The Seahawk has sailed into the eye of a hurricane. For just a little while, calm descends upon the ship as the crew works frantically to prepare for the next onslaught. But then a surprise. A fallen sail is drawn back, and beneath it lies first mate Mr. Hollybrass, dead with Charlotte Doyle's knife stuck in his back and her handkerchief clutched in his hand (chapter 15).
Charlotte seems to be the most likely culprit. Even the crew members are suspicious. Charlotte knows that she is innocent, but she has her own suspicions, for she had caught a glimpse of Zachariah...Zachariah, whom she thought was dead and buried at sea. Yet she saw him in the midst of the storm. Could he have killed Mr. Hollybrass?
Captain Jaggery accuses Charlotte, for he has hated her from the time she lashed out against his treatment of Zachariah and struck him. Indeed, the situation looks bleak for Charlotte, who is tried and condemned. Even though Zachariah has convinced her of his innocence, they must quickly discover the real culprit before Charlotte is hung. As they discuss the situation, a light suddenly dawns on both of them. They had both seen Captain Jaggery and Mr. Hollybrass arguing during the storm. In fact, Zachariah says, “I heard Hollybrass accuse the captain of deliberately taking the Seahawk into the storm.” “Jaggery was enraged,” he continues. “I thought he was about to strike the man” (chapter 19).
Indeed, Captain Jaggery, so filled with pride and anger, could not bear to be accused of or even questioned about anything. He was furious that his first mate had dared to object to one of his orders. After all, he was the master of the ship, and he had once told his crew,
If you give me less—one finger less—than the particulars of the articles you have signed, I shall take my due...No, we shall have no democracy here...There's but one master on this ship, and that is me (Chapter 3).
The captain demands complete obedience, even, perhaps especially, from his first mate. Anyone who fails in that will feel the captain's wrath, and Mr. Hollybrass certainly does.
For indeed, it is Captain Jaggery, in his pride and anger, in his arrogance and fury, and perhaps even in his fear (for anyone who demands such unquestioning obedience is clearly afraid of not getting it), who murders Mr. Hollybrass. He finally confesses as much to Charlotte, admitting,
He threatened me...And in the midst of that storm. It was intolerable (chapter 21).
What Mr. Hollybrass had really threatened was Captain Jaggery's ego, and it cost the first mate his life.