THE GOLDEN FLEECE
BERTRAND W. SINCLAIR
SHERRIN’S office windows look down on the Galata wharf and out
across the Inlet to where the Capilano range stands like a Hadrian’s wall against the impetuous assault of the north wind.
Sometimes when Sherrin grows tired of dealing with bills of lading, charters, shippers’ complaints, all the endless minutiae of a coastwise shipping business, it is a relief to sit back and look out at that chain of mountains lifting across the harbor, running east and west for many miles, shading from green terraces behind the houses on the North Shore to mistypurple summits capped with snow, where fluffs of cloud drifted lazily above deep, glacial abysses. He knew singing streams up there where trout lay in black pools, where grizzlies came down to fish in the salmon run, where 'grouse fluttered in the thickets. A pleasing outlook for a routine-weary man.
And when he has looked a long time at the Capilanos 'his gaze comes back to the nearer vista, a bird’s-eye view of vessels great and small. The lesser craft intrigue his ifancy most. He knows something of them and the •men that man them—tugs, halibut schooners, purseseiners, stubby yachts and yachty powerboats. They serve, for profit or pleasure, a thousand miles of coastline, a myriad of islands, inaccessible save by the furrowed highway of the sea. A hardy lot. They make a brave showing under his office windows, with the varnished spars, brass that glints in the sun like buffed gold, beautifully-curved decklines, coiled gear and complicated rigging which has a use that mystifies landsmen. Some of these craft lie in the stream like gulls with folded wings resting between flights. More are fast bow and stern against wharf, slip, landing. They rock gently in the wash from passing harbor craft, their masts describing a lessening arc until they fall still again.
Sherrin was looking down on this one November afternoon, a crisp, sunny day which had followed a week of rain. He was weary of accounts, of complaints, oppressed ■with a dumb sense of futility. He laid it to his digestion. He needed exercise! He would not admit to himself— least of all to himself—that it was no more than one of his '.periodic rebellions against being cramped and caged. It was an old thing, that wordless resentment old, yet always new. He had suffered for many years, without 'understanding why, from that peculiar chafing of the spirit. It was worst in the Spring, when the maples around his house put out buds through the winter grime and burst into green foliage. He would sit for an hour at a time then in his office, staring at the Capilanos, at the gray-green harbor floor, and turn in his chair for a glimpse of the open Gulf across the low land that ran westward from Coal Harbor. Or it would grip him unaccountably when he fell info talk with a conVpany Skipper, one of those red-faced men in soiled blue uniforms whose mild awkwardness in the presence of their employers became sureness and certainty on the bridge of a vessel. Or again Sherrin would feel that depressing unrest when some unit of the mosquito fleet cleared for a •voyage the purpose and destination of which reached him by the underground route that traverses the waterfront in Vancouver, where curious ventures are not unknown.
WHEN such a one’s stern closed with Brockton Point Sherrin’s eyes ceased to see her, but his fancy followed her out the Narrows, beyond the Strait of Juan de Fuca, saw her wallow in seas that rolled from the Marquesas and beyond. Or he would go with her in the spirit up where the Aleutian Archipelago is strung like beads on a chain across the Sunday-Monday line. But his body remained in the office, in the plain room he had occupied for twenty
Sherrin was a loyal servant. He believed a man should do the work for which he drew a wage. It was impossible for him to realize the nature of this dimly-sensed rebellion against order, routine, daily commonplaces. He had a comfortable home, a fund that approached competence laid by against Old age, a girl in high school and a boy in the U. B. C. He was forty-seven. He had reaped the reward of faithful service and stood high in the regard of hi? company. He would be an office superintendent and draw four thousand a year as long as he cared to hold the place. His thin, light-brown hair would grow thinner and lighter till it became grey. He would die in the harness of industry. ' It was ordered and fore-ordained for him and for thousands of others such as himself; well-fed, wellclad. sober, frugal citizens who poured out of offices and banks and bond-houses, evening after evening for three ’ hundred days in the year—fixtures, cogs in the commercial machine, most of them satisfied to be cogs so long as they got on. Sherrin was getting on. He had always got • on.
