Yes, sir, things have come to a pretty pass when such an infernal rascal undertakes to let a black beggar loose from aboard my brig, foamed Captain Bangham, red with passion, and pounding the desk with his fist.
If I ever heard of such a thing in all my life, Bangham! he exclaimed, slapping both arms of his chair with his palms, and glaring all around the little mahogany-furnished office. But where were you when this was done?
I, sir? Asleep in the cabin, Mr. Atkins. Never knew a thing about it, sir, till this morning. Just for special safety I didnt have the brig hauled up to the dock yesterday, but let her lay in the stream. Jones, says I, have you seen the nigger this morning? No I havent, says he, cool as you please. I guess Ill take a look at him, says I, and so I took a biscuit and a can of water, and toted down to the hole where I had the nasty devil tied up, and begod, he was gone! I tumbled up on deck: Jones, I shouted, wheres the nigger? I dont know where he is now, says he, lazy as a ship in the doldrums. All I know is, says he, that I rowed him ashore about midnight, and told him to put for it. By gasped Captain Bangham, with a frightful oath, I was so mad that I couldnt say a word. I just ran into the cabin, and when I came out, Jones wasnt to be seen.Hallo, there he is now! cried the captain, starting to his feet and pointing out of the window to a tall figure lounging along the wharf, and looking at the shipping.
They waited in silence, and presently the tall figure of the mate was seen in the outer office, through the glass door, lounging toward them. He opened the door in a minute, and came in carelessly, chewing slowly, and nodding once to Mr. Atkins. A tall man, dressed sailor-fashion, in a blue shirt and pea-jacket, with a straw hat set negligently on his head, and a grave, inscrutable, sunburnt face, with straight manly features and dull-blue eyes.
Captain Bangham gave a long whistle, and sat mute with stupefaction. Mr. Atkins turned perfectly livid, and stared at the mate with his mouth pursed into an oval hole, perfectly aghast at this insolence, and almost wondering whether he had heard aright.
To you? thundered the seaman, in a voice that made Mr. Atkins drop into his chair as if he were shot. To you? And who are you? You damned lubberly, purse-proud aristocrat, do you want me to take you by the heels and throw you out of that window? Call me that name again, and Ill do it as soon as Id eat. You, indeed! Youre the Lord High Brown, aint you? Youre the Lord Knows Who, you blasted old money-grubber, aint you? You, indeed!
In all his life, Mr. Atkins had never been so spoken to. He sat in a sort of horror, gazing with open mouth and glassy eyes at the sturdy face of the seaman, on which a brown flush had burned out, and the firm, lit eyes of which held him spell-bound. Bangham, toohorror-stricken, wonder-stricken, thunder-strickensat staring at Jones for a minute, then burst into a short, rattling laugh, and jumping to his feet, cried, Oh, hes mad, hes mad, hes mad, hes got a calenture, hes got a calenture, hes mad as a March hare, capering and hopping and prancing, meanwhile, in his narrow confine, as if he would jump out of his skin.
You, too, Bangham, said the mate, making a step toward him, with a menacing gesture, at which the captain stopped capering, and shrank, while Mr. Atkins slightly started in his chair, you just clap a stopper on that ugly mug of yours, and stop your monkey capers, or youll have me afoul of you. I havent forgot your didoes with the men aboard the Soliman. Just you say another word now, and Ill put in a complaint thatll lay you by the heels in the State Prison, where you ought to have been long ago, you ugly pirate, you!
And now look here, you brace of bloody buccaneers, continued the irreverent seaman, short words are best words with such as you. I untied that poor old moke of a nigger last night, and rowed him ashore. What are ye going to do about it?
Hark you, now, Atkins, he went on. We found that man half dead in the hold when we were three days outa sight to make ones flesh crawl. The bloody old pirate hed run away from had put a spiked collar on his neck, just as if he was a brute, with no soul to be saved. Im an old sea-dogI am; and Ive seen men ill-treated in my time, but Im damned if I ever seen a man ill-treated like that God-forsaken nigger. Hed run away, and no blame to him for running away. Hed been livin in swamps with snakes and alligators, and if he hadnt no right to his freedom, hed earned one fifty times over, and its my opinion that a man who goes through what he did has more right to his freedom than two beggars like you, who have never done the first thing to deserve it. Mind that now, both of ye!
The mate paused a moment, hitching up his trousers, and rolling his tobacco from one side of his twitching mouth to the other, and then, with his face flushed, and his blue eyes gleaming savagely, went on:
Whats the first thing that brute there did to him? Kicked him, and he lyin half dead. Then in a day or two, when the poor devil got his tongue, he told how hed got away, and the sort of pirate hed got away from. God! when we all amost blubbered like babes, what did that curse there do? Knocked the man down, and beat his head on the deck, till we felt like mutiny and murder, every man of us! And then when wed got the poor devil below, sorter comfortable, down comes Bangham, and hauls him off to stick him into a nasty hole under hatches, and there he kep him the whole passage, half-starved, among the rats and cockroaches. Scarce a day of his life aboard that he didnt go down and kick and maul him. He couldnt keep his hands off himno, he couldnt. When I took the man ashore in the dead o night, he was nothin but a bundle o bones and nasty rags, and he made me so sick I couldnt touch him. Thats the state he was in. Now, then, look here.
That infernal buccaneer, Bangham, he said, was bent on takin the poor devil back to Orleans, after all hed gone through to get away. Well, hes a brute, and we dont expect nothin of brutes like him. But youre a Boston merchant, Atkins, and callin yourself a Christian man, you put in your oar in this dirty business, and was goin to help Bangham. You thought I was goin to stand by and see you do it. No! he thundered, with a tremendous slap of his right hand on the palm of his left, which made both the merchant and the captain start, no! I wasnt goin to stand by and see you do it! Im an old sea-dog and my heart is tough and hard, but Im damned if its hard enough to stand by when such a sin as thats afoot, and never lend a hand to stop it. I took that man out of your clutches, you brace of pirates, and I set him adrift! You think Im afraid to own it? No, Im not, begod! I did it. Ephraim Jones is my name, and I come from Barnstable. Theres where I come from. Im a Yankee sailor, and, so help me God, I could never see the bunting of my country flying at the peak again, if I let you two bloody Algerine thieves carry off that man to his murder. Thats all Ive got to say. Take the law of me now, if you like. I wont skulk. Youll find me when you look for me. And if James Flatfoot dont have his harpoon into both of you one of these days, then theres no God, thats all!
Turning on his heel with this valediction, which consigned the merchant and the captains future beyond the grave to the Devil, who, under the name of James Flatfoot, occupies a prominent place in marine theology, Mr. Jones carelessly lounged out of the private room, leaving the glass door open, and with a nonchalant glance at the three or four startled clerks and book-keepers who sat and stood at their desks wondering what had been going on within, for they had only caught confused scraps of the stormy colloquy, he went down stairs, with a load off his mind which had been gathering there during the whole voyage of the Soliman.
For a moment after his departure, Mr. Atkins sat mute and still, feeling like one in a horrid dream. Roused presently by a deep-drawn breath from Captain Bangham, he wheeled his chair around to the desk, and taking out his white hankerchief, wiped away the cold sweat which had started out on his face and forehead.