Tuan means “chief” in the East, and Can-Do is very expressive “pidgin” English.
A story of a Western Canadian in Java. He's a real go-getter of the right type. This story has so much action and sustained suspense interest it can even do without a plot.
HIS real name matters the less, both because it was as “Tuan Can-Do” (sometimes amongst the Europeans with the Tuan dropped or changed to Meinheer or Mister) that he was known from the outer fringe of the waterfront at Sourabaya, his port of entry to the East, to as far inland as he wandered, and because the name so well fitted him.
The “Tuan” is simply à native courtesy titlê meaning chief, sir, my lord, the “Can-Do” a word of the pidgin particularly acceptable to a very energetic Western Canadian whose natural instincts were a good deal irked by some of the ways of the East, especially by its lethargy and inclination to decline any troublesome or urgent affair and a proneness to return a “No-Can” to any invitation there-towards.
“Tuan Can-Do” was wont to declare that those two pidgin words of “No-Can” and “Can-Do” were an acquisition and an ornament to any language, and that if they had only been known to the head serangs or foremen builders of the Tower of Babel there would never have been any language difficulty in the contract.
He found them equally useful in friendly, social or business intercourse, and with whites or natives of all the many colors Java holds. If you are asked to pay an extortionate price for a Brummagem-made kris or to taste a thousand-year-old egg, to lend a fiver, make a fourth at bridge, or back a bill, to ride the known worst in a man’s stable or mount him on the known best in yours, to lend your best driver in a golf handicap or give your favorite daughter in marriage, it is possible to say “No-Can” with equal or greater emphasis and much less difficulty that you would have to say “No,” and to throw such a world of would-if-I-could regrets or such firmness and finality into the “No-Can” as could never be put in a “No.”
In the same way “Can-Do” is just as great an improvement on “Yes.” It can cover an infinite variety of shades in meaning, from “Well, I don’t really want to, but if I must, I suppose I Gan manage it” to the most eager, emphatic and enthusiastic “You bet I’ll do it, and glad of the chance.”
So “Tuan Can-Do” got his name from the frequent use he made of that word to bring him to many things that on his first asking were met by “No-Can,” from being rowed off by a sampan in the teeth of a head wind and a mill-race tide, or a table for a party at the Hollendoorn in a restaurant already impossibly overcrowded, right up to obtaining a clean bill of health from the port authorities.
TT WAS in this bill of *health business that Tuan Can-Do met something before which his phrase, with all his driving force behind it, was powerless. For Sourabaya, at the moment he wanted to get away from Java, was a plague port, and he found himself up against the quarantine section of those sea laws that rule firmer and run farther than any other man-made laws in the world.
Because Sourabaya was a quarantine port, no power could prevent a ship calling there from being put into quarantine at her next port of call, and the regular passenger boats avoided this inconvenience to ship, crew, cargo and passengers only by missing Sourabaya from their visiting list.
Tuan Can-Do wanted to get to Singapore. He wanted to get there very badly, and he wanted to get there, must get there, by a certain date; and because no Singaporebound boat would call at
Sourabaya there was nothing for it but to get to another Java port where one would call.
He found that the S.S. Heemskirk from Australian ports to Singapore would miss out her call at Sourabaya and touch instead at Samarang; he found that he could get by rail to Samarang; he murmured a “Can-Do” of satisfaction and proceeded to wangle a permit from the health authorities to journey inland from Sourabaya, waxing eloquent on his desire to see the Hindu temples, the volcanoes and other wonders of Java, and refraining from any mention of Samarang or of leaving Java.
He knew that where the sea laws would inexorably quarantine a ship from Sourabaya, an individual might slip through them if he arrived on a quarantine free boat, and anyhow was content to leave that difficulty until he met it.
The volcanoes he had pointed out to him from his railway carriage windows, the Hindu temples and other wonders of Java he saw on some picture postcards, and arrived in Samarang on the morning of the day the Heemskirk was expected to call late afternoon or evening.
All was well and he had a good lunch, dawdled round and saw the sights of the city and made his way to the shipping office to book a berth, full of “Can-Do” confidence that he was to reach Singapore a full day or
two before the twenty-fifth, the day on which he was due there to complete some urgent and special business on which he had already spent many pounds, dollars and guilders, much energy,, and many weeks of travel, to say nothing of some other private but no less urgent business connected with a lady he could meet there up to that date and not after.
The date being so very important to him (to say nothing of that constitutional dislike to fail in anything he set out to do) you will understand how Tuan Can-Do felt when the steamship office told him calmly that they had just had a wire saying the Heemskirk had been forced to put into Sourabaya to remedy slight engine breakdown, and that having done so she would now miss the call at Samarang and proceed straight to Singapore. There wras no train leaving Samarang for Sourabaya until morning, and the Heemskirk would sail at daybreak.
Can-Do spent a precious hour and many guilders in telegrams to the company at Sourabaya, begging, bullying, pleading, arguing, and repeating the urgent fact that he must catch the Heemskirk, that no other boat w ould do, she must call at Samarang or wait until he got to Sourabaya by train next day, requesting that they should book him a berth on the Heemskirk and let him know where he should catch her. He received polite regrets, sympathy, an assurance that a berth was being booked, but that the Heemskirk would not call at Samarang and she would sail at daybreak. Realizing that “Can-Do” loses much of its virtue in the written word or over a telegraph wire, he sent one ferocious final wire to the company and set out to beg, borrow, hire or steal a motor.
It was now so late that only a good car and fast driving could get him to Sourabaya by daybreak, and neither a fast car nor a hopeful driver could he unearth. The only car he found available was an antediluvian rattletrap which he swore should be in a museum, and although the proprietor of the garage it belonged to asserted that he possessed many fine cars, they were all out and none would be in until midnight.
He showed a photograph of,one that was due back at midnight and Can-Do’s mouth watered at sight of it. She w'as a Diapason, big and powerful looking, and with lines which in themselves told she was a modern model. But she would not be in until midnight and perhaps later, so Can-Do made an extravagant bargain to start on the antediluvian, and for the Diapason to be sent after him to carry him on to Sourabaya if it caught him up. If it did not catch him, well and good, since this would mean the ancient car had got him there, but if necessary the Diapason was to follow him right into Sourabaya in case he were stranded within sight of his goal.
The driver of the old crock was a native of some sort. He spoke only Dutch and Malay, which was a pity, because in the ensuing hours he missed much that wmuld have been a liberal education in the way of Anglo-Saxon terms of endearment for dilapidated, obstinate and obstreperous automobiles,
FOR the first few miles the ancient one did run —slowly it is true but fast enough to do the journey within something near the available time if it could keep up its pace without a break, which wTas exactly what Can-Do had his doubts of. And his doubts were speedily justified. Eight miles out
the first trouble came along in the shape of a bursted tire. It was true, as Can-Do reasoned hopefully, that this was a trouble which might occur to the best of cars; so he climbed down and waited for the driver to get to work, perfectly ready and willing to help him if need be but expecting the man to start proceedings. But this evidently was precisely the view that the driver held with regard to his passenger, that he—the driver —was willing to help, but expected the other to begin the job.
“Come on, Flatface,” said Can-Do impatiently. “Get busy.”
Flatface smiled pleasantly, moved over to the collapsed tire and looked long and thoughtfully at it. Can-Do jerked his coat off.
“Don’t you rush things like this, Hustler,” he said. “You’ll break something if you tear around that way. I hope you carry something to jack her up with, so we can get this tire off. Yes, and by the look of those tires I should imagine a full and complete repair plant was a permanent feature of this auto’s kit—”
After a full fifteen minutes’ strenuous effort to get the tire off, Can-Do began to doubt if ever it was meant to be removed. But an examination showed so many previous repairs that he was relieved of this doubt and fell to work again, and wrestled, and fought, and wreched, and levered at it, while “Hustler” hovered anxiously round, but did nothing else. A full hour and fifteen minutes Can-Do spent over the job; but at last it was done and the tire replaced, the tools stowed away and the lamp re-shipped.
Can-Do jumped into his seat again and suggested that Hustler should get under way, if he wasn’t too tired.
Hustler moved round and gently twisted the starting handle. Nothing happened, and Hustler looked at the handle in surprise, looked back at Can-Do and smiled again very pleasantly.
“Go on,” said Can-Do, “grind her round. Don’t be afraid of hurting her feelings.”
The driver gave another twist, and, under Can-Do’s urgings, another and another. Then he shook his head, said something in Malay, and stood back, evidently satisfied that nothing more could be done.
Can-Do bounced violently out onto the road, grabbed the handle and wrenched it round furiously. Nothing happened. Round it went again, and again, but the engine gave no sign of life. Can-Do ground at it till he was exhausted and streaming with perspiration, made the driver take a turn, without result, and then, before starting in to overhaul the mechanism, gave one final despairing twist. The engine backfired and nearly dislocated his shoulder, but Can-Do hailed the action with joy.
“If it back-fires, it may front-fire,” he said. “There is hope yet, Hustler.”
HE SUCCEEDED at last, and the old boneshaker moved painfully off again. But it moved, Can-Do said, as if it was going to its own funeral, rattling and creaking and groaning. Every few minutes it mis-fired, and every other few it exploded in aseries of Maxim-like reports that shook it as an eighteen-inch gun shakes a battleship. Every time the gear was changed the scraping jar ret Can-Do’s teeth on edge, and at the slightest hint of of an up-grade the engine sobbed and coughed and spluttered and panted as if it must give up at any moment.
