Wolves of the Sea by Randall Parrish
Chapter XIV. I Warn Dorothy
The Portuguese, evidently well pleased at my prompt acceptance of his proposal, talked on for some time, explaining to me something of the situation aboard the Namur, and pointing out what he believed to be our position on the chart. I asked a few questions, although I paid but little attention to what he said, my mind being busied with searching out his real purpose. No doubt the situation was very nearly as he described it to be--LeVere was no navigator, and Estada himself only an indifferent one. Yet at that the course to the West Indies was not a long one, and, if the Portuguese had been able to bring the bark from there to the Chesapeake, the return voyage should not terrify him greatly. No, that was not the object; he was planning to keep at sea, to waylay and attack merchant ships, and then, after a successful cruise, arrive at Porto Grande, laden with spoils, and hailed as a great leader. His plan was to dispose of Sanchez--even to permit the Spaniard to die of his wounds; possibly even to hasten and assure that death by some secret resort to violence. No doubt LeVere was also concerned in the conspiracy, and would profit by it, and possibly these two were likewise assured of the cooperation of the more reckless spirits among the crew. I remembered what Watkins had whispered to me forward--his suspicions of them both. He had been right; already the fuse was being laid, and, very fortunately, I happened to be chosen to help touch it off. The chance I had sought blindly, was being plainly revealed.
It was evident enough, however, that Estada had no intention of trusting me immediately with his real motives. His confidence was limited, and his instructions related altogether to mere matters of ship routine. I asked a few questions, and twice he lied coolly, but I dared not mention the girl in any way, for fear that even a casual reference to her presence on board, might arouse his suspicions of my interest. We were at sea, and my presence aft gave me opportunity to observe all that was going on in the cabin. I could await developments. But I was becoming wearied by the man.
"I understand perfectly, Senor," I broke in at last impatiently. "You will have to take for granted that I can enforce sea discipline, and navigate your boat to whatever part of the ocean you desire to sail. All I need is your orders. This, I take it, is all you require of me?"
"Yes; I plan, you execute."
"Very good; now about myself," and I arose to my feet, determined to close the interview. "I would study these charts, and figure out our probable position by dead reckoning--there is little chance of having glimpse of the sun today; the fog out there grows heavier. You say I may choose any stateroom on the port side?"
"They are all unoccupied, except one, used by the steward as a storeroom."
I opened the door, and stepped out into the main cabin, the roll of charts under my arm. The place was deserted, and, with a glance about, met Estada's eyes observing me closely. He didn't wait for me to question him.
"Captain Sanchez's stateroom is aft," he said, with a wave of the hand.
"The entire width of the bark?"
"No, there are two rooms."
"He is left alone?"
"Jose is with him--a negro, with a knack at nursing."
"Who else is quartered aft here?"
He ignored the one thing I most desired to learn, but I did not press it, believing I knew the answer already.
"LeVere has this middle stateroom, and Mendez the one forward."
"What rank has Mendez?"
"Third officer, and carpenter. Just at present with LeVere required on deck, he has charge of the men below."
"The crew, you mean?"
"Not the working crew; they are quartered in the forecastle, and are largely English and Swede. But we have to carry extra men, who bunk amidships--hell-hounds to fight; damn mongrels of course."
"You keep them below, all through the voyage?"
"They are allowed on deck amidships when we are at sea, but are not encouraged to mingle with the sailors. We're over a powder magazine all the time, Gates--any spark might set it off."
I opened one of the doors opposite, and glanced within. The interior differed but little from that of the stateroom occupied by Estada, except it was minus the table. No doubt they were all practically alike.
"This will do very well," I said, quietly. "Now how about clothes? These I wear look rather rough for the new job."
"I'll send you the steward; he'll fix you out from the slop-chest. We're always well supplied."
