Deep-Sea Plunderings (2024)

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Title: Deep-Sea Plunderings

Author: Frank Thomas Bullen

Illustrator: Arthur Twidle

Release date: September 23, 2020 [eBook #63270]

Language: English

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Deep-Sea Plunderings (1)

By FRANK T. BULLEN.

Deep-Sea Plunderings. 12mo. Cloth, $1.50.

The Apostles of the Southeast. 12mo.Cloth, $1.50.

The Log of a Sea-Waif. Being Recollectionsof the First Four Years of MySea Life. Illustrated. 12mo. Cloth, $1.50.

Idylls of the Sea. 12mo. Cloth, $1.25.

The Cruise of the Cachalot. Round theWorld After Sperm Whales. Illustrated.12mo. Cloth, $1.50.

D. APPLETON AND COMPANY, New York.

Deep-Sea Plunderings (2)

They met in full career, rolling each over each.

(See page 6.)

DEEP-SEA
PLUNDERINGS

BY
FRANK T. BULLEN, F. R. G. S.

AUTHOR OF “THE CRUISE OF THE CACHALOT,”
“THE APOSTLES OF THE SOUTHEAST,” ETC.

With Eight Illustrations

Deep-Sea Plunderings (3)

NEW YORK
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
1902

Copyright, 1901
By
FRANK T. BULLEN

All rights reserved

Published March, 1902

TO
Dr. ROBERTSON NICOLL
A SMALL BUT SINCERE
TRIBUTE OF AFFECTION AND ESTEEM

F. T. B.

vii

PREFATORY NOTE

Warned by previous experience, I do not proposeto make any apology for the publication ofthese stories in book form, but I hope my generouscritics will at least pardon me for expressing mygratitude for the way in which they have received allmy previous efforts. Naturally, I sincerely hope theywill be equally kind in the present instance.

F. T. Bullen.

New Bedford, Mass., September, 1901.

ix

CONTENTS

PAGE
Through Fire and Water1
The Old House on the Hill17
You Sing53
The Debt of the Whale93
The Skipper’s Wife117
A Scientific Cruise127
A Genial Skipper141
Mac’s Experiment157
On the Vertex169
A Monarch’s Fall179
The Chums189
Alphonso M’Ginty199
The Last Stand of the Decapods211
The Siamese Lock235
The Cook of the Cornucopia259
A Lesson in Christmas-Keeping269
The Terror of Darkness279
The Watchmen of the World289
The Cook of the Wanderer297
The Great Christmas of Gozo307
Deep-Sea Fish319
A Mediterranean Morning329
Abner’s Tragedy335
Lost and Found347

xi

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

FACING
PAGE
They met in full career, rolling each over eachFrontispiece
The toiling men were breaking out the junk’s cargo60
Gently she covered their ruddy faces121
The skipper produced from his hip-pocket a revolver163
He gasped “In manus tuas, Domine,” and fell208
He clutched his insulter by the beard and belt263
She was to him brightest and best of all damsels309
A huge sailing-ship crushed her into matchwood353

1

DEEP-SEA PLUNDERINGS

THROUGH FIRE AND WATER

“What a clumsy, barrel-bellied old hooker she is,Field!”

Thus, closing his telescope with a bang, the elegantchief officer of the Mirzapore, steel four-masted clippership of 5000 tons burden, presently devouring thedegrees of longitude that lay between her and Melbourneon the arc of a composite great circle, at therate of some 360 miles per day. As he spoke he casthis eyes proudly aloft at the splendid spread of squaresail that towered upward to a height of nearly 200feet. Twenty-eight squares of straining canvas, fromthe courses, stretched along yards 100 feet or so inlength, to the far-away skysails of 35 feet head, thatmight easily be handled by a pair of boys.

Truly she made a gallant show—the graceful ship,that in spite of her enormous size was so perfectlymodelled on yacht-like lines that, overshadowed asshe was by the mighty pyramid of sail, the eye refusedto convey a due sense of her great capacity.And the way in which she answered the challengeof the west wind, leaping lightsomely over the league-longridges of true-rolling sea, heightened the illusion2by destroying all appearance of burden-bearing orcumbrousness. But the vessel which had given riseto Mr. Curzon’s contemptuous remark was in truththe antipodes of the Mirzapore. There was scarcelyany difference noticeable, as far as the contour ofthe hull went, between her bow and stern. Only, atthe bows a complicated structure of massive timbersleaned far forward of the hull, and was terminated bya huge “fiddle-head.” This ornament was carved outof a great balk of timber, and in its general outlinesit bore some faint resemblance to a human form, itsbroad breast lined out with rude carving into somedevice long ago made illegible by the weather; andat its summit, instead of a head, a piece of scroll-workresembling the top of a fiddle-neck, and giving thewhole thing its distinctive name.

The top-hamper of this stubby craft was quite inkeeping with her hull. It had none of that rakish, carefullyaligned set so characteristic of clipper ships. Thethree masts, looking as if they were so huddled togetherthat no room was left to swing the yards, hadas many kinks in them as a blackthorn stick; andthis general trend, in defiance of modern nautical ideas,was forward instead of aft. The bow-sprit and jibboomlooked as if purposely designed by their upwardsheer to make her appear shorter than she really was,and also to place her as a connecting link between thelong-vanished galleasses of Elizabethan days and thesnaky ships of the end of the nineteenth century. Inone respect, however, she had the advantage of hergraceful neighbour. Her sails were of dazzling whiteness,3and when, reflecting the rays of the sun, theyglistened against the deep blue sky, the effect wasso fairy-like as to make the beholder forget for amoment the ungainliness of the old hull beneath.

The wind now dropped, in one of its waywardmoods, until the rapid rush past of the Mirzapore falteredalmost to a standstill, and the two vessels,scarcely a mile apart, rolled easily on the followingsea, as if in leisurely contemplation of each other. Allthe Mirzapore’s passengers, a hundred and twenty ofthem, clustered along the starboard poop-rail, unfeignedlyglad of this break in what they consideredthe long monotony of a sailing passage from Londonto the colonies. And these seafarers of fifty-five days,eagerly catching their cues from the officers, discussed,in all the hauteur of amateur criticism, the variousshort-comings of the homely old tub abeam. Graduallythe two vessels drew nearer by that mysteriousimpulse common to idly-floating things. As the differentdetails of the old ship’s deck became moreclearly definable, the chorus of criticism increased,until one sprightly young thing of about forty, whowas going out husband-seeking, said—

“Oh, please, Captain James, do tell me what theyuse a funny ship like that for.”

“Well, Miss Williams,” he replied gravely, “yondervessel is one of the fast-disappearing fleet ofYankee whalers—‘spouters,’ as they love to termthemselves. As to her use, if I don’t mistake, youwill soon have an object-lesson in that which will giveyou something to talk about all the rest of your life.”

4

And as he spoke an unusual bustle was noticeableon board of the stranger. Four boats dropped fromher davits with such rapidity that they seemed to fallinto the sea, and as each struck the water she shotaway from the side as if she had been a living thing.An involuntary murmur of admiration ran throughthe crew of the clipper. It was a tribute they couldscarcely withhold, knowing as they did the bungling,clumsy way in which a merchant seaman performsa like manœuvre. Even the contemptuous Curzonwas hushed; and the passengers, interested beyondmeasure, yet unable to appreciate what they saw,looked blankly at one another and at the officers asif imploring enlightenment.

With an easy gliding motion, now resting in thelong green hollow between two mighty waves, andagain poised, bird-like, upon a foaming crest, withbow and stern a-dry, those lovely boats sped awayto the southward under the impulse of five oars each.Now the excitement on board the Mirzapore rose tofever-heat. The crew, unheeded, by the officers,gathered on the forecastle-head, and gazed after thedeparting boats with an intensity of interest far beyondthat of the passengers. For it was interest bornof intelligent knowledge of the conditions under whichthose wonderful boatmen were working, and also temperedby a feeling of compunction for the ignorantdepreciation they had often manifested of a “greasyspouter.” Presently the boats disappeared from ordinaryvision, although some of the more adventurouspassengers mounted the rigging, and, fixing themselves5in secure positions, glued their eyes to theirglasses trained upon the vanishing boats. But noneof them saw the object of those eager oarsmen. Ofcourse, the sailors knew that they were after whales;but not even a seaman’s eye, unless he be long-accustomedto watching for whales, possesses the necessarydiscernment for picking up a vapoury spout five orsix miles away, as it lifts and exhales like a jet ofsteam against the broken blue surface. Neither couldany comprehend the original signals made by the ship.Just a trifling manipulation of an upper sail, the dippingor hoisting of a dark flag at the mainmast head,or the disappearance of another at the gaff-end sufficedto guide the hunters in their chase, giving themthe advantage of that lofty eye far behind them.

More than an hour passed thus tantalizingly onboard the Mirzapore, and even the most eager watchershad tired of their fruitless gazing over the sea andat the sphinx-like old ship so near them. Then someone suddenly raised a shout, “Here they come!” Itwas time. They were coming—a-zoonin’, as UncleRemus would say. It was a sight to fire the mostsluggish blood. About five hundred yards apart twomassive bodies occasionally broke the bright surfaceup into a welter of white, then disappeared for twoor three minutes, to reappear at the same furious rush.Behind each of them, spreading out about twentyfathoms apart, came two of the boats, leaping likedolphins from crest to crest of the big waves, and occasionallyhidden altogether by a curtain of spray.Thus they passed the Mirzapore, their gigantic steeds6in full view of that awe-stricken ship’s company, privilegedfor once in their lives to see at close quartersone of the most heart-lifting sights under heaven—theYankee whale-fisher at hand-grips with the mightiest,as well as one of the fiercest, of all created things.No one spoke as that great chase swept by, but everyface told eloquently of the pent-up emotion within.

Then a strange thing happened. The two whales,as they passed the Mirzapore, swerved each from hisdirect course until they met in full career, and in amoment were rolling each over each in a horribleentanglement of whale-line amid a smother of bloodyfoam. The buoyant craft danced around, one sternfigure erect in each bow poising a long slender lance;while in the stern of each boat stood another man,who manipulated a giant oar as if it had been afeather, to swing his craft around as occasion served.The lookers-on scarcely breathed. Was it possiblethat men—just homely, unkempt figures like these—coulddare thrust themselves into such a vortexamongst those wallowing, maddened Titans. Indeedit was. The boats drew nearer, became involved;lances flew, oars bent, and blood—torrents of blood—befouledthe glorious azure of the waves. Suddenlythe watchers gasped in terror, and little cries of painand sympathy escaped them: a boat had disappeared.Specks floated, just visible in the tumult—fragmentsof oars, tubs, and heads of men. But there was nosound, which made the scene all the more impressive.

Still the fight went on, while the spectators forgotall else—the time, the place; all senses merged in wonder7at the deeds of these, their fellow-men, just following,in the ordinary way, their avocation. And thethought would come that but for an accident thisdrama being enacted before their eyes would havehad no audience but the screaming sea-birds hoveringexpectantly in the unheeding blue.

The conflict ceased. The distained waters becameplacid, and upon them floated quietly two vast corpses,but recently so terrible in their potentialities of destruction.By their sides lay the surviving boats—two ofthem, that is; the third was busy picking up thewrecked hunters. And the old ship, with an easyadaptation of her needs to the light air that hardlymade itself felt, was gradually approaching the scene.The passengers implored Captain James to lower aboat and allow them a nearer view of those recentlyrushing monsters, and he, very unwillingly, grantedthe request. So slow was the operation that by thetime the port lifeboat was in the water the whalerwas alongside of her prizes, and all her crew were toilingslavishly to free them from the entanglement ofwhale-line in which they had involved themselves.But when the passengers saw how the lifeboat tumbledabout alongside in the fast-sinking swell, the numberof those eager for a nearer view dwindled to half adozen—and they were repentant of their rashness whenthey saw how unhandily the sailors manipulated theiroars. However, they persisted for very shame’s sake,their respect for the “spouters’” prowess, and, throughthem, for their previously despised old ship, growingdeeper every moment. They hovered about the old8tub as they saw the labour that was necessary to getthose two enormous carcases alongside, nor dared togo on board until the skipper of her, mounting therail, said cheerily, “Wunt ye kem aboard, sir,’n’ heva peek roun’?”

Thus cordially invited, they went, their wonderincreasing until all their conceit was effectually takenout of them, especially when they saw the wonderfulhandiness and cleanliness of everything on board.The men, too, clothed in nondescript patches, withfaces and arms almost blackened by exposure, andwearing an air of detachment from the world of civilizedlife that was full of pathos; these specially appealedto them, and they wished with all their heartsthat they might do something to atone for the injusticedone to these unblazoned warriors by theirthoughtless, ignorant remark of so short a time before.

But time pressed, and they felt in the way besides;so, bidding a humble farewell to the grim-lookingskipper, who answered the inquiry as to whether theycould supply him with anything by a nonchalant “No,I guess not; we aint a-ben eout o’ port hardly sixmonth yet,” they returned on board, having learned acorner of that valuable lesson continually being taught:that to judge by appearances is but superficial anddangerous, especially at sea.

Night fell, shutting out from the gaze of thosewearied watchers the dumpy outlines of the old whale-ship.Her crew were still toiling, a blazing basket ofwhale-scrap swinging at a davit and making a luridsmear on the gloomy background of the night. One9by one the excited passengers sauntered below, stilleagerly discussing the stirring events they had witnessed,and making a thousand fantastic additions tothe facts. Gradually the conversation dwindled to aclose, and the great ship was left to the watch ondeck. Fitful airs rose and fell, sharp little breaths ofkeen-edged wind that but just lifted the huge sailslazily, and let them slat against the masts again as ifin disgust at the inadequacy of cat’s-paws. So thenight wore on, till the middle watch had been in chargeabout half an hour. Then, with a vengeful hiss, thetreacherous wind burst upon them from the north-east,catching that enormous sail-area on the fore side, anddefying the efforts of the scanty crew to reduce it. Allhands were called, and manfully did they respond;Briton and Finn, German and negro toiled side by sidein the almost impossible effort to shorten down, whilethe huge hull, driven stern foremost, told in unmistakablesea-language of the peril she was in. Hideouswas the uproar of snapping, running gear, rending canvas,breaking spars, and howling wind; while throughit all, like a thread of human life, ran the wailing minorof the seamen’s cries as they strove to do what was requiredof them.

Slowly, oh, so slowly! the great ship paid off;while the heavier sails boomed out their complaint likean aerial cannonade, when up from the fore-hatchleapt a tongue of quivering flame. Every man whosaw it felt a clutch at his heart. For fire at sea isalways terrible beyond the power of mere words todescribe; but fire under such conditions was calculated10to paralyze the energies of the bravest. There seemedto be an actual hush, as if wind and waves were alsoaghast at this sudden appearance of a fiercer elementthan they. Then rang out clear and distinct the voiceof Captain James—

“Drop everything else, men, and pass along thehose! Smartly, now! ’Way down from aloft!” Hewas obeyed, but human nature had something to sayabout the smartness. Men who have been taxing theirenergies, as these had done, find that even the spuractuated by fear of imminent death will fail to drivethe exhausted body beyond a certain point. Moreover,all of them knew that stowed in the square of themain-hatch were fifty tons of gunpowder, which knowledgewas of itself sufficient to render flaccid everymuscle they possessed. Still, they did what they could,while the stewards went round to prepare the passengersfor a hurried departure. All was done quietly.In truth, although the storm was now raging overhead,and the sails were being rent with infernal clamourfrom the yards, a sense of the far greater dangerbeneath their feet made the weather but a secondaryconsideration.

Then out of a cowering group of passengers camea feeble voice. It belonged to the lady querist of theafternoon, and it said, “Oh, if those brave sailors fromthat wonderful old ship were only near, we might besaved!”

Simple words, yet they sent a thrill of returninghope through those trembling hearts. Poor souls!None of them knew how far the ships might have11drifted apart in that wild night, nor thought of thedrag upon that old ship by those two tremendousbodies alongside of her. So every eye was strainedinto the surrounding blackness, as if they could pierceits impenetrable veil and bring back some answeringray of hope. The same idea, of succour from the oldwhale-ship, had occurred to the captain, and presentlythat waiting cluster of men and women saw with hungryeyes a bright trail of fire soaring upward as arocket was discharged. Another and another followed,but without response. The darkness around was likethat of the tomb. Another signal, however, now madeitself manifest, and a much more effective one. Defyingall the puny efforts made to subdue it, the fire inthe fore-hatch burst upward with a roar, shedding acrimson glare over the whole surrounding sea, andbeing wafted away to leeward in a glowing trail ofsparks.

“All hands lay aft!” roared the captain, and asthey came, he shouted again, “Clear away the boats!”

Then might be seen the effect of that awful neglectof boats so common to merchant ships. Davits rustedin their sockets, falls so swollen as hardly to renderover the sheaves, gear missing, water-breakers leaky—allthe various disastrous consequences that have givensea-tragedies their grim completeness. But while thealmost worn-out crew worked with the energy of despair,there arose from the darkness without thecheery hail of “Ship ahoy!”

Could any one give an idea in cold print of therevulsion of feeling wrought by those two simple12words? For one intense moment there was silence.Then from every throat came the joyful response, anote like the breaking of a mighty string overstrainedby an outburst of praise.

Naturally, the crew first recovered their balancefrom the stupefaction of sudden relief, and with coilsof rope in their hands they thronged the side, peeringout into the dark for a glimpse of their deliverers.

“Hurrah!” And the boatswain hurled the mainbracefar out-board at some dim object. A few secondslater there arrived on board a grim figure, quaintof speech as an Elizabethan Englishman, perfectly cooland laconic, as if the service he had come to renderwas in the nature of a polite morning call.

“Guess you’ve consid’ble of a muss put up hyar,gents all,” said he; and, after a brief pause, “Don’tknow ez we’ve enny gre’t amount er spare time onhan’, so ef you’ve nawthin’ else very pressin’ t’ tendter, we mout so well see ’bout transhipment, don’t yethink?”

He had been addressing no one in particular, butthe captain answered him.

“You are right, sir; and thank you with all ourhearts! Men, see the ladies and children over-side!”

No one seemed to require telling that this angel ofdeliverance had arrived from the whale-ship; any otheravenue of escape seemed beyond all imagination outof the question. Swiftly yet carefully the helpless oneswere handed over-side; with a gentleness most sweetto see those piratical-looking exiles bestowed them inthe boat. As soon as she was safely laden, another13moved up out of the mirk behind and took her place.And it was done so cannily. No roaring, agitation, orconfusion, as the glorious work proceeded. It wasthe very acme of good boatmanship. The light grewapace, and upon the tall tongues of flame, in all gorgeoushues that now cleft the night, huge masses ofyellow smoke rolled far to leeward, making up a trulyinfernal picture.

Meanwhile, at the earliest opportunity, CaptainJames had called the first-comer (chief mate of thewhaler) apart, and quietly informed him of the truestate of affairs. The “down-easter” received this appallingnews with the same taciturnity that he hadalready manifested, merely remarking as he shifted hischaw into a more comfortable position—

“Wall, cap’, ef she lets go ’fore we’ve all gut clear,some ov us ’ll take th’ short cut t’ glory, anyhaow.”

But, for all his apparent nonchalance, he had kept awary eye upon the work a-doing, to see that no momentwas wasted.

And so it came to pass that the last of the crewgained the boats, and there remained on board theMirzapore but Captain James and his American deliverer.According to immemorial precedent, the Englishmanexpressed his intention of being last on board.And upon his inviting his friend to get into the waitingboat straining at her painter astern, the latter said—

“Sir, I ’low no dog-goned matter ov etiquette t’spile my work, ’n’ I must say t’ I don’ quite like th’idee ov leavin’ yew behine; so ef yew’ll excuseme——”

14

And with a movement sudden and lithe as a leopard’she had seized the astonished captain anddropped him over the taff-rail into the boat as she roseupon a sea-crest. Before the indignant Englishmanhad quite realized what had befallen him, his assailantwas standing by his side manipulating the steer-oarand shouting—

“Naow then, m’ sons, pull two, starn three; so,altogether. Up with her, lift her, m’ hearties, lifther, ’r by th’ gre’t bull whale it’ll be a job spiledafter all.”

And those silent men did indeed “give way.” Thelong supple blades of their oars flashed crimson in theawful glare behind, as the heavily-laden but still buoyantcraft climbed the watery hills or plunged into thehissing valleys. Suddenly there was one deep voicethat rent the heavens. The whole expanse of the skywas lit up by crimson flame, in the midst of whichhurtled fragments of that once magnificent ship. Thesea rose in heaps, so that all the boatmen’s skill wasneeded to keep their craft from being overwhelmed.But the danger passed, and they reached the ship—thehumble, clumsy old “spouter” that had proved tothem a veritable ark of safety in time of their utmostneed.

Captain James had barely recovered his outrageddignity when he was met by a quaint figure advancingout of the thickly-packed crowd on the whaler’squarter-deck. “I’m Cap’n Fish, at yew’re service, sir.We haint over ’n’ above spacious in eour ’commodation,but yew’re all welcome t’ the best we hev’; ’n’15I’ll try ’n’ beat up f’r th’ Cape ’n’ lan’ ye’s quick ’s it kinbe did.”

The Englishman had hardly voice to reply; but,recollecting himself, he said, “I’m afraid, Captain Fish,that we shall be sadly in your way for dealing withthose whales we saw you secure yesterday.”

“Not much yew wunt,” was the unexpected reply.“We hed t’ make eour ch’ice mighty sudden betweenthem fish ’n’ yew, ’n’, of course, though we’re nowaysextravagant, they hed t’ go.”

The simple nobility of that homely man, in thusfor self and crew passing over the loss of from eightto ten thousand dollars at the first call from his kind,was almost too much for Captain James, who answeredunsteadily—

“If I have any voice in the matter, there will be nopossibility of the men, who dared the terrors of fireand sea to save me and my charges, being heavilyfined for their humanity.”

“Oh, thet’s all right,” said Captain Silas Fish.

17

THE OLD HOUSE ON THE HILL

CHAPTER I

There is something in the stress and struggle oftumultuous life in a vast city like London that to meis almost unbearable. Accustomed from a very earlyage to the illimitable peace of the ocean, to the untaintedair of its changeless circle of waves and rooflessdome of sky, I have never been able to endure satisfactorilythe unceasing roar of traffic in crowdedstreets, the relentless rush of mankind in the race forlife which is the normal condition of our great centresof civilization. Yet, for many years, being condemnedby circ*mstances to abide in the midst of urban strifeand noise without a break from one weary year toanother, I lived to mourn departed peace, and feed mylonging for it on memory alone, without a hope that itsenjoyments would ever again be mine. Then cameunexpected relief, an opportunity to visit a secludedcorner of Wiltshire, that inland division of Englandwhich is richer, perhaps, in memorials of our wonderfulhistory than any other part of these little islands,crowded as they are with reminiscences of bygoneglorious days.

I took up my quarters in a hamlet on the banks of18the Wylye, a delightful little river, taking its rise nearthe Somersetshire border, and wandering with innumerablewindings through the heart of Wiltshire,associating itself with the Bourne and the Nadder,until at Salisbury it is lost in that most puzzling of allstreams, the Avon. I said puzzling, for I believe thereare but a handful of people out of the great host towhom the Avon is one of the best-known streams inthe world from its associations, who know that thereis one Avon feeding the Severn near Tewkesbury,which is Shakespeare’s Avon; there is another, uponwhich Bristol has founded her prosperity, and thereis yet another, the Avon of my first mention, which,accumulated from numberless rivulets in the Vale ofPewsey, floweth through Salisbury, and loses itselffinally in the waters of the English Channel at Christchurchin Hampshire. But I must ask forgiveness forallowing the wily Avon to lure me away thus far.

One of the chief charms of Wiltshire is its rollingdowns rising upon either side of the valley, which inthe course of ages the busy little Wylye has scoopedout between them in gentle undulations, a short, sweetherbage for the most part covering their masses ofsolid chalk, coming to within a foot or two of thoseemerald surfaces. This is the place to come andponder over the rubbish that is talked about the over-crowdingof England. Here you shall wander for awhole day if you will, neither meeting or seeing ahuman being unless you follow the road that windsthrough the Deverills, five villages of the valley, all,alas, in swift process of decay. Even there the simple19folk will stare long and earnestly at a stranger as hepasses, before turning to resume their leisurely tasks,the uneventful, slumberous round of English villagelife. To me it was idyllic. A great peace came overme, and I felt that it was a sinful waste of nature toshut myself within four walls even at night. Longafter the thirty souls peopling our hamlet had gone tobed I would sit out on the hillside behind the cottage,steeping my heart in the warm silence, only manifested—notbroken—by the queer wailing cry of an uneasyplover as it fluttered overhead. And when, reluctantly,I did go to bed, I was careful to prop the windowswide open, even though I was occasionally awakenedby the soft “flip-flip” of bats flying across my chamber,dazzled by the small light of my reading lamp.

The grey of the dawn, no matter how few had beenmy hours of sleep, never failed to awaken me, and,hurrying through my bath and dressing, I gat me outinto the sweet breath of morning twilight while Naturewas taking her beauty sleep and the dewdropswere waiting to welcome with their myriad smiles thefirst peep of the sun. And so it came to pass that onemorning, just as the eastern horizon was being floodedwith a marvellous series of colour-blends in mysteriousand ever-changing sequence, that I mounted the swellof the down opposite to the village of Brixton Deverill,with every sense quickened to fullest appreciation ofthe lovely scene. Hosts of rabbits, quaint wee bunchesof grey fur, each with a white blaze in the centre,scuttled from beneath my feet, and every little while,their curiosity overpowering natural fear, sat up with20long ears erect and big black eyes devouring the uncouthintruder on their happy feeding grounds. Greatflocks of partridges, almost as tame as domestic fowls(for it was July), ran merrily in and out among thefurze clumps, or rose with a noisy whir of many wingswhen I came too close; aristocratic co*ck pheasantsstrolled by superciliously with a sidelong glance to seethat the erect biped carried no gun, and an occasionallark gyrated to the swell of his own heart-lifting songas he rose in successive leaps to his proper sphere. Ifelt like singing myself, but Nature’s music was toosweet to be disturbed by my quavering voice, so Iclimbed on, all eyes and ears, and nerves a-tingle withreceptivity of keenest enjoyment. Reaching the summit,I paused and surveyed the peaceful scene. Far tothe left lay Longleat, its dense woods shimmering in ablue haze; to the right, Heytesbury Wood, in sombreshadow; and behind, the forest-like ridge of Chicklade.But near me, just peeping over the bare crest of an adjoiningdown, were the tops of a clump of firs, and,curious to know what that coppice might contain(I always have had a desire to explore the recessesof a lonely clump of trees), I turned my steps towardsit, only stopping at short intervals to admire the gracefulnessof the purple, blue, and yellow wild flowerswith which the short, fine rabbit-grass was profuselybesprent. Meanwhile the sun appeared in cloudlesssplendour, his powerful rays dissipating the spring-likefreshness of the morning and promising a mostsultry day. Yet as I drew nearer the dark fastness ofthe coppice I felt a chill, an actual physical sensation21of cold. At the same time there arose within me apositive repugnance to draw any closer to that deepshade. This unaccountable change only made me angrywith myself for being capable of feeling such anonsensical, unexplainable hindrance to my purpose.So I took hold of it with both hands, and cast it fromme, striding onward with quickened step until I reallyseemed to be breasting a strong tide. Panting withthe intensity of my inward struggle, I reached theshadow cast by that solemn clump of pines, and sawthe pale outlines of a wall in their midst. Now curiositybecame paramount, and, actually shivering withcold, I pressed on until I stood in front of a fairly largehouse, surrounded by a flint wall on all sides, but atsome yards distance from it. Through large holes inthe encircling wall the wood-folk scampered or flutteredmerrily but noiselessly; rabbits, hares, squirrels,and birds, and as I drew nearer there was a suddenwhiff of strong animal scent, and a long red bodylaunched itself through one of the openings, flittingpast me like a flash of red-brown light. Although Ihad never seen an English fox before on his nativeheath, I recognized him from his pictures, and forgavehim for startling me. Skirting the wall, I came to ahuge gap with crumbling sides, where once had beena gate, I suppose. It commanded a view of the frontof the house, which I now saw was a mere shell, itswalls perforated in many places by the busy rabbits,which swarmed in and out like bees upon a hive. Nowindows remained, but the front door was fast closedand barred by a thick trunk of ivy, which had once22overspread the whole building, but was now quite inkeeping with it, for it was dead. The space betweenthe wall and the house was thickly overgrown withnettles to nearly the height of a man, but there was nosign of any useful plant, and even the roof of thebuilding, which was of red tiles and intact, had noneof that kindly covering of house-leek, stone-crop, andmoss, which always decks such spaces with beauty inthe country. Upon a sudden impulse I turned, andbehind me I saw with a shudder that only a few feetfrom where I stood there was a sheer descent of somethirty feet, a veritable pit some ten yards wide, but withits farther margin only a few feet high. Tall treessprang from its bottom and sides, their roots surroundinga pool of black-looking water that seemed a receptaclefor all manner of hideous mysteries. InvoluntarilyI shrank into myself, and looked up for a glintof blue sunlit sky, but it was like being in a vault,dark and dank and cold. Still, the idea never enteredmy head to get out until I had seen all that mightbe there to be seen, although I confess to comfortingmyself, as I have often done on a dull and gloomy day,with the reminder that just outside the sun was shiningsteadily.

Turning away from that grim-looking pit, I thrustmyself through the savage nettle-bed, my hands heldhigh so that I could guard my face with my arms,until I reached the first opening in the house wallthat offered admission. With just one moment’s hesitationI stepped within, and stood on the decayedfloor of what had once been the best room. And then23I had need of all my disbelief in ghosts, for around meand beneath me and above were a congeries of all thequeer noises one could conjure up. Soft pattering offeet, hollow murmurings as of voices, the indefinitesound of brushing past that always makes one turnsharply to see who is near. I found my mouth gettingdry and my hands burning, in spite of the chill thatstill clung to me; but still I went on and exploredevery room in the eerie place, noting a colony of batsthat huddled together among the bare roof-beams,prying into the numerous cavities in floors and wallsmade by the rabbits and the rats, but seeing nothingworthy of note until I reached a sort of cellar whichlooked as if it had been used as a bakehouse. Uponstepping down the decrepit ladder which led to it, Istartled a great colony of rats, that fled in all directionswith shrill notes of affright, hardly more scared thanmyself. The place was so dark that I thankfully rememberedmy box of wax matches, and, twisting twoor three torches out of a newspaper I found in myjacket pocket, I soon had a good light.

It revealed a cavity in the floor just in front of ahuge baker’s oven, into the dim recesses of which Ipeered, finding that it extended for some distance oneither side of the opening. Lighting another torch,I jumped down and found—three oblong boxes of rudeconstruction, and across them the mouldering frame ofwhat had once been a man. At last I had seen enough,and with something tap-tapping inside my head, Iscrambled hastily out of the hole, my body shaking asif with ague, and my lungs aching for air. I looked24neither to the right nor the left as I went, nor paused,regardless of the nettle grove, until I emerged uponthe bright hilltop, where I flung myself down anddrank in great gulps of sweet air until my tremorspassed away and the tumult of my mind became appeased.

Without casting another look back at that lonelyplace, or attempting to speculate upon what I hadseen, I departed for home, and, after a hasty breakfast,sought out a friend in the next village, LongbridgeDeverill, who had already given me many pleasanthours by retailing scraps of local history reaching backfor hundreds of years. I found him in his pretty gardenenjoying the bright day, with a look of deep contentupon his worn old face—the afterglow of a well-spentlife. Staying his rising to greet me, I flungmyself down on the springy turf by his side, and almostwithout a word of preface, gave him a hurried accountof my morning’s adventure. He listened in gravesilence until I had finished, and then began as follows.

CHAPTER II

It is certainly a strange coincidence that youshould stumble across that sombre place, because, afterwhat you told me the other day about your familyconnection with this part of the country, I have nodoubt whatever that the unhappy tenants of PertwoodFarm (as it is called even now) were nearly related toyourself. Their tragical story is well known to me,25although its principal events happened more thansixty years ago, when I was a boy. The house hadbeen built and enclosed, and the trees planted, by amorose old man who wished to shut himself off fromthe world, yet was by no means averse to a good dealof creature comfort. He lived in it for some years,attended only by one hard-featured man, who did apparentlymen and women’s work equally well—livedthere until local rumour had grown tired of inventingfables about him, and left him to the oblivion hedesired. Then one day the news began to circulatethat Pertwood had changed hands, that old Cusackwas gone, and that a middle-aged man with a beautifulyoung wife had taken up his abode there, withoutany one in the vicinity knowing aught of the changeuntil it had been made. Then the village tongueswagged loosely for awhile, especially when it wasfound that the new-comers were almost as reservedas old Cusack had been. But as time went on Mr.Delambre, whose Huguenot name stamped him asmost probably a native of these parts (you have noticedhow very frequent such names are hereabout), leasedseveral good-sized fields lower down the hill towardsChicklade, and began to do a little farming. This, ofcourse, necessitated his employing labour, and consequently,by slow degrees, scraps of personalia abouthim filtered through the sluggish tongues of the menwho worked for him. Thus we learned that his wife(your grandmother’s sister, my boy) was rarely beautiful,though pale and silent as a ghost. That herhusband loved her tigerishly, could not bear that any26other eyes should see her but his, and it was believedthat his fierce watchful jealousy of her being evenlooked upon was fretting her to death. Quite a flutterof excitement pervaded the village here not long afterthe above details became public property, by one ofthe labourers from Pertwood coming galloping in ona plough-horse for old Mary Hoddinot, who hadnursed at least two generations of neighbours in theirearliest days. She was whisked off in the baker’s cart,but the news remained behind that twin boys hadarrived at Pert’ood, as it was locally called, and thatDelambre was almost frantic with anxiety about hisidol. The veil thus hastily lifted dropped again, andonly driblets of news came at long intervals. Weheard that old Mary was in permanent residence, thatthe boys were thriving sturdily, and that the motherwas fairer than ever and certainly happier. So thingsjogged along for a couple of years, until an occasionalword came deviously from Pertwood to the effect thatthe miserable Delambre was now jealous of his infantboys. Self-tortured, he was making his wife a livingmartyr, and such was his wild-beast temper that nonedare interfere. At last the climax was put upon ourscanty scraps of intelligence by the appearance in ourmidst of old Mary, pale, thin, and trembling. It wassome time before we could gather her dread story, shewas so sadly shaken; but by degrees we learned thatafter a day in which Delambre seemed to be perfectlydevil-possessed, alternately raging at and caressing hiswife, venting savage threats against the innocent babes“who were stealing all her affection away from him,”27he had gone down the hill to see after enfolding somesheep. He was barely out of sight before his wife,turning to old Mary, said, “Please put your armsround me, I feel so tired.” Mary complied, drawingthe fair, weary head down upon her faithful old bosom,where it remained until a chill struck through herbodice. Alarmed, she looked down and saw that hermistress was resting indeed.

Although terrified almost beyond measure, thepoor old creature retained sufficient presence of mindto release herself from the dead arms, rush to the door,and scream for her employer. He was returning, whenher cries hastened his steps, and, breaking into a run,he burst into the room and saw! He stood stonily fora minute, then, turning to the trembling old woman,shouted “go away.” Not daring to disobey, she hurriedoff, and here she was. After much discussion, myfather and the village doctor decided to go to Pertwoodand see if anything could be done. But theirerrand was in vain. Delambre met them at the door,telling them that he did not need, nor would he receive,any help or sympathy. What he did requirewas to be left alone. And slamming the door in hisvisitors’ faces, he disappeared. Even this grim happeningdied out of men’s daily talk as the quiet daysrolled by, and nothing more occurred to arouse interest.We heard that the boys were well, and wereoften seen tumbling about the grass-plot before thehouse door by the farm labourers. Rumour saidmany things concerning the widower’s disposal of hisdead. But no one knew anything for certain, except28that her body had never been seen again by any eyeoutside the little family. Delambre himself seemedchanged for the better, less harsh and morose, althoughas secretive as ever. He was apparentlydevoted to his two boys, who throve amazingly. Asthey grew up he and they were inseparable. Heeducated them, played with them, made their welfarehis one object in life. And they returned hiscare with the closest affection, in fact the trio seemednever contented apart. Yet they never came nearthe village, nor mixed with the neighbours in anyway.

In this quiet neighbourhood the years slip swiftlyby as does the current past an anchored ship, and asunnoticeably. The youthful Delambres grew andwaxed strong enough to render unnecessary the employmentof any other labour on the farm than theirown, and in consequence it was only at rare intervalsthat any news of them reached us in roundabout fashionthrough Warminster, where old Delambre waswont to go once a week on business. So closely hadthey held aloof from all of us that when one bitterwinter night a tall swarthy young man came furiouslyknocking at the doctor’s door, he was as completely unknownto the worthy old man as any new arrival froma foreign land. The visitor, however, lost no time inintroducing himself as George Delambre, and urgentlyrequested the doctor to accompany him at once toPertwood on a matter of life and death. In a fewminutes the pair set off through the heavy snow-drifts,and, after a struggle that tried the old doctor terribly,29arrived at the house to find that the patient wasmending fast.

A young woman of about eighteen, only able tomutter a few words of French, had been found huddledup under the wall of the house by George as hewas returning from a visit to the sheepfold. She wasfairly well dressed in foreign clothing, but at almostthe last gasp from privation and cold. How she camethere she never knew. The last thing that she rememberedwas coming to Hindon, by so many waysthat her money was all spent, in order to find a relative,she having been left an orphan. Failing in hersearch, she had wandered out upon the downs, andthe rest was a blank.

In spite of convention she remained at Pertwood,making the dull place brighter than it had ever been.But of course both brothers fell in love with the firstwoman they had ever really known. And she, beingthus almost compelled to make her choice, with alla woman’s inexplicable perversity, promised to marrydark saturnine George, although her previous behaviourtowards him had been timid and shrinking, asif she feared him. To the rejected brother, fair Charles,she had always been most affectionate, so much so,indeed, that he was perfectly justified in looking uponher as his future wife, to be had for the asking. Thiscruel blow to his almost certain hopes completelystunned him for a time, until his brother with graveand sympathetic words essayed to comfort him. Thisbroke the spell that had bound him, and in a perfectfury of anger he warned his brother that he30looked upon him as his deadliest enemy, that theworld was hardly wide enough for them both; but, forhis part, he would not, if he could help it, add anothertragedy to their already gloomy home, and to thatend he would flee. Straightway he rushed and soughthis father, and, without any warning, demanded hisportion. At first the grim old man stared at himblankly, for his manner was new as his words wererough; then, rising from his chair, the old man badehim be gone—not one penny would he give him; hemight go and starve for ought he cared.

“Very well,” said Charles, “then I go into thevillage and get advice as to how I shall proceedagainst you for the wages I have earned since I beganto work. And you’ll cut a fine figure at the WarminsterCourt.”

The threat was efficient. With a face like ashesand trembling hands the father opened his desk andgave him fifty guineas, telling him that it was halfof his total savings, and with an evidently severe struggleto curb his furious temper, asked him to hurryhis departure. Since he had robbed him, the soonerhe was gone the better. The young man turned andwent without another word.

That same night old Delambre died suddenly andalone. And Louise, instead of clinging to her promisedhusband, came down to the village, where thedoctor gave her shelter. The unhappy George, thuscruelly deserted, neglected everything, oscillating betweenthe village and his lonely home. The inquestshowed that the old man had died of heart disease;31and George then, to every one’s amazement, announcedhis intention of carrying out his father’s oft-repeatedwish, and burying him beneath the houseby the side of his wife.

CHAPTER III

And now we must needs leave Pertwood Farm andits doubly bereaved occupant for a while, in order tofollow the fortunes of the self-exiled Charles. Hiswas indeed a curious start in life. Absolutely ignorantof the world, his whole horizon at the age of twentyyears bounded by that little patch of lonely Wiltshiredown, and his knowledge of mankind confined to, atthe most, half a dozen people. He had great nativetalent, which, added to an ability to keep his owncounsel, was doubtless of good service to him in thisbreaking away into the unknown. His total stock ofmoney amounted to less than £50, to him an enormoussum, the greater because he had never yet known thevalue of money. His native shrewdness, however, ledhim to husband it in miserly fashion, as being the onefaithful friend upon which he could always rely.

And now the salt strain in his mother’s blood musthave asserted itself unmistakably, if mysteriously, forstraight as a homing bee he made his way down to thesea, finding himself a week after his flight at Poole.I shall never forget the look upon his face as he toldme how he first felt when the sea revealed itself tohim. All his unsatisfied longings, all the heart-wrench32of his rejected love, were forgotten in present unutterabledelight. He was both hungry and weary, yet hesat contentedly down upon the verge of the cliffs andgazed upon this glorious vision until his eyes glazedwith fatigue, and his body was numbed with the immovablerestraint of his attitude. At last he torehimself away, and entered the town, seeking a humblelodging-place, and finding one exactly suited to hisneeds in a little country public-house on the outskirtsof the town, kept by an apple-cheeked dame, whoseson was master of a brigantine then lying in the harbour.She gave the handsome youth a motherly welcome,none the less warm because he appeared tobe well able to pay his way.

Against the impregnable fortress of his reserve shefailed to make any progress whatever, although in theattempt to gratify her curiosity she exerted everysimple art known to her. On the other hand helearned many things, for one of her chief wiles wasan open confidence in him, an unreserved pouring outto him of all she knew. He was chiefly interested inher stories of her son. Naturally she was proud of thatbig swarthy seaman, who, when he arrived home thatevening, loomed so large in the doorway that he appearedto dwarf the whole building. As Englishmenwill, the two men eyed one another suspiciously atfirst, until the ice having been broken by the fondmother, Charles in his turn began to pump his newacquaintance. Captain Jacks, delighted beyond measureto find a virgin mind upon which to sow his somewhatthreadbare stock of yarns, was gratified beyond33measure, and thenceforward until long after the usualhour for bed, the young man was simply soaking uplike a sponge in the rain such a store of wonders ashe had never before even dreamed of. At last theold dame, somewhat huffed by the way in whichCharles had turned from her garrulity to her son’s,ordered them both to bed. But Charles could notsleep. How was it possible? The quiet monotoneof his life had been suddenly lifted into a veritableWagner concert of strange harmonies, wherein joyand grief, pleasure and pain, love and hate, strove forpredominance, and refused to be hushed to rest evenby the needs of his healthful weariness.

Out of it all one resolve arose towering. He would,he must go to sea. That alone could be the careerfor him. But he would write to Louise. Knowingnothing of her flight from the old home or of hisfather’s death, he felt that he must endeavour to asserta claim to her, more just and defensible than hisbrother’s, even though she had rejected him. Andthen, soothed by his definite settlement of futureaction, he fell asleep, nor woke again until roused byhis indignant landlady’s inquiry as to whether “’eewor gwain t’ lie abed arl daay.” Springing out of bed,he made his simple toilet in haste, coming down sospeedily that the good old dame was quite mollified.A hasty breakfast ensued, and a hurried departure forthe harbour in search of Captain Jacks’ brigantine.Finding her after a short search, he was warmly welcomedby the gallant skipper, and, to his unboundeddelight, succeeded in inducing that worthy man to34take him as an extra hand without pay on his forthcomingvoyage to Newfoundland. Then returning tohis lodging, he made his small preparations, and aftermuch anxious thought, produced the following letter,which he addressed to Louise, care of the old doctorat Longbridge.

My Dearest Loo,

“Though you chose George instead of meI don’t mean to give you up. I mean to do somethingbig, looking forward to you for a prize. I believe youlove me better than you do George in spite of whatyou did. You will never marry him, never. You’llmarry me, because you love me, and I won’t let yougo. I know you’ll get this letter, and send me ananswer to Mrs. Jacks, Apple Row, Poole. And you’llwait for my reply, which may be late a coming, butwill be sure to come.

“Yours till death,
Charles Delambre.”

A few minutes afterwards he was on his way downto the Mary Jane, Captain Jacks’ brigantine. He wasreceived with the gravity befitting a skipper on shippinga new hand, and after bestowing his few purchasesin a cubby-hole in the tiny cabin, returned on deck inhis shirt-sleeves, to take part in whatever work wasgoing on, with all the ardour of a new recruit. Nextmorning at daylight the Mary Jane departed. Underthe brilliant sky of June the dainty little vessel glidedout into the Channel, bounding forward before thefresh north-easterly breeze, as if rejoicing to be at35home once more, and freed from the restraint of mooringchains and the stagnant environment of a shelteredharbour.

Charles took to his new life wonderfully, feelingno qualms of sea-sickness, and throwing himself intoevery detail of the work with such ardour that by thetime they had been out a week he was quite a usefulmember of the ship’s company. And then therearrived that phenomenon, a June gale from the north-west.Shorn of all her white wings but one, the littlebrigantine lay snugly enough, fore-reaching againstthe mighty Atlantic rollers that hurled themselvesupon her like mountain ranges endowed with swiftestmotion. So she lay throughout one long day and farinto the night succeeding, until just at that dreadhour of midnight when watchfulness so often succumbsto weariness at sea, a huge comber came tumblingaboard as she fell off into the trough of the sea.For a while she seemed to be in doubt whether toshake herself clear of the foaming mass, and then splendidlylifting herself with her sudden burden of a deckfilled with water, she resumed her gallant struggle.Just then it was discovered that her lights were gone.Before they could be replaced, out of the darknesscame flying an awful shape, vast, swift, and merciless.One of the splendid Yankee fliers of those days, theColumbia, of over a thousand tons register, was speedingeastward under every stitch of sail, at a rate farsurpassing that of any but the swiftest steamships. Agood look out was being kept on board of her, forthose vessels were noted for the excellence of their36discipline and careful attention to duty. But the nightwas pitchy dark, the Mary Jane had no light visible, andbefore anything could be done her doomed crew sawthe Columbia’s bow towering over their vessel’s waistlike some unthinkable demon of destruction. Up, up,up, she soared above them, then descending, hergleaming bow shone clean through the centre of theMary Jane’s hull, tearing with it the top-hamper ofmasts and rigging, and rushing straight through thewreckage without a perceptible check. One wild cryof despair and all was silent. Over the side of theColumbia peered a row of white faces gazing fearfullyinto the gloom, but there was nothing to be seen.The sea had claimed her toll.

As usual, after such a calamity, there was a hushedperformance of tasks, until suddenly one of the crewshouted, “Why, here’s a stranger.” And there was.Charles had clutched instinctively at one of the martingaleguys as the Columbia swept over her victim,and had succeeded in climbing from thence on boardout of the vortex of death in which all his late shipmateshad been involved. Plied with eager questions,his simple story was soon told, and he was enrolledamong the crew. The Columbia was bound to Genoa,a detail that troubled him but little; so long as he wasat sea he had no desire to select his destination. Buthe found here a very different state of things obtaining.The crew were a hard-bitten, motley lot, primeseamen mostly, but “packet rats” to a man, wastrelswithout a thought in life but how soon they might getfrom one drinking-bout to another, and at sea only37kept from mutiny, and, indeed, crime of all kinds, bythe iron discipline imposed upon them by the stern-faced,sinewy Americans who formed the afterguard.There were no soft, sleepy-voiced orders given here.Every command issued by an officer came like the bellowingof an angry bull, and if the man or men addresseddid not leap like cats to execute it, a blow emphasizedthe fierce oath that followed.

Charles now learned what work was. No languidcrawling through duties with one ear ever co*cked forthe sound of the releasing bell, but a rabid rush atall tasks, even the simplest, as if upon its immediateperformance hung issues of life or death. “Well fed,well driven, well paid,” was the motto on board thoseships, albeit there were not wanting scoundrellyskippers and officers, who, in ports where fresh handswere to be obtained cheaply, were not above using themen so abominably that they would desert and leaveall their cruelly-earned wages behind. Strangelyenough, however, Charles became a prime favourite.This son of the soil, who might have been expected tomove in clod-hopper fashion, developed an amazingsmartness which, allied to a keenness of appreciationquite American in its rapidity, endeared him speciallyto the officers. In the roaring fo’c’sle among his half-savageshipmates he commanded respect, for in somemysterious way he evolved masterly fighting qualitiesand dogged staying powers that gave him victory inseveral bloody battles. So that it came to pass, whenGenoa was reached, that Charles was one day calledaft and informed that, if he cared to, he might shift38his quarters aft and go into training for an officer, holdinga sort of brevet rank as supernumerary third mate.He accepted, and was transferred, much to the disgustof his shipmates forward, who looked upon his moveaft as a sort of desertion to the enemy. But theyknew Charles too well to proceed further with theirenmity than cursing him among themselves, so thatas much peace as usual was kept.

From this port Charles wrote lengthily to Louiseat Longbridge as before, and to Poole to Mrs. Jacks,breaking her great misfortune to her, and begging herto write to him and send him at New York any lettersthat might have arrived for him. And then he turnedcontentedly to his work again, allowing it to engrossevery thought. He was no mere dreamer of dreams,this young man. In his mind there was a solid settledconviction that, sooner or later (and it did not greatlymatter which), he would attain the object of his desires.This granitic foundation of faith in his future savedhim all mental trouble, and enabled him to devote allhis energies to the work in hand, to the great satisfactionof his skipper. Captain Lothrop, indeed, lookedupon this young Englishman with no ordinary favour.A typical American himself, of the best school, he concealedunder a languid demeanour energy as of an unloosedwhirlwind. His face was long, oval, and olive-brown,with black silky beard and moustache trimmedlike one of Velasquez’s cavaliers, and black eyes that,usually expressionless as balls of black marble, would,upon occasion given, dart rays of terrible fire. Contrastedwith this saturnine stately personage, the fair,39ruddy Charles looked like some innocent schoolboy,the open, confiding air he bore being most deceptive.He picked up seamanship, too, in marvellous fashion,the sailorizing that counts, by virtue of which a seamanhandles a thousand-ton ship as if she were a toy andevery one of her crew but an incarnation of his will.But this very ability of his before long aroused a spiritof envy in his two brother officers that would havebeen paralyzing to a weaker man. Here, again, themasterly discipline of the American merchantmancame to his aid, a discipline that does not know of suchhideous folly as allowing jealousy between officers beingparaded before the crew, so that they with nativeshrewdness may take advantage of the house dividedagainst itself. When in an American ship one sees askipper openly deriding an officer, be sure that officer’sdays as an officer are numbered; he is about to be reducedto the ranks. So, in spite of a growing hatredto the —— Britisher, the two senior mates allowed nosign of their feelings to be manifested before the crew.Perhaps the old man was a bit injudicious also. Hewould yarn with Charles by the hour about the oldfarm and the sober, uneventful routine of English rurallife, the recital of these placid stories evidently givinghim the purest pleasure by sheer contrast with his ownstormy career.

In due time the stay of the Columbia at Genoa cameto an end, and backward she sailed for New York.In masterly fashion she was manœuvred out throughthe Gut of Gibraltar, and sped with increased rapidityinto the broad Atlantic. But it was now nearly winter,40and soon the demon of the west wind made hispower felt. The gale settled down steadily to blowfor weeks apparently, and with dogged perseverancethe Columbia’s crew fought against it. Hail, snow,and ice scourged them, canvas became like planks,ropes as bars of iron. Around the bows arose massesof ice like a rampart, and from the break of the forecastlehung icicles which grew like mushrooms in afew hours of night. The miserable crew were worn tothe bone with fatigue and cold, and had they been fedas British crews of such ships are fed they woulddoubtless have all died. But, in spite of their sufferings,they worked on until one night, having to makeall possible sail to a “slant” of wind, they were all ondeck together at eight bells—midnight. With theusual celerity practised in these ships, the snowybreadths of canvas were rising one above the other,and the Columbia was being flung forward in livelyfashion over the still heavy waves, when Charles, whowas standing right forward on the forecastle, shoutedin a voice that could be heard distinctly above theroar of the wind and sea and the cries of the seamen,“Hard down!” Mechanically the helmsman obeyed,hardly knowing whither the summons came, and thebeautiful vessel swung up into the wind, catching allher sails aback, and grinding her way past somefrightful obstruction to leeward that looked as if anabyss of darkness had suddenly yawned in the middleof the sea, along the rim of which the Columbia wascringing. The tremendous voice of Captain Lothropboomed out through the darkness, “What d’ye see,41Mister Delamber, forrard there?” “We’ve struck aderelict, sir,” roared Charles, and his words sounded inthe ears of the ship’s company like the summons ofdoom. The ship faltered in her swing to windward,refused to obey her helm, and swung off the windagain slowly but surely, as if being dragged down intounknown depths by an invisible hand whose grip waslike that of death.

CHAPTER IV

In this hour of paralyzing uncertainty Charles roseto the full height of his manhood. Passing the wordfor a lantern, and slinging himself in a bowline, heventured into the blackness alongside, and presentlyreappeared with the cheering news that no damagewas done. A few strokes of an axe and they wouldbe set free. And arming himself with a broad axe, heagain disappeared into the outer dark, this time underthe watchful eye of the skipper, and presently, witha movement which was like a throb of returning lifeto every soul on board, the Columbia regained herfreedom. Charles was hauled on board through thesurf alongside like a sodden bundle of clothing, unhurt,but entirely exhausted, having made good hisclaim to be regarded as one of the world’s silent heroes,a man who to the call of duty returns no dubiousanswer, but renders swift obedience.

This last adventure seemed to exhaust the Columbia’sbudget of ill-luck for the voyage. Although the42wind was never quite fair, it allowed them to workgradually over to the westward, and with its changea little more genial weather was vouchsafed to them.They arrived in New York without further incidentworthy of notice, and Charles found himself not onlythe guest of the skipper, but honoured by the owner,who, as an old skipper himself, was fully alive to theglowing account given him by Captain Lothrop ofCharles’s services to the Columbia. The other twoofficers left early, and Charles, now a full-blown secondmate, saw his prize almost within his grasp. Themore so that a letter (only one) awaited him; it wasfrom Louise, and contained only these words—

Dear Charles,

“It is that I am yours. Whenever it shallplease you to come for me, I am ready. I leave thehouse to the day of your parting, for your father isdead immediately, and I go not there any more. Iwait for you only.

Louise.

He accepted this news with perfect calmness, as ofone who knew that it would come, and turned againto his work with a zest as unlike that of a love-sickyouth as any one ever saw. Not a word did he sayof his affairs even to his good friend the skipper, andwhen, their stay in New York at an end, they sailedfor China, that worthy man was revolving all sorts ofprojects in his mind for an alliance between Charlesand his wife’s sister, who, during Charles’ stay in NewYork, had manifested no small degree of interest in43the stalwart, ruddy young Englishman. He, however,took no advantage of the obviously proffered opportunity,and in due course the Columbia sailed for HongKong, petroleum laden. Captain Lothrop carried hiswife with him this voyage, and very homely indeedthe ship appeared with the many trifles added to hercabin by feminine taste. A new mate and third matewere also shipped—the former a gigantic Kentuckian,with a fist like a shoulder of mutton, a voice like awounded buffalo bull, and a heart as big and soft asever dwelt in the breast of mortal man. Yet, strangelyenough, he was a terror to the crew. Long trainingin the duty of running a ship “packet fashion” hadmade him so, made him regard the men under hischarge as if they were wild beasts, who needed keepingtame by many stripes and constant, unremittingtoil. The third mate was a Salem man, tall enough,but without an ounce of superfluous flesh on his gauntframe. He seemed built of steel wire, so tireless andinsensible to pain was he. With these two worthiesCharles was at home at once. Good men themselves,they took to him on the spot as an Englishman of thebest sort, who is always beloved by Yankees—that is,genuine Americans—and loves them in return in nohalf-hearted fashion.