Then, on a level stretch of perfectly smooth road, for no apparent cause whatever, the engine ceased to beat, the car ran out its slight momentum, and came to a standstill.
This time the accumulator had run down. There was nothing so glaringly modern as a magneto on the ancient machine and nothing would induce a gpark. They were done.
Can-Do laughed at first. It struck him as too funny that he should be stranded in the middle of Java with a derelict auto and a foreign-speaking driver.
Then he thought of the Heemskirk and what his missing her meant to him, and his laughter died very abruptly. There was no sound or sign of the other motor he had ordered to follow, and even if it came up now it would hardly be possible to reach Sourabaya in time. He dropped sullenly back in his seat and sat glowering back at the road. Hustler curled up in his place and, quite contentedly, went to sleep.
CAN-DO sat for an hour chafing at his enforced idleness. The helpless inaction was too much for his overstrung nerves. He jumped out into the road and stamped up and down, cursing the garage man who had promised to send on that other car and had failed him.
He must have known that this wretched prehistoric relic could not make the journey without breaking down. It was a hopeless scrap-heap, a something rag-bag, a something-else junk shop refuse; and Can-Do cursed it comprehensively from headlight to tail-lamp, body and chassis and soul, together with the architect of her being and the designer of her soul-destroying mechanism, the shop that had turned her out, the men who had sold her, and the one who had bought her. He missed none
of them, and went over them all again backwards to be sure he had given them full measure of his anathemas.
But in the middle of his pacing he wheeled sharply and stood like a hound at gaze. He heard again the deep toned musical boom rising through the scales to a clear flute-like whistle of a siren; and then two flaming swords of light swept into sight a mile away, foreshortened into two gleaming eyes and grew with incredible swiftness to glaring, sight-searing balls of flame.
Can-Do yelled, sprang to the side of his car, and pumped frantically at the horn. And in answer to his honk-honk came the mellow rising notes of the siren, repeated again and again.
“Wake up, Hustler, an’ keep that horn working,” yelled Can-Do. “Here’s a real auto coming. A surethiqg, living, moving car. And I’m goin’ to ride in it, whether it’s come for me or not.”
He pulled the heavy Colt from his hip pocket and ran shouting into the middle of the road.
'TPHERE was a long, crisp, sliding r-r-r-s-sh as the steelshod tires of the locked wheels bit and held on the dusty road, but otherwise thé big Diapason pulled up with the silent smoothness that tells of perfect machinery, adjustment, and handling.
“M’sieu, you have engage me?” queried the crouched shape over the steering wheel, and in response to CanDo’s quick, “That’s what, an’ thank the Lord it’s you,” came a sharp order, “Joomp een m’sieu. There is leetle time.”
Can-Do was scrambling in before he finished speaking, there was a soft click, a scrunch under-wheel, and the big Diapason sprang to life again and swept singing into her top speed. The motion was smooth and easy as that of a canoe on a lake, but the rush of wind in his face, the deep hum of the engines, the hiss of the flying tires on the road told Can-Do that here at last was speed, leaping, throbbing, space-devouring, glorious speed.
He settled himself back in the cushions and breathed a sigh of deep content. The car boomed softly along a level stretch of road, swept up a quarter mile rise without losing a breath, took the sharper lift to the crest in her stride, leaped over, and went off, roaring, down the grade beyond. The driver spoke with-
out turning his head or lifting his eyes from the circle of white light that blazed ahead of them: “You no fear —m-m-m?” with a rising note of query.
“Fear?” echoed Can-Do. “Not any, my flying Mercury. Jerk her along all you like.”
“You hoi’ tight, then,” said the driver. “Beeg, beeg tight.”
Can-Do gripped the seat and the side of the car and the next instant with a gasp of horror he saw the light of the lamps blaze on a steep bank that rose straight in front of them. They swung round with à wrench that nearly tore Can-Do from his grip, skidded terrifyingly across the road until the wheels on the left side actually ran up the first foot of the bank, and the seat tilted steeply under them, dropped back on the road with a bump and rushed on.
“Now,” said the driver, “we go othair way. You hoi’ tight ver’ moch.”
Can-Do accordingly held tight “ver’ moch” and the hair-raising performance was repeated, this time to the reverse direction.
“A’right now I t’ink,” said the driver pleasantly, “m-m-m?”
“All right, all right,” rejoined Can-Do warmly. “You bet it is, Mercury.”
“My name,” said Mercury, “heem Francois.”
“Pleased to meet you, Francois,” said Can-Do. “An’ if I’d a spare hand I’d shake wi’ you. But only having two, I feel it advisable to use ’em both to the limit to hang on with—to hoi’ tight ver’ mooch.”
“No, no,” said Francois. “No have hoi’ tight now. Ver’ good road ’ere.”
“Well, you warn me when to get my grappling irons out again, Francois,” said Can-Do. “And I’ll admire the scenery as far as the light shines on it.”
' I ''HE air was heavy with the warm, deep scent of A flowers and fruits, and whispered softly through graceful palms and groves of tropical growth. The Diapason swept through the black shadows of a treebordered stretch of road and shot out on to a long straight run through flooded rice fields, and Can-Do could not restrain an exclamation of delight at the beauty of the scene. The moon turned the expanse of water to a broad, gleaming, silver mirror, barred and grid-ironed with the black lines of the dividing dikes, and running out into the horizon in narrowing, alternate lines of black and shining silver.
“Ver’ fine, I t’ink,” said Francois unemotionally jerking.his head sideways but not for an instant removing his eyes from the road.
“You’re right, Francois Mercury,” returned Can-Do, drawing a deep breath of admiration. “But say,” he added, glancing at the other crouched low over the steering wheel, “aren’t your Mercury wings getting a trifle stiff? You’ve been driving all day, haven’t you?”
Francois nodded. “But yes, I am tire’. But I yet can drive.”
“Let me take her a piece,” said Can-Do. “I’ll keep her hustling.”
“You drive?” You drive good?” asked Francois.
“I used to kind o’ think so,” said Can-Do modestly, “though I don’t claim to be in the same class, or to have kept school where you belong.”
Without more words Francois shut off his engines, and applied the brake gently, and dropped the speed to walking pace.
They changed places, and Can-Do opened her up a little and drove at half speed until he got the feel of the steering gear.
“Woof,” he said, with deep satisfaction. “She’s a jim dandy if ever I met one. I could turn her on a soup plate, an’ play the Baby’s Lullaby and Rock Me to Sleep, Mother Dear, on her. But here’s where we begin to get goin’ again.”
He opened the throttle wide, and with a rush the car soared up again into her topmost speed. From then on Can-Do forgot the country, and the moonlight, and the scenery; forgot everything but the patch of vivid light that danced ahead of his front wheels, the deep droning song of the engines beneath him, the quivering, palpitating power under his hand.
CAN-DO forgot why he was there, forgot what he was racing for, forgot everything except the ecstasy of their whirling rush. He opened the front screen a little, leaned over the steering wheel, and stooped his head to the wind that beat and buffeted and tore at him with the strength and fury of a whole gale.
Finally, Francois leaned near to Can-Do’s ear.
“Ver’ near now,” he said. “More better I drive I t’ink.” Can-Do slowed down, straightened his aching back with a sigh and changed places.
“That was fine,” he said. “My, but that was fine.” , Francois flashed his white teeth in a delighted smile. “Ver’ good auto, I t’ink,” he said, and drove the car into top speed again.
They were running now into the outlying suburbs of Sourabaya, white-walled verandahed houses set in trim
little gardens, neat railings and hedges and low walls running along the sides of the road. The siren moaned continually, the note rising every few moments into a long fluting whistle and dropping again to low musical ’cello notes. The car sprinted in a one-minute rush along open road and plunged into and through the nearer suburbs and on into the empty streets.
Can-Do had forgotten to wind his watch, but by all the signs the dawn was very near. All along the road to the port there was a stir of waking life. Little groups were huddled round tiny cooking braziers eating their morning meal. They looked up as the Diapason swam smoothly past, the women calling shrill warning to the naked children playing in the dust. On the river-canal the barges were already astir. The reek of the cooking fires hung on the air and mingled with the heavy cloying scent of raw sugar and spice; sparks of light showed here and there under the grass roofs of the praauws. The tiny lamps in the bows of the sampans moved in the darkness like restless fireflies, their reflections dancing and flickering and swimming in the oily water.
Can-Do leaned back and looked up into the star-pricked sky and fancied that already it was paling into dawn— and the Heemskirk was sailing at daybreak.
“I may do it yet, Mercury,” he said, “and if I do, it’s thanks to you and your auto, and your driving. I paid for the car and your hire, but here’s a present for you, and, by cracky, you’ve earned it.”
"Merci, m’sieu," said Francois. “But it is the plaisir to ’ave drive m'sieu ‘oo’ 'ave l’appréciation," and he brought the car to an abrupt halt in a last scraping slide.
Can-Do leaped out and hurried on to the landing stage, Francois following close on his heels. A sampan shot up, in answer to their hail, and Francois exchanged rapid Malay with the men while Can-Do waited with an apprehensive eye on the eastern sky.
“It is all right, m’sieu," said Francois. “He say cando.”
