Chapter XII
 

In the course of the afternoon, having chewed the bitter cud of reflection and reviewed his situation from every possible angle, Mike Murphy came to the conclusion that, for all Terence Reardon's religious backsliding, he might be fairly honest in money matters and possessed of a sense of loyalty where his owners' interests were concerned. Also, having found Herr von Staden bluffing in one instance it occurred to the captain he might be discovered bluffing in another--so he resolved to investigate. Accordingly at an hour when he knew Terence should be in the engine room he took up the speaking-tube at the head of his bed and blew into it. But no shrill whistle signalled his desire in the engine room, and though Michael blew until he was red in the face and his lips hurt him cruelly, reluctantly he came to the conclusion that Herr August Carl von Staden had the situation very well in hand and Terence Reardon in the latter's state-room under lock and key.

He was right in one particular: von Staden had the situation very well in hand, but he did not have Terence Reardon under lock and key. Murphy had been balked in making connections with the unsuspecting Terence for the reason that a little ball of cotton waste had very carefully been tucked into the engine-room howler a few inches at the back of the whistle at the chief's end of the tube. Hence, in the event that one sought to whistle up the other, he merely wasted his breath. Having learned, on the very excellent authority of both men in the case, that they despised each other and were not on speaking terms, von Staden decided that the chance of Terence Reardon's listening to Michael J. Murphy's tale of piracy and mutiny was so vague as to be almost negligible. However, he was painstaking and careful in all things and never ran any unnecessary risks; consequently, just to be on the safe side, he had instructed the first assistant to plug the speaking-tube leading to the skipper's room. And in order to discourage the captain from, seeking an interview with the chief, von Staden had told the former that the chief was a prisoner.

Mr. Reardon was too important a personage to be deprived of his liberty when nothing was to be gained by such action. If he could be kept in ignorance of the state of affairs aboard the Narcissus, he would continue to attend to business; if the worst came to the worst his friendship would be a better asset than his hatred. If he grew suspicious and demanded a showdown, Herr von Staden would give it to him without reservation and stuff his mouth with gold; then, if the chief declined to listen to reason, it would be time enough to lock him up. While the supercargo would not hesitate to sacrifice his life, his liberty, or his honor for his country, he was nevertheless desirous of being a gentleman if accorded the opportuniby. And it must be admitted he had found Mr. Reardon amusing and vastly entertaining, for the very first night aboard, after Mr. Schultz had introduced him to the chief and he had presented the latter with a good cigar, Mr. Reardon, under the spell of the witchery cast by the sea and the night, had sat on deck and told the German wonderful tales of the fairies in Ireland--this while the skipper was ashore. In particular he told von Staden the tale of the fairy queen with the iron hand.

"Her hand," said Terence, "was as beautiful as ye'd find in a day's thravel, an' 'twas herself that'd dhrive men crazy afther wan look at her. An' she was good to the poor, but divii a bit av love did she have for a redcoat. Whin she'd take human form an' a bowld buck av a British dragoon would come making love to her, 'tis herself would say to him: 'Captain, alannah, would ye oblige me wit' a dhrink av wather?' An' whin he turrned to dhraw the wather, she'd breathe on her hand--like that--an' immejiately 'twould turn to iron an' wit' wan blow she'd knock his brains out. Sure they found the bodies all over Ireland, but divil a man, woman, or child could they ever convict av the murrder. For why? Why, sure, the minute she'd killed a redcoat she'd breathe on her hand ag'in, an' immejiately 'twas flesh an' blood ag'in!"

No, decidedly it would not do to imprison this excellent fellow. Von Staden had read fairy tales as a boy, but never had he met a man who could tell them like Terence Reardon. A hard-headed, highly intelligent chief engineer of a big tramp steamer telling tales of the fairies! Von Staden couldn't understand it. It was so childish--and yet there was nothing childish about Terence Reardon. The German wondered if Terence Reardon believed in the fairies and finally he asked him point-blank if he did; whereupon Terence turned a solemn eye upon him and replied:

"Why, av course I do not. Do you think I'm a blubber-jack av a bhoy? But isn't it pleasant to talk about thim whilst wan has nothing betther to do? Sure, whin I'm lonely at night I think up new fairy tales to tell to the childhren whin I come home from a v'yage."