But he had fought against vagrant impulses ever since ' he could remember. His utmost adventure had been i marriage to anUcicEtempered woman; his worst luck a
mild indigestion; his greatest disasters a sprained ankle and a broken thumb. His farthest journeyings were fishing trips across the Inlet.
That wras in the flesh. He travelled far and did great deeds in the spirit—and was sometimes shamefacedly aware of himself as a daydreamer, a careless adventurer in the broad realm of the imagination.
Perhaps that was why he looked so long and so abstractedly down on the masts and decks and pilothouses this bright, cold afternoon.
He knew them all, as a man knows his neighbors. The Lady of Lyons, schooner-rigged, sixty tons burden. Her hold had known many cargoes, from sealskins filched off the Pribiloffs, to contraband liquors landed on the California coast. The Gou Pyng. ditto. Astern of these two lay the Charioteer. She was just back from Ensenada, Mexico, and when the wharfingers said she had carried a load of canned salmon they winked and smiled. And this side the ship, almost under Sherrin’s window, loomed a lean, graceful cruiser with two stout pole masts and a false funnel abaft her wheelhouse—false, because she was powered with gas and needed no stack, except for ornament. She was flush-decked. Except for the white boot-leg at her water-line she was painted a drab grey, relieved by bits of polished brass. Sherrin stared at her longest of all. He knew her of old, when she flew a yacht pennant, and looked with disdain on the grubby brotherhood of commerce. How would she fare now that she had joined the ranks of those who gather their bread upon
the waters? Sherrin had acquired a material as well as a sentimental interest in the Tosca.
WHILE he sat looking down at her he heard his door open, heard footsteps, without turning his head. Clerks came and went during the day, laid papers on his desk. They were the automata of his surroundings. They
never broke needlessly into his musings. A throatclearing behind him made him turn at
tast. It was the visitor he had expected.
“Hello. Pete." he greeted. “I was looking at your ship, and thinking about her next voyage.”
The man came to the window. He, too, looked down at the Tosca, smiling faintly.
Veil, he said, "I got it all fixed. Connors, that broker on Cordova, put in two thousand, and another fellow I know took a flier with us. We’ll clear with five hundred cases!”
“When will you sail?”
Oh, day after to-morrow. Probably about ten in the morning.”
“Good luck, Pete.” Sherrin said, quiet passage.”
“Hope you have a
V eil, we re bound to have weather,” the man shrugged his shoulders. “No gettin’ away from it this time of year. Ve’ll be standin’ on our ear half the time. But the Tosca's able enough.”
“You think she is, eh?”
“Hell, yes.’ Pete May exclaimed. There was a trace of irritation in his low, even tone. Sherrin reflected that he had asked this question before. Probably others had done so. “If the Lady of Lyons and the Mainook and the rest of ’em can make it, it’s a cinch the Tosca can.”
Sherrin swung in his chair to take a more deliberate survey, an appraising look at his visitor. He was a medium-sized man about thirty dressed in a blue serge suit, wearing a jersey instead of a shirt, a peaked cloth cap set jauntily on his head. Keen blue eyes looked out from either side of a thin, slightly-curved nose. A cropped mustache stuck straight out, like a dab of fine brown bristles, from his upper lip. There were hundreds like Pete trafficking in and out of the port, seamen of the newer dispensation, who flirt with lee shores and jutting reefs, whose navigation is accomplished by chart and compass and sounding-lead, a litany of time and courses, who cope with fog and swift tide-races and narrow-necked harbors, who never know the safety of vast sea-room like their offshore brethren—yet somehow keep their vessels afloat and make their ports of call.
It was only history repeating itself, Sherrin reflected when Pete went down the stairs. He looked after the man and thought that Pete May and his fellows were truly the collateral descendants of those AngloSaxons whose luggers troubled the shores of England with tobacco from Virginia and cognac from France without tribute to the king’s excise, in generations gone. Sherrin’s mind dwelt further upon legislation and liquor—the two factors controlling the activities of a dozen vessels he could name; voyages fraught with peril, undertaken for profit.
