From what I did make out, however, I was led to imagine that some attempt on the ship was contemplated; and in this idea I was confirmed, when Norcot, on the following day, taking advantage of a time when none of the seamen or soldiers, who formed our guard, were near, slapped me on the shoulder with a "Well, my pal, how goes it?"
To cover appearances, I was subsequently detained in the steward's room for about a couple of hours, when I was sent back to my former quarters; not, however, without having been well entertained by the steward, by the captain's orders. What intermediate steps the captain took I do not know, but on that night Norcot and other ten of the most desperate of the convicts were thrown into irons.
I told him of the secret whisperings at night I had overheard, and of the discourse Norcot had held with me; mentioning, besides, several expressions which I thought pointed to a secret conspiracy of some kind or other.
Unable, therefore although suspecting something wrong to arrive at any conclusion regarding the purpose or object of this midnight conversation, I took no notice of it to any one, but determined on watching narrowly the future proceedings of Norcot and his council. On the following night the whispering was again repeated. I again listened, but with nearly as little success as before.
Surprised at this sudden familiarity on the part of a man from whom I had always most especially kept aloof, and who, I was aware, had marked my shyness, as he had never before sought to exchange words with me, it was some seconds before I could make him any answer. At length "If you mean as to my health," said I, "I am very well." "Ay, ay; but I don't mean that," replied Norcot.
Norcot went on: "Now, seeing what we have to expect when we get to t'other side of the water, wouldn't he be a fool who wouldn't try to escape it if he could, eh? Ay, although at the risk of his life?" At this moment we were interrupted by a summons to the deck, it being my turn, with that of several others, to enjoy the luxury of inhaling the fresh sea breeze above.
"True as gospel," exclaimed Knuckler, with a hideous oath; adding "Ay, and in some places they are still worse used." "You hear that?" said Norcot. "I wasn't going to bamboozle you with any nonsense, my lad. We're all in the same lag, you know, and must stick by one another." My soul revolted at this horrible association, but I took care to conceal my feelings.
The former, after a little time, I discovered to be three of my fellow-convicts one of them a desperate fellow, of the name of Norcot, a native of Middlesex, who had been transported for a highway robbery, and who had been eminently distinguished for superior dexterity and daring in his infamous profession.
You'll be locked up in a dungeon at night, fed upon mouldy biscuit, and, on the slightest fault, or without any fault at all, be flogged within an inch of your life with a cat-o'-nine-tails. How will ye like that, eh?" "That I certainly should not like," I replied. "But I hope you're exaggerating a little." I knew he was. "Not a bit of it," said Norcot.
Norcot had thus only time to add, as I left him "I'll speak to you another time, my cove." Having now no doubt that some mischief was hatching amongst the convicts, and that the conversation that had just passed was intended at once to sound my disposition and to incline me towards their projects, I felt greatly at a loss what to do.