“My savvy,” said the steersman. “ Heem-shak cando.”
“It’s the word I’ve liked the best in all your lingo in the East, John,” said the weary but still energetic Westerner as the sampan manoeuvered to bring her stern round for his embarkation. “But it never sounded more like sweet music to me than now. Heemskirk can-do; and Singapore by the twenty-fifth, my business and my girl and all I’m aiming for—Can-Do!”
'T'O A Westerner the ways of the East are at times irritatingly slow. The slowness is the more irritating when the Westerner finds it in white men who ought to know better, and it is raised to somewhere near the limit when it is met in the Dutch officials of Java whose naturally phlegmatic instincts have grafted on to the easygoing East, flourished and grown fat—very fat sometimes—on it.
If Mr. Charles Summers, a particularly energetic and hurry-up type of Westerner had his temper raised to boiling point by the sleep-walking manner of the official on the landing-stage of the river port, it can hardly be wondered at. Having arrived, dusty, dirty, thirsty and musclecramped after an allnight motor drive half the length of Java at a recklessly breakneck pace to catch the S.S. Heemskirk sailing at daybreak, and being just on the point of jumping into a sampan to row off to her with a prospect of bare minutes to spare in catching her, it was bad enough to have a Dutch port official interfere and want to see passport papers and doctor’s certificates and all the rest.
It was infinitely worse to stand fidgeting with one eye on the eastern sky and
one on the official calmly hunting for spectacles, adjusting them to a nicety, and settling himself to read as comfortably as if he had all day before him to do it; it reached the limit of endurance when the official proceeded to hunt for books, pen and ink and start to copy out certain details from the papers.
But Mr. Charles Summers had not earned his native name in Sourabaya of “Tuan Can-Do” without good reason, and of the many ways to “Can-Do” he had learned the shortest and easiest. He could not speak Dutch himself, but he called in the driver of the car as interpreter and gave him hurried instructions what to say.
“Francois, tell this streak of lightning,” he directed, “that I’m in all sorts of a hurry. Tell him it is life and death that I don’t miss the Heemskirk, that I’ve got to be in Singapore by the twenty-fifth and the Heemskirk is the only boat to get me there.”
Francois translated rapidly, the official thought a moment and replied briefly and Francois translated. “He say Heemskirk sail at daybreak.”
“Sufferin cats,” groaned Tuan Can-Do, “I’ve heard that so often I begin to think it’s the national anthem of Java. Say I know that and it’s near daybreak now. And here—” he passed Francois several notes, taking care the official should see them, “tell him you are to wait here until my sampan comes back, and if they have put me aboard the Heemskirk, you are to give him this persen from me. If they haven’t I’ll collect it from you when they bring me back here. Savvy?”
BOTH Francois and the official savvied so thoroughly that before the message had finished translating, the books shut with a snap and the passport papers were handed back to this Tuan who knew the road to rapid Can-Do, and, what was more, Francois and the official chased off the sampan that had first come alongside in answer to the call and called up instead another boat with a double crew of picked men.
Tuan Can-Do jumped in and called back, “Tell these fellows I’ve got to catch the Heemskirk, and it’s double pay for them if they get her before the anchor’s up. What do I hear that uniformed slow-motion movie star saying to ’em about the Heemskirk now?”
“He say Tuan mus’ catch Heemskirk; say Heemskirk sail at daybreak.”
Can-Do yelped. “I believe I’ve heard that remark somewhere before. Now then, you cripples, speed her up.”
The boat pushed off and was pulling round while Francois shouted to the men. “Pigi—pigi lekas" and explained to Can-Do, “I tell him ‘Go—go quick’ all same pigi—pigi lekas!”
“That,” said Can-Do firmly, “I’m going to make the
family motto and crest on this craft for the voyage. Hup then, you things—pigi—pigi lekas!"
The sampan sped swiftly down the river fairway, along the lane of crowded barges and boats, shot out into the open roadstead, swung round and went surging along under the impetus of the quick oar-strokes and the newly turned tide. There were three men at the oars—fine powerfully built men with deep chests and heavily muscled arms and shoulders—and one man steering, while two others crouched in the bows.
The rowers sat on little stools raised only a few inches from the bottom of the boat with one foot drawn up half under them and the other stretched out and pressing against a block that gave them purchase for their pull. Coming down the river they sat on the seats rowing with quick, nervous strokes, but clear of the traffic and out in the open water they slowed to a longer, stronger pull, rising to a half standing position and stretching forward to get a longer reach, throwing the whole weight of the body into the pull until they dropped back at the end of it on to the little stool.
“Good men,” said Can-Do. “That’s the style—lift her along—pigi lekas!"
“All li’. Heemskirk can-do,” said the steersman nodding bis head cheerfully and waving out into the darkness ahead.
“Hullo, Mahoganyface,” said Can-Do, “you speak English then?”
“Can-Do,” said the steersman. “Spik Inggriss, all li’.”
But now Can-Do could not mistake the growing light in the East. The day was breaking and there was still a good mile to go. Would the Heemskirk keep close ta her promised sailing hour? Could he reach her in time? He was more afraid of the tide that was running strong under them, hastening her departure, than of the daybreak.
The roadstead of Sourabaya lies between the mainland and the big island of Madura, and except for about half an ho”r of dead water at the turns of the tide, a strong current sweeps fiercely through the channel. If the Heemskirk was working under weakened power they would want to get her out on the run of the tide, and would take some pains to avoid fighting against it. And the tide had already turned and would be helping her out now whenever they liked to get under way. They might wait for a better light, since the channel is sown with shoals and sands, but they would hardly be likely to wait for more light than would allow them to see their bearing, Can-Do looked at the sky and groaned. The light was growing rapidly.
He pointed to it, and “ Heemskirk pigi," he said to the steersman. The latter nodded. “My savvy,” he said. “Suppose ship catch small piecee day—” and he pointed
to the sky, “small piecee water,” and he pointed to the running tide, “ship go Singapo’ one-time.” “That’sittoa dot,” said Can-Do anxiously. “And she’s got her piecee water, and her piecee day is coming with a rush. You tell these blighters to shake ’er up.” “My think can-do,” said the steersman again; but he looked anxiously at the light that was growing on the water and spoke to the crew.
The men at the spade-handled oars were working with the strength and regularity of pistons, the muscles bunching and sliding in forearm and calf. Now the two men in the bows stood up and slipped off the thin vests and knickers they wore and stood naked save for a narrow loincloth. One stood over the rower in the bow, and, one hand at a time, took the oar from him, let him slip sideways from his place, and dropped into his seat without losing a stroke. The second spare man did the same with the second oarsman, and
presently the steersman changed places with stroke. The smooth water hissed from the boat’s forefoot and along her sides with the sound of ripping silk; little swirling eddies, that told something of the strength of the stroke, boiled up after each oar had lifted from the water while the wake seethed and bubbled astern of them. Can-Do knew that the men were straining every nerve and muscle and that the boat was traveling at racing speed, but—the light was growing; and, although he could see no more yet than the shadowy loom of the shore, it was light enough for him to see all the details of his boat and the boatmen, to note the play of the knotting and smoothing bunches of muscle, the glistening sweat that ran on them from head to foot, even the clenched teeth and set faces.
Can-Do swayed back and forward in the sternsheets to each stroke, as the cox of a racing eight sways to lift the boat in a close finish. He gasped with the rowers and unconsciously tensed and slacked his muscles in time to their movements—
Then somewhere ahead of them in the gray light a ship’s siren boomed, faint and far off. “The Heemskirk,” gasped Can-Do. “She’s getting under way.
Now then, bullies, a last go for it. Shake ’er up. Lift her. Pigi, you cripples, pigi lekas!”
THE rowers changed places again;
the fresh men reached out in a longer stroke, rose from their seats and flung themselves back with every ounce óf their weight added to the wrenching pull of their arms, while the relieved men sat limp with heaving chests and panting breath and limbs trembling from their effort.
The siren boomed again, this time nearer. “You’ll do it,” yelled Can-Do.
“You’ll do it yet, my hearties. Oh, good men. Let ’er have it. Soak it to her!
Pigi, my bullies, pigi—pigiI”
He dived into his poelet and pulled aut a handful of silver and rattled it between his hands. “That’s yours my lads,” he said, “the minute we hook on to her ladder. Never mind if she’s moving I can jump for it. Pigi then.”
A third time the bellowing hoot came from the steamer and Can-Do caught a glimpse of a dim gray shadow ahead of them. But at the same time he heard a sound that sent his heart down into his boots—the thresh of a ship’s propeller.
The boatman heard it too and laid a hand on Can-Do’s arm.
“Ship go,” he said softly, and shook his head. “You no can-do.”
“She might stop,” said Can-Do desperately. “She might slow for something. Keep going a bit yet. See here—” and he pulled out his pocket book, snatched out a note and fluttered it in the faces of the steersman and the gasping rowers. “Put me alongside, and it’s yours. You’re catching her. By cracky, you’re catching her, I tell you. Pull again, quicken her up, stroke—pull your arms out. She’s nearer—you’ll do it yet.”
Certainly the loom of the ship was larger and it began to look as if they were actually going to win. But even as the hope surged through Can-Do the beat of the screw quickened and the shape of the ship began to lessen again.
Hail her, said Can-Do, but found his own lips too parched and his throat too dry to do more than rai§e a hopelessly faint yell of “A-hoy!”
