“And how have you fared?” inquired the captain, whom I found luxuriously reclining in our mound of litter. And the accent on the pronoun, the heightened colour of the speaker's face, and the contained excitement in his tones, advertised me at once that I had not been alone to make discoveries.
“I have found a Chinaman's chest in the galley,” said I, “and John (if there was any John) was not so much as at the pains to take his opium.”
Nares seemed to take it mighty quietly. “That so?” said he. “Now, cast your eyes on that and own you're beaten!” And with a formidable clap of his open hand he flattened out before me, on the deck, a pair of newspapers.
I gazed upon them dully, being in no mood for fresh discoveries.
“Look at them, Mr. Dodd,” cried the captain sharply. “Can't you look at them?” And he ran a dirty thumb along the title. “'Sydney Morning Herald, November 26th,' can't you make that out?” he cried, with rising energy. “And don't you know, sir, that not thirteen days after this paper appeared in New South Wales, this ship we're standing in heaved her blessed anchors out of China? How did the Sydney Morning Herald get to Hong Kong in thirteen days? Trent made no land, he spoke no ship, till he got here. Then he either got it here or in Hong Kong. I give you your choice, my son!” he cried, and fell back among the clothes like a man weary of life.
I've found two meanings that could fit the context:
- to see, hear, or understand something or someone with difficulty
- to deal with a situation, usually in a successful way
I don't know what meaning fits the context actually. What do you take 'make something out' to mean in this context?