[Here is a new movement in the story. Benito begins to ask Delano some rather personal questions: do you have silver on board? How many men do you have on board? Do you carry weapons? It sounds like Benito wants to rob Delano in the night.]
Presently, his pale face twitching and overcast, the Spaniard, still supported by his attendant, moved over towards his guest, when, with even more than his usual embarrassment, and a strange sort of intriguing intonation in his husky whisper, the following conversation began:–
“Senor, may I ask how long you have lain at this isle?
“Oh, but a day or two, Don Benito.”
“And from what port are you last?”
“And there, Senor, you exchanged your sealskins for teas and silks, I think you said?
“Yes, Silks, mostly.”
“And the balance you took in specie, perhaps?”
Captain Delano, fidgeting a little, answered–
“Yes; some silver; not a very great deal, though.”
“Ah–well. May I ask how many men have you, Senor?”
Captain Delano slightly started, but answered–
“About five-and-twenty, all told.”
“And at present, Senor, all on board, I suppose?”
“All on board, Don Benito,” replied the Captain, now with satisfaction.
“And will be to-night, Senor?”
At this last question, following so many pertinacious ones, for the soul of him Captain Delano could not but look very earnestly at the questioner, who, instead of meeting the glance, with every token of craven discomposure dropped his eyes to the deck; presenting an unworthy
contrast to his servant, who, just then, was kneeling at his feet, adjusting a loose shoe-buckle; his disengaged face meantime, with humble curiosity, turned openly up into his master’s downcast one.
The Spaniard, still with a guilty shuffle, repeated his question:
“And–and will be to-night, Senor?”
“Yes, for aught I know,” returned Captain Delano–“but nay,” rallying himself into fearless truth, “some of them talked of going off on another fishing party about midnight.”
“Your ships generally go–go more or less armed, I believe, Senor?”
“Oh, a six-pounder or two, in case of emergency,” was the intrepidly indifferent reply, “with a small stock of muskets, sealing-spears, and cutlasses, you know.”
[Babo again pulls him aside and speaks with the captain in private.]
As he thus responded, Captain Delano again glanced at Don Benito, but the latter’s eyes were averted; while abruptly and awkwardly shifting the subject, he made some peevish allusion to the calm, and then, without apology, once more, with his attendant, withdrew to the opposite
bulwarks, where the whispering was resumed.
At this moment, and ere Captain Delano could cast a cool thought upon what had just passed, the young Spanish sailor, before mentioned, was seen descending from the rigging. In act of stooping over to spring inboard to the deck, his voluminous, unconfined frock, or shirt, of
coarse woolen, much spotted with tar, opened out far down the chest, revealing a soiled under garment of what seemed the finest linen, edged, about the neck, with a narrow blue ribbon, sadly faded and worn. At this moment the young sailor’s eye was again fixed on the whisperers, and Captain Delano thought he observed a lurking significance in it, as if silent signs, of some Freemason sort, had that instant been interchanged.
[Delano is beginning to become concerned with his circumstance. Benito and Babo keep speaking privately. “The sound of hatchet-polishing” is not just the sound of metal but the sound of menace.
This once more impelled his own glance in the direction of Don Benito, and, as before, he could not but infer that himself formed the subject of the conference. He paused. The sound of the hatchet-polishing fell on his ears. He cast another swift side-look at the two. They had the air of conspirators. In connection with the late questionings, and the incident of the young sailor, these things now begat such return of involuntary suspicion, that the singular guilelessness of the American could not endure it. Plucking up a gay and humorous expression, he crossed over to the two rapidly, saying:–“Ha, Don Benito, your black here seems high in your trust; a sort of privy-counselor, in fact.”
[I trust Babo, again very ironic. He means exactly the opposite in point of fact.]
Upon this, the servant looked up with a good-natured grin, but the master started as from a venomous bite. It was a moment or two before the Spaniard sufficiently recovered himself to reply; which he did, at last, with cold constraint:–“Yes, Senor, I have trust in Babo.”
Here Babo, changing his previous grin of mere animal humor into an intelligent smile, not ungratefully eyed his master.
[Delano returns to trying to figure out what is going on with Benito.]
Finding that the Spaniard now stood silent and reserved, as if involuntarily, or purposely giving hint that his guest’s proximity was inconvenient just then, Captain Delano, unwilling to appear uncivil even to incivility itself, made some trivial remark and moved off; again and
again turning over in his mind the mysterious demeanor of Don Benito Cereno.
[His suspicion is heightened by the strange behavior of a sailor beneath deck.]
He had descended from the poop, and, wrapped in thought, was passing near a dark hatchway, leading down into the steerage, when, perceiving motion there, he looked to see what moved. The same instant there was a sparkle in the shadowy hatchway, and he saw one of the Spanish sailors, prowling there hurriedly placing his hand in the bosom of his frock, as if hiding something. Before the man could have been certain who it was that was passing, he slunk below out of sight. But enough was seen of him to make it sure that he was the same young sailor before noticed in the rigging.
What was that which so sparkled? thought Captain Delano. It was no lamp–no match–no live coal. Could it have been a jewel? But how come sailors with jewels?–or with silk-trimmed under-shirts either? Has he been robbing the trunks of the dead cabin-passengers? But if so, he
would hardly wear one of the stolen articles on board ship here. Ah, ah–if, now, that was, indeed, a secret sign I saw passing between this suspicious fellow and his captain awhile since; if I could only be certain that, in my uneasiness, my senses did not deceive me, then–
Here, passing from one suspicious thing to another, his mind revolved the strange questions put to him concerning his ship.