The rowers dropped their oars and all together sent a wailing yell across the water. But the Heemskirk screwbeats never faltered and her gray shadow faded steadily into the lighter gray of daybreak.
Ten minutes later, when the sun shot up and flooded the world with light, they saw her steaming steadily down the channel, the sunlight gleaming on her white upperworks, and the furrows from her bows streaming out in wide penciling* against the shining water of the channel.
\/fISSING her was a heart-breaking blow to Can-Do, iV1 but he showed enough of the right stuff to call up a smile if it was a shade stiff and pass some words of praise to the serang for the effort his men had made. After they had rested and recovered their breath they began to pull heavily in while he sat in the stern chewing over his unpleasant reflection, and vainly cudgeling his mind for a plan to get to Singapore by the twenty-fifth.
He knew there was no other boat touching anywhere in Java that would do it, because he had the time-table and arrival and departure of every liner by heart. He had
even thought of chartering a fast motor-boat, but it was a fifteen hundred mile trip, and he couldn’t get one to carry fuel enough or an owner or crew to risk the trip. The next boat from Batavia he could catch and she would get him in on the twenty-sixth, which was no more good to him than getting there in a month or a year.
The sampan slanted across the stern of a tiny steamer with a Chinese flag at the main and a Blue Peter limp at the fore. “Hai-tan, Singapore,” he read on her stern as they passed her and the barge from which crates of live pigs were swinging aboard. He had heard of her type and trade—a pig-boat, owned by a Chinese firm probably, a crazy patchwork of rusty plates and worn-out engines fit years ago for the breakers’ yard, but bought
up cheap, manned by cheap Lascars, Malays, Chinese officered by broken-down men whose much smudged “tickets” were about all that was left to them, set to the last and lowest job to which a ship could well come, running cargoes of live pigs from China or the islands of the Indies to the Singapore market.
The Singapore market—and Blue Peter at the fore. Can-Do sat up suddenly. “Here, John, my go Hai-tan. You savvy?”
“Can-Do,” said the steersman calmly, and swung the sampan’s head round. In a few minutes they ran alongside and Can-Do climbed the filth littered ladder.
The noise and the stench on board clamored to the high heavens; the decks were piled to a height of half-way up the funnel with open basket-work crates each just big enough to allow the pig it contained to lie down; the ’tween-deck was crammed from end to end and from floor to deck-beams with squealing, grunting, stinking pigs. They were piled in tiers one above the other, placed tail to tail and with snouts out to a gangway between the piles just wide enough for a man to edge along. On deck it was the same. The stacks of live pigs filled every foot of space except the narrow gangways running fore and aft and a square of about five feet at the entrance to the “saloon.”
pAN-DO looked into the latter in passing. It was about ^ ten feet long by eight feet wide and it held about a score of chattering Chinese coolies squatting on mats and little lacquered boxes, playing cards or looking on and smoking. The reek of opium oozed out from the open door,
and huddled away in the corners were five or six halfnaked sleeping figures. Can-Do passed on and made his way along an alley, the long snouts of the squealing pigs almost touching his elbois, and the deck underfoot slippery with filth; climbed the short ladder and found himself on the tiny bridge.
A China boy in surprisingly clean white clothes followed him up the ladder and asked in pidgin English what he wanted. Can-Do explained that he wanted to speak to the captain; but the boy shook his head.
“No can,” he said. “Captain belong sick—welly sick.”
This was a difficulty, but Can-Do asked next for the mate. He might find out from him if there was any chance of a passage, anyhow. The boy invited him to follow and led the way back along the gangway through the piled-up pigs.
There was an alleyway between the deck-house over the engine room and the house that held the tiny cabin of the white officers, and it ran out on to a narrow platform that passed round aft of the engine room house to the entrance leading below. The platform was an oasis in the wilderness of pigs, and here, sitting on camp stools—there was no room for deck-chairs—Can-Do found the mate and the chief engineer. They looked at him in some surprise and when they learned his errand the air of surprise increased considerably. He explained first that he had come aboard to see the captain but was told he was sick.
“That’s right,” said the mate. “He’s not fit to see you, and won’t be before we’re under way.”
“Then, perhaps, I can do my business with you,” said Can-Do. “I want to know if there’s any chance of fixing up with the skipper or you for a passage to Singapore?”
“Aboard the Hai-tan?” said the mate in blank astonishment, and the engineer rose and strolled out of earshot. “Almighty, mister, are you crazy?”
“I hope not,” replied Can-Do smiling, “though I’m sure crazy to get to Singapond.”
“You must be,” said the mate dryly. “Why didn’t you go on the passenger boat this morning?”
“I just missed her by inches and seconds,” said Can-Do. “And it’s absolutely urgent that I get to Singapore as soon as she does. You can hardly help moving faster than her if your engines turn round at all, so I thought you might help me out.”
The mate shook his head. “Can’t be done,” he said. “The Old Man isn’t fit to see you, but I can tell you just what he’d say.”
“I’m willing to pay, of course,” urged Can-Do. “The same passage money as I’d have paid the passenger boat. But if I’m paying I might as well hand the money to you or the Old Man instead of your owners or agents here. It’s your hospitality I’m trespassing on, and you ought to get the cash for the inconvenience.”
“It’s impossible,” said the mate. “If the owners heard of it, it would be sack for the Old Man or me certain.”
“Well, I’ll pay you enough to hand over a decent passage money to them and have something over,” said Can-Do, but the mate shook his head again.
“Go’n see the agents here if you like,” he said. “But I can tell you what they’ll say before you see them. They won’t take you, on any terms or at any price. They had trouble once wi’ a passenger they shipped and they never forgot it. Something in the customs he was. We’ve plain orders on carrying passengers, except coolies that pay passage money and are signed on as pig-hands; and the orders are flat—no passengers.”
“I’ll sign on as a coolie if you like,” said Can-Do smiling.
The mate looked at him closely. “Is it a police business?” he asked. “Because that would make more trouble than customs.”
“I’m nothing I don’t claim to be,” said Can-Do, “an absolute stranger to Java and Singapore, but desperately anxious to get to Singapore.”
“It’s no good,” said the mate. “Man alive, d’you see the livin’ pig-stye we are? There isn’t a bare spot on the ship you could find room to stretch yourself to sleep. The saloon—save the mark—is packed wi’ filthy coolies, and the cabins the officers have aren’t big enough for them to turn round in. It’s a solemn fact we have to open the door to get room to dress. Where would you go?—but it’s idle askin’ that. We can’t take you; that’s flat an’ final, and I’d rather you didn’t worry me more over it.” Continued on page 41
Continued, from page 30
“Mister,” said Can-Do earnestly, “I know when a man means what he says, and I see you mean it. But I tell you I’m desperate. Can’t you stretch a point and take me? I see how you’re fixed, but I’ll put up with anything without a whimper.
I see it’s no question of pay with you, or I’d run my price up to the last dollar I own. Can’t you do it?”
“I’m sorry,” answered the mate. “Honest, mister, I’m sorry; but straight—I can’t. I-’m responsible, and that’s my last word.”
“What would happen if I stowed away without saying more to you?” asked CanDo.
“The same as if I took you—sack,” said the mate. “And I tell you plain I can’t afford to get sacked from any more ships.”
“Could the engineer do anything for me d’you think?”
“No,” replied the mate. “Though you may ask him if you like. I won’t listen to what you have to say to him.”
He called the engineer and walked to the other end of the alleyway while CanDo spoke with him. But the engineer was curt to a point of rudeness. He barely heard Can-Do out before he answered him.
“I’ve naething more’n the mate t’ say. An’ I ken weel what that was—no, and at whatever price ye’d pay—no.”
“I’m in a desperate fix,” said Can-Do, but the engineer interrupted him.
“Sae would me an’ the mate be in a desperate fix if we took ye. Guarantee us anither ship and prove ye can see us signed on, an’ we’ll say yes. But if y’are fit t’find anither ship for me, it’s mair than I am myself.”
Can-Do gave it up after that. It was the more bitter to do it because the mate admitted that they were good for eight to nine knots in smooth water, and of smooth water they were certain. This would have got him in before the twenty-fifth and Can-Do shook hands and went over the side pondering that fact. There was no time to go to the agents, even if the mate had not been so emphatic on their reply to his request. The Hai-tan was loading from the last barge then and would sail in an hour to get out on the tail of the tide.
CAN-DO dropped into his sampan, and the men recommenced the pull for the shore. But before they reached it Can-Do touched the steersman and pointed down the channel the Hai-tan would take in an hour.
“My go that way,” he said. “Shove her round and row easy,” and with gestures he helped out his meaning till the wondering steersman turned the boat’s-head, and they went sliding down the channel close to the shore and past the Hai-tan, busy in mid-stream completing her loading.
Can-Do’s plan was avery simple one, but he had a great deal of difficulty in making it plain to the boatmen.
None of them spoke English beyond the “pidgin,” and although Can-Do had picked up enough of that to express a few elementally simple requirements, and the natives knew enough to understand such, it was quite a difficult thing to find enough of it to explain a procedure which was very far out of the ordinary. Can-Do, however, managed by the aid of a minimum of “pidgin” and a maximum of pantomimic gestures.
He pointed to himself, the Hai-tan, and down the channel toward the direction of Singapore in turn.
