Pretty soon I see a black something floating on the water away off to stabboard and quartering behind us. I see he was looking at it, too. I says--
' "What's that?' He says, sort of pettish,--
' "Tain't nothing but an old empty bar'l.
' "An empty bar'l!" says I, "why," says I, "a spy-glass is a fool to your eyes. How can you tell it's an empty bar'l?" He says--
' "I don't know; I reckon it ain't a bar'l, but I thought it might be," says he.
' "Yes," I says, "so it might be, and it might be anything else, too; a body can't tell nothing about it, such a distance as that," I says.
'We hadn't nothing else to do, so we kept on watching it. By and by I says--
' "Why looky-here, Dick Allbright, that thing's a-gaining on us, I believe."
'He never said nothing. The thing gained and gained, and I judged it must be a dog that was about tired out. Well, we swung down into the crossing, and the thing floated across the bright streak of the moonshine, and, by George, it was bar'l. Says I--
' "Dick Allbright, what made you think that thing was a bar'l, when it was a half a mile off," says I. Says he--
' "I don't know." Says I--
' "You tell me, Dick Allbright." He says--
' "Well, I knowed it was a bar'l; I've seen it before; lots has seen it; they says it's a haunted bar'l."
'I called the rest of the watch, and they come and stood there, and I told them what Dick said. It floated right along abreast, now, and didn't gain any more. It was about twenty foot off. Some was for having it aboard, but the rest didn't want to. Dick Allbright said rafts that had fooled with it had got bad luck by it. The captain of the watch said he didn't believe in it. He said he reckoned the bar'l gained on us because it was in a little better current than what we was. He said it would leave by and by.
'So then we went to talking about other things, and we had a song, and then a breakdown; and after that the captain of the watch called for another song; but it was clouding up, now, and the bar'l stuck right thar in the same place, and the song didn't seem to have much warm-up to it, somehow, and so they didn't finish it, and there warn't any cheers, but it sort of dropped flat, and nobody said anything for a minute. Then everybody tried to talk at once, and one chap got off a joke, but it warn't no use, they didn't laugh, and even the chap that made the joke didn't laugh at it, which ain't usual. We all just settled down glum, and watched the bar'l, and was oneasy and oncomfortable. Well, sir, it shut down black and still, and then the wind begin to moan around, and next the lightning begin to play and the thunder to grumble. And pretty soon there was a regular storm, and in the middle of it a man that was running aft stumbled and fell and sprained his ankle so that he had to lay up. This made the boys shake their heads. And every time the lightning come, there was that bar'l with the blue lights winking around it. We was always on the look-out for it. But by and by, towards dawn, she was gone. When the day come we couldn't see her anywhere, and we warn't sorry, neither.
'But next night about half-past nine, when there was songs and high jinks going on, here she comes again, and took her old roost on the stabboard side. There warn't no more high jinks. Everybody got solemn; nobody talked; you couldn't get anybody to do anything but set around moody and look at the bar'l. It begun to cloud up again. When the watch changed, the off watch stayed up, 'stead of turning in. The storm ripped and roared around all night, and in the middle of it another man tripped and sprained his ankle, and had to knock off. The bar'l left towards day, and nobody see it go.
'Everybody was sober and down in the mouth all day. I don't mean the kind of sober that comes of leaving liquor alone--not that. They was quiet, but they all drunk more than usual--not together-- but each man sidled off and took it private, by himself.
'After dark the off watch didn't turn in; nobody sung, nobody talked; the boys didn't scatter around, neither; they sort of huddled together, forrard; and for two hours they set there, perfectly still, looking steady in the one direction, and heaving a sigh once in a while.