It was well for them all that this solidarity obtainedamong them, for they shipped a crowd in New Yorkof all nationalities, except Americans or English, agang that looked as if they had stepped direct fromthe deck of a pirate to take service on board theColumbia. The skipper was as brave a man as ever44trod a quarter-deck; but his wife was aboard, and hisgreat love made him nervous. He suggested at oncethat each of his officers should never be without aloaded six-shooter in their hip-pockets by night orday, and that they should watch that crowd as thetrainer watches his cage of performing tigers. Fortunatelythe men were all prime seamen, and full ofspring, while the perfect discipline maintained onboard from the outset did not permit of any loafingabout, which breeds insolence as well as laziness, thatroot of mischief at sea. So, in spite of incessant labourand the absence of any privileges whatever, the peacewas kept until the ship, after a splendid passage ofone hundred days, was running up the China Seaunder as much canvas as she could drag to the heavysouth-west monsoon. All the watch were busy greasingdown, it being Saturday, and, unlike most Englishships, where, for fear of the men grumbling, this mostfilthy but necessary work is done by the boys or thequiet men of the crew, here everybody took a hand,and the job was done in about twenty minutes from theword “go.” A huge Greek was busy at the mizzen-topmast,his grease-pot slung to his belt, when suddenlythe pot parted company with him and fell, plentifullybespattering sails and rigging as it boundedand rebounded on its way down, until at last itsmashed upon the cabin skylight and deposited the balanceof its contents all around.

“Come down here, ye Dago beast!” bellowed themate. Slowly, too slowly, ’Tonio obeyed. Hardlyhad he dropped from the rigging on to the top of the45house when Mr. Shelby seized him by the throat, and,in spite of his bulk (he was almost as big as the matehimself), dragged him to the skylight, and, forcinghis head down, actually rubbed his face in the foulmess. ’Tonio struggled in silence, but unavailingly,until the mate released him; then, with a spring likea lion’s, he leaped at his tormentor, a long knife, neverseen till then, gleaming in his left hand. Mr. Shelbymet him halfway with a kick which caught his leftelbow, paralyzing his arm, the knife dropping pointdownwards and sticking in the deck. But the fracaswas the signal for a general outbreak. The helmsmansprang from the wheel, the rest of the watch slid downbackstays, and came rushing aft, bent on murder, alltheir long pent-up hatred of authority brought to aclimax by the undoubted outrage perpetrated upon oneof their number. But they met with a man. His backto the mizzen-mast, Mr. Shelby whipped out his revolver,and, as coolly as if engaged in a day’s partridge-shootingashore, he fired barrel after barrel ofhis weapon at the rushing savages. Up came the skipperand the other two officers, not a moment too soon.A hairy Spaniard clutched at Charles as he appearedon deck, but that sturdy son of the soil grappled withhis enemy so felly, that in a few heart-beats the bodyof the Latin went hurtling over the side. Then thefight became general. The ship, neglected, swung upinto the wind and was caught aback, behaving herselfin the fashion of a wounded animal, while the higherrace, outnumbered by four to one, set its teeth andfought in primitive style. The groans of the wounded,46the hissing oaths of the combatants, and the crack ofrevolver shots made up a lurid weft to the warp ofsound provided by the moaning wind and murmuringsea. Then gradually those of the men who could doso crawled forrard, leaving the bright yellow of thepainted deck aft all besmeared with red, and the victorywas won for authority.

But a new danger threatened. Attracted, perhaps,like vultures, by the smell of blood, several evil-lookingjunks were closing in upon the Columbia, and butfor the tremendous exertions of the officers, aided bythe cook and steward and the captain’s wife, who, palebut resolute, took the wheel, there is no doubt that theColumbia would have been added to the list of missingships. That peril was averted by the ship being gotbefore the wind again, when her speed soon told, andshe hopelessly out-distanced the sneaking, clumsyjunks. And before sunset a long smear of smokeastern resolved itself into one of the smart little gun-boatswhich, under the splendid St. George’s Cross,patrol those dangerous seas. In answer to signals, shecame alongside the Columbia, and soon a boat’s crewof lithe men-o’-war’s-men were on board the Americanship, making all secure for her safe passage into HongKong. There she arrived two days later, and got ridof her desperate crew, with the exception of two whohad paid for their rash attempt the only price theyhad—their lives.

From Hong Kong the Columbia sailed for London,arriving there after an uneventful passage of onehundred and twenty days. Charles, turning a deaf47ear to the entreaties of the captain and his fellow-officers,determined to take his discharge. A load-stoneof which they knew not anything was drawinghim irresistibly into the heart of Wiltshire, and, withall his earnings carefully secreted about him, he leftthe great city behind, and set his face steadfastly forLongbridge Deverill. There he suddenly arrived, asif he had dropped from the sky, just as the short winter’sday was closing in. The few straggling villagerspeered curiously at the broad, alert figure that strodealong the white road with an easy grace and manlybearing quite foreign to the heavy slouch of their ownmen-folk. There was, too, an indefinable foreignodour about him which cut athwart even their dull perceptionsand aroused all their curiosity. But nonerecognized him. How should they? They had hardlyever known him, except by rumour, which, during hisabsence of nearly two years, had died a natural deathfor want of something to feed upon. Straight to theold doctor’s house he went as a homing pigeon would.To his confident knock there appeared at the doorLouise, the light of love in her eyes, her arms outstretchedin gladdest welcome. Neither showed anysurprise, for both seemed to have been in some unexplainableway in communion with the other. Yet,now the first speechless greeting over, the first caressesbestowed, instead of contentment most profoundcame unease, an indefinite fear lest this wonderfulthing that had befallen them should by the sheerperversity of fate be swept away, leaving them in theouter dark.

48

The quavering voice of the old doctor removedthem from each other’s close embrace, and shyly, yetwith a proud air of ownership, Louise led the way intothe cosy parlour, where the good old man sat enjoyingthe rest and comfort he so fully deserved. He lookedup inquiringly as with dazzled eyes the big man enteredthe room, hesitatingly, and with a rush of strangememories flooding his brain.

“Who is it, Loo?” said the doctor. “I don’t recognizethe gentleman.”

And, rising stiffly from his armchair, he took a stepforward.

“It’s Charles, doctor, Charles Delambre,” falteredLouise.

“Yes, doctor; and I’ve come to take away yourtreasure. Also to thank you with my whole heartfor your loving kindness in taking care of her. Withoutyou what would she have done, me being so faraway?”

Almost inarticulate with joy, the old man caughtCharles’s hands in both his own, and pushed him intoa chair. Then sinking back into his own, he gaspedbreathlessly—

“Ah, my boy, my boy, how I have longed for yourreturn! It has given me more pain than you canthink—the idea that I might die and leave this poorchild friendless and alone in the world. But she hashad no fear. She knew you would come, and she wasright. But, Charley, my boy, before we say anotherword—your brother. You mustn’t forget him, and if,as I fear, your quarrel was fierce, you must forgive.49His sufferings have been great. Never once has hisface been seen in the village since you left, and, exceptthat we hear an occasional word of him brought by atramp, he might be dead. Go to him, Charles, andmake it up, and perhaps the good Lord will lift thecloud of misery that has so long hung heavily overyour house.”

Charles heard the kindly doctor’s little speech inrespectful silence, then, speaking for the second timesince entering the house, he said—

“You are right, doctor. I will be friends withGeorge if he’ll let me. But I must first secure my wife.After all that has passed, I dare not waste an hour untilwe are married.”

Louise sat listening with the light of perfect approvalon her fine face; and the doctor also in vigorousfashion signified his entire acquiescence. The rest ofthat happy evening was devoted to a recital of Charles’swanderings, his escapes, and his good fortune, until,wearied out, those three happy people went to bed.

Next day Charles was busy. A special license hadto be procured, and Louise must procure her simplewadding array. The facilities of to-day did not existthen, and the impatient young lover chafed considerablyat the delay involved. But in due time the weddingcame off, with the dear old doctor as guardianto give the bride away. The village was in a stateof seething excitement; the labourers left their work,their wives left their household tasks, and all discussedwith an eagerness that was amazingly different to theirusual stolidity of demeanour the romantic happenings50in their midst. Then, when the newly-married pairhad returned to the doctor’s roomy house, and thevillagers had drifted reluctantly homeward again, theripples of unwonted disturbance gradually smoothedout and subsided. Charles and his wife sat side by sidein the doctor’s parlour as the evening shadows fell,their benefactor’s glowing face confronting them, andthe knowledge that half his home was theirs removingall anxiety for the immediate future from their minds.

They sat thus, holding each other’s hands in silence,until Louise, looking up in her husband’s face,said, “Charles, let us go and see George. I feel I mustbefore I sleep.” And Charles answered, “Yes, dear;it was in my heart too to do so, but I’m glad you spokefirst.” So, gently disregarding the remonstrances ofthe doctor, who protested that the morrow would bea more appropriate time, they departed, warmlywrapped up against the piercing cold, and carryinga lantern. As they passed from the village on to theshoulder of the swelling down a few soft snow-flakesbegan to fall....

All through that night the large round flakes fellheavily incessantly, until, when the pale cold dawnstraggled through the leaden clouds, the whole countrywas deep buried in a smooth garment of spotlesswhite. For three days the terrible, silent fall went on.The poor folk almost starved in their homes, and alltraffic throughout the country was stopped. When atlast communications could be opened, the old doctor,his heart aching with worry and suspense, made hisway, accompanied by my father, to Pertwood Farm.51There they found only a few hastily scribbled sheets ofpaper on the kitchen table. They contained wordsto the effect that George had been startled by a longwailing cry at a late hour on the night of the firstsnow. He had gone to the door, and there, on thevery spot where she had lain years before, was hislost love. But this time she was dead. He had buriedher by the side of his parents, and hoped to join theparty soon.

A little search revealed the fact that after writingthose lines he had gone down into the cellar and died,for his body lay across the rude box containing theremains of Louise. But of Charles nothing was everagain seen or heard. I have always felt that he mighthave been found at the bottom of that dank tarn amongthe pines, into which he may have fallen on that terriblenight. But I don’t know, the mystery remains.

53

YOU SING

CHAPTER I

Regarded collectively, the Chinese may safely beclassified under the head of unpleasant races. Mostpeople who have had personal dealings with them willdoubtless admit that, while there are to be discoveredamong them a tiny sprinkling of really decent menand women, taken “by and large” they are, to Westernsat any rate, anathema. And yet, when due allowanceis made for environment, and for hereditary peculiaritiesof many strange kinds—for which, of course,the individual is in no way responsible—it may not betoo bold an assertion that the Chinese are a people whoonly need a little real leadership on Western lines tobecome a truly great nation. They possess all thenecessary qualifications for such a splendid future andfew of the drawbacks. Many virtues that are amongus only inculcated by much laborious tuition are withthe Chinese sui generis. No one will deny that theyknow how to die; were it possible to teach them howto live, such a revolution would be felt in the progressof the world as it has never yet witnessed. Of course,this does not touch the vast question as to whethersuch a resurrection of China is to be welcomed ordreaded.

54

But my intention in these pages is far from that ofdiscussing the economic future of China. Such a taskwould be indefinitely beyond my powers, besides beingutterly unnecessary and out of place here. Besides,I do not really feel sufficiently interested in the Chinesecollectively. My story is about a single Chinamanwho played a very important part in my own history,and who well deserved a far more powerful testimonythan any I am able to bear to his virtues.

But, first, in order to launch my story properly, Imust premise that in one of my vagrom voyages,while I was only a puny lad of thirteen, I was flungashore in Liverpool, penniless, and, of course, friendless.For many days I lived—or, rather, I did not die—bypicking up, bird-like, such unvalued trifles of foodas chance threw in my way while I wandered about thedocks; but as there were many more experienced urchinswith sharper eyes than mine on the same keenquest, it may be well imagined that I did not waxoverfat upon my findings. Unfortunately my seafaringinstincts kept me near the docks at all times, wheremost of my associates were as hunger-bitten as myself;had I gone up town I should probably have faredbetter.

However, I had put a very keen edge indeed uponmy appetite one bitter November afternoon, when,prowling along the Coburg Dock Quay, I was suddenlybrought up “all standing” by a most maddeningsmell of soup. With dilated nostrils I drew in thefragrant breeze, and immediately located its source asthe galley of a barque that lay near, loading. I must55have looked hungry as I swiftly came alongside of her,for the broad-faced cook, who was standing at hisgalley-door swabbing his steaming face after his sultrysojourn within, presently caught sight of me and lifteda beckoning finger. I was by his side in two bounds,and before I had quite realized my good fortune I wasloading up at a great rate from a comfortably-sizeddish of plum soup. My benefactor said nothing as theeager spoonfuls passed, but lolled against the doorplacidly regarding me with much the same expressionas one would a hungry dog with a just-discoveredbone. When at last I was well distended, he askedme a few questions in a queer broken English that Iimmediately recognized as the German version. Whatwas I? Where did I come from? Would I like togo to sea? And so on. Eagerly and hopefully Ianswered him, much to his amazement; for, like everyother seaman I fell in with in those days, he found ithard to believe that I had already been nearly twoyears at sea, so small and weak did I appear. But theupshot of our interview was that he introduced me tothe skipper, a burly North German, who, lookingstolidly down upon me, between the regular puffs ofsmoke from his big pipe, said—

“Vell, poy; ju dinks ju like du komm in a Chermanscheep—hein?”

I faltered out a few words, not very coherently, Iam afraid, for the prospect of getting any ship at allwas just like a glimpse of heaven to me. Fortunatelyfor my hopes, Captain Strauss was a man of action, so,cutting short my faltering reply, he resumed: “All56righdt. Ve yoost loosd a leedle Engelsch boy ligeju. He pin mit me more as ein jeer, gabin-poy,und mein vife lige him fery vell. Ju do so gootas him, ju vas all righdt. Vat ju call jorselluf—hein?”

“Tom, sir,” I answered promptly.

“Ya; den ve call ju Dahn. Dat oder poy ve callsDahn, und so ju gomes all der same for him—aindit?”

That seemed to settle the matter, for he turnedaway abruptly and was gone. I hastened to my friendthe cook, and told him what the skipper had said,with the result that in another five minutes I wasbusy laying the cloth for dinner in the cabin as if Ihad been the original Dan just come back. A pretty,fair-haired little girl of about ten years of age watchedme curiously from a state-room door with the frank,straightforward curiosity of a child; and I, boy-like,was on my mettle to show her how well I could do mywork. Presently she came forward and spoke to me;but her remarks being in German, I could only smilefeebly and look foolish; whereupon she indignantlysnapped out, “Schaafskopf,” and ran away. She returnedalmost directly with her mother, a buxom,placid-looking dame of about thirty-five, who addressedme in a dignified tone. Again I was in ahole, for she spoke only German also; and if ever apoor urchin felt nonplussed, I did. This drawbackmade my berth an uncomfortable one at first; but, withsuch opportunities as I had and such a powerful inducementto spur me on, I soon picked up enough57to understand what was said to me, and to make somesuitable reply.

The vessel was a smart-looking, well-found barqueof about six hundred tons, called the Blitzen, of Rostock,and carried a crew of fourteen all told. Eachof the other thirteen was a master of mine, and seldomallowed an opportunity to slip of asserting his authority;while the skipper’s wife and daughter evidentlybelieved that I ought to be perpetually in motion.Consequently my berth was no sinecure; and,whatever my qualifications may have been, I have nodoubt I earned my food and the tiny triangular lairunder the companion-ladder wherein I crept—I wasgoing to say when my work was done—but a ratherbetter term to use would be, in the short intervals betweenjobs.

Now, the story of the next nine months on boardthe Blitzen is by no means devoid of interest; but Ihave an uneasy feeling that I have already tried thereader’s patience enough with necessary preliminariesto the story of You Sing. After calling at severalports in South America, looking in at Algoa Bay, visitingBanjœwangie and Cheribon, we finally appearedto have settled down as a Chinese coaster, trading betweenall sorts of out-of-the-way ports for native consignees,and carrying a queer assortment of merchandise.Finally we found ourselves at Amoy, undercharter for Ilo-Ilo with a full cargo of Chinese “notions.”Owing, I suppose, to the docility of the Germancrew, and the high state of discipline maintainedon board, we still carried the same crew that we left58England with; but I must say that, while I admiredthe good seamanship displayed by the skipper and hisofficers, I was heartily weary of my lot on board. Ihad never become a favourite, not even with the littlegirl, who seemed to take a delight in imitating herfather and mother by calling me strange-soundingTeutonic names of opprobrium; and I was beatenregularly, not apparently from any innate brutality, butfrom sheer force of habit, as a London costermongerbeats his faithful donkey. The only thing that madelife at all tolerable was that I was fairly well fed andenjoyed robust health; while I never lost the hope thatin some of our wanderings we should happen into anEnglish port, where I might be able to run away.That blissful idea I kept steadily before me as abeacon-light to cheer me on. Happily, dread of losingmy wages in such an event did not trouble me,because I had none to lose as far as I knew; I did notstipulate for any when I joined.

It was on a lovely night that we swung clear ofAmoy harbour and, catching a light land-breeze,headed across the strait towards Formosa. Manyfishing sampans were dotted about the sleeping sea,making little sepia-splashes on the wide white wake ofthe moon. Little care was taken to avoid runningthem down; nor did they seem to feel any greatanxiety as to whether we did so or not, and as a consequencewe occasionally grazed closely past one, andlooked down curiously upon the passive figures sittingin their frail craft like roosting sea-birds upon a floatinglog. Without any actual damage to them, we59gradually drew clear of their cruising-ground, and,hauling to the southward a little, stood gently onwardfor Cape South, the wind still very light and theweather perfect. But suddenly we ran into a strangeheavy mist that obscured all the sea around us, andyet did not have that wetness that usually characterizesthe clinging vapour of the sea-fog. Through thisopaque veil we glided as if sailing in cloudland, asilence enwrapping us as if we had been mysteriouslychanged into a ghostly ship and crew. Then a quick,strong blast of wind burst out of the brume rightahead, throwing all the sails aback and driving thevessel stern foremost at a rate that seemed out of allproportion to its force.

For a few moments the watch on deck appeared tobe stupid with surprise. Then the skipper, roused bythe unusual motion, rushed on deck, and his deep,guttural voice broke the spell as he issued abruptorders. All hands were soon busy getting the vesselunder control, shortening sail, and trimming yards.But, to everybody’s speechless amazement, it was presentlyfound that entangled alongside lay a small junk,a craft of some twenty to thirty tons, upon whosedeck no sign of life was visible. All hands crowded tothe rail, staring and muttering almost incoherent commentupon this weird visitor that had so suddenlyarisen, as it were, out of the void. As usual, the skipperfirst recovered his working wits, and ordered acouple of the men to jump on board the junk andinvestigate. They obeyed unquestionably, as wastheir wont, and presently reported that she was unmanned,60but apparently full to the hatches of assortedChinese cargo in mats and boxes. The skipper’s voicetook an exultant ring as he ordered the vessel to bewell secured alongside, and her contents to be transferredon board of us with all possible despatch.Meanwhile the strange mist had vanished as suddenlyas it had arisen, and the full bright moon shone downupon the toiling men, who with wonderful celeritywere breaking out the junk’s cargo and hurling it onto our decks. Such was their expedition that in halfan hour our decks were almost impassable for thequeer-looking boxes and bales and bundles of allshapes disgorged from the junk’s hold. Then theyinvaded the evil-scented cabin, and ransacked its manyhiding-places, finding numerous neatly-bound parcelswrapped in fine silky matting. And, last of all—theydeclared he must have suddenly been materialized, orwords to that effect—they lighted upon a lad of probablysixteen years of age. He showed no surprise, afterthe fatalistic fashion of his countrymen, but stoodgravely before them like some quaint Mongolian idolcarved out of yellow jade, and ready for any fortunethat might await him. With scant ceremony, he toowas man-handled on deck, for the command wasurgent to finish the work; the busy labourers followedhim, and the junk was cast adrift.

Deep-Sea Plunderings (4)

The toiling men were breaking out the junk’s cargo.

Some sort of rough stowage was made of the treasure-trovethus peculiarly shipped; and, the excitementthat had sustained their unusual exertions having subsided,the tired crew flung themselves down anywhereand slept—slept like dead men, all except the officer of61the watch and the helmsman. They had at first littleto do that might keep them from slumber, for the windhad dropped to a stark calm, which in those shelteredwaters, remote from the disturbing influence of anygreat ocean swell, left the ship almost perfectly motionless,a huge silhouette against the glowing surfaceof a silver lake. But presently it dawned upon themate who was in charge of the deck that, although thevessel had certainly not travelled more than a milesince the junk was cast adrift, that strange craft wasnowhere to be seen; and, stern martinet though hewas, the consciousness of something uncanny aboutthe recent business stole through him, shrinking hisskin and making his mouth dry, until for relief hesought the helmsman and entered into conversationwith him on the subject. That worthy, a stolid, unemotionalDutchman named Pfeiffer, scanned thewhole of the palpitating brightness around before hewould assent to the mate’s theory of any sudden disappearanceof our late companion; but, having doneso, and failed to discover the smallest speck againstthat dazzling surface, he, too, was fain to admit thatthe thing was not comforting. Right glad were thosetwo men when the interminably long watch was over,and the sharp, business-like notes of the bell seemedto dissipate in some measure the chilling atmosphereof mystery that hemmed them in. To the second matethe retiring officer said nothing of his fears, but hastenedbelow, hurriedly scratched a perfunctory noteor two on the log-slate, and bundled, “all standing”—thatis, dressed as he was—into his bunk, pulling the62upper feather-bed right over his head, as if to shut outthe terror that was upon him. Slowly the remainderof the night passed away; but when at last the tinysuggestion of paleness along the eastern horizon gavethe first indication of the day’s approach, no change,not even the slightest, had occurred to increase themystery whose environment all felt more or lesskeenly. As the advancing glory of the new day displacedthe deep purple of the night, the awakeningcrew recalled, as if it had been a lifetime ago, thestrange happening of the past few hours. But it wasnot until the clear light was fully come that the significanceof the whole affair was manifest. For there,seated upon a mat-bound case, stamped all over withred “chops,” was the Chinese youth, whose existencehad up till now been unnoticed from the time he wasfirst bundled on board. Impassive as a wooden image,he looked as if the position he had held throughout thenight had left him unwearied, and, to all appearance,the strange and sudden change in his environment possessedfor him no significance whatever. But now,when the surly-looking mate approached him andlooked him over with evident distaste, he slid off hisperch, and, kneeling at the officer’s feet, kissed thedeck thrice in manifest token of his entire submissionto whatever fate might be dealt out to him.The mate stood silently looking down upon him,as if hardly able to decide what to do with him.While this curious little episode was being enactedthe skipper appeared, and, hastening to the mate’sside, addressed the grovelling Celestial in what he63supposed to be the only possible medium of communication—“pidgin”English, which, coupled to aGerman accent, was the queerest jargon conceivable.

“Vell,” he said, “vot pelong ju pidgin—hay? Jusavvy vork, vun dime?”

Lifting his yellow mask of a face, but still remainingon his knees, the waif made answer—

“No shabbee. You Sing.”

CHAPTER II

“You Sing” conveyed no meaning to anybody;but, after various extraordinary attempts to extend theconversation had entirely failed, it was tacitly agreedthat You Sing must be his name. Whether it was ornot, the taciturn pagan answered to it immediately itwas uttered, or rather he came instantly to whoevermentioned it. So, seeing that it was hopeless to thinkof getting any information from him as to the whyand wherefore of the strange circ*mstances underwhich we had found him, the skipper decided promptlyto put him to work as a steward, believing that hewould make a good one. To that end he was handedover to me for tuition, much to my delight, for now Ifelt that I should have a companion who was certainlynot more than my equal, and who would not be likelyto ill-treat me in any way, as most of the crew didwhen opportunity arose. His coming was to me a perfectgodsend. He was so willing, so docile, and withalso eminently teachable, that it was a pleasure to be64with him. And the incongruity of being placed undersuch an urchin as myself did not appear to strike himat all, for he looked upon me from the first day ofour acquaintance as the one creature that stood betweenhim and the outer dark—although it must besaid that, as far as could be judged by his attitude toall with whom he came in contact, he regarded everymember of the ship’s company as in some sort hissaviour. All could command him, and he would instantlyobey; and although he understood no word ofwhat was said to him, he watched so keenly, his desireto please was so intense, and his natural ability so great,that his efforts to do what was required of him weregenerally successful. Unfortunately, his willingnessoften got him into serious trouble, since he alwaysobeyed the last order, not being able to discriminatebetween those who had the first claim upon him andthose who had no right to his services whatever. Butwhen he was beaten for neglecting tasks that he hadbeen called away from, he never murmured or showedsign of pain or resentment; all treatment was bornewith the same placid equanimity, as if he were a perfectlypassionless automaton. With one exception—myself.When with me his usually expressionless eyeswould shine, and his yellow face wear a peculiarlysweet smile that had quite a fascination for me. Ifound myself growing so much attached to him thatmy rage against his persecutors often drove me nearlyfrantic—such wrath as it had never occurred to meto feel on my own behalf.

Meanwhile the Blitzen, sorely hampered by calms65and variable winds, crept slowly and painfully towardsher destination. I was so much absorbed with theeducation and company of You Sing that I lost all myusual interest in the progress of the vessel, and didnot even wonder when we were going to reach ournext port—a speculation that had hitherto always hadgreat charms for me. But one morning before breakfastI was dreadfully affrighted to hear a fierce altercationon deck. It had always been my ill-fortunehitherto to find myself the ultimate vicarious sacrificein all cases of trouble, and even to this day the oldfeeling of dread still exists—a feeling that whateverrow is going on I shall presently be made to suffer forit; and the well-remembered sensation of sinking atthe pit of the stomach comes back, making me for themoment quite ill. So, trembling all over, I peeredout of the pantry window on to the main deck, andsaw the mate confronting three men of his watch, who,with inflamed faces and fierce gestures, were evidentlythreatening his life. Now, there had never beforebeen the slightest sign of insubordination on board,the discipline seeming as near perfection as possible,and therefore this sudden outbreak was most alarming.A swift step passed the pantry door, and instantlyI saw the skipper rushing forward. Without a wordhe plunged into the midst of the angry four, and seizingthe foremost seaman by the throat and waisthurled him crashing against the bulwarks. At thesame moment the mate sprang at another man, as if toserve him in the same manner; but, missing his grasp,he stumbled and fell on his knees. A stifled scream66burst from my dry lips as I saw the glint of steel; theseaman attacked had drawn his knife, and as the matefell the weapon descended with fearful force betweenhis shoulders. I heard the ugly sound right aft, andit remains with me to-day. The skipper, however, withthe agility of a porpoise, instantly flung himself on thetwo men, and fought as if he had the sinews of ten.

Compared with the noise of the preliminary quarrel,this life-and-death struggle was silence itself; but Icould hear the laboured breathings of the combatantscoming in hoarse gasps, and the cracking of the jointsas the writhing bodies knotted and strained. Therewas a scream behind me, a rustle of skirts, and out ofthe cabin rushed the skipper’s wife, with flying hairand outstretched arms. But before she was halfwayto the spot there was a swoop as of some huge birdpast her, and the second mate, the youngest officer inthe ship and the biggest man, alighted in the fray likea hungry tiger. I did not see the other watch of thecrew arrive, but they were there, and fighting as fiercelyas the rest.

Now, the first flush of fear having gone from me,I became interested—somewhat coldly critical, indeed,of the various points of the battle, finding myself, tothe wonder of some other corner of my brain, sidingwith the officers, and hoping they would be victorious.The surprise of this backwater of thought was probablyowing to the fact that all the officers had treatedme with steady brutality, while the men, though notkind, seldom touched me, although that was probablyonly lack of opportunity. But with all my keen watching67I could not yet forecast the upshot of this awfulencounter. The mass of bodies seemed to me inextricablyentangled, heaving and writhing like a basketof wounded eels; while all around them, franticallyclutching at the labouring body of her husband, andshrieking pitifully, hovered the unhappy wife andmother.

Suddenly it dawned upon me that the little Elsiewas alone, and probably frightened to death; and,though I was never a favourite with even her, itseemed good to go and comfort her if possible. So Iturned away from the window, and there behind mewas You Sing, calmly cleaning the knives, as unmovedby any external occurrence as a piece of machinery.As I unblocked the window he caught my eye, andthe peculiarly winsome smile he always wore for melit up his solemn face. His lips opened, and he murmuredsoftly with an indescribable accent the only twoEnglish words I had succeeded in teaching him,“’Ullo, Tommy.” I could only smile back in returnas I hurried off to the skipper’s state-room aft, feelingas if, with the shutting out of that savage sight, a loadhad been lifted off my brain. A quick revulsion ofsympathy thrilled me as I found the pretty child fastasleep in placid unconsciousness of the terrible scenein progress outside. I stood for a minute looking ather with a tenderness I had never before felt towardsher, all her childish dislike and funny little ways ofshowing it, borrowed from her parents, utterly forgotten.Then, softly closing the door, I hurried backto the pantry, finding You Sing still busily employed.

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Scrambling to the window, I peered forrard again,seeing, to my horror, only a heap of bodies lying still.I stood there as if frozen, trying hard to think, endeavouringto realize the position, but unable to controlmy disorganized brain. How long I stood staringthus I have no idea; but I was recalled to usefulnessagain by You Sing’s gentle touch upon my back.Turning slowly round, I faced him, while he pointedout his finished work and intimated to me in the signlanguage we always employed that he awaited instructionswhat to go on with. Impatiently I made agreat effort to show him that all ordinary work wasnow at an end, and, pulling him to the window,pointed out the awful heap on the main hatch. Helooked, and I believe understood the situation, for heturned again to me and patted my face, pointed firstto me and then to himself, as if to intimate that uponus two, me as master and he as servant, the conductof affairs now rested.

Then, taking my courage in both hands, I softlystepped out on deck and approached the scene ofconflict, though trembling so violently that I couldscarcely go. But when I reached the entwined heapof bodies I did not know what to do, standing helplesslystaring at the grim spectacle. A faint groanstartled me, and I bent down over the nearest body,which happened to be the skipper’s, hearing him murmurfaintly, “Wasser, lieber Gott! Wasser.” Hastilymotioning to You Sing to fetch some water, I tried todrag the skipper into a sitting position; but it was toomuch for my strength. The effort, however, was apparently69all that was needed to shake the last faintbreath from his body, for, with wide dilated nostrilsand open mouth, he gave his final gasp. Then all wasstill, for all were dead.

The whole waist was like the veriest shambles, andthe fearful savagery of the fight was manifest in manyhideous details that need not be reproduced. Suddenlya hope dawned upon me that one man might stillbe left—the helmsman; and, rushing aft, I bounded upon to the poop, only to find the wheel swinging idly toand fro: there was no one there. Then I ran forward,unheeding You Sing’s dog-like wistful look afterme, and ransacked the forecastle and galley; but bothwere deserted. We were quite alone.

This tremendous fact broke in upon me with goodeffect after the strain to which I had recently been subjected,for it braced me up to action. Calling uponYou Sing to help me, I tackled the ghastly heap, tuggingand straining at the limp bodies, and getting allgory as they were. The sweat ran down blindingly; Ifelt my sinews crack with my desperate exertions; butat last all the bodies were separated and laid side byside, the captain’s wife last of that sad row. Not asign of life was to be found in any one of them; and,having at last satisfied myself of this, I dropped uponthe crimsoned tarpaulin exhausted, to rack my brainsfor some reason why this sudden tragedy should havebeen enacted. Gradually the conviction forced itselfupon me that the whole horrible outbreak was due tosome quarrel over the junk’s cargo; but as that hadall been overhauled and stowed away without my70knowing anything of its nature, it was only a blindguess. Something, however, of tremendous importancemust have occurred to make a body of men fightwith such fury among themselves that not one of themremained alive.

But urgent necessity was laid upon me to be upand doing, the first duty that demanded attentionbeing the disposal of the dead. So I called upon YouSing—who, standing near, never seemed to take hiseyes off me—and the pair of us triced up one of thebulwark ports and dragged the first of the corpses upto it. Then by a sudden impulse I flung off my cap,and, kneeling down on the red deck, said the Lord’sPrayer and the final Collect in the Church Service—allI could then remember; while my heathen helperstood gravely by making no sign but looking a verywell-spring of sympathy. Strangely cheered and uplifted,I seized the poor piece of clay, and motioningmy helpmate, launched it through the yawning port,listening shudderingly to the dull splash that followed.And so with the rest, until we two stood alone, pantingand distressed with our heavy task. A few minutes’rest, and then, with draw-bucket and broom, welaboured to cleanse away the blood that besmeared sowide a space of the decks. At this work we toiled fora long time, and when at last we gave over, becauseI was tired out, we had only partially succeeded inremoving the fearful evidence of that great fight. Bythis time I was so far myself as to feel hungry. Thefeeling of nausea, that had been coming and goinglike waves over me ever since I first left the cabin, had71left me, and I ordered You Sing to get breakfast.He set about the job immediately, leaving me seatedon the damp hatch wondering what would become ofus. Then suddenly it occurred to me for the first timethat the ship was entirely left to herself. There wasa faint breeze blowing steadily, all sail being set, andthe yards canted a couple of points, for what windexisted was on the quarter. I rose and went aft to thewheel, finding that she came up and fell off aboutthree points, so that she was practically steering herself,and making a fairly average course S.S.E. Thiswas satisfactory so far, because it relieved me of anynecessity for immediate action. I knew how to steer,and, as far as my strength went, could handle sails,besides understanding fairly well how a ship wasworked; for I had been over two years at sea, andalways a deck-boy until this voyage, so that, unless Ihad been a very idiot, I must know something aboutsailoring.

Everything being so quiet and favourable, I rememberedlittle Elsie, and with a sinking heart wentdown below to break the dreadful news to her. Howit was to be done I didn’t know, my stock of Germanbeing pitifully scanty, and she, poor child! not knowingone word of English. As I turned the handle ofthe state-room door I heard her calling, “Mutter, wiebist du?” and in spite of my efforts some big tearsburst from my eyes. But I went in and stood by hercot, racking my brains for some way of making herunderstand what had happened. As soon as she sawme she began, as usual, to scold me for being there—where,72indeed, I was never allowed to enter—andordered me with much dignity to go and call hermother.

It would be useless for me to attempt any descriptionof the scene that followed. I could not, do whatI would, make her understand what an awful changehad taken place since she went to sleep. She at lastmade up her mind that I must be crazy, and, thoroughlyfrightened, sprang out of her cot, and rushedinto the cabin screaming frantically for “Mutter,Mutter! Vater, Vater!” I followed her carefully, puzzledbeyond measure to know what to do; but she fledon deck, up the ladder and on to the poop, still callingwith all her voice for those who were for ever deafto her cries.

Of course, I dared not pursue her, for fear of addingto her terror; so I waited anxiously until she hadexplored every vacant corner of the ship, and at last,exhausted with her efforts, she returned slowly to thecabin. Then I quietly brought her some food, andbegged her to eat a little; but, as I might have expected,that was impossible. However, she was so farquieted that she plied me with questions, which Ianswered as well as I was able, until I succeeded inmaking her understand the grim truth. She burstinto such a passion of weeping when she comprehendedthe case that at first I feared for her life; butpresently I saw that this outbreak was the best thingthat could have happened, for it relieved her poor littlebrain; and soon, utterly worn out, she went off into aheavy sleep.

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Then I searched the cabin thoroughly, with the dimidea in my mind of finding some cause for the mutinyin accordance with my suspicions. Sure enough, Ihad been right, for in various hiding-places I cameupon such treasures as I had never even dreamed ofbefore—coined gold in boxes, in bags, in bundles:sovereigns, eagles, onzas, and napoleons; jewellery ofevery variety of make, glittering with precious stonesof which I had never heard the name. At last I cameupon a crucifix nearly two feet in length, apparentlyof solid gold, and encrusted with large gems, a marvelof costliness and beauty. I showed it to You Sing,who, for the first time in my acquaintance with him,showed signs of horror, and tried hard to induce me tothrow the magnificent thing overboard.

CHAPTER III

This discovery marked a new departure in ourrelations towards each other. Hitherto I had lookedupon You Sing as I might have done upon a big faithfuldog, but never dreamed of crediting him with anyintelligent initiative. His behaviour so far had certainlyjustified me in this opinion; but now he becamecompletely transformed. In the most energeticpantomime, and with strangely severe struggles toenunciate a few words of my language, he endeavouredto explain to me the origin of all these treasures. Idid not find it hard to understand the general driftof his attempt to enlighten me, because I had already74suspected something of what I was now gatheringfrom him. Roughly, it was to the effect that the cargowe had relieved the junk of was the accumulated hoardof a nest of pirates who had long been preying uponsuch seafarers as they dared attack without fear of reprisals,and who were all deliberately slain after theyhad been plundered and their vessels scuttled. Thenthe wretches had turned their bloody hands againsteach other, and by so doing somewhat atoned fortheir innumerable crimes by ridding the world of two-thirdsof the gang. The survivors then loaded up allthe most valuable of the stored plunder into themost seaworthy junk they possessed, and, divestingher of all suspicious appearance, sailed for some portwhere they intended to dispose of their loot. AgainNemesis overtook them; they had befouled the seastoo long. They stealthily murdered one another asopportunity served, until there were hardly enoughof them left to handle the junk. You Sing was aslave who had done their cooking, having been sparedfor that purpose alone out of the entire crew of alarge barque they had surprised one night. Doubtlesshis turn to perish had nearly arrived, when, goingdown into their store-room under the cabin for somerice, he found himself in a sort of trap from whichhe was unable to escape. There he would certainlyhave perished of starvation, instead of sharing theunknown fate of the remnant of his tyrants, but forour intervention. And in various quaint ways hegave me to understand that he considered his lifeto belong to this ship and her crew, of whom the75child asleep and my small self were now the sole representatives.

I could not bring myself to the point of heavingall those pretty things overboard; but seeing what adread he had of them, I stowed them all in the lateskipper’s berth under his bed-place, in two largedrawers, which I locked, and hung the key round myneck. Then, for the first time, I began to think aboutworking the ship. Unfortunately, I had not the faintestidea of which was the best direction to steer in,for I did not know, within at least a thousand miles,our position. I imagined, of course, that we weresomewhere south of Formosa, and between that greatisland and the Philippines; but that was vague in theextreme. And I was in hourly terror of being sightedby a wandering junk of whatever character, feelingcertain of a barbarous death at the hands of any ofYou Sing’s countrymen who might happen to findsuch a prize as the Blitzen. How I longed for thesight of a smoke-wreath festooning the horizon! Thatvision would have nearly sent me crazy with joy. ButI suppose we were far out of the track of steamers, forwe saw no sign of one.

Aided most manfully and sensibly by You Sing, Iclewed up the royals and topgallant sails with a viewof making the vessel easier to handle, and with a greatdeal of labour managed to haul up the courses (mainsailand foresail) as well, taking the gear to the capstanwhere it was too heavy for our united efforts, untilthose great squares of canvas hung snug as they couldbe without being actually furled. Then, after long76cogitation, I decided to make for the coast of China,which I knew must be west of us, and trust to amerciful God to bring us in sight of either somecivilized port or ship before any of those calm, mercilesspagans came across us. Now we each took aregular trick at the wheel (You Sing learned to do soin less than half an hour); and little Elsie, all her highspirits gone, and docile as You Sing himself, eventook a spell at steering when we would let her.Heaven alone knows what our track would havelooked like on the chart, but it’s my belief that wewere getting to the westward at the rate of abouttwenty miles a day for the best part of a week (I lostall count of time); and, though it seems hard to believe,I was actually beginning to feel quite important asthe commander of a big vessel on the high seas. Wefed well and we slept well—at least Elsie and I did; asfor You Sing, I don’t know whether he ever slept atall. He did all the cooking, kept everything cleanand tidy, and was ever ready when called upon. Besidesall this, he had won his way into the affectionsof Elsie; and I almost felt a pang of jealousy when Iheard her clear laugh at some of the quaint antics hecut in order to amuse her. Had it not been for the onehaunting dread of being overhauled by a junk, I believewe should have been quite happy; for the terrorof the past tragedy had faded from our minds, and thesea was kind and gentle, the soft breeze blew sweetly,though it varied a great deal, making our task of trimmingthe yards in order to keep the vessel somewherenear her course—due west—an uncommonly heavy one.

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Then it fell a flat calm. Now, I had, even at thatearly age, all a sailor’s horror of a calm, and this onetroubled me more than any I had yet experienced.The silence was almost unbearable. I could not restday or night—it lasted three days—for more than anhour or so at a time; and when I fell asleep from sheerweariness, I always woke with my heart thumpingfuriously and in an icy sweat of fear. The inactiongot upon my nerves, so that I began to hear strangenoises, and to imagine that the dead crew were amongus, grieving because we were yet alive, and schemingto secure our company. This state of mind grew uponme to such an extent that at last I dared not leaveYou Sing, clinging to him as the one hope I had ofever again seeing the land of the living. He—grave,careful, and kind as ever—accepted this entire changein our relative positions with the same serene behaviouras before; and in my worst mental trouble I had only tolook into his eyes to be completely comforted. Elsie,strange to say, seemed quite happy. She was carelesslykind to me; but she loved our Chinese friend.A word or two from him, in an unintelligible jargon,would set her dancing with delight, and it was onlyduring his unavoidable absence from her for a shorttime that she ever seemed to feel the misery of ourposition.

On the tenth evening (I think) of our loneliness,and the third of the calm, I was lolling against theuseless wheel watching, with eyes that observednaught, the fantastic efforts of You Sing to amuseElsie, when an appalling feeling of dread suddenly78came over me. It was as if I was going to be violentlysea-sick, and affected my limbs to such an extent thatI slid down from the wheel to the deck. This disablingsensation was happily only momentary in its effect, sothat I was able to rise to my feet again almost immediately,though trembling violently. Whatever mysteriouscause had thus affected me I could not tell, andit was evidently peculiar to myself, for my two shipmateswere still merry at their play. But I was desperatelyuneasy, fearing that I was going to be very ill.I left the deck, and descended into the cabin, seeing,to my astonishment, several rats prowling uneasilyabout. They took scarcely any notice of me, and Iwas too upset to obey the momentary impulse to chasethem. I sank down on a settee and tried to collectmyself, but I was too uneasy to sit still, and soon wanderedout on the main-deck again.

Aimlessly I slouched forrard and climbed up on theforecastle head. As soon as I reached it, on lookingahead, I saw a sight that thickened my blood. Rightbefore the vessel rose a dense mass of inky cloud, extendingover an arc of the horizon of about one-sixthof its circumference. It was dome-shaped, and uponits apex rested the descending sun, his glowing discchanged into a dull bronze-green ball that shed nolight around. It looked as if the glorious orb wassick unto death. As I watched with growing anxiety,the painfully changed luminary sank slowly into thatblack mountain of gloom and disappeared. But aboveit the clear sky reflected its ghastliness, not by reasonof its rays ascending, for it appeared to have none, but79as if some unknown light from the bowels of the earthhad broken through the sea, and was thus disfiguringthe beautiful face of the heavens.

Tearing myself away from the disabling fascinationof the sight, I returned to the poop, noticing withmuch satisfaction that my trembling had almostceased. I found You Sing and Elsie sitting on ahen-coop, watching with solemn faces the rising gloomahead in perfect silence, all their pleasant play at an end.Meeting You Sing’s eye, I read therein a reflection ofmy own concern, and in an instant we understood eachother. Doubtless, it being his native country, he understoodthe ominous signs far better than I, althougheven the child could see and feel that something terriblewas impending; and as I went up to her to coaxher below he murmured in my ear two words of pureChinese, which, because they have passed into theEnglish language, I understood at once: “Ty foong!”They rang through my brain like a sentence of death;but I actually felt some relief at knowing the worst.For if we were about to encounter a typhoon in ourutter helplessness either to prepare for it by furlingsail, or to handle the vessel in any way, what hopecould there be of our survival? But there is a certainsatisfaction in knowing that, whatever happens, it isno fault of yours; that you can do nothing of any service,but just endure and hope. And that was exactlyour position.

We got Elsie down below without alarming her,laid in a stock of fresh water in the cabin, and barricadedthe doors opening on to the main-deck. Then80we got some old sails up from the locker and coveredthe cabin skylight, lashing it down as securely as weknew how. The cabin being as secure as we couldmake it, we braced the yards sharp up on the starboardtack (although I don’t know why I chose that side, I’msure), for I had a dim idea that we should stand a betterchance so than with the yards square as they were,since I knew very well that in heavy gales of winda vessel ought to be hove to, and that that was alwayseffected by bracing the yards forrard. Then I letgo the topsail-sheets and lowered the upper topsailsdown on the cap. We also hauled all the jibs and stay-sailsdown, making them as snug as we could. Lastof all, I put the helm hard down, and lashed it there.My hope was that in the first burst of the tempest thebig sails that were loose would blow away, and thatthe vessel would then heave herself to naturally, althoughI knew well enough that if caught by the leeshe would probably capsize or drive under stern foremost.

While we had been thus busy the rising pall ofclouds had imperceptibly grown until exactly half ofthe concave above was perfectly black—black as theadit of a coal-mine. The other half astern was of anugly green tint, as unlike the deep violet of the nightsky in those latitudes as could well be imagined. Itschief peculiarity, though, was its light. That segmentof the sky was full of glare, diffused light that waseven reflected on to the vessel, and yet could not betraced to any definite source. The contrast betweenthis uncanny radiance and the crêpe-like darkness of81the other half of the sky was tremendous, and of itselfenough to inspire fear in the breast of any creatureliving.

Presently, as we watched in strained silence, camethe beginning of what we were to know; a twininggolden webwork of electric fires all over the swartroof of cloud, or whatever that gloom was built of,and in a hot puff of wind the destroying genie of thetropics uplifted the opening strains of his song. Allcries of uttermost woe were blended in it as it faintlyfell upon our ears, indistinctly, as if echoed and re-echoedfrom immeasurable distances, but growinglouder and wilder with every burning breath. Then,in one furious blast, accompanied by a cracking blazeof lightning, the typhoon burst upon us. It was justsufficiently on the starboard bow to avoid catching usaback, and the vessel paid off, heeling over to its forceuntil her lee rail was awash, and the gleaming foamtoppled inboard in a smother of pale light. Lower andlower the sky descended, until it seemed as if we mighthave reached upward and touched it; and, unable tobear the sight any longer, I fled below, followed byYou Sing, and securely fastened the scuttle behind us.

Elsie was asleep when I peeped into her room, forwhich I felt profoundly thankful; since how could wehave comforted her? I sat down by You Sing’s sideand looked up wonderingly into his impassive facewhich, as usual, was lighted by a tender smile as hemet my troubled gaze. He took hold of my handand patted it, murmuring his shibboleth, “’Ullo, Tommy;”and, in spite of my terrors, I smiled. Outside,82the uproar was beyond description; but except thatwe lay over at a most dangerous angle we were fairlysteady. The force of the wind did not permit the seato rise, and so between sleeping and waking that awfulnight passed.

CHAPTER IV

Having no means of knowing the time—for theclock had never been wound, owing to my not beingable to find the key—I cannot tell when the changecame; but I think it must have been about eight nextmorning. The vessel suddenly righted, and then beganto tumble about in so outrageous a fashion that Ithought she must go all to pieces. Elsie awokescreaming with fright; and with all You Sing’s catlikecapacity for holding on, it was some minutes beforehe could get to her to comfort her. He had notleft my side more than ten minutes, when, with atremendous lurch, the vessel was hurled over to starboard,and I knew that my greatest fear was realized—shehad been caught aback! Over, over she went,until it was almost possible to stand upright upon thelee bulk-heads of the cabin. In sea-phrase, she wason her beam-ends.

I now gave all up for lost, and waited, hardlybreathing, for the crash of the end. The water ondeck burst in through every crevice, and rose uponthe lee-side until I was obliged to climb up to the fast-clampedsettees to windward to avoid being drowned.The uproar on deck was louder than ever, and I fancied83that I could hear every now and then throughthe tumult the rending and crashing of spars, and feelthe shattering blow of their great masses against thehull alongside. But still the vessel appeared staunch,although every inch of her framework visible in thecabin was all awork.

After what seemed like a whole day, but could onlyhave been two or three hours, she began to right herself,and the din outside grew less deafening. Rapidlythe howl of the wind moderated, although the vesselstill tossed and tumbled about in frantic fashion, untilmy anxiety to see daylight again got the better of myfears, and I painfully made my way up the companion,opened it, and stepped on to the poop. The sight Ibeheld took away my breath. The Blitzen was a completewreck. Not a stick was standing except the threejagged stumps of the lower masts; the bulwarks werestripped from her sides for their entire length, thehouse on deck had clean disappeared, and everythingthat could be torn from its fastenings about the deckshad gone also. It was a clean sweep. A cold shiverwent through me, such as one might feel upon awakeningto find his house roofless and all his householdgoods exposed to the glare of day. But the sky wasclear, the sea was going down, and we were still afloat.A great wave of thankfulness came over me, suddenlychecked by the paralyzing thought that perhaps wehad sprung a leak. I stood still for a moment whilethis latest fear soaked in; then, bracing myself up tolearn the worst, I hurried forrard to try and find therod to sound the well. But it had gone, among the84rest of the carpenter’s gear, with the deck-house, and Iwas obliged to give up the idea. Returning aft, Iuncovered the cabin skylight and went below, findingYou Sing busy preparing some food. Then I suddenlyremembered that I was ravenously hungry, andwe all three sat down and ate our fill cheerfully andgladly. But while we were swallowing the last morselsof our meal, You Sing gravely lifted his hand and satlistening intently. There was a strange sound on deck,and it made me almost helpless with fear; for itsounded like the singing chatter of Chinese. We satfor a few moments as if suddenly frozen, listening withevery faculty, and hardly breathing. Then, ghost-like,You Sing rose, and, taking the two of us by the arms,gently persuaded us into one of the state-rooms athand, and signed to us to keep close while he wentto investigate. Noiselessly he glided away from usand was gone, leaving us a prey to the most harrowingsensations in the belief that all our cruel forebodingswere about to be proved true. For some time nota sound could be heard in our hiding-place except thesoothing creak of the timbers or the wash of thecaressing waves outside the hull. Yet I remembercuriously how even in that agony of suspense I noticedthat the motion of the ship was changed. She nolonger seemed to swing buoyantly from wave to wave,but solemnly, stolidly, she rolled, as if the sea had takenpossession of her, and bereft her of her own grace ofmastery.

A confused thudding sound reached us from above,as if caused by the pattering of bare feet on deck;85but there were no voices, nor, indeed, any other noisesto give us a clue as to what was going on. Very sooneven that slight sound ceased, and we were left againto the dumbness of our surroundings. The child wentto sleep; and I, after perhaps half an hour of strainedlistening, felt that I could bear this condition of thingsno longer, for it had seemed like a whole day to myexcited imaginings. So, as silently as had You Singlong ago, I stole from the little state-room and acrossthe saloon. With all my terrors weighing me down,I crawled, worm-like, up the companion-ladder, andwriggled on to the deck on all-fours. The sea, and thesky, and the barren deck all lay in perfect silence,which pressed upon me like one of those nightmaresin which you feel that unless you can scream you mustdie. After two or three attempts, I moistened myparched mouth and called, “You Sing!” There wasno voice of any one that answered. But that I thinkthe limit of my capacity for being terrified had beenreached some time before, I believe this irresponsiveness,with its accompanying sensation of being utterlyalone, would have made me an idiot. As it was, Ionly felt numbed and tired. Slowly I stood up uponmy feet, and went forrard to the break of the poop,learning at once the reason of You Sing’s silence;for by the side of the after-hatch lay three Chinese,naked and dead, bearing on their bodies the grim evidencesof the method of their ending. Close to thecabin door, as if he had dragged himself away from hislate antagonists in the vain hope of reaching his friendsagain, lay You Sing. As I looked down upon him he86moved slightly. In a moment, forgetting everythingelse, I was by his side, and lifted his head upon myknee. He opened his glazing eyes and looked upinto my face with his old sweet smile, now with somethingof highest satisfaction in it. His dry lips opened,and he murmured, “’Ullo, Tommy; all litee.” Thenthe intelligence faded out of his eyes, and he left me.

It must have been hours afterwards when I againrealized my surroundings. Elsie was sitting by thepiece of yellow clay that had been You Sing, perfectlystill, but with an occasional tearing sob. She musthave been crying for a long time. Gradually the wholeof the past came back to me, and I saw how our deadfriend had indeed paid in full what he considered to behis debt to us; although how that mild and gentlecreature, in whom I never saw even so much as ashade of vexation, much less anger, could have risento such a height of fighting valour as to slay threemen in our defence was utterly beyond my powers ofcomprehension. For, without attempting any eloquenceof panegyric, that was precisely what he haddone, and with his opponent’s own weapons, too. Tosay that I had not really felt lonely and helpless untilnow only faintly conveys the appalling sense of lossthat had come upon me. As for the poor child, shecrouched by the side of the corpse, scarcely morealive than it was, manifesting no fear or repugnance atthe presence of death; indeed, she appeared unable torealize the great fact in its full terror.

How long we both sat in this dazed condition it isimpossible to say with any definiteness. No doubt it87was for several hours, for we both seemed only partiallyalive; and, for my part, the only impression leftwas that all besides ourselves were dead. That feelingcarried with it a dim anticipation that we too mightexpect to find our turn to depart confronting us atany moment; but in this thought there was no fear,rather relief.

How often, I wonder, has it been noted that intimes of deep mental distress, when the mind appearsto have had a mortal blow, and all those higher facultieswhich are our peculiar possession are so numbedthat they give no definite assistance to the organism,the animal needs of the body have instinctively assertedthemselves, and thus saved the entire man or womanfrom madness or death? It must surely be one of thecommonest of experiences, although seldom formulatedin so many words. At any rate, this was now thecase with me. Gradually the fact that I was parchedwith thirst became the one conscious thing; and, withoutthinking about it, without any definite idea even,I found myself on my feet, swaying and staggeringas I crossed the bare deck to where the scuttle-buttused to be lashed. Finding it gone, I stood helplesslystaring at the ends of the lashings that had secured it,with a dull, stupid anger of disappointment. Then Ibegan to think; I had to, for my need was imperative.I remembered that You Sing had brought into thecabin before the typhoon a store of water sufficient fordays. This mental effort was bracing, doing much torestore me again to some show of usefulness. I soonfound the water, and hurried on deck once more, for88the cabin was no place to stay in now. It was tenantedby shapes of dread, full of inaudible signs of woe; andright glad was I to regain the side of the little girlfor living companionship. I offered her some water.She looked at it dully, as if unable to attach any ideato it; and it was only by repeatedly rousing her that Imanaged to awaken any reason in her injured mind atall. In the absence of any such compulsion, I thinkshe would have just sat still and ceased to live, painlesslyand unconsciously.