“My go Hai-tan; Hai-tan go Singapore,” he said; and the steersman looked a little surprised, as well he might, since they were well past the Hai-tan and pulling steadily away from her. “My no savvy,” he said. “ Hai-tan belong—” and he pointed back up the channel. “Sampan no belong—no Piyi Hai-tan."
Can-Do was quite pleased with this effort. “But now here’s the darn trouble, John,” he said. “Mate Hai-tan will not— no, that won’t do. Mate Hai-tan refuses —no, darn it that’s worse — Mate—” “Maat Hai-tan? No savvy ‘maat’ Hai-tan," put in John.
“Don’t savvy ‘mate,’ you chump—why, mate, officer—Here, how’s this—Capitan, Hai-tan?"
“My savvy capitan Hai-tan," said John brightening up.
“Capitan Hai-tan say—speak—my nocan belong Hai-tan go Singapore.”
“My savvy,” said John emphatically. “My savvy.”
CAN-DO’S “pidgin” ran out about here and he fell back on gestures and illustrations. He took out two cigarettes and held one up, laid it on the thwart and said: “ Hai-tan" ; laid the other there, and said: “Sampan.” He pointed toward the real Hai-tan and slowly pointed along the channel out ahead of them; “Hai-tan go Singapore,” he said, moved the cigarette Hai-tan and repeated: “Hai-tan go Singapore.” When John had absorbed this, Can-Do made him understand that the second cigarette represented the sampan they were in. Then he moved the Hai-tan one slowly along, slanted the sampan one toward it, and brought them side by side and moving together. Then he pointed out to an imaginary Hai-tan coming up astern of them, made pantomime of the sampan men pulling, brought the phantom Hai-tan alongside, and then picking up a bamboo pole boathook grabbed the phantom ship and hauled alongside. Then he thrust the boat hook into John’s hands, said “Savvy, boathook,” touching it, “belong Hai-tan. My go Hai-tan," and he pretended to scramble up the boathook.
A slow smile came over John’s face and he chuckled softly. He explained to the boatmen who had watched the performance with absorbed interest, and the natives shouted laughter, and chattered and pointed to Can-Do and made extravagant imitations of him scrambling up the Hai-tan's side. One even grasped another and pretended to help hoist him up, grinning and chattering at Can-Do.
“You’ve got it,” said Can-Do with huge delight, “and you’re in on this game with me I can see. Now about terms.” He pulled out his pocketbook and took out notes for twenty guilders. “When my belong Hai-tan, notes—I mean guilders, belong sampan,” and he made a motion of tossing the notes back into the boat.
“My savvy,” said John, nodding his head. “Suppose you catch Hai-tan, my catchs piecee wang—my catchee dollah.” “You’re on, John,” said Can-Do. “You catchee the wang-dang dollars every time.”
Then Can-Do made them settle down and pull along steadily towards the widening opening of the channel. He knew that if there was the slightest chance of throwing him off the Hai-tan, that mate would do it, and he wanted to be too far out to chance any sampan hanging round to be hailed and hired to dump him ashore again. The only possibility of a successful finish to his plan would be for his sampan to clear off as soon as he had left her for no other one to be available, and for the mate to have no choice between throwing him into the sea and the jaws of any passing shark, or taking him on to Singapore.
The sampan men evidently understood the position without further explanations having to be made, for they pulled easily but steadily until the channel opened out into a wide and empty sheet of water. Then they eased off and let her drift, and rolled tobacco in dried Indian corn leaves, and lolled and smoked, chattering and laughing amongst themselves,
A BIG square-ended Blue Funnel cargo boat came plodding in from the sea just as the tide was on the turn, and Can-Do could see from the winding course she took across that wide expanse of water, that despite its width a channel through it had to be kept to; and when the steamer passed within pistol shot of them, he knew the sampan lay right in the channel and could intercept any boat bound in or out.
The tide was well slacked before a black spot on the horizon gave the first warning of the Hai-tan's coming and Can-Do could see by the smoke pouring from her that she was bustling to get clear of the run of the tide before slack water moved and turned its strength against her speed. The sampan men threw away their smokes and settled themselves to their oars and began to pull seaward again, while the steersman
sat with his chin on his shoulder watching the course of the coming steamer.
As Can-Do noted the speed at which she was moving, the quickly looming height of her, the “bone in her teeth” of white water tumbling from her bows, he began to wonder if it was quite such a simple plan as he had imagined to lay alongside her and scramble on board.
He looked at the steersman, and catching the doubt in his look, immediately forgot his own, nodded emphatically and assured the native, “Can do, John, can do!” until the man rather hesitatingly indicated his agreement and his willingness to make the attempt.
The Hai-tan was very near now and Can-Do could see distinctly the man at the wheel and the white jacket of the mate pacing the bridge. The sampan took an inward sheer toward the course the steamer was making, and Can-Do saw the mate stop, look at them a moment, and jerk the line to the siren. A puff of white steam spouted and the whistle shrieked a warning at them.
Can-Do was crouched down out of sight behind the steersman, who merely waved a hand in answer to the whistle. : But he held steadily on a course that must bring him across the steamer’s, and the whistle screamed angrily at him again and again; there was a hoarse shouting and excited jabbering from the steamer, an answering shrill chatter from the sampan, and then clear and distinct as if they were on board, they heard the tinkle of the telegraph bell.
The white foam dropped and the curling wave fell away from the oncoming cutwater. Now the boys were abreast of them and slipping past, the sampan men ■ gave a last strong pull, the steersman shoved his helm hard over, and the ! bowman slid his oar in smartly and picked up the long bamboo boathook. The black side rushed at them but at the critical second John swung his helm back, two pair of hands fended smartly off and the boathook rose and dropped neatly in the shrouds and held on.
THE mate was leaning over the end of the bridge yelling English, Malay, and “pidgin” at the sampan, when he saw a white figure rise swiftly, leap on the boat’s gunwale, seize the boathook, turn and fling back a white paper into the bottom of the boat, and then scramble smartly up the ship’s side. He recognized Can-Do and saw at once what the game was, but before he had time to more than shout a few excusable curses at him, and yell for some of the coolies to chuck the intruder back in his boat, the boathook disengaged and fell, and the sampan was drifting rapidly astern with the crew hastily throwing out their oars and settling to pull clear.
Half a dozen coolies came scrambling over the tops of the pig baskets to get at Can-Do, but he swung himself into the shrouds, ran up them to the mast, leaned out and caught the ones on the other side, and came down them hand under hand while the coolies scrambled back to meet him. He dodged them, ran to the bridge ladder and up it, and touched his cap calmly to the furious mate.
“Come aboard, sir,” he reported gravely, and the mate could only mouth threats and curses at him.
“I’ll have you slung overboard,” he shouted. “You can swim for all I care.
Youki best me, would you, you—?”
“Look here, mister,” said Can-Do calmly. “Let’s get down to business. I don’t know whether your steamer or my sampan was to blame, but you nearly ran us down. I thought we were done for and scrambled aboard you. My boat bolted and left me here, and —here I am. If you sling me off I’ll probably be nailed by a shark, and that will only make trouble for you, as my sampan men would be sure to report it. You couldn’t possibly help my coming aboard, and I’ll give you a signed statement to your owners on that, so that they can’t blame you.”
Of all the blasted cheek,” ejaculated the mate in tones of angry amazement. “Give me a signed statement—”
“Tuan!” interrupted the man at the wheel, and the mate looked round to see him twirling at the useless wheel. With the engines stopped, the ship had lost her way, and the sweep of the tide was evidently carrying her out of the channel and into shoal water. With an oath the mate jumped to the telegraph and hauled it over,
the bell jangled below, and the clank and rumble of the engines broke out in immediate response.
FOR the next few’ minutes the mate had his hands full of the difficult task of swinging clear of the maze of sandbanks and getting safely back into the channel, and during those minutes you may be sure Can-Do kept himself as inconspicuous and out of the way as he knew how.
When the mate turned and saw him again after the ship was safe back in her course the sampan was a mere speck in the distance, and the mate looked Can-Do up and down, turned to gaze at the sampan and then out round the empty waters, and with tight-closed lips turned and jerked the telegraph handle round to “Full ahead” and gave the steersman his course.
“You’re here,” he said abruptly to Can-Do, “and I s’pose you’ve got to stay. But how you’ll explain yourself to the Old Man I don’t know. That’s your pidgin, and I warn you you won’t find it pleasant or easy.”
“I can manage that all right, thanks,” said Can-Do confidently.
“You’ve cheek enough for it if any. man has,” rejoined the mate grimly, nodding his head slowly. He turned away with an impatienf . jqrk' of his'shoulder, looked back ~and'àiicLabruptly. - “My nande’i Harden. What am I to call you?’” ' "AY" Can-Do’s eye twinkled and a slow grin began to spread on his face. “Round these parts,” he said, “they’ve fitted a name of their own to me. They call me ‘Tuan Can-Do.’ ”
Again the mate looked him up and down, and again lifted his gaze to the empty waters round and the distant speck of sampan.
“Tuan Can-Do eh?” he said. “And I begin to believe they fitted you darn well.’’
“Your friends back there,” added the mate, jerking his head sternwards to the disappearing coast of Java, “may have had good enough reason for naming you ‘Tuan Can-Do,’ but if you’re able to make anything but a beast of an uncomfortable passage on this packet, or find a place to sleep even unless on top of the tiers of pigs, go ahead—Can-Do, an’ welcome to it.”
