The Dynamiter

Page 84

'But what the devil can we do? Look at all the niggers!'

I followed his direction; and as my eye lighted upon each, the poor ignorant Africans ducked, and bowed, and threw their hands into the air, as though in the presence of a creature half divine. Apparently the officer with the whiskers had instantly come round to the opinion of his subaltern; for he now addressed me with every signal of respect.

'Sir George is at the island, my lady,' said he: 'for which, with your ladyship's permission, I shall immediately make all sail. The cabins are prepared. Steward, take Lady Greville below.'

Under this new name, then, and so captivated by surprise that I could neither think nor speak, I was ushered into a spacious and airy cabin, hung about with weapons and surrounded by divans. The steward asked for my commands; but I was by this time so wearied, bewildered, and disturbed, that I could only wave him to leave me to myself, and sink upon a pile of cushions. Presently, by the changed motion of the ship, I knew her to be under way; my thoughts, so far from clarifying, grew the more distracted and confused; dreams began to mingle and confound them; and at length, by insensible transition, I sank into a dreamless slumber.

When I awoke, the day and night had passed, and it was once more morning. The world on which I reopened my eyes swam strangely up and down; the jewels in the bag that lay beside me chinked together ceaselessly; the clock and the barometer wagged to and fro like pendulums; and overhead, seamen were singing out at their work, and coils of rope clattering and thumping on the deck. Yet it was long before I had divined that I was at sea; long before I had recalled, one after another, the tragical, mysterious, and inexplicable events that had brought me where was.

When I had done so, I thrust the jewels, which I was surprised to find had been respected, into the bosom of my dress; and seeing a silver bell hard by upon a table, rang it loudly. The steward instantly appeared; I asked for food; and he proceeded to lay the table, regarding me the while with a disquieting and pertinacious scrutiny. To relieve myself of my embarrassment, I asked him, with as fair a show of ease as I could muster, if it were usual for yachts to carry so numerous a crew?

'Madam,' said he, 'I know not who you are, nor what mad fancy has induced you to usurp a name and an appalling destiny that are not yours. I warn you from the soul. No sooner arrived at the island- -'

At this moment he was interrupted by the whiskered officer, who had entered unperceived behind him, and now laid a hand upon his shoulder. The sudden pallor, the deadly and sick fear, that was imprinted on the steward's face, formed a startling addition to his words.

'Parker!' said the officer, and pointed towards the door.

'Yes, Mr. Kentish,' said the steward. 'For God's sake, Mr. Kentish!' And vanished, with a white face, from the cabin.

Thereupon the officer bade me sit down, and began to help me, and join in the meal. 'I fill your ladyship's glass,' said he, and handed me a tumbler of neat rum.

'Sir,' cried I, 'do you expect me to drink this?'

He laughed heartily. 'Your ladyship is so much changed,' said he, 'that I no longer expect any one thing more than any other.'

Immediately after, a white seaman entered the cabin, saluted both Mr. Kentish and myself, and informed the officer there was a sail in sight, which was bound to pass us very close, and that Mr. Harland was in doubt about the colours.

'Being so near the island?' asked Mr. Kentish.

'That was what Mr. Harland said, sir,' returned the sailor, with a scrape.

'Better not, I think,' said Mr. Kentish. 'My compliments to Mr. Harland; and if she seem a lively boat, give her the stars and stripes; but if she be dull, and we can easily outsail her, show John Dutchman. That is always another word for incivility at sea; so we can disregard a hail or a flag of distress, without attracting notice.'

As soon as the sailor had gone on deck, I turned to the officer in wonder.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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