So that was the Irish of it! Strangely enough it did not occur to the practical German that an individual with an imagination like that, on such an expedition as the present, was the most dangerous person imaginable to be given the freedom of the ship.

So passed twelve days and nights. Mr. Schultz kept in his pocket the key to the captain's state-room, and consequently was always present when the little cockney steward brought the prisoner his meals, tidied up the state-room and made up the captain's bed. The captain spent most of his time lying on his uninjured side and remained very quiet, for the fractured rib, which had received no attention, was causing him a great deal of suffering. Neither did the bullet wound in his shoulder heal cleanly, for the reason, unknown to the captain, that the bullet had carried with it into the muscle a fragment of Michael J.'s undershirt.

However, his physical sufferings were as nothing compared with those he experienced mentally. He had hoped to be in fair fighting condition within a week at the latest. Wrapped in paper and tucked away in the back of the ship's safe he had a silver-hilted stiletto he had taken away from a cutthroat who had tried to rob him once in Valparaiso--and with this weapon he had planned to cut away the lock on the state-room door. And once outside--

What Michael J. Murphy did not know was that when one has dislocated one's shoulder one will do very little wood-carving during the three subsequent weeks. It almost broke the skipper's heart to think he had made a threat in good faith, and was balked from making it good.

During this entire period Mr. Reardon was going about his duties as usual, in absolute ignorance of the state of affairs about the ship, for he was an innocent, trustful sort of fellow, and to a born romanticist like Terence the fairy tale which Mr. Schultz had spun at breakfast the morning after leaving Pernambuco was not at all difficult of assimilation. It appeared--according to Mr. Schultz-- that the skipper had gone ashore for a night of roystering, and upon returning to the ship about midnight, in a wild state of intoxication, had become involved in an altercation with the launchman over the fare. In the resultant battle the skipper, in his helpless condition, was being terribly beaten by the vicious Pernambucan; hence one could scarcely blame him for drawing a pistol and shooting the launchman--fatally, according to Mr. Schultz. Of course, after that, to have lingered longer inside the three-mile limit would have been sheer insanity, so Mr. Schultz, taking matters into his own hands, had uphooked and skipped with doused lights from the jurisdiction of the Pernambuco police.

"And how did the skipper come out of all this?" Mr. Reardon had inquired anxiously.

"He iss in rodden shape," Mr. Schultz had declared. "Von of hiss angles vos brogen, und he vos cut mid a knive--preddy deeb, but noddings to worry aboud. Der only drouble iss der dooty of navigading der shib falls double on der segond mate und me."

"Make him pay ye over-time out av his own wages, the wurthless vagabone!" Mr. Reardon had urged. "May he walk wit' a limp for the rest av his days--bad cess to him! I've a notion, Misther Schultz, that lad'll never comb his hair grey."

Mr. Schultz nodded lugubriously; then he glanced up and caught the little cockney steward staring at him so balefully, that he realized he must have speech in private with the steward. Consequently he lingered at table until Mr. Reardon finished his breakfast and went below; whereupon Mr. Schultz intimated to the steward, in his direct blunt fashion, that for the remainder of the voyage, Riggins--for that was the steward's name--was to consider himself deaf, dumb and blind; the penalty for reconsideration within the hearing of Mr. Reardon being a swift and immediate excursion, personally conducted by Mr. Schultz, to Davy Jones's locker! Following this earnest exhortation, Riggins, never a robust person mentally or physically, came abruptly to the conclusion that this was one of those occasions where silence, if not exactly golden, was at least to be preferred to great riches.