"I could not help asking why he told me to rouse a sleeping man, when we wanted everybody on board to sleep sweetly till we got clear of the schooner. He laughs a little and says that I didn't see all the bearings of this business.
"'Mind,' he says, 'don't let him leave you till you see me come up again.' He puts his eyes close to mine. 'Keep him with you at all costs.'
"'And that means?' says I.
"'All costs to him — by every possible or impossible means. I don't want to be interrupted in my business down below. He would give me lots of trouble. I take you with me to save myself trouble in various circumstances; and you've got to enter on your work right away.'
"'Just so, sir,' says I; and he slips down the companion.
"With a gentleman you know at once where you are; but it was a ticklish job. The skipper was nothing to me one way or another, any more than you are at this moment, Mr. Schomberg. You may light your cigar or blow your brains out this minute, and I don't care a hang which you do, both or neither. To bring the skipper up was easy enough. I had only to stamp on the deck a few times over his head. I stamped hard. But how to keep him up when he got there?
"'Anything the matter; Mr. Ricardo?' I heard his voice behind me.
"There he was, and I hadn't thought of anything to say to him; so I didn't turn round. The moonlight was brighter than many a day I could remember in the North Sea.
"'Why did you call me? What are you staring at out there, Mr. Ricardo?'
"He was deceived by my keeping my back to him. I wasn't staring at anything, but his mistake gave me a notion.
"'I am staring at something that looks like a canoe over there,' I said very slowly.
"The skipper got concerned at once. It wasn't any danger from the inhabitants, whoever they were.
"'Oh, hang it!' says he. 'That's very unfortunate.' He had hoped that the schooner being on the coast would not get known so very soon. 'Dashed awkward, with the business we've got in hand, to have a lot of niggers watching operations. But are you certain this is a canoe?'
"'It may be a drift-log,' I said; 'but I thought you had better have a look with your own eyes. You may make it out better than I can.'
"His eyes weren't anything as good as mine. But he says:
"'Certainly. Certainly. You did quite right.'
"And it's a fact I had seen some drift-logs at sunset. I saw what they were then and didn't trouble my head about them, forgot all about it till that very moment. Nothing strange in seeing drift-logs off a coast like that; and I'm hanged if the skipper didn't make one out in the wake of the moon. Strange what a little thing a man's life hangs on sometimes — a single word! Here you are, sitting unsuspicious before me, and you may let out something unbeknown to you that would settle your hash. Not that I have any ill-feeling. I have no feelings. If the skipper had said, 'O, bosh!' and had turned his back on me, he would not have gone three steps towards his bed; but he stood there and stared. And now the job was to get him off the deck when he was no longer wanted there.
"'We are just trying to make out if that object there is a canoe or a log,' says he to Mr. Jones.
"Mr Jones had come up, lounging as carelessly as when he went below. While the skipper was jawing about boats and drifting logs. I asked by signs, from behind, if I hadn't better knock him on the head and drop him quietly overboard. The night was slipping by, and we had to go. It couldn't be put off till next night no more. No. No more. And do you know why?"
Schomberg made a slight negative sign with his head. This direct appeal annoyed him, jarred on the induced quietude of a great talker forced into the part of a listener and sunk in it as a man sinks into slumber. Mr. Ricardo struck a note of scorn.
"Don't know why? Can't you guess? No? Because the boss had got hold of the skipper's cash-box by then. See?"