“It’s getting into Singapore before the twenty-fifth that’s my main want,” returned Can-Do, “and that at least cando. As I forced myself on you without any welcome, I’ll have to make the best of the rest.”
THERE was no doubt of it, the mate of the Hai-tan was very right in his warning, as Tuan Can-Do proved to the hilt before that first miserable day out was over.
He was dead tired with the continuous rush and excitement and worry of the previous twenty-four hours; since morning of the previous day he had been without sleep, had finished a tiring rail journey, done some sight-seeing, made an all-night mad motor rush to catch his boat, missed it by inches, had finished by shoving his sampan across the bows of the moving Hai-tan, risking drowning or being eaten by a shark, and had only managed to stay on board because there was no way of getting rid of him short of flinging him overboard or losing a tide to put him ashore.
Small wonder then that he fel.t fit to drop after such a performance with body and muscles on the stretch at intervals, and brains at fuller stretch without any interval whatever. He would have given all he possessed for a bed, or even for bare room to stretch himself and sleep.
But it was literally true that there was no room for him to lie down in any spot he could find. The pigs were piled from rail to rail, and six feet above them; and save for the narrow passage between the stacks, there was not a square foot of deck to be seen, except the space at the saloon door that was walled in with living pigs and crossed and recrossed constantly by natives.
There was no room even amongst the filthy, opium smoking, card-playing Chinese in the saloon, even if he would have been allowed to push in amongst them and no room anywhere else, for wherever there was a nook or corner big enough to hold a man it was big enough to hold a pig—and on that boat the pig had first rights.
Can-Do gave up his search for a restingplace after, with'a pleasant thrill of hope, he had clambered up to one of the lifeboats on top of the main-deck house and found it also crammed with baskets of pigs. He climbed down and made his way wearily to the bridge, where he discovered a young and unknown man in charge. He was the second officer, and evidently the mate had explained Can-Do’s presence somehow, for he merely looked up with languid interest, nodded and turned away again to lean over the bridge rail.
“You don’t have too much sleeping accommodation aboard,” said Can-Do, by way of opening a conversation.
He took off his jacket, rolled it, jammed it in a corner of the bridge, and lay down with it for a pillow. The second officer looked round slowly at him, and without taking his elbows off the rail remarked: “No-can,” and when Can-Do took no notice, raised his voice a little and repeated it, still without moving.
“Don’t apologize,” said Can-Do cheerfully; “I’ll be quite comfy, thank ’ee. Good night,” and he dropped down and nestled his head into his pillow. This time the ship’s officer moved and came slowly across to him. “No-can,” he said loudly. “You savvy—no-can.”
“You wait about ten seconds,” said Can-Do d_rowsily, .“and see whether I no-eamor/can can. I tell you, Mr. No'Cah,'this is the happiest moment of my life. :JI wouldn’t—’scuse me now like a good "Chaparan away’n play—G’night.”
With that he drowsed off into the most blissful slumber he had ever known. The bare planks under him, the stiff rasping linen coat beneath his head, the scorching flame of the sun on his body—of all this he knew nothing. The screaming and squealing and grunting of the crowded pigs sank to a soothing lullaby, the clanking rumble of the worn and patched old engines, the grating jar of the misfitting propeller parts harmonized together into a gentle murmuring song, and then—the nothingness of the deepest sleep.
He was roused by the shock of a blow upon his ribs, and, before he could properly assemble his sleep-drunken wdts, by another and another in a quick shower.
He saw a pair of white-clad legs delivering kick after kick, he heard a hoarse voice bellowing at him: “You dirty
schwine-pig! You on my bridge schleephein!”
CAN-DO could not roll clear of the vicious kicks, for he was jammed against the canvas dodger of the bridge. He reached out and snatched at the standing leg, the white-clad figure came down with a crash, and in a flash Can-Do was on his feet and returning the kicks with interest.
“Now get up,” he snarled. “Get up an’ be knocked down.”
The burly, crimson-faced man struggled to his feet. Can-Do’s fist shot out on the instant, and he went down again with a crash and a bellowing yell.
“I don’t kick a man when he’s down as a rule,” said Can-Do viciously, “but don’t tempt me too much. Get up an’have some more. You’d kick me would you, you bloated sauerkraut, sausage-eater.”
The burly man groaned and sat up slowly, as the mate came running up the ladder. “You, mister,” said the sitting man pointing a shaking finger at CanDo,’ “over the rail that man schling.” “Schling yourself,” retorted Can-Do. “You—”
“Here, what’s all this?” broke in the mate sharply.
“Ask him,” said Can-Do angrily. “That bloated barrel came kicking me in the ribs when I was lying there asleep. So I just knocked him down. Who is the beast, anyway?”
“Well,” said the mate grimly, “he’s the captain of this packet.”
The captain lumbered to his feet. “Jansen,” he shouted, “my gun bring. I mitt mine gun to him will talk.”
He brushed past Can-Do and staggered into the tiny cabin that was perched in the middle of the narrow bridge.
“You best duck out quick,” said the mate hurriedly. “He’s drunk—not as drunk as usual, but drunk enough to shoot. Get out 0’ sight till I get a chance to smooth him down.”
“Duck nothing,” said Can-Do angrily. “I’m not going to stand for being kicked round the boat by a drunken Dutchman, and then run away from his gun. Him and his gun together. He’s too drunk to hit a
haystack. I’ll rush him and chuck the thing overboard.” The mate moved quickly to the door
The mate moved quickly to the door just as the captain emerged. He carried an automatic pistol in his hand ready for action. The mate spoke soothingly to him, but the captain volleyed abuse on him in Dutch, and bade him stand aside. The second officer had run to the ladder and dived hastily down, and at sight of the pistol the man at the wheel let go and ran for it, too. The captain roared an order after him, then flung up the pistol and fired. The mate leaped at him, and instantly Can-Do heard again the sharp smack of the automatic, saw the mate reel back and drop.
Can-Do ran at the drunken man, a bullet whipped past his ear, and then—a jarring shock threw both men off their feet, the deck quivering and buckling under them. Can-Do scrambled up, felt the vessel rebound and surge forward with a lurch; saw the deck tilt sideways; and heard the tearing, grinding, ripping crashes that told all too plainly of the jagged rocks that were tearing her underwater body open as a blunt knife tears tissue paper.
FROM the first instant of the rending crash of the Hai-tan’S'striking to the last when she disappeared in the boiling waters there was an interval of. perhaps no more than three or four minutes; but at such times life is measured by actions rather than by the clock, and the minutes were close packed with frenzied thought and action. c-y.A
The first shocl^fetunned every one into silence, and for clear seconds there was no sound but that h'Mrible riving and.tearing of the Hai-tan’Then sheslid clear and lurched bacfcrodin even deck, and under the impetus of the last revolutions of her engines drove smoothly ahead in dumb and terror-struck silence. From the stoke-hold rose a shrill yell of fear, and instantly, as if it had been a signal,' a chaos of noise enveloped the stricken ship..
The entrance to the lower decks spouted ' a rush of screaming, fighting, struggling coolies; the-firemen, nearly naked and black with grimy dust, shot up from below, the deck coolies scuttled up and down the alleyways and swarmed up on to the piled stacks of pigs, the gamblers and sleepers in the saloon plunged for the door, jammed there and fought and screeched and yelled in the last extremity of fear. Every man of them shouted and jabbered and yelped at the highest pitch of his voice, and even shriller and sharper than their din rose the long piercing shrieks of the prisoned pigs.
Can-Do realized at the first crash the certainly that the ship was done for, and his first thought was for the mate. As he ran to him the mate sat up and began jerkily to rise to his feet, the blood trickling from a cut over his ear where the bullet had scored his head.
“Are you all right?” shouted Can-Do. “We’re hit bad, aren’t we?”
The mate without answering staggered to the rail and clutched it, and stood a moment looking down on the pandemonium of the decks. He touched the wound with his fingers, shook his head, passed a hand across his brow and drew himself erect.
“All right,” he said, turning to Can-Do. “Just scraped me—stunned me a second or two—all right now. But we’re done for. She can’t float many minutes.”
He spun round, reached to the bridge telegraph and Can-Do saw him wrench the handle round to “finished with engines” and Can-Do knew then that their case was hopeless, for that was the final word to the engineers to quit their shut-in pen and take their last chance of life in the open.
The mate stepped back beside him and together they stood there waiting and watching.' The scene belpw fascinated Can-Do, and presently he ¿aught himself stringing together words - and little sentences 'to, fit a written description and convey an impression of it all.
Then Suddenly Can-Do realized what he was doing—rpreparing phrases for a pen.that was never to write them. He was wasting^ time there, precious time,' when there jwas so much to be done. It was. a little-hard to feel that there was any real danger, the sea looked so' smooth and placid and smiling; but its smoothness stretched without a break to. the horizon all around them. There were dozens of men on board—and there were four tiny
boats. Yes, assuredly there was danger.
The mate put it more strongly when Can-Do shouted something to him about making for a boat.