Sixteen miles south from Sherrin’s office an imaginary line, the forty-ninth parallel of latitude, divided the legal from the illegal, the wet from the dry. Volstead south of the border. Its antithesis, the B. C. Moderation Act, on the north. British Columbia, one of the two alcoholic oases of North America, with internal traffic in bottled goods, a government monopoly and export trade in liquor a recognized commercial pursuit. A quart of authentic Scotch whisky purchasable lawfully in Vancouver for five dollars. Moonshine at treble the price in San Francisco. Mexico with no laws for or against. Was it any wonder that cargoes of Scotch and rye and cognac, billed in due order from Vancouver to Ensenada, vanished en route! Or that only empty boxes were duly delivered to a complaisant agent in the Mexican port? How was it done? Sherrin did not know. Only the men who accomplished the feat could say. They did no* tell. They only smiled. Their manifests and clearances were always m order—and they smiled and were prosperous. All the revenue cutters between Puget Sound and San Diego could not stop them--lawful merchantmen on the high seas. How did they land that which became contraband onl> within the threemile coastal limit? That was their secret. A great profit for a great risk for they were not uniformly successful. Sometimes they jettisoned cargo to save their liberty and their ship. Sometimes, they lost both. But not often. There were men in the trade they didn’t call it smuggling who had dodged subs in the Channel and the North Sea, and hunted them.
too, in sixty-five foot M.L’s. Those were brave men!
Sherrin had no prejudices one way or the other. He was concerned with all this chiefly as a spectacle, not as a moral issue. Until the Tosca entered the game he had been an interested onlooker. He knew about it, as a man whose daily business lies on the waterfront of a seaport must be dull indeed if he does not know all that goes on. And there was no secrecy about the “export” trade. It was open and legitimate. The secrecy and the illegality took form far away, off the coast of Oregon, California just as long ago a cargo of beads and cotton lawfully passing out of some European port became the instrument of rapine and slavery when it reached the Gold Coast. One man’s meat—
NO, UNTIL Pete May bought the Tosca and found himself without enough money to load her, Sherrin had never expected to find himself anything but an interested onlooker touched by the dash and spirit of the game, but personally remote. Now he was in it—at least his money was not much; only five hundred dollars. From what motive, he could scarcely say. Certainly not mere profit.
To double that sum would have been no great incentive to a man like Sherrin.
But it was enough to link him close through the medium of a receptive fancy, to make him view from a highly personal angle this small vessel and her crew of four, who were to sail out into the Pacific in the stormiest season of the year.
Sherrin had taken a short cruise aboard the Tosca once while she was the property of a man he knew.
She had passed into other hands.
During the latter days of the war she had seen government service, sailing under the Blue Ensign, clothed in the majesty of the law, hunting draft evaders along a coast peculiarly adapted to hiding. She had outlived her usefulness to the authorities in that respect, and Pete May had bought her for a song. If she were sound and able enough to make three voyages Pete’s song might become the warble of a prima donna.
Sherrin went aboard the Tosca the morning of her departure. He sat in a cabin duskily lighted by portholes and talked to Pete May. Two men of her crew tramped heavily overhead, lashing gear, making all fast. There was a clink of metal in her engine-room, a slow, asthmatic wheeze as someone barred over the big pistons.
“Good luck to you, Pete,” Sherrin said and rose. When he hung up his hat and coat and turned to the office window the Tosca was backing into the stream, white water bubbling under her stern, her exhaust beating like the smooth roll of a trap drum.
The wharf foreman came in to consult Sherrin. He, too, glanced out the window.
“Them guys got more nerve than judgment,” he grunted. “Goin’ to sea in that."
"Isn’t she fit?” Sherrin asked.
“Oh, fit enough, I guess,” the foreman admitted. “But, she’ll do the shimmy all the way. Rough and tumble every hour of every watch. They’ll have to tie themselves in their bunks when they lie down to sleep. She ain’t big enough to go outside, this time of year.” Sherrin discounted this a little. His man had served his time in square-riggers when he was young. To him, anything under five thousand tons was a cockle-shell. He went away at last, and Sherrin watched the Tosca vanish into the Narrows, outward bound. In ten hours she would be swinging high and low in the ground swell that marches from Honolulu to burst in foam on Cape Flattery and Umatilla Reef.
