The Empty Brandy Bottle
So there I was at once deprived of my chief support. Although no danger seemed
imminent, nevertheless the necessity of acting on my own initiative and responsibility
oppressed me somewhat.
Truth to tell, after the first, I was more relieved than dismayed at the captain's resolution
to stay aboard. His drinking habit was growing on him, and afloat or ashore he was now
little more than a figurehead, so that my chief asset as far as he was concerned, was rather
his reputation than his direct influence. In contact with the men, I dreaded lest sooner or
later he do something to lessen or destroy the awe in which they held him.
Of course Dr. Schermerhorn had been mistaken in his man: A real captain of men would
have risen to circumstances wherever he found them. But who could have foretold?
Captain Selover had been a rascal always, but a successful and courageous rascal. He had
run desperate chances, dominated desperate crews. Who could know that a crumble of
island beach and six months ashore would turn him into what he had become? Yet I
believe such cases are not uncommon in other walks of life. A man and his work combine
to mean something; yet both may be absolutely useless when separated. It was the weak
I put in some time praying earnestly that the eyes of the crew might be blinded, and that
the doctor would finish his experiments before the cauldron could boil up again.
My first act as real commander was to announce holiday. My idea was that the island
would keep the men busy for a while. Then I would assign them more work to do. They
proposed at once a tour into the interior.
We started up the west coast. After three or four miles along a mesa formation where
often we had to circle long detours to avoid the gullies, we came upon another short
beach, and beyond it a series of ledges on which basked several hundred seals. They did
not seem alarmed. In fact one old bull, scarred by many battles, made toward us.
We left him, scaled the cliff, and turned up a broad, pleasant valley toward the interior.
There the later lava flow had been deflected. All that showed of the original eruption
were occasional red outcropping rocks. Soil and grass had overlaid the mineral. Scattered
trees were planted throughout the flat. Cacti and semi-tropical bushes mingled with brush
on the rounded side hills. A number of brilliant birds fluttered at our approach.
Suddenly Handy Solomon, who was in advance, stopped and pointed to the crest of the
hill. A file of animals moved along the sky line.
"Mutton!" said he, "or the devil's a preacher!"
"Sheep!" cried Thrackles. "Where did they come from?"