[Delano is becoming increasingly concerned and perplexed.]
By a curious coincidence, as each point was recalled, the black wizards of Ashantee would strike up with their hatchets, as in ominous comment on the white stranger’s thoughts. Pressed by such enigmas: and portents, it would have been almost against nature, had not, even into the least distrustful heart, some ugly misgivings obtruded.
Observing the ship, now helplessly fallen into a current, with enchanted sails, drifting with increased rapidity seaward; and noting that, from a lately intercepted projection of the land, the sealer was hidden, the stout mariner began to quake at thoughts which he barely durst confess
to himself. Above all, he began to feel a ghostly dread of Don Benito. And yet, when he roused himself, dilated his chest, felt himself strong on his legs, and coolly considered it–what did all these phantoms amount to?
[Delano worries they may turn pirate and try to take his ship. In point of fact, Babo and crew are thinking of turning pirate. Delano as a correct suspicion but suspicion of the wrong person. What he gets right, his intuition that something is wrong; and what he gets wrong, his seeking to resolve the problem with reference Benito Cereno as being actually in charge cause his error. He is rightfully suspicion but since he insists on two propositions: (1) Benito is in charge; and (2) the Africans are too docile to stage an uprising and then take the captain hostage, he can never resolve the problem. He has framed the solution in the wrong way, and therefore will never untie this knot.]
Had the Spaniard any sinister scheme, it must have reference not so much to him (Captain Delano) as to his ship (the Bachelor’s Delight). Hence the present drifting away of the one ship from the other, instead of favoring any such possible scheme, was, for the time, at least, opposed
to it. Clearly any suspicion, combining such contradictions, must need be delusive. Beside, was it not absurd to think of a vessel in distress–a vessel by sickness almost dismanned of her crew–a vessel whose inmates were parched for water–was it not a thousand times absurd that such a craft should, at present, be of a piratical character; or her commander, either for himself or those under him, cherish any desire but for speedy relief and refreshment? But then, might not general distress, and thirst in particular, be affected? And might not that same undiminished Spanish crew, alleged to have perished off to a remnant, be at that very moment lurking in the hold? On heart-broken pretense of entreating a cup of cold water, fiends in human form had got into lonely dwellings, nor retired until a dark deed had been done. And among the Malay pirates, it was no unusual thing to lure ships after them into their treacherous harbors, or entice boarders from a declared enemy at sea, by the spectacle of thinly manned or vacant decks, beneath which prowled a hundred spears with yellow arms ready to upthrust them through the mats. Not that Captain Delano had entirely credited such things. He had heard of them–and now, as stories, they recurred. The present destination of the ship was the anchorage. There she would be near his own vessel. Upon gaining that vicinity, might not the San Dominick, like a slumbering volcano, suddenly let loose energies now hid?
[Maybe the story told be Benito was not true]
He recalled the Spaniard’s manner while telling his story. There was a gloomy hesitancy and subterfuge about it. It was just the manner of one making up his tale for evil purposes, as he goes. But if that story was not true, what was the truth? That the ship had unlawfully come into the Spaniard’s possession? But in many of its details, especially in reference to the more calamitous parts, such as the fatalities among the seamen, the consequent prolonged beating about, the past sufferings from obstinate calms, and still continued suffering from thirst; in all
these points, as well as others, Don Benito’s story had corroborated not only the wailing ejaculations of the indiscriminate multitude, white and black, but likewise–what seemed impossible to be counterfeit–by the very expression and play of every human feature, which Captain Delano saw. If Don Benito’s story was, throughout, an invention, then every soul on board, down to the youngest negress, was his carefully drilled recruit in the plot: an incredible inference. And yet, if there was ground for mistrusting his veracity, that inference was a legitimate one.
But those questions of the Spaniard. There, indeed, one might pause. Did they not seem put with much the same object with which the burglar or assassin, by day-time, reconnoitres the walls of a house? But, with ill purposes, to solicit such information openly of the chief person
endangered, and so, in effect, setting him on his guard; how unlikely a procedure was that? Absurd, then, to suppose that those questions had been prompted by evil designs. Thus, the same conduct, which, in this instance, had raised the alarm, served to dispel it. In short, scarce
any suspicion or uneasiness, however apparently reasonable at the time, which was not now, with equal apparent reason, dismissed.
[He rejects his misgivings. He explains away his troubles because Benito must simply be unwell; it must be a problem with Benito’s constitution. Since he has ruled out the true solution, he continually casts about for other answers; none of which are sufficient.]
At last he began to laugh at his former forebodings; and laugh at the strange ship for, in its aspect, someway siding with them, as it were; and laugh, too, at the odd-looking blacks, particularly those old scissors-grinders, the Ashantees; and those bed-ridden old knitting
women, the oakum-pickers; and almost at the dark Spaniard himself, the central hobgoblin of all.
For the rest, whatever in a serious way seemed enigmatical, was now good-naturedly explained away by the thought that, for the most part, the poor invalid scarcely knew what he was about; either sulking in black vapors, or putting idle questions without sense or object. Evidently for the present, the man was not fit to be intrusted with the ship. On some benevolent plea withdrawing the command from him, Captain Delano would yet have to send her to Conception, in charge of his second mate, a worthy person and good navigator–a plan not more
convenient for the San Dominick than for Don Benito; for, relieved from all anxiety, keeping wholly to his cabin, the sick man, under the good nursing of his servant, would, probably, by the end of the passage, be in a measure restored to health, and with that he should also be
restored to authority.