WEATHER always means something to a waterfront man. It immediately took on a special significance for Sherrin. When he sat down before the livingroom fire that evening he turned first to that page of the Province where, at the head of the shipping gossip, could be found wireless reports from every western sea station, and a forecast for the ensuing thirty-six hours. Clear, cold; light winds. Steady barometer. Sherrin turned to the news columns with a touch of relief.
When he laid down the paper at last his wife sat opposite, reading a magazine, a plump, fair woman of fortyfive. Sherrin junior was whistling upstairs. Barbara twisted her youthful lips over a French conjugation. The pleasant atmosphere of home—where the unexpected was unknown, where the Eighteenth Amendment was as remote as Timbuctoo, where the weather was only a matter of rubbers and umbrellas, where a spoiled roast was the ultimate disaster'—those four walls within which risks, hardships, dangers and despair could never
Yet Sherrin sat by his fire in a dumb discontent. Was it a man's highest possible attainment, this complete insulation from the hot glow of struggle, from all chance and change? It was good. Yes. But was it good enough? He had a swift, disconcerting vision of him-
self, trudging from the house to the office, from the office to the house, a ten-day vacation once a year. He had done it for twenty years. He would do it for another twenty. His children would grow up and marry and go their way. His wife would grow older and more plump and placid, nourishing herself intellectually on interminable tales in the women’s journals. They would sit by the fire in winter, and in grass chairs on the porch in summer, and they would talk about the cost of
SIR GEORGE E. FOSTER contributes to the July 1 (Dominion Day) issue of MACLEAN’S a powerful and informative article on Canada’s interest in the League of Nations. Norman Price has painted a Confederation Anniversary cover, which is an extraordinarily significant bit of art work. There will be several splendid short stories, particularly another from the pen of Bertrand W. Sinclair.
living and about saving, and what Mrs. Jones said to Mr. Smith.
Oh hell! And he was forty-seven—too old to change— too cunningly enmeshed in responsibilities and duties and timidities. A man couldn’t have his cake and eat it too. Sherrin felt for one moment—a moment of ghastly surprise at himself—that he had hoarded his until it had grown stale.
Then he recalled himself from this wildness of thought, this most disturbing emotion, this unaccustomed yielding to amazing fancies. He recoiled from his own revelation of suppressed desires, wanton cravings for a bold free fling at life, life in which an ordered domesticity had no place. To be free to flirt with Chance, even to the uttermost edges of the earth! Sherrin smiled at the fancy. Yes, considering all things, that was an absurd fancy.
He kissed his wife on the cheek. That excellent woman, immersed in an excellent tale, merely murmured “yes, dear” when he said he thought he would goto bed.
Sherrin went upstairs to their bedroom. The shade had not been drawn. He stood looking out a window that gave seaward over English Bay. In a wan, unclouded night he could see the Point Atkinson light flash like some great, intermittent electric spark, a glittering eye winking on a white pillar. The Tosca would be dipping her bows to the open sea, lift and fall, lift and fall. She would take her departure, her last landward bearing in the dark, by the flash of the Umatilla Lightship. At daybreak -the men of that watch would look out on the sea. It might be furrowed by gray swells, or a tumbled green, flecked writh bits of white. But to port, and starboard, ahead and astern, there would be the sea and the sea only. And they would roll and pitch, and be boarded by wave-crests until the Tosca was bitter with salt from guard-rail to masthead, for ninety-six hours on end before the land became a faint blue line over their bows again.
CHERRIN went to bed with a little envy of them. ^ When the warning gong turned him out of bed again he thought of Pete May. The Tosca had Gray’s Harbor over her port quarter now. She was a speck, ringed about by a watery horizon. Eight o’clock, one bell in the morning watch. There they were, while he, Sherrin, thoughtfully cracked his matutinal egg.
One day passed and another and a third. Upon the fourth the weather forecast took an ominous turn: Heavy southeast gales general along Pacific Coast. Center of maximum velocity off California. Mariners warned.
