper floor removed from the treacherously sighing Priscilla. But I came down quickly with a crash; no dexterous management of my mental resources could save me from the hemp-like smell of the ship, nor would leaning over the taffrail, nor lying curled under a tarpaulin. The sailors heaped pilot-coats upon us. It was a bad ship, they said, to be sick on board of, for no such thing as brandy was allowed in the old Priscilla. Still I am sure