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Chapter 16

XVI.

Hicks did not join the others at breakfast. They talked of what Lydia had seen at Gibraltar, where Staniford had been on a former voyage. Dunham had made it a matter of conscience to know all about it beforehand from his guide-books, and had risen early that morning to correct his science by his experience in a long entry in the diary which he was keeping for Miss Hibbard. The captain had the true sea-farer's ignorance, and was amused at the things reported by his passengers of a place where he had been ashore so often; Hicks's absence doubtless relieved him, but he did not comment on the cabin-boy's announcement that he was still asleep, except to order him let alone.

They were seated at their one o'clock dinner before the recluse made any sign. Then he gave note of his continued existence by bumping and thumping sounds within his state-room, as if some one were dressing there in a heavy sea.

"Mr. Hicks seems to be taking his rough weather retrospectively," said Staniford, with rather tremulous humor.

The door was flung open, and Hicks reeled out, staying himself by the door-knob. Even before he appeared, a reek of strong waters had preceded him. He must have been drinking all night. His face was flushed, and his eyes were bloodshot. He had no collar on; but he wove a cravat and otherwise he was accurately and even fastidiously dressed. He balanced himself by the door-knob, and measured the distance he had to make before reaching his place at the table, smiling, and waving a delicate handkerchief, which he held in his hand: "Spilt c'logne, tryin' to scent my hic—handkerchief. Makes deuced bad smell—too much c'logne; smells—alcoholic. Thom's, bear a hand, 's good f'low. No? All right, go on with your waitin'. B-ic—business b'fore pleasure, 's feller says. Play it alone, I guess."

The boy had shrunk back in dismay, and Hicks contrived to reach his place by one of those precipitate dashes with which drunken men attain a point, when the luck is with them. He looked smilingly round the circle of faces. Staniford and the captain exchanged threatening looks of intelligence, while Mr. Watterson and Dunham subordinately waited their motion. But the advantage, as in such cases, was on the side of Hicks. He knew it, with a drunkard's subtlety, and was at his ease.

"No app'tite, friends; but thought I'd come out, keep you from feeling lonesome." He laughed and hiccuped, and smiled upon them all. "Well, cap'n," he continued, "'covered from 'tigues day, sterday? You look blooming's usual. Thom's, pass the—pass the—victuals lively, my son, and fetch along coffee soon. Some the friends up late, and want their coffee. Nothing like coffee, carry off'fee's." He winked to the men, all round; and then added, to Lydia: "Sorry see you in this state—I mean, sorry see me—Can't make it that way either; up stump on both routes. What I mean is, sorry hadn't coffee first. But you're all right—all right! Like see anybody offer you disrespec', 'n I'm around. Tha's all."

Till he addressed her, Lydia had remained motionless, first with bewilderment, and then with open abhorrence. She could hardly have seen in South Bradfield a man who had been drinking. Even in haying, or other sharpest stress of farmwork, our farmer and his men stay themselves with nothing stronger than molasses-water, or, in extreme cases, cider with a little corn soaked in it; and the Mill Village, where she had taught school, was under the iron rule of a local vote for prohibition. She stared in stupefaction at Hicks's heated, foolish face; she started at his wild movements, and listened with dawning intelligence to his hiccup-broken speech, with its thickened sibilants and its wandering emphasis. When he turned to her, and accompanied his words with a reassuring gesture, she recoiled, and as if breaking an ugly fascination she gave a low, shuddering cry, and looked at Staniford.

"Thomas," he said, "Miss Blood was going to take her dessert on deck to-day. Dunham?"

Dunham sprang to his feet, and led her out of the cabin.

The movement met Hicks's approval. "Tha's right; 'sert on deck, 'joy landscape and pudding together,—Rhine steamer style. All right. Be up there m'self soon's I get my coffee." He winked again with drunken sharpness. "I know wha's what. Be up there m'self, 'n a minute."

"If you offer to go up," said Staniford, in a low voice, as soon as
Lydia was out of the way, "I'll knock you down!"

"Captain," said Mr. Watterson, venturing, perhaps for the first time in his whole maritime history, upon a suggestion to his superior officer, "shall I clap him in irons?"

"Clap him in irons!" roared Captain Jenness. "Clap him in bed! Look here, you!" He turned to Hicks, but the latter, who had been bristling at Staniford's threat, now relaxed in a crowing laugh:—

"Tha's right, captain. Irons no go, 'cept in case mutiny; bed perfectly legal 't all times. Bed is good. But trouble is t' enforce it."

"Where's your bottle?" demanded the captain, rising from the seat in which a paralysis of fury had kept him hitherto. "I want your bottle."