“There isn’t a dog’s chance,” he said composedly. “The boats are rotten as punk. Haven’t been off the chocks for years, and they’ll fall to pieces if they did get ’em off now. And if they were tight and good—look at that mob. They’d drown each other out of any J^oat that ever swam. The boats wouldn’t hold half of ’em, even if they got them clear. And they can’t. We won’t last more n two minutes. Look at her head saggin now.” .
He stopped, took a cigar case from his pocket, picked a cigar carefully and rolled it in his fingers, bit the end ofl and felt in his pocket for matches.
Can-Do tried hard to imitate his composure. “Then what’s to be done? he âslvBCl
“Done?” said the mate, and struck a match. “Drown—” He drew on the cigar, puffed it well alight, carefully blew out the match, dropped it and set his foot on it.
Can-Do laughed at the action. Afraid of set tin’ fire to her?” he said, and the mate grinned back at him.
‘ A SIBILANT hissing ran in on the /i other noises of the ship, and a wisp of steam rose and drifted from the opening to the stokehold; it thickened fand trailed in a misty cloud across the roof of the house and dimmed the picture of the swarm of coolies clamoring and fighting at the lifeboats.
“Not long now,” said the mate, puffing ■at his cigar. “That’s the water up to the 'fires. The boilers’ll go next. Where’s the engineer, I wonder?”
Next instant they saw where the engineer was. Two struggling figures reeled from the darkness of the alleyway, one white-clad and with naked arms and neck, the other in dirty blue dungarees. The dungaree man was hauling the other, squirming like an eel and fighting like a wild animal, along the deck. Then the dungaree man flung the other hastily from him and stood twisting his forearm this -way and that and peering at it, while the white man dived back into the alley.
The engineer came along the deck and ran up the bridge to where they stood. “That Second o’ yours,” he said, “mad, 9tark mad he is. Packin’ his box t’ go ashore—he bit me—■” and he turned the arm for them to see the teeth marks.
“Might’s well let him be,” said the mate. “We’re all goin’ the same way presently.”
“How long?” asked the engineer, and "A minute or two,” answered the mate. “Aye, aye,” the engineer returned, and fell to wiping his hands mechanically on a piece of waste he pulled from his pocket.
“Here,” Can-Do broke in suddenly. “I don’t see this—-waiting here to be drowned like blind puppies. I’d rather go out fighting for it. Can’t the three of us do something to swing one of those boats clear?”
ALL this time the captain had been lying where the first shock had flung him. His head had struck something evidently, but now he roused enough to drag himself to a sitting position. He asked a question in a thick voice, and the mate answered him in Dutch. The captain rose, entered his box of a cabin and then, clutching at the rail and the door frame, staggered forth from the cabin again. The mate sneered. “He took time for one more drink,” he said, and spat disgustedly over the rail.
“Will you two come and help me try to get those boats out?” said Can-Do. “If we don’t get off in ’em ourselves we might help some of those poor things to it.”
“I suppose we might as well,” the mate replied, and the engineer grunted acquiescence and stowed his waste away in his pocket. “Though personally, I’d sooner drown here clear o’ that scum. By—! They’ve got one swung out. Lord,
I wouldn’t have believed it. But look at her planks. They’re started already.”
It was true They could see the black lines where the planks gaped, and even as they watched, the lines widened and the planks bulged outward under the weight on them. Only two or three of the pigs had been torn out and hurled overboard. The weight of the others and the struggling mob of coolies that
swarmed on top of them was too much for the rotten wood. Then the boatfalls that held the stern were let go, or cut through, or broke, and the stern fell away and left the boat hanging by the bows, while a torrent of struggling men and screaming pigs cascaded out and went splashing down into the water.
A single, heart-rending shriek from the water rose clear above the other clamor of sound. Can-Do clutched the rail, and sick fear stirred at his heart. He saw a black, shining, wet thing stab up through the smooth water, and slide swiftly across the surface toward a pig that had drifted clear of the boat, saw a gleaming blueywhite skin flash for an instant, saw the pig disappear in an agitated little whirlpool. Another long scream came from the knot around the boat, and shut off suddenly in the middle.
Can-Do, white and shaking, moved across the bridge to the other rail.
Then the end came. Suddenly it seemed and without warning—although that, Can-Do knew, was foolish and fanciful since they had known from the moment she struck—
But that seemed such an age ago, and the boat had floated so steadily and quietly since, sinking evenly and without fuss, that he had hardly realized to the full that her life and the lives of all her people were measurable by minutes and seconds. Now she lurched and her deck canted sharply to starboard, hurling the men at the port boat down the slope. The shrieks of the pigs, the yells of the men, rose in a fresh burst of din, the deck lurched again, thebow sagged and dropped away, and a shattering roar broke from the engine room. Can-Do saw the roof of the deck house lift and wrench apart, the ventilators totter and fall, the funnel itself lean and sway. A thick cloud of smoke and steam belched from the wrecked roof, the stern heaved up as the fore part of the ship dived, and Can-Do was torn from his hold on the after rail of the bridge and flung down against the forward one.
He saw the dark bulk of the fore deck and cargo vanish in a swirl of leaping, spouting, frothing white water. The last sight he recollected was a greenish tinged torrent sluicing over it all, and a creaming white wave boiling and seething up at him on the bridge.
EXACTLY what happened after the Hai-tan took her sliding plunge to the bottom requires some explanation of her position previous to that moment.
When she first struck the coral reef, her weight and her momentum carried her over it, although the jagged coral split her open along half her length. When she lurched clear, her engines continued their revolutions for a few turns and helped to drive her some hundreds of yards clear of where she first struck. The water, of course, poured in like a mill race, and within bare minutes of her striking she vanished in a caldron of boiling foam. A few yards below the surface another spike on the edge of the reef caught her after end and held it, while the forward three quarters of the ship, broken off at the point where the exploding boilers had wrenched and wracked her frame, sank in a sucking whirlpool into deep water.
Can-Do was on the bridge, and the bridge was on this deep-diving forward end. The first rush of water broke over the bridge and carried him and the mate and engineer spinning helplessly on its crest. The hull plunged on and down, and the three of them were caught in the whirlpool and dragged down with it.
Can-Do was a good swimmer and diver, and at the first instant of the plunge had instinctively gulped a long, deep breath. Even in the whirling suction that pulled him down he kept his senses, and the first moment the drag on him slackened he struck out desperately for the surface. It was a close thing, and his lungs were near bursting point when his head shot up into the sweet air. Even then another little swirl caught him, and weakened as he was, sucked him under again a dozen feet before it flung him up, gasping and choking, to the surface.
TAESPAIRINGLY Can-Do glanced about him in the hope of finding anything large enough to support him, and remembering with a thrill of horror that black fin and the shrieks of the men
round the wrecked boat. He twisted round about to look for any sign of the boat now, and could hardly believe his eyes when he saw, less than fifty yards away, a smoke-blackened mast top sticking up out of the water a dozen feet.
It was the tip of the mast which still stood on the after part of the ship that the reef had caught and held, and Can-Do struck out for it with renewed hope warming his heart. It was a forlorn hope and a desperate one certainly—a solitary smooth iron spike sticking up in the middle of a wide, deserted sea. But after the nothingness of the sea and sky and empty horizon, the bare spike was a very haven of hope and safety, and Can-Do swam for it with a thankful heart.
The flag halliards ran to the very top —thin but strong cord whose strength Can-Do tested with a beating heart. They held to the weight he put on them, and he twisted a leg round them and hoisted himself a little out of the water and looked around.
Fifty yards away he saw a square of grating—the close-latticed wooden one that stood on the bridge by the wheel, Can-Do took it to be—and with a long look round for any sign of one of those vicious black fins, he began to slide down again into the water. But instantly with his heart in his mouth he heaved himself frantically clear of the surface again, and the very thing he had dreaded seeing— the cruel, curving dorsal fin of a huge shark—swam smoothly past a score of yards away. With the cold sweat starting on his brow Can-Do clung to his support, till a splashing flurry made him turn in time to see a couple of pointed snouts fighting and tugging at the carcass of a drowned pig in its wicker basket. The feast had begun, and Can-Do pictured to himself the monster's that were glutting their appetites immediately below him.
And then he heard a far off, feeble hail. His eyes searched the surface, but would have passed the black head a hundred yards away if a tossed arm had not caught his gaze. The man was swimming slowly and in spasmodic jerks, and now, looking close, Can-Do saw it was a _white man. The faint hail came again just as Can-Do recognized Harden, the mate.
HE SLID down into the water and struck out in his fastest over-arm stroke for the black head, sending a loud shout ahead to hearten the swimmer. His scalp pringled at the thought of the sharks he knew were below him, his flesh crept in the expectation of feeling, every stroke he took, the cold touch of a wet skin, the clutch of tearing teeth.
He reached the swimmer at last. Harden was too far spent to do more than gasp, and Can-Do spoke sharply.
“You’re all right now, son. I’ll have you out o’ this in two shakes. Turn on your back and keep yourself stiff and still—that’s it. I’ve got you—now, off we go.”
He, too, turned on his back, pulled the mate’s head up till it rested on his waist, and kicked out vigorously. He could have kept afloat like that for hours, but it was desperately slow progress to be making with those brutes thick below him; and he shuddered again at thought of them and clinched his teeth and plodded desperately on, glancing every moment over his shoulder to keep his course straight and to measure the distance to his mast.
And when he reached it at last, he realized with despair that the thin flag halliards could never support thetwo of them, even if Harden had the strength to hoist himself clear with his, Can-Do’s, help. There was nothing else for it but to make the venture again.