Sherrin raised a window the better to peer out at the sky before he went to bed. The heralds of the storm were abroad. Smoke stood away from the chimneys in dusky pennants. High in the silvery night wisps of cloud streaked across the bright stars. The first breath of the wind already troubled the Gulf. He could bear the swell muttering on the beach at English Bay.
He walked to his office in the morning with the tails of his coat snapping about his legs. He watched the ripples run across the sheltered harbor, saw the firs in Stanley Park bend their plumed heads to the wind, heard the long tin roof of the wharf shed creak and rattle.
He saw a yacht part her mooring chain and scud, barepoled, up the harbor, until she was captured by a pursuing launch. He could plainly see the storm signals flicker like dragon’s teeth on the halyards at Brockton Point. No yachtsman’s gale that, but a proper blow. And the center of maximum velocity was off the California coast. The Tosca should now have those southern shores abeam. The Golden Gate, Santa Barbara, San Diego, somewhere over her port rail, below thegray curve of the sea. What did she facein that center of maximum velocity? How did she fare?
Unanswerable questions. Sherrin forced his mind to his work, the routine of correspondence, casual orders. He pacified an angry shipper who stormed his quarters with a wordy tale of crated pigs unshipped at the wrong landing. He dictated letters, checked reports, functioned ideally as the lever controlling a mass of intricate machinery, of which all the parts, animate and mechanical, operated to produce corporate dividends. Ordered effort, modern vessels, skill, courage, loyalty, all directed to the same ultimate purpose as took the Tosca down along the south coast—into the center of maximum velocity.
I) Y DARK Sherrin had a more vivid comprehension of what was implied in that set phrase of the forecasters. He wondered if there might be two centers of maximum velocity, or if the height of a great storm was beyond the mental grasp of all save those caught in its grip. Wireless informed him of a company vessel blown out of her track in Queen Charlotte Sound, of another, old and slow', unable to buck the gale in Johnstone Strait. A day boat, serving points seventy miles along the Gulf, came in late, her forward cabin windows smashed by boarding seas. And these were in semi-protected waters.
“What will it be like outside, off the Cape?” Sherrin asked the captain, as he looked over the broken windows, over all the forward structure gleaming with dried salt.
The man shrugged -his shoulders.
“Rough stuff, I guess,” he made laconic answer.
At noon next day Sherrin answered a telephone call.
“This is Connors, the broker,” a voice said. “You had a little in the Tosca, didn’t you?”
“A little,” Sherrin admitted. “Not much. Why? What about her? Heard anything?”
“Yep. Got a wire from Ensenada,” the man’s tone was suddenly jubilant. “Reads: ‘Discharged cargo
O.K. (get that, Sherrin? O.K!) Clear to-morrow, weather permitting, in ballast for Vancouver. Signed, May.’ Good stroke of business, that, Sherrin.”
Sherrin experienced a queer, unexpected relief.
“I’m glad they made it,” he said into the mouthpiece. “It’s been dirty weather. I’ve been wondering about them. Pretty small boat for offshore work.”
“Didn’t notice the weather. Needn’t worry about them guys, anyway. They know their business, I guess. Well, so-long.”
He hung up and leaned back in his chair. Against • odds of sea and revenue cutters the Tosca had done it. The profit secured had little weight with Sherrin. Not because he despised profit. But the deed itself counted. Against such odds. Fourteen hundred miles of open sea —in a craft scarcely larger than an admiral’s pinnace. Cool nerve, skilful navigation, patient endurance — prime qualities in any cause. Sherrin envied them, as the tamed, cloistered man must always envy the man of action.
He put up against the office wall a small-scale chart of the Pacific coast. When the Tosca was due to leave Ensenada he pricked off with a pin her first day’s run. Thereafter at noon each day the pin-prick moved northward by five-inch steps, so many nautical miles per twenty-four hours, as a master checks his position by dead reckoning. And he marked the weather morning, noon and night as shrewdly as if he stood in the Tosea’s wheelhouse conning the glass and the sea and the sky like any careful seaman.