Now that the needs of another were laid upon me, Ibegan to move about a little more briskly, and tonotice our condition with returning interest. Forsome time the strange steadiness of the ship had puzzledme without arousing any definite inquiry in mymind as to the cause of it. But in crossing the deckto re-enter the cabin the true significance of that wantof motion suddenly burst upon me, for I saw the calmface of the water only a few inches from the deck-line.The Blitzen was sinking. During the typhoon shemust have received tremendous injuries from thewreckage of her top-hamper, that, floating alongside,entangled in the web of its rigging, was as dangerousas so many rocks would have been. There was urgentneed now for thought and action also, for therewas nothing of any kind on deck floatable. Boats,spars, hen-coops, all had gone. A thousand futilethoughts chased one another through my throbbingbrain, but they ran in circles that led nowhere. Thereseemed to be no possible means of escape. Yet somehowI was not hopeless. I felt a curious reliance upon89the fact that we two small people had come through somuch unhurt in any way, and this baseless unreasoningfaith in our good (?) fortune forbade me to despair.So that I cannot say I felt greatly surprised when Ipresently saw on the starboard side forrard a smallsampan floating placidly, its grass painter made fast tothe fore-chains. There was no mystery about its appearance.It had brought those awful visitors whosedefeat caused You Sing his life, and was probably theonly surviving relic of some junk that had founderedin the storm. The sight of it did me a world of good.Rushing to Elsie, I pointed out the fact of our immediatedanger, and of the hope left us, and after somelittle difficulty succeeded in getting her into the sampan.The Blitzen was now so low in the water thatmy remaining time was countable by seconds. Iflew into the cabin, snatched up a few biscuits and thelarge can of water that stood in the bathroom, andrushed for the boat. As I scrambled into her with myburden I noticed shudderingly that the ship was beginningto move, but with such a motion! It waslike the death-throe of a man—a physical fact withwhich of late I had been well acquainted. Every plankof her groaned as if in agony; she gave a quiveringsideway stagger. My fingers trembled so that I couldhardly cast adrift the painter, which I was compelledto do, having no knife. I got the clumsy hitchesadrift at last, and with one of the rough oars gave ourfrail craft a vigorous shove off, Elsie staring all thewhile at the huge hull with dilating eyes and drawnwhite face. Presently the Blitzen seemed to stumble;90a wave upreared itself out of the smooth brightness ofthe placid sea and embraced her bows, drawing themgently down. So gently, like a tired woman sinkingto rest, did the Blitzen leave the light, and only a fewfoam-flecked whorls and spirals on the surface markedfor a minute or two the spot where she had been.

Happily for us who were left, our troubles werenearly at an end. One calm night of restless dozingunder the warm sky, trying not to think of what atiny bubble we made on the wide sea, we passed notuncomfortably. Just before dawn I felt rather thanheard a throbbing, its regular pulsations beating steadilyas if inside my head. But they had not lasted oneminute before I knew them for the propeller-beat ofa steamer, and strained my eyes around through thedeparting darkness for a sight of her. Straight for usshe came, the watchful officer on the bridge havingseen us more than a mile off. In the most matter-of-factway we were taken on board, and Elsie was soonmothered by the skipper’s wife, while I was beingmade much of by the men. And that was all. Of allthat mass of treasure that had caused the sacrifice ofso many lives not one atom remained where it couldever again raise the demon of murder in humanbreasts. And although I could not realize all this, Ireally did not feel sorry that I had not succeeded insaving the slightest portion of it, my thankfulness atbeing spared alive being so great.

There were no passengers on board to make a fuss,so none was made. Three days afterwards we were atHong Kong, and Elsie was handed over to the German91Consul, who gravely took down my story, but I couldsee did not believe half of it. I bade good-bye toElsie, having elected to remain by the steamer, whereI was being well treated, and in due time reachedEngland again, a step nearer to becoming a full-fledgedseaman.

93

THE DEBT OF THE WHALE

Elisha Cushing, skipper of the Beluga, SouthSeaman, of Martha’s Vineyard, was a hard-bittenYankee of the toughest of that tough race. Even inthe sternest of mankind there is usually to be foundsome soft spot, some deeply-hidden well of feeling thatat the touch of the right hand will bubble up in akindly stream, even though it be hermetically sealedto all the world beside. But those who knew CaptainCushing best were wont to say that he must have beencradled on an iceberg, spent his childhood in a whaler’sfo’c’sle, hardened himself by the constant contemplationand practice of cruelty, until, having arrived atthe supreme position of master of his own ship, he wasless of a man than a pitiless automaton who regardedneither God nor devil, and only looked upon other menas an engineer might upon the cogs of a machine. Few,indeed, are the men who, throughout a voyage lastingfrom three to four years, shut up within the narrowbounds of a small ship, could entirely do without humancompanionship, could abstain from some friendlyintercourse, however infrequent, with those aroundthem. Yet Captain Cushing was even such a man.No one knew how he passed his abundant leisure. Hewas never seen reading, he did not smoke, no intoxicating94drink was ever allowed on board his ship; infact at all times, except when whale-fishing was beingcarried on, he was to all appearance a body withouta mind, a figure of a man who moved and ate andslept mechanically, yet whom to offend was to courtnothing less than torture. Those unspeculating eyesmissed nothing; not a member of the crew but feltthat in some not-to-be-explained fashion all his doings,almost his very thoughts, were known to the grimcommander, and hard, indeed, was the lot of any unfortunatewho in any way came athwart the stern codeof rules that appeared to govern Captain Cushing’scommand. Nevertheless he had one virtue—he didnot interfere. So long as the business of the shipwent on as goes a good clock, there was peace. Thediscipline was perfect; it reduced the human itemsthat composed the Beluga’s crew to something verynearly resembling a piece of carefully constructedmechanism, for Captain Cushing’s genius lay that way.Out of the many crews that he had commanded duringhis thirty years’ exercise of absolute power he waswont to winnow officers that were a reflex of his ownmind, and it mattered not how raw were the recruitsbundled on board his ship at the last moment beforeleaving home, the Cushing system speedily reducedthem to a condition of absolute mindlessness as far asany wish of their own was concerned. They becamesimply parts of the engine whereby Captain Cushing’shuge store of dollars was augmented.

It was an article of religion among the afterguardof the Beluga, handed on to each new-comer by some95unspoken code of communication, that the “oldman’s” being and doing might never be discussed.The subject was “tabu,” not to be approached uponany pretext, although nothing could be more certainthan that it lay uppermost in every officer’s mind.Among the crew, in that stifling den forrard wherethirty men of almost as many differing nationalitieslived and sometimes died, the mystery of the grimskipper’s ways, coupled with queer yarns about hisantecedents, was occasionally commented upon withbated breath in strange mixtures of language. Butsomehow it always happened that, closely followingupon any conversation of the kind, the injudicioustalkers ran butt up against serious trouble. No chargeswere made, no definite punishments were awarded;but loss of rest, dangerous and unnecessary tasks,kickings and stripes exhibited casually, were their portionfor a season. These things had the effect of excitingan almost superstitious reverence for the captain’spowers of knowing what was going on, coupledwith a profound distrust of each other among the foremasthands, that made for their subjection perhapsmore potently than even the physical embarrassmentswhich formed so liberal a part of their daily lot. Andyet, such is the perversity of human nature, wheneverthe Beluga gammed another whaler, and the wretchedcrowd got a chance to talk to strangers, they actuallyindulged in tall talk, “gas” about their skipper’s smartnessas a whaleman, his ability as a seaman, and,strangest of all, his eminence as a hard citizen whowould “jes’ soon killer man’s look at ’im.” Every96fresh device of his for screwing extra work out of hisgalley-slaves, every mean and low-down trick playedupon them for the lessening of their scanty food orrobbing them of their hard-earned pay, only seemed toincrease their admiration for him, as if his diabolicalpersonality had actually inverted all their ideas of rightand wrong.

The man himself, the centre of this little cosmosof whose dreary round pleasure formed not the minutestpart, was apparently about 55 years of age. Hehad been tall, above the average, but a persistent stoophad modified that particular considerably. The greatpeculiarity about his appearance was his head, whichwas shaped much like a fir-cone. From the apex ofit fell a few straggling wisps of hay-coloured hair thatdid not look as if they belonged there, but had beenblown against the scalp and stuck there accidentally.Wide, outstanding ears, pointed at the top like a bat’s,eyes that were just straight slits across the parchmentface, from between whose bare edges two inscrutablepupils of different but unnameable colours looked out,a straight, perfectly shaped nose, so finely finished thatit looked artificial, and another straight lipless slit fora mouth completes his facial portrait. His arms wereabnormally long, and his legs short, while his gait,from long walking upon greasy decks, was a bear-likeshuffle. It was whispered in the fo’c’sle that hisstrength was gigantic, and there was a tradition extantof his having wrung a recalcitrant harpooner’s neckwith his bare hands as one would a fowl’s; but noneof his present crew had seen him exert himself at all.97What impressed them most, however, was his voice.Ordinarily he spoke in almost a faint whisper, such asa dying man might be supposed to utter, but it musthave been very distinct in articulation, as he was neverknown to speak twice. Yet, if at any time it becamenecessary for him to hail a boat or a passing ship, thatstrange opening in his head would unclose, and forthfrom it would issue a strident sound that carried fartherthan the bellow of any angry bull.

His “luck” was proverbial. None of his officersever knew, any more than did the meanest memberof the ship’s company, whither he was bound, nor inwhat unfrequented areas of ocean he sought the valuablecreatures from which he was amassing so muchwealth. Of course, they knew, as all sailors do fromclose observation of courses made, land seen, weather,etc., within a few hundred miles or so, but their knowledgewas never ample enough to have enabled themafterwards to take another ship along the same tracksthat the Beluga had found so richly frequented bypayable whales. But Elisha Cushing added to his so-calledluck almost superhuman energy. If he did notspare his unhappy slaves, he was no more merciful tohimself. Never a boat was lowered after whales, nomatter what the weather or how few the prey, but hewas foremost; as if he loved (if it be admissible to mentionlove in connection with this emotionless man)the chase for its own sake, or, knowing that he carrieda charmed life, dared to take risks that no ordinaryman would do except under compulsion. There wasone marked feature of his whaling, however, that was98noticed by all his crew, if, owing to the difficultieshinted at before, it was seldom discussed. Wheneverthe boats approached either a single whale or a whaleschool, Captain Cushing would surely be seen standinghigh on the two quarter-cleats in the stern-sheets ofhis boat, searching with sparkling, almost glaring eyesamong them for something. It was believed that theboats never “went on a whale” until the skipper hadfirst passed them (the whales) all in review, and fullysatisfied himself that the object of his search, whateverit might be, was not there. His scrutiny over, thegame commenced, and surely never, since the boldBiscayan fishermen first attacked the questing rorqualsthat visited their shores, with bone and flint pointedlances, was there ever seen such whale-hunting as thatcarried on by Elisha Cushing. Without changingcolour, or raising his voice above its usual low murmur,he would haul his boat up alongside of the mountainousmammal, order her to be held there, and then,disregarding the writhings and wallowing of the greatcreature, he would calmly feel for the ribs or theshoulder-blades with the lance point. And havingfound an interspace, the long arms would straightenout, and four feet of the lance would glide like aslender bright snake into the mighty vitals, only tobe withdrawn on the instant and plunged home againand again and again, each thrust taking a new turnwithin, and causing the black, hot blood to burst fromthe wound as from the nozzle of a fire-hose. Or,quietly seated on the gunwale, he would select hisspot, and probe with the lance as a surgeon might99seek for a bullet in the body of an insensible patient.Should the boat swerve away from the whale ever soslightly until he gave the signal, he would look round,and on the instant five men, albeit in the very shadowof death, would feel a creeping at the pit of their stomachs,and a frantic desire to avert his anger; for he hadbeen known to reach across the boat and snatch a manfrom his thwart with one hand, flinging him, a limp,ragged bundle, far out of the boat, and not caringwhere. The only signs that he ever showed of anythingunusual being toward, was a faint blue patchthat appeared in the middle of his otherwise yellowcheek, and a reddish glint in his eyes. In spite of hispeculiarities, his men were proud to be members ofhis boat’s crew, for his skill was of so high an orderthat his apparent recklessness never got him a boatstove or lost him a man; while his officers, though thepick and flower of whalemen, had their usual share ofcasualties.

About two years of the cruise had gone by, and theBeluga’s hold was already more than two-thirds fullof oil, in spite of the fact that several shipments homehad been made during the voyage. After a season onthe Vasquez ground in the South Pacific, where shehad averaged two whales a week, she was now steeringan easterly course with a little south in it—notcruising, but making a passage apparently for the“off-shore grounds,” on the coast of Chili. Onemorning at daybreak the cry of “sail-ho” from thecrow’s-nest reached Captain Cushing in his cabin, andbefore the officer on deck had time to answer, his100deep breathed tones were heard welling up from belowin reply, “Where away.” The stranger was a whalingbarque also, lying hove-to right ahead, as if expectingand waiting for the Beluga. When the two vesselswere within three miles of each other, Captain Cushingordered his boat away, and with an order to the mateto “keep her jes ’s she is,” he departed. No soonerhad his crew put him alongside than he climbed onboard, and, contrary to the usual practice, orderedthem away from the stranger, telling them to lie ontheir oars at a little distance until he should call them.The skipper of the stranger (still an unknown ship tothe Beluga’s crew, as she had no name visible) metCaptain Cushing at the gangway, presenting as completea contrast to that inscrutable man as could wellbe imagined. A dumpy, apple-faced little fellow, witha lurking smile in every dimple, and a mat of brightred curls covering his round head. Snatching thelanguidly offered paw of his visitor, he burst forth,“Wall, ef this ent grate! I be tarnally ding-bustedef I wa’nt a talkin’ ’bout ye las’ night, talkin’ t’ meselfthat is,” he hastily interjected, upon seeing the lookthat Cushing turned upon him. “But kem alongdaown b’low n’hev—wall I wonder wut y’ will hev.Don’ seem sif y’ ever hev anythin’. Nev’ mine, lessgit b’low anyhaow.” And together they descended.

For a long time the little man did all the talking—afterthe manner of a trusted manager of a thrivingbusiness making his report to his principal. He toldof whales caught, of boats stove, of gear carried away—quitethe usual routine—while Cushing listened101with his impenetrable mask, through which it was impossibleto see whether he was interested or not. Itwas like talking to a graven image. But still, as thetale went on, and it appeared that the little talker hadbeen fairly successful, there was a slight relaxing ofthe rigid pose, which to the eye of the initiate speltsatisfaction. For all unknown to any one except theruddy skipper talking to him, Cushing was really theowner of this unnamed ship—a vessel that he hadstolen from an anchorage in the Pelew Islands, whileall her crew were ashore on a furious debauch whichhad lasted for several weeks, and had ever since beenrunning her in this mysterious fashion by the aid ofthe one man in the wide world in whom he could besaid to repose any confidence. That story is, however,too long to be told here.

The recital was apparently finished, when suddenly,as if he had just remembered an important part of hisreport, the narrator resumed, his jolly red face assumingan air of gravity that was strangely out of harmonywith it. “An’ cap’,” said he, “I’d eenamost fergot—Imet up with the spotted whale of the Bonins las’cruise. I——”

But there was a sudden change, an unearthlybrightening into copper colour of Cushing’s face, ashe sprang to his feet, and, with his long fingers workingconvulsively, gurgled out, “’R ye sure? Don’tye mislead me, Silas, ’r ye’d be better dead everytime. Naow yew jest gi’ me th’ hull hang o’ thisthing ’fore y’ say ’nother word ’bout anythin’!”

There was no mask of indifference now. The man102was transformed into a living embodiment of eagerdesire, and bold indeed would any have been thatwould have dared to thwart him. No such idea wasin his hearer’s thoughts, at any rate, for no sooner hadhe done speaking than Silas leaned forward and said—

“Yes, cap’, I am sure, not thet it’s hardly wuthwhile sayin’ so, fur yew couldn’t imagine me bein’mistook over a critter like thet. ’Twas this way. Ev’since thet affair I’ve scurcely ever fergot yew’re orders—t’look eout fer Spotty an’ let ye’ know fustchance whar he uz usin’ roun’, but at this perticlerlowerin’ we jest had all eour soup ladled eout fer usan’ no mistake. Ther’d ben a matter o’ a dozen shipsov us in compny, ’n I wuz bizzy figgerin’ haow t’ gitrid’r some ov ’em befo’ we struck whale. I noo theywuz abaout; the air wuz jest thick up with whalesmell, ’n every one ov my boys wuz all alive. Wall,we hove to thet night ’s ushal till midnight, ’n thenI sez t’ myself, sez I, ef I don’t up-stick ’n run southI’m a horse. Fur, ye see, ’twuz born in ’pon me thetwhales wuz comin’ up from the line away, ’n a bigschool too. I doan’ know why, ov course not, butthar twuz—y’ know how ’tis yerself.

“Sure ’nough by dayspring they wa’nt a ship insight of us, but at seven bells we raised whale, ’n b’gosh I reckon they was mos’ a thousan’ of ’em spreadall out to looard of us more like a school o’ porps thanhunderd bar’l whales—which they wuz every last oneov ’em, cep them thet wuz bigger. They wa’nt muchwind, ’n we lowered five boats ’n put f’r them whalesall we knew. Tell y’ wut, cap’, I’ve seen some tall103spoutin’, but that mornin’s work jest laid raight overall I ever heer tell ov, much less see. We all got fas’on the jump, ’n then we cut loose agen. Reason why,we couldn’t move fur ’em. They jest crowded in onus, quite quiet; they wa’nt a bit er fight in one ov ’em,and we handled the lances on the nearest. That patcho’ sea wuz jest a saladero now I’m tellin’ ye. We neverchipped a splinter ner used ten fathom o’ tow line,’n be my recknin we killed twenty whales. Gradjullythe crowd drawed off, leavin’ us with all that plunderlyin’ roun’ loose, an I wuz beginnin’ t’ wish I hadn’trun so fur away from the fleet. Fur I knew we couldn’handle sech a haul’s thet—more’n haef ov em’d be rotten’fore we c’d cut in ef we’d worked f’r a week oneend ’thout a minnit’s rest.

“While we wuz jest drawin’ breth like after th’ war,and the shipkeepers ’uz a workin’ her daown t’ us, myharponeer sings out ’sif he’d a ben snake bit, ‘Blow-w-s’n breaches! Ee’r sh’ white waterrs. Madre di Gloria,Capena, lookee what come.’ ’N thar shore nuff he uzcomin’; Spotty fur true. I know, cap. I never seehim afore. All I knoo ’bout him uz wut ye told me, an’I doan mine ownin’ up naow at I thought y’ mout haben a bit loony on thet subjec, but I tek it all back, ’n’umbly axes yer pardin.

“Yaas, sir, he come; like all hell let loose. He jesflung himself along the top er th’ sea like a dolphin,’n I reckin we all felt kiender par’litic. Soon’s I gotme breath I sings out t’ cut adrif’, fur we’d all got tow-linesfast to flukes ready to pass abroad, and handlebomb-guns quick. Then when he come within range104t’ let him have ’em full butt’n put f’r th’ ship. Don’tsay I felt very brash ’baout it, but twuz the best I c’dthink ov. He kem, oh yes, sir, he kem, ’n the sight ofhis charge brung a verse of th’ Bible (haint lookedinside one f’r twenty years) into my mind. Goessuthin like this ‘The mountings skipped like rams, th’little hills like young sheep.’ We done all we knoo,we twisted and tarned an’ pulled an’ starned; but youknow, cap, better ’n any of us, thet the boat never wasbuilt thet c’d git out of th’ way ov a spalmacitty whalewhen he’d made up his mine fur mischief. ’N wewa’nt no excepshin. We weakened at las’, ’n took th’water, whar we knoo he wouldn’t tech us, ’n b’ gosh hedidn’ leave a plank o’ one o’ them thar boats whole. Idoan know why he didn’ foller it up or go fur th’ ship.Ef he hed thar’d a ben an eend of the story, sure. Butno, he just disappeared quiet ’s death, ’n we all gutpicked up in time. Yes, ’n we managed to rig up ourspare boat ’n git five of them whales cut in too, thoughI’m free t’ confess the last of ’em wuz middlin’ gameyby th’ time they got t’ th’ try pots. The rest jestfloated erroun ’n stunk up th’ North Persific Ocean tilltwuz like a graveyard struck be ’n erthquake. But wegot six hunderd barl out of th’ catch, anyway.”

While the recital was proceeding, Cushing’s facewas a study. He listened without moving a muscle,but rage, hope, and joy chased one another over thatusually expressionless mask like waves raised by suddensqualls over the calm surface of a sheltered lake.And when it was over he rose wearily, saying—

“All right, Jacob; when ye’re through put fur the105old rondyvoos an’ discharge. I’ll be long ’bout Marchan’ range fur next cruise. So long. I’m off t’ th’Bonins full pelt.”

“But, Cap’n Cushing, is ut worth huntin’ up thatgauldern spotty beast ’n gettin’ ’tarnally smashed upfur an’ idee? Why caint y’ leave ’im alone? Sure’sdeeth he’ll do ye a hurt. Take a fool’s advice, cap’n,’n let him die ov ole age or accident.”

“Jacob, my man, y’ fergit yerself. When I wantyew’re advice, I’ll seek it. Till then don’t ye offer it.Tain’t t’ my likin’, fur I’m accustomed to take no manas my counsellor. So long once more, ’n don’t fergity’r orders.”

In two strides he reached the top of the companion-ladder,and with that wide-breathed cry of his that weknew so well had summoned his boat. She sprang tothe nameless barque’s side like a living thing, CaptainCushing stepped into her, and the queer gam wasover. Back alongside he came, standing erect as amonolith in the stern-sheets, and, hardly allowing timefor the boat to be hooked on, issued rapid orders forall sail to be made; the helm was put hard up, andaway we went N.W. No one ventured an opinionupon this sudden change, but every one looked volumesof inquiry. And no one dared even hint to hisfellow the wonder, the painful curiosity, he felt as, dayafter day, before a strong south-east trade, the Belugadid her steady seven knots an hour, nor stayed for anything.Again and again the cry of “blow” came ringingdown from the crows’-nests, and as often as it washeard the old man mounted aloft with his glasses, and106stayed until he had apparently satisfied himself ofsomething. But never a halt did we make. No, andas if the very whales themselves knew of our pre-occupation,a school actually rose near and accompanied usfor a whole watch, gambolling along massively withingun-shot on either side. They might as well havebeen a thousand miles away for all the notice the oldman took of them. He just leaned upon the weather-rail,gazing with expressionless face at the unchangingring of the horizon—a fathomless enigma to all of us.The proximity of those whales, however, troubled theofficers more than anything else had done, and it tookall their inbred terror of the old man to keep themfrom breaking into open mutiny. Even among us,who had little interest in the voyage from a monetarypoint of view, and to whom the capture of whales onlymeant a furious outburst of the hardest work, the feelingof indignation at the loss of so grand an opportunitywas exceedingly hard to bear.

Onward we sped until we got among the islands,but no slackening of haste, except when the windlulled, was indulged in. By day or by night wethreaded those mazy archipelagoes as if the whole intricatenavigation was as familiar to the skipper asthe rooms of his cabin. Such ship-handling surelynever was seen. Perched upon the fore-yard, the onlylight visible being the blazing foam spreading widelyout on either bow and ahead where the staunch oldship plunged through those phosphorescent waters,the glowing patches cropping up hither and thither allaround as the indolent Pacific swell broke irritably107over some up-cropping coral patch, and the steelysparkles of the stars in the blue-black sky above, CaptainCushing conned the ship as easily and confidentlyas a pilot entering New York harbour on midsummerday, his quiet voice sounding down from where hecrouched invisible as if we were being celestially directed.There was no feeling of apprehension amongus, for our confidence in his genius was perfect, makingus sure that whatever of skill in navigation wasrequired he surely possessed it.

Nevertheless, the mystery of our haste across thewhole vast breadth of the Pacific fretted every man,even the dullest. It was outside all our previous experience.Perhaps the only thing that made it bearablewas the knowledge that not one of the officers wasany better informed than we were. Foremast handsare always jealous of the information obtainable inthe cuddy, and even though it may not be of theslightest use to them, any scrap they may obtain givesto the lucky eavesdropper a sort of brevet-rank forthe time being. Here, however, all that was to beknown as to our movements, the reason for them, andthe ultimate object of our long passage, with its unprecedentedhaste, was locked up in one man’s mind,and that man a graven image for secretiveness.

Such was the expeditiousness of our passage thatseven weeks after gamming the nameless whaler onthe “off-shore” ground, we sighted one of the Volcanogroup of islands which lie near the Bonins in thegreat eddy of the Kuro Siwo or Japanese current, andform one of the landmarks of what was once the108busiest sperm whaling-ground on the globe. Theshape of the island, more like the comb of a co*ck thananything else, was familiar to many of us, and gave usfor the first time for months a clear idea of our position.So we were on the Japan ground. It was a relief toknow that much, certainly; but why—why had we, contraryto all whaling precedent, made a passage of severalthousand miles in such haste? No answer. Buthaving arrived, our usual whaling tactics were immediatelyresumed. With a difference. Instead of beingkept hard at work during all the hours of daylightscrubbing, polishing, cleaning, until the old oil-barrelof a ship was as spick and span as a man-o’-war, theword was passed that the watch on deck were to keepa look-out for whale—every man of them except himat the wheel. And the watchers in the crows’-nestwere provided each with a pair of binoculars—a thingunheard of before. So the ship became a veritableargus. It is safe to say that nothing, not even a frondof seaweed, or a wandering sea-bird, ever passed withinrange of sight without being seen and noted. After afew days of this most keen outlook came another surprisein the shape of a speech from the old man.

Calling all hands aft, he faced us for a minute insilence, while every heart beat a trifle quicker as if wewere on the threshold of a mystery deeper than anythat had yet worried us. He spoke quietly, dispassionately,yet with that blue patch in the middle ofeach yellow cheek that was to us the symbol of hismost intense excitement. “I’ve kem up hyar aefterone whale, ’n ef I git him th’ v’yge is over. He’s big,109bigger’n enny man here’s ever seen, I guess, an’ he’sspotted with white on brown like a pieball horse. Yewkaint mistake him. I’ll give five hundred dollars t’ th’man that raises him first, ’n I’ll divide five thousandamong ye ’cordin t’ grade ef I kill him. An’ whenwe’ve cut him in we’ll up-stick f’r Noo Bedford.Naow, ef this is enny indoocement t’ ye, keep y’reyes skinned by day and night. Moreover, I warnye thet this ship doan’t see civilization agen untilI git wut I’m after, ’r I go under. Thet’ll do, allhaends.”

In any other ship this harangue would have beensucceeded by a buzz of chat as soon as the fellows gotforward, but here not a word was spoken. Thenceforward,though it was evident that not a thoughtcould be spared, not a look wasted from scanning thewide circle of blue around, by night and by day thewatch never slackened, and men would hardly sleepfor eagerness to be the first to claim the prize. Yet,as so often happens, it fell to one who had the leastopportunity of obtaining it, the mulatto steward whoseduties kept him below most of the time. About tendays after the skipper’s offer the steward crept ondeck one evening about eight bells, his long day’swork just over, and slouching forward into the waistleaned over the side and began to fill his pipe. It wasa heavenly evening, hardly a breath of air breaking thesleekiness of the sea-surface, the slightest perceptibleswell giving us a gentle undulatory motion, and overheadthe full moon hung in the cloudless dome likean immense globe glowing with electric light. The110steward had finished filling his pipe, and was just feelingfor a match when he stopped suddenly and saidto his nearest neighbour, “Oliver, what in thunder’sthet right in the moon-glade?” The whisper ranround the ship as if on a telephone, and in less than aminute all the night-glasses were on the spot. Theskipper’s voice broke the silence—hardly broke it—soquiet yet audible was it. “’Way boats. Th’ firstman thet makes a noise, I’ll cripple him f’r life.Stoord, g’lang b’low ’n git y’r money; ye’ll find iton my bunk-shelf.”

Like a crew of ghosts, we sped to our stations,hanging over side and booming the boats off as theywere lowered with the utmost caution lest there shouldbe a rattle of a patent block or a splash as they took thewater. In five minutes we were all away, five boats,the skipper leading and every man, except the officerssteering, wielding an Indian paddle as if his life dependedupon utter silence. As we sat facing forrardevery eye was strained for a glimpse of the enemy, butat that low level and in the peculiar glare of a moonlittropical night we could see nothing. Moreover, wewere paddling along the glittering path cast upon thesea by the moon, and a few minutes’ steady gaze uponthat stretch of molten silver made the eyes burn andthrob, so that it was an intense relief to close them fora while. At every dip of the paddles there was an additionalflash in the water, behind each boat and farbeneath myriads of dancing gleams disported themselves,while in ever-accumulating numbers widebands of pale fire radiating from opaque bodies keeping111company with us told us of the shark hosts musteringfor the fight wherein they, at any rate, werelikely to fall heirs to goodly spoil.

Without a pause for rest, and in the same utter stillness,we toiled on for at least two hours. It was backbreakingwork, and but for the splendid training wewere in we could not possibly have held out. Thensuddenly from ahead came a yell of wild laughter, themost blood-chilling sound surely ever heard. Immediatelyfollowing it we saw a veritable hill of lightupraise itself out of the sea ahead, and realized thatat last our quarry was brought to bay. “In paddles,out oars!” yelled the officers, and as we obeyed wewere aware that a terrific commotion was in progressahead. The greenish-glaring spray ascended in longjets, and the dull boom of mighty blows reverberatedover the hitherto quiet sea. Pulling till our sinewscracked, we reached the storm-centre, and, by whatseemed a miracle, actually succeeded in getting fast tothe whale—every boat did that, although it seemed tomany of us a suicidal policy under the circ*mstances.Shouts and curses resounded until a voice was heardthat enforced silence, the far-reaching tones of CaptainCushing, who was nearest to the foe, but for all hisability was unable to do more once he had got fast.For now the whale had settled down into a steadystraightforward rush at the rate of about fourteenknots an hour, the five boats sweeping along in hiswake like meteors glancing across the deep darknessof the night. The whale could not be seen. Only atlong intervals did he slant upwards and, with a roar112like the lifting of an overloaded safety-valve, disappearagain.

So on we went through the warm quiet night withoutthe slightest sign of slackening until the gladsomelight of dawn quickened on the sea-rim, and showedus that we were alone—there was no sign of the ship.A gaunt and haggard crew we looked, anxiety scoringdeep furrows in our wan faces. And as the sun spranginto the sky we suddenly came to a dead stop. Thestrain on the line compelled us to pay out, and thuswe hovered in a circle, bows awash, and awaited thepleasure of our foe. There was a sudden upspringingof all boats, a hasty manœuvring to clear one anotheras far as might be, and, before any of us could haveimagined it possible, high into our midst leaped thespotted whale, his awful jaws agape, and his wholebody writhing in its evolution. Straight for the skipper’sboat he came, taking it diagonally, and, with acrash that set all our teeth on edge, she disappeared.A mist arose before our sight, the spray of the conflictfilling the air, but, fired beyond fear by the wholesaletragedy we believed had taken place, we bent toour oars till they cracked, thirsting for that monster’sblood. As we came bounding to the spot he disappeared,and, to our unspeakable amazement (thoughwe had no time to show it) all the destroyed boat’screw reappeared. But if Captain Cushing had lookeddangerous before, his appearance now was that of ademoniac. His cap was gone, so that the yellow domeof his head loomed strangely in the early morninglight, his clothing hung from him in ribbons, and his113right arm dangled as if only held by a few sinews. Hehad come right out of the whale’s jaws. All the otherswere scathless.

To all offers of help he turned a savage scowl, andseizing a bomb-gun in his uninjured hand he jammedhimself in the boat’s bows, his voice, unaltered save forbeing a little higher in pitch, being heard and obeyedamong the other boats on the instant. The whale returned.At the captain’s orders all cut their lines, andthe real fight began. Truly Captain Cushing was fitto be a leader of men, for his eyes missed nothing. Athis orders all four boats advanced, retreated, backed,circled, stopped dead. He seemed able to penetratethe misleading medium of the water, where a whale attwenty fathoms’ depth looks like a salmon, and whatevermove the monster made, his counter-move baffledthe savage intent. Yet all the time we were strictlyon the defensive. Our long night’s tow, want of foodand drink, and since daylight the tremendous strainupon our nerves, was surely telling against us, and ouradversary was apparently tireless. Not only so, but hisingenuity never flagged. Ruse after ruse was tried byhim, but no two were alike. And without a doubt ourhopes of coming alive out of this battle were growingfainter and fainter every moment.

Things were in this gloomy stage when, with amost appalling roar, the whale suddenly broke wateron his back, and launched himself at the captain’s boat.The wide sea boiled like a pot as he came, but, to ourhorror, the boat lay still, as if anchored to the spot.The crash came, and amidst its uproar we heard the114sharp report of a gun. Like a great whirlpool thewaters foamed and rose, nothing being distinguishablein the midst of the vortex until it gradually subsided,and we saw the fragments of the boat idly tossingupon the crimson foam. Hastening to the rescue, wefound six men still alive, but all sadly hurt. The seventhwas gone. At last Captain Cushing had paid infull the debt that had been owing. We were now completelyoverborne with fatigue as well as overloadedwith helpless men—utterly unfit to compete any furtherwith so fearful a foe. While we lay thus helplesslyawaiting what all felt must be the end, thewhale again broke water about twenty yards away.Up, up, up into the air he rose, effortless, majestically;and as he soared aloft every heart stood still to seethe body of our late commander hanging limply atthe angle of that yawning mouth. The yellow visagewas towards us, the same savage grin frozen upon it,but the will against which everything had shiveredwas now but the will of the drift-weed round about;that clammy piece of clay was tenantless.

Down came the gigantic form, tearing up the seainto foam and disappeared from our sight, to be seenno more. Long and wearily we waited, hungry andthirsty, and some in agony from their injuries, untiltwenty-four hours later the Beluga found us, and allwere safely taken on board. Strangely transformedthe old ship appeared. At first we went about as wehad been wont, not daring to exchange thoughts withone another. But gradually the blessed truth soakedin. We were freed from a tyranny more dire than any115of us had realized—a tyranny over mind as well asbody. Officers and men rejoiced together, for all hadsuffered. And it was at once decided to return homein leisurely fashion, calling at well-known ports on theway, and endeavouring to make up by a little joy oflife for past miseries.

What the true inwardness of Captain Cushing’sdesire of revenge on the spotted whale was we neverrightly knew, but many rumours were current amongships that we gammed that he had, with his own handmany years before, killed the whale of a small pod, orcompany of whales, of which the spotted whale was theleader, and that they had met on several occasionsafterwards, their meeting always being attended bysome grave disaster to Cushing’s ship and crew. Thishad wrought upon his mind until it had become amania, and he was willing to risk all for the chanceof slaying his redoubtable foe. But we had no doubtthat the whale was merely the instrument chosen byProvidence for meting out to him a death he richly deservedfor his many crimes.

117

THE SKIPPER’S WIFE

Stories of the Sea have in my humble opinionbeen quite unfairly dealt with by the majority of theirnarrators. Told for the benefit of non-seafaring folkby writers, who, however great their literary gifts, havehad merely a nodding acquaintance with the everydaydoings on board ship, they generally lack proportion,and fail to convey to shore folk an intimate sense ofthe sea-atmosphere. Especially has this been so withbooks for young people, as was no doubt to be expected.So much has this been the case that sailorsgenerally despise sea-stories, finding them utterly unlikeanything they have ever experienced themselves.Of late years there have been some notable exceptionsamong sea story writers, most of them happily stillliving and doing splendid service. One cunning handis still, that of James Runciman, whose yarns are saltas the ocean, and have most truly held the mirror upto Nature in a manner unexcelled by any other marinewriter living or dead. Freedom from exaggeration,clarity of expression, and sympathetic insight into sea-lifewere his main features, and no one hated morethan he the utterly impossible beings and doings commonto the bulk of sea-fiction.

Whether it be from lack of imaginative power or118an unfertile inventiveness I cannot say, but it has alwaysappeared to me as if one need never travel outsidethe actual facts of his experience, however humdrumit may appear to the casual observer, to findmatters sufficiently interesting to hold any intelligentreader enthralled, always providing that matter be wellpresented. And in that belief I venture to tell a plaintale here, into which no fiction enters except propernames.

Drifting about the world, as the great fucus wandersfrom shore to shore, having once been dislodgedfrom its parent rock, I one day found myself ashore atQuilimane, desperately anxious to get a berth in anycapacity on board ship for the sole purpose of gettingaway. My prospects were not very rosy, for the onlyvessels in the hateful place were two or three crazycountry craft with Arab crews, that looked exceedinglylike slavers to me. At last, to my intense relief, asmart looking barquentine entered the port and anchored.I was, as usual, lounging about the beach (itseemed the healthiest place I could find) and my longingeyes followed every move of the crew as theybusied themselves in getting the boat out. When thecaptain stepped ashore I was waiting to meet him, andthe first words he heard were—

Do you want a hand, cap’n?”

Taking keen stock of me, he said, “What sort of aberth do you want?”

“Well, sir,” I replied, “I’ve got a second-mate’sticket, but I’ll go as boy for the chance of gettingaway from here, if necessary.”

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“I want a cook-and-steward,” he murmured dubiously,“and as I’ve got my wife aboard the cooking’srather important.”

“I’m your man, sir,” I cried, “if I can’t cook youcan dump me overboard. I never shipped as cook yet,but I’ve had to teach a good few cooks how to boilsalt water without burning it.”

He smiled pleasantly at this, and said, “I must sayI like your looks and—well there, jump into the boat.I’ll be back directly.”

Sure enough, in a couple of hours I was busy in hercosy galley, while the chaps were rattling the windlassround with a will, anxious enough to get clear of thatsweltering coast. From the first my relations with allhands were of the pleasantest kind. They had sufferedmany things at the hands of several so-called cooksduring the eighteen months they had been away fromhome, each dirty destroyer of provisions being worsethan his predecessor. But especially were my effortsappreciated in the cabin. The skipper had with himhis wife and two little girls, aged four and five respectively,who made that little corner of the shipseem to a homeless, friendless wanderer like myself asmall heaven. Mrs. Brunton was a sweet-faced grey-eyedwoman of about thirty, with a quiet tenderness ofmanner and speech that made a peaceful atmosphereabout her like that of a summer Sunday evening insome tiny English village. Her husband was a grandspecimen of a British seaman, stalwart and fair-haired,with a great sweeping beard and bright blue eyes thatalways had a lurking smile in their depths. The pair120appeared to have but one mind. Their chief joyseemed to be in the silent watching of their children’sgambols, as, like two young lambs, they gallopedround the decks or wriggled about the cramped fittingsof the small saloon. The charm of that happy home-circlewas over all hands. You might say that theship worked herself, there was so little sign of theusual machinery of sea-life.

So the days slipped away as we crept down towardsthe Cape, bound round to Barbadoes, of all places inthe world. Then in the ordinary course of events theweather got gradually worse, until one night it culminatedin a following gale of hurricane fierceness, thunderingdown out of an ebony sky that almost restedon the mastheads. By-and-by the swart dungeonabout us became shot with glowing filaments thatquivered on the sight like pain-racked nerves, and thebass of the storm fell two octaves. Sail had been reducedto the fore lower topsail and the fore-topmaststaysail, which had the sheet hauled flat aft in case ofher broaching-to. Even under those tiny rags she flewbefore the hungering blast like a hare when the houndsare only her own length behind. The black masses ofwater gradually rose higher alongside as they bellowedpast until their terrible heads peered inboard asif seeking the weakest spot. They began to break overall, easily at first, but presently with a sickening crashthat made itself felt in one’s very bowels. At last twomenacing giants rose at once on either side, curvingtheir huge heads until they overhung the waist. Thus,for an appreciable fraction of time, they stood, then fell—121onthe main-hatch. It cracked—sagged downward—andevery man on deck knew that the foot-thickgreenheart fore-and-after was broken, and that anothersea like that would sink us like a saucer. Hithertothe skipper had been standing near the cuddy scuttle,in which his wife crouched, her eyes dim with watchingher husband. Now he stooped and whisperedthree words in her ear. With one more glance up intohis face she crept down into their berth, and over towhere the two little ones were sleeping soundly.Gently, but with an untrembling hand, she coveredtheir ruddy faces with a folded mosquito net andturned out the light. Then she swiftly returned to herself-chosen post in the scuttle, just reaching up a handto touch her husband’s arm, and let him know thatshe was near. The quiver that responded was answerenough. He was looking astern, and all his soul wasin his eyes. For there was a streak of kindly light, aline of hope on the murky heaven. It broadened to arift, the blue shone through, and stooping he lifted hiswife’s head above the hatch, turning her face so thatshe too might see and rejoice. She lifted her face, withstreaming eyes, to his for a kiss, then fled below, turnedup the light again, and uncovered the children’s faces.Five minutes later she heard his step coming down,and devoured him with her eyes as he walked to thebarometer, peered into it and muttered “thank God.”

Deep-Sea Plunderings (5)

Gently she covered their ruddy faces.

A fortnight later I was prowling up and down thecabin outside their closed state-room door, my fingerstwitching with nervousness, and a lump continuallyrising in my throat that threatened to choke me; for122within that tiny space, the captain, all unaided exceptby his great love and quiet common sense, was elbowinga grim shadow that seemed to envy him his treasure.Now and then a faint moan curdled round myheart, making it ache as if with cold. Beyond that therewas no sign from within, and the suspense fretted metill I felt like a bundle of bare nerves. Overhead Icould hear the barefooted step of the mate, as he wanderedwith uncertain gait about the lee side of the poopunder the full glow of the passionless moon. At last,when I felt as worn as if I had been swimming forhours, there came a thin, gurgling little wail—a newvoice that sent a thrill through the curves of my brainwith a sharp pang. And then I felt the hot tears runningdown my face—why, I did not know. A minutelater the door swung open, and the skipper said, in athick, strange tone, “It’s all right, Peter; I’ve a son.And she’s grand, my boy, she’s grand.” I mumbledout something; I meant well, I’m sure, but no onecould have understood me. He knew, and shookhands with me heartily. And presently I was nursingthe bonny mite as if I had never done aught else—methat never had held a baby before. It was good, too;it lay in my arms on a pillow, and looked up at mewith bright, unwinking eyes.

Then came three weeks of unalloyed delight.Overhead the skies were serene—that deep, fathomlessblue, that belongs of right to the wide, shoreless seasof the tropics, where the constant winds blow unfalteringlyto a mellow harmony of love. On board, everythought was drawn magnet-wise to the tiny babe who123had come among us like a messenger from anothersphere, and the glances cast at the tender mother asshe sat under the little awning, like a queen holdingher court, were almost reverential. Never a man ofus will forget that peaceful time. Few words werespoken, but none of them were angry, for every onefelt an influence at work on him that, while it almostbewildered him, made him feel gentle and kind. Butinto the midst of this peaceful time came that enviousshadow again. How it happened no man could tell;what malign seed had suddenly germinated, after solong lying dormant, was past all speculation of ours.The skipper himself fell sick. For a few days hefought man-fashion against a strange lassitude thatsapped all his great strength and overcame even hisbright cheery temper until he became fretful as asickly babe. At last there came a day when he couldnot rise from his cot. With a beseeching look in hiseyes he lay, his fine voice sunk to a whisper and hissunny smile gone. His wife hovered about him continually,unsparing of herself, and almost forgettingthe first claim of the babe. The children, with thehappy thoughtlessness of their age, could not be keptquiet, so, for the most part, they played forward withthe crew, where they were as happy as the day waslong. Every man did his best to entertain them; andwhen sailors make pets of children, those children arefavoured by fortune. Meanwhile, in the cabin, wefought inch by inch with death for our friend. Butour hands were tied by ignorance, for the rough directionsof the book in the medicine chest gave us no124help in dealing with this strange disease. Graduallythe fine frame of the skipper dwindled and shrank,larger and more wistful grew his eyes, but after thefirst appalling discovery of his weakness he neveruttered a complaining word. He lay motionless, unnoticing,except that into the deep wells of his eyesthere came an expression of great content and peacewhenever his wife bent over him. She scarcely everspoke, for he had apparently lost all power of comprehensionas well as speech, except that which enteredhis mind by sight. Thus he sank, as lulls the sea-breezeon a tropical shore when twilight comes. Andone morning at four, as I lay coiled in a fantastic heapupon one of the settees near his door, sleeping lightlyas a watch-dog, a long, low moan tugged at my heart-strings,and I sat up shivering like one in an ague-fit,although we were on the Line. Swiftly I stepped intohis room, where I saw his wife with one arm acrosshis breast and her face beside his on the pillow. Shehad fainted, and so was mercifully spared for a littlewhile the agony of that parting—for he was dead.

Up till that time every device that seamanshipcould suggest had been put into practice to hurry theship on, so that she was a perfect pyramid of canvasrigged wherever it would catch a wasting air. But allwas of little use, for the wind had fallen lighter andlighter each day until, at the time of the skipper’spassing, it was a stark calm. Then, as if some invisiblerestraint had been suddenly removed, up sprang thewind, strong and steady, necessitating the instant removalof all those fragile adjuncts to her speed that125had been rigged everywhere possible aloft. So thatno one had at first any leisure to brood over our greatloss but myself, and I could only watch with almostbreathless anxiety for the return of that sorely-tried,heroic woman to a life from which her chief joy hadbeen taken away. She remained so long in that death-liketrance that again and again I was compelled toreassure myself, by touching her arms and face, thatshe was still alive, and yet I dreaded her re-awakening.At last, with a long-drawn sigh, she lifted her head,looked steadfastly for a while at the calm face of herdead husband, then stooped and kissed him once.Then she turned to me as I stood at the door, with thesilent tears streaming down my face, and said, in aperfectly steady voice (I can hear it now), “Are mychildren well?” “Yes, ma’am,” I answered, “theyare all asleep.” “Thank you,” she murmured; “Iwill go and lie down with them a little while. I feelso tired. No” (seeing I was about to offer), “I wantnothing just now but rest.” So she turned into theirlittle cabin and shut the door. I went on deck andwaited until the mate (now skipper) was free, and thentold him how she was. He immediately made preparationsfor the burial, for we were still a week’s sailfrom port. In an hour all was ready, and silently weawaited the re-appearance of the chief mourner. Shecame out at breakfast-time, looking like a womanof marble. Quietly thanking the new skipper for whathe had done, she resumed her motherly duties, sayingno word and showing no sign of the ordeal she wasenduring.

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All through the last solemn scene, except for aconvulsive shudder as the sullen plunge alongsideclosed the service, she preserved the same tearlesscalm, and afterwards, while she remained on board—whichwas only until we arrived at Barbadoes—shepreserved the same automaton-like demeanour. Themail steamer arrived the day after we anchored, andwe took her on board for the passage to England; herbitter tragedy moving most of the passengers to tearsas the history of it spread like wildfire among them.And as the Medway steamed out of the harbour, we allstood on the poop of our own vessel, with bared heads,in respectful farewell to, and deepest sympathy for,our late captain’s wife.

127

A SCIENTIFIC CRUISE

Five and twenty minutes, I believe, was the extremelimit of time it took me to discover that my newship was likely to provide me some of the queerestexperiences I had yet met with in all my fishing. Butafter a month’s weary munching the bread of the outward-bounder,and in Calcutta too, I was so hungryfor a berth that I would have shipped as mess-roomsteward in a Geordie weekly boat, and undertaken tolive on the yield of the dog-basket from the engineers’table, if nothing better had offered. So when RominDass, a sircar that I was very chummy with, hailedme one morning at the corner of the Radha Bazaar,with a quotation from Shakespeare to point his informationthat he had heard of a second-mate’s berthfor me on board the Ranee, a fine iron ship moored offPrinseps Ghât, I was so glad that I promised him thefirst five dibs I could lay hands on. Trembling witheagerness, I hurried down to the ghât and wheedleda dinghy-wallah into putting me on board. The mate,a weary looking man, about my own age, met me atthe foot of the gangway ladder with that suspiciousair common to all mates of ships abroad, especiallywhen they see an eager looking stranger with a nauticalappearance come aboard uninvited. In a diffident uncertain128way, born of a futile attempt, to conceal myanxiety and look dignified, I inquired for CaptainLeverrier.

“He isn’t aboard,” snarled the mate, “an’ notlikely to be to-night. What might your businessbe?”

“Well, you see—the fact is—I thought—that is,” Iblundered, getting red in the face as I saw a sarcasticgrin curdling the mate’s face. “I—I thought youwanted a second mate, an’ I——”

“Oh, why the devil didn’t you say so,’thout gay-huppin’about it like that. I begun ter think you wassome beach-comber tryin’ on a new bluff. Come an’have a drink.”

Greatly relieved I followed him into the saloon,which was almost as gorgeous as a yacht’s, carpets, andmirrors, and velvet settees, piano and silver-platedmetal work till you couldn’t rest. A gliding Hindoocame salaaming along with a bottle and glasses andsome ice in a bowl at a word from the mate, andsolemnly, as if pouring a libation, we partook of refreshment.Then, offering me a Trichie, the matebegan to cross-examine me. But by this time I had gotback my self-possession, and I soon satisfied him thatI shouldn’t make half a bad shipmate. I happened tohave sailed with an old skipper of his, I knew two orthree fellows that he did, or at least I thought I knewthem, and before half an hour had passed we were onquite confidential terms. No, not quite; for two orthree times I noticed that he checked himself, justwhen he was on the point of telling me something,129although he let drop a few hints that were totally unintelligibleto me. At last he said—

“You might as well stay to supper an’ keep mecompany, unless you’ve got to get back anywhere.”

“Anywhere’s just the right word, Mr. Martin,” Ibroke in; “anywhere but ashore again in this God-forsakenplace. If you’d been ashore here for sixweeks, looking for a pierhead jump as I have, you’dthink it was heaven to get aboard a ship again. It’dbe a mighty important engagement that ’ud take youup town again.”

“All right, my boy. Hullo, what do you want?”to the suppliant steward, who stood in a devotionalattitude awaiting permission to speak.

“Dinghy-wallah, sab, waitin’ for speaky gentyman,sab.”

I went cold all over. That infernal coolie was afterme for his fare, and I hadn’t a pice. I’d forgotten allabout him. I did the only thing possible, owned upto the mate that I had a southerly wind in my pockets,and he came to the rescue at once, paying the dinghy-wallaha quarter of what he asked (two rupees), andstarting him off. Then we sat down to a sumptuoussupper, such as I had not tasted for many months, forI came out before the mast, and the grub in theSailors Home (where I had been staying) was prettybad. Over the pleasant meal Mr. Martin thawed outcompletely, and at last, in a burst of confidence, hesaid—

“Our ole man’s scientific, Mr. Roper.”

As he looked at me like a man who has just divulged130some tremendous secret, I was more than alittle puzzled what to say in reply, so I looked deeplyinterested, and murmured, “Indeed.”

“Indeed, yes,” growled the mate; “but I’ll bet youa month’s wages you won’t say ‘indeed’ like that whenwe’ve ben to sea a few days. I’ll tell you what it is,I’ve been with some rum pups of skippers in my time,but this one scoops the pot. He’s a good enoughsailor man, too. But as fer his condemn science—well,he thinks he’s the whole Royle Serciety an’ TrinityHouse biled down into one, an’ I’m damfee knowsenough to come in when it rains. He’s just worryinme bald-headed, that’s what he is. Why, if it wasn’tfer the good hash and bein’ able to do pretty much asI mind to with the ship, I’d a ben a jibbin mainyac’fore now, I’m dead shore o’ that. Looky here,” andhe sprang up and flung a state-room door wide open,“djever see anythin’ like that outen a mewseeum?”

I stared in utter amazement at a most extraordinarycollection of queer looking instruments, models,retorts, crucibles, and specimen glasses, turning roundafter completing my scrutiny, and gazing into themate’s face without speaking.

He was peering at me curiously, and presently said,interrogatively, “Well?”

Seeing that I was expected to make some sort of areply, I said, with a cheerful air—

“’Looks as if the skipper was no end of a scientificpot, I must confess; but, after all, Mr. Martin,it’s a harmless fad enough, isn’t it?”

“Harmless! Well, of all the—— Good heavens,131man, you hain’t the least idea—but, there, what’s theuse er talkin’. Better letcher wait ’n see fer yerself.Come on up onter the poop ’n git a whiff er fresh Calcuttamixtcher, dreadful refreshin’, ain’t it?”

A long confab succeeded to the accompaniment ofmany cigars and sundry pegs, but not another wordabout the skipper and his hobbies did the mate letslip. No; we discussed, as housewives are said to dowhen they meet, the shortcomings of those over whomwe were put in authority, compared notes as to themerits and demerits of skippers we had served under,and generally sampled the gamut of seafaring causeries,until, with my head buzzing like a mosquito in abottle, I gave the mate good-night, and retired to mybunk in an enviable state of satisfaction at my goodfortune. Next morning I was up at coffee-time, andwhile sitting on the after-hatch coamings enjoying theenlivening drink and chatting with the mate, a mostunearthly howl fairly made my whiskers bristle. Ilooked at Mr. Martin, whose face wore a sarcastic grin,but never a word spake he. Another nerve-tearingyell resounded, starting me to my feet, while I exclaimed—

“Whatever is it, Mr. Martin? I’ve never heardsuch a devilish noise in my life.”

“Oh, it’s only some o’ the ole man’s harmless fadshe’s a exercisin’. You’ll git used ter them chunespresently.”

He was going to say something else, but just thenthe steward emerged from the saloon—that is to say,he shot out as if he had been fired from a balista.132When I saw him a few minutes before he was a suaveolive-complexioned Hindoo, cat-like in his neatness,and snowy in his muslin rig. Now he was a ghastlyapparition, with streaming scalp-lock and glaring eyeballs,his face a cabbage-water green, and his lankbody as bare as a newly-scalded pig. Apparently incapableof flight, he crouched where he fell, salaamingwith trembling hands, and chattering almost monkey-like.While the mate and I stood silently regardinghim, and indignation at the poor wretch’s plight wasrapidly ousting my alarm at the manner of his appearance,a mild and benevolent looking man of middle-agedressed in pyjamas appeared at the saloon door.

“Good morning, Mr. Martin,” said the skipper, forit was himself, “did you see where that heathenlanded?”

“Oh yes, sir,” drawled the mate, “’eer ’e is, what’sleft ov ’im.”

“Ah,” replied the skipper, with a placid smile,“he’s a bit startled I see. He trod on the plate of mynew battery, and got a slight shock, I think. Butwhere’s his close?”

“The Lord only knows,” piously ejacul*ted themate. “Looks ter me ’sif he’d ben shot clean out ov’em, puggree an’ all.”