"Oh, bottle's all right! Bottle's under pillow. Empty,—empty's Jonah's gourd; 'nother sea-faring party,—Jonah. S'cure the shadow ere the substance fade. Drunk all the brandy, old boy. Bottle's a canteen; 'vantage of military port to houseless stranger. Brought the brandy on board under my coat; nobody noticed,—so glad get me back. Prodigal son's return,—fatted calf under his coat."

The reprobate ended his boastful confession with another burst of hiccuping, and Staniford helplessly laughed.

"Do me proud," said Hicks. "Proud, I 'sure you. Gentleman, every time,
Stanny. Know good thing when you see it—hear it, I mean."

"Look here, Hicks," said Staniford, choosing to make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, if any good end might be gained by it. "You know you're drunk, and you're not fit to be about. Go back to bed, that's a good fellow; and come out again, when you're all right. You don't want to do anything you'll be sorry for."

"No, no! No, you don't, Stanny. Coffee'll make me all right. Coffee always does. Coffee—Heaven's lash besh gift to man. 'Scovered subse-subs'quently to grape. See? Comes after claret in course of nature. Captain doesn't understand the 'lusion. All right, captain. Little learning dangerous thing." He turned sharply on Mr. Watterson, who had remained inertly in his place. "Put me in irons, heh! You put me in irons, you old Triton. Put me in irons, will you?" His amiable mood was passing; before one could say so, it was past. He was meditating means of active offense. He gathered up the carving-knife and fork, and held them close under Mr. Watterson's nose. "Smell that!" he said, and frowned as darkly as a man of so little eyebrow could.

At this senseless defiance Staniford, in spite of himself, broke into another laugh, and even Captain Jenness grinned. Mr. Watterson sat with his head drawn as far back as possible, and with his nose wrinkled at the affront offered it. "Captain," he screamed, appealing even in this extremity to his superior, "shall I fetch him one?"

"No, no!" cried Staniford, springing from his chair; "don't hit him!
He isn't responsible. Let's get him into his room."

"Fetch me one, heh?" said Hicks, rising, with dignity, and beginning to turn up his cuffs. "One! It'll take more than one, fetch me. Stan' up, 'f you're man enough." He was squaring at Mr. Watterson, when he detected signs of strategic approach in Staniford and Captain Jenness. He gave a wild laugh, and shrank into a corner. "No! No, you don't, boys," he said.

They continued their advance, one on either side, and reinforced by Mr. Watterson hemmed him in. The drunken man has the advantage of his sober brother in never seeming to be on the alert. Hicks apparently entered into the humor of the affair. "Sur-hic-surrender!" he said, with a smile in his heavy eyes. He darted under the extended arms of Captain Jenness, who was leading the centre of the advance, and before either wing could touch him he was up the gangway and on the deck.

Captain Jenness indulged one of those expressions, very rare with him, which are supposed to be forgiven to good men in moments of extreme perplexity, and Mr. Watterson profited by the precedent to unburden his heart in a paraphrase of the captain's language. Staniford's laugh had as much cursing in it as their profanity.

He mechanically followed Hicks to the deck, prepared to renew the attempt for his capture there. But Hicks had not stopped near Dunham and Lydia. He had gone forward on the other side of the ship, and was leaning quietly on the rail, and looking into the sea. Staniford paused irresolute for a moment, and then sat down beside Lydia, and they all tried to feign that nothing unpleasant had happened, or was still impending. But their talk had the wandering inconclusiveness which was inevitable, and the eyes of each from time to time furtively turned toward Hicks.

For half an hour he hardly changed his position. At the end of that time, they found him looking intently at them; and presently he began to work slowly back to the waist of the ship, but kept to his own side. He was met on the way by the second mate, when nearly opposite where they sat.

"Ain't you pretty comfortable where you are?" they heard the mate asking. "Guess I wouldn't go aft any further just yet."

"You're all right, Mason," Hicks answered. "Going below—down cellar, 's feller says; go to bed."

"Well, that's a pious idea," said the mate. "You couldn't do better than that. I'll lend you a hand."

"Don't care 'f I do," responded Hicks, taking the mate's proffered arm. But he really seemed to need it very little; he walked perfectly well, and he did not look across at the others again.

At the head of the gangway he encountered Captain Jenness and Mr. Watterson, who had completed the perquisition they had remained to make in his state-room. Mr. Watterson came up empty-handed; but the captain bore the canteen in which the common enemy had been so artfully conveyed on board. He walked, darkly scowling, to the rail, and flung the canteen into the sea. Hicks, who had saluted his appearance with a glare as savage as his own, yielded to his whimsical sense of the futility of this vengeance. He gave his fleeting, drunken laugh: "Good old boy, Captain Jenness. Means well—means well. But lacks—lacks—forecast. Pounds of cure, but no prevention. Not much on bite, but death on bark. Heh?" He waggled his hand offensively at the captain, and disappeared, loosely floundering down the cabin stairs, holding hard by the hand-rail, and fumbling round with his foot for the steps before he put it down.