I was glad to see him go and closed the door on him with a sigh of relief. His eyes seemed to exercise a peculiar influence over me, a snakelike charm, against which I had to constantly battle. I threw the bundle of charts into the upper bunk, and unscrewed the glass of the port to gain a view without, and a breath of fresh air. There was nothing to see but a small vista of gray sea, blending into the gray mist, and the waves on this side ran so high I was compelled to close the port to keep out the spray. I sat down on the stool, staring about the compartment, realizing suddenly how well fortune had served my cause--the chance to impersonate the drunken sailor; the meeting with Watkins, my chance words to Estada on deck, and now this translation from forecastle to cabin. It had all occurred so quickly, almost without effort on my part, I could do little but wonder what strange occurrence would be next. What, indeed, was there for me to do except to await developments? Only one thing occurred to me--I must discover some means immediately of communicating with Dorothy Fairfax.
The importance of this could not be overestimated. With myself quartered aft, and eating in the cabin, we were bound to meet sooner or later; and the girl must previously be warned of my presence aboard, or in her first surprise at the recognition, I should be instantly betrayed. Nothing would escape Estada, and the slightest evidence that we two had formerly met, would awaken his suspicion. My only hope of success lay in my ability to increase his faith in my pledges. The necessity of having a competent navigator aft alone accounted for my promotion. The Portuguese neither liked nor trusted me; he hated and despised my race; he would have me watched, and would carefully check over my figures. I should be compelled to serve him faithfully and without arousing the slightest question in his mind, in order to establish myself in his esteem, or gain any real freedom aboard. Yet, if I was to serve the girl, there must be, first of all, intelligent cooperation between us. She must not only know of my presence on the Namur, but also the purpose actuating me. I had reached this conclusion, when a light hesitating knock sounded on the door.
"Who is there?"
"The steward, Senor, with your clothes?"
"Bring them in."
Gunsaules entered, the garments over his arm, and shuffled in his peculiar gliding manner across to the bunk where he laid out the pieces carefully one by one, evidently proud of his selection.
"Quite a beautiful piece of goods, Senor," he ventured, speaking so softly I could barely distinguish the words above the crash of the waves on the ship's side. "And most excellently tailored. I do not remember whether these came out of the Adair or La Rosalie--the French ship most likely, for as you see, Senor, there is quite the Parisian cut to this coat. I mark these things for I was once apprenticed to a tailor in Madrid."
He stood fondling the garment lovingly, the expression of his face so solemnly interested, I had difficulty in suppressing a laugh.
"Some change in your trade, Gunsaules. Did you take this one up from choice? You do not look to me like a fighting man."
He glanced apprehensively at the open door, speaking even lower than before, if possible.
"No more am I, Senor. The blood make me faint. I go hungry in Santo Domingo--God forgive me for ever going there!--and, to keep from starving I took this job."
"With Sanchez, or before the bark was captured?"
"Before, Senor. The captain's name was Schmitt. Not since have I been ashore, but they spare me because I was Spanish."
I would have asked the fellow more, perhaps even have tested him in his loyalty to his new masters; but I felt this was neither place nor time. Estada might return, and besides the man was evidently a poor-spirited creature, little apt to be of service even if he so desired.
"The clothes seem to be all right, Steward," I said rather briskly, "and I judge will fit. Now hunt me up first of all something to shave with, then some tobacco and a pipe and--yes, wait a second; writing materials."
"And, by the way, there are two staterooms astern. Who occupies the one to starboard--Senor Estada?"
"No Senor; it is the young lady."
"Oh, the one brought aboard last night. Have you seen her?" "Si, Senor; she is English, and good to look at, but she sit and stare out the stern port. She will not speak or eat. I take in her breakfast, but she touch not a morsel. So I tell Senor Estada, and he say, 'then bring her out to dinner with me; I'll make the hussy eat, if I have to choke it down her dainty throat,'"
"Good; I'll have a look at her myself then. Now hurry up those things, Steward, and remember what I sent you after."