By this time the luckless steward, finding, I suppose,that he had not reached Jehannum yet, began topull himself together, and, doubtless ashamed of hisbeing all face in the presence of the all-powerful sahibs,writhed his way worm-like towards the other doorof the saloon, and disappeared within, the skipper regarding133him meanwhile with gentle interest as if hewere a crawling babe. Then turning his attention tome, the old man courteously inquired my business, andfinding that I suited him, engaged me there and thenas second mate.

During the short stay we made in port after myjoining, nothing further occurred to change theopinion I had already formed that I was in a very comfortableship. The fellows forward seemed fairly wellcontented and willing. The food both fore and aft waswonderfully good, and so was the cooking, for a marvel.But that was because we had a Madrassee cookwho had served an arduous apprenticeship in P. andO. boats, from which excellent service he had beendriven by some amiable inability to comprehend thelaws of meum and tuum. Here there was no chancefor him to steal, and every inducement for him to earna good name by pleasing his many masters. The resultwas singularly happy for all of us. The foremasthands were fairly divided into Britons and Scandinavians,all good seamen and quiet, well-behaved men.One thing, however, was noticeable, they all seemednervously anxious to avoid the after part of the shipas much as possible. All seamen before the mast havean inbred sense of reverence for the quarter-deck,walking delicately thereon, and studiously keeping tothe lee-side, unless compelled by duty to go to windward.But in the Ranee, whenever a man came aftfor any purpose whatever, his movements were muchlike those of a man visiting a menagerie for the firsttime alone, and morbidly suspicious that some of the134cage doors were unfastened. This behaviour washighly amusing to me, for I had never seen anythinglike it before, and I couldn’t help wondering how thehelmsman would hang out a trick at the wheel whenwe got to sea.

All preparations complete, we unmoored, and intow of the Court Hey proceeded majestically down theHooghly, waking all the echoes and scaring the numberlesspigeons of the King of Oude’s palace with theexultant strains of “Sally Brown.” One of thosemajestic creatures, the Calcutta pilots, paced the poopin awful state, alone, the skipper being nowhere visible.Presently, my lord the pilot, feeling slightly fatigued,I suppose, threw himself into the old man’s favouritechair, an elaborately cushioned affair of peculiar shapeand almost as long as a sofa. No sooner had he doneso than, with a most amazing movement, the wholefabric changed its shape, and became one of the mostbewildering entanglements conceivable, gripping theastounded pilot in so many places at once that he wasin imminent danger of being throttled. I rushed to hisassistance, and exerted all my strength to set him free,but my energetic efforts only seemed to hamper himmore, and fearing lest I should break him all to pieces,I rushed below for the skipper. That gentleman wasbusy in his laboratory, making carburetted hydrogen,I should judge, from the “feel of the smell,” as theScotch say, but in answer to my agitated call heemerged, serene and bland, to inquire my business.Faith, I could hardly tell him, what with the reek, myhaste, and the anxiety I felt. Somehow I managed to135convey to him that the pilot was being done to deathin his chair, and as I did so I noticed (or thought Idid) a momentary gleam of satisfaction in his starboardeye. But he mounted the companion, and glidingto the spot where the unhappy man, voiceless andblack in the face, was struggling, he stooped, toucheda spring, and that infernal chair fell out flat like aboard. I stooped to assist the victim, but, unluckilyfor me, he sprang to his feet at the same moment, andhis head catching me under the chin, I had urgentbusiness of my own to attend to for some little time.When I got quite well again, I heard conversation. Infact I might almost say the coolies in the jungle heardit. The pilot was expressing his opinion upon his recentexperience, and from his manner I concluded thathe was annoyed. When at last he had finished, andthe lingering echoes had died away, the old man, lookingas happy as a lamb, offered to show him the beautyand ingenuity of the mechanism. But the pilot merelysuggested that the only sight that could interest himjust then would be the old man dangling by the neckat the cro’jack yard-arm, with that something (I didn’tquite catch the adjective) chair jammed on to hislegs. And then the unreasonable man walked forward,leaving the skipper looking after him with apuzzled, yearning expression upon his pleasant face.Perhaps it is hardly necessary to say that thenceforwardrelations between the pilot and the captain were somewhatstrained. At any rate, the former potentate refusedto come below, taking his meals on deck with anair as of a man whose life was at the mercy of irresponsible136beings, and when at last we hauled up at themouth of the river for the pilot brig to send a boat forour pilot, he left the ship looking supremely relieved.To the skipper’s outstretched hand he was blind, andto that gentleman’s kindly good-bye he said naughtbut “thank God, I’m safe out of your ship.” Away hewent, never once looking back to where we were busilysetting sail for the long homeward passage.

For some days everything went on greased wheels.Except for an air of mystery that overhung the ship,and which puzzled me not a little, she was the mostcomfortable craft I ever sailed in. The skipperscarcely ever appeared, although sundry strange noisesand unpleasant odours proceeding from his laboratorywere evidence all-sufficient that he was on the alert.I was somewhat aggrieved though by the mate’s sardonicgrin every time he relieved me, and made theusual remark, “still alive, eh?” Still, as each quietday succeeded a quieter night my wonderment becamedulled, and I thought that either the mate wasmistaken or that he had been trying to fool me.

One evening, however, when we were drawing nearthe line, I came on deck at four bells to find the mate’swatch busy rigging up a sort of theatre aft. An awninghad been stretched over the front of the poop,weather cloths were hung along each side, and seatsarranged. As soon as I appeared, looking round mein astonishment, the mate approached me and said,“th’ entertainment’s goin’ ter begin.” Before I hadtime to question him as to his meaning, the old manemerged from the cabin loaded with sundry strange-looking137machines, and followed by the steward bearingmore. For a few minutes he was mighty busy placinghis menagerie in order, and then he turned tome and said briskly, “Now, Mr. Roper, I’m all ready,go forrard and invite the hands aft to the lecture.”“Aye, aye, sir,” I answered mechanically, and departed.I found all hands outside the forecastle, evidentlywaiting for the summons, but looking as unlikemen expecting a treat as one could possibly picture.But they all shambled aft in silence, and took theirseats with eyes fixed upon the strange-looking assemblageof machinery in the centre.

It was a lovely evening, the sails just drawing to asteady air, while the sea was so smooth that the vesselwas almost as motionless as if in dock. As it wasmy watch on deck, I mounted the poop, glanced atthe standard compass, cast my eye aloft to see thatall was as it should be, and then turned my gaze withintense interest upon the scene below. And what ascene it was to be sure. All hands were glaring uponthe high priest of the mysteries as if mesmerised,every expression gone from their faces but that of painfulanxiety to know what was going to happen. Theskipper was as busy as two people about his wheelsand things, and the unhappy steward like an imageof fear obeyed mechanically the various commands ofhis dread master. At last a whirring sound was heardlike the humming of some huge imprisoned bee, andto this accompaniment the skipper took up his parableand proceeded to talk. I frankly confess that I knowno more what he said than I should have done had he138been speaking in Sanskrit, and I am perfectly sure thatnone of his audience were in any better case. Indeed,from what I could see of their faces, I believe everyother sense was merged in the full expectation of anexplosion, and they couldn’t have taken their strainedeyes off the buzzing gadget in their midst for anyconsideration whatever. Suddenly a dark shadowglided across the patch of deck behind the skipper,which I recognized as a monkey belonging to one ofthe crew. It reached the machine, and then——Whatreally happened nobody is ever likely to know,for in a moment there was a shriek, a perfect shower ofblue sparks and a writhing, kicking, biting heap ofskipper, monkey, and steward. Some of the fellows,acting upon impulse, forgot their fears and rushed tothe rescue, but only succeeded in adding to the infernalriot, as they too became involved in the mysteriouscalamity. Others, wiser in their generation, fledforward to the fo’c’sle, from whence they graduallycrept aft again near enough to watch in safety thedevil’s dance that was going on. I looked on in a sortof coma of all the faculties, until the mate touched meon the shoulder, and said in a sepulchral voice—

“Now, Mr. Roper, djever strike anythin’ o’ thiskind before. Ain’t it scientific? Ain’t he a holy terrorat science? What I’d like ter know is, where do Icome on in this Gypshun Hall business? Damfimegoin’ ter be blame well paralyzed, or whatever it is,for all the skippers erflote, n’ yet—n’ yet; I don’t liketer see sech ungodly carryins on aboard of any shipI’m mate of.”

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I hadn’t time to answer him—besides I couldn’t, Iwas all shook up like; but while I was trying to getmy thinking-gear in order, there was a bang, all thesufferers yelled at once, and then all was quiet. Boththe mate and myself sprang into the arena, fully expectingto find all the actors dead, but, bless you, theywere all laying round looking as if they’d been havingno end of a spree. All except the monkey, that is.He was a very unhandsome little corpse, and I pickedhim up by the tail to throw him overboard, getting ashock through my right arm that took all the use outof it for quite a while. Presently the fellows began toget up one by one and slink away forrard, still with thathalf-drunk smile on their heads, but when we cameto the skipper, although he wore a wide smile too,he hadn’t any get up about him. Not he. He laythere as comfy as you please, taking no notice of anythingwe said, or any heed of the deliberate way inwhich the mate was pushing the remains of his machineryout through the gaping port with a broom.We couldn’t move him. He was just charged jamfull of electricity, and one of the men who did touchhim let a yell out of him fit to call D. Jones, Esq.,up from below, but it didn’t change the skipper’shappy look one fragment. Well, he laid there all nightalongside of the steward, and in the morning he getsup just before wash-deck time, and, says he, “Mr.Roper, I shan’t give any more scientific exhibitionsthis trip; I think they’re immoral.” With that he hobbledinto his cabin, and we saw no more of him fora week. When we did, you couldn’t have got a grain140of science out of him with a small-tooth comb, andthe mate looked as glad as if he’d been appointed LordHigh Admiral. And from thenceforward she was, asI had at first imagined she would be, the most comfortablevessel I ever sailed in.

141

A GENIAL SKIPPER

Captain Scott was as commonplace a little manas ever commanded an old wooden tub of a barquelumbering her way forlornly from port to port seekingfreight as a beggar seeks pence. His command, theSarah Jane, belonged to a decayed firm of shipownersthat, like many other old-fashioned tradesmen, hadnot kept pace with the times, and were now reducedto the possession of this ancient pauper and a still olderbrig, all the rest of their once stately fleet having beensold or lost or seized to satisfy mortgages. Yet theystill retained a keen sense of respectability, and whenCaptain Scott applied for the command of the SarahJane they were exceedingly careful to ascertain that hewas strictly sober and trustworthy. He not only succeededin satisfying them on these points, but in somemysterious manner persuaded them also that he wasexceedingly pious, and would certainly hold serviceon board every Sunday, weather permitting. Thatsettled his appointment, for the senior member of thefirm was a good, honest Dissenter, who, if a trifle narrowand bigoted in his religious views, was sincerelyanxious to live up to the light he had. Beyond allquestion the Sarah Jane was the best-found vessel ofher class in the food line that we chaps forrard had ever142sailed in. It would have been hard to find a moreagreeably surprised little crowd than we were whenthe first meal appeared in the fo’c’sle, for our preliminaryview of the ship certainly gave us the idea thatwe were in for “plenty pump and velly flat belly,” as aquaint little Italian A.B. said while we were selectingbunks.

But no, she was a comfortable ship. There wascertainly “plenty pump,” but the grub was so goodthat there was never a growl heard among us, and apleasanter passage out to Algoa Bay than we enjoyedcould hardly be imagined. The Sunday services wereheld, too—that is to say, twice; after that they werequietly dropped without any reason assigned. Noone felt sorry, for there was an air of unreality andconstraint about the whole thing that was puzzling andunsatisfactory; and on several occasions there waswafted across the poop, as the skipper emerged fromthe companion, a tantalizing odour which none of uscould mistake—the rich bouquet of old Jamaica rum.This gave rise to many discussions in the fo’c’sle.The port watch took sides against the starboard, insistingthat the old man had fallen from grace, if,which was problematical, he had ever possessed anyof that mysterious quality. We of the starboard, orskipper’s watch, as in duty bound, stood up for him,accounting for the thirst-provoking smell that camewafting upwards from the cabin periodically by thetheory of the Sarah Jane having been an old sugardrogher for many years, until her timbers were saturatedwith the flavour of rum, and, according as the143wind tended to diffuse it, we were favoured with it ondeck.

Never was a skipper watched more closely by hiscrew than Captain Scott was by us, for the stewardand the officers were unapproachable upon the subject,and it was only by catching him really drunk that ourcontinual dispute could be settled. After we hadcrossed the Line, and were getting rapidly to thesuth’ard, I began to lose faith, for, although I couldnot determine whether the skipper’s peculiar gait wasor was not the regular nautical roll accentuated bysome physical peculiarity, there was no mistaking theever-deepening hue of his face. When we left homeit was fresh-coloured, but as the weeks went by it tookon the glow of burnished copper—especially after dinner—andsometimes his nose looked warm enough tolight one’s pipe at it. However, we reached Algoa Baywithout settling our argument—openly, that is. Intruth, we of the starboard watch were looking eagerlyfor some way of retreat from what we all felt wasgetting to be an untenable position. Still, no agreementwas arrived at until we had been at anchor off PortElizabeth for a week, during which time we had neverseen our respected skipper once.

Then there arrived alongside, on a Saturday afternoon,after we had washed decks and were dabbingout our own few bits of duds for Sunday, a surf-boat,in the stern of which sat precariously a very drunkenman. He was truculently drunk, and the big cigar,which was stuck in one angle of his protruding lips,pointed upwards like an old collier’s jibboom. Both144his hands were thrust deep into his pockets, and histop-hat was jammed hard down on the back of hishead. As the boat bumped alongside, his insecureseat failed him, and he lurched massively forwardupon the crown of his hat, which caved in after itsbrim had passed his ears, adding to the picturesquenessof his outfit. The boatmen seized and reinstatedhim upon a thwart, receiving for their pains an addressthat reeked of the pit. For variety of profanity weall admitted it to be far beyond anything of the kindthat we had ever heard, and one of our number suggestedthat he had been founding a new church duringhis absence, his outbreak of peculiar language beingpart of the liturgy thereof. We only had an ordinaryside ladder of the usual type carried in those ships—tworopes with wooden rungs seized between them—whichwas suspended perpendicularly from the rail.This kind of approach is not easy of negotiation byanybody but a sober sailor; it was impossible now toCaptain Scott. He gazed upwards fiercely at theanxious face of the mate, and, with many flowers ofspeech, insisted that a whip should be rigged on themainyard for him—blasphemously sharp, too, or hewould, yes, he would, when he did get aboard.

So we rigged a single whip at the mate’s order,not without many audible comments upon this newdevelopment and recriminations between the membersof the two disputing watches. With many a bump,as the vessel rolled to the incoming swell, we hoistedour commander on board, letting him come down ondeck with a jolt that must have well-nigh started all145his teeth. Released from his bonds, he rose swayingto his feet, and, glaring round upon the assembledcrew, roared thickly, “All han’s short’n sail!” Therewas a shout of laughter at this maniacal command,which infuriated him so much that he seemed transformedinto a veritable demon. His face went purple,he ground his teeth like a fighting boar, and wouldno doubt have had some sort of fit but for a diversionmade by the boatmen who had brought him off. Oneof them approached him, saying abruptly but quitecivilly—

“If you don’t want us any more, sir, we sh’d likeour fare, so’s we can get ashore again.”

Peculiarly, this interruption changed his mood intothe coldly sarcastic. With an air of exquisite politenesshe turned to the boatman, and, with a bear-likebow, said—

“Ho, indeed; Hi ’ave much pleasure in ’earin’ ovit. An’ may we take th’ hopportunity hof harskin’ ooth’ ’ells a-preventin’ hof yer frum goin’ t’ the devilhif ye likes.” (Be it noted that when sober he spokefairly correct English.) “Has ter a-wantin’ hof yehany more, Hi wouldn’t ’ave a barge-load hof yer fura gift; Hi wouldn’t carry yer fur ballast, there! Mightcome in ’andy for dunnagin’ carsks—but there, I don’know. Anyway, get t’ ’ell houter this.”

Of course, it could hardly be expected that suchsturdy independent souls as Algoa Bay boatmenwould be likely to take contumely of this sort meeklyin exchange for their hard labours. At any rate, ifsuch a thing had ever been expected, the expectation146was doomed to instant disappointment. Turning tothe rail, the boatman who had spoken to the skippergave a shout which brought the six of his mates ondeck. Just a word or two of explanation, and they advancedthreateningly towards their debtor. We stoodin passive enjoyment of what we felt was soon to bea due meting out of reward to a man who deservedsuch recompense richly. The two mates made a feebleattempt to interfere, but were roughly thrust aside,while the enraged boatmen seized the burly form ofour skipper, and were about to manhandle him overthe side when he roared for mercy, saying that hewould pay all their demand. He did so, and they departed,not without a full and complete exposition ofwhat they considered to be all his characteristics, mentaland physical. They had hardly left the side whenthe skipper ordered the windlass to be manned, and, inspite of his drunken condition, no long time elapsedbefore we were under way and standing rapidly outto sea.

But that night a black south-easter sprang up, towhich we set all the sail we could stagger under forour northward passage to Pondicherry, but towardsmorning the wind backed to the northward, and blewso hard as to necessitate the sudden taking in of allthe sail we had set except a tiny storm-staysail. But,while we were, all hands of us, in the throes of ourconflict with the slatting topsails, a curious thing happened.Sharp snapping noises were heard, andflashes of light totally unlike lightning were seen ondeck. Cries were heard, too, that were disconcerting,147for it seemed as if a row was going on for which wecould imagine no cause. Suddenly the little Italian,who was manfully struggling by my side to get thetopsail furled, yelled at the pitch of his voice somethingin his own language, at the same time disappearingto a dangling position on the foot-rope. This wasstrange, but almost immediately after something witha sharp “ping” struck the yard by my side, and thehorrible truth flashed into my mind that somebodyon deck was shooting at us poor wretches strugglingaloft. It is difficult, indeed, to express what the conditionsof our minds were upon making this discovery.The handling of sails by a weak crew in a gale ofwind at night is no child’s play at any time, but whento that great fight is added the peculiar complicationof a drunken madman amusing himself by taking potshotsat the men aloft, the condition of things is, tosay the least, disconcerting. The sails were let go.Incontinently we slid down on deck, taking refuge behindwhatsoever shelter we could find. Happily,Natalie, the poor little Italian, managed to get downtoo, having, as we presently discovered, a bulletthrough the fleshy part of his arm. The sails blew topieces, the ship tumbled about helplessly, the helmsmanhaving run from his post, and it appeared as if aterrible calamity was about to overtake us, but presentlythe two mates came forrard, saying, “It’s allright, men. We’ve knocked him down, and, althoughwe couldn’t find his revolver, we have locked himup in his cabin. For God’s sake, turn to and get theship in hand.”

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With many muttered curses and desires of takingthe skipper’s life we resumed our duties, and soon hadgot the rags of sail still left on the yards snugly secured.Then the watch entitled to go below retired.Natalie had his wound dressed, and peace reigned fora time. In the morning the skipper, being sober,begged piteously to be released. All of us protestedstrongly against any such piece of folly being perpetrated.However, after he had been confined a weekour hearts relented towards him, and, upon his makinga solemn assurance that he had no more ammunitionor grog, which latter disturbing element the matesassured us they had searched for and were unable tofind, it was agreed that he should resume command.

During the rest of our passage to Pondicherry therewas certainly nothing to complain of. More, she wasas comfortable a ship as one could wish to be on boardof. Evidently, with a view to mollifying our feelingstowards him, Captain Scott allowed us to fare as wellas he and his officers did, so that by the time weanchored in Pondicherry we had, with the shortmemory for previous sufferings peculiarly characteristicof sailors, apparently entirely forgotten his amiablelittle outbreak. Nor during her stay at Pondicherrydid we have anything to complain of. Thencame the welcome news that we were homewardbound. On a glorious morning, just at daybreak, theorder was given to man the windlass, and, with thesinging that old-time shanty of “Hurrah, my boys,we’re homeward bound,” we were all lustily engagedin tearing out the big mud-hook, when suddenly, to149our unspeakable horror, Captain Scott emerged fromthe cabin, his outstretched hands each grasping a hugenavy revolver, and almost immediately after bulletswere flying like hail. Like frightened rabbits, webolted for even the most impracticable holes and corners—anywhere,indeed, out of that withering fire.The situation was desperate, but, happily for us, a Britishgunboat was lying near. The officer in charge ofher deck, hearing the fusillade, with naval promptitudesent a boat’s crew on board to inquire into the causeof this strange occurrence.

It so happened that the inquirers arrived just asCaptain Scott was recharging his revolver, and theylost no time in taking him prisoner. We, the lucklesscrew, emerging from our various hiding-places, laidthe matter before them with much wealth of detail,and the result that we presently had the satisfactionof seeing our vivacious commander, bound hand andfoot, being lowered into the boat for conveyance onboard the man-o’-war. Her commander held an inquiryimmediately into Captain Scott’s conduct, examiningus closely as to the reasons for this outbreak, ifwe could give any. Strange to say, our recollection ofhis good treatment outweighed our immediate resentmentagainst him, and we agreed that if only he couldbe rendered incapable of either getting drunk or shooting,we should be glad to finish the voyage with him.So, after a thorough search for fire-arms and rum,resulting in the discovery of no less than four morerevolvers, quite a large box of ammunition, and anextraordinarily large quantity of the potent liquor, all150of which was duly confiscated by the naval authorities,we returned to our duties, got under way, and sailedfor home.

The Sarah Jane was a most fortunate ship, as faras weather was concerned, at any rate. Catching thefirst breath of the north-eastern monsoon immediatelyoutside the harbour, under all canvas we bowledbriskly down to the line, crossed it with a steady, iflight breeze from the northward, and, without experiencingany calm worth mentioning, presently foundourselves in the tender embrace of the south-east trade-winds,and being wafted steadily at the rate of aboutfive knots an hour across the vast placid bosom of theIndian Ocean.

Life at sea under such conditions is very pleasant.For the vicissitudes of a sailor’s life only become hardto bear when weather is bad, food scanty, and officersbrutal. When the opposites of these three conditionsobtain, the sailor can gladly put up with many evilqualities in the ship itself. The leakiness of our oldvessel troubled us not at all as long as the pleasantconditions of which I have spoken continued. Evenwhen we reached the stormy latitudes adjacent to theCape of Good Hope we were favoured by fair windsuntil we arrived off Simons Bay, when the wind fellaway, and a perfect calm ensued with lowering, ugly-lookingweather. But our good fortune still remained.The great sweep of the Agulhas current carried usround the Cape of Storms homeward without any windworth taking notice of coming upon us out of theleaden-looking sky, and so we rounded the Cape, and151with a fine southerly breeze pointed the Sarah Janejibboom homeward.

The usual routine work of cleaning ship was indulgedin. Nothing worthy of notice occurred untillosing the trades. In about 7° N. lat. a calm of aweek’s duration ensued. Here we fell in with severalother ships, and our captain, apparently with a view ofgetting a little amusem*nt, had a boat out, and wentship-visiting. This suited us admirably. Sailors alwaysenjoy it, perhaps because they get so little of iton board merchant ships. The first two ships we visitedwere evidently strongly teetotal, for we noticed thatwhile our captain returned on board perfectly sober,he always looked exceedingly glum and disappointed.But at last we spoke a vessel whose captain was indire want of a little fresh water. We had plenty tospare, and in no long time had filled a couple ofpuncheons, lowered them over the side into the water,and towed them to the other ship. Her captain’sgratitude was great; in fact, he seemed hardly able toreward us sufficiently. Among other gifts we receiveda huge hog, two cases of preserved beef, a barrel ofcabin biscuits, and two large cases of what appearedto us to be lime-juice. We returned on board, andhoisted in our spoils.

That night a breeze sprang up, and the little companyof vessels that had clustered together in the vortexmade by the “trades” separated, and pursuedtheir various ways. Next morning we were alone, ourship was by herself on the face of the deep. Thesteward went to call the captain as usual, but could get152no response. Alarmed, he came and reported thematter to the mate, whose watch on deck it was at thetime. The mate went down, and, after repeated knockingsat the captain’s door which failed to obtain anyresponse, took violent measures, and burst the dooropen.

The captain was not there. A search was immediatelymade without result, but presently, to the horrorof every one on board, the steward, a rather feeble-mindedmulatto, rushed on deck shouting “Fire!” Itneed not be said how terrible this cry at sea alwaysis, but it is never more so than when on board a badly-foundwooden ship. However, all hands rushed aft atthe call of the mate, and prepared to do everythingthat was possible for the subdual of the fire when itshould be located. The smoke appeared to be risingfrom the lazarette, a store-room in the after part of theship beneath the cabin. The mate and a couple ofmen tore off the hatch, and, half choked with thesmoke that burst up in a great volume, made their waybelow, only to scramble out again in double quicktime and fall fainting on the deck.

Meanwhile everybody was wondering what had becomeof the captain, until suddenly an awful-lookingfigure was seen emerging from a ventilator on deck atthe fore part of the cabin. It was the captain, whoannounced his presence with a series of horrible yells.His clothes were in ribands, his face was black, hiseyeballs glared. Several of us made a rush at him,conceiving him to have suddenly gone mad, but heeluded our grasp, and, nimble as a monkey, rushed up153aloft, and sat mowing on the mainyard. A couple ofus started after him, but were recalled by the secondmate, who said—

“Let the old —— alone. We have got somethingelse to do if we want to save our lives.”

And indeed we had. The feeble pump in the bowsof the ship, which we used for washing decks, was notof the slightest service as a fire-engine, and drawingwater overside by buckets is a tedious process. Wecould hear the roaring of the flames underneath ourfeet, we could feel the decks getting hot, and as itappeared that our labour was utterly in vain, and thatif we wished to save our lives we must waste no time ingetting the boats provisioned and lowered, we turnedall our energies in that direction. By the most tremendousexertions we succeeded in getting a fairlysatisfactory amount of food and water into the twoboats, along with some clothing, a compass, and asextant. Hardly had we done so before a sudden outburstof flame from the cabin of furious violencewarned us that it was time to be gone.

Meanwhile the skipper had been raging, a howlingmadman, on the mainyard. What was to be doneabout him? Truth compels me to state that the majorityof us were for leaving him to his fate, realizingthat to him we owed all our misfortunes. But still,that we could hardly bring ourselves to do when thetime came. The ship herself solved the question forus. She seemed to suddenly burst into flame fore andaft, the inflammable cargo, most of which was ofcotton and various grasses, burning almost like turpentine.154Indeed, some of us were compelled to springinto the sea and clamber on board the boats as best wecould. Having done so, it became necessary to put agoodly distance between us and the ship with littledelay, for the heat was terrible. And there sat theskipper on the mainyard, while the long tongues offlame went writhing up the well-tarred rigging. Suddenlywe saw him spring to his feet, balancing himselffor a moment on the yard, and then, with a mostgraceful curve, he sprang into the sea. He reappeared,swimming strongly, and the mate’s boat picked himup. And here occurred the strangest part of the wholematter, for no sooner was he in the boat than all theprevious occurrences seemed to be wiped clean outof his mind, and he was as sane as any man among us.We stared at him in amazement, but he took no notice,saying a word or two on the handling of the boat orthe direction in which she was to be steered, but makingno comment upon the sudden catastrophe thathad overtaken us.

Fortunately for us all, the weather remained perfectlyfine, and as we knew we were directly in thetrack of ships, we were under no apprehensions as toour safety, but we certainly looked upon the skipperas, to say the least of it, uncanny. We watched himclosely by day and by night, lest in some new maniacaloutbreak he should endanger the lives of us all oncemore, and this time without hope of recovery. But heremained perfectly quiet and sensible, nor did he betrayby any sign whatever any knowledge of what had happened.On the third day we sighted a barque right155astern. She came up grandly, and very soon we wereall safely on board of the same vessel from which wehad received the provisions. Then we found that thetwo cases we had supposed to contain lime-juice hadreally been full of lime-juice bottles of rum—whichexplained matters somewhat.

And now another astonishing thing happened.Captain Scott suddenly conceived the notion that theJocunda was his own ship, nor could any argumentsconvince him that he was wrong. The captain humouredhim for a while, but at last his mania reachedsuch a height that it became necessary to confine himin irons, and thus he was kept under restraint untilour arrival in Plymouth, where no time was lost inplacing him in a lunatic asylum.

What became of him I do not know, but at theBoard of Trade inquiry all hands had the greatest difficultyin persuading the officials that we were notjoined in a conspiracy of lying, and I for one felt thatwe could hardly blame them.

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MAC’S EXPERIMENT

“Mahn, A’am nae carin’ a snap wut ye think abootma. A’am a Scoetchman, ye ken, fra Fogieloan; an’them ’at disna laik ma th’ wye Ah aam, c’n juist dichtther nebs an’ ma bachle-vamps. Tha rampin’, roarin’lion uv Auld Scoetland aye gaed his ain wye, an’A’am thinkin’ ’at maist o’ his weans ’ll dae the samething. An’ if tha canna dae’t yin day, they’ll dae’tthe neist, an’ muckle Auld Hornie himsel’ winna stapthem a’thegither.”

It was a long speech for Jock MacTavish, our taciturnshipmate aboard the Yankee whaling-barqueUrsus. Like several other luckless deep-water sailors,he had been “shanghaied” in San Francisco, awakingfrom the combined effects of a drug that would havekilled anybody but a sailor, and sundry ugly blows onthe head, to find himself booked for a cruise in a“spouter” for an indefinite length of time, and at aremuneration that none of us were ever able to understand.This was bad enough, in all conscience, but itmight easily have been much worse, for the Ursus wasa really good ship, as whalers go.

At the time when this yarn begins, we had beenemploying a slackness in the fishing by having a thoroughclean up. It was very nearly time, for she was158beginning to stink so badly that every morsel of foodwe ate seemed saturated with rancid whale-oil. Sowe worked, if possible, harder than usual, with sandand ley, to remove the clotted fat from decks, bulwarks,and boats, until on Christmas Eve she wasalmost her old clean self again. There remained onlythe tryworks, but they were certainly in a vile conditionof black grease.

At knock-off time (all hands had been working allday) we began discussing our chances of having amerry Christmas on the morrow, and, with the usualargumentativeness of sailors, had got a dozen differenttheories started. But running through them all thereseemed to be a fixed idea that no notice whateverwould be taken of a day that we all regarded as theone festival of the year which could, by no possiblemeans, be allowed to pass unhonoured.

No, not all, for when the discussion was at itsheight, Conkey, a lithe Londoner, whose epithet ofco*ckney had somehow taken this form, suddenlylooked straight to where Mac was sitting stolidlymunching a gigantic fragment of prime East Indiamess beef (it hadn’t been round Cape Horn more thanfour times), and said, “Wot d’yer sye, Mac? Ain’t’erd from yer. ’Ow d’yer feel abart workin’ a Crissmussdye?”

There was an instant silence, while every one fastenedhis eyes on Mac and awaited his answer. Slowly,as if the words were being squeezed out of him, hereplied, “It disna matter a snuff tae me what wye ’tis.Ah belong tae the Free Kirk o’ Scoetland, an’ she159disna gie ony suppoert tae siccan heathen practussesas th’ obsairvin’ o’ days, an’ months, an’ yeers.”

Conkey sprang to his feet full of fury, and, inchoicest Mile End, informed Mac that, “hif ’e thawt’e wuz blanky well goin’ ter call ’im a bloomin’ ’eathenan’ not goin’ ter git bashed over it, ’e wuz a biggerblank fool then ’e’d ever seen a-smokin’ tea-leaves tersive terbacker.” To this outburst Mac only said whatbegins this yarn, and, in so saying, brought all handsdown on him at once. Conkey was restrained fromhis meditated attack while one after another tried toargue the point with Mac, and to convince him thatno man who neglected to keep Christmas Day as afeast of jollity and respite from all work, except underthe direst pressure of necessity, could possibly be aChristian.

The contract we had on hand, though, was muchtoo large for us. Metaphorically speaking, Mac wipedthe fo’c’sle deck with each of us in succession. Hisarguments, in the first place, were far too deep for ourcapacity, had they been intelligible; but couched inthe richest Aberdeenshire dialect, and bristling withtheological terminology utterly foreign to us, we stoodno chance. One by one we were reduced to silence.It was broken by Conkey, who said finally, “Hi don’tknow wot ’e bloomin’ well sez, but Hi c’n punch ’ishugly carrotty mug for ’im, an’ ’ere goes.”

Again we restrained our shipmate’s primitive instincts,while Mac slowly rose from his donkey, wipedhis sheath-knife deliberately on his pants, put it away,and then, quietly as if it had just occurred to him,160turned to the raging Conkey, saying, “See heer, maladdie, A’al mak’ y’ an oafer. A’al fecht ye. If yegie ma a lickin’ A’al hae naethin’ mair tae dae wi’ thebusiness; bud if Ah lick you, A’al dae aal Ah can taeget, no juist the day aff, but a guid blow-out o’ vittlesin the bairgin, altho’ Ah misdoot ma muckle ther’snaethin’ aft that ye cud mak’ a decent meal o’. Hoodiz that shoot ye?”

For all answer Conkey, breaking away from thosewho had held him, sprang at Mac, dealing, as he came,two blows, right and left, like flashes. Mac did notattempt to parry them, but seemed to stoop quietly;and suddenly Conkey’s heels banged against the beamoverhead. Immediately afterwards there came thedull thump of his head upon the floor. Mac justdisengaged himself, and stood waiting till his opponentshould feel able or willing to resume.

Truly the latter’s head must have been as thick ashis courage was high, for, before any of us had begunto offer assistance, he had struggled to his feet, lookinga bit dazed, it is true, but evidently as full of fight asever. He had learned a lesson, however—that cautionin dealing with his sturdy adversary was necessary,and that he must accommodate his undoubted boxingpowers to new conditions.

In a crouching attitude, and with two arms heldbow-wise in front, he moved nearer the rugged,square-set figure of the Scotchman, who, as before,stood strictly on the defensive. There was a feint byConkey—we saw Mac’s head go down again—but thencame a sharp thud and a swinging, sidelong blow from161Conkey, and Mac seemed to crumble into a heap, for,as he stooped to repeat his former successful grip,Conkey had shot upward his right knee with suchforce that Mac’s nose was a red ruin, and the blow onthe ear from Conkey’s left could have done Mac verylittle good. So far, the advantage undoubtedly laywith the Londoner, but, after a brief spell, Mac pulledhimself together, and the two clinched again. Lockedtogether like a pair of cats, except that they neitherbit, scratched, nor made a sound, they writhed all overthe fo’c’sle unable to strike, but so equally matchedthat neither could loose himself. Had they been alone,I believe only death would have parted them; but atlast, in sheer admiration for the doggedness of theirpluck, we laid hold on them and tore them apart, declaringthat two such champions ought to be firmfriends. As soon as they got their breath, Conkeyheld out his hand, saying, “Scotty, me co*ck, ye’re asgood a man as me, but Hi’m——hif ye’re a better. Ifyer think y’are, wy, we’ll just ply the bloomin’ ’andart, but if ye’re satisfied, Hi am.” Taking the profferedhand, Scotty replied, “Mahn, A’am no thet petickler.Ah haena a pickle o’ ambeeshun tae be thochta better mahn than ma neebours, neither am Ah agodless fule that henkers aefther fechtin’ for fechtin’ssake; but as ye say, we’re baith’s guid’s yin anither,an’ there’s ma han’ upo’ th’ maetter. Ah dinna see ’atwe’re ony forrader wi’ oor bairgin tho’.”

Then a regular clamour of voices arose, all sayingthe same thing, viz. that the heroes should “pullsticks”—that is, one should hold two splinters of wood162concealed in his hand with the ends just protrudingfor the other to choose from, and whichever got theshortest piece should be the loser. It is a time-honouredfo’c’sle way of settling disputes or arrangingwatches.

They drew, and Scotty won. All faces fell at this,for if we were going to make a bold bid for our Christmasprivileges we needed unity, and especially wewanted such a tough nut as Jock MacTavish activelyenlisted on our side. The winner lifted our gloom bysaying quietly, “Sae A’m with ye, aefther aal, utseems.” Then, noting the surprise on our faces, hewent on, “What’s the differ, think ye, whether Ah winat fechtin’ or drawin’. Ah said Ah’d be with ye if Ahwon, sae that’s a’ richt.” And, easy in our minds, weseparated, the watch below to their bunks, and the restto their stations.

* * * * *

Morning broke in glory, such a day as we see, perhaps,two of during a year in our hard, grey climateat home. After wetting down the decks as usual, themate gave the order to turn-to at cleaning the tryworks—astep which brought us all up “with a roundturn,” as we say. Closing together we faced theamazed officer, and Mac, stepping a little in advance,said, “Div ye no ken, Maister Winsloe, ’at this is theday o’ days tae all true Chreestyin’ men. Suner thanAh’d dae ae han’s turrn on Chrissmus Day—except,af coorse, in the wye o’ neceesary seamen’s duties, sicas a trick at the wheel, furrlin’ sail, or the like—Ah’dgae ashore this meenut!”

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At this we couldn’t help chuckling, for the nearestland was about three miles beneath our keel, vertically,and at least a thousand horizontally. But the matewas like Lot’s wife after she looked back. The thingwas outside his mental dimension altogether. As thereal significance of it filtered through, his eyesgleamed, and, with a yell like a Pawnee, he leaped forScotty—and missed him; for Scotty was a borndodger, and had an eye like a gull’s. The officer’sspring carried him right into our midst, however; and,with a perfect hurricane of bad words, he struck outright and left as if we were the usual mixed gang ofDagoes, Dutchmen, and Kanakas he had been used to.Pluck he certainly did not lack, but his judgment hadturned sour.

Deep-Sea Plunderings (6)

The skipper produced from his hip-pocket a revolver.

In a minute he was flat on deck on his face, withConkey sitting on his head, and the rest of us weremarching aft to make an end of the matter with theold man. He reached the deck from below just as wearrived; and, although the most unusual sight mightwell have given him pause, he showed no sign of surprise.

Advancing to meet us, he said quietly, “Well?”Again Mac was to the fore, and, facing the stately,impassive figure of the skipper, he said, “We’ve juistdaundert aeft, sir, tae wuss ye a Murry Chrismuss, an’tae thenk ye in advance-like for the bit extry vittles,an’ maybe a drap o’ somethin’ cheerin’ tae drink ye’rehealth in an sic an ahspeeshus occashin.”

For an answer the skipper produced from his hip-pocketa revolver, which he pointed straight at Scotty’s164head, while with the other hand he made a comprehensivegesture, which we obeyed by falling back fromthat dangerous vicinity. As we did so, there was arioting behind us, and into our midst burst the mateand Conkey, fiercely struggling.

In a moment there was as pretty a rough-and-tumbleamong us as any fighting-man would wish to see,for the harpooners and the other three mates hadsprung in from somewhere, and were making up forlost time with vigour.

Apart from the struggling crowd the skipper stoodfingering his shooting-iron, apparently irresolute—indeed,it was hard to decide for a moment what to do.Bloodshed was evidently most distasteful to him, yetthere could be no doubt that he would not shrink fromit if necessary. But the whole affair was so grotesque,so causeless, that he was undecided how to deal withit, the more especially as his officers were every onemixed inextricably with the crew in a writhing mass.

The problem was solved for him and for us in amost unexpected way. In the midst of the riot therewas a tremendous shock, as if the Ursus had suddenlystruck a rock while going at full speed; but, as she hadbarely been going through the water at the rate oftwo knots an hour, that was an impossible explanation.The concussion, whatever it was, flung everyman to the deck, and in one moment all thoughts wereswitched off the conflict with one another and on tothis mysterious danger. All hands rushed to the sideand looked overboard, to see the blue of the seastreaked with bands of blood, while not twenty feet165away, on the starboard beam, a huge sperm whale layfeebly exhaling breath that showed redly against theblue of the water. Like a trumpet-blast the old man’svoice rang out, “Lower ’way boats!” and with catlikecelerity every man flew to his station, the falls rattled,and with an almost simultaneous splash three boatstook the water.

“Hold on, starboard bow boat!” roared the oldman again, seeing that there was no need of it, andtaking that advantage of keeping it in its place givenhim by the third mate being a few seconds slower thanthe others in getting away.

Before we had time to realize what a change hadcome over us all, we were furiously assaulting the monster,but he was in no condition to retaliate. Had weleft him alone, he must have died in a few minutes,for protruding from the side of his massive head wasa jagged piece of timber, showing white and splinteredwhere it had been freshly broken away.

We had little time to speculate upon the strangenessof the occurrence, for suddenly we were awarethat urgent signals were being made from the ship;and, leaving one boat to pass the fluke-line ready forhauling our prize alongside, the other two sped backto the ship. Arriving alongside, we clamberedswiftly on board, to hear the skipper’s deep voice calling,“Leave the boats and man the pumps!” A coldshudder ran through us at the words, for in a momentall knew that our ship had received a deadly blowfrom the wounded whale, and that it was a portion ofher that we had seen protruding from his head. And166we remembered the awful loneliness of that part ofthe Pacific, far away from the track of all ships exceptan occasional whaler, so occasional that our chances offalling in with one was infinitesimal.

The wind fell to a dead calm. There was not acloud in the heavens, and the sea in our immediatevicinity was not only smooth, but silky, from the slightoiliness we exuded, so that looking down into it wasalmost like looking up at the sky. After the firstalarm had subsided it was evident that we could haveseveral relays at the pumps, their structure not admittingof more than eight men working conveniently atone time. The skipper stood by with the sounding-rod,waiting, in grim silence, to see whether we or theleak were gaining, when Mac, sidling up to him, madesome remark that we could not hear. The skipperturned to him and nodded; and immediately we sawour pawky shipmate shedding his two garments. Nextthing we knew he was climbing over the side, andthose of us who were resting mounted the rail andwatched him. I have seen Kanakas diving for pearl-shell,and Malays diving for pearls, but never an olive-skinnedamphibian of them all could have held a candleto Jock MacTavish. He swam about under the ship’sbottom, examining her just as coolly as if in LambethBaths, his wide, open eyes glaring upward through thewater with a most uncanny look in them—like theeyes of a man long dead. Suddenly he popped upalongside, not at all distressed, and, wringing the waterfrom his nose, mounted the side and approached theskipper.

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With one accord the clang of the pumps ceased tohear his words, for we felt that they were a verdict oflife or death for all of us. “She’ll be a’ recht, sir,”said he. “Ther’s a muckle hole in th’ garburd straake,an’ aboot twenty fit o’ the fause keel awa’; bit a pokefu’ o’ shakins ’ll bung it up brawly wi’ a len’th o’ chainroond her tae keep it in’s plaace.” The pumping wasresumed with all the energy of hope renewed, whilebusy hands made ready a bagful of soft rope-yarns andgot up a spare fluke-chain. The bag was made fast inthe bight of a rope, which, weighted with a lump ofsandstone attached by a slipping lashing of spunyarn,was passed under her bottom. Again Mac went overboardand guided the plug into its place.

Then the chain was passed round her, and placedover the plug by Scotty. On deck we hove it taut, andin four hours we had sucked her out.

Then the skipper called all hands aft, and said,“Boys, ye’re the whitest crowd I’ve ever struck. Thebest dinner I k’n scare up ’s waitin’ for ye,’n I’veraided the medsun chest for the only drop of lickerthar is aboard. I don’t tech fire-water meself, but I’llwish ye a Merry Christmas with all me heart. Ther’sonly one thing I’d like t’ know; an’ that is, haow aScotchman comes to risk his life for a Christmas dinner?”“We’el, cap’n,” drawled Mac, “’twus juist awee bit seekoeloegical expeerimunt.”

Time’s up; but I must add that we humoured theold barky back to ’Frisco—and we didn’t lose thatwhale either.

169

ON THE VERTEX

Not the least curious to the uninitiated of the waysby which shipmasters navigate their vessels over thetrackless wastes of ocean is that known to the navigatorby the name of Great Circle Sailing. Lest thetimid reader take alarm at the introduction of so high-soundinga technical term, let me hasten to assure himor her that I have no deep-laid designs upon innocenthappiness by imposing a trigonometrical treatise uponthem in the guise of an amusing or interesting story.To such baseness I cannot stoop, for one very goodreason at any rate, because I have such a plentiful lackof trigonometry myself. Nevertheless, I do think thatmuch more interest might be taken in the ways of ourships and their crews by the people of this essentiallymaritime nation than is at present the case if, in thecourse of sea-story telling, the narrators were notaverse to giving a few accurate details as to the whyand how of nautical proceedings.

Having, I trust, allayed all tremors by these preliminaryremarks, let me go on to say that while allsane civilized persons believe this earth of ours to bemore or less globular in shape, it probably occurs tobut few that the shortest distance from point to pointon a globe is along a curve. But in order to get any170substantial gain out of this knowledge in the directionof shortening a ship’s passage, it is necessary first of allto have a considerable stretch of sea whereon to drawyour curve, which is after all a straight line, since it isthe shortest distance between two points. Even thefine open ocean between England and America is hardlysufficient to induce navigators to make use of GreatCircle Sailing on outward or homeward passages, thegain being so small. When, however, the captain ofan outward bound ship has wriggled through the bafflingbelt of hesitating winds that have hindered hisprogress southward from the equator to Cape, andbegins to look for the coming of the brave westerlygales that shall send him flying before them to Australiaor New Zealand, an opportunity occurs as inno other part of the world for putting the pretty GreatCircle theory into practice.

It may be necessary to remind the reader thatGreat Circles are those which divide a globe into twoequal parts, such as the equator and the meridians. If,then, the navigator at Cape in South America draws athread tightly on a terrestrial globe between that pointand, say, the south-east cape of Tasmania, the line itdescribes will be the arc of a Great Circle, and consequentlythe shortest distance between the two places.But when he comes to lay down the track which thatthread has described upon his Mercator chart he findsthat, instead of steering almost a straight course betweenthe two places, he must describe a huge curve,with its vertex or highest southerly point well withinthe Antarctic circle. Now, no sane seaman would171dream of seeking such a latitude upon any voyage butone of exploration, since it is well known what kind ofweather awaits the unfortunate mariner there. But,without saying that Captain Jellico was a lunatic, it isnecessary to remark that he was no ordinary shipmaster,and those who knew him best often prophesied thatone day his persistent pursuit of hobbies and fadswould involve him and all his unfortunate crew insome extraordinary disaster.

On the present voyage he commanded an ancientteak built barque that had long ago seen her bestdays, and was, besides, so slow that any of the ordinarymethods of economizing time were a ridiculouswaste of energy when applied to her. Of course, shecarried stunsails, those infernal auxiliaries that are orwere responsible for more sin on board ship than anyother invention of man. She was bound to Auckland,and by the time she had waddled as far south as Capehad already consumed as many days as a smart clippership would have needed to do the whole passage.Yet Captain Jellico was so proud of the ugly old tub(bathing machine, the men called her), principally becausehe was half-owner of her, that he was perfectlyblind to her slothful and unhandy qualities. Day byday he held forth to his disgusted mate upon thebeauty of the Great Circle problem, and the desirabilityof putting it into practice, announcing his firmintention of carrying it out in its entirety this trip. Hewasn’t going to piffle with any “composite” GreatCircle track, not he. Half-hearted seamen mightchoose to follow the great curve down as far as 50° S.172or so, and then shirk the whole business by steeringdue east for a couple of thousand miles, but he woulddo the trick properly, and touch the vertex, unless,indeed, it happened to be on the mainland of Antarctica.After an hour or two of this sort of talk the matewould go on deck feeling mighty sick, and mutteringfervent prayers that his commander would meet withsome entirely disabling accident soon, one that wouldeffectually hinder him from carrying out his oft-reiteratedintention. But no such answer was affordedto Mr. Marline’s impious aspirations. The steadfastwesterly wind began as usual, and the clumsy oldChanticleer, under every rag of canvas, stunsails andall, began to plunder along that hateful curve, steeringabout south-east by south. Gradually the windstrengthened, until, much to the delight of the scantycrew, the fluttering rags that hung precariously at theyard-arms were taken in and stowed snugly away, thebooms and irons were sent down from aloft, and lashedalong the scuppers with the spare spars and stunsailcarrying, for that passage, at any rate, became only awretched memory. Sterner and stronger blew thewind as day succeeded day and higher latitudes weresuccessively reached, until, although it was the Antarcticsummer, all hands were wearing nearly everygarment they possessed in the vain endeavour to keepa little warmth in their thin blood.

One topic now overlaid every other in the endlesscauseries that were held in the gloomy den where thesailors lived. It was the course steered. The positionof the ship is always more or less a matter of conjecture173to the men forward, except when some well-knownisland or headland is sighted, but all sailors areable to judge fairly well from the courses steered whattrack is being made, and the present persistence in asoutherly direction was disquieting in the extreme tothem all. The weather worsened every day, and occasionalicebergs showed their awful slopes throughthe surrounding greyness, making every man strainhis eyes when on the look-out or at the wheel in painfulanxiety lest the ship should suddenly come full tiltupon one of them. A deep discontent was heavy uponthe heart of every member of the crew, with the soleexception of the skipper. Snugly wrapped in a hugefur-lined jacket, and with an eared sealskin cap drawndown over his ears, he paced the poop jauntily, asmerry as Father Christmas, and utterly oblivious ofeverything and everybody but the grand way in whichhe was following up his Great Circle. At last, when adull settled misery seemed to have loaded all hands sothat they appeared to have lost the heart even to growl,a dense mist settled fatefully down upon the ship, awhite pall that was not dispelled again by the strong,bitter wind. The skipper hardly ever left the deck,but his almost sleepless vigilance had no effect uponhis high spirits. Suddenly at mid-day, when by deadreckoning he was within a day’s sail of the vertex, thesea, which had been running in mountainous massesfor weeks past, occasionally breaking over all andseething about the sodden decks, became strangelysmooth and quiet, although the wind still howled behindthem. Such a change sent a thrill of terrible174dread through every heart. Even the skipper, with allhis stubborn fortitude, looked troubled, and faltered inhis unresting tramp fore and aft the poop. Thengradually the wind failed until it was almost calm, andthe enshrouding mist closed down upon the ship sodensely that it was hardly possible to see a fathom’slength away. The silence became oppressive, all themore so because underlying it there was the merestsuggestion of a sound that always has a fateful significancefor the mariner, the hoarse, unsatisfied murmurof the sea sullenly beating against an immovablebarrier. And thus they waited and endured all theagony and suspense born of ignorance of the dangersthat they knew must surround them, and utter incapabilityto do anything whatever. Full thirty-six hourscrept leaden-footed away before there came any lighteningof their darkness. Then gradually the rollingwreaths of mist melted away and revealed to themtheir position. At first they could hardly credit theevidence of their senses, believing that what they sawhemming them in on every side was but the reluctantfog taking on fantastic shapes of mountain, valley,and plateau. But when at last the wintry sungleamed palely, and they could discern the little surfglittering against the bases of the ice-cliffs, all elusivehopes fled, and they became fully aware of their horribleposition. The vessel lay motionless in a bluelake bounded on every side by white walls of ice, thesnowy glare of their cliffs contrasting curiously withthe deep blue of the sea. Some of the peaks soared toa height of over one thousand feet, others again rose175sheer from the water for several hundreds of feet, andthen terminated in flat table-like summits of vast area.But all were alike in their grim lifelessness. Theylooked as if they had thus existed for ages; it was impossibleto imagine any change in their terriblesolidity.

After the first shock of the discovery had passed,the relief that always comes from knowing the worstcame to them, and they began to speculate upon themanner in which they could have entered this apparentlyice-locked lake. Presently the skipper, in astrangely altered voice, ordered the long boat to begot out, a task of great difficulty, since, as in mostvessels of the Chanticleer’s class, the long boat was,besides being hampered up by a miscellaneous collectionof all the rubbish in the ship, secured as if shewas never intended to be used under any circ*mstances.But the tough job gave the hands somethingto take their minds off their unhappy position, whilethe exertion kept off the icy chill of their surroundings.When at last the boat was in the water, although shewas so leaky that one man was kept constantly baling,the skipper entered her, and, with four oarsmen,started to explore their prison. With the utmost caution,they surveyed every fathom of the sea line, nodetail of the ice-barrier escaping their anguished scrutiny;but when at last, after six hours’ absence, theyreturned on board, they had been unable to discoverthe slightest vestige of a passage, no, not so much aswould admit their boat. The only conclusion thatcould be arrived at was that they had passed in through176the opening of a horseshoe-shaped berg of enormousarea, and that another smaller berg had drifted inafter them and turned over in the channel, effectuallyclosing it against their return. Slowly and sadly theyhad returned to the ship, the skipper looking heartbrokenat this tragic termination to his enthusiasticscheme of navigation. After ascertaining his positionby means of an artificial horizon, he called all handsaft, and thus addressed them, “Men, we’m all fellow-sufferersnow, I reckon, and the only thing to do ’esto wait God’s good time for lettin’ us get out. Ifind we’m in 61° S., 50° E., and I reckon our onlyhope lies in the fact that this can’t be no shore ice;it must be a floatin’ berg, ef ’tes a most amazin’ bigun. Consequently it must be a driftin’ to the norrarda little; they all do, and sooner or later the sun ’llmelt us out. One good job, we got ’nough pervisionsin the cargo ter las’ us six years, an’ as for water, well,I reckon there’s more fresh water froze around us thanall the ships in the world ’ud ever want. So we’ll justtake care of ourselves, try an’ keep alive,’n look afterthe old barky, for we shall certinly sail away in heryet.” His speech was received in silence, but all handslooked brighter and happier than they had done fora long time. They towed the vessel into a sort of cove,and moored her firmly with kedges and hawsers tothe ice, then turned their attention to the invention ofall sorts of expedients for preventing the time hangingtoo heavily. Better feeding became the order of theday, for the old man at once drew upon the cargo,which included an immense assortment of preserved177food of the best brands, as well as many luxuries.And every day there was a slight change in the position,showing that, as the skipper had said, the wholebody of ice was drifting north as well as east. So uneventfullyand tediously two months passed away, leavingeverything pretty much the same, except that theskipper seemed to have aged ten years.

Then one afternoon, when the enwrapped mist wasso thick that even the deck beneath their feet wasscarcely visible, there came a tremendous crash thatmade the old vessel quiver from keel to truck. Itwas followed by loud splashes as of falling blocks ofice, and strange sounds that resembled human voices.Presently the fog lifted, and revealed a great gap inthe ice-wall just ahead of the vessel, and on one sideof its cliffs the wreck of a splendid ship, whose crewwere huddled upon the precipitous crags of the berg.The sight sent all hands into frantic activity on theinstant. Toiling like giants, they rescued all the nearlyfrozen men, who were in such evil case that they couldhardly ask whence their rescuers had come, and then,as if incapable of fatigue, they strained every ounce ofstrength they possessed to warp their long-imprisonedship out of that terrible dock. Once escaped, it is hardlynecessary to say that Captain Jellico lost no time ingetting north and running his easting down upon aparallel of 42° S. Great Circle Sailing had lost all itscharms for him. And in due time the Chanticleer arrivedat Auckland, two hundred and forty-six days outfrom home, with all her passengers and crew in thebest of health and mutually pleased with each other.

