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A Middy of the Slave Squadron by Harry Collingwood

Through the slats in the top panel of my door


The

approach to my state-room was, it will be remembered, through the main cabin; and as I passed through the latter the ugly, shock-headed steward, more ugly and more shock-headed now, in the garish light of day, than he had been when he presented himself fresh from his hammock on the night before--was down on his hands and knees busily engaged in scrubbing the cabin floor, while the strips of carpet and the table- cloth were rolled up and placed upon the table, the beautifully polished surface of which was partially protected by a large square of green baize. I bade the fellow good-morning; but he took no more notice of me than if I had never spoken; so I passed on and entered my sleeping apartment, closing the door behind me. I then proceeded to dress leisurely and perform my toilet as well as the means at my disposal would permit, but when it is remembered that I had no change of linen, and owned only the clothes which I happened to be wearing when I was washed off the wreck, it will be readily understood that when I had done all that was possible to render myself presentable the result still left much to be desired.

The steward finished the washing and swabbing of the cabin deck, and then retired, returning about half an hour later--by which time the planks were dry--to relay the strips of carpet, replace the table-cloth, and arrange the table for breakfast, producing, somewhat to my surprise, a very elegant table-equipage of what, seen through

the slats which formed the upper panel of my cabin door, appeared to be solid silver and quite valuable china.

He had barely finished his task when seven bells struck on deck, and prompt upon the last stroke the door in the after bulkhead was thrown open and a man issued from it, and, passing rapidly through the cabin, with just a momentary pause to glance at the tell-tale barometer swinging in the skylight, made his way out on deck.

I caught a glimpse of him, through the slats in the top panel of my door, as he passed, and judged him to be about thirty years of age. He was rather tall, standing about five feet ten inches in his morocco slippers; very dark--so much so that I strongly suspected the presence of negro blood in his veins--with a thick crop of jet-black hair, a luxuriantly bushy beard, and a heavy thick moustache, all very carefully trimmed, and so exceedingly glossy that I thought it probable that the gloss was due to artificial means. The man was decidedly good-looking, in a Frenchified fashion, and was a sea dandy of the first water, as was evidenced by the massive gold earrings in his ears, the jewelled studs in the immaculate front of his shirt of pleated cambric, his nattily cut suit of white drill, and the diamond on the little finger of his right hand, the flash of which I caught as he raised his hand to shield his eyes from the dazzle of the sun when glancing at the barometer.

I heard his voice--a rather rich, full baritone--addressing the second mate, but could not distinguish what was said, at that distance and among the multitudinous noises of the straining ship; and a few minutes later the door opposite my own, on the other side of the cabin, opened, and Monsieur Leroy, the chief mate of the ship--to whose slackness of discipline I was chiefly indebted for being run down during the previous night--emerged and followed his chief out on deck. I recognised him in part by his figure, and in part by the fact that he was evidently an occupant of one of the state-rooms adjoining the main cabin, which would only be assigned to an officer of rank and consideration. As I now gained a momentary glimpse of him he appeared to be about thirty-seven years of age, broadly built, his features almost hidden by the thickly growing beard, whiskers, and moustache that adorned them, and out of which gleamed and flashed a pair of resolute but good-natured eyes as black as the bushy eyebrows that overshadowed them. He was dressed in a coat and pair of trousers of fine, dark-blue cloth, and, like the captain, wore no waistcoat. His shirt, thus exposed, however, unlike that of his superior, was made of coarse linen woven with a narrow blue stripe in it. Also, like his captain, he wore no stockings on his slippered feet.


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