When the pin-pricks had traced a dotted line north to that bleak coast between Cape Flattery and Gray’s Harbor the glass fell, the storm signals fluttered on Brockton Point once more, the weather forecast gave terse warning. For following thirty-six hours heavy N.W. gales with sleet or snow.
/'''OULD the Tosca double the Umatilla Reef and drive ^ to shelter up the Straight of Juan de Fuca before the storm struck her? Sherrin would have been glad to answer, yes. If a north-west gale, a December gale from the Aleutians, from the Siberian coast, caught her to leeward of the Reef, why then—then truly the Tosca would need the Twin Brethren at her masthead to live through and make her port.
Sherrin derived still further insight into centers of maximum velocity during the next two days. The weather bureau’s prophecy was fulfilled to the letter. The nor’wester blew high and low, drove everything in the Gulf
to cover. There were casualties. There were vessels caught unaware, coasting steamers that must make their schedule, skippers that would take a chance. Wireless told the tale. And the wind’s screech in the wdres, about corners, its wild way with insecure roofing and plate-glass windows, kept dinning that tale into Sherrin’s ears. He lay in his comfortable bed at night and felt the house shudder. He walked between house and office, head down, leaning forward, resisting the strong pressure of unseen hands. Out there, he thought, out there beyond the landward barriers that wind would heel a small vessel down till she was lee-rail under. Without rest or mercy, hour upon hour, one sea after another would march up and board her and sweep her decks with its watery broom.
Connors the broker came to his office when the gale had worn to a chill whisper, and the sleet-thickened air had cleared so that Sherrin could see the North Shore
“I guess we lose,” he said glumly. “You know the CrusaderV’
Sherrin nodded. He knew' her. He knew; her business and where she berthed. A sidelong glance at the window showed him her heavy spars and low deckhouse. His glance .flicked back to Connors. The man’s face was an advertisement of calamity.
“She just got in,” Connors went on heavily. “Her captain tells me the blow struck him forty miles off Flattery. He seen the Tosca go down—at least he thinks he did. Don’t see how she could live it out, he says. Took him twenty hours to make the straits, and didn’t think he’d make it at all, for awhile.”
The Crusader had sighted the Tosca at a distance, laboring heavily. Then suddenly she seemed to vanish. The Crusader's captain had been so impressed by that disappearance that he had come about and started for her, and only desisted upon conviction that the Tosca had foundered and that he was imperilling his own vessel with no chanee of picking up any survivor of the other. No ship’s boat, and no swimmer born of woman could live ten minutes in such water. The seas were smoking, the wind a screaming fury, the bottom had fallen out of the glass.
“So I guess she’s gone to Davy Jones,” Connors mourned. “We’re out our money.”
“Damn the money,” Sherrin cried. “Think of the
“Thinkin’ don’t help ’em none,” the broker frowned. “Damn the luck. After they’d turned the trick and pretty near brought home the coin, to get caught in the worst weather of the season. I’m out tw'o thousand cold. We’d more than doubled our money if they’d got
“Oh, money, money,” Sherrin exclaimed hotly. “Well, maybe I ain’t a good loser,” Connors defended. “But two thousand bucks dropped cold kind a hurts me. Well, I just thought I’d stop in and tell you. So-long.”
SHERRIN sat'Staring at the chart, at the point where the last pinprick showed, that checking of a course which would never be finished. He felt sick. He felt as if he himself had failed in some supreme test. He was a partner in the enterprise. In spirit he had made that chancy voyage. Upon him spiritually rested the weight of disaster. He had forgotten, or perhaps he had never known, that always behind the tripping feet of adventure, tragedy glides in her somber garments, unseen but everpresent, well-schooled to play her part.
He went home to his warmed slippers, to his comfortable chair, to the buoyant chatter of his children, and the click of his wife’s knitting needles. He buried himself behind the evening paper, wondering, while the print ran into a blur before his eyes, if men drowned at sea sink to the bottom or if they float white-faced and sodden till the flesh falls apart and their bones slide down to fathomless depths.