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A MONARCH’S FALL

Glorious in all his splendid majesty, the great sunissued forth of his chamber, and all the wide sea baskedin his beams with a million million smiles. Save thesea and the sun and the sky, there was nought apparentlyexisting—it might well have been the birthday ofLight. Also the one prevailing characteristic of thescene to a human eye, had one been there to see, waspeace—perfect stainless peace. But we are, by thevery fact of our organization, true impressionists, andonly by a severe course of training, voluntary or otherwise,do we realize aught but the present fact, the pastis all forgotten, the future all unknown. So it washere, beneath that sea of smiling placid beauty a warof unending ferocity was being waged, truceless, merciless;for unto the victors belong the spoils, and withoutthem they must perish—there was none other foodto be gotten.

But besides all this ruthless warfare carried on inevitablybecause without it all must die of hunger,there were other causes of conflict, matters of highpolicy and more intricate motive than just the blindall-compelling pressure of hunger. The glowing surfaceof that morning sea was suddenly disturbed simultaneouslyat many points, and like ascending incense180the bushy breathings of some scores of whales becamevisible. Perfectly at their ease since their instincts assuredthem that from this silent sea their only enemywas absent, they lay in unstudied grace about the sparklingwaters, the cows and youngsters gambolling happilytogether in perfect freedom from care. Hither theyhad come from one of their richest feeding-grounds,where all had laid in a stock of energy sufficient tocarry them half round the globe without weariness.So they were fat with a great richness, strong with incalculablestrength, and because of these things theywere now about to settle a most momentous question.Apart from the main gathering of females and calvesby the space of about a mile lay five individuals, who,from their enormous superiority in size, no less thanthe staid gravity of their demeanour, were evidentlythe adult males of the school. They lay almost motionlessin the figure of a baseless triangle whereof theapex was a magnificent bull over seventy feet in length,with a back like some keelless ship bottom up, and ahead huge and square as a railway car. He it was whofirst broke the stillness that reigned. Slowly raisinghis awful front with its down-hanging, twenty-footlower jaw exposing two gleaming rows of curvedteeth, he said, “Children, ye have chosen the time andthe place for your impeachment of my overlordship,and I am ready. Well, I wot that ye do but as ourchangeless laws decree, that the choice of your actionsrests not with yourselves, that although ye feel lordsof yourselves and desirous of ruling all your fellows, itis but under the compelling pressure of our hereditary181instincts. Yet remember, I pray you, before ye combineto drive me from among ye, for how many generationsI have led the school, how wisely I have chosenour paths, so that we are still an unbroken family aswe have been for more than a hundred seasons. Andif ye must bring your powers to test now, remember,too, that I am no weakling, no dotard weary of rule,but mightiest among all our people, conqueror in morethan a thousand battles, wise with the accumulatedknowledge of a hundred generations of monarchy.Certainly the day of my displacement must come; whoshould know that better than I? but methinks it hasnot yet dawned, and I would not have ye lightly pityour immature strength against mine, courting inevitabledestruction. Ponder well my words, for I havespoken.”

A solemn hush ensued, just emphasized by theslumbrous sound of the sparkling wavelets lappingthose mighty forms as they lay all motionless and apparentlyinert. Yet it had been easy to see how alongeach bastion like flank the rolling tendons, each onea cable in itself, were tense and ready for instantaneousaction, how the great muscle mounds were hardenedaround the gigantic masses of bone, and the flukes,each some hundred feet in area, did not yield to theheaving bosom of the swell, but showed an almostimperceptible vibration as of a fucus frond in a tide rip.After a perfect silence of some fifteen minutes an answercame—from the youngest of the group, who layremote from the chief. “We have heard, O king, thewords of wisdom, and our hearts rejoice. Truly we182have been of the fortunate in this goodly realm, andingrates indeed should we be had our training under soterrible a champion been wasted upon us. But thereforeit is that we would forestall the shame that shouldovertake us did we wait until thy forces had waned andthat all-conquering might had dwindled into dotageere we essayed to put thy teaching into practice. Sincethy deposition from this proud place must be, to whoseforces could’st thou more honourably yield than toours, the young warriors who have learned of thee allwe know, and who will carry on the magnificent traditionsthou hast handed down to us in a manner worthyof our splendid sire! And if we be slain, as well maybe, remembering with whom we do battle, the greaterour glory, the greater thine also.”

A deep murmur like the bursting of a tidal waveagainst the sea-worn lava rocks of Ascension markedthe satisfaction of the group at this exposition of theirviews, and as if actuated by one set of nerves thecolossal four swung round shoulder to shoulder, andfaced the ocean monarch. Moving not by a barnacle’sbreadth, he answered, “It is well spoken, oh my children,ye are wiser than I. And be the issue what itwill, all shall know that the royal race still holds. Asin the days when our fathers met and slew the slimydragons of the pit, and, unscared by fathom-long clawsor ten-ply coats of mail, dashed them in pieces andchased them from the blue deep they befouled, soto-day when the world has grown old, and our ancientheritage has sorely shrunken, our warfare shall still bethe mightiest among created things.”

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Hardly had the leviathan uttered the last wordwhen, with a roar like Niagara bursting its bonds inspring, he hurled his vast bulk headlong upon the closegathered band of his huge offspring. His body waslike a bent bow, and its recoil tore the amazed sea intodeep whirls and eddies as if an island had foundered.Full upon the foremost one he fell, and deep answeredunto deep with the impact. That awful blow dashedits recipient far into the soundless depths while thechampion sped swiftly forward on his course, unable toturn until his impetus was somewhat spent. Before hecould again face his foes, the three were upon him,smiting with Titanic fluke strokes, circling beneathhim with intent to catch the down-hanging shaft ofhis lower jaw, rising swiftly end on beneath the broadspread of his belly, leaping high into the bright airand falling flatlings upon his wide back. The tormentedsea foamed and hissed in angry protest,screaming sea-birds circled low around the conflict,ravening sharks gathered from unknown distances,scenting blood, and all the countless tribes of oceanwaited aghast. But after the first red fury had passedcame the wariness, came the fruitage of all those yearsof training, all the accumulated instincts of ages tosupplement blind brutal force with deep laid schemesof attack and defence. As yet the three survivors werebut slightly injured, for they had so divided their attackeven in that first great onset, that the old warriorcould not safely single out one for destruction. Nowthe youngest, the spokesman, glided to the front ofhis brethren, and faced his waiting sire—

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“What! so soon weary. Thou art older than wethought. Truly this battle hath been delayed too long.We looked for a fight that should be remembered formany generations, and behold——” Out of the cornerof his eye he saw the foam circles rise as the vasttail of the chief curved inward for the spring, and he,the scorner, launched himself backwards a hundredfathoms at a bound. After him, leaping like any salmonin a spate, came the terrible old warrior, the smittenwaves boiling around him as he dashed them asidein his tremendous pursuit. But herein the pursuedhad the advantage, for it is a peculiarity of the spermwhale that while he cannot see before him, his bestarc of vision is right astern. So that the pursuer mustneeds be guided by sound and the feel of the water, andthe very vigour of his chase was telling far more uponhis vast bulk than upon the lither form of his flyingenemy. In this matter the monarch’s wisdom was ofno avail, for experience could not tell him how advancingage handicaps the strongest, and he wonderedto find a numbness creeping along his spine—to feelthat he was growing weary. And suddenly, with aneel-like movement the pursued one described a circlebeneath the water, rising swift as a dolphin springstowards his pursuer, and dashing at the dangling,gleaming jaw. These two great balks of jaw met inclashing contact, breaking off a dozen or so of thehuge teeth, and ripping eight or ten feet of the gristlymuscle from the throat of the aggressor. But hardlyhad they swung clear of each other than the other twowere fresh upon the scene, and while the youngest185one rested, they effectually combined to prevent theirfast-weakening foe from rising to breathe. No neednow for them to do more, for the late enormous expenditureof force had so drained his vast body of itsprime necessity that the issue of the fight was but aquestion of minutes. Yet still he fought gallantly,though with lungs utterly empty—all the rushing torrentof his blood growing fetid for lack of vitalisingair. At last, with a roar as of a cyclone through hishead, he turned on his side and yielded to his triumphantconquerors, who drew off and allowed him torise limply to the now quiet sea-surface. For morethan an hour he lay there prone, enduring all the agonyof his overthrow, and seeing far before him the long,lonely vista of his solitary wanderings, a lone whaledriven from his own, and nevermore to rule again.

Meanwhile the three had departed in search of theirbrother, smitten so felly early in the fight that he hadnot since joined them. When they found that whichhad been him it was the centre of an innumerable hostof hungry things that fled to air or sea-depths at theirapproach. A glance revealed the manner of his end—abroken back, while already, such had been the energyof the smaller sea people, the great framework of hisribs was partly laid bare. They made no regrets, forthe doing of useless things finds no place in theirscheme of things. Then the younger said—

“So the question of overlordship lies between usthree, and I am unwilling that it should await settlement.I claim the leadership, and am prepared hereand now to maintain my right.”

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This bold assertion had its effect upon the twohearers, who, after a long pause, replied—

“We accept, O king, fully and freely, until the nextbattle-day arrives, when the succession must be maintainedby thee in ancient form.”

So the matter was settled, and proudly the youngmonarch set off to rejoin the waiting school. Intotheir midst he glided with an air of conscious majesty,pausing in the centre to receive the homage and affectionatecaresses of the harem. No questions wereasked as to the whereabouts of the deposed sovereign,nor as to what had become of the missing member ofthe brotherhood. These are things that do not disturbthe whale-people, who in truth have a sufficiency ofother matters to occupy their thoughts besides thoseinevitable changes that belong to the settled order ofthings. The recognition complete, the new leaderglided out from the midst of his people, and pointinghis massive front to the westward moved off at astately pace, on a straight course for the coast of Japan.

Long, long lay the defeated one, motionless andalone. His exertions had been so tremendous thatevery vast muscle band seemed strained beyond recovery,while the torrent of his blood, befouled by hislong enforced stay beneath the sea, did not readilyregain its normally healthful flow. But on the secondday he roused himself, and raising his mighty headswept the unbroken circle of the horizon to satisfy himselfthat he was indeed at last a lone whale. Endinghis earnest scrutiny he milled round to the southwardand with set purpose and steady fluke-beat started for187the Aucklands. On his journey he passed many aschool or smaller “pod” of his kind, but in somemysterious manner the seal of his loneliness was setupon him, so that he was shunned by all. In ten dayshe reached his objective, ten days of fasting, and impelledby fierce hunger ventured in closely to thecliffs, where great shoals of fish, many seals, with anoccasional porpoise, came gaily careering down thewide-gaping white tunnel of his throat into the innerdarkness of dissolution. It was good to be here, pleasantto feel once more that unquestioned superiorityover all things, and swiftly the remembrance of his fallfaded from the monster’s mind. By day he wanderedlazily, enjoying the constant easy procession of livingfood down his ever-open gullet; by night he wallowedsleepily in the surf-torn margin of those jagged reefs.And thus he came to enjoy the new phase of existence,until one day he rose slowly from a favourite reef-patchto feel a sharp pang shoot through his wideflank. Startled into sudden, violent activity, heplunged madly around in the confined area of the covewherein he lay in the vain endeavour to rid himself ofthe smart. But he had been taken at a disadvantage,for in such shallow waters there was no room tomanœuvre his vast bulk, and his wary assailants feltthat in spite of his undoubted vigour and ferocity hewould be an easy prey. But suddenly he headed instinctivelyfor the open sea at such tremendous speedthat the two boats attached to him were but as chipsbehind him. He reached the harbour’s mouth, andbending, swiftly sought the depths. Unfortunately for188him a huge pinnacle of rock rose sheer from the seabed some hundred fathoms below, and upon this hehurled himself headlong with such fearful force thathis massive neck was broken. And next day a wearycompany of men were toiling painfully to strip fromhis body its great accumulation of valuable oil, and hislong career was ended.

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THE CHUMS

What a depth of mystery is concealed in the phenomenaof likes and dislikes! Why, at first sight, weare attracted by one person and repelled by another,independently, to all outward seeming, of personalappearance or habits of observation. This is, of course,a common experience of most people, but one of thestrangest instances I have ever known was in my ownaffection for Jack Stadey and all that grew out of it.

Stadey was a Russian Finn, one of a race that onboard ship has always had the reputation of being a bitwizard-like, credited with the possession of dreadpowers, such as the ability to raise or still a storm,become invisible, and so on. The bare truth about theseafaring Finns, however, is that they make probablythe finest all-round mariners in the world. No othersea-folk combine so completely all the qualities thatgo to make up the perfect seaman. Many of them maybe met with who can build a vessel, make her spars,her sails, and her rigging, do the blacksmith work andall the manifold varieties of odd workmanship that goto complete a ship’s equipment, take her to sea, andnavigate her on soundest mathematical principles, anddo all these strange acts and deeds with the poorest,most primitive tools, and under the most miserable,190poverty-stricken conditions. But, as a rule, they arenot smart; they must be allowed to do their work intheir own way, at their own pace, and with no closescrutiny into anything except results. Now, JackStadey was a typical Finn, as far as his slow ungainlymovements went, but none of that ability and adaptivenesswhich is characteristic of his countrymen wasmanifest in him. To the ordinary observer he was justa heavy, awkward “Dutchman,” who couldn’t jump tosave his life, and who would necessarily be put uponall the heaviest, dirtiest jobs, while the sailorizing wasbeing done by smarter men. With a long, squarehead, faded blue eyes, and straggling flaxen moustache,round shoulders, and dangling, crooked arms,he seemed born to be the butt of his more favouredshipmates. Yet when I first became acquainted withhim in the fo’c’sle of the old Dartmouth, outwardbound to Hong Kong, something about him appealedto me, and we became chums. The rest of the crew,with one notable exception, were not bad fellows, andJack shuffled along serenely through the voyage, quiteundisturbed by the fact that no work of any seamanlikenature ever came to his share. I came in for agood deal of not ill-natured chaff from the rest formy close intimacy with him, but it only had the effectof knitting us closer together, for there is just thatstrain of obstinacy about me that opposition only stiffens.And as I studied that simple, childlike man, Ifound that he had a heart of gold, a nature that hadno taint of selfishness, and was sublimely unconsciousof its own worth.

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We made the round voyage together, and on ourreturn to London I persuaded him to quit the gloomyenvironment of sailor-town to come and take lodgingswith me in a turning out of Oxford Street, whence wecould sally forth and find ourselves at once in themidst of clean, interesting life, free from the filthy importunitiesof the denizens of Shadwell that prey uponthe sailor. My experiences of London life were turnedto good account in those pleasant days, all too short.Together we did all the sights, and it would be hard tosay which of us enjoyed ourselves most. At last, ourfunds having dwindled to the last five pounds, we mustneeds go and look for a ship. I had “passed” forsecond mate, but did not try very hard to get the berththat my certificate entitled me to take, and finally weboth succeeded in getting berths before the mast in abarque called the Magellan, bound for New Zealand.To crown the common-sense programme we had beenfollowing out, we did a thing I have never seen deep-watersailors do before or since—we took a goodlysupply of such delicacies on board with us as would,had we husbanded them, have kept us from hungeruntil we crossed the line. But sailor Jack, with all hisfaults, is not mean, and so all hands shared in the goodthings until they were gone, which was in about threedays. To our great disgust, Jack and I were pickedfor separate watches, so that our chats were limitedto the second dog-watch, that pleasant time betweensix and eight p.m. when both watches can fraternize attheir ease, and discuss all the queer questions that appealto the sailor mind.

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Jack never complained, it wasn’t his habit, but, unknownto me, he was having a pretty bad time of it inthe starboard watch. Of course, the vessel was short-handed—fourhands in a watch to handle an over-sparredbrute of nearly a thousand tons—and as a consequenceJack’s ungainly want of smartness was tryingto his over-worked watchmates, who were, besides,unable to understand his inability or unwillingness togrowl at the hardness of the common lot. The chiefman in that watch was a huge Shetlandman, SandyRorison, who, broadly speaking, was everything thatJack was not. Six feet two in his stocking vamps, uprightas a lower mast, and agile as a leading seaman onboard a man-o’-war, there was small wonder thatSandy was sorely irritated by the wooden movementsof my deliberate chum. But one day, when, relievedfrom the wheel, I came into the forecastle for a “verseo’ the pipe,” I found Sandy bullying him in a piraticalmanner. All prudential considerations were forgotten,and I interfered, although it was like coming betweena lion and his kill. Black with fury, Sandy turnedupon me, tearing off his jumper the while, and inchoking monosyllables invited me to come outside anddie. I refused, giving as my reason that I did not feeltired of life, and admitting that I was fully aware ofhis ability to make cracker-hash of me. But whilehe stood gasping, I put it to him whether, if he had achum, any consideration for his own safety would stophim from risking it in the endeavour to save thatchum from such a dog’s life as he was now leadingJack Stadey. Well, the struggle between rage and193righteousness in that big rough man was painful to see.It lasted for nearly five minutes, while I stood calmlypuffing at my pipe with a numb sense of “what mustbe will be” about me. Then suddenly the big fellowwent and sat down, buried his face in his hands, andwas silent. I went about my work unmolested, but fornearly a week there was an air of expectation about thewhole of us—a sense that an explosion might occur atany moment. Then the tension relaxed, and I sawwith quiet delight that Rorison had entirely abandonedhis hazing of Jack.

After a most miserable passage of a hundred andten days we arrived at our port, and almost immediatelyafter came an opening for me to join a fine shipas second mate. It could not be disregarded, althoughI had to forfeit to the knavish skipper the whole ofmy outward passage earnings for the privilege of beingdischarged. So Jack and I parted, making no sign, asis the custom of men, of the rending pain of our separation.When next I saw Jack, several years after, Ihad left the sea, but on a periodical visit to the docks—ahabit I was long curing myself of—I met him,looking for a ship. How triumphantly I bore himwestward to my little home I need not say, but whenin the course of conversation I found that he andRorison had been chums ever since I left the Magellan,I was dumbfounded. The more because, in spiteof the change in Rorison after my risky interference onthat memorable afternoon, I had passed many unhappyhours, thinking, in my conceit and ignorance of thenobleness of which the majority of human kind are194capable, given the proper opportunity for showing it,that Jack would have but a sorry time of it after I hadleft him. Malvolio thought nobly of the soul, andI have had reason, God knows, to think nobly of myfellow-men, even of those who upon a casual acquaintanceseemed only capable of exciting disgust. I believethat few indeed are the men and women whohave not within them the germ of as heroic deeds asever thrilled the hearts and moistened the eyes of mankind,although, alas! myriads live and die wantingthe occasion that could fructify the germ. Made inHis own image, although sorely battered out of theDivine likeness, the Father does delight in showinghow, in spite of the distance men generally have placedbetween themselves and Him, the type still persists,and self-sacrifice, soaring above the devilish cynicismthat affects to know no God but self-interest, blazesforth to show to all who will but open their eyesthat “God’s in His Heaven, all’s right with theworld.”

Two more strangely assorted chums surely seldomforegathered than Sandy and Jack. I remember nonein real life, though the big trooper George Rouncewelland Phil have been immortalized by Dickens in“Bleak House,” and the probability is that such afriendship had been known to that marvellous man.How the bond between the Shetlandman and the Finngradually grew and toughened I had no means ofknowing, for Jack was a man of so few words, thateven my eager questioning never succeeded in drawingfrom him the information that I thirsted for. However,195to resume my story, the pair succeeded in obtainingberths in the same ship again, a big iron clipper,the Theodosia, bound to Melbourne. I did notsucceed in meeting Sandy before they sailed, thoughI tried hard in my scanty leisure to do so. But I determinedthat when they returned I would have themboth home to my little place, and devote some of myholidays to entertaining them. I watched carefullythe columns of the Shipping Gazette for news of theship, and succeeded in tracing her home to Falmouthfor orders from Port Pirie. Thence in due time shedeparted, to my great disappointment, for Sunderland.And the rest of the story must be told as I learned itlong afterwards.

It was in the late autumn that they sailed fromFalmouth, leaving port on a glorious afternoon withthat peerless weather known to west-country fishermenas a “fine southerly.” Up the sparkling Channelthey sped with every stitch of canvas set, and a greatcontentment reigning on board at the prospect of theapproaching completion of the voyage under suchfavourable conditions. Being foul, the Theodosiamade slow progress, but so steady was the favouringwind that in two days she picked up her Channel pilotoff Dungeness. He was hardly on board before achange came. One of those sudden gales came howlingdown the stern North Sea, and gradually the labouringship was stripped of her wings, until in aperfect whirl of freezing spindrift she was gropingthrough the gloom across the Thames estuary. Butno uneasiness was felt, because the pilot was on board,196and the confidence felt in the well-known skill andseamanship of those splendid mariners makes even themost timid of deep-water sailors feel secure under theircharge. No man is infallible, however, and just beforemidnight a shock, which threw all hands, thenstanding by to wear ship, off their feet, brought thehuge vessel up all standing. Not many minutes wereneeded to show every man on board that she wasdoomed. Lying as she was on the weather edge of theGalloper Sand (though her position was unknown evento the pilot), she was exposed to the full fury of thegale, and the blue lights and rockets made but thefaintest impression upon the appalling blackness. Allhands worked with feverish energy to free the long-disusedboats from their gripes, although they wereoften hurled headlong from this task by the crushingimpact of those inky masses of water that rose in terriblemight all around. And as the boats were cleared,so they were destroyed until but one remained seaworthyand afloat upon the lee-side, fast by the end of theforebrace. One by one the beaten, bruised, and almostdespairing men succeeded in boarding that tiny arkof refuge as it strained and plunged like a terrifiedcreature striving to escape from the proximity of theperishing leviathan. When it appeared that all handswere crowded into the overburdened boat, the watchfulskipper mounted the lee rail, and, waiting his opportunity,leapt for his life.

“Cast off, cast off,” shouted a dozen voices as thecaptain struggled aft to the place of command, butone cry overtopped them all, the frenzied question of197Rorison, “Where’s Jack Stadey?” A babel of repliesarose, but out of that tumult one fact emerged, he wasnot among them. The next moment, as a mountainousswell lifted the boat high above the ship’s rail,Rorison had leapt to his feet, and, catching hold of thedrooping mainbrace above his head, was hauling himselfback on board again. And the boat had gone.Doubtless in the confusion, some man had succeededin casting the end of the rope adrift that held her, notknowing what had happened, so that the next vastroller swept her away on its crest a hundred fathomsin an instant. The wide mouth of the dark engulfedher. All unheeding the disappearance of the boat,Rorison fought his way about the submerged and roaringdecks, peering with a seaman’s bat-like power ofvision through the dark for any sign of his chum. Buffetedby the scourging seas, conscious that he wasfast losing what little strength remained to him, heyet persisted in his search until, with a cry of joy, hefound poor Stadey jammed between the fife-rail andthe pumps, just alive, but with a broken leg and arm.Not a word passed between them, but with a suddenaccession of vigour, Sandy managed to drag his chumaft and lash his limp body to one of the poop hen-coops.He then cast another coop adrift, and securedit to the side of the first. Having done this, he lashedhimself by Stadey’s side, and with one hand feelingthe languid pulsation of his chum’s heart, awaited thenext comber that should sweep their frail raft awayinto the hissing sea.

Next morning, under a sky of heavenly glory, two198Harwich fishermen found the tiny raft, still supportingthe empty husks of those two faithful souls, undividedeven unto the end of their hard life, and together enteredinto rest.

With these two exceptions all hands were saved.

199

ALPHONSO M’GINTY

Who is there among British seafarers that does notknow the “chain-locker”—that den just opposite theMint like an exaggerated bear-pit? The homeward-bounder,his heart light as thistle-down with the firsttaste of liberty after his voyage’s long imprisonment,takes no heed of its squalor; no, not even in the drearDecember slushiness, following upon a Shadwellsnowstorm. If he does glance around shudderingly atthe haggard faces of the unshipped for a moment, thefeel of the beloved half-sheet of blue foolscap ostentatiouslydisplayed in his club-fingered right handbrings the departing look of satisfaction back swiftlyenough. It is his “account of wages,” his passportwithin the swing doors of the office, which he willpresently exchange for the few pieces of gold for whichhe has given such a precious slice of his life.

But the outward-bounder, his hands thrust deepinto empty pockets, the bitter taste of begrudgedbread parching his mouth, and the scowling face of hisboarding master refusing to pass from his mind’s eye;he it is who feels the utter desolation of the crowded“chain-locker” corrode his very soul. After a longday’s tramp around the docks, sneaking on board vesselslike a thief, and asking the mate for a “chance”200with bated breath, as if begging for pence, unsuccessfuland weary, he returns to this walled-in pit ofgloom, and jealously eyes the company of miserableslike himself, as if in each one he saw a potentialsnatcher of his last hope of a berth.

Outward-bounders have little to say to each otherin the “chain-locker.” They wait, not like honestlabourers seeking legitimate employment, but like half-triedprisoners awaiting sentence. This characteristicis so universal that, although we who bided the comingof the Gareth’s skipper had all got our dischargesin, and so felt reasonably sure of her, we had not exchangedhalf a dozen words among the fourteen of us.

But there suddenly appeared in our midst a square-built,rugged-faced man of middle height, whose greyeyes twinkled across his ruined nose, and whose mouthhad that droll droop of the lower lip that shows areadiness, not only to laugh in and out of season, butalmost pathetically invites the beholder to laugh too.He it was who broke the stony silence by saying in therichest brogue, “Is it all av us bhoys that does begoin’ in the wan ship, I wondher?” Even the mostmorose among us felt an inclination to smile, wehardly knew why, but just then the swing door of theengaging office burst open, and a hoarse voice shouted,“Crew o’ the Gareth here.”

The words, like some irresistible centripetal force,sucked in from the remotest corner of the large areaevery man, and in a moment all of us, who had, as wethought, secured our chances by lodging our dischargesbeforehand, were seized with something of a201panic lest we should lose the ship after all. Heavens!how we thrust and tore our way into the office, pastthe burly policeman who held every one of us at thepinch of the door until he was satisfied of our rightto enter. Once within, we felt safe, and stood nervouslyfingering our caps while the clerk gabbled overthe usual formula, to which none of us gave the slightestheed. “Signing on” began and proceeded apace,to the accompaniment of a running fire of questions asto age, nationality, last ship, etc., to which answers,if not promptly forthcoming, were, I am afraid, suppliedby the questioner. There was a subdued chuckle,and the man who had spoken outside stood at thecounter.

“What name?” snapped the clerk.

“Alphonso M’Ginty, yer anner,” was the answer.No exquisite witticism ever raised a more wholesomeburst of laughter. It positively brightened that dullhole like a ray of sea-sunshine.

“How old?” said the clerk, in a voice still tremulous.

“God befrind me, I forgot! Say tirty-five, sor.”

“Your discharge says twenty-five?” returned theclerk.

“Ah yes, yer anner, but it’s said that for the lasttirty years!”

“Isn’t it time it was altered then?” retorted theclerk, magisterial again, as he entered fifty-five on thearticles. The old fellow’s quaint speech, added to anindefinable aureole of good humour about him, hadcompletely changed the sullen aspect of our crowd, so202that for the moment we quite forget that but fourteenof us were engaged to take the 4000-ton ship Garethto New Zealand first, and then to any other part ofthe world, voyage not to exceed three years.

So, with even the Dutchmen laughing and chucklingin sympathy with the fun they felt, but didn’tunderstand, we all dispersed with our advance notes toget such discount as fate and the sharks would allow.In good time we were all aboard, for ships were scarce,and all of us anxious to get away. But when we sawthe vast, gaunt hull well down to Plimsoll’s Mark, andthe four towering steel giants of masts with their immensespreading branches, and thought of the handfulwe were to manage them, we felt a colder chill thaneven the biting edge of the bitter east wind hadgiven us.

We mustered in the dark, iron barn of the fo’c’sle,and began selecting bunks temporarily, until we werepicked for watches, when our attention was arrestedby the voice of M’Ginty, saying—

“Bhoys!”

All turned towards him where he stood, with abottle of rum and a tea-cup, and no one needed a secondcall. When the bottle was empty, and our heartshad gone out to the donor, he said, clearing his throatonce or twice—

“Bhoys, fergive me, I’m a —— imposhtor. Ibroke me right knee-cap an’ five ribs comin’ homefrom ’Frisco in the Lamech—fell from the fore-t’galantyard—an’ I bin three months in Poplar Hospital.I can’t go aloft, but I didn’t think what a crime it203wuz goin’ to be agin ye all until I see this awful over-sparredbrute here. Don’t be harrd on me, bhoys; yewouldn’t have me starrve ashore, wud yez now, or fretme poor owld hearrt out in the wurrkhouse aftherforty-five year on the open sea?”

He stopped and looked around distressfully, and inthat moment all our hearts warmed to him. We werea mixed crowd, of course, but nearly half of us wereBritish, and there would have been a stormy scene ifany of the aliens had ventured to raise a protestagainst M’Ginty’s incapacity. We didn’t express oursympathy, but we felt it, and he with native quicknessknew that we did. And never from that day forwarddid the brave old chap hear a word of complaint fromany of us about having to do his work.

Just then the voice of the bos’un sounded outside,“Turn to!” and as we departed to commence work,although not a word was said, there was a fierce determinationamong us to protect M’Ginty against anyharshness from the officers on account of his disablement.There was too much of a bustle getting out ofdock for any notice to be taken of his stiff leg, whichhe had so cleverly concealed while shipping, but themate happening to call him up on to the forecastlehead for something, his lameness was glaringly apparentat once to the bos’un, who stood behind him.For just a minute it looked like trouble as the bos’unbegan to bluster about his being a —— cripple, butwe all gathered round, and the matter was effectuallysettled at once.

We never regretted our consideration. For, while204it was true that he couldn’t get aloft, and those mightysails would have been a handful for double our numberin a breeze of wind, there never was a more willing,tireless worker on deck, and below he was a perfectgodsend. His sunny temper, bubbling fun, and inexhaustiblestock of yarns, made our grey lives happierthan they had ever been at sea before. If we wouldhave allowed it, he would have been a slave to all ofus, for we carried no boys, and all the odd domesticjobs of the fo’c’sle had to be done by ourselves. As itwas, he was always doing something for somebody,and as he was a thorough sailor in his general handinessand ability, his services were highly appreciated.He made the Gareth a comfortable ship, in spite of hermanifold drawbacks.

In due time we reached the “roaring forties” andbegan to run the easting down. The long, tempestuousstretch of the Southern Ocean lay before us,and the prospect was by no means cheering. TheGareth, in spite of her huge bulk, had given us a tasteof her quality when running before a heavy breeze ofwind shortly after getting clear of the Channel, and weknew that she was one of the wettest of her class, avessel that welcomed every howling sea as an oldfriend, and freely invited it to range the whole expanseof her decks from poop to forecastle. And, in accordancewith precedent, we knew that she would bedriven to the last extremity of canvas endurance, notonly in the hope of making a quick passage, but becauseshortening sail after really hard running wassuch an awful strain upon the handful of men composing205the crew. So that when once the light sails were secure,an attempt would always be made to “hang on”to the still enormous spread of sail remaining, until thegale blew itself out, or we had run out of its vast area.But for some days the brave west wind lingered in itslair, and we slowly crept to the s’uthard and east’ardwith trumpery little spurts of northerly and nor’-westerlybreeze. We had reached 47° S. and about 10°E. when, one afternoon, it fell calm.

One of the most magnificent sunsets imaginablespread its glories over the western sky. Great splashesof gorgeous colouring stained the pale blue of theheavens, and illuminated the fantastic crags andranges of cloud that lay motionless around the horizon,like fragments of a disintegrated world. A long, listlessswell came solemnly from the west at regular intervals,giving the waiting ship a stately rhythmicalmotion in the glassy waters, and making the immensesquares of canvas that hung straight as boards fromthe yards slam against the steel masts with a sullenboom. Except for that occasionally recurring sound,a solemn stillness reigned supreme, while the widemirror of the ocean reflected faithfully all the flamingtints of the sky. Quietly all of us gathered on thefo’c’sle head for the second dog-watch smoke, but forsome time all seemed strangely disinclined for thedesultory chat that usually takes place at that pleasanthour. Pipes were puffed in silence for half an hour,until suddenly M’Ginty broke the spell (his voicesounding strangely clear and vibrant), by saying—

“I had a quare dhrame lasht night.”

206

No one stirred or spoke, and after a few meditativepulls at his pipe, he went on—

“I dhreamt that I was a tiny gorsoon again, athome in owld Baltimore. I’d been wandherin’ andsthrayin’, God alone knows where, fur a dhreadful longwhile, it seemed, until at lasht, whin I wuz ready t’die from sheer weariness an’ fright, I hearrd me dearmother’s sweet voice cryin’, ‘Where’s Fonnie aviciver got to this long while?’ Oh!’twas as if an angelfrom hiven shpoke to me, an’ I cried wid all me hearrtan’ me tongue, ‘Here, mother, here I am!’ An’ shegathered me up in her arrums that wuz so soft an’ cosy,till I felt as if I was a little tired chick neshtlin’ intoits mother’s feathers in the snuggest of nests. I didn’tgo to sleep, I just let meself sink down, down into rest,happy as any saint in glory. An’ thin I woke up wida big, tearin’ ache all over me poor owld broken-upbody. But bad as that wuz, ’twuz just nothin’ at all tothe gnawin’ ache at me hearrt.”

Silence wrapped us round again, for who among uscould find any words to apply to such a story as that?And it affected us all the more because of its completecontrast to M’Ginty’s usual bright, cheery, and uncomplaininghumour. Not another word was spoken byany one until the sharp strokes on the little bell aftcleft the still air, and, in immediate response, one roseand smote the big bell hanging at the break of theforecastle four double blows, ushering in the first watchof the night. The watch on deck relieved wheel andlook-out, and we who were fortunate enough to havethe “eight hours in,” lost no time in seeking our respective207bunks, since in those stern latitudes we mightexpect a sudden call at any moment. We had hardlybeen asleep five minutes, it seemed, when a hoarse crycame pealing in through the fo’c’sle door of “Allhands on deck! Shorten sail!” And as we all startedwide awake, we heard the furious voice of the southerntempest tearing up the face of the deep, and felt themassive fabric beneath our feet leaping and strainingunder the tremendous strain of her great breadths ofcanvas, that we had left hanging so idly at eight bells.

Out into the black night we hurried, meeting thewaiting mate at the foremast, and answering his firstorder of “man the fore tops’ls downhaul” with theusual repetition of his words. Weird cries arose as wehauled with all our strength on the downhauls andspilling lines, while overhead we could hear, evenabove the roar of the storm, the deep boom of thetopsails fiercely fighting against the restraining gear.Then, with a hissing, spiteful snarl, came snow andsleet, lashing us like shotted whips, and making thedarkness more profound because of the impossibilityof opening the eyes against the stinging fragments ofice. But, after much stumbling and struggling, wegot the four huge tops’ls down, and, without waitingfor the order, started aloft to furl, the pitiful incapacityof our numbers most glaringly apparent. The pressureof the wind was so great that it was no easy matter toget aloft, but clinging like cats, we presently found ourselves(six of the port watch) on the fore topsailyard.

The first thing evident was that the great sail wasvery slightly subdued by the gear; it hovered above208the yard like a white balloon, making it both difficultand dangerous to get out along the spar. The stormscourged us pitilessly, the great round of the sailresisted all our attempts to “fist” it, and we seemedas helpless as children. Some bold spirits clutchedthe lifts, and, swinging above the sail, tried to stampa hollow into it with their feet; but against the increasingfury of the tempest we seemed to be utterlyimpotent. We were so widely separated, too, thateach man appeared to be essaying a giant’s tasksingle-handed, and that horrible sense of fast-oozingstrength was paralyzing us. Feeling left our hands;we smote them savagely against that unbending sailwithout sensation, and still we seemed no nearer theconclusion of our task. But suddenly the ship gave agreat lurch to windward, and just for one moment thehitherto unyielding curve of the sail quivered. Inthat instant every fist had clutched a fold, and with aflash of energy we strained every sinew to conquerour enemy.

* * * * *

Tugging like a madman to get the sail spilled, Iglanced sideways, and saw to my horror, by a jaggedflash of lightning, the rugged face of M’Ginty.

Deep-Sea Plunderings (7)

He gasped “In manus tuas, Domine,” and fell.

I had hardly recognized him when, with a roar likethe combined voices of a troop of lions, the sail toreitself away from us, and with bleeding hands I clutchedat the foot-rope stirrup as I fell back. But at thesame moment M’Ginty’s arms flew up. He caught atthe empty gloom above him, gasping, “In manus tuas,Domine——” and fell. Far beneath us the hungry209sea seethed and whirled, its white glare showingghastly against the thick darkness above. For twoor three seconds I hung as if irresolute whether tofollow my poor old shipmate or not; then the heavyflapping of the sail aroused me, and springing up again,I renewed my efforts. The ship had evidently got a“wipe up” into the wind, for the sail was now powerlessagainst us, and in less than five minutes it wasfast, and we were descending with all speed to renewour desperate fight with the mizen and jigger topsails.The decks were like the sea overside, for waveafter wave toppled inboard, and it was at the mostimminent risk to life and limb that we scrambled aft,quite a sense of relief coming as we swung out of thatturbulent flood into the rigging again.

But I was almost past feeling now. A dull achingsense of loss clung around my heart, and the patient,kindly face of my shipmate seemed branded upon myeyes, as he had lifted it to the stormy skies in his lastsupplicatory moan. I went about my work doggedly,mechanically; indifferent to cold, fatigue, or pain, until,when at last she was snugged down, and, underthe fore lower topsails and reefed foresail, was flyingthrough the darkness like some hunted thing, I staggeredwearily into the cheerless fo’c’sle, dropped upona chest, and stared moodily at vacancy.

Somebody said, “Where’s M’Ginty?” Thatroused me. It seemed to put new life and hope intome, for I replied quite brightly, “He’s gone to the resthe was talking about in the dog-watch. He’ll never eatworkhouse bread, thank God!”

210

Eager questioning followed, mingled with utteramazement at his getting aloft at all. But when allhad said their say one feeling had been plainly manifested—afeeling of deep thankfulness that such agrand old sailor as our shipmate M’Ginty was wherehe fain would be, taking his long and well-earned rest.

211

THE LAST STAND OF THE DECAPODS

Probably few of the thinking inhabitants of dryland, with all their craving for tales of the marvellous,the gloomy, and the gigantic, have in these later centuriesof the world’s history given much thought to theconditions of constant warfare existing beneath thesurface of the ocean. As readers of ancient classicswell know, the fathers of literature gave much attentionto the vast, awe-inspiring inhabitants of the sea,investing and embellishing the few fragments of factconcerning them which were available with a thousandfantastic inventions of their own naïve imaginations,until there emerged, chief and ruler of them all, theKraken, Leviathan, or whatever other local name wasconsidered to best convey in one word their accumulatedideas of terror. In lesser degree, but still worthycompeers of the fire-breathing dragon and sky-darkening“Rukh” of earth and sky, a worthy host ofattendant sea-monsters were conjured up, until, apartfrom the terror of loneliness, of irresistible fury and instabilitythat the sea presented to primitive peoples,the awful nature of its supposed inhabitants made thecontemplation of an ocean journey sufficient to appalthe stoutest heart. A better understanding of this212aspect of the sea to early voyagers may be obtainedfrom some of the artistic efforts of those days thananything else. There you shall see gigantic creatureswith human faces, teeth like foot-long wedges, armour-platedbodies, and massive feet fitted with claws likescythe-blades, calmly issuing from the waves to preyupon the dwellers on the margin, or devouring withmuch apparent enjoyment ships with their crews, as achild crunches a stick of barley-sugar. Even suchinnocent-looking animals as the seals were distortedand decorated until the contemplation of their counterfeitpresentment is sufficient to give a healthy manthe nightmare, while such monsters as really were soterrible of aspect that they could hardly be “improved”upon were increased in size until they resembledislands whereon whole tribes might live. Tothese chimæras were credited all natural phenomenasuch as waterspouts, whirlpools, and the upheaval ofsubmarine volcanoes. Some imaginative people wenteven farther than that by attributing the support of thewhole earth to a vast sea-monster; while others, likethe ancient Jews, fondly pictured Leviathan awaitingin the solitude and gloom of ocean’s depths the gladday of Israel’s reunion, when the mountain ranges ofhis flesh would be ready to furnish forth the familyfeast for all the myriads of Abraham’s children.

Surely we may pause awhile to contemplate theovermastering courage of the earliest seafarers, who,in spite of all these terrors, unappalled by the comparisonbetween their tiny shallops and the mightywaves that towered above them, set boldly out from213shore into the unknown, obeying that deeply rootedinstinct of migration which has peopled every habitablepart of the earth’s surface. Those who remember theirchildhood’s dread of the dark, with its possible populationof bogeys, who have ever been lost in early youthin some lonely place, can have some dim conception,though only a dim one, after all, of the inward battlethese ancients fought and won, until it became possiblefor the epigram to be written in utmost truth—

“The seas but join the nations they divide.”

But, after all, we are not now concerned with thewarlike doings of men. It is with the actualities ofsubmarine struggle we wish to deal—those wars withoutan armistice, where to be defeated is to be devoured,and from the sea-shouldering whale down tothe smallest sea-insect every living thing is carnivorous,dependent directly upon the flesh of its neighboursfor its own life, and incapable of altruism inany form whatever, except among certain of the mammaliaand the sharks. In dealing with the more heroicphases of this unending warfare, then, it must be said,once for all, that the ancient writers had a great dealof reason on their side. They distorted and exaggerated,of course, as all children do, but they did not disbelieve.But moderns, rushing to the opposite extreme,have neglected the marvels of the sea by thesimple process of disbelieving in them, except in thecase of the sea-serpent, that myth which seems boundto persist for ever and ever. Only of late years havethe savants of the world allowed themselves to be convinced214of the existence of a far more wondrous monsterthan the sea-serpent (if that “loathly worm” werea reality), the original Kraken of old-world legends.Hugest of all the mollusca, whose prevailing characteristicsare ugliness, ferocity, and unappeasable hunger,he has lately asserted himself so firmly that currentimaginative literature bristles with allusions tohim, albeit oftentimes in situations where he could byno possibility be found. No matter, he has supplied along-felt want; but the curious fact remains that he isnot a discovery, but a re-appearance. The giganticcuttle-fish of actual, indisputable fact is, in all respectsexcept size, the Kraken; and any faithful representationof him will justify the assertion that no imaginationcould add anything to the terror-breeding potentialitiesof his aspect. That is so, even when he isviewed by the light of day in the helplessness of deathor disabling sickness, or in the invincible grip of hisonly conqueror. In his proper realm, crouching farbelow the surface of the sea in some coral cave orlabyrinth of rocks, he must present a sight so awfulthat the imagination recoils before it. For considerhim but a little. He possesses a cylindrical body reachingin the largest specimens yet recorded as havingbeen seen, a length of between sixty and seventy feet,with an average girth of half that amount. That is tosay, considerably larger than a Pullman railway-car.Now, this immense mass is of boneless gelatinous mattercapable of much greater distension than a snake;so that in the improbable event of his obtaining anextra-abundant supply of food, it is competent to swell215to the occasion and still give the flood of digestivejuices that it secretes full opportunity to dispose of theburden with almost incredible rapidity. Now, theapex of this mighty cylinder—I had almost said “tail,”but remembered that it would give a wrong impression,since it is the part of the monster that alwayscomes first when he is moving from place to place,is conical, that is to say, it tapers off to a blunt pointsomething like a whitehead torpedo. Near this apexthere is a broad fin-like arrangement looking muchlike the body of a skate without its tail, which, however,is used strictly for steering purposes only. Sofar there is nothing particularly striking about theappearance of this mighty cylinder except in colour.This characteristic varies in different individuals, butis always reminiscent of the hues of a very light-colouredleopard; that is to say, the ground is of alivid greenish white, while the detail is in splashes andspots of lurid red and yellow, with an occasionalnimbus of pale blue around these deeper markings.But it is the head of the monster that appals. Naturewould seem in the construction of this greatestof all molluscs to have combined every weapon ofoffence possessed by the rest of the animal kingdom inone amazing arsenal, disposing them in such a mannerthat not only are they capable of terrific destruction,but their appearance defies adequate description.

The trunk at the head end is sheath-like, its terminatingedges forming a sort of collar around thevast cable of muscles without a fragment of bonewhich connects it with the head. Through a large216opening within this collar is pumped a jet of water, thepressure of which upon the surrounding sea is sufficientlygreat to drive the whole bulk of the creature,weighing perhaps sixty or seventy tons, backwardsthrough the water, at the rate of sixteen totwenty miles per hour, not in steady progression, ofcourse, but by successive leaps. At will, this propellingjet is deeply stained with sepia, a dark-browninky fluid, which, mingling with the encompassing sea,fills all the neighbourhood of the monster with a gloomso deep that nothing, save one of its own species, cansee either to fight or whither to fly. The head itselfis of proportionate size. It is rounded underneath,and of much lighter hue than the trunk. On eitherside of it is set an eye, of such dimensions that themere statement of them sounds like the efforts of oneof those grand old mediæval romancers, whose soleobject was to make their reader’s flesh creep. It isperfectly safe to say that even in proportion to size,no other known creature has such organs of vision asthe cuttle-fish, for the pupils of such an one as I amnow describing are fully two feet in diameter. Theyare perfectly black, with a dead white rim, and cannotbe closed. No doubt their enormous size is for thepurpose of enabling their possessor to discern whatis going on amidst the thick darkness that he himselfhas raised, so that while all other organisms are gropingblindly in the gloom, he may work his will amongthem. Then come the weapons which give the cuttle-fish*ts power of destruction, the arms or tentacles.These are not eight in number, as in the octopus, an217ugly beast enough and spiteful withal, but a babe ofinnocence compared with our present subject. Everyschoolboy should know that octopus signifies an eight-armedor eight-footed creature, and yet in nine casesout of ten where writers of fiction and would-beteachers of fact are describing the deadly doings of thegigantic cuttle-fish they call him an octopus; whereashe is nothing of the kind, for, in addition to the eightarms which the octopus possesses, the cuttle-fish flauntstwo, each of which is double the length of the eight,making him a decapod. This confusion is the more unpardonable,because even the most ancient of scribesalways spoke of this mollusc as the “ten-armed one,”while a reference to any standard work on NaturalHistory will show even the humbler cuttle-fish withtheir full complement of arms—that is, ten. But thisis digression.

Our friend has, then, ten arms springing from thecrown of his head, of which eight are forty feet inlength, and two are seventy to eighty. The eight eachtaper outward from the head, from the thickness of astout man’s body at the base to the slenderness of awhip-lash at the end. On their inner sides they arestudded with saucer-like hollows, each of which hasa fringe of curving claws set just within its rim. Sothat in addition to their power of holding on to anythingthey touch by a suction so severe that it wouldstrip flesh from bone, these cruel claws, large as thoseof a full-grown tiger’s, get to work upon the subjectbeing held, lacerating and tearing until the quiveringbody yields up its innermost secrets. Each of these218destroying, serpent-like arms is also gifted with analmost independent power of volition. Whatever ittouches it holds with an unreleasable grip, but withwonderful celerity it brings its prey inwards to where,in the centre of all those infernal purveyors lies a blackchasm, whose edges are shaped like the upper andlower mandibles of a parrot, and these complete thework so well begun. The outliers, those two far-reachingtentacles, unlike the busy eight, are comparativelyslender from their bases to near (within twofeet or so of) their ends. There they expand intobroad paddle-like masses, thickly studded with acetabulæ,those holding sucking-discs that garnish theinner arms for their entire length. So, thus armed,this nightmare monstrosity crouches in the darklingdepths of ocean, like some unimaginable web, whereofevery line is alive to hold and tear. Its digestion islike a furnace of dissolution, needing a continual inflowof flesh, and nothing living that inhabits the seacomes amiss to its never-satisfied cravings. It is verynear the apex of the pyramid of interdependence intowhich sea-life is built, but not quite. For at the summitis the sperm whale, the monarch of all seas, whomman alone is capable of meeting in fair fight and overcoming.

The head of the sperm whale is of heroic size, beingin bulk quite one-third of the entire body, but in additionto its size it has characteristics that fit it peculiarlyto compete with such a dangerous monster as thegigantic decapod. Imagine a solid block of crudeindiarubber, between twenty and thirty feet in length,219and eight feet through, in shape not at all unlike arailway-carriage, but perfectly smooth in surface. Fitthis mass beneath with a movable shaft of solid bone,twenty feet in length, studded with teeth, each protrudingnine inches, and resembling the points of anelephant’s tusks. You will then have a fairly completenotion of the equipment with which the oceanmonarch goes into battle against the Kraken. Andbehind it lies the warm blood of the mammal, themassive framework of bone belonging to the highlydeveloped vertebrate animal, governed by a brain impelledby irresistible instinct to seek its sustenancewhere alone it can be found in sufficiently satisfyingbulk. And there for you are the outlines of the highestform of animal warfare existing within our ken, aconflict of Titans, to which a combat between elephantsand rhinoceri in the jungle is but as the playof schoolboys compared with the gladiatorial combatsof Ancient Rome.

This somewhat lengthy preamble is necessary inorder to clear the way for an account of the proceedingsleading up to the final subjugation of the hugemolluscs of the elder slime to the needs of the greatvertebrates like the whales, who were graduallyemerging into a higher development, and, findingnew wants oppressing them, had to obey the universallaw, and fight for the satisfaction of their urgent needs.Fortunately, the period with which we have to dealwas before chronology, so that we are not hamperedby dates; and, as the disposition of sea and land, exceptin its main features, was altogether different to what220we have long been accustomed to regard as the always-existinggeographical order of things, we need not begreatly troubled by place considerations either. Whatmust be considered as the first beginning of the longstruggle occurred when some predecessors of the presentsperm whales, wandering through the vast morassesand among the sombre forests of that earlierworld, were compelled to recognize that the conditionsof shore life were rapidly becoming too onerous forthem. Their immensely weighty bodies, lumberingslowly as a seal over the rugged land surface, handicappedthem more and more in the universal businessof life, the procuring of food. Not only so, butas by reason of their slowness they were confined forhunting-grounds to a very limited area, the slowerorganism upon which their vast appetites were fedgrew scarcer and scarcer, in spite of the fecundity ofthat prolific time. And in proportion as they foundit more and more difficult to get a living, so did theirenemies grow more numerous and bolder. Vastdragon-like shapes, clad in complete armour thatclanged as the wide-spreading bat-wings bore themswiftly through the air, descended upon the sluggishwhales, and with horrid rending by awful shear-shapedjaws, plentifully furnished with foot-long teeth, speedilystripped from their gigantic bodies the masses ofsucculent flesh. Other enemies, weird of shape andswift of motion although confined to the earth, fastenedalso upon the easily attainable prey that providedflesh in such bountiful abundance, and was unable tofight or flee.

221

Well was it, then, for the whales that, living alwaysnear the sea, they had formed aquatic habits, findingin the limpid element a medium wherein their hugebulk was rather a help than a hindrance to them.Gradually they grew to use the land less and less asthey became more and more accustomed to the foodprovided in plenty by the inexhaustible ocean. Continualpractice enabled them to husband the suppliesof air which they took in on the surface for use beneaththe waves; and, better still, they found thatwhereas they had been victims to many a monster onland whose proportions and potentialities seemed farinferior to their own, here in their new element theywere supreme, nothing living but fled from beforethem. But presently a strange thing befell them. Asthey grew less and less inclined to use the dry land,they found that their powers of locomotion thereongradually became less and less also, until at last theirhind legs dwindled away and disappeared. Their vastand far-reaching tails lost their length, and their bonesspread out laterally into flexible fans of toughest gristle,with which they could propel themselves throughthe waves at speeds to which their swiftest progressupon land had been but a snail’s crawl. Also their forelegs grew shorter and wider, and the separation ofthe toes disappeared, until all that was left of theseonce ponderous supports were elegant fan-like flippersof gristle, of not the slightest use for propulsion, butmerely acting as steadying-vanes to keep the wholegreat structure in its proper position according to thewill of the owner. All these radical physical changes,222however, had not affected the real classification of thewhales. They were still mammals, still retained in theelement which was now entirely their habitat the highorganization belonging to the great carnivora of theland. Therefore it took them no long period of timeto realize that in the ocean they would be paramount,that with the tremendous facilities for rapid movementafforded them by their new habitat they wereable to maintain that supremacy against all comers,unless their formidable armed jaws should also becomemodified by degeneration into some such harmlesscavities for absorbing food as are possessed by theirdistant relatives, the mysticetæ, or toothless whales.

With a view to avoiding any such disaster, theymade good use of their jaws, having been taught byexperience that the simple but effectual penalty forthe neglect of any function, whether physical or mental,was the disappearance of the organs where suchfunctions had been performed. But their energeticuse of teeth and jaws had a result entirely unforeseenby them. Gradually the prey they sought, thelarger fish and smaller sea-mammals, disappeared fromthe shallow seas adjacent to the land, from whence thewhales had been driven; and in order to satisfy thedemands of their huge stomachs, they were fain tofollow their prey into deeper and deeper waters, meetingas they went with other and stranger denizensof those mysterious depths, until at last the spermwhale met the Kraken. There in his native gloom,vast, formless, and insatiable, brooded the awful Thing.Spread like a living net whereof every mesh was223armed, sensitive and lethal, this fantastic complicationof horrors took toll of all the sea-folk, needing not topursue its prey, needing only to lie still, devour, andgrow. Sometimes, moved by mysterious impulses,one of these chimæras would rise to the sea-surfaceand bask in the beams of the offended sun, poisoningthe surrounding air with its charnel-house odours, andoccasionally finding within the never-resting nervousclutching of its tentacles some specimens of the highest,latest product of creation, man himself. Ages ofsuch experiences as these had left the Kraken defencelessas to his body. The absence of any necessity forexertion had arrested the development of a backbone;the inability of any of the sea-people to retaliateupon their sateless foe had made him neglect any ofthose precautions that weaker organisms had providedthemselves with, and even the cloud of sepia withwhich all the race were provided, and which oftenassisted the innocent and weaker members of the samegreat family to escape, was only used by these mastersof the sea to hide their monstrous lures from theirprey.