He brought the shaving set, and writing materials first, explaining that he would have to go down into the lazaret, and break open some packages for the tobacco and pipe. The moment the fellow disappeared I grasped the opportunity. Where Estada had gone, whether back into his stateroom, or on deck, I had no means of knowing. In fact this could make little difference, for it was not likely he would leave me alone for any great length of time. It must already be approaching the end of LeVere's watch, and I would certainly be called upon to relieve him. And, following my turn on deck would be dinner in the cabin, and the probable encounter with Dorothy. This clearly meant that I must communicate with the girl immediately, or not at all. I dashed off a note hurriedly--a brief line merely stating my presence on board, and begging her not to exhibit surprise at meeting me. I had no time in which to explain, or make clear the situation. With this folded and concealed in my hand, I silently pushed open the door, and took a hasty glance about the cabin.
It was unoccupied, yet I must move with caution. It was possible for one on deck to look down through the skylight, and even if Estada was not in his own room, the nurse assigned to Sanchez might be awake and appear at any moment. The risk was not small, yet must be taken, and I crept swiftly forward following the circle of the staterooms, until I came to the closed door of the one I sought aft. I bent here an instant, listening for some sound from within, but heard none. I dared not remain, or even venture to test the lock. Gunsaules had said this was her place of confinement, and there was seemingly no reason why she should have been given a guard. Beyond doubt the girl was within and alone, and I must trust her quick intelligence to respond to my written message. I thrust it through the narrow opening above the sill, and the moment it disappeared within, stole swiftly back to my own room. The action had not been seen, and yet I had scarcely a moment to spare. Before I could lather my face, standing before a small cracked mirror, bracing myself to the roll of the bark, the steward returned, bearing in his hands tobacco and pipe.
Estada, however, remained away longer than I had anticipated he would, and I was fully dressed and comfortably smoking before he came down from the deck and crossed the cabin to my partially open door.
"The starboard watch has been called," he said, "and you are to take charge of the deck, relieving LeVere. I waited to explain the situation to the men before you appeared. I suppose you are ready?"
"Ay, ay, Senor," knocking the ashes out of my pipe, and rising. He eyed my clothes disapprovingly.
"Rather a fancy rig, Gates, for a first officer on duty." "Some style I admit, Senor, but they were all the steward offered me."
"You'll have to carry a hard fist, my man, to back up that costume aboard the Namur," he said coldly. "Those black devils are apt to mistake you for a plaything."
"Let them test it once; they will soon find I have the hard fist. I've tamed wild crews before today and it might as well be first as last. I suppose half measures do not go with these lads."
"Santa Maria---no! It is kill, or be killed, in our trade, and they will try out your metal. Come on now."
I followed him up the stairs to the deck. His words had in no way alarmed me, but served rather to harden my resolve. I looked for trouble, and was inclined to welcome it, anxious indeed to prove to Estada my ability to handle men. Nothing else would so quickly appeal to him, or serve so rapidly to establish me in his esteem; and to win his confidence was my chief concern. Nothing occurred, however, to cause any breach of authority. A few fellows were lounging amidships and stared idly at us as we mounted to the poop deck. These were of the fighting contingent I supposed, and the real members of the crew were forward. LeVere was still on duty, and came forward and shook hands at my appearance.
"Rather glad I didn't drown you," he said, intending to be pleasant. "But hope you'll not run amuck in the after cabin."
"I shall try not too, unless I have cause," I answered, looking him square in the eyes, and determining to make my position clear at once. "Senor Estada tells me I am to relieve you. What is the course?"
"Sou'west, by half sou'."
"We might be carrying more canvas."
"There is nothing to hurry about, and the fog is thick."
"That will probably lift within an hour. Do you know your position?"
"Only in a general way. We have held an east by south course since leaving the Capes, until an hour ago, making about ten knots."
"Very well, I will figure it out as best I can, and mark it on the chart. There is nothing further to report?"
"No Senor; all has been as it is now."
He glanced toward Estada, not greatly pleased I presume with my brusqueness, yet finding nothing in either words or manner from which to evoke a quarrel. The latter had overheard our conversation, but he stood now with back toward us looking out on the sea off the port quarter. His silent indifference caused LeVere to shrug his shoulders, and disappear down the ladder on his way below. I turned my face to the man at the wheel--it was the giant negro--Cochose.