Sherrin came dtfwn to his office in the morning. He hung his overcoat and hat on a hook in the corner. He walked to the window, looked out, looked again, muttered two short words aloud. Then he flung on his coat again, hurried down the stairs, gained the landward end of the wharf, crossed to another and so out a floating slip to the Tosca's berth.
He climbed to the deck, stood looking about him a second. She bore many a mark. Yes. Even a landsman could see that she had suffered. The gray stretch of her deck sparkled with stuff like frost. Her wheelhouse stood askew. One smashed window gaped under a nailed board. Over the other small panes a piece of sailcloth had been lashed. Her false funnel leaned
awry. She had gone out of the harbor with two fourteen foot life-boats in chocks on deck. The boats were gone, the chocks splintered, the ringbolts that held the boat lashings had come aw'ay from the timber like plants torn up by the roots. One set of davits was twisted out of its fair, shipshape curves, the stout iron bent and buckled. Everywhere on her two thick, stumpy masts hung frayed rope ends, ruined tackle. The roped and eyed luff of a trysail still stood up and down her mizzenmast with ragged streamers of canvas left dangling here and there.
Yes, the Tosca had crept in, unkempt, weary, forlorn. But she had come in. She was still, very still, under Sherrin’s feet, as if she were dead or deserted. He leaned over the after companion hatch.
"Tosca, ahoy,” he called.
"Come on down,” a toneless, languid voice answered.
Sherrin went down the companion steps backward because of their steepness, turned at the bottom and faced the dusky interior.
Two bunks filled the port side of the cabin. In each bunk a man lay stretched full length on tumbled bedding. To starboard, on a spring-cushion settee, another sprawled on his back, one hand over his face. And at his feet sat Pete May, looking up at Sherrin out of sleepy, red-lidded eyes.
IT WAS stuffy and damp down there, full of a soggy
clamminess. The morbid fancy struck Sherrin that the Tosca was like a vessel sunk and newly raised, with all the deep sea smell clinging to her. He understood in a cursory glance about and a tentative sniff or two that some of those boarding seas, the green water that had swept her fore and aft, had got below, through strained seams, through leaky ports. He put his hand against a bulkhead. It was damp. He touched a bit of upholstering. It was sodden. And the odor of burned oil, engine fumes, bilge-smells—it had all been stirred up and bottled in and diluted with sea-water. Yes, the Tosca had suffered, alow and aloft. And her captain sat staring at him after the first greeting, grave as an owl, silent as the ship, in which arose no sound but the creak of a loose-swinging block above and the heavy breathing of one man in his bunk.
Continued on page 59
T IFe Golden Fleece
Continued from page 13
•‘Well, Pete, it was a tough trip, eh?” Pete May’s old familiar grin flickered briefly across his tired face.
He began “to fumble in his pockets. He brought out a pipe—and went on fumbling. Sherrin handed him a cigar. He looked it over, tore off the band, bit the end—went on fumbling in his pockets. “Here’s a light,” Sherrin supplied a
m\lay puffed for a second or two, till the cigar end glowed red. He looked critically at it down his thin, curved nose.
Suddenly he took the cigar in his fingers and began to talk in short, jerky sentences.
“Got rid of our load all right. Got the money. Figured we 'better make Ensenada to have the ship’s papers in arder—best to do that in this game when you’ve cleared foreign. Struck heavy sveather off San Diego. Big sea. Did111 bother us much though. After that there vas nothin’ to it till we had Flattery about half a day’s run ahead. Then she ureezed.up from the nor’-west. Blow in here?”
He put the question lifelessly, as if t were a matter of scant interest.
“Blew hard for two days,” Sherrin told him.
“Blew harder out there. Blew hell out oi us. Blew us backward off the tops if seas. Yes, she blew. I’ll say she blew. Head wind—and sail didn’t help. 3o we plowed into it. Plowed’s right. Plowed into it. Plowed under. Like a lamned submarine. I guess it blew ■«verity miles an hour in|spots. Breakn’ seas cornin’ across decks. Squirtin’ n through seams. You could feel her Track and shiver. Bam! And away vent one boat. Whoosh! Away goes he other. Everything that wasn’t boltid down carried away. Smashed the lilothouse windows. Loosened the house tself. Regular hell to pay. You bet.” He looked fixedly at the cigar in his land.
