THE purpose of Bembo had been made known to the men generally by the watch; and now that our salvation was certain, by an instinctive impulse they raised a cry, and rushed toward him.
Just before liberated by Dunk and the steward, he was standing doggedly by the mizzen-mast; and, as the infuriated sailors came on, his bloodshot eye rolled, and his sheath-knife glittered over his head.
"Down with him!" "Strike him down!" "Hang him at the main-yard!" such were the shouts now raised. But he stood unmoved, and, for a single instant, they absolutely faltered.
"Cowards!" cried Salem, and he flung himself upon him. The steel descended like a ray of light; but did no harm; for the sailor's heart was beating against the Mowree's before he was aware.
They both fell to the deck, when the knife was instantly seized, and Bembo secured.
"For'ard! for'ard with him!" was again the cry; "give him a sea-toss!" "Overboard with him!" and he was dragged along the deck, struggling and fighting with tooth and nail.
All this uproar immediately over the mate's head at last roused him from his drunken nap, and he came staggering on deck.
"What's this?" he shouted, running right in among them.
"It's the Mowree, zur; they are going to murder him, zur," here sobbed poor Rope Yarn, crawling close up to him.
"Avast! avast!" roared Jermin, making a spring toward Bembo, and dashing two or three of the sailors aside. At this moment the wretch was partly flung over the bulwarks, which shook with his frantic struggles. In vain the doctor and others tried to save him: the men listened to nothing.
"Murder and mutiny, by the salt sea!" shouted the mate; and dashing his arms right and left, he planted his iron hand upon the Mowree's shoulder.
"There are two of us now; and as you serve him, you serve me," he cried, turning fiercely round.
"Over with them together, then," exclaimed the carpenter, springing forward; but the rest fell back before the courageous front of Jermin, and, with the speed of thought, Bembo, unharmed, stood upon deck.
"Aft with ye!" cried his deliverer; and he pushed him right among the men, taking care to follow him up close. Giving the sailors no time to recover, he pushed the Mowree before him, till they came to the cabin scuttle, when he drew the slide over him, and stood still. Throughout, Bembo never spoke one word.
"Now for'ard where ye belong!" cried the mate, addressing the seamen, who by this time, rallying again, had no idea of losing their victim.
"The Mowree! the Mowree!" they shouted.
Here the doctor, in answer to the mate's repeated questions, stepped forward, and related what Bembo had been doing; a matter which the mate but dimly understood from the violent threatenings he had been hearing.
For a moment he seemed to waver; but at last, turning the key of the padlock of the slide, he breathed through his set teeth"Ye can't have him; I'll hand him over to the consul; so for'ard with ye, I say: when there's any drowning to be done, I'll pass the word; so away with ye, ye blood-thirsty pirates."
It was to no purpose that they begged or threatened: Jermin, although by no means sober, stood his ground manfully, and before long they dispersed, soon to forget everything that had happened.
Though we had no opportunity to hear him confess it, Bembo's intention to destroy us was beyond all question. His only motive could have been a desire to revenge the contumely heaped upon him the night previous, operating upon a heart irreclaimably savage, and at no time fraternally disposed toward the crew.
During the whole of this scene the doctor did his best to save him. But well knowing that all I could do would have been equally useless, I maintained my place at the wheel. Indeed, no one but Jermin could have prevented this murder.
Omoo Chapter 24