Read CHAPTER SIXTEEN. of Sail Ho A Boy at Sea, free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on ReadCentral.com.

“Why didn’t you aim straight, man? ­why didn’t you aim straight?” cried Captain Berriman.  “You did not touch him.”

“I did not try to hit him,” replied Mr Frewen, quietly.

“Then why did you fire, sir?  A loud noise is not likely to frighten such a man as that.”

“No; but the idea of being shot at, and the explosion of that loose powder about his ears has startled him, and he’ll be careful about coming up to the door to lay powder-bags again.”

“Then you fired to light the loose powder?”

“Yes, and it has had its effect, though I hesitated for a moment for fear the bag should not be far enough off.  Where did you put it, Dale?”

“Along with the other in Mr Preddle’s cabin,” I said triumphantly, for when the door was open I was down on my knees ready by Mr Frewen’s legs, and as he thrust the barrels of his gun against Jarette’s side, I snatched at the bag and drew it in.

“Take my place, Mr Preddle,” said Mr Denning to him, “I must go back to our cabin and speak to my sister.  She will be terribly alarmed by the firing.”

“Shall I go and speak to her?” said Mr Preddle, eagerly.

“If you are afraid to take my place,” said Mr Denning, sternly.

“I ­I thought ­I wanted ­I wished to save you trouble,” stammered the stout passenger.  “Thank you; my piece is loaded.”

He was very red in the face as he stepped into Mr Denning’s place by the door, which was now carefully watched in expectation of another attempt to blow it open.

But the minutes glided on, and all grew quiet forward to our great surprise; but we soon knew why, for a man came along bearing some biscuit and cold pork in one hand, a bowl of steaming coffee in the other, and it was evident that he was taking the man at the wheel some breakfast from the meal of which the crew were partaking.

“A good example, captain,” said Mr Frewen.  “I can keep on guard here while you people all have some refreshment.  They must need it, for I’m sure I do.”

I offered to take Mr Frewen’s place, but he would not hear of it, and matters were compromised by my taking him his breakfast, when some provisions had hastily been placed on the saloon-table; and carrying mine with me, together with a box for our table, dragged down close to the barricade, and between it and the door, we made a hearty meal.

The ladies had come out of their cabins, and I saw how eager Miss Denning was to attend upon her brother and Mr Brymer, for whom, in his wounded state, she seemed to be full of sympathy.  Then after attending upon him, she flitted to the captain’s side, while from time to time Mr Frewen looked on, and appeared to be wishing that he too was wounded so as to be waited upon like that.  At last the captain spoke.

“There, my dear,” he cried, “not another mouthful for me if you don’t go to your place by your brother, and have something to eat yourself.”

“Oh, but I can have something at any time, Captain Berriman, when you are all busy protecting us.”

“No,” cried Captain Berriman, “not another mouthful.”  And he spoke so emphatically, that Miss Denning glanced at her brother, and then at a nod went and sat down.

I noticed that in spite of our position, everybody was making an effort to treat the trouble coolly; even Mr Frewen smiled at me, after glancing through the narrow opening.

“Come, Dale, lad, eat away.  Don’t say you’ve got no appetite.”

“Oh, I’m pretty hungry, sir,” I replied; “but all this in the night isn’t the sort of thing to make one want his breakfast.”

“Don’t despair, my lad, it will come all right.  Why, they must have given us nearly all the powder in those two bags you brought in, and if they don’t mind, you and I will make a contrivance to hoist them with their own petard.  But I don’t want to shed blood if I can help it.”

“No,” I said, with a shudder, “it is too horrid.”

Mr Frewen looked at me searchingly.

“Only,” he continued slowly, “if blood is to be shed, and by none of our seeking, it is our duty to see that it is the blood of the villains who have turned upon us and set the law at defiance.  Do you see that, Dale?”

“Yes,” I said, “I see that, and of course we cannot be expected to be merciful to them who would blow us up with gunpowder.  Why, they wouldn’t have cared if the ladies had been injured as well as the men.”

“You are quite right.”