“Then a main bearing burned out, an’ ye had no power. Just at dusk with iirty wet sleet slashin’ at us. Tried to nake sail. Couldn’t do it. Couldn’t (fay on deck without bein’ lashed there. Rigged a sea-drag. Run it out on a ortv-fathom line. Got out an oil-bag :oo. an’ made a slick. An’ there we lay. Roll? Pitch? An’ every once in a while a big one would bust on deck in spite of the oil.
“How long did we ride to that drag? How long did it take to run in that bearin’?”
HE SPOKE to the man on the settee beside him. Without lifting his head, without taking his hand from his face, he man replied tonelessly, after May hook his foot:
“I don’t know. All night. We fixed t."
“Funny,” May grunted, turning to Jierrin again. “Seems like it was two lights. I ain’t dead sure myself, now. Vnyway, next day we got sail up. Not ouch. Enough for steerageway. Tryail on the rpizzen blew up. Second one went to ribbons, too. So we sailed under a taysail and aleg o’ mutton on the fore. And te sailed her out to sea, ’cause the hungrist place I know is the coast south of Jmatilla Reef in a gale. And them guys
down in the engine-room tryin’ to run hot j babbit with us standin’ first on one ear an’ then on the other. One of ’em got sick an’ puked all over the floor. You’d a j laughed to seen us. Clawin’ round like wet rats.
“Finally they got her together and she hit on all four cylinders an’ run cool. ’N’ we headed up into it again under a slow bell. Come a clear spot in the dark and we picked up the Umatilla Light, the light on Tatoosh, the Swiftsure Light too, got true bearin’s and ran up the Strait of Juan de Fuca seas like young mountains chasin’ at our tail. ’N’ here we are.”
He reached into a locker beside him, hauled out a black tin box, turned back the cover. Flat sheafs of currency lay within. Pete May looked at it a second, closed the lid, put the box in Sherrin’s hand.
“That’s all that kept me from turnin’ in. Glad you came down. 1^ was goin’ to take it up to you, but didn’t seem to have enough ambition to make a move. Put it in the safe for me till to-morrow. There’s close on twenty thousand there. Everybody doubles his money. Take it away,” he said wearily. “I got to sleep. I’m dead for sleep. Lissen’ to ’em snore.”
He looked at his mates across the cabin, mouths open, asprawl in overalls and jerseys, one with a hand hanging limp over the berth’s side. And as he looked his own eyelids drooped, his head began to nod, the half-burned cigar fell from his fingers to the damp, dirty floor. May straightened up with a start,_ and Sherrin stamped out the smoldering tobacco with his foot.
“Oh, I’ve got to sleep,” he sighed. “Take care of that money, Sherrin. I’ve got to turn in. I’m dead on my feet.”
Sherrin halted on the first step. He looked back over his shoulder. May was pulling off his boots.
“You won’t make another trip> like that—not in the winter season?”
“Eh?” Pete looked up at him. A-flash of spirit showed in his tired eyes. “Sure.
• Once we get rested up, and the Tosca gets an overhaul. Sure. Why not?”
And the man stretched on the settee took his hand off his face and lifted his head.
“Hell, yes,” he said impatiently. Of course. Winter’s the time. Heavy weather—thick weather—that’s our best chance. Think we go to sea for pastime?” he demanded testily. “Pleasure cruising? We ain’t in the export trade for our health.”
Sherrin climbed slowly up the narrow wharf stairs. He stood before his window, one hand thrust in his overcoat pocket. He looked down on the Tosca, at her twisted davits and torn sailcloth and broken gear. His fixed gaze pierced through her hull to the damp, musty cabin and the men deep in the slumber of exhaustion.
He flung the tin box of money on the table with a gesture of repugnance.
“It isn’t worth the price,” he whispered. “Not the price they pay.”
Yet deep in his heart there stirred a little envy of them, thte same wistful admiration as might have troubled a Thessalian shepherd when Jason and his companions sailed the Argo home with the coat of the golden ram.