Another deep and exulting “Ugh!” was now heaved from the chest of the Indian, who stood calmly on the spot on which he had first rested, while Fuller prepared a coil of rope to throw to the active steersman.
“Avast there, Jack!” growled the boatswain, addressing the sailor; “how can the stranger keep the bow of his craft on, and grapple at the same time? Just pass one end of the coil round your waist, and swing yourself gently into her.”
The head of the canoe was now near enough for the purpose. The sailor did as he was desired, having previously divested himself of his shoes, and leaping forward, alighted on what appeared to be a bundle of blankets stowed away in her bows. No sooner, however, had he secured his footing, when with another desperate leap, and greatly to the astonishment of all around, he bounded once more to the deck of the schooner, his countenance exhibiting every mark of superstitious alarm. In the act of quitting the canoe he had spurned her violently several feet from the vessel, which the silent steersman was again making every effort to reach.
“Why what the devil’s the matter with you now?” exclaimed the rough boatswain, who, as well as Captain de Haldimar and the rest of the crew, had quitted the gangway to learn the cause of this extraordinary conduct. “Damn my eyes, if you ar’n’t worse scared than when the Ingian stood over you in the jolly boat.”
“Scared, ay, to be sure I am; and so would you be scared too, if you’d a see’d what I did. May I never touch the point at Portsmouth, if I a’n’t seen her ghost.”
“Where?—whose ghost?—what ghost?—what do you mean, Jack?” exclaimed several of the startled men in the same breath, while the superstitious dread so common to mariners drew them still closer in the group that encircled their companion.
“Well, then, as I am a miserable sinner,” returned the man, impressively, and in a low tone, “I see’d in the bows of the canoe,—and the hand that steered it was not made of flesh and blood like ours,—what do you think?— the ghost of—–”
Captain de Haldimar heard no more. At a single bound he had gained the ship’s side. He strained his eyes anxiously over the gangway in search of the canoe, but it was gone. A death-like silence throughout the deck followed the communication of the sailor, and in that pause the sound of the receding boat could be heard, not urged, as it had approached, by one paddle, but by two. The heart of the officer throbbed almost to suffocation; and his firmness, hitherto supported by the manly energies of his nature, now failed him quite. Heedless of appearances, regardless of being overlooked, he tottered like a drunken man for support against the mainmast. For a moment or two he leant his head upon his hand, with the air of one immersed in the most profound abstraction; while the crew, at once alarmed and touched by the deep distress into which this mysterious circumstance had plunged him, stood silently and respectfully watching his emotion. Suddenly he started from his attitude of painful repose, like one awaking from a dream, and demanded what had become of the Indian.