“But you did not shoot Jarette this morning, sir,” I said, and I believe that my eyes twinkled mischievously at being able to confute him.

“No, Dale,” he said, “I couldn’t.  Doctors have spent all their time learning how to save life, and it would have been such a cold-blooded act.”

“But if you had shot him, sir, the mutiny would have been at an end.”

“Unless your messmate, Walters, had constituted himself captain, and carried on the war.”

“He!” I cried contemptuously.  “Why, I’d go and fetch him out by one ear the same as a dog or a pig out of a drove.  I believe, sir, that he is a regular coward and sneak.”

“Ah, well, we shall see,” replied Mr Frewen, “but I suppose that I really ought to have shot down that ruffian, broken one of his legs say, and then spent six months in curing him ready for a judge and jury to punish.”

“But look here, Mr Frewen,” I said, “isn’t it all a mad and stupid thing for that man to do?”

“Worse than mad, my boy, for what can they do if they keep us down, and carry this vessel into port, which I doubt their ability to do?”

“Oh, they can do that,” I said quickly.  “Bob Hampton is such a capital sailor.”

“A capital scoundrel,” he cried hotly, “and if I have a chance I’ll pitch him overboard.”

“No, you won’t, Mr Frewen,” I said, laughing; “I don’t believe that.”

“Well, Dale, I’m afraid that if I did, I should want a boat lowered down to pick him up, and go in it myself.  There, as you say, it is a mad thing for the men to have done.  It shows how a whole party can be carried away by the specious arguments of one scoundrel.  However, we know our duty, my lad; and that is to re-take the ship, place the worst of the men in irons, and make the others navigate the vessel, unless you advocate our hanging the worst of them instead of putting them in irons.”

“There are no irons on board a ship like this,” I said quietly.

“Ah, and there is plenty of rope, my lad; so you advocate hanging?”

“Don’t make a joke of it all, Mr Frewen,” I said, for I felt annoyed at his talking to me in that way, as if I were a mere boy of eight or nine.

“Right,” he said sharply.  “We will be wise over it all.  Hallo, Mr Brymer is making signs for us to be quiet.  The captain is going to speak.”

I looked quickly at the table, and saw that Captain Berriman was standing just below the sky-light, when all at once there was a violent crashing of glass, and I saw pistols held down through the light, while almost at the same moment I heard a rustling noise outside, and leaped up.

“Look out, Mr Frewen,” I whispered; “powder again!”

For the rustling noise had been made by Jarette, who had crept along unnoticed till he could plant a powder-bag, and as I glanced out I saw that he was rapidly laying a train by drawing a second bag of powder after him as he stepped rapidly back towards another man who was carrying a lighted lanthorn ­lighted, I felt sure, though in the brilliant sunshine the flicker of the candle inside was hardly visible.

“Quick,” I said; “draw open the door a little more.”

As I spoke I tried to pull the chest away upon which we had been having our meal, but I could not move it, as it was against Mr Frewen’s legs, and kept the door from being opened sufficiently wide in that narrow space for me to pass out.

“Oh, quick ­quick!” I whispered.

“Anything the matter there?” cried Mr Brymer.

“No, sir, no, sir,” said Mr Frewen.  “Keep back there, everybody.  Now, Dale, up on end with it.”

I stooped down, and we quickly lifted the chest on its end, dragged the door a little way, but not far, for the chest still impeded it.

But there was room for me to force my way through the door, and I was in the act of passing through a little way, so as to lean out and once more snatch the powder-bag in out of danger when I saw that Jarette had snatched the candle out of the lantern held ready for him, and applied the light to the train.

Mr Frewen saw it too, and dragged me back, and in one and the same effort threw me and himself over the barricade.  I should more correctly have said, let himself, as he held me, fall backward over the wall of chests into the cabin.

It all took place almost as quick as thought, for as we fell heavily upon the saloon-floor, there was a terrific flash, a roar, and I was conscious of being driven right into the great cabin, buried beneath a weight which caused me intense pain, and then all was blank.