"As soon as he's in his room, Mr. Watterson, you lock him in." The captain handed his officer a key, and walked away forward, with a hang-dog look on his kindly face, which he kept averted from his passengers.

The sound of Hicks's descent had hardly ceased when clapping and knocking noises were heard again, and the face of the troublesome little wretch reappeared. He waved Mr. Watterson aside with his left hand, and in default of specific orders the latter allowed him to mount to the deck again. Hicks stayed himself a moment, and lurched to where Staniford and Dunham sat with Lydia.

"What I wish say Miss Blood is," he began,—"what I wish say is, peculiar circumstances make no difference with man if man's gentleman. What I say is, everybody 'spec's—What I say is, circumstances don't alter cases; lady's a lady—What I want do is beg you fellows' pardon—beg her pardon—if anything I said that firs' morning—"

"Go away!" cried Staniford, beginning to whiten round the nostrils.
"Hold your tongue!"

Hicks fell back a pace, and looked at him with the odd effect of now seeing him for the first time. "What you want?" he asked. "What you mean? Slingin' criticism ever since you came on this ship! What you mean by it? Heh? What you mean?"

Staniford rose, and Lydia gave a start. He cast an angry look at her.
"Do you think I'd hurt him?" he demanded.

Hicks went on: "Sorry, very sorry, 'larm a lady,—specially lady we all respec'. But this particular affair. Touch—touches my honor. You said," he continued, "'f I came on deck, you'd knock me down. Why don't you do it? Wha's the matter with you? Sling criticism ever since you been on ship, and 'fraid do it! 'Fraid, you hear? 'F-ic—'fraid, I say." Staniford slowly walked away forward, and Hicks followed him, threatening him with word and gesture. Now and then Staniford thrust him aside, and addressed him some expostulation, and Hicks laughed and submitted. Then, after a silent excursion to the other side of the ship, he would return and renew his one-sided quarrel. Staniford seemed to forbid the interference of the crew, and alternately soothed and baffled his tedious adversary, who could still be heard accusing him of slinging criticism, and challenging him to combat. He leaned with his back to the rail, and now looked quietly into Hicks's crazy face, when the latter paused in front of him, and now looked down with a worried, wearied air. At last he crossed to the other side, and began to come aft again.

"Mr. Dunham!" cried Lydia, starting up. "I know what Mr. Staniford wants to do. He wants to keep him away from me. Let me go down to the cabin. I can't walk; please help me!" Her eyes were full of tears, and the hand trembled that she laid on Dunham's arm, but she controlled her voice.

He softly repressed her, while he intently watched Staniford.
"No, no!"

"But he can't bear it much longer," she pleaded. "And if he should—"

"Staniford would never strike him," said Dunham, calmly. "Don't be afraid. Look! He's coming back with him; he's trying to get him below; they'll shut him up there. That's the only chance. Sit down, please." She dropped into her seat, hid her eyes for an instant, and then fixed them again on the two young men.

Hicks had got between Staniford and the rail. He seized him by the arm, and, pulling him round, suddenly struck at him. It was too much for his wavering balance: his feet shot from under him, and he went backwards in a crooked whirl and tumble, over the vessel's side.

Staniford uttered a cry of disgust and rage. "Oh, you little brute!" he shouted, and with what seemed a single gesture he flung off his coat and the low shoes he wore, and leaped the railing after him.

The cry of "Man overboard!" rang round the ship, and Captain Jenness's order, "Down with your helm! Lower a boat, Mr. Mason!" came, quick as it was, after the second mate had prepared to let go; and he and two of the men were in the boat, and she was sliding from her davits, while the Aroostook was coming up to the light wind and losing headway.

When the boat touched the water, two heads had appeared above the surface terribly far away. "Hold on, for God's sake! We'll be there in a second."

"All right!" Staniford's voice called back. "Be quick." The heads rose and sank with the undulation of the water. The swift boat appeared to crawl.

By the time it reached the place where they had been seen, the heads disappeared, and the men in the boat seemed to be rowing blindly about. The mate stood upright. Suddenly he dropped and clutched at something over the boat's side. The people on the ship could see three hands on her gunwale; a figure was pulled up into the boat, and proved to be Hicks; then Staniford, seizing the gunwale with both hands, swung himself in.

A shout went up from the ship, and Staniford waved his hand. Lydia waited where she hung upon the rail, clutching it hard with her hands, till the boat was along-side. Then from white she turned fire-red, and ran below and locked herself in her room.

William Dean Howells

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