Thus on a momentous day a ravenous sperm whale,hunting eagerly for wherewithal to satisfy his craving,suddenly found himself encircled by many long,cable-like arms. They clung, they tore, they sucked.But whenever a stray end of them flung itself acrossthe bristling parapet of the whale’s lower jaw it waspromptly bitten off, and a portion having found its waydown into the craving stomach of the big mammal, itwas welcomed as good beyond all other food yet encountered.224Once this had been realized, what hadoriginally been an accidental entrapping changed itselfinto a vigorous onslaught and banquet. True, thedarkness fought for the mollusc, but that advantagewas small compared with the feeling of incompetence,of inability to make any impression upon this mightyimpervious mass that was moving as freely amid theclinging embarrassments of those hitherto invinciblearms as if they were only fronds of seaweed. Andthen the foul mass of the Kraken found itself, contraryto all previous experience, rising involuntarily, beingcompelled to leave its infernal shades, and, withoutany previous preparation for such a change of pressure,to visit the upper air. The fact was that thewhale, finding its stock of air exhausted, had put fortha supreme effort to rise, and found that, although unableto free himself from those enormous cables, hewas actually competent to raise the whole mass. Whatan upheaval! Even the birds that, allured by thestrong carrion scent, were assembling in their thousands,fled away from that appalling vision, their wildscreams of affright filling the air with lamentation.The tormented sea foamed and boiled in wide-spreadingwhirls, its deep sweet blue changed into an unhealthynondescript tint of muddy yellow as the wideexpanse of the Kraken’s body yielded up its corruptfluids, and the healthful breeze did its best to dispersethe bad smells that rose from the ugly mass. Then thewhale, having renewed his store of air, settled downseriously to the demolition of his prize. Length afterlength of tentacle was torn away from the central225crown and swallowed, gliding down the abysmal throatof the gratified mammal in snaky convolutions untileven that great store-room would contain no more.The vanquished Kraken lay helplessly rolling uponthe wave while its conqueror in satisfied ease lollednear, watching with good-humoured complacency thepuny assault made upon that island of gelatinous fleshby the multitude of smaller hungry things. The birdsreturned, reassured, and added by their clamour to thestrangeness of the scene, where the tribes of air andsea, self-bidden to the enormous banquet, were makingfull use of their exceptional privilege. So the greatfeast continued while the red sun went down and thewhite moon rose in placid beauty. Yet for all the combinedassaults of those hungry multitudes the tenaciouslife of that largest of living things lay so deeplyseated that when the rested whale resumed his attentionshe found the body of his late antagonist stillquivering under the attack of his tremendous jaws.But its proportions were so immense that his utmostefforts left store sufficient for at least a dozen of hiscompanions, had they been there, to have satisfiedtheir hunger upon. And, satisfied at last, he turnedaway, allowing the smaller fry, who had waited hispleasure most respectfully, to close in again and finishthe work he had so well begun.

Now, this was a momentous discovery indeed, forthe sperm whales had experienced, even when fish andseals were plentiful, great difficulty in procuring sufficientfood at one time for a full meal, and the problemof how to provide for themselves as they grew226and multiplied had become increasingly hard to solve.Therefore this discovery filled the fortunate pioneerwith triumph, for his high instincts told him that hehad struck a new source of supply that promised tobe inexhaustible. So, in the manner common to hispeople, he wasted no time in convening a gatheringof them as large as could be collected. Far over theplacid surface of that quiet sea lay gently rocking amultitude of vast black bodies, all expectant, all awaitingthe momentous declaration presently to be made.The epoch-making news circulated among them inperfect silence, for to them has from the earliest timesbeen known the secret that is only just beginning toglimmer upon the verge of human intelligence, theability to communicate with one another without theaid of speech, sight, or touch—a kind of thought transference,if such an idea as animal thought may be heldallowable. And having thus learned of the treasuresheld in trust for them by the deep waters, they separatedand went, some alone and some in compactparties of a dozen or so, upon their rejoicing way.

But among the slimy hosts of the gigantic Molluscathere was raging a sensation unknown before—afeeling of terror, of insecurity born of the knowledgethat at last there had appeared among them a beingproof against the utmost pressure of their awful arms,who was too great to be devoured, who, on the otherhand, had evinced a greedy partiality for devouringthem. How this information became common propertyamong them it is impossible to say, since theydwelt alone, each in his own particular lair, rigidly respected227by one another, because any intrusion uponanother’s domains was invariably followed by the absorptionof either the intruder or the intruded upon bythe stronger of the two. This, although not intendedby them, had the effect of vastly heightening the fearwith which they were regarded by the smaller sea-folk,for they took to a restless prowling along the sea-bed,enwreathing themselves about the mighty bases of theislands, and invading cool coral caverns where theirbaleful presence had been till then unknown. Neverbefore had there been such a panic among the multitudinoussea-populations. What could this new portentsignify? Were the foundations of the great deepagain about to be broken up, and the sea-bed heavedupward to replace the tops of the towering mountainson dry land? There was no reply, for there were nonethat could answer questions like these.

Still the fear-smitten decapods wandered, seekingseclusion from the coming enemy, and finding noneto their mind. Still the crowds of their victims rushedblindly from shoal to shoal, plunging into depths unfittedfor them, or rising into shallows where theirnatural food was not. And the whole sea was troubled,until at last there appeared, grim and vast, the advance-guardof the sperm whales, and hurled itselfwith joyful anticipation upon the shrinking convolutionsof those hideous monsters that had so longdominated the dark places of the sea. For the whalesit was a time of feasting hitherto without parallel.Without any fear, uncaring to take even the most elementaryprecautions against a defeat which they felt228to be an impossible contingency, they sought out anddevoured one after another of these vast uglinesses,already looked upon by them as their natural provision,their store of food accumulated of purposeagainst their coming. Occasionally, it is true, somerash youngster, full of pride, and rejoicing in his pre-eminenceover all life in the depths, would hurl himselfinto a smoky network of far-spreading tentacleswhich would wrap him round so completely that hisjaws were fast bound together, his flukes would vainlyessay to propel him any whither, and he would presentlyperish miserably, his cable-like sinews fallingslackly and his lungs suffused with crimson brine.Even then, the advantage gained by the triumphantKraken was a barren one, for in every case the bulkof the victim was too great, his body too firm in itsbuild, for the victor, despite his utmost efforts, to succeedin devouring his prize. So that the disappointedKraken had perforce to witness the gradual disappearanceof his lawful prize beneath the united effortsof myriads of tiny sea-scavengers, secure in their insignificanceagainst any attack from him, and awaitwith tremor extending to the remotest extremity ofevery tentacle, the retribution that he felt sure wouldspeedily follow.

This desultory warfare was waged for long, until,driven by despair to a community of interest unknownbefore, the Krakens gradually sought one another outwith but a single idea—that of combining against thenew enemy; for, knowing to what an immense sizetheir kind could attain in the remoter fastnesses of229ocean, they could not yet bring themselves to believethat they were to become the helpless prey of thesenew-comers, visitors of yesterday, coming from thecramped acreage of the land into the limitless fields ofocean, and invading the immemorial freeholds of itsh*therto unassailable sovereigns. From the remotestrecesses of the ocean they came, that grisly gathering—camein ever-increasing hosts, their silent progressspreading unprecedented dismay among the fairerinhabitants of the sea. Figure to yourselves, if youcan, the advance of this terrible host. But the effort isvain. Not even Martin, that frenzied delineator ofthe frightful halls of hell, the scenes of the Apocalypse,and the agonies of the Deluge, could have done justiceto the terrors of such a scene. Only dimly can weimagine what must have been the appearance of thosevast masses of writhing flesh, as through the palelygleaming phosphorescence of the depths they spedbackwards in leaps of a hundred fathoms each, theirterrible arms, close-clustered together, streaming behindlike Medusa’s hair magnified ten thousand timesin size, and with each snaky tress bearing a thousandmouths instead of one.

So they converged upon the place of meeting, anarea of the sea-bed nowhere more than 500 fathoms indepth, from whose rugged floor rose irregularly stupendouscolumnar masses of lava hurled upwards bythe cosmic forces below in a state of incandescenceand solidified as they rose, assuming many fantasticshapes, and affording perfect harbourage to such direscourges of the sea as were now making the place their230rendezvous. For, strangely enough, this marvellousportion of the submarine world was more denselypeopled with an infinite variety of sea-folk than anyother; its tepid waters seemed to bring forth abundantlyof all kinds of fish, crustacea, and creepingthings. Sharks in all their fearsome varieties prowledgreasily about, scenting for dead things whereon togorge, shell-fish from the infinitesimal globigerina upto the gigantic clam whose shells were a yard each indiameter; crabs, lobsters, and other freakish varietiesof crustacea of a size and ugliness unknown to daylurked in every crevice, while about and among allthese scavengers flitted the happy, lovely fish inmyriads of glorious hues matching the tender shadesof the coral groves that sprang from the summits ofthose sombre lava columns beneath. Hitherto thishappy hunting-ground had not been invaded by thesea-mammals. None of the air-breathing inhabitantsof the ocean had ventured into its gloomy depths, orsought their prey among the blazing shallows of thesurface-reefs, although no more favourable place fortheir exertions could possibly have been selected overall the wide sea. It had long been a favourite haunt ofthe Kraken, for whom it was, as aforesaid, an idealspot, but now it was to witness a sight unparalleledin ocean history. Heralded by an amazing series ofunder-waves, the gathering of monsters drew near.They numbered many thousands, and no one in alltheir hosts was of lesser magnitude than sixty feetlong by thirty in girth of body alone. From that sizethey increased until some—the acknowledged leaders—discovered231themselves like islands, their cylindricalcarcases huge as that of an ocean liner, and their tentaclescapable of overspreading an entire village.

In concentric rings they assembled, all heads pointingoutward, the mightiest within, and four clearavenues through the circles left for coming and going.Contrary to custom, but by mutual consent, all thetentacles lay closely arranged in parallel lines, not outspreadto every quarter of the compass, and all a-work.They looked, indeed, in their inertia and silence, likenothing so much as an incalculable number of deadsquid of enormous size neatly laid out at the whim ofsome giant’s fancy. Yet communication between themwas active; a subtle interchange of experiences andplans went briskly on through the medium of themobile element around them. The elder and mightierwere full of disdain at the reports they were furnishedwith, utterly incredulous as to the ability of any createdthing to injure them, and, as the time wore on, anoccasional tremor was distinctly noticeable throughthe whole length of their tentacles, which boded nogood to their smaller brethren. Doubtless but littlelonger was needed for the development of a great absorptionof the weaker by the stronger, only that, dartinginto their midst like a lightning streak, came amessenger squid, bearing the news that a school ofsperm whales, numbering at least ten thousand, werecoming at top-speed direct for their place of meeting.Instantly to the farthest confines of that mighty gatheringthe message radiated, and as if by one movementthere uprose from the sea-bed so dense a cloud of232sepia that for many miles around the clear blue of theocean became turbid, stagnant, and foul. Even thebirds that hovered over those dark-brown waves tookfright at this terrible phenomenon, to them utterlyincomprehensible, and with discordant shrieks theyfled in search of sweeter air and cleaner sea. But belowthe surface under cover of this thickest darknessthere was the silence of death.

Twenty miles away, under the bright sunshine, anadvance-guard of about a hundred sperm whales camerushing on. Line abreast, their bushy breath risinglike the regular steam-jets from a row of engines, theydashed aside the welcoming wavelets, every sensealert, and full of eagerness for the consummation oftheir desires. Such had been their despatch thatthroughout the long journey of 500 leagues they hadnot once stayed for food, so that they were ravenouswith hunger as well as full of fight. They passed, andbefore the foaming of their swift passage had ceased,the main body, spread over a space of thirty miles,came following on, the roar of their multitudinousmarch sounding like the voice of many waters. Suddenlythe advance-guard, with stately elevation of thebroad fans of their flukes, disappeared, and by one impulsethe main body followed them. Down into thedepths they bore, noting with dignified wonder the absenceof all the usual inhabitants of the deep, until,with a thrill of joyful anticipation which set all theirmasses of muscle a-quiver, they recognized the scentof the prey. No thought of organized resistance presenteditself; without a halt, or even the faintest slackening233of their great rush, they plunged forward intothe abysmal gloom; down, down withal into that wildernessof waiting devils. And so, in darkness andsilence like that of the beginning of things, this greatbattle was joined. Whale after whale succumbed, anchoredto the bottom by such bewildering entanglements,such enlacement of tentacles, that their vaststrength was helpless to free them; their jaws werebound hard together, and even the wide sweep of theirflukes gat no hold upon the slimy water. But theDecapods were in evil case. Assailed from abovewhile their groping arms writhed about below, theyfound themselves more often locked in unreleasablehold of their fellows than they did of their enemies.And the quick-shearing jaws of those enemiesshredded them into fragments, made nought of theirbulk, revelled and frolicked among them, slaying, devouring,exulting. Again and again the triumphantmammals drew off for air and from satiety, went andlolled upon the sleek oily surface, in water now sothick that the fiercest hurricane that ever blew wouldhave failed to raise a wave thereon.

So through a day and a night the slaying ceasednot, except for these brief interludes, until those of theDecapods left alive had disentangled themselves fromthe débris of their late associates and returned withwhat speed they might to depths and crannies, wherethey fondly hoped their ravenous enemies could nevercome. They bore with them the certain knowledgethat from henceforth they were no longer lords of thesea, that instead of being, as hitherto, devourers of all234things living that crossed the radius of their outspreadtoils, they were now and for all time to be the preyof a nobler race of creatures, a higher order of being,and that at last they had taken their rightful positionas creatures of usefulness in the vast economy ofCreation.

235

THE SIAMESE LOCK

Even in these prosaic days of palatial passengersteamers, running upon lines from port to port almostas definite as railway metals, and keeping time withfar more regularity than some railway trains that itwould be easy to name, there are many eddies andbackwaters of commerce still remaining where theromance of sea-traffic retains all the old pre-eminence,and events occur daily that are stranger than any fiction.

Notably is this the case on the Chinese coast, inwhose innumerable creeks and bays there is a never-ceasingebb and flow of queer craft, manned by a stillqueerer assortment of Eastern seafarers. And if itwere not for that strange Lingua Franca of the FarEast, to which our marvellous language lends itselfwith that ready adaptability which makes it one ofthe most widely-spoken in the world, the difficultiesawaiting the white man who is called upon to ruleover one of those motley crews would be well-nigh insuperable.As it is, men of our race who spend anylength of time “knocking about” in Eastern seas alwaysacquire an amazing mélange of tongues, whichthey themselves are totally unable to assign to theirseveral sources of origin, even if they ever were to236seriously undertake such a task. Needless, perhaps, tosay that they have always something more importanton hand than that. At least I had when, after a muchlonger spell ashore in Bangkok than I cared for, I oneday prevailed upon a sturdy German skipper to shipme as mate of the little barque he commanded. Sheflew the Siamese flag, and belonged, as far as I wasever able to ascertain, to a Chinese firm in the humidSiamese capital, a sedate, taciturn trio of Celestials,who found it well worth their while to have Europeansin charge of her, even though they had to pay a longprice for their services. My predecessor had been a“towny” of the skipper’s, a Norddeutscher from Rostock,who, with the second mate, a huge Dane, hadbeen with the skipper in the same vessel for over twoyears. On the last voyage, however, during his watchon deck, while off the Paracels, he had silently disappeared,nor was the faintest inkling of his fate obtainable.When the skipper told me this in guttural German-English,I fancied he looked as if his air of indifferencewas slightly overdone, but the fancy did notlinger—I was too busy surmising by what one of themany possible avenues that hapless mate had strolledout of existence. I was glad, if the suggestion of gladnessover such a grim business be admissible, to haveeven this scanty information, since any temptation totaking my position at all carelessly was thereby effectuallyremoved. Before coming on board I invested alarge portion of my advance in two beautiful six-shootersand a good supply of ammunition, asking noquestions of the joss-like Chinaman I bought them237from as to how he became possessed of two U.S. Navyweapons and cartridges to match. I had, besides, afrightfully dangerous looking little kris, only aboutnine inches long altogether, but inlaid with gold, andtempered so that it would almost stab into iron. Ipicked it up on the beach at Hai-phong six monthsbefore, but had only thought of it as a handsome curiountil now.

Thus armed, but with all my weapons well out ofsight, I got aboard, determined to take no morechances than I could help, and to grow eyes in theback of my head if possible. The old man receivedme as cordially as he was able—which isn’t sayingvery much—introduced me to Mr. Boyesen, the secondmate, and proposed a glass of schnapps and acheroot while we talked over business. I was by nomeans averse to this, for I wanted to be on good termswith my skipper, and I also had a strong desire uponme to know more about the kind of trade we werelikely to be engaged in, for I didn’t even know whatthe cargo was, or what port she was bound to—theonly information the skipper gave me when I shippedbeing that she was going “up the coast,” and thisstate of complete ignorance was not at all comfortable.I hate mystery, especially aboard ship—it takes awaymy appetite; and when a sailor’s off his feed he isn’tmuch good at his work. But my expectations werecruelly dashed, for, instead of becoming confidential,Captain Klenck gave me very clearly to understandthat no one on board the Phrabayat—“der Frau” hecalled her—but himself ever knew what was the nature238of the trade she was engaged in or what port she wasbound to. More than that, he told me very plainlythat he alone kept the reckoning; the second mateand myself had only to carry out his instructions as tocourses, etc., and that so long as we kept her goingthrough our respective watches as he desired, he wasprepared to take all the risk. And all the time hewas unloading this stupefying intelligence upon me,he kept his beady eyes on mine as if he would readthrough my skull the nature of my thoughts. Hadhe been able so to do, they would have afforded himlittle satisfaction, for they were in such a ferment thatI “wanted out,” as the Scotch say, to cool down abit. I wanted badly to get away from Bangkok, butI would have given all I had to be ashore there againand well clear of the berth I had thought myself solucky to get a day or two ago. But that was out ofthe question. The old man helped himself to anotherbosun’s nip of square-face, and, rising as he shippedit, said—

“Ve ked her onder vay mit vonce, Meesder Fawn,und mindt ju keeb dose verdammt schwein coinshtrong. Dey vants so mooch boot as dey can get,der schelm.”

Glad of any chance of action to divert my mind, Ianswered cheerily, “Ay, ay, sir!” and, striding out ofthe cabin, I shouted, “Man the windlass!” forgettingfor the moment that I was not on board one of myown country’s ships, free from mysteries of any kind.My mistake was soon rectified, and for the next houror so I kept as busy as I knew how, getting the anchor239and making sail. The black, olive, and yellowsailors worked splendidly, being bossed by a “serang”or “bosun” of herculean build and undiscoverablenationality. I think he must have been a Dyak. Now,it has always been my practice in dealing with nativesof any tropical country to treat them as men, and not,as too many Europeans do to their loss, behave towardsthem as if they were unreasoning animals. Ihave always found a cheery word and a smile go a longway, especially with negroes, wherever they hail from—and,goodness knows, unless you are liverish, it isjust as easy to look pleasant as glum. At any rate,whether that was the cause or not, the work went ongreased wheels that forenoon, and I felt that if theywere all the colours the human race can show, Icouldn’t wish for a smarter or more willing crowd.When she was fairly under way and slipping down tothe bar at a good rate, I went aft for instructions, findingthe old man looking but sourly as he conned herdown stream. Before I had time to say anything heopened up with—

“Bei Gott, Meesder Fawn, ju haf to do diffruntmit dese crout ef ju vaunts to keep my schip coin.I tondt vant ter begin ter find fault, but I ain’t cointo haf no nicker-cottlin abordt de Frau. Ju dakeid from me.”

This riled me badly, for I knew no men could haveworked smarter or more willingly than ours had, so Ireplied quietly, “Every man knows his work and doesit, Cap’n Klenck. I know mine, and I’ll do it, but Imust do it my own way, or not at all. If you’ve got240any fault to find, find it, but don’t expect me to spoila decent crew and chance getting a kris between mybrisket bones in the bargain.”

He gave me one look, and his eyes were like thoseof a dead fish. Then he walked away, leaving mestanding simmering with rage. But no more was said,and at dinner he seemed as if he had forgotten thecirc*mstance. And I, like a fool, thought he had,for the wish was ever father to the thought with me,especially in a case of this kind, where what littlecomfort I hoped to enjoy was entirely dependent uponthe skipper. He, astuteness itself, gave no sign of hisfeelings towards me, being as civil as he was able inall our business relations; but beyond those he erecteda barrier between us, all the more impassable becauseindefinite. Thrown thus upon my own resources, Itried to cultivate an acquaintance with Mr. Boyesen;but here again I was baffled, for he was the greatestenigma of all. I never knew a man possessing thepower of speech who was able to get along with lessuse of that essentially human faculty. He was morelike a machine than a man, seeming to be incapable ofexhibiting any of the passions or affections of humanity.I have seen him grasp a Siamese sailor by the beltand hurl him along the deck as if he were a merebundle of rags; but for any expression of anger in hispale blue eyes or flush upon his broad face, he mightas well have been a figure-head. So that after a briefstruggle with his immobility I gave up the attempt tomake a companion of him, coming to the conclusionthat he was in some way mentally deficient.

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Thus I was perforce driven to study my crew morethan I perhaps should have done, particularly the neat-handed,velvet-footed Chinese steward, Ah Toy, who,although at ordinary times quite as expressionless asthe majority of his countrymen, generally developed aquaint contortion of his yellow visage for me, which,if not a smile, was undoubtedly meant for one. Wewere the best of friends; so great, indeed, that wheneverI heard the old man beating him—that is, aboutonce a day—I felt the greatest difficulty in restrainingmyself from interference. I was comforted, however,by noticing that Ah Toy seemed to heed these whackingsno more than as if he had been made of rubber;he never uttered a cry or did anything but go on withhis work as if nothing had happened. I had eightmen in my watch: two Chinese, four Siamese, oneTagal, and a Malay; a queer medley enough, but allvery willing and apparently contented. For somelittle time I was hard put to it to gain their confidence,their attitude being that of men prepared to meet withill-treatment and to take the earliest opportunity ofresenting it (although they accepted hearty blowsfrom the Serang’s colt with the greatest good nature).But gradually this sullen, watchful demeanour woreoff, and they became as cheerful a lot of fellows as Icould wish, ready to anticipate my wishes if they could,and as anxious to understand me as I certainly wasthem. This state of things was so far satisfactory thatthe time, which had at first hung very heavily, nowbegan to pass pleasantly and quickly, although I slept,as the saying is, with one eye open, for fear of some242development of hostility on the skipper’s part. Because,in spite of my belief that he meant me no ill,having, indeed, no reason to do so as far as I knew, Icould not rid myself of an uneasy feeling in my mindthat all was not as it should be with him.

We had wonderfully fine weather, it being theN.E. monsoon, but made very slow progress, the vesselbeing not only a dull sailer at the best of times, butmuch hindered by the head wind. This tried mypatience on account of my anxiety to get some inklingof our position, which the old man kept as profounda secret as if millions depended upon no one knowingit but himself. And although we sighted land occasionally,I was not sufficiently well up in China coastnavigation to do more than guess at the position ofthe ship. At last, when we had been a fortnight out,I was awakened suddenly in my watch below onenight by the sound of strange voices alongside. Isprang out of my bunk in the dark, striking my headagainst the door, which I always left open, but whichwas now closed and locked. I felt as I should imaginea rat feels in a trap. But the first thrill of fear soongave place to indignation at my treatment, and, afterstriking a light, I set my back against the door andstrove with all my might to burst it open. Failing inthe attempt, I remembered my little bag of tools, andin a few seconds had a screw-driver at work, whichnot only released me, but spoiled the lock for anyfuture use. Of course, my revolvers were about me; Ialways carried them. Still hot with anger, I marchedon deck to find the ship hove-to, a couple of junks243alongside, the hatches off, and a rapid exchange ofcargo going on. Silence and haste were evidently themots d’ordre, but, besides, the workers were the smartestI had ever seen; they handled the stuff, cases, bags,and bales of all sorts and sizes, with a celerity thatwas almost magical. I stood looking on like a fool forquite two or three minutes, in which every detail of thestrange scene became indelibly stamped upon mybrain. The brilliant flood of moonlight paling all theadjacent stars, the wide silvern path of the moon onthe dark water broken by a glistening sand-bank overwhich the sullen swell broke with an occasional hollowmoan, every item in the arrangement of the sails,and the gliding figures on deck; all helped to make amarvellous picture. The brief spell was broken bya hand upon my shoulder that made me leap threefeet forward. It was the skipper, and in that momentI felt how helpless I was if this man desired to do mehurt. We stood facing each other silently for a breathor two, when he said quietly—

“Meesder Fawn, I tondt vant my offcers to keebonly dere own vatch. I nefer make dem vork oferdime.Ven ids your vatch an deg yu vill be gall asushal. Goot nacht,” and he stood aside to let me pass.

“But, Captain Klenck,” I blurted out, “why didyou lock me in my berth?”

“Ey good man, du bist nod vell, or ellas you binhafin a—vat you call im—night-pig, ain’d it?” Then,suddenly changing his tone, he made a step towardsme, and said, “Go below mid vonce, er I’m tamt efju see daylight any more dis foyge!”

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To tell the truth, I didn’t quite see my way to defyinghim. I felt like a beastly cur, and I knew therewas some devilish business going on, but the wholething had come on me so suddenly that I was undecidedhow to act, and indecision in such a predicamentspells defeat. So I just inclined my head and saunteredoff to my cabin in a pretty fine state of mind.Needless to say, I got no more sleep. A thousandtheories ran riot in my brain as to the nature of thebusiness we were doing, and I worried myself almostinto a fever wondering whether Boyesen was in it. Bythe time eight bells (four a.m.) was struck I was almostcrazy, a vile taste in my mouth, and my head throbbinglike a piston. The quiet appearance of Ah Toyat my door murmuring “eight bell” gave me relief,for I took it as a sign that I might reappear, and Iwasted no time getting on deck. I found the watchtrimming the yards under the skipper’s direction, butno sign of the second mate. All trace of the junks hadvanished. I went for’ard to trim the yards on the foreby way of slipping into my groove, and being in thatcurious mental state when in the presence of overwhelminglyserious problems the most trivial detailsdemand attention, some small object that I kickedaway in the darkness insisted upon being found beforeI did anything else. It only lay a yard or two in frontof me, a key of barbarous make with intricate wardson either side. Mechanically I picked it up anddropped it in my pocket, imagining for the momentthat it must belong to one of the seamen, who eachhad some sort of a box which they kept carefully245locked. Then I went on with my work, getting everythingshipshape and returning to the poop. Theskipper greeted me as if nothing had happened, givingme a N.N.E. course if she would lay it, and, biddingme call him at once in the event of any change takingplace, went below.

Left alone upon the small poop with the vesselcalmly gliding through the placid sea, and the steadfaststars eyeing me solemnly, I felt soothed and uplifted.I reviewed the situation from every possiblepoint of view I could take of it, until, sick and wearyof the vain occupation, I unslung a bucket and went tothe lee-side with the intention of drawing some waterto cool my aching head. As I leaned over the sideI saw a sampan hanging alongside, and a figure justin the act of coming aboard. By this time I was almostproof against surprises of any kind, so I quietlywaited until the visitor stepped over the rail, andsaluted me as if boarding a vessel in the dark while shewas working her way up the China Sea was the mostordinary occurrence in the world. He was a giganticChinaman, standing, I should think, fully 6ft. 6in. or6ft. 7in., and built in proportion. In excellent Englishhe informed me that he had business with CaptainKlenck, who was expecting him, and without furtherpreliminary walked aft and disappeared down thecabin-companion quietly as if he had been an apparition.In fact, some such idea flitted across my mind,and I stepped back to the rail and peered down intothe darkness alongside to see if the sampan was areality. It was no longer there. Like one in a dream246I walked aft to where one of the Siamese stood at thewheel, and after a casual glance into the compass, fromsheer force of habit, I asked the man if he had seenthe visitor. He answered, “Yes,” in a tone of surprise,as if wondering at the question. Satisfied thatat least I was not the victim of some disorder of thebrain, I went for’ard again, noting with a sense of utmostrelief the paling of the eastern horizon foretellingthe coming of the day.

No one realizes more than a sailor what a blessingdaylight is. In a gale of wind the rising sun seems tolighten anxiety, and the prayer of Ajax trembles morefrequently upon the lips of seafarers than any other.I watched the miracle of dawn with fervent thanksgiving,feeling that the hateful web of mystery thatwas hourly increasing in complexity around me wouldbe less stifling with the sun upon it. And in thehomely duties of washing decks, “sweating-up,” etc.,I almost forgot that I was not in an orderly, commonplaceEnglish ship, engaged in honest traffic. Thetime passed swiftly until eight bells, when a doubleportion of horror came upon me at the sight ofCaptain Klenck coming on deck to relieve me.Before I knew what I was saying I had blurted out,“Where’s Mr. Boyesen?” The cold, expressionlesseyes of the skipper rested full upon me as he repliedslowly—

“Ju tondt seem to learn mooch, Meesder Fawn. Idells ju one dime more, undt only one dime, dat junodings to do mit der peezness auf dis scheep. VerdammtEnglescher schweinhund, de nexd dime ju inderferes247mit mein affaires will pe der lasd dime ju eferdo anythings in dees vorl’. Co pelow!”

Again I had to own myself beaten, and the thoughtwas just maddening. To be trampled on like a coolie,abused like a dog. Great heavens! how low had Ifallen. I never seemed to be ready or able to keep endup when that man chose to put forth his will againstmine. But, unknown even to myself, I was being educatedup to the work that was before me, and the trainingwas just what was necessary for me. I ate mybreakfast alone, Ah Toy waiting on me with almostaffectionate care. Several times I caught his eye, andfancied that there was a new light therein. Once Iopened my mouth to speak to him, but his finger flewto his lips, and his look turned swiftly towards theskipper’s berth, that closely-shut room of which I hadnever seen the inside. As soon as my meal was overI retreated to my cabin, closed the door, and busiedmyself devising some means of fastening it on the inside.For now I felt sure that for some reason or otherBoyesen had been made away with, and in all probabilitymy turn was fast approaching. Is it necessary tosay that I felt no want of sleep? Perhaps not; at anyrate, I spent the greater part of my watch below insuch preparations as I could make for self-defence.My two revolvers now seemed precious beyond allcomputation as I carefully examined them in everydetail, and made sure they were ready for immediateuse.

While thus employed a sudden appalling uproar ondeck sent my blood surging back to my heart, and,248after about a second’s doubt, I flung wide the door andrushed on deck, flinging off Ah Toy, who caught atme as I passed his pantry door. Springing out of thecabin, I saw the colossal Chinaman who had boardedus on the previous night standing calmly looking on,while the crew fought among themselves with a savageryawful to witness. I did not see the skipper atfirst, but, glancing down, I caught sight of his facedistorted beyond recognition by the foot of the hugeCelestial, which was planted on his throat. In thatmoment all my detestation of him vanished. He wasa white man at the mercy of Mongols, and drawing myrevolvers, I sprang towards his foe. Click went thetrigger, but there was no flash or report. Both werealike useless, and my brain working quietly enoughnow, I realized that the man I would have saved hadrendered my weapons useless while I slept, to his ownbitter cost. Flinging them from me, I snatched at ahand-spike that lay at my feet; but before I couldgrasp it the combatants divided, half a dozen of mywatch flung themselves upon me, and in a minute Iwas overpowered. Of course I was somewhat roughlyhandled, but there was no anger against me in thefaces of my assailants. As for the giant, he might aswell have been carved in stone for all the notice heappeared to take of what was going on.

Two Siamese carefully lashed me so that I couldnot move, then carried me, not at all roughly, aft tothe cabin door, and sat me on the grating, where theyleft me and returned to the fight, which seemed to be alife and death struggle between two parties into which249the crew were divided. I have no taste for horrors,and do not propose serving up a dish of them here,although the temptation to describe the wild beastfury of those yellow and black men is very great. Butit must suffice to say that those who were apparentlyfriendly to me were the victors, and having disposedof the dead by summarily flinging them overboard,they busied themselves of their own accord in trimmingsail so as to run the vessel in towards the coast.

Meanwhile, the gigantic Chinaman, whose adventhad so strangely disturbed the business of our skipper,quietly lifted that unhappy German as if he hadbeen a child, and carried him into the cabin. Ah Toy,doubtless ordered by some one in authority, came andset me free, his face fairly beaming upon me as hetold me that it was entirely owing to my humane treatmentof the fellows that my life had been spared. Tomy eager questionings as to what was going to be donewith the skipper and the ship, he returned me butthe Shibboleth of the East, “No shabee him; nob’long my pidgin.”

I went on with the work of the ship as usual, findingthe survivors quite as amenable to my orders asthey had ever been, and contenting myself with keepingher on the course she was then making until someway of taking the initiative should present itself. Ihad given up studying the various problems that hadso recently made me feel as if I had gone suddenlymad, and went about in a dull, animalized state, toobewildered to think, and prepared for any further freakof Fate. While thus moodily slouching about, Ah250Toy came on deck and informed me that the hugeChinaman was anxious to see me in the cabin. InstinctivelyI felt that whatever, whoever he was, Icould not afford to offend him, so I went on the instant,finding him sitting in the main cabin contemplatingthe lifeless body of Captain Klenck, which layon the deck by his side. Although prepared for anything,as I thought, I could not repress a shudder ofhorror at this spectacle, which did not pass unnoticedby the giant. Turning a grave look upon me, hesaid, in easy, polished diction—

“This piece of carrion at my feet had been my paidservant for the last two years. He was necessaryto me, but not indispensable, and he fell into the fatalerror of supposing that not only could I not do withouthim, but that, in spite of the enormous salary Ipaid him, he could rob me with impunity. I am thesenior partner in the Bangkok firm owning this vessel,and also a fleet of piratical junks that range these seasfrom Singapore to Hong Kong, and prey upon otherjunks mostly, although wherever it is possible theyhave no scruples in attacking European vessels. Itis a lucrative business, but a good deal of businessacumen is needed in order to dispose of the plunderrealized. In this the late Captain Klenck was a veryuseful man, and, knowing this, we paid him so wellthat he might very soon have realized a fortune fromhis salary alone. Now my men, who, as you have seen,without any assistance from me, have easily disposedof the gang Klenck had engaged to further his ends,tell me that they are very fond of you. They say that251you have treated them like men, of your own free will,and I am prepared to offer you the command of thePhrabayat at the same salary as Klenck enjoyed.What do you say?”

For a moment I was stunned at the story told me,and, besides, very much annoyed because I hadn’t seenit all before. It looked so simple now. But one thingdominated all the rest—who or what was this suave,English educated Celestial, who trafficked in piracyand yet spoke as if imbued with all the culture of theWest? He actually seemed as if he read my thoughts,for with something approaching a smile he said—

“I see you are wondering at my English. I am agraduate of Cambridge University, and was at onetime rather lionized in certain fashionable circles inLondon. But circ*mstances made it necessary for meto go into this business, which pleases me very well.You have not yet answered my question, though.”

“I am aware that I run considerable risk at presentby so doing,” I replied; “but, in spite of that, I mustgive you an unqualified refusal. I am rather surprisedat your offer!”

A look of genuine astonishment came over his faceas he said, “Why? Surely you are not so well offthat you can afford to play fast and loose with such aprospect as I hold out to you?”

Then, as if it had suddenly dawned upon him, heshrugged his shoulders and murmured, “I supposeyou have some more scruples. Well, I do not understandthem, but for the sake of my foolish men I supposeI must respect them. There is one other point,252however, upon which I think you can enlighten meor help me. This carrion here,” and he kicked contemptuouslyat the skipper’s dead body, “has secretedquite a treasure in pearls and gold, and I cannot nowcompel him to tell me where. Did you enjoy his confidenceat all?”

I hastened to assure my questioner that nothingcould well be farther from the late skipper’s thoughtsthan to place any confidence in me; but, as I wasspeaking, I suddenly remembered the odd-looking keyI had picked up, and diving into my pocket I producedit, saying, “This may open some secret locker of his.I found it on deck last night, just after the transhipmentof cargo in the middle watch.”

His eyes gave one flash of recognition, and he saidquietly, “I know that key. Come, let us see what wecan find by its aid.”

Then, for the first time, I saw the inside of theskipper’s state-room. No wonder he kept it fastclosed. It was honeycombed with lockers of everyshape and size; but, strangest of all, there were threerings in the deck as if to lift up level-fitting hatches.These took my eye at once, and, upon my pointingthem out, the Chinaman stooped and essayed to liftone. He had hardly taken hold of the ring, though,when he saw a keyhole at one edge, and muttering, “Ididn’t know of this, though,” he tried my key in it.It fitted, unlocking the hatch at once. But neitherhe nor I was prepared for what we found. There, ina space not more than four feet square and five feetdeep, was a white man, a stranger to me. The giant253at my side reached down and lifted the prisoner out ofhis hole as if he had been a child, and, placing himgently on a settee, regarded him with incurious eyes.He was just alive, and moaning softly. I called AhToy, who evinced no surprise at seeing the stranger;but, after he had brought some water at my order, andgiven the sufferer some drink, he told me that thiswas the missing mate. Ah Toy assisted me to get theunfortunate man into my berth, where I left him to theministrations of the steward, while I hurried back tothe skipper’s state-room. When I reached it the calmsearcher had laid bare almost all its secrets.

Boyesen, the second mate, was there, looking likea man just awaking from a furious debauch, andblinking at the light like a bat. And around him onthe deck were heaped treasures beyond all my powersof assessment. But their glitter had no effect uponme; I suppose I must have been saturated with surprises,so that my clogged brain would absorb nomore. I turned to Boyesen and offered him my hand,which he took, and, by assistance, crawled out of thatinfernal den, leaving the Chinaman to sort out hiswealth.

I tried hard to get some explanation of the secondmate’s strange disappearance from him, but, in additionto his habitual taciturnity, he was in no conditionto talk; so, after a few minutes’ ineffectual effort, Ileft him and returned on deck. Ah, how delightfulwas the pure air. I drew in great draughts of it, asif to dispel the foulness of that place below; I lookedup at the bright sky and down at the glittering sea,254over which the Phrabayat was bounding at the rate ofsix or seven knots an hour, and blessed God that I wasstill alive, and for the moment forgot how great wasthe danger still remaining.

Far ahead I could see the loom of the China coast.By my reckoning she would be in touch with the landbefore nightfall if the present fresh breeze held—andwhat then? A sudden resolve came upon me to askthe evident master of my destinies; for, although Ifelt quite sure that any compunction for whatever sufferingswe white men might endure would be impossibleto him, there would be a certain amount of satisfactionin knowing his intentions. I turned to go andseek him, but he was standing by my side. Withoutwaiting for me to speak to him, he said gravely—

“In a few hours I hope to reach the creek wheremy agents are waiting to tranship the cargo. Whatthen will happen depends largely upon yourself.Should you persist in refusing to take command ofthis vessel it may be the easiest plan to cut your throat,as you would be greatly in the way. Of course, yourtwo companions would be disposed of in the samemanner. But for the present, if you will have thegoodness to call the hands aft, there are some precautionsto be taken with reference to the valuables youhave seen, which represent the loot that CaptainKlenck anticipated making off with presently. Thatreminds me——” And, disappearing from my side,he slid rather than walked below. I called the handsaft, walking to the break of the poop as I did so. AsI stood looking down on to the main deck, my late255companion appeared with the skipper’s body in hisarms, which he cast over the lee-rail as if it had beena bundle of rags.

Then, turning to the waiting crew, he gave a fewquiet orders, and at once they began preparing the twoboats for lowering. Some of them dived below andbrought up armfuls of small boxes, bags, and mats,within which coarse coverings I knew were concealedthat mass of wealth lately exposed upon the deck ofthe state-room below.

Quite at a loss what to do, I stood listlessly watchingthe busy scene, until I suddenly remembered thetwo white men below, who had been so strangelyrescued from an awful death. And as I was clearlynot wanted on deck I went into the cabin, finding,with the first thrall of satisfaction I had felt for along time, that they were both rapidly mending. Itis hardly necessary to say that I soon found thestranger to be my predecessor, whose mysterious disappearancehad worried me not a little. Neither henor Boyesen were able to talk much, had they beenwilling; but I learned that they had both incurred thewrath of the skipper from having obtained too muchknowledge of his proceedings, that they had both beendrugged (at least, only in that way could they accountfor his being able to deal with them as he had done),and they had suffered all the torments of the lost untilthe yellow giant had let in the blessed daylight uponthem again. But neither they nor I could understandwhy the skipper had not killed them offhand. Thatwas a puzzle never likely to be unravelled now.256Neither of them appeared to take a great deal of interestin the present state of affairs, certainly notenough to assist me in concerting my plans for oursafety. I was quite satisfied that we were in no immediatedanger, so that I was content, having establisheda bond of good-fellowship between us, to waituntil they were more fit for active service.

We sat quietly smoking and dropping an occasionalword, when a sudden hurried pattering of barefeet overhead startled me. I rushed on deck, roused atlast into something like vigorous interest, to find thatall hands were quitting the ship. We were now sometwenty miles (by my estimate) from the land, and whatthis sudden manœuvre could mean was beyond meuntil, looking astern, I saw a long smoke-wreath lyinglike a soft pencil smudge along a low mass of cumulouscloud. Not one of the departing heathen took theslightest notice of me as they shoved off, so I dartedout, snatched up the glasses, and focused them on theapproaching steamer. I could not make her out, butI felt sure it was her advent that had rid us of ourparti-coloured masters. Down I went and told theinvalids what had happened, begging them, if theycould, to come on deck and lend a hand to get herhove-to, so that the steamer might the more rapidlyoverhaul us. Boyesen managed to make a start, butthe late mate was too feeble. And Ah Toy, to mysurprise, also showed up. I had no time to ask himwhy he had not gone with the rest, but together wehurried on deck, finding that a thick column of smokewas rising from the main hatch—those animals had set257her on fire! There were, of course, no boats, andunless that vessel astern got in some pretty good speedwe stood no bad chance of being roasted alive. However,we rigged up an impromptu raft, after lettinggo all the halyards so that her way might be deadened—weknew better than to waste time trying to put outsuch a fire as was raging below.

Why enlarge upon the alternations of hope andfear until the Ly-ee-moon, Chinese gunboat, overhauledus? She did do so, but not until we were coweringon the taffrail watching the hungry flames lickingup the mizen-rigging. And when rescued I wouldnot have given a dozen “cash” for our lives, but thatthe gunboat had an Englishman in command, towhom I was able to tell my story. He put the coping-stoneupon my experiences when he told me thathe had been watching for the Phrabayat for the pastsix months, having received much information as toher doings. And he used language that made the airsmell brimstone when he realized that, after all, hisprize had escaped him. I told him all I could—itwas not much—of the disappearance of the crew, buthe was indifferent. He “didn’t expect to clap eyes on’em any more,” he said. Nor did he. Where theylanded, or whether they sank, no one but themselvesknew. And we three unfortunate wretches werelanded in Hong Kong three weeks afterwards almostas bare of belongings as when we began the world.Ah Toy fell on his feet, for he shipped in the gunboatas the commander’s servant upon my recommendation.

258

I had all the experience of the China coast Iwanted, and shipped before the mast in a “blue-funnelled”boat for home two days after, glad to getaway on any terms. The two Danes went their way,and I saw them no more.

259

THE COOK OF THE CORNUCOPIA

A square-set little Norwegian with a large head,puffy face, faded blue eyes, and a beard that, commencingjust below them, flowed in wavy massesnearly to his waist; the “Doctor” had alreadyachieved a reputation among us for taciturnity andgruffness quite out of keeping with his appearance.

As a cook he was no better or worse than theaverage, except in one particular, his cleanliness; andas the majority of sailors in British ships do not expectsuch a miracle as would be necessary in order tochange the bad, scanty provisions supplied into tastyfood by cooking, a clean cook is pretty certain ofbecoming a prime favourite for’ard.

But Olaf Olsen courted no man’s company or favour.To all such sociable advances as were made himby various members of the crew he returned the barestanswer possible, letting it plainly be seen that heconsidered his own society amply sufficient for all hisdesires. One of the most difficult positions to maintain,however, on board ship is that of a misanthrope.Sooner or later the need of human fellowship alwaysasserts itself, and the most sullen or reserved of menlet fall their self-contained garment. Olsen was noexception to this rule.

260

Before we had been a month at sea, I was sittingon the spare spars opposite the galley door silentlysmoking during the last half-hour of the second dog-watch,in full enjoyment of the delicious evening freshness,when the cook suddenly leaned out over thehalf-door of his den and said—

“You looks fery quiet dis efening, ain’t id?”

I was so taken aback by his offering any remarkthat I let my pipe fall out of my mouth, but stoopingto pick it up gave me time to collect myself and replyin a cheery word or two, feeling curiously anxious todraw him out. One word brought on another, as thecommon phrase has it, and five minutes after his firstremark he was sitting by my side yarning away as iftrying to make up for lost time. I let him talk, onlyjust dropping a word or two at intervals so as to keephim going by showing him that I was paying attention.Presently he broke off some rambling remarks bysaying abruptly—

“You efer bin t’ Callyo?”

“No, but I’ve heard a lot about it,” I replied.“Pretty hard citizens around there, ain’t they?”

“Id’s de las’ place Gott Allamitey efer made, myboy, an’ de deffel’s ben a dumpin’ all de leff-overs inde vorl’ down dere efer since,” grunted he. “I vasdere las’ voy’ge. You know a ship call de Panama—bigwooden ship’bout fourteen hundred ton? Yell, Ivas cook apoard her, ben out in her over two yere venve come ofer frum Melbun in ballas’. Ve schip apooty hard crout in de Colonies, leas, dey fancy demsellufsa tough lot, but mie Gott! dey tidn’ know’261Capn Tunn. No, dey tidn’, ner yet de tree mates,’n’leas’ of all dey tidn’ know me. I like de afterguardfus’-class, me an’ dem allvus ked along bully, an’ vevas all lef’ of de fus’ crew ship’ in London.

“De Bosun, Chips, an’ Sails wa’nt any count;square-heads all tree ov’ em. P’raps you’se tinkin’I’m a square-head, too? Yus, but I’m f’m Hammerfes’,an’ dey don’ breed no better men in de vorl, dandere. Veil, I see how tings vas coin’ t’be, ’fore ve kedout of Bass’s Straits,’n I dells you, my poy, dere vasdimes pooty soon. De ole man vas a Kokney, but helooks so much like me as if he been my dvin broder.He speak fery low an’ soft—de mate alvus done dehollerin’; but de fus’ time one of de fellers gif himsome slack, he pick him from de veel like he bin a crab,unt schling him forrut along de poop so he fall oferde break onto de main-deck vere de mate vus standin’ready ter kig him fur fallin’. De noise bring de vatchbelow out, an’ dey all rush af’, fur a plug mush. Icome too, but I sail in an he’p de ole man, un’ I dellyou id vas a crate fight, dere vas blut unt hair flyin’.

“In den minnits ve hat it all ofer, de olt man vasde boss, unt eferybody know it. All de fellers getforrut like sheeps, un’ ven de ole man sing out, ‘Grogoh!’ presently, dey come aft so goot as a Suntay-school.Ve haf no more trouble mit dem, but ven veket ter Callyo de ole man say, ‘Py Gott! I ain’t cointer keep dis crout loafin’ rount here fur two treemont’ vile ve vaitin’ fur our turn at de Chinchees.Run’em out, Misder Short; ve ket plenty men hereven ve vant ’em quite so goot as dese, un some blut262money too!’ So de mate, he vork ’em up, make ’emrouse de cable all ofer de ballas’, schling ’em alof’, tarrin’un schrapin’ an’ slushin’ all day long frum coffee-timetill eight bells at night, unt I feet ’em yoost desame as at sea.

“In tree day efery galoot ov ’em vas gone, unt denve haf goot times, I dell you, de Bosun unt Chips untSails vashin’ decks unt keepin’ tings shipshape. Velay dere tree mont’, an’ den de olt man ket his per-mitfur de islan’s. He vent to Bucko Yoe, de Ameriganboarding-master dat kill so many men—you hear ofhim before, ain’t it?—unt he say, ‘Yoe, I vant fifteenmen to-morrow. I ton’d care a tarn who dey vass’long’s dey’s life sailormen, put py Gott, ef youschanghai me enny ’longshoremen, alla det men, I fillsyou so full of holes dat you mage a No. 1 flour tretger.Dat’s all I’m coin t’ say t’ you.’ Bucko Yoe he larf,but he know de olt man pefore, unt he pring us fifteenvite men, all blind, paralytic tronk, but anybody seedey vas sailormen mit von eye.”

Just at this juncture, Sandy McFee, my especialchum, came strolling out of the fo’c’sle, his freshly-loadedpipe glowing and casting a grateful odour uponthe quiet evening air. He was, like the cook, a square-set,chunky man, but he was also, in addition, one ofthe smartest men I ever knew. He brought up allstanding at the unusual sight of the Doctor and myselfenjoying a friendly cuffer, so surprised that he allowedhis pipe to go out. The cook froze up promptly, andstared at the intruder stonily. It was an uncomfortablesilence that ensued, broken at last by the rasping263voice of the Aberdonian, saying, “Man Tammas, hood’ye manach t’ open th’ lips o’ yon Dutch immuj?Ah’d a noshin’ ut he couldna speyk ony ceevil language.Ye micht tell ma hoo ye manached it.”

Deep-Sea Plunderings (8)

He clutched his insulter by the beard and belt.

A certain quivering about the cook’s broad shoulderswas the only visible sign that he had heard andunderstood the mocking little speech made by Scotty,but the latter had hardly finished when the Doctorrose to his feet, remarking with a yawn, as of a manwho took no interest in the subject—

“I allvus t’ought Scossmen vas dam’ pigs, und nowI knows it. But I nefer hear von crunt before. Vytondt you co unt scradge yorselluf? You findt unolt proom forrut.”

Down went Sandy’s pipe, an articulate growl burstfrom his chest, and, with a spring like a grasshopper,he had clutched his insulter by the beard and belt.There was a confused whirl of legs and arms, a pantingsnarl deep down in the men’s throats, and suddenly,to my horror, I saw the cook go flying over therail into space, striking the sea almost immediatelyafterwards with a tremendous splash. It was all sosudden that for the instant I was helpless. But thesplash alongside started me into life, and, grabbing thecoil of the fore-sheet behind me, I hurled it oversidewithout looking. At the same moment Sandy, horror-struckat his mad action, sprang on to the pin-rail anddived after his victim.

The ship was just forging ahead through an oilysmoothness of sea to a faint upper current of air, sothat there was no great danger except from a prowling264shark, but the short twilight was fading fast. As ifintuitively, all hands had rushed on deck and aft to thequarter, while the helmsman jammed the wheel harddown. The vessel turned slowly to meet the wind,while we watched the man who had just hurled a fellow-creatureto what might easily be his death, fightinglike a lion to rescue him. The cook could notswim, that was evident, but it was still more evidentthat he had no thought of his own danger if only hemight take his enemy along with him to death. Hehad, however, to deal with one who was equally athome in the water as on deck, and it was wonderfulto see how warily, yet with what determination thelittle Scotchman manœuvred until he had the furiousNorwegian firmly pinned by the arms at his back,and how coolly he dipped him again and again beneaththe surface, until he had reduced him to quiescence.

Getting the boat out is usually in those ships a formidabletask, and it was nearly half an hour beforewe had the two men safely on board again. Theskipper was a quiet, amiable man, and this strange outbreakpuzzled him greatly. Sandy, however, expressedhis contrition, and promised to avoid the Doctorand his bitter tongue in future. So with that theskipper had to be content, especially as the cook recoveredso rapidly from his ducking that we heard himin another half-hour’s time grinding coffee for themorning as if nothing had happened. But the strangestpart of the affair to me was its outcome. Nextmorning, in our watch below, the Doctor came into the265fo’c’sle, and, walking up to Sandy, put out his hand,saying—

“Santy, you vas a coot man, pedder as me, unt Itond vant any more row longer you. I ben coot man,too, bud I ain’t any longer, only I forkedd it somedimes.I cot my soup unter vay for dinner, unt if youlikes I finish dot yarn I vas tellin’ Tom here lasdnight.”

Now Sandy was all over man, and jumping upfrom his chest he gripped the Doctor’s paw, saying—

“Weel, Doctor, A’am as sorry as a maan can be’at I lost ma temper wi’ ye. W’en Ah see ye i’ th’watter Ah feelt like a cooard, and Ah’d a loupitowerboord afther ye, even ef Ah couldna ha soomta stroak. Ah wisht we’d a bottle o’ fhuskey t’drink t’ yin anither in; but never mind, we’ll haetwo holl evenin’s thegither in Melburrun whenwe got thonder. But you an’ me’s chums fra thisoot.”

This happy conclusion pleased us all, and, in orderto profit by this loosening of the Doctor’s tongue, Isaid, passing over my plug of tobacco—

“Now then, Doctor, we’re all anxious to hear therest of that cuffer you was tellin’ me last night. I’vetold the chaps all you told me, and they are justhungry for the rest, so fill up and go ahead.”

“Vell, poys, you nefer see a hantier crout dan datlot Amerigan Yoe cot schanghaied abord of us inCallyo. How he ked ’em all so qviet I ton’t know.But dey vas all ofer blut, unt dere close vas tore to266shakin’s, so I kess dey vas some pooty hart fightin’pefore he put ’em to sleep so he could pring demalonkside. De olt man unt his bucko crout of off’cerston’t let ’em haf time to ked spry pefore dey peginroustin’ ’em erroun’—dey know de ropes too vell ferdot. So as soon as de boardin’ marsder vas gone, oudtdey comes, unt aldough it vas keddin’ tark, I be tamtef dey vasn’t sdarted holystonin’ de deck fore ’n aft.Dey vas haluf tedt mit knoggin’ about, dey hadn’tbeen fed, unt dey vas more as haluf poison mit badyin, unt den to vork ’em oop like dat, I dells you vat,poys, id vas tough.

“Dey let oop on ’em ’bout twelluf o’clock unt told’em to co below, but de poor dyfuls yoost ked into defo’c’sle unt fall down—anyveres—unt dere dey schleeptill coffee-dime. Perhaps you ton’d pelief me, but Idells you de trut, dem fellers come out ven de matesinks oudt, ‘Turn-to’ like anoder crout altogeder.Efen de mate look mit all his eyes cos he don’t aspectto see ’em like dat. Dey ton’t do mooch till prekfuss-dime,unt den dey keds a coot feet; mags dem quitesassy.

“Unt so off ve goes to de Chinchees, unt fromdat day out ve nefer done fightin’. You talk apoutYankee blood-poats unt plue-nose hell-afloats, deywan’t in it ’longside de Panama. Dem fellers vas allkinds; but dey vas all on de fight, unt, if de could onlyhaf hang togedder, dey’d haf murder de whole lotof us aft. But dey couldn’t; leas’, dey didn’t until longafter ve lef de island, an slidin’ up troo de soud-easttrades tords de line. Den one afternoon I ketch one267of ’em diggin’ a lot er slushA outer one er my fullcasks. ’Course I vas mat, unt I dells him to get t’hell out er dat, unt leave my slush alone. He don’tsay nuthin’, but he schlings de pot at me. Den it vasme un him for it, un ve fight like two rhinosros.

A“Slush” in the merchant service is the name given to thecoarse dripping, lumps of waste fat, etc., which the ship’s cookhas over after preparing the men’s food. He is entitled to thisas his perquisite, and is naturally careful to cask it down duringthe voyage for sale ashore, after the voyage, to wholesale chandlersand soap-boilers, or their middlemen.

“Ve fight so hardt ve don’t know dat all hants hafchoin in, efen de man run from de veel un chip in. Ibin dat mat ’bout my slush I fight like six men, untven de fight vas ofer I fall down on teck right vere Iam, unt go to sleep. Ven I vake up aken de olt manhaf got de hole crout in ierns. He say he be tam efhe coin’t t’ haf any mo’ fightin’ dis voy’ge; liddle’s allfery vell, but ’nough’s a plenty. So ve vork de shiphome oursellufs—qvite ’nough t’ do, I tell you, t’ keepher coin ’n look after dat crout so vell.

