At these words the sailor seemed undecided what to do; then, making up his mind, he went towards the bows of the Dolphin.
“Well, where are you off to now?” cried Mr. Mathew.
“Where you sent me,” answered Crockston.
“I told you to go to the mainmast.”
“And I am going there,” replied the sailor, in an ununconcerned tone, continuing his way to the poop.
“Are you a fool?” cried Mr. Mathew, impatiently; “you are looking for the bars of the main on the foremast. You are like a cockney, who doesn’t know how to twist a cat-o’-nine-tails, or make a splice. On board what ship can you have been, man? The mainmast, stupid, the mainmast!”
The sailors who had run up to hear what was going on burst out laughing when they saw Crockston’s disconcerted look, as he went back to the forecastle.
“So,” said he, looking up the mast, the top of which was quite invisible through the morning mists; “so, am I to climb up here?”
“Yes,” replied Mr. Mathew, “and hurry yourself! By St. Patrick, a Federal ship would have time to get her bowsprit fast in our rigging before that lazy fellow could get to his post. Will you go up?”
Without a word, Crockston got on the bulwarks with some difficulty; then he began to climb the rigging with most visible awkwardness, like a man who did not know how to make use of his hands or feet. When he had reached the topgallant, instead of springing lightly on to it, he remained motionless, clinging to the ropes, as if he had been seized with giddiness. Mr. Mathew, irritated by his stupidity, ordered him to come down immediately.
“That fellow there,” said he to the boatswain, “has never been a sailor in his life. Johnston, just go and see what he has in his bundle.”
The boatswain made haste to the sailor’s berth.
In the meantime Crockston was with difficulty coming down again, but, his foot having slipped, he slid down the rope he had hold of, and fell heavily on the deck.
“Clumsy blockhead! land-lubber!” cried Mr. Mathew, by way of consolation. “What did you come to do on board the Dolphin! Ah! you entered as an able seaman, and you cannot even distinguish the main from the foremast! I shall have a little talk with you.”
Crockston made no attempt to speak; he bent his back like a man resigned to anything he might have to bear; just then the boatswain returned.
“This,” said he to the first officer, “is all that I have found; a suspicious portfolio with letters.”
“Give them here,” said Mr. Mathew. “Letters with Federal stamps! Mr. Halliburtt, of Boston! An Abolitionist! a Federalist! Wretch! you are nothing but a traitor, and have sneaked on board to betray us! Never mind, you will be paid for your trouble with the cat-o’-nine-tails! Boatswain, call the Captain, and you others just keep an eye on that rogue there.”
Crockston received these compliments with a hideous grimace, but he did not open his lips. They had fastened him to the capstan, and he could move neither hand nor foot.
A few minutes later James Playfair came out of his cabin and went to the forecastle, where Mr. Mathew immediately acquainted him with the details of the case.
“What have you to say?” asked James Playfair, scarcely able to restrain his anger.
“Nothing,” replied Crockston.
“And what did you come on board my ship for?”
“And what do you expect from me now?”
“Who are you? An American, as letters seem to prove?” Crockston did not answer.
“Boatswain,” said James Playfair, “fifty lashes with the cat-o’-nine-tails to loosen his tongue. Will that be enough, Crockston?”
“It will remain to be seen,” replied John Stiggs’ uncle without moving a muscle.
“Now then, come along, men,” said the boatswain.
At this order, two strong sailors stripped Crockston of his woollen jersey; they had already seized the formidable weapon, and laid it across the prisoner’s shoulders, when the novice, John Stiggs, pale and agitated, hurried on deck.
“Captain!” exclaimed he.
“Ah! the nephew!” remarked James Playfair.
“Captain,” repeated the novice, with a violent effort to steady his voice, “I will tell you what Crockston does not want to say.