“De olt man dell me he bin fery font of me,’nhe coin’ t’ gif me dupple pay; but ven ve ket to Grafesent’n sent all de crout ashore in ierns, I vant t’ sellmy slush to a poatman—I haf fifteen parrels—unt depoatman offer me £25 for it. But de olt man he sayhe want haluf—haluf my slush vat I ben safin fery neartree years! I say to him, ‘Look here, Cap’n Tunn, Iluf you petter as mineselluf; but pefore I led you takeaway haluf my slush, I coin to see vich is de pest man,you alla me.’ He don’t say no more, but he valk up268to me unt make a crab at my peard, unt den it vas ustwo for it. But he vasn’t a man, he vas ten deffelsstuff into von liddle man’s body. I tondt know howlong ve fight, I tondt know how ve fight; but ven Ivake oop I ain’t any fightin’ man no more. My het iscrack unt haluf my teet gone, unt I haf some armsunt legs break pesides. But he gomes to see me inde ’ospital, unt he ses, ‘Olsen, my poy, you bin a tamgoot man, ’n I haf sell your slush for tirty poun’ untpring you de money. You haf £120 to take, unt venyou come out, tondt you go to sea no more; you puya cook-shop in de Highvay; you make your fortune.’Den he go avay, unt I never see him any more.

“Ven I come out I traw my 150 soffrins unt puya pelt to carry dem rount me. Unt I pig up mit a niceliddle gal from de country, unt ve haf a yolly time. Vemake it oop to ked marrit righd off, unt dake dat cook-shopso soon as I haf yoost a liddle run rount. Den Isdart on de spree unt I keep it oop for tree veeks, untilI ked bad in my het, allvus dirsty unt nefer can’t getany trinks dat seems vet. Afterwards I co vat you calloudt—off my het, unt I tond’t know vedder I isn’tback in de Panama agen, fightin’, fightin’ all day untall night. Ven I ked vell agen, I got nuthin’, nomoney, no close, no vife. So I tink I petter go untlook for a ship, unt ven I ked dis von I ain’t eat anytingfor tree days.”

Then, as abruptly as he had opened the conversation,he closed it by getting up and leaving us, having,I supposed, obeyed the uncontrollable impulse totell his story that comes now and then upon every man.

269

A LESSON IN CHRISTMAS-KEEPING

Morning broke bleakly forbidding on the iron-boundcoast of Kerguelen Island. Over the fantasticpeaks, flung broadcast as if from the primeval cauldronof the world, hung a grim pall of low, grey-blackcloud, so low, indeed, that the sea-birds drifting disconsolatelyto and fro between barren shore and gale-tossedsea were often hidden from view as if behinda fog-bank, and only their melancholy screams denotedtheir presence, until they glinted into sight againlike huge snow-flakes hesitating to fall. Yet it wasthe Antarctic mid-summer, it was the breaking ofChristmas Day.

As the pale dawn grew less weak, it revealed atiny encampment, just a few odds and ends of driftingwreckage piled forlornly together, and yielding a dubiousshelter to a huddled-up group of fourteen men,sleeping in spite of their surroundings. Presently,there were exposed, perched upon the snarling teethof an outlying rock-cluster, the “ribs and trucks” of asmall wooden ship, a barque-rigged craft of aboutfour hundred tons. Her rigging hung in slovenly festoonsfrom the drunkenly standing masts, the yards270made more angles with their unstable supports thanare known to Euclid, while through many a jaggedgap in her topsides the mad sea rushed wantonly, as ifelated with its opportunities of marring the handiworkof the daring sea-masters.

The outlook was certainly sufficiently discomforting;yet, as one by one the sleepers awakened, andwith many a grunt and shiver crept forth from theirlair, it would have been difficult to judge from the expressionsupon their weather-beaten countenances howhopeless was the situation that they were in.

For they came of a breed that is strong to endurehardness, that takes its much bitter with little sweet asa matter of course, and, by dint of steady refusal tobe dismayed at Fate’s fiercest frowns, has built up foritself a most gallantly earned reputation for pluck,endurance, and success throughout the civilized world.They were Scotch to a man, rugged and stern as thegranite of their native Aberdeenshire.

They were the crew of the barque Jeanie Deans, ofPeterhead, which, while outward bound from Aberdeento Otago, New Zealand, had, after long strivingagainst weather extraordinarily severe for the time ofyear, been hurled against that terrific coast during theprevious afternoon. Their escape shoreward had beenas miraculous as fifty per cent. of such escapes are,and, beyond their lives, they had saved nothing. Sothe prospect was unpromising. Nothing could be expectedfrom the break-up of the ship. She was loadedwith ironwork of various sorts, and her stores werenot in any water-tight cases which might bring them271ashore in an eatable condition. But the large-limbed,red-bearded skipper, after a keen look round, said—

“Ou, ay, ther isna ower muckle tae back an’ fill on,but A’am thenkin’ we’ll juist hae to bestir wersells an’see if we canna get some breakfas’. Has ony ane gotony matches?”

It presently appeared that of these simple yet invaluablelittle adjuncts to civilization there was notone among the crowd. But even this grim discoveryappeared to make no great impression, and presentlythe mate, a tall man from Auchtermuchty, with an expressionlessface and a voice like “a coo’s,” as hewas wont to say, remarked casually—

“If ye’ll scatther aboot an’ see fat ye can fine taecuik, I’se warrant ye Aa’ll get ye some fire tae cuikit wi’.”

No one spoke another word, but silently they separatedfor their quest, leaving Mr. Lowrie, with hisblank face, methodically rummaging among the débris.Presently he sat down quietly with a piece of flatboard before him about two feet long by six incheswide. In his hand he held a piece of broomstick,which in some mysterious way had got included in theflotsam. This he whittled at one end into a bluntpoint, carefully saving the cuttings in his trouserspocket. Then with a steady movement of his stick hecommenced to chafe a groove lengthways in the board,adding occasionally a pinch of grit from the ground toassist friction.

By-and-by there was quite a little heap of brownwood-dust collected at one end of the groove. Then272getting on his knees and grasping his broom-stick-pieceenergetically in both hands, he pushed it to andfro in the groove with all his force and speed, untilsuddenly he flung away the stick, and stooping overthe little pile of dust, he covered it tenderly with bothhands hollowed, and bending his head over it breathedupon it most gently. And by imperceptible degreesthere arose from it a slender spiral of smoke.

His right hand stole to his pocket, and fetchedtherefrom a few slivers of wood, which he coyly introducedunder the shelter of his other hand, until suddenlythe Red Flower blossomed—there was fire.Now it only needed feeding to rise gloriously into thatgloomy air. To this end Mr. Lowrie worked like aChinaman, until within an hour he had a pile of burningdriftwood, four feet high and fully six feet round,sending up ruddy tongues of flame and a column ofsmoke like a palm tree.

One by one the adventurers returned with dourfaces, empty-handed save for a sea-bird’s egg or two, afew fronds of seaweed which the bearers insisted was“dulse” (the edible fucus), and a brace of birds thatlooked scarcely enough to furnish an appetizer for one.But just as a stray sunbeam darted down upon thelittle gathering, while they huddled round the gratefulwarmth, there was a hoarse shout. All started, for itwas the skipper’s voice roaring—

“C’way here an’ lend a han’, ye louns. Fat’r yeaal shtannin there toasting yer taes fur like a pickle o’weans juist waitin’ on yer mithers tae cry on ye taecome ben fur yer breakfas’?”

273

The men at once obeyed the familiar command,finding the skipper and the cook wrestling with a hugecase, that was so stoutly built that not a plank of it hadcome adrift. When they had man-handled it over therugged ground to within reach of the warmth theskipper said—

“Ah divna ken fats intilt, bit Ah min fine that MesterBroon, fan he shipped it, said it wis somethin’ Ahwis tae tak unco care o’. And so ’twis lasht under th’s’loon table. C’wa, le’s open’t; please God ther maybe somethin’ useful inside o’t.”

Willing hands, regardless of the loss of skin fromknuckles and arms, wrought at the task; but so stoutlydid the case resist their efforts that it was longbefore they had stripped off the stout planking andrevealed an air-tight lining of thick tin. This wasattacked with sheath-knives, and, after much hackingand breaking of cutlery, yielded and exposed a numberof queer-looking parcels most carefully packed.On the top was a letter. It ran as follows:—

Dear Jack,

“In full recollection of your curious Scottishprejudice against any celebration of Christmas,and also of that awful time when you and I werestranded on the Campbells, and compelled to suck rawsea-birds’ eggs for our Christmas fare, I have sent youthe materials for a good old-fashioned Christmas dinner,as I understand it, being a co*ckney of the co*ckniest.I also send you Dickens’s ‘Christmas Carol’ toread after dinner, and if you don’t do justice to my274loving Christmas Box, I solemnly swear that I willnever regard you as a chum again. Here’s wishingyou a Merry Christmas, and as jolly a Hogmanay asever you can get after.

“Most affectionately yours,
John Brown.”

“Em, ehmm” (no written words can adequatelyrepresent the peculiar Scottish exclamation that standsfor anything you like, being strictly non-committal),“that reads no sae bad. We’ll juist investigate. Fathae we here? Et’s a duff, mahn, ou ay, bit et’s aboeny wan.”

And as he spoke he pulled out of its nest a gorgeousChristmas pudding weighing some twenty-fivepounds. Next came an enormous oblong tin case,labelled, “Fortnum and Mason. Special Christmasturkey, stuffed with capon, tongue, and forcemeat,”upon reading which the skipper murmured again, “Ouay, that’s no sae dusty, ye ken.” Next came a layer ofbottles of green peas, alternated with bottles labelled“Turtle soup.” Other queer tin cases followed, bearinginscriptions such as “Special mince-pies,”“Scotch shortbread,” “American biscuits”—likefoam-flakes—“Dessert fruits,” “York ham, best quality,ready cooked,” and “Boar’s head.” Finally, on theground floor, as it were, was displayed a compact arrayof bottles, of which six were labelled, “Extra specialScotch whisky,” six “Special port, bin 50,” two corpulentones bore the signature “D.O.M.,” and twelvehad big-headed corks with gold foil adorning them.275Followed at last two boxes of fat-looking cigars, andthe book.

That grim assembly looked down upon this temptingarray with their hard features perceptibly softening,while the skipper said—

“Weel a’weel. A’am no’ an advocate for specializin’Chrismuss masel, altho’ Ah laik fine tae keep upHogmanay. But A’am no a bigot, ye ken, an’ A’amthenkin’ that unner th’ circ*mstances ’twad juist beflytin’ Proeveedence no tae accept in a speerut o’ moderashunsichn a Chrismuss Boex as thon. Bit I’llnot coairce ony man. Them ’at disna approve o’ keepin’Chrismuss ava can juist daunder awa’. ’S far asA’am consairned”—here he deftly knocked the topoff one of the special Scotch bottles, and, lookinground benignantly, said—“Here’s tae wersels, boys, ablessin’ on the giver o’ th’ feast, an’ a Merry Chrismusstae us a’.”

Why particularize the proceedings that ensued?Should it not be sufficient to say that no conscientiousscruples were entertained by any of those hard-grainedmen at this almost compulsory wrecking of their principles?Scarcely; yet passing notice may be given tothe difficulties attendant upon drinking champagneout of bottle-necks, of eating concentrated turtle-soupwarmed in the bottle like Pommard, of the total wantof order and routine evidenced in dealing with theassorted provisions so providentially to hand—andmouth. Especially was this the case with the rotundbottles of Benedictine. One and all agreed that whilethe contents were “gey an’ oily-like,” they were “vara276seductiv’,” and had the effect of making the partakersthereof curiously unreserved and open to conviction asto the general satisfactoriness of things in general.

When at last, with long-drawn sighs, the unwontedChristmas-keepers sank down upon their stony seatsand lit up their aromatic smokes with brands passedfrom hand to hand, it evidently needed no keen judgeof human nature to prophesy that a unanimous votewould be given if asked for as to the desirability ofkeeping up Christmas English fashion.

When all had quietly settled down to the soothinginfluence of nicotine in its best form, the skipper liftedup his voice and said—

“Weel, ma lads, A’am thenkin’ that we k’n dae naeless than gae through the haill reetual. This buik, ‘AChristmas Carol,’ is eevidently pairt o’ th’ programme,an’ as A’am nae that ongratefu’ I’ll juist read it, fativerit coasts ma.”

So he opened the volume, and read while the hardlines of the faces softened under the magic of theMaster’s words, and in spite of the well-worn masks ofindifference an occasional dewdrop of sympathy glitteredlike a diamond in the furrow of a bronzed visage.

* * * * *

“Ah wudna wuss tae interrup ye, sir,” suddenlyinterjected an ordinary seaman, “bit Ah thocht yemicht laik tae ken that thers a vessel juist lookin’roun’ the point.”

“Man, ye’re richt, there is that. Weel, A’amneerly throu’, an’ as thon auld deevil Scrooge has been277conveencit o’ th’ errour of’s ways (as we have), A’amof opingon we ma tak’ th’ lave o’ th’ storey as read.But ’twas a gey guid yarn, was’t no?”

By this time the ship of deliverance, having hoveto, was getting a boat out. That laborious businessover, the boat came at fair speed towards the onlypracticable landing-place, until the commiserating faceof the officer in charge took on an expression of bewildermentas he noted the smug complacency on thecountenances of the castaways.

It did not diminish when the skipper, gravely welcominghim with one hand, held out invitingly a decapitatedbottle of extra special Scotch with the other,saying, with lingering sweetness in his voice—

“Mahn dear, here’s wussin’ ye a Merry Chrismuss.”

279

THE TERROR OF DARKNESS

“South 70° E., sir, weather’s a bit sulky and inclinedto dirt before daylight, I should think. Lot ofships about. Bishop bore N. 20° W. fifteen miles offat eight bells (4 a.m.). Good morning.” And as heuttered the last words the second officer of the Kafirstan,10,000-ton cargo steamer, London to Boston,U.S., swung his burly form down the lee-bridge ladder,and the darkness swallowed him up. The chief,who had just relieved him, mumbled out “G’mornin’”in the midst of a cavernous yawn, not because he waschurlish or out of humour, but for the reason that bea man never so seasoned, the sudden transition fromthe cosy recesses of a warm bunk and sweet sleep to anarrow platform some forty feet above the sea, fullyexposed to the wrathful edge of a winter gale at fouro’clock in the morning, does not predispose him tocheerful conversation, or indeed any other of theamenities of life, until the wonderful adaptability ofthe human body has had time to adjust itself to thealtered conditions.

No; John Furness, chief mate, was anything but asulky man. Buffeted by the storms of Fate from hisearliest youth in far fiercer fashion than ever thegales of winter had smitten him, he was now by way of280esteeming himself one of the most fortunate of mankind,for, after serving as second mate for several yearswith a chief and master’s ticket, and never getting abetter berth than some thousand-ton tramp couldafford him, he had suddenly taken unto himself a wife—adear girl, as poor and as friendless as himself—withthe quaint remark that the best thing to do withtwo lonely people was to make ’em one, on the principlethat like cures like. And with his marriage hisluck seemed to have turned. On the second day ofhis honeymoon he was taking his young wife roundthe docks, and pointing out to her the various ships—likeintroducing her to old acquaintances—when suddenly,with a bound, he left her side and disappearedover the edge of a jetty. He had caught sight of anold gentleman who had tripped his foot in a coil ofrope and tumbled over it and the edge of the pier atthe same time. John’s promptitude cost him a wetting,but got him his present berth, the best he hadever held in his life, and his heart beat high with hopethat at last he was on the high road to fortune.

Still, all these pleasant recollections didn’t preventhim feeling sleepy and chilly upon relieving his shipmate.Vigorously he called up his resources of energy,peering through the thick gloom ahead at thetwinkling gleams showing here and there, betokeningthe presence of other ships. Far beneath him theuntiring engines, with their Titanic thrust and recover,kept his lofty station a-quiver as they drove the hugemass of the Kafirstan steadily onward against thefierce and increasing storm. Again and again he answered281cheerily to the look-out man’s taps on the bellsannouncing lights “All right,” and as often by a wordto the helmsman behind him, altered his great vessel’scourse a little to port or starboard in order to avoidcollision with the passing ships. All this in the usualcourse of routine—it is what hundreds of men like himare doing this morning, thinking no more of the magnitudeof the forces they control than a cabman whonavigates the crowded London streets dwells uponwhat would happen if he should spill his fare under apassing waggon. It is, above all things, necessary atsea to refrain from dwelling upon what may happen.The one thing needful is to be equal to each duty asit arises. And John Furness was undoubtedly that.But suddenly an awful crash flung him backwards;his head struck against a stanchion of the bridge, amyriad lights gleamed before his glazing eyes, and heknew no more—knew nothing, that is, of the short,stern agony through which his shipmates passed as thehuge fabric beneath them admitted the supremacy ofthe ever-watchful sea. She had met—her mass of10,000 tons or so being hurled along at the rate oftwelve miles an hour—with the Terror of the Darkness,a derelict just awash, one of those ancient Norwegiantimber-scows, the refuse of the sea, that crawlto and fro across the Atlantic on sufferance, until therecomes a day when the half-frozen crew are swept fromthe top of the slippery deck-load, the sea pours inthrough a hundred openings, and she becomes one ofthe most awful dangers known to mariners—a water-loggedderelict. Floating just awash at the will of282ocean currents, she cannot be located with any degreeof certainty, but solid almost as a rock she driftssilently across the great ocean highway invisible, unheard,a lier-in-wait for the lives of men.

When John Furness returned to consciousnessagain, he became aware of acute pains all over hisbody. Also that he was not drowning, although atintervals waves washed over him. Gradually he realizedthat he was clinging desperately, mechanically,but with such force that he could hardly unbend thegrip of his hands, to a slimy rope. But where? Ashis mind cleared, and the certainty of the awful tragedythat had just passed over him and left him still alivebecame borne in upon him, he felt his heart swell. Hethought of the handful of brave men, of whom he hadalready got to know every one, suddenly hurled intooblivion with all the hopes and love of which eachwas the centre. And a few heavy drops rolled outfrom his brine-encrusted eyes. Then he thought ofMary—his Mary—and at the same moment realizedhis duty: to strive after life for her sake. The impulsewas needed, because that lethargy that means aloss of the desire to live was fast stealing over him.With a great effort that sent racking pains through hisstiffened body he turned his face upwards, passed onehand across his face, and saw where he was. Lyingupon the slope of a bank thickly overgrown with dankgreen weed like fine hair, and with a strong fishy smell.With awakening interest he peered at the rope heheld—it, too, was thickly draped with the same growth,but in addition, beneath the weed, it was encrusted283with jagged little shells. More than this he couldhardly discern for the present, because it was stilldark; but as his senses resumed their normal keennessof apprehension, he knew that he was afloat, andguessed the truth—that by some mysterious means hehad been preserved from drowning by laying hold ofthe same cause that had sent all his late shipmates totheir sudden end. A low, sullen murmur smote uponhis ears, for the wind had gone down, and the resentfulsea still rolled its broken surface violently in the directionin which it had been so fiercely driven, makingJohn’s holding-on place roll and heave in a heavy, lifelessmanner. The grey, cheerless dawn struggledthrough the thick pall of clouds still draping the sky,and by the cold light the shivering man saw the fullhorror of his surroundings. He was clinging to thelast rag of running-gear trailing from the short stumpof the mainmast of a large ship—a ship that must, atleast, have been of seventeen or eighteen hundredtons burden. She lay with one side of the deck wellbelow the water, and the other some ten feet above it.Not a vestige of bulwarks, cabin, or fo’c’sle appearedon deck, all was flush as if mowed off by some giganticscythe. Only a little forrard of where John lay wasa gash cut into her side at right angles, revealingwithin sodden masses of timber also crushed andbroken by the terrible impact of that blow. And ashe looked at the wedge-shaped wound there came backto him, as if in a dream of some former life, the shock,the few seconds’ realization of that fatal blow dealt herselfby the Kafirstan, before he had lost consciousness284to resume it here. And knowing the build of thesteamer as he did, he had not the faintest hope of herhaving survived for even an hour. His chief longingwas that sufficient time had been allowed his shipmatesto get into the boats and pull away from thefrightful vortex of the sinking Kafirstan.

The light having become sufficiently strong forhim to see thoroughly well, he made another heroiceffort, and commenced to explore his prison. And assoon as he did so, he realized how long this dangerousobstruction had been drifting about the ocean. Forshe was literally undistinguishable, except to a seaman’seye, from a worn and sea-beaten rock. Throughthe crevices in her deck and the gap made by theKafirstan, he could see hosts of fish, legions of crabs ofvarious kinds, and nowhere, except at the point whereshe had been run into, was there a square inch thatwas not thickly hidden by the sea-growth of weed andshells. He dragged himself up to the stump of themainmast, and, bracing himself erect against it, lookedlong and earnestly around the lowering horizon; buthe was quite alone. Not a gleam of sail or a wreathof smoke was to be seen. But he was a man who,while never very sanguine about his “luck,” had awonderful fund of hope, and in spite of the dismaloutlook, he felt no despair. Nevertheless, that hemight not brood, he determined to be busy, and dragginghimself aft with the utmost caution that he mightnot slide off that slimy slope into the cold sea to leeward,he reached the yawning cavity, where once thecompanion or entrance to the lower cabin had been.285Peering down, the sight was not encouraging, althoughthe dark water did not here come so close upto the deck as forward. But he was bound to explore,even if he had to swim, if only for the sake of employment;so crawling over the edge, he dropped belowinto water up to his waist, and immediately struggledto windward, where to his content he found he couldmove about above water. He entered what he tookto be the skipper’s cabin, noticing with a queer feelingof sympathy the few remnants of clothing hangingfrom hooks like silent witnesses of the tragedy oflong ago. To his surprise, he found that everythingwas left as if in the midst of ordinary life; the ownerhad been carried off without a moment in which toreturn for anything he might value. Even the bed-clothes,dank and sodden, lay as they had been jumpedout of, well tucked in at the foot of the bunk by acareful steward. With a sense of sacrilege that hefound it hard to shake off, John tried the drawers, andthe woodwork fell away at his touch. Clothes, papers,photographs within lay in pulpy masses where the invadingsea had so long drained through on to them.But the searcher turned all over, listlessly, mechanically,until the hot blood suddenly surged to his headas he heard a musical jingle. With feverish haste hepulled out the lumps of dank stuff until at the bottomof the drawer he found a heap of gold coins which hehad evidently disturbed by twitching at the rotted bagwhich had contained them. Gathering them all togetherwithout counting, he shovelled them into thetwo inner pockets of his pea-coat, afterwards tearing286open the lining and securing the necks of the pocketsby a piece of roping twine, of which he was neverwithout a small ball.

Then with almost frantic haste he scrambled ondeck, feeling as if by being down there another minutehe might be risking his chance of rescue. But whenhe again reached the mainmast and looked aroundonly the same blank circle greeted him. And hismind, until then fairly calm, fiercely rebelled at theidea of being lost now, when the weight burdeninghim told him that should he reach home again, hewould be able to secure a position for himself as captainof a ship by the hitherto impossible means of buyingan interest in her. Had he waited to analyze hisfeelings, he would no doubt have wondered why thepossession of a little gold should have the power tochange his usually calm and philosophic behaviourinto the fretful eager frame in which he now foundhimself; but at the time all his hopes, all his energies,were concentrated upon the one idea, how to save, notmerely his life, but his newly gotten gold for the enjoymentof that dear one bravely waiting at home.

The long bitter day passed without other sign oflife around, than the occasional deep breathing of awhale close at hand, or the frolicsome splash of a passingporpoise. His vitality, great though it was, beganto fail under the combined influences of cold and hungerand thirst. So that he passed uneasily to and frobetween sleeping and waking, only dimly conscious allthe time of decreasing ability to resist the combinedinfluences of these foes to life. Day faded into night,287and still the wind did not rise, although the sky continuallythreatened, being so lowering that the nightshade was almost opaque. As he lay semi-conscioussome mysterious premonition smote him to his veryvitals, and raised him erect with such nervous energythat he felt transformed. There, almost upon him,glared the two red and green eyes of a great ship,while, high above, the far-reaching electric beams fromher fore masthead made a wide white track throughthe darkness. He shouted with, as it seemed to him,ten voices, “Ship ahoy.” And back like an echo camethe reply, “Hullo.” The alarm was taken, and closeaboard of the derelict the huge mail steamer came toa standstill, saved from destruction. In ten minutesJohn Furness was in safety, and three days after helanded in London, bringing the first news of the lossof the Kafirstan. And in three days more his treasuretrove had secured for him the position he had so longfruitlessly striven to obtain by merit and hard work.

289

THE WATCHMEN OF THE WORLD

There is surely high inspiration in the thoughtthat of all the mighty civilizations that have emergedin these latter days, there is none that dare claim thecomprehensive title given to this paper without fearof contradiction, save ourselves. For the function ofthe Watchman is to keep the peace, to restrain lawlessness,to bring evil-doers to justice, and to holdhimself unspotted from even the tiniest speck of injustice.At least these should be his functions, and ifthey seem to be counsels of perfection, the aimingthereat with persistent courage is continually bringingthem nearer a perfect realization. And if this beso with individual watchmen, it is infinitely more sowith those typical Watchers of the Empire, of whomI would now speak, the splendid, ubiquitous, and ever-readyBritish Navy. It would be an uplifting exercisefor some of us, widening our outlook upon life,and enlightening us as to the majestic part our countryhas been called upon to play at this wonderfulperiod of the world’s history, if we were to get a terrestrialglobe, a number of tiny white flags, and a listof positions of all our men-o’-war. Then by stickingin a flag for every ship wherever she was stationed, oron passage at the time, we should have a bird’s-eye290view as it were of the “beats” which our EmpireWatchmen patrol unceasingly.

From end to end of the great Middle Sea whereinwe hold but those dots upon the map, Gibraltar andMalta and Cyprus, whose shores bristle with hostilepopulations, our stately squadrons parade, not on sufferance,but as a right, none daring to say them nay.Their business is peaceful, although they have enormousforce ready to use if need be, the duty of keepingBritain’s trade routes clear, that the shuttles weavingthe vast web of world-wide trade that we havebuilt up may glide to and fro in security even thoughenvious nations gnash upon us with their teeth, andvainly endeavour by every species of chicane and underhandmeanness to rob us of the fruits of centuriesof industry. In two Mediterranean countries alone areour ships of war heartily welcome. Italy and Greeceremember gratefully our constant friendship. Italiansof all classes are acquainted with the practical good-willof Great Britain, and so man-o’-war Jack is sureof warm reception throughout that lovely country.Not that the manner of his reception troubles theworthy tar at all. Oh no. The keynote of the chorusthat is perpetually being chanted in the British Navyis duty. The word is seldom mentioned, but betterthan that, it is lived. It enables the sailor to spend unmurmuringlylong periods of absolute torture underthe blazing furnace of the Persian Gulf, an oven thatwhile it burns does not dry; where the soaking dews ofthe night lie thickly upon the decks throughout thescorching day, and are not dispersed because the291molten air is overloaded with moisture, and life is livedin a vapour-bath. Here you will find the young menof gentle birth who govern in our fighting ships, forgettingtheir own physical miseries, in the brave effortto make the severe conditions more tolerable to thecrews they command. Do their dimmed eyes often inthe steaming night turn wistfully westward to the coolgreen English country-side, where the old home liesembowered amid the ancestral oaks? Why, certainly,but that does not make the young officer’s zeal anyweaker, does not damp his ardour to sustain the greattraditions which are the pride and glory of the serviceto which it is his greatest delight to belong.

Or creep down the coast of East Africa, throbbing,palpitating under that fervent heat glare, and see theSt. George’s Cross proudly waving over the sterns ofthe gun-boats set by Britain to quell the bloodthirstyArab’s lust for slavery. Here is manifest such devotionto an ideal, albeit that ideal is never formulated inso many words, as should stir the most prosaic, matter-of-factminds among us. I well remember—could Iever forget?—a visit I once paid to H.M.S. London,sometime depôt ship at Zanzibar. It was a privilegethat I valued highly, not knowing then that with ahigh courtesy our country’s men-o’-war are alwaysaccessible at reasonable times to any citizen whowould see with his own eyes how his home is defendedand by whom. I was then mate of a trading vessel thathad brought supplies from home for the use of theEast Indian fleet, and consequently my business tookme on board the depôt ship often. First of all I was292shown the hospital, a long airy apartment on the upperdeck, kept as cool as science could devise in that burningclimate, and fitted with all the alleviations for sicknessthat wise skill and forethought could compass.Here they lay, the heroes of the long, long fight, thenever-ending battle of freedom against slavery, the menwho had left their pleasant land for service under theflag of England against a foreign foe; yes, and far morethan that. For we know that they who fight in thedeadliest combat with lethal weapons are upheld andswept onward by the fierce joy of strife; so that deathwhen it comes is no terror, and fear vanishes under thepressure of primitive instincts. But here there is noglitter, no glamour of battle. Forgotten by the world,unknown to the immense majority of their countrymen,these Britons suffer and die that the fair fame of theircountry may live. There, in that miniature hospital,on board H.M.S. London, I saw rows of pale, patientfigures, their faces drawn and parchment-like withfever, the deadly malaria of that poisonous coast, whileamongst them passed silently doctors and sick-bayattendants, each doing his part in the universal warfare.Passing thence on to the main deck, I cameacross a bronzed, busy group hoisting up a steam pinnacethat had just returned from a cruise among theslimy creeks and backwaters of the mainland and adjacentislands, busily seeking for hunters of humanflesh. A dozen men formed her crew, men who hadonce been white Anglo-Saxons, but were now, after aweek’s cruise under such conditions as that, so disguisedby ingrained dirt, so scorched and dried by exposure293to that terrible sun, that they were indistinguishablesave by their clothing from the Arabs they hadbeen set to watch. They were not happy, because havingchased a dhow, which they were sure was packedwith slaves, throughout a day and a night, they hadbeen baffled upon coming up with her, by her hoistingthe tricolour of France, the Flag of Liberty, Equalityand Fraternity, sold for a few paltry dollars, to cover atraffic which the French nation had covenanted to assistin putting down. More than that, a deep gloompervaded the whole ship on account of their recentloss; a loss which to them seemed irreparable. Theircaptain, idolized by them all, had been killed whileengaged in an act of gallantry, typical of the service.He had gone off like any sub-lieutenant with all hishonours to win, in a chase after a dhow, with only aweak boat’s crew. The villainous Arabs in the dhow,seeing their advantage, turned and fought desperately.Outnumbered by five to one, and being moreover theattacking party, the Britons were beaten off, while ashot from one of the antiquated guns carried by anArab slaver slew Captain Brownlow on the spot. Andall his men mourned him most deeply and sincerely.

But cross over the Indian Ocean, and thread thetortuous ways of the East Indian Archipelago, andyou shall find the beautiful white flag with its redcross flying in the most out-of-the-way nooks amongthat tremendous maze. Here with never-ceasing laboursthe highly trained officers of our navy work withloving care to make perfect our geographical knowledgeof those intricate current-scoured channels. By294reason of this long-drawn-out toil our merchant shipsare enabled to pursue their peaceful way with perfectlytrustworthy charts to guide them. Not only so, but,owing to the dauntless courage, energy, and perseveranceof these nameless seafarers, those tortuous watershave been cleansed of the human tigers that had for solong infested them, swooping down upon hapless merchantmenof all nations, pitiless and insatiable as deathitself. Within the lifetime of men of middle age thoseseas were like a hornet’s nest. In every creek, estuary,and channel lurked Portuguese, Malay, and Chinesepirates, the terror of the Eastern seas. Now, solelythrough the exertions of our countrymen, or by theirgood example putting heart into the Chinese sailors,those waters are as safe as the English Channel. So,too, have the coasts of China itself been purged ofpirates, although there, since every Chinese, of whatevergrade, is a potential pirate or brigand given theopportunity, immunity from piratical raids is only purchasedat the price of incessant vigilance. In the farEastern seas, however, our stalwart fighting sailorsare more than mere keepers of the peace of Britain,they stand between the crumbling Celestial Empireand the greed of the world.B Ever ready in diplomacyas in war, and with a force always sufficient to commandrespect as well as breed envy, they make themight of our island nation felt in all the affairs of theFar East.

BThis sentence was written before the recent outbreak ofhostilities in China.

Cross the Pacific, and on the western sea-board of295our vast American possessions find a naval stationfully equipped for the maintenance of a fleet so farfrom home. From thence the peace-keepers sally forthall over the length and breadth of Northern Oceaniaand all down the western littoral of the great Americancontinent, a mobile body of peace-keepers, whosebusiness it is to keep widely opened eyes upon all thedoings of other people, no matter how great or howsmall they may be. Hailed with delight by duskypopulations, who hate impartially the Germans andthe French, and look upon the war-canoes of the greatwhite Queen of Belitani as the adjusters of disputesand the even-handed dispensers of justice betweenthem, dreaded by the rascaldom of the Pacific; the robbersof men’s bodies as well as the robbers of theirproduce, truly the lads under the White Ensign have awide field in the “peaceful” ocean for their beneficentlabours. Guarding that Greater England in theSouthern seas, where men of every nation underheaven find the same security, the same opportunitiesto grow rich that men of our own race enjoy, clusteringclosely around that storm-centre (in a doublesense), the Cape Colony, patrolling Western Africa,as well as Eastern, and ready at a word to send offa compact little army into the interior, mobile andmanageable as no shore troops can ever be; amongWest Indian islands, as warm and fruitful as the mostnortherly American station is cold and arid, the greatpatrol goes on.

One does not need to be a rabid Imperialist or araving Jingo to feel in every fibre of his frame the debt296that we Britons owe to our navy. These brave, stalwartmen, the very pick and flower of the British race,stand continually on sentry on all the shores of allthe world—stand to guard our freedom, and, so far asone nation may do, strive to secure freedom for allother peoples. We see but little of them, for theirparades are not held amid shouting crowds, but on thelonely waters, under an Admiral’s eye, keen to discoverdefects where all seems to an untrained observerperfection of power and movement; their greatestdeeds, done by steady presentation of an unmistakableobject-lesson to our enemies—that is to say, to a fullhalf of the world, bursting with envy at our comfortand prosperity—are hidden from most of us.

In God’s name, then, let us see that we do notforget, amid the security and plenty that we enjoy,the labours of those who are watching, far out of oursight, to see that these blessings are not filched fromus. Let the officers and men of the Royal Navy seethat they are ever in our thoughts, that out of sightout of mind is not true in their case, but that stay-at-homeBritons are fully conscious that the outposts ofour Empire, the piquets of our power, are in very truthto be found on board the ships of the Royal Navy, theWatchmen of the World.

297

THE COOK OF THE WANDERER

One of the oldest, truest, and most often quotedof all sea-sayings is that “God sends meat, but thedevil sends cooks.” The first part of this saw is reallya concession on the sailor’s part, for few of them trulybelieve that the Deity has much to do with the strangestuff usually served out as meat on board ship. Thelatter half of the proverb is taken for granted, andwhile admitting to the full the thanklessness of thetask of endeavouring to dish up tasteful meals withsuch unpromising materials as are usually given tosea-cooks to work upon, it certainly does seem truerthan the majority of such sayings are apt to be.

But in justice even to sea-cooks let it be said thatthey have but a hard life of it. Cooking is a hobby ofmy own, and I feel a positive delight in the preparationof an appetizing dinner, which culminates whenthose for whom it is dressed partake of it with manifestenjoyment. Between the calm, unhindered task ofshore-cooking and the series of hair-breadth escapesfrom scalding, burning, or spoiling one’s produce thatcharacterizes sea-cooking there is, however, a greatgulf fixed, and with a full consciousness of the unromanticcharacter of his trials, I must confess a deepsympathy with the sea-cook in his painful profession.298Even in the well-ordered kitchens of a great liner,where every modern appliance known to the art is athand, and where the chief cook is a highly paid professional,each recurring meal brings with it muchanxiety, and, when the weather is bad, much painfulwork also. There is no allowance made. Whateverhappens, passengers and crew must be fed, althoughthe roasting joints may be playing “soccer” in theovens, the stew-pans toboganning over the stove-tops,and the huge coppers leaping out of their glowingsockets. Let all who have ever gone down to the seaas passengers remember how faithfully the cooks havejustified the confidence reposed in them, and howpunctually the varied courses have appeared on thefiddle-hampered tables without even a hint as to theseries of miracles that have produced them. Still,in large passenger steamers there is a fairly large staffof cooks, unto each of whom is given his allotted task,so that the labour, though severe, is not so complicatedas it must necessarily be in vessels where oneunfortunate man must needs be a host in himself. Insailing-ships on long voyages the cook’s berth is perhapsthe worst on board, for he has to hear the continualgrowling of the men at the brutal monotonyof the food (which he cannot help), and he must, if hewould not be badgered to death, perform the difficulttask of keeping on good terms with both ends and themiddle of the ship. Under the blistering sun of thetropics, or amid the fearful buffeting of the Southernseas, he must perform his duties within a space aboutsix feet square, of which his red-hot stove occupies299nearly half. And, as a pleasant change, he is liable tohave the weather door of his galley burst in by a tremendoussea, and himself in a devil’s dance of seethingpots, and all the impedimenta of his business hurledout to leeward.

Necessarily such a service does not appeal stronglyto many, and often in English vessels of small sizeprowling about the world begging for freight, somevery queer fellows are met with filling the unenviablepost of cook. In the course of a good many years ofsea-service I have met with several cooks, each ofwhom deserves a whole chapter to deal comprehensivelywith his peculiarities, but chief among them allmust be placed the exceedingly funny fellow designatedat the beginning of this sketch. The Wandererwas a pretty brigantine of about 200 tons register, builtand owned in Nova Scotia, and at the time of my joiningher as an A.B. was lying in the Millwall Docksoutward bound to Sydney, Cape Breton, in ballast.She had quite a happy family of a crew, while the skipperwas as jolly a Canadian as it was ever my goodfortune to meet with. We left the docks in tow of oneof the little “jackal” tugs that scoot up and down theThames like terriers after rats, but, owing to the vessel’ssmall size and wonderful handiness, we dispensedwith our auxiliary just below Gravesend, and workeddown the river with our own sails. As soon as thewatches were set all hands went to supper, or tea, asit would be called ashore, and going to the snuglittle galley with my hook-pot for my modicum of hottea, I made the acquaintance of the cook. He was a300young fellow of about two and twenty, able-lookingenough, but now evidently ill at ease. And when,with trembling hand, he baled my tea out of a grimysaucepan with another saucepan lid, I regarded himwith some curiosity, fancying that he had the air ofa man to whom his surroundings were the most unfamiliarpossible. Supper consisted of some cold freshmeat and “hard tack,” so that any deficiency in thecookery was not manifest beyond a decidedly foreignflavour in the tea, making it unlike any beverage eversampled by any of us before. But we were a good-naturedcrowd, willing to make every allowance for afirst performance, and aware that the “Doctor,” asthe cook is always called at sea, had only joined onthe previous day. Nevertheless, we discussed him insome detail, arriving at the conclusion that by all appearanceshe would be found unable to boil salt waterwithout burning it, which, according to the sea phrase,marks the nadir of culinary incompetence.

Next morning it was my “gravy-eye” wheel, the“trick” that is, from four to six a.m. The cook isalways called at four a.m. in order to prepare some hotcoffee by two bells, five a.m., and, as may be expected,the comforting, awakening drink is eagerlylooked forward to, although it usually bears but afaint resemblance to the fragrant infusion known bythe same name ashore. Two bells struck, and presently,to my astonishment, sounds of woe arose forward,mingled with many angry words. I listenedeagerly for some explanation of this sudden breach ofthe peace, but could catch no connected sentence.301Presently one of my watchmates came aft to relieveme, as the custom is, to get my coffee, and I eagerlyquestioned him as to the nature of the disturbance.With a sphinx-like air he took the spokes and muttered,“You’ll soon see.” I hastened forward, got mypannikin, and going to the galley held it out for mycoffee. The cook had no light, but he silently pouredme out my portion, and wondering at his strange airI returned to the fo’c’sle. I sugared my coffee, andput it to my lips, but with a feeling of nausea spat outthe mouthful I had taken, saying, “What in thunderis this awful stuff?” Then the other fellows laughedmirthlessly and loud, saying, “You’d best go’n see efyou kin fine out. Be dam’ ’fenny ov us can tell.” Ihastened back to the galley and said coaxingly, “Doctor,you ain’t tryin’ to poison me, are ye?” He lookedat me appealingly, and I saw traces of recent tear-tracksadown his smoke-stained cheeks. “Mahn,” hesaid, “Ah’ve niver dune ony cookin’ afore, an’ ah musthev made some awfu’ mistake, but ah’ll sweer onyoo-ath ah dinna ken wut’s wrang wi’ the coaphy.”And he wept anew. “For Heaven’s sake, don’t cry,man,” I put in hastily; “you’ll make me sea-sick ifyou do. Let me have a look at it.” I stepped into hisden, and striking a match explored the pot with aladle. And I found that he had been stewing greenunroasted coffee beans. The colour was broughtsomewhat near that of the usual product by reason ofthe remains of some burnt porridge at the bottom ofthe saucepan, but the taste was beyond descriptionevil.

302

This was but a sorry beginning to our voyage,since so much of our comfort depended upon thecooking of our victuals, and it was well for the unfortunatecook that all hands, with the sole exception ofthe mate, were of that easy-going temper that submitsto any discomfort rather than ill-use a fellow-creature.For Jemmie (the quondam cook) was notonly ignorant of the most elementary acquaintancewith cookery—he was also unclean and unhandy tothe uttermost imaginable possibility of those badqualities. Yet he did not suffer any grievous bodilyharm until an excess of new-found zeal brought himone day into contact with the mate. As the only wayin which we could hope to get anything beyond hardtack to eat, we had all taken turns to cook our ownmeals. Even the skipper, with many uncouth, unmeantthreats, used to visit the galley and try his hand,while the trembling Jemmie stood behind him watchingwith eager eyes the mysterious operations goingon. One morning the skipper fancied some flap-jacks,a sort of primitive pancake of plain flour and waterfried in grease, and eaten with molasses. He hadhardly finished a platter full and borne it aft, whenJemmie seized the bowl, and mixing some more flour,proceeded to try his hand. He managed after severalfailures to turn out half a dozen quite creditable-lookingpatches of fried batter, and intoxicated withhis success rushed aft with them to where the mateand his watch were busy scrubbing the poop. Timidlyapproaching the energetic officer, Jemmy said,“Wou’d ye like a flap-jack, sir? they’re nice an’ hot.”303For one fearful moment the mate glared at theoffender, then as the full area of the enormity envelopedhim he uttered a hyena-like howl and fellupon him. Snatching the flap-jacks from his nervelessgrasp, the mate overthrew him, and frantically burnishedhis face with the smoking dough, holding himdown on the deck by his hair the while. Then whenthe last fragments had been duly spread over Jemmie’sshining visage, the mate dragged him to the break ofthe poop, and with many kicks hurled him forward tomake more flap-jacks should he feel moved so to do.

So his education proceeded, until one day he feltcompetent to essay the making of some soup for usforward. By the time his preparations were completehe was a gruesome object, and withal so weary that hesat down on the coal-locker and went fast asleep. Heawoke just before the time the soup was due to beeaten to find it as he left it, the fire having gone out.In a terrible fright he rushed aft and smuggled a tinof preserved meat forward—a high crime and misdemeanour—sincethat was only kept in case of badweather rendering cooking impossible. However, hesucceeded in stealing it, but when he had got it he waslittle better off. For he didn’t know how to shell it, asit were, how to get the meat out of the tin. I happenedto be passing by the galley-door at the time,and saw him with the tin lying on its side before him,while he was insanely chopping at it with a broad axe,all unheeding the spray of fat and gravy which flewaround at each swashing blow. I gave him such assistanceas I could, and took the opportunity thus afforded304of asking him however he came to offer himself as aship’s cook. I learned then that his previous sea experiencehad been limited to one trip to Iceland as abedroom steward on board a passenger steamer fromLeith—that having come to London to seek his fortune,he had foregathered with an old friend of hisfather’s, who had obtained for him this berth, and who,in answer to his timid demur as to his being able todo what should be required of him, stormed at himso vigorously for what he called his “dam’ cowardice”that he took the berth, and resigned himself to hisfate, and ours. His fates were kind to him in that hefell among easy-going fellows, for I shudder to thinkwhat would have befallen him in the average “Blue-nose”or Yankee. A description of it would certainlyhave been unprintable.

Yet, like so many other people ashore and afloat,he was ungrateful for the many ways in which we, thesailors, helped and shielded him, and one day when Ifound him laboriously drawing water from our onlywooden tank by the quarter pint for the purpose ofwashing potatoes, in answer to my remonstrance hewas exceeding jocose and saucy, even going so far asto suggest that while my advice was doubtless wellmeant, it irked him to hear, and I had better attend tomy own business. Now, to use fresh water where saltwater will serve the same purpose is at sea the unpardonablesin; and where (as in our case) a few days’difference in the length of the passage might see usall gasping for a drink, it merits a severe punishment.So I was indignant, but swallowed my resentment as I305saw the mate coming down from aloft with his eyesfixed upon the criminal.

I must draw a veil over what followed, only addingthat by the time the cook had recovered from hisinjuries we were in port, and, with the luck of the incompetent,no sooner had he been bundled ashorethan he obtained a good berth in an hotel at abouttreble the salary he would ever earn. But we held apraise-meeting over our happy release.

307

THE GREAT CHRISTMAS OF GOZO

On the eve of the nativity of our Blessed LordA.D. 1551 there was profound peace in Gozo.

The assaults of the infidel had for so long a timebeen intermitted, that the simple hardy islanders hadalmost come to believe that they would always be leftin peace to cultivate their tiny fields, to worship Godafter their own sweet manner, and to rest quietly intheir little square stone dwellings, secure from theattacks of the swarthy, merciless monsters that, notcontent with the possession of their own sunny lands,had so often swarmed across the bright blue stretchesof sea separating the Maltese Islands from Africa.

Over the main thoroughfare of Rabato, the principaltown of the tiny island that hung like a jewel inthe ear of Malta the Beautiful, the great square citadelof the knights kept grim watch and ward. It rosesheer from the street for one hundred feet of height, amass of quarried stone cemented into a solidityscarcely less than that of the original rock fromwhence its ashlar had been hewn with such heavy toil,a mountainous fortress, to all outward seeming impregnable.Upon its highest plateau towered themighty cathedral, fair to view without in its stately apparelof pure white stone, and all glorious within by308reason of the numberless gifts showered upon it bythe loving hands of those who desired thus to showtheir gratitude to God.

In truth it was a goodly fane. Not merely becauseof the blazing enrichments of gold and silver andprecious stones with which it glowed and sparkled, butbecause of the many signs of loyalty and truth evidencedin the sculptured tombs of the illustrious dead.The knights who kept vigilant watch around its sacredwalls and came daily to worship within its cool aisleswere never left without a solemn witness to the fealtyof those who had gone before them. The most carelessamong them could not help being impressed bythe fact that here in the midst of the Great Sea hadbeen planted an outpost of Christendom of which theywere the custodians—a fortress of the utmost valuefor the keeping back of the Paynim hordes who badefair to overwhelm all Christian countries, and bringthem under the abhorrent rule of Mahomed the AccursedOne.

In this there is no exaggeration. If there be onefact more clearly established than any other, amid thewelter of misleading rubbish that floods the world to-day,it is this, that the fearless self-sacrifice of theknights of Malta, buttressed by the devotion of thoseover whom they held no gentle sway, saved Europefrom being overrun by the pitiless Mussulman, savedEurope from being to-day a depraved, debased, andmiserable land, wherein all the horrors of EasternAfrica would have their full and awful outcome.

Raimondo de Homedes, only son of the Grand309Master of that name, Juan de Homedes, was on thismost momentous Christmas Eve in command of theGozo garrison. The general feeling was one of security.The last attack of the infidel in 1546 had beenrepulsed with such terrible loss to the invader that thehigh-spirited garrison could not help coming to theconclusion that it would be at least a generation beforeany such attempt would again be made.

Deep-Sea Plunderings (9)

She was to him brightest and best of all damsels.

Raimondo de Homedes, then, went the rounds ofhis great command in the citadel of Gozo with a carefreeheart. His thoughts were mainly occupied withthe question of how soon he should be free to meethis lady-love, the stately daughter of Alfonso de Azzopardi,chief of all the notables in Gozo. She was, tohim at least, brightest, best of all the damosels whosecharms fired the palpitating hearts of those warriorsof the Cross who were holding these islands for thecommonweal of Christian Europe.

While he thus meditated, receiving the replies tohis perfunctory challenges of the sentries on guardwith an ear that hardly conveyed to his brain themeaning of the words, there came running to him apage, a lad of parts who was an especial favourite.Breathless, panting with excitement, the child (he wasscarcely more) gasped out, “Messer Raimondo, thesentinel on the eastern tower says that since you passedhis guard-house he has been mightily exercised by theappearance of some black masses on the sea. Heknows not what they can be, but he fears they aregalleys and that they can be coming for no good purpose.He prays you to return and look for yourself, in310case there should be any mischief intended of whichwe have had no warning by our spies.”

Raimondo listened, with a concentration of all hismental faculties, but as he did so he could not help acontemptuous smile crinkling his features. “Just anotherbad dream of old Gianelli’s. But never mind;I will go and set his troubled soul at rest.”

It wanted but two hours of midnight. The moonwas full and almost in the meridian, pouring downthrough the cloudless serene a flood of light likemolten silver. So dazzling was the radiance that whenthe commandant and his companion stepped forthupon the highest plateau of all into its full glare, theirshadows glided by their sides as if carved in solidebony, and every object around them was as clearlyvisible as if it had been noonday. With a quick springingstep, Raimondo mounted the half-dozen steps ofstone leading into the eastern tower, meeting Gianelli’schallenge with the countersign of the night, “Mary.”Then Raimondo burst impetuously into speech, saying—

“What ails thee, Gianelli? Surely dreams troublethee; and in thy nervous anxiety to be counted mostfaithful of all our faithful guards, thou hast conjuredup a band of spectres to torment thyself withal. Whathast thou seen and where?”

For all answer Gianelli bowed low, and, straighteninghimself immediately, stretched out his long leftarm towards the west in the direction of Tunis. Andthere, in that blazing tract of silvern light shed uponthe darkling sea by the moon, was distinctly to be seen311a row of objects that could be nothing else but galleys,although it was evident that they were of thesmallest size.

An instantaneous change took place in the attitudeof the young commandant. “By the Holy Sepulchre,”he muttered, “thou art right, Gianelli, and I did theegrievous wrong to ridicule thy well-known fidelity andwatchfulness.”

“Say no more about it, my lord; I love thee far toowell to be over-pained by what I know is but the naturalfree speech of a high-spirited youth. But whatthinkest thou, my lord? Is it possible that some ofour own galleys may be returning from a secret raidupon the infidel strongholds?”

“No, Gianelli, it is not; for my latest information,coming yesterday morning, was to the effect that allthe smaller galleys had been recalled, and were safelyhoused in the Grand Harbour. Their crews havebeen given leave for the great festival, only the slavesremaining by them under guard. No; this mustbe a matter of far more serious import. Soundthe summons to arms and light the beacon whileI haste to the Council Chamber. Luigi, my lad,run thou to the church and pass the word for allmy officers to leave their vigil around the altars atonce.”

Thus saying, Raimondo hastened away, noting ashe did so, with grim satisfaction, the leaping flamesfrom the summit of the tower being answered bytwinkling points of light all over the black masses ofrock that lay to the eastward, showing that already the312alarm had been sounded in every fortress from Rabatoto St. Elmo.

Within the great church were gathered most of thegarrison not on guard. All the gorgeous details withwhich the church loves to welcome in the Day ofdays had been lovingly attended to. There was thestable, the manger, the waiting cattle, the worshippingEastern kings. Mary, in her mighty meekness,cradled her Divine infant upon her virgin bosom;Joseph, careworn and travel-stained, looked upon herwith a solemn wonder in his honest eyes; while aroundand above jewels and gold and silver flashed in alltheir splendour by the light of a thousand tall candles.A thin blue haze of incense gave all things an air ofmystery, and the perfume laid upon the senses astrange exaltation.

Suddenly there was a hush, a bated breathing byall, as the archbishop, in his marvellous vesture, arosefrom his knees and spoke.

“My brethren, from the preparation for the adventof the day whereon we celebrate the human birth ofour Divine Redeemer, ye are called to do battle withHis most terrible foes. My lord the Commandant ofGozo informs me that the galleys of the infidel areapproaching us, in the hope, he supposes, of findingus all so enwrapped in our devotions that he willhave of us an easy prey. My children, let him learnthat we watch as well as pray. Show him once againthat we count it our most precious privilege to pourout our blood in defence of our most Holy Faith, thatwe look upon our dying in this high endeavour to protect313Christendom from the infidel as the most gloriousfate that could befall us. Receive at my hands theblessing of the Most High. Go forth, each of you,fully equipped, not merely with material armour, butwith the knowledge that upon you rests the specialbenevolence of God the Son, under whose banner youfight.”

All heads bowed for an instant as the solemn benedictionwas spoken, then with a clanging of armourand a clashing of swords the great assembly sprang totheir feet and departed each to his post of honour andutmost danger.

It was high time. Already those snaky galleysladen with men of the most bloodthirsty type, firedwith fanaticism and lured by the promises of an endlessparadise of sensual delight, had crept into themany little sheltered bays of the island, and were vomitingforth their terrible crews.

Already a quick ear might catch the varied criesin strange tongues floating upward through the silkensmoothness of the night air, predominant over themall the oft-reiterated shout of “Allah!” Already thekeen-sighted watchers could discern dark-movingmasses of men, from the midst of which came an occasionalsilvery gleam as the molten flood of moonlighttouched a spear-tip or sword-blade.

Onward they came, marvelling doubtless at theease with which they had been permitted thus to assembleupon the enemy’s territory, and for the mostpart utterly unconscious of the reception that awaitedthem at the goal of their hot desire. Suddenly there314arose from the town beneath the citadel walls a long-drawncry of anguish. The careless ones who hadnot fled for shelter to the common refuge had beenfound by the invader, and were being ruthlesslyslaughtered. Their cries made bearded lips tighten,nervous hands grasp more firmly their weapons, andall hearts above to beat higher and more resolute torepay these murderers in full tale when the opportunityso to do should arrive.

Out from the highest belfry of the cathedral pealedthe twelve strokes of the midnight hour, and beforetheir sound had died away there uprose from thecitadel a mighty chorus of welcome to Christmas Day—Gloriain excelsis Deo.

Before it had ended the first of the invaders hadreached the walls, and, mad with fanatic fury and lustof blood, were swarming like ants up its steep sides,clinging with desperate tenacity to every plant andprojection that afforded the slightest foot or hand hold.Regardless of the avalanche of stones hurtling downupon them, unheeding the dreadful rain of boiling leadand scalding water, they came indomitably on. Theirnumbers seemed incalculable, their courage, buttressedby unreasoning faith, invincible. But they were metat every point by men whose hearts were as well fortifiedas their own, and who possessed, besides the inestimableadvantage of discipline and long training inwarlike matters, the invaluable position of being defenders.

Downwards by hundreds the invaders were hurled,their spurting blood staining the pure whiteness of315the walls with long black-red smears, which the shudderingmoonlight revealed in all their ghastliness.Already the reinforcements were compelled to mountupon mounds of dead to get their first hold; the streetof the little town, but lately so peaceful, was defiledby heaps upon heaps of frightfully mangled corpses,representatives of all the savage tribes of NorthernAfrica. “For Mary and her Son”—the war-cry ofthe night—rang out clearly and defiantly, soaring highabove the shrill yells of the savages and the monotonoushowl of “Allahhu!”

So far all seemed to have gone well, until suddenlya shudder ran through the whole garrison as the newsspread that by the treachery of a vile renegade thesecret subterranean passage into the citadel from apoint near the shore had been laid open, and that alreadya torrent of the infidels were pouring through it.

The commandant, who had approved himself onthis occasion a man of the very highest ability andcourage, no sooner heard this awful news than, summoningaround him his most trusted knights, he placedhimself at their head and hurried to the spot. And thefirst sight that met his eyes was the beautiful formof her he loved borne high upon the shoulders of agigantic heathen in black armour who, apparently feelingher weight not at all, was brandishing a hugescimitar in his right hand, and yelling words of encouragementin some guttural Eastern tongue to hisfollowers.

Forgetful of all else, his brain on fire at the sight,Raimondo sprang ahead of his men, his keen blade316whirling round his head. By the sheer fury of hisonslaught he burst through the grim ranks of theheathen, and smiting with all his vigour at the headof the captor of his beloved one, slew, not his foe, alas!but her for whom he would gladly have given his life.The terrible blow cleft her fair body almost in twain,as the heathen giant held her before himself shieldwiseto meet it. The distracted commandant’s first impulsewas to fling himself upon that beloved corpse and accompanyher spirit to heaven, but that thought wasconquered by the knowledge of his high responsibilities.And with a shout of “Mary” he recovered hisblade, sprang at the foul Paynim’s throat, and clefthim in sunder through gorget and vant brace.

All the followers of the young knight were firedin like manner, and like avenging angels before whomno mere flesh and blood could possibly stand for a moment,they hewed their gory way through the massesof the heathen, halting not until the last of their foeshad gasped out into the darkness of eternal night hisguilty soul.

And as it was in the heart of the citadel, so it hadbeen on the battlements, not one heathen had survivedhis footing upon those sacred walls. And as itappeared that the whole force had devoted themselvesto death in default of victory there was not one leftalive.

So that the great fight ceased with the death ofthe last invader, and the blessed sun rose upon ascene of carnage such as even these blood-stainedislands had never before witnessed. But in the hour317of victory there arose a great cry. Raimondo the gallantcommandant was missing. His devoted friendsrushed hither and thither in the pearly light of thenew day, seeking him where the heaps of dead laythickest, but for a long time their search was in vain.At last he was found before the manger in the church,lying with face hidden on the bosom of his beloved,whose cold mangled body was clutched in an unreleasableembrace. He was to all human sight unwounded,but even the most ignorant and callous of his commandknew that he had died of a broken heart.

Yet it must be believed that he went gladly to joinhis beloved one, knowing full well that as a gallantsoldier of the Cross he had nobly sustained his highpart, and only when his duty was done had he permittedhimself to sink into eternal rest in the arms ofher whom he had so fondly loved.

319

DEEP-SEA FISH

Among shore-dwellers generally there obtains anidea that the ocean, except in the immediate vicinity ofland, is an awful solitude, its vast emptiness closelyakin to the spaces above. But while admitting fullythat there is little room for wonder at such a speculativeopinion, it must be said that nothing could wellbe farther from the truth. Indeed, we may even gobeyond that statement, and declare that the fruitfulearth, with its unimaginable variety and innumerablehosts of living things, is, when compared to the denselypopulated world of waters, but a sparsely peopleddesert. A little knowledge of the conditions existingat great depths, may well make us doubt whether anyforms of life exist able to endure the incalculable pressureof the superincumbent sea; but leaving all thetremendous area of the ocean bed below 200 fathomsout of the question, there still remains ample room andverge enough for the justification of the statement justmade.

Nothing has ever excited the wonder and admirationof naturalists more than this prodigious populationof the sea—these unthinkable myriads of hungrythings which are shut up to the necessity of preyingupon each other since other forms of food do not exist.320The mind recoils dismayed from a contemplation oftheir countlessness, as it does from the thought oftimelessness or the extent of the stellar spaces, shrinkinglyadmitting its limitations and seeking relief insome subject that is within its grasp. But withouttouching upon the lower forms of life peopling the sea,and so escaping the burden of thought which theslightest consideration of their myriads entail, it ispossible to note, without weariness, how, all over thewaste spaces of a remote and unhearing ocean, fish ofnoble proportions and varying degrees of edibility disportthemselves, breeding none know where, and revealingtheir beauties to the passing seafarer as theygather companionably around his solitary keel. Excludingall the varied species of mammals that formsuch an immense portion of the sea-folk, it mayroughly be said that the majority of deep-sea fish belongto the mackerel family, or Scombridæ. They possess,in an exaggerated form, all the characteristicsof that well-known edible fish that occasionallygluts our markets and gladdens the hearts of our fishermen.

One of the least numerous, but from his size andprowess probably the monarch of all sea fish, is thesword-fish, Xiphias. This elegant fish attains an enormoussize, specimens having been caught weighingover a quarter of a ton; but owing to the incomparablegrace of its form, its speed and agility are beyondbelief. It is often—in fact, generally—confoundedwith the “saw-fish,” a species of shark; the principalreason of this confusion being the great number of321“saws” or beaks of the latter, which are to be foundin homes about the country. Yet between the swordof the Xiphias and the “saw” of the Pristiophoridæthere is about as much similarity as there is betweenthe assegai of a Zulu and the waddy of a black-fellow.The one weapon is a slender, finely pointed shaft ofthe hardest bone, an extended process of the skull,about two feet long in a large specimen. Impelled bythe astounding vigour of the lithe monster behindit, this tremendous weapon has been proved capableof penetrating the massive oaken timbers of a ship, anda specimen may be seen in the Museum of NaturalHistory at South Kensington, at this present time,transfixing a section of ship’s timber several inches inthickness. The “saw,” on the other hand, is, like allthe rest of a shark’s skeleton, composed of cartilage,besides being terminated at the tip by a broad, almostsnout-like end. Unlike the round lance of the sword-fish,the “saw” has a flat blade set on both sides withsharp teeth with considerable gaps between them. Asits name and shape would imply, it is used saw-wise,principally for disembowelling fish, for upon such softfood the saw-fish is compelled to feed owing to theshape of his mouth and the insignificance of his teeth.Thus it will be seen that apart from the radical differencesbetween the two creatures, nothing being reallyin common between them, except that they are bothfish, there is really no comparison possible between“saw” and “sword.” Fortunately for the less warlikeinhabitants of the deep sea, sword-fish are not numerous,there are none to cope with them or keep their322numbers down if they were prolific. Sometimes—strangecompanionship—they join forces with thekiller whale and the thresher shark in an attackupon one of the larger whales, only avoiding instinctivelythat monarch of the boundless main, thecachalot.

Next in size and importance among deep-sea fish,excluding sharks, about which I have said so muchelsewhere that I do not propose dealing with themhere, is the albacore, tunny or tuña, all of which aresub-varieties of, or local names for the same hugemackerel. They abound in every tropical sea, and arealso found in certain favourable waters, such as theMediterranean and Pacific coast of America. Like thesword-fish their habits of breeding are unknown, sincethey have their home in the solitudes of the ocean.But they are one of the fish most frequently met withby seafarers, as, like several others of the same greatfamily, they are fond of following a ship. A sailingship that is, for the throb of the propeller, apart fromthe speed of the vessel, is effectual in preventing theirattendance upon steamers, so that passengers bysteamships have few opportunities of observing them.But in sailing vessels, gliding placidly along under theeasy pressure of gentle breezes, or lying quietly waitingfor the friendly wind, ample scope is given forstudy of their every-day life. Very occasionally too,some seaman, more skilful or enterprising than hisfellows, will succeed in catching one by trolling a pieceof white rag or a polished spoon with a powerful hookattached. Yet such is the vigour and so great is the323size of these huge mackerel, some attaining a lengthof six feet and a weight of five hundred pounds, thattheir capture from a ship is infrequent.

In size, beauty, and importance, the “dolphin”easily claims the next place to the albacore. But anunaccountable confusion has gathered around thissplendid fish on account of his popular name. Thedolphin of mythological sculpture bears no resemblanceeither to the popularly named dolphin of theseaman and the poets, or the scientifically named dolphinof the natural histories, which is a mammal, andidentical with the porpoise. One thing is certain, thatno sailor will ever speak of the porpoise as a dolphin,or call Coryphena hippuris anything else. Of this lovelydenizen of the deep sea, it is difficult to speak soberly.Even the dullest of men wax enthusiastic over itsglories, feeling sure that none of all beautiful createdthings can approach it for splendour of array. I haveoften tried to distinguish its different hues, watchingit long and earnestly as it basked alongside in thelimpid blue environment of its home. But my effortshave always been in vain, since every turn of its elegantform revealed some new combination of dazzlingtints blending and brightening in such radiant lovelinessthat any classification of their shades was impossible.Then a swift wave of the wide forked tail-finwould send the lithe body all a-quiver in a newdirection, where, catching a stray sunbeam it wouldblaze like burnished silver reflecting the goldengleam, and the overtaxed eye must needs turn awayfor relief. Then suddenly the marvellous creature324would spring into activity, launching itself in longvibrant leaps through the air after its prey, a fleetingschool of flying fish, that with all their winged speedcould not escape the lethal jaws of their splendid pursuer.Having read of the wondrously changing coloursof a dying dolphin I watched with great eagernessthe first one that ever I saw caught. Great wasmy disappointment and resentment against those whohad perpetrated and perpetuated such a fable. Comparedwith the glory of the living creature, the fadinghues of its vesture when dying were as lead is togold. Only by most careful watching was it possibleto distinguish the changing colour schemes, faint anddim, as if with departing vitality they too were compelledto fade and die away into darkness. On theutilitarian side too the dolphin is beloved by the sailor,for its flesh is whiter and more sapid than that of anyother deep-sea fish except the flying fish, which aretoo small and too infrequently got hold of on boardship to be taken much account of for food. Yet, inspite of its wondrous speed, the dolphin, when congregatedin considerable numbers, often falls a preyto the giant albacore, which hurls itself into theirmidst, clashing its great jaws and destroying manymore than it devours.

Commonest of all deep-water fish, but only foundin the warm waters of the tropical seas or fairly closeto their northern or southern limits is the bonito,another member of the mackerel family, but muchinferior in size to the albacore. “Bonito” is a Spanishdiminutive equivalent to beautiful, and beautiful325the bonito certainly is, although compared with thedazzling glory of the dolphin it looks quite homely.It is a most sociable fish, keeping company with aslow-moving sailing ship for days together, and quiteeasily caught with a hook to which a morsel of whiterag is fastened to simulate a flying fish. For its size—thelargest I have ever seen being less than thirtypounds weight—its strength is incredible, as is alsothe quantity of warm blood it contains. On accountof these two characteristics, it is usual when fishingfor bonito off the end of the jibboom to take out asack and secure it to the jib-guys with its mouthgaping wide so that the newly caught fish may bepromptly dropped therein to kick and bleed in safetyand cleanliness. My first bonito entailed upon meconsiderable discomfort. I was a lad of fourteen, andhad stolen out unobserved to fish with the mate’s line,which he had left coiled on the boom. I hooked alarge fish which, after a struggle, I succeeded in haulingup until I embraced him tightly with both arms.His vibrations actually shook the ship, and they continueduntil my whole body was quite benumbed, andI could not feel that a large patch of skin was chafedoff my breast where I hugged my prize to me. Andnot only was I literally drenched with the fish’s blood,but the flying jib, which happened to be furled on theboom, was in a truly shocking condition likewise.Nevertheless I rejoice to think that I held on to myfish and successfully bore him inboard to the cook,although I shook so with excitement and fatigue thatI could scarcely keep my feet. Nor was my triumph326much discounted by the complete rope’s-ending I gotthe same evening, when upon hoisting the jib, itsfilthy condition was made manifest, and at once rightlyattributed to me. The flesh of the bonito is coarseand dark, tough, and with little flavour. But still itcomes as a welcome change to the worse than pauperdietary served out to crews of sailing ships generally,while the ease with which the fish may be caught, andthe frequency of its companionship make it one of themost appreciated by seamen of all the denizens of thedeep sea. One other virtue it possesses which makesit even more of a favourite than the dolphin, in spiteof all the latter’s superior palatability—it is never poisonous,unless after exposure to the rays of the moon.Dolphin have often been known to inflict severe sufferingupon those eating their flesh, and no one whohas ever experienced the enormously swollen headand agonizing pain consequent upon a meal off apoisonous dolphin is ever likely to think even of sucha meal again without a shudder.

Another exceedingly pretty fish found in all deeptropical waters is the skip-jack. Smaller than theaverage bonito, yet in the details of its form closelyresembling the great albacore, this elegant fish is lesssociable than any of those mentioned in the precedinglines. Therefore, it is seldom caught, although incalm weather in the doldrums thousands may oftenbe seen making the short vertical leaps into the airfrom which peculiar evolution they derive their trivialname. Both the bonito and the skip-jack are subjectto being devoured by the albacore, whose voracity,327swiftness, and size make him the terror of all hissmaller congeners.

Occasionally after a few days’ calm some delicatelittle fish, also belonging to the mackerel tribe—aspecies of caranx—will be seen huddling timorouslyaround the rudder of a ship, as if in momentary dreadof being devoured, a dread which is exceedingly wellfounded. The wonder is how any of them escape theravenous jaws of the larger fish since they must findit well-nigh impossible to get away from such pursuers.They may be easily caught by a fine line andhook, and are very dainty eating. So, too, with thelovely little caranx familiar to all readers as the pilotfish. What peculiar instinct impels this beautiful tinywanderer to attach himself to a shark is one of themysteries of natural history, and the subject of muchignorant incredulity on the part of those who areoften found ready to believe some of the most absurdtravellers’ yarns. But the pilot fish and its habits deservesa whole paper to itself—it is far too interestinga subject to be dealt with in the brief space now remaining.This, too, must be said of the flying-fish,one of the most wonderful of all the inhabitants of thedeep seas, yet not so important to the seaman froma utilitarian point of view, since the occasional stragglersthat do fly on board ship in their blind haste toescape from their countless foes beneath, usually fallto the lot of the ship’s cat. puss* is swift to learnthat the sharp “smack” against the bulwarks at night,followed by a rapid rattling flutter means a most deliciousmeal for her, and smart indeed must be the328sailor who finds the hapless fish before puss* has commencedher banquet.

One more important member of the true oceanfish must be mentioned, although it also frequentsmany shores, and is regularly caught for market onwidely separated coasts. It is the barracouta or sea-pike,a large fish of delicious flavour, much resemblingthe hake of our own southern coasts. As I havecaught this voracious fish all over the Indian Ocean,I have no hesitation at including it among deep-seafish, although perhaps many well-informed seafarerswould disagree with me. But if any seaman, still pursuinghis vocation, doubts my statement, let him onhis next East Indian voyage keep a line towing asternwith a shred of crimson bunting hiding a stout hookat its end, as soon as the ship hauls to the nor’ardafter rounding the Cape. And I can assure him thathe will have several tasty messes of fish before shecrosses the Line.

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A MEDITERRANEAN MORNING

From my lofty roof-top here, in the highest partof Valetta, it is possible to take in at one sweepingglance a panorama that can hardly be surpassed forbeauty and interest.

Intensely blue, the placid sea curdles around therock bases of this wonderful little island as if it lovedthem. There are no rude breakers, no thundering,earth-shaking on-rushings of snowy-crested waves,leaping at the point of impact into filmy columnsof spray.

Overhead the violet, star-sprinkled splendours ofthe night are just beginning to throb with returninglight. One cannot say that the beams are definite,rather it is a palpitating glow that is just commencingto permeate the whole solemnity of the dome above,as does the first impulse of returning joy relax thelines of a saddened face. Far to the north may beseen a tiny cluster of fleecy cloudlets nestling togetheras if timid and lonely in that vast expanse of clearsky. But as the coming day touches them they puton garments of glory and beauty. Infinite gradationsof colour, all tender, melt into one another upon theirbillowy surfaces until they spread and brighten, investingall their quadrant of the heavens with thelikeness of the Gardens of Paradise.

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At my feet lie the mighty edifices of stone thathave, by the patient unending labour of this busypeople, grown up through past ages, until now themind reels in the attempt to sum up the account ofthat labour. A sea of white roofs, punctuated hereand there with the dome and twin steeples of a church,the only breaks in the universal fashion of roof architecture.Away beneath, the white, clean streets—sostrangely silent that the far-off tinkle of a goat-bellon the neck of some incoming band of milk-bearersstrikes sharply athwart the pellucid atmosphere, likethe fall of a piece of broken glass on to the pavementbelow. A few dim figures, recumbent uponthe wide piazza of the Opera House, stir uneasily asthe new light reaches them, and gape, and stretch,and fumble for cigarettes. A hurried, furtive-lookinglabourer glides past, his bare feet arousing no echo,but making him pass like a ghost. And then, fromthe direction of the Auberge de Castile, comes a solemnsound of music.

Its first faint strains rise upon the sweet morningcalm like some lovely suggestion of prayer, but theyare accompanied by an indefinite pulsation as of abeating at the walls of one’s heart. More and moredistinct the strains arise until recognizable as Chopin’s“Marche Funèbre,” and suddenly in the distance maybe discerned, turning into the Strada Mezzodi, rowafter row of khaki-clad figures moving, oh, so slowly.Deadened and dull the drum-beats fall, more andmore insistent wails that heart-rending music, andclose in its rear appears the only spot of colour in the331sad ranks, the brilliant folds of the Union Jack, hidingthat small oblong coffer which holds all that was mortalof Private No. ——. Perhaps in life he was ratheran insignificant unit of his regiment, at times a troublesomeone, familiar with “pack-drill,” “C.B.,” and“clink,” but now he has been brevetted, for a fleetinghour his fast-decaying remains are greeted with almostRoyal honours.

Nearer and nearer creeps the solemn and statelyprocession, so slowly that the strain becomes intolerable.How do his comrades bear it? We whoknew him not at all find ourselves choking, gaspingin sympathy. While that silent escort is filing pastwe have traced his history, as it might be, his babyhoodin some fair British village far away, his school-days,his pranks, his mother’s pride. Then his aspirations,what he would do when he was a man. Orperhaps he came from the slums of a great town,where, neglected, unwanted, he wallowed in the gutters,living like the sparrows, but less easily, and onlysurviving the rough treatment by dint of a hardergrip of life than so many of his fellows. He knewno love, was coarse of speech, given to much drinkand little repentance. But who thinks of that now?He is our dear brother departed, and his comradesfollow him home, for the time at least solemnizedat the presence among them of that awful power beforewhom all heads must bow.

Now, the so lately slumbering street has filled.Swarthy Maltese, Sicilians, Indians, men of all occupations,and of none, stand with bared heads and332downcast faces as the King goes by. Oh that theywould hasten on! But no. As if the processionwould never end, it files through the Porta Reale, andat last is lost to view, although for long afterwardsthose muffled drums still beat upon the heart.

As if rejoicing at the passing of death, the streetsuddenly awakens. A very hubbub of conversationarises. Incoming crowds of workmen, striding alongwith that peculiarly easy gait common to the barefooted,jostle each other, and fling jest and reparteein guttural Maltese. Country vehicles, laden with allmanner of queer produce, their bitless stallions swayingtinkling bells, encumber the way. Presently allmake clear the crown of the road for the passage ofa company of mounted infantry, which, in the almostblatant pride of fitness and workmanlike appearance,sallies forth into the country for exercise beyond thewalls. But hark! martial strains are heard, a joyousblare of brass, a gleeful clatter of cymbal and drum.Hearts beat quicker, the foot taps, involuntarily acknowledgingthe power of music to elevate or depressthe mind. Swinging into view strides a jaunty company,with heads erect and splendid swagger, and intheir midst the plain imitation gun-carriage, whichso short a time ago was burdened with the flag-enwrappeddead, is gaily trundled along. The momentsof mourning are ended. We have hidden ourdead out of our sight, and, with a spring of relief, areback again with the duties and pleasures of the living.

The great sun is soaring high, and already hisbeams are heating the stones so that we can hardly333bear to touch them. The sea is rejoicing, for withthe sun a little breeze has risen and covered thatgorgeous expanse of sapphire with an infinity ofwavelets, each crested with a spray of diamonds. Afew barbaric-looking feluccas, their great pointed sailsgleaming like snow against the blue sea, are creepingin from Gozo or Sicily, laden with fruit and fish forhungry Valetta. Far out, a long black stain againstthe clear sky betokens the presence of a huge steamship,homeward bound from the East, and avoidingthese bright shores carefully because of stringentquarantine regulations. The very mention of thedread word “plague” is enough to cause a panichere, and if the most rigorous exclusion, at whatevercost, of vessels from infected ports, will keep us free,we will see to it that such exclusion is practised.

But what is this long, phantom-like vessel, hercolour so blending with the blue of the sea, that sheis difficult to distinguish? Occasionally from one ofher three irregularly placed funnels there is a burstof black smoke, but otherwise she is as nearly invisibleas careful painting can make her. Up thereat the lofty look-out station the signalmen are discussingher with many epithets of dislike. Theyknow her well, and all her kindred; know well, too,with what jealous, longing eyes those on board peerat the prosperous island, and with what accents ofhatred they speak of the insolent, perfidious Briton,who dare to thus maintain a station of such strength,a naval base of such inestimable value, in the midstof what should be a Latin-governed sea.

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But the treasure so coveted is not only guarded byall the deadly devices known to modern warfare, it ismade doubly secure in that these swarthy speakers ofa strange tongue know and love their rulers too wellto exchange them, save at the cost of almost utterannihilation, for masters whom they equally wellknow and hate.

The morning freshness has gone. Valetta, neverquite asleep at any time, only drowsing occasionally,is wide awake now. The bright waters of the harbourare alive with “disós,” gondola-like boats, and smallsteamers. The hurrying thousands have swarmedinto their appointed places in the dockyard, the never-finishedstone-hewing is going briskly forward, themarket is a howling vortex of clamour and heat andexcitement; and in its niche of living rock the tabernacleof him who yesterday was Private ——, of herMajesty’s army, lies quietly oblivious of it all.

335

ABNER’S TRAGEDY

Our quaint little Guamese was vociferouslycheered at the close of his yarn, although in someparts it had been most difficult to follow, from thebewildering compound of dialects it was delivered in.Usually that does not trouble whalers’ crews, muchaccustomed as they are to the very strangest distortionsof the adaptable English language. “The nextgentleman to oblige” was, to my utter amazement,Abner Cushing, the child of calamity from Vermont,who had been hung up by the thumbs and flogged onthe outward passage. Up till then we had all lookedupon him as being at least “half a shingle short,” notto say downright loony, but that impression now receiveda severe shock. In a cultivated diction, totallyunlike the half-intelligible drawl hitherto affected byhim, he related the following story.

“Well, boys, I dare say you have often wonderedwhat could have brought me here. Perhaps (which,come to think of it, is more likely) you haven’t troubledyour heads about me at all, although even themeanest of us like to think that we fill some cornerin our fellow’s mind. But if you have wondered, itcould not be considered surprising. For I’m a landsmanif ever there was one, a farmer, who, after even336such a drilling as I’ve gone through this voyage, stillfeels, and doubtless looks, as awkward on board asany cow. My story is not a very long one, perhapshardly worth the telling to anybody but myself, butit will be a change from whaling ‘shop’ anyhow, sohere goes.

“My father owned a big farm in the old GreenMountain state, on which I grew up, an only son, butnever unduly pampered or spoiled by the good oldman. No; both he and mother, though fond of me asit was possible to be, strove to do me justice by trainingme up and not allowing me to sprout anyhow likea jimpson weed to do as I darn pleased with myselfwhen and how I liked. They were careful to keepme out of temptation too, as far as they were able,which wasn’t so difficult, seeing our nearest neighbourwas five miles away, and never a drop of liquorstronger than cider ever came within a day’s journeyof home. So I suppose I passed as a pretty good boy;at least there were no complaints.

“One day, when I was about fifteen years old,father drove into the village some ten miles off onbusiness, and when he came back he had a little golden-hairedgirl with him about twelve years old. Apale, old-fashioned little slip she was, as staid as agrandmother, and dressed in deep black. When Iopened the gate for the waggon, father said, ‘This isyour cousin Cicely, Abner, she’s an orphan, an’ Ical’late to raise her.’ That was all our introduction,and I, like the unlicked cub I must have been, onlysaid, ‘that so, father,’ staring at the timid little creature337so critically, that her pale face flushed rosy redunder my raw gaze. I helped her out (light as a birdshe was), and showed her into the house, wheremother took her right to her heart on the spot. Fromthat on she melted into the home life as if she hadalways been part of it, a quiet patient helper that mademother’s life a very easy one. God knows it had beenhard enough. Many little attentions and comfortsunknown before, grew to be a part of our daily routine,but if I noticed them at all (and I hardly thinkI did then), I took them as a matter of course, norever gave sign that I appreciated the thoughtful carethat provided them. So the years slithered past uneventfullytill I was twenty-one, when dad fell sick.Within a week he was dead. It was a terrible stroketo mother and Cicely, but neither of them were givento much show of feeling (I reckon there was scantencouragement), and things went on much as usual.I didn’t seem to feel it very much—didn’t seem tofeel anything much in those days, except mad withmy folks when everything wasn’t just as I wantedit. Dad’s affairs were all shipshape. He left motherfairly well off, and Cicely just enough to live on incase of necessity, while I came in for everything else,which meant an income of 1500 dollars a year if Ichose to realize and not work any more. Being now,however, fairly wound up like any other machine, andwarranted to go right on in the same jog, I had nothought of change. Don’t suppose I ever shouldhave had; but—Excuse me, boys, I’m a bit husky,and there’s something in my eye. All right now.

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“That summer we had boarders from Boston,well-to-do city folks pining for a change of air andscene, who offered a big price for such accommodationas we could give them for a couple of months.

“I drove down to the village to meet them withthe best waggon, and found them waiting for me atSquire Pickering’s house—two elderly ladies and ayoung one. Boys, I can’t begin to describe thatyoung lady to you; all I know is, that the first timeour eyes met, I felt kinder as I guess Eve must havedone when she eat the apple, only more so. All myold life that I had been well contented with came upbefore me and looked just unbearable. I felt awkward,and rough, and ugly; my new store clothes feltas if they’d been hewn out of deals, my head burnedlike a furnace, and my hands and feet were numbcold. When, in answer to some trifling question putto me by one of the old ladies, I said a few words,they sounded ’way off down a long tunnel, and asif I had nothing to do with them. Worst of all, Icouldn’t keep my foolish eyes off that young lady,do what I would. How I drove the waggon homeI don’t know. I suppose the machine was geared upso well, it ran of its own accord—didn’t want anythinking done. For I was thinking of anything inthe wide world but my duty. I was a soldier, a statesman,a millionaire by turns, but only that I mightwin for my own that wonderful creature that hadcome like an unpredicted comet into my quiet sky.

“Now, don’t you think I’m going to trouble youwith my love-making. I’d had no experience, so I339dare say it was pretty original, but the only thingI can remember about it is that I had neither eyesnor ears for anything or anybody else but AgathaDeerham (that was her name), and that I neglectedeverything for her. She took my worship as a matterof course, calmly, royally, unconsciously; but if shesmiled on me, I was crazy with gladness.

“Meanwhile my behaviour put mother and Cicelyabout no end. But for their industry and forethought,things would have been in a pretty muddle, for I wasworse than useless to them; spent most of my timemooning about like the brainsick fool I was, buildingcastles in Spain, or trying to invent something thatwould please the woman I worshipped. Oh, but Iwas blind; a poor blind fool. Looking back now, Iknow I must have been mad as well as blind. Agathasaw immediately upon coming into my home what Ihad never seen in all those long years—that Cicely—quiet,patient little Cicely—loved me with her wholeheart, and would have died to serve me. So, with thatrefinement of cruelty that some women can show, shedeliberately set herself, not to infatuate me more—thatwas impossible—but to show Cicely that she, thenew-comer, while not valuing my love at a pin, couldplay with it, prove it, trifle with it as she listed.

“Sometimes her treatment nearly drove me franticwith rage, but a tender glance from her wonderfuleyes brought me fawning to her feet again directly.Great heaven, how she made me suffer! I wonderI didn’t go really mad, I was in such a tumult ofconflicting passions continually.

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“The time drew near for them to return to theircity home. Now, although Agatha had tacitly acceptedall my attentions, nothing definite had yetpassed between us, but the announcement of her imminentdeparture brought matters to a climax. Seizingthe first opportunity of being alone with her, Ideclared my passion in a frenzy of wild words, offeredher my hand, and swore that if she refused me Iwould do—I hardly remember what; but, amongother things, certainly kill her, and then myself. Shesmiled pityingly upon me, and quietly said, ‘Whatabout Cicely?’ Bewildered at her question, so littlehad any thought of Cicely in connection with loveentered my head, I stared for a few moments blanklyat the beautiful and maliciously smiling face beforeme, muttering at last, ‘Whatever do you mean?’

“With a ringing laugh, she said, ‘Can it be possiblethat you are unaware how your cousin worshipsyou?’ Black shame upon me, I was not contentwith scornfully repudiating the possibility of such athing, but poured all the bitter contempt I could giveutterance to upon the poor girl, whose only fault waslove of me. While thus basely engaged, I saw Agathachange colour, and turning, found Cicely behind me,trembling and livid as one who had received a mortalwound. Shame, anger, and passion for Agatha keptme speechless as she recovered herself and silentlyglided away.

“But I must hurry up if I’m not going to betedious. Encouraged by Agatha, I sold the farm,sending mother and Cicely adrift to live upon their341little means, and, gathering all together, took my departurefor Boston. Arrangements for our marriagewere hurried on at my request, not so swiftly, however,but that news reached me on my wedding morningof mother’s death. For a moment I was staggered,even the peculiar thing which served me fora heart felt a pang, but only in passing. What hadbecome of Cicely I never troubled enough to think,much less to inquire.

“Some weeks of delirious gaiety followed, duringwhich I drank to the full from the cup of my desires.Our lives were a whirl of what, for want of a betterword, I suppose I must call enjoyment; at any rate,we did and had whatever we had a mind to, nor everstopped to think of the sequel. We had no home,never waited to provide one, but lived at a smarthotel at a rate that would have killed my father tothink of.

“One night at the theatre I slipped on the marblestaircase, fell to the bottom a tangle of limbs, andwas taken up with a broken leg, right arm, and collarbone. At some one’s suggestion I was removed tohospital. There, but for the ministrations of thenurses and surgeons, I was left alone, not a singleone of my acquaintances coming near me. But whatworried me was my wife’s neglect. What could havebecome of her? Where was she? These ceaselesslyrepeated and unanswered questions, coupled with myutter helplessness, drove me into a brain fever, inwhich I lost touch with the world for six weeks.

“I awoke one morning, a wan shade of my old342self, but able to think again (would to God I neverhad). I was informed that no one had been to inquireafter me during my long delirium, and this sombrefact stood up before me like a barrier never to bepassed, reared between me and any hope in life. But,in spite of the drawbacks, I got better, got well, cameout into the world again. I was homeless, friendless,penniless. The proprietor of the hotel where I hadstayed with my wife informed me that she had leftin company with a gentleman, with whom she seemedso intimate that he thought it must be some relative,but as he spoke, I read the truth in his eyes. Hetook pity on my forlorn condition and gave me alittle money, enough to keep me alive for a week ortwo, but strongly advised me to go back to my nativevillage and stay there. I was too broken to resentthe idea, but in my own mind there was a formlessplan of operations insisting upon being carried out.

“Husbanding my little stock of money with theutmost care, and barely spending sufficient to supportlife, I began a search for my wife. Little by little Ilearnt the ghastly sordid truth. Virtue, honour, orprobity, had never been known to her, and my accidentonly gave her an opportunity that she had beenlonging for. Why she had married me was a mystery.Perhaps she sought a new sensation, and didn’tfind it.

“Well, I tracked her and her various companions,until after about three months I lost all traces in NewYork. Do what I would, no more news of her couldbe obtained. But I had grown very patient in my343search, though hardly knowing why I sought. Mypurpose was as hazy as my plan had been. So, fromday to day I plodded through such small jobs as Icould find, never losing sight for an hour of my oneobject in life.

“I must have been in New York quite sixmonths, when I was one day trudging along BleeckerStreet on an errand for somebody, and there met meface to face my cousin Cicely. I did not know her,but she recognized me instantly, and I saw in hersweet face such a look of sympathy and loving compassionthat, broken-hearted, I covered my face andcried like a child. ‘Hush,’ she said, ‘you will bemolested,’ and, putting her arm through mine, sheled me some distance to a dilapidated house, the doorof which she opened with a key. Showing me intoa tidy little room, she bade me sit down while shegot me a cup of coffee, refusing to enter into conversationuntil I was a bit refreshed. Then, bit bybit, I learned that she had heard of my desertion byAgatha, and had formed a resolution to find her andbring her back to me if possible. She did find her,but was repulsed by her with a perfect fury of scorn,and told to go and find me and keep me, since sucha worthless article as I was not likely to be useful toany other person on earth. Such a reception wouldhave daunted most women; but I think Cicely wasmore than woman, or else how could she do asshe did.

“Driven from my wife’s presence, she never lostsight of her, feeling sure that her opportunity would344soon come. It came very suddenly. In the midstof her flaunting, vicious round of gaiety small-poxseized her, and as she had left me, so she was left,but not even in an hospital. Cicely found her alone,raving, tearing at her flesh in agony, with no oneto help or pity. It was the opportunity she hadsought, and hour by hour she wrestled with deathand hell for that miserable woman. It was a longfight, but she was victorious, and although a sorrowfulgap was made in her small stock of money, shewas grateful and content.

“Agatha was a wreck. Utterly hideous to lookupon, with memory like a tiger tearing at her heart,she yet had not the courage to die, or, doubtless, shewould quickly have ended all her woes. Quietly, unobtrusively,constantly, Cicely waited on her, workedfor her, and at last had succeeded in bringing us together.The knowledge that she whom I had soughtso long was in the same house took away my breath.As soon as I recovered myself a bit, Cicely went toprepare her for meeting me. Unknown to Cicely, Ifollowed, and almost immediately after she entered theroom where my wife lay, I presented myself at thedoor. Looking past the woman who had preservedher miserable life, she saw my face. Then, with ahorrible cry, unlike anything human, she sprang atmy poor cousin like a jaguar, tearing, shrieking. IfI dwell any longer on that nightmare I shall go madmyself. I did what I could, and bear the marks ofthat encounter for life, but I could not save Cicely’slife.

345

“The room filled with people, and the maniac wassecured. After I had given my evidence on the inquiry,I slunk away, too mean to live, afraid to die. Arecruiter secured me for this ship, and here I am, butI know that my useless life is nearly over. The worldwill be well rid of me.”

When he stopped talking, there was a dead silencefor a few minutes. Such a yarn was unusual amongwhalemen, and they hardly knew how to take it. Butthe oldest veteran of the party dispelled the uneasyfeeling by calling for a song, and volunteering onehimself, just to keep things going. In the queerestnasal twang imaginable he thundered out some twentyverses of doggerel concerning the deeds of AdmiralSemmes of the Alabama, with a different tune to eachverse. It was uproariously received, but story-tellingheld the field, and another yarn was demanded.

347

LOST AND FOUND
A Sea Amendment

He stood alone on the little pier, a pathetic figurein his loneliness—a boy without a home or a friendin the world. There was only one thought dominatinghis mind, the purely animal desire for sustenance,for his bodily needs lay heavily upon him. Yet itnever occurred to him to ask for food—employmentfor which he should be paid such scanty wages aswould supply his bare needs was all he thought of;for, in spite of years of semi-starvation, he had neveryet eaten bread that he had not worked for—thethought of doing so had never shaped itself in hismind. But he was now very hungry, and as hewatched the vigorous preparation for departure in fullswing on board the smart rakish-looking fishingschooner near him, he felt an intense longing to beone of the toilers on her decks, with a right to obeythe call presently to a well-earned meal. Whether byany strange thought-transference his craving becameknown to the bronzed skipper of the Rufus B. ornot, who shall say? Sufficient to record that on asudden that stalwart man lifted his head, and lookingsteadily at the lonely lad, he said, “Wantin’ a berth,sonny?” Although, if his thoughts could have been348formulated, such a question was the one of all othershe would have desired to hear, the lad was so takenaback by the realization of his most fervent hopesthat for several seconds he could return no answer,but sat endeavouring to moisten his lips andvainly seeking in his bewildered mind for wordswith which to reply. Another sharp query, “Air yedeef?” brought his wits to a focus, and he repliedhumbly—

“Yes, sir!”

“Well, whar’s yer traps, then?” queried the skipper;“‘kaze we’re boun’ ter git away this tide, so it’snaow er never, ef you’re comin’.”

Before answering, the boy suddenly gathered himselfup, and sprang in two bounds from his positionon the quay to the side of the skipper. As soon ashe reached him, he said, in rapid disjointed sentences—

“I’ve got no close. Ner no boardin’ house. Neryet a cent in the world. But I ben to sea for nearlythree year, an’ ther ain’t much to a ship thet I don’know. I never ben in a schooner afore, but ef you’lltake me, Cap’n, I’ll show you I’m wuth a boy’s wages,anyhow.”

As he spoke the skipper looked down indulgentlyat him, chewing meditatively the while, but as soonas he had finished, the “old man” jerked out—

“All right. Hook on ter onct, then;” and almostin the same breath, but with an astonishing increaseof sound, “Naow, then, caest off thet guess warp forrardthere,’n run the jib up. Come, git a move on349ye—anybody’d think you didn’t calk’late on leavin’Gloster never no more.”

Cheery “Ay, ay, cap’s,” resounded from the willingcrowd as they obeyed, and in ten minutes theRufus B. was gliding away seawards to the musicalrattle of the patent blocks and the harmonious criesof the men as they hoisted the sails to the small breezethat was stealing off the land.

The grey mist of early morning was slowly meltingoff the picturesque outline of the Massachusettsshore as they departed, and over the smooth sea beforethem fantastic wreaths and curls of fog hungabout like the reek of some vast invisible fire far away.It was cold, too, with a clammy chill that struckthrough the threadbare suit of jeans worn by the newlad, and made him exert himself vigorously to keephis blood in circulation. So hearty were his effortsthat the mixed company of men by whom he was surroundednoted them approvingly; and although to anovice their occasional remarks would have soundedharsh and brutal, he felt mightily cheered by them,for his experienced ear immediately recognized thewelcome fact that his abilities were being appreciatedat their full value. And when, in answer to the skipper’sorder of “Loose thet gaff taupsle,” addressed tono one in particular, he sprang up the main rigginglike a monkey and cast off the gaskets, sending downthe tack on the right side, and shaking out the sailin a seamanlike fashion, he distinctly heard the skipperremark to the chap at the wheel, “Looks ’sif we’dstruck a useful nipper at last, Jake,” the words were350heady as a drink of whisky. Disdaining the ratlines,he slid down the weather backstays like a flash anddropped lightly on deck, his cheek flushed and hiseye sparkling, all his woeful loneliness forgotten inhis present joy of finding his services appreciated.But the grinning darky cook just then put his headoutside his caboose door and shouted “Brekfuss.”With old habit strong upon him, the boy boundedforrard to fetch the food into the fo’c’sle, but to hisbewilderment, and the darky’s boisterous delight, hefound that in his new craft quite a different order ofthings prevailed. Here all hands messed like Christiansat one common table in the cabin, waited uponby the cook, and eating the same food; and thoughthey looked rough and piratical enough, all behavedthemselves decently—in strong contrast to the foulbehaviour our hero had so often witnessed in thegrimy fo’c’sles of merchant ships. All this touchedhim, even though he was so ravenously hungry thathis senses seemed merged in the purely physical satisfactionof getting filled with good food. At last, duringa lull in the conversation, which, as might be expected,was mostly upon their prospects of strikinga good run of cod at an early date, the skipper suddenlylooked straight at the boy, and said—

“Wut djer say yer name wuz, young feller?”

“Tom Burt, sir,” he answered promptly, althoughhe was tempted to say that he hadn’t yet been askedhis name at all.

“Wall, then, Tom Burt,” replied the skipper,“yew shape ’s well ’s yew’ve begun, and I’m doggoned351ef yew won’t have no eend of a blame goodtime. Th’ only kind er critter we kain’t find no sorter use fer in a Banker ’s a loafer. We do all ourbummin’ w’en we git ashore, ’n in bad weather; othertimes everybody’s got ter git up an’ hustle fer allthey’re wuth.”

Tom looked up with a pleasant smile, feeling quiteat his ease among men who could talk to him as ifhe, too, were a human being and not a homeless cur.He didn’t make any resolves to do his level best—hewould do that anyhow—but his heart beat highwith satisfaction at his treatment, and he would havekept his end up with any man on board to the utmostounce of his strength. But meanwhile they haddrawn clear of the land, and behind them dropped acurtain of fog hiding it completely from view. Toa fresh easterly breeze which had sprung up, thegraceful vessel was heading north-east for the GrandBanks, gliding through the long, sullen swell likesome great, lithe greyhound, and yet looking up almostin the wind’s eye. In spite of the breeze, thetowering banks of fog gradually drew closer andcloser around them until they were entirely envelopedtherein, as if wrapped in an impenetrable veilwhich shut out all the world beside. The ancient tinhorn emitted its harsh discords, which seemed to reboundfrom the white wall round about them, and invery deed could only have been heard a ship’s lengthor so away. And presently, out of the encirclingmantle of vapour, there came a roar as of some unimaginablemonster wrathfully seeking its prey, the352strident sounds tearing their way through the densewhiteness with a truly terrific clamour. All handsstood peering anxiously out over the waste for thefirst sight of the oncoming terror, until, with a rushthat made the schooner leap and stagger, a huge,indefinite blackness sped past, its grim mass toweringhigh above the tiny craft. The danger over, mutteredcomments passed from mouth to mouth as tothe careless, reckless fashion in which these leviathanswere driven through the thick gloom of those crowdedwaters in utter disregard of the helpless toilers ofthe sea. Then, to the intense relief of all hands, thefog began to melt away, and by nightfall all trace ofit was gone. In its stead the great blue dome of theheavens, besprinkled with a myriad glittering stars,shut them in; while the keen, eager breeze sent thedancing schooner northward at a great rate to herdestined fishing-ground, the huge plateau in the Atlantic,off Newfoundland, that the codfish loves.

But it was written that they should never reachthe Virgin. The bright, clear weather gave way toa greasy, filmy sky, accompanied by a mournful, sighingwail in the wind that sent a feeling of despondencythrough the least experienced of the fishermen,and told the more seasoned hands that a day of wrathwas fast approaching, better than the most delicatelyadjusted barometer would have done. When aboutsixty miles from the Banks the gale burst upon thestaunch little craft in all its fury, testing her powersto the utmost as, under a tiny square of canvas in themain rigging, she met and coquetted with the gathering353immensities of the Atlantic waves. No doubt shewould have easily weathered that gale, as she haddone so many others, but that at midnight, duringits fiercest fury, there came blundering along a hugefour-masted sailing-ship running under topsails andforesail that, like some blind and drunken giant staggeredout of the gloom and fell upon the gallant littleschooner, crushing her into matchwood beneath thatruthless iron stem, and passing on unheeding theawful destruction she had dealt out to the brave littlecompany of men. It was all so sudden that the agonyof suspense was mercifully spared them, but out ofthe weltering vortex which swallowed up the Rufus B.only two persons emerged alive—Tom Burt and Jemthe cook. By a miracle they both clung to the samepiece of flotsam—one of the “dorys” or flat littleboats used by the Bankers to lay out their long lineswhen on the Banks. Of course she was bottom up,and, but for the lifeline which the forethought of thepoor skipper had caused to be secured to the gunwaleof every one of his dorys, they could not havekept hold of her for an hour. As it was, before theywere able to get her righted in that tumultuous sea,they were almost at their last gasp. But they didsucceed in getting her right way up at last, and,crouching low in her flat bottom, they dumblyawaited whatever Fate had in store for them.

Deep-Sea Plunderings (10)

A huge sailing-ship crushed her into matchwood.

A mere fragment in the wide waste, they clungdesperately to life through the slowly creeping hourswhile the storm passed away, the sky cleared, and thesea went down. The friendly sun came out in his354strength and warmed their thin blood. But his beamsdid more: they revealed at no great distance the shapeof a ship that to the benumbed fancies of the two waifsseemed to behave in most erratic fashion. For nowshe would head toward them, again she would slowlyturn as if upon an axis until she presented her sternin their direction, but never for five minutes did shekeep the same course. Dimly they wondered whatmanner of ship she might be, with a sort of impartialcuriosity, since they were past the period of struggle.Well for them that it was so, for otherwise theiragonies must have been trebled by the sight of rescueapparently so near and yet impossible of attainment.So they just sat listlessly in their empty shell gazingwith incurious eyes upon the strange evolutions of theship. Yet, by that peculiar affinity which freely floatingbodies have at sea, the ship and boat were surelydrawing nearer each other, until Tom suddenly awokeas if from a trance to find that they were soclose to the ship that a strong swimmer might easilygain her side. The discovery gave him the neededshock to arouse his small store of vital energy, and,turning to his companion, he said—his voice soundingstrange and far away—“Doc, rouse up! Here’s theship! Right on top of us, man!” But for someminutes the negro seemed past all effort, beyondhearing, only known to be living by his position.Desperate now, Tom scrambled towards him, and ina sudden fever of excitement shook, beat, and pinchedhim. No response. Then, as if maddened by thefailure of his efforts, the boy seized one of the big355black hands that lay so nervelessly, and, snatching itto his mouth, bit a finger to the bone. A long drygroan came from the cook as he feebly pulled hishand away, and mechanically thrust the injured fingerinto his mouth. The trickling blood revived him, hisdull eyes brightened, and looking up he saw the shipclose alongside. Without a word he stooped andplunged his hands into the water on either side thedory, paddling fiercely in the direction of the ship,while Tom immediately followed his example. Soonthey bumped her side, and as she rolled slowlytowards them, Tom seized the chain-plates and clunglimpet-like for an instant, then, with one supremeeffort, hauled himself on board and fell, fainting butsafe, on her deck.

When he returned to life again, his first thoughtwas of his chum, and great was his peace to find thatthe cook had also gained safety. He lay near,stretched out listlessly upon the timber, with whichthe vessel’s deck was completely filled, rail-high, foreand aft. Feebly, like some decrepit old man, Tomrose to his knees and shuffled towards the cook, findingthat he was indeed still alive, but sleeping so soundlythat it seemed doubtful whether waking would bepossible. Reassured by finding the cook living, theboy dragged himself aft, wondering feebly how it wasthat he saw no member of this large vessel’s crew.He gained the cabin and crawled below, findingeverything in disorder, as if she had been boardedby pirates and ravaged for anything of value thatmight be concealed. She seemed a staunch, stout,356frigate-built ship, of some eleven or twelve hundredtons register, English built, but Norwegian owned;and to a seaman’s eye there was absolutely no reasonwhy she should thus be tumbling unguided about theAtlantic—there was no visible cause to account forher abandonment. Aloft she was in a parlous condition.The braces having been left unbelayed, hergreat yards had long been swinging to and fro withevery thrust of the wind and roll of the ship, until itwas a marvel how they still hung in their places at all.Most of the sails were in rags, the unceasing grindand wrench of the swinging masses of timber to whichthey were secured having been too much for theirendurance, and their destruction once commenced,the wind had speedily completed it.

All this, requiring so long to tell, was taken in bythe lad in a few seconds, but his first thought wasfor food and drink wherewith to revive his comrade.He was much disappointed, however, to find that notonly was the supply of eatables very scanty, but thequality was vile beyond comment—worse than eventhat of some poverty-stricken old British tub provisionedat an auction sale of condemned naval stores.The best he could do for Jem was to soak some ofthe almost black biscuit in water until soft, and then,hastening to his side, he roused the almost moribundman, and gently coaxed him to eat, a morsel at atime, until, to his joy, he found the poor darky beginningto take a returning interest in life. Fortunatelyfor them, the weather held fine all that day and night,relieving them from anxiety about handling the big357vessel, and by morning they were both sufficientlythemselves again to set about the task of getting herunder control. A little at a time they reduced thechaotic web of gear aloft to something like its originalsystematic arrangement, and under such sail as wasstill capable of being set they began to steer to thesouth-westward. In this, as in everything else now,the boy took the lead, for Jem had never set foot upona square-rigged ship before, and even his schoonerexperience had been confined to the galley. But Tomhad spent his three years at sea entirely in largesquare-rigged ships, and, being a bright observantlad, already knew more about them and their manipulationthan many sailormen learn all their lives. Heit was who set the course, having carefully watchedthe direction steered from Gloster by the haplessRufus B., and now he judged that a reversal of itwould certainly bring them within hail of the Americanseaboard again, if they could hold on it longenough. So all day long the two toiled like beaversto make things aloft more shipshape, letting the vesselsteer herself as much as possible, content if she wouldonly keep within four points of her course. Withall their labours they could not prevent her lookinglike some huge floating scarecrow that had somehowgot adrift from its native garden and wandered outto sea. Her appearance simply clamoured for interferenceby any passing ship in trumpet tones had oneentered the same horizon, but much to the youngster’swonder, and presently to his secret delight, nota sail hove in sight day after day.

358

Thus a fortnight passed away satisfactorily enoughbut for the wretched food and the baffling winds, thatwould not permit them to make more than a meagrehandful of miles per day towards the land, and worriedTom not a little with the idea that perhaps theGulf Stream might be sweeping them steadily eastwardat a much greater rate than they were able tosail west. But he did not whisper a syllable of hisfears to his shipmate in case of disheartening that dociledarky, whom even now he often caught wistfullylooking towards him, as if for some further comfort.He himself was full of high hopes, building a fantasticmental edifice upon the prospect of being ableto make the land unaided, and therefore becomingentitled not only to the glory of a great exploit inship-handling but also to the possession of a fortune,as he knew full well his share of the salvage of thisship would be. For although she contained but acheap cargo of lumber, yet from her size and sea-worthinessshe was worth a very large sum could shebe brought into port without further injury, her hullbeing, as sailors say, “as tight as a bottle”—that is,she leaked not at all. But both the shipmates werepuzzled almost to distraction to account for a vesselin her condition being abandoned. Nearly everyspare moment in which they could be together wasdevoted to the discussion of this mystery, and darkJem showed a most fertile inventiveness in bringingout new theories, none of which, however, couldthrow the slightest glimmer of explanation upon thesubject. Except that from the disorder of the cabin359and fo’c’sle, and the absence of the boats, with theirlashings left just as they had been hacked adrift, therewas no other clue to the going of her crew; and, if,as was probable, the deserters had afterwards beenlost by the swamping of their frail craft, this mysterywas but another item in the long list of unravelledsea-puzzles.

But one evening the sun set in a lowering redhaze, which, though dull like a dying fire, stainedthe oily-looking sea as if with stale blood. The feebleuncertain wind sank into fitful breaths, and at lastdied completely away. Gigantic masses of gloomycloud came into being, apparently without motion ofany kind, marshalling their vast formlessness aroundthe shrinking horizon. As the last lurid streaks fadedout of the sky, and utter darkness enfolded them, thetwo lonely wanderers clung together, as if by thetouch of each other’s living bodies to counteract thebenumbing effect of the terrible quiet. Deeper,denser grew the darkness, heavier grew the burdenof silence, until at the thin cry of a petrel out of theblack depths their hearts felt most grateful. It waslike a tiny message telling them that the world wasnot yet dead. A sudden, hissing spiral of blue flamerent the clouds asunder, and immediately, as if itleaped upon them through the jagged cleft in thatgrim barrier, the gale burst. Wind, lightning, thunder,rain; all joined in that elemental orchestra, withever-increasing fury of sound as they smote upon theamazed sea, as if in angry scorn of its smoothness.In the midst of that tremendous tumult the two360chums were powerless—they dared not move fromthe helm, even though, with yards untrimmed, theirpresence there was useless. But, in some curiousfreak of the neglected vessel, she flung her head offthe wind farther and farther until the boy suddenlysnatched at hope again, and spun the wheel roundto assist her. Off she went before the wind like ahunted thing, and knowing it was their only chancefor life, the two friends laboured to keep her so. Itwas so dark that they could not see anything aloft,so that they did not know how far the small amountof sail on her when the gale burst still remained; butthat mattered little, since they were powerless in anycase. But they stuck to their steering, caring nothingfor the course made as long as she could be keptbefore the gale. And in the bitter grey of the morningthey saw a graceful shape, dim and indefinite, yetnear, that reminded them painfully of their late vesseland her hapless crew. The shadowy stranger drewnearer, until, with thumping hearts, they recognizedone of the schooners belonging to that daring, hardyservice, the New York Pilots. Rushing to the side,Tom waved his arms, for they were now so closetogether that he could see the figures grouped aft.With consummate seamanship, the schooner wasmanœuvred towards the ship until so close that threemen sprang from her rail into the ship’s mizzen rigging.Few words passed, but leaving one of theirnumber at the wheel, the other two worked like giantsto get a little sail set, while the schooner, shaking outa reef, bounded ahead to bespeak steam aid.

361

With such assistance, the troubles of the two wandererswere now at an end, and in less than thirtyhours they were snugly anchored in New York harbour,with a blazing fire in the galley and a Christianmeal before them. At the Salvage Court, held soonafter, their share came to $7,000, equally divided betweenthe two of them, the pilot crew receiving $3,000for their two days’ work. Feeling like millionaires,they hurried back to Gloster, fully agreed to do whatthey could for the benefit of their late shipmates’ bereavedones, and handing over to the authorities forthat purpose on their arrival half of their gains. ThenJem, declaring that he had seen all he wanted of fishing,opened a small oyster saloon in Gloster, whileTom, aided by the advice of a gentleman who wasgreatly interested in the whole story, entered himselfat Columbia College. He will be heard of again.

THE END

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Transcriber’s Notes

Punctuation, hyphenation, and spelling were madeconsistent when a predominant preference was foundin the original book; otherwise they were not changed.

Dialect spacing and variations were not changed.

Simple typographical errors were corrected; unbalancedquotation marks were remedied when the change wasobvious, and otherwise left unbalanced.

Illustrations in this eBook have been positionedbetween paragraphs and outside quotations. In versionsof this eBook that support hyperlinks, the pagereferences in the List of Illustrations lead to thecorresponding illustrations.

Page 96: “hard-earned pay” was printed as“hard-earned lay”. Changed here.

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