“Twine your leg round the line and hold on a second,” he said. “I’m going to fetch something to hold us up.”
He set his teeth and plunged off once more at speed in the direction of the grating, caught it, and, pushing it before him, swam back to the mast. Even then his work was not done. The double length of cord from the masthead to the water was not enough. They must have more, so “Have you got a knife?” he asked the mate.
“Yes,” said Harden. “In my pocket,
I think. Wait—yes, here it is.” He pulled out an ordinary penknife and handed it over.
“We want more rope,” said Can-Do. "I’m going down to cut it away,” and he opened the knife, put it between his
teeth, drew a long breath, ducked under and hauled himself down the line. He was up again in a few seconds, although to him it seemed an age, and his pulse hammered and his head throbbed as though he had been below to the limit of a diver’s endurance.
“Dash me if I’d ha’ cared about goin’ down like that,” said Harden. “There might easy be sharks down there.”
“Might be!” said Can-Do, and laughed a trifle hysterically. “Man, it’s fair crawlin’ wi’ the brutes. See there,” and he pointed to a couple of the sliding black fins.
“We got to get out o’ this pretty middlin’ lively,” announced the mate hurriedly. “My toes don’t feel comfortable in this water.”
WORKING in desperate haste, they passed the line end down and up again through the grating edge, hauled on the free end till it was taut, cut it there, shinned up the pole and rove the second line through, and made an end fast to the opposite edge of the grating. They hoisted their tiny platform—it was just big enough to hold the two of them —clear of the water and up to within a few feet of the masthead. The mate climbed the mast again, and using the free trailing ends of the lines lashed the platform securely. Then Can - Do swarmed up, and sank weakly on their perch, his limbs shaking and his brain swimming.
“We’re in a hole,” said the mate, “but we might be in a worse, or inside a shark. I’ve got to thank you for bein’ where I am now, and I know it.” He held out his hand, took Can-Do’s and shook it. “Man alive,” he added, “you’re shakin’ through an’ through—and you look fair played out.”
“I am played out,” admitted Can-Do faintly. “It’s near sundown now and I haven’t slept since yesterday morning. My nerve’s been on the stretch for fortyeight hours, an’ I don’t hardly blame it for getting the jumps. And those sharks just about finished it. Look!”
For a couple of acres round the mast the surface of the water was criss-crossed with sliding black fins, and here and there two or three monsters tore at a basket-enclosed carcass. The green of water below them was streaked and tinged with pink, and its surface littered thick with torn and broken pig-baskets, some of them still clinging round scraps of mangled flesh.
A black carcass swirled to the surface and the two men peered down in fascinated pilen ce at the rush of a gray head with cruel cold eyes and flashing rows of teeth. Even as the jaws closed, another black fin sliced through the water, and a second monster snapped at the morsel. They wrenched and worried at it exactly like two angry dogs over a bone, and when one tore away with it, swimming with his head turned from his rival the other followed in swift sliding rushes, striving to come up and snatch at the food before the last of it vanished. Then the knife-like fins sank from sight, and the two men looked at each other and shuddered.
“We weren’t any too soon out o’ that,” said the mate grimly. “An’ we’ll have half the sharks in the Java seas round here for breakfast. But I think you ought to try’n curl up and get a snatch o’ sleep, lad. I can sit along the edge all right for a bit, and I’ll take first watch. I’d have been keeping two four-hour watches to-night if the old Hai-tan had been afloat, and I’m used to it. So get down to it.”
CAN-DO was too utterly worn out to refuse the offer. He curled up with his head on the mate’s knee, and in a short minute was in the deep dreamless sleep of utter exhaustion. The sun dropped and the darkness swooped down on them; the moon rose and swam across the sky and curved down and out of sight again, the dawn wind stirred and breathed cool on them, and the gray of daylight gave place suddenly to the blazing glory of the rising sun. But Can-Do knew none of it. He slept on and on, unconsciously stretching a stiffened limb and changing a cramped position, but never waking. The mate moved several times and lifted the head on his knee to a fresh place, but Can-Do knew nothing of it.
The mate drowsed in snatches. He Continued on page 46
Continued from page 44
undid his belt and passed it outside one of the ropes supporting the corner of the platform and buckled it round his waist, and drowsed, and waked, and drowsed again. And always when he waked it was to hear the scuffling splashes in the water round and under him, to see the smoky flame of phosphorescent water trailing after the tigerish shapes that came and went unceasingly.
When the day came the mate ran his eye round the horizon with scant hope of seeing anything to break its line. To his surprise he saw less than half a mile off the boat that had been launched from the Hai-tan. The men that had clustered thick about her and clung to the gunwale were gone, and the mate, remembering those shapes moving beneath him all night, understood. There were still four or five men in the boat, lying almost at full length in the water inside her so as to let this bear some of their weight and save her sinking deeper. One man had a piece of flat board and used it as a paddle, and the mate could see that the boat was slowly creeping tow>ard where the mast sticking up from the water offered the survivors another slim hope of life.
They were making painfully slow progress, and an hour later had barely covered a quarter of a mile, or half the distance. The mate reckoned that the current or the tide must be setting them toward the south, and he began to figure on their chances of making the mainland if they turned and paddled with the current.
ONE of the men lying in the bottom of the boat reached his arm over the side and began to paddle with his hand, and presently another on the other side followed suit. Just astern of the boat the mate saw a black speck rise. Before he could clear his throat to shout, the boat rocked violently and the man with the paddling arm half rose and jerked toward the gunwale. The other men raised themselves and their weight sank the boat still lower. The mate heaved himself to his feet and at the pitch of his voice yelled an order to sit down, sit down—the figures struggled and rocked—another black dot rose and slid toward the boat—•
“She’s over,” groaned the mate. “My God—she’s over,” and hid his eyes from the sight of the scattered black specks that streaked in converging, arrowstraight lines toward the boat, and tried to shut his ears—
“What is it?” Can-Do had asked drowsily at his first shout. “What’s the row?” But he lay still a moment till the mate’s groaning exclamation broke out.
“What was that?” he asked then, pitting up. “I thought I heard one of those dashed pigs squeal again. Must have been dreaming.”
“Yes,” said the mate. “You must have been dreaming. I haven’t heard squals from any—pig. There isn’t any pig alive within a hundred mile o’ us. Or anything else,” he added after listening for any further sound, “except sharks.”
“Plenty of them,” said Can-Do. “Remember those two brutes under there last night worrying at that—”
“Don’t,” the mate interrupted him. “I don’t just care to think about it just now.”
THEY sat in silence for a time, while the sun climbed higher and its heat began to touch them with flame.
“Harden,” said Can-Do quietly, “it’s all been rather a waste of energy, hasn’t it? I didn’t think of it yesterday when we were working with our hearts in our mouths and all our nerves in our heels trailing in the water there—as mine were anyway. . But all I was thinking of was getting up here out of reach of those teeth. And now we’re here—what’s the good of it? If the thirst doesn’t get its hooks deep enough to-day it will tomorrow. Are we in the track of any steamers here?”
“No,” answered the mate. “Not if we’re w here I reckon and that’s somewhere on an outlying reef o’ the Karimoondawas. That’s miles off our course—and the Second has paid for his carelessness anyway.”
“You won’t be missed for days,” said Can-Do.
“Not till we’re due in Singapore and don’t turn up. We’ll be past carin’ whether we’re missed or not by then,” replied the mate.
They dropped into silence again, and
Can-Do into miserable reflections on his fate. It was not the dying he was worrying over, even although he was fully possessed of a young and fit man’s healthy desire to live; he had come near death too often to shirk looking it in the face, and he had scraped through frequently enough and barely enough to be ready to take philosophically the slender chance that might be left of life and of being picked up before it was too late.
But w hat was hurting him was that he had failed after all his efforts in getting to Singapore by the twenty-fifth, that he was letting his firm down, that his firm and his girl might never even know how or why he had failed. He had always prided himself on pulling off what he set out to do—that is, if it was to be done— “Can-Do;” and now at the crisis of his life he had failed.
“Maybe it’s as well you should know,” said Harden, breaking in on his thoughts, “I hardly think there’s a chance of lasting the day out. This is the first of the spring tides. It rose to six inches from the gratin’ last night while you slept; it’ll likely be over the top o’ the masthead on the next tide.”
“And the next tide?” asked Can-Do, “What time?”
“It’s just turned,” said Harden. “It’s rising now.”
A black shining triangle slid slowly past under their feet.
ON THE sea there are many matters of life and death which hang on the turn of a wrist, the movement of a head, the lifting of an eye. A steersman moves a wheel no bigger than a bicycle’s, a few spokes to his right—and the ship with her burden of living souls slides past, a bare yard clear of an obstacle that would tear her heart out. He turns it to the left as many spokes—and the papers ashore flare with screaming headlines of “Another Shocking Disaster!” An oiler edging along a two-foot wide grating slips a boot-heel on a piece of greasy waste. His head jerks a foot backwards, a ponderous mass of shining, polished metal whirls past, eighteen inches from his face—and he goes whistling about his job. Or his head jerks the same distance forward—and he works no more. Ap officer on the bridge lifts his eyes to the horizon.
The watch officer of the S.S. Vandyk was just on the point of running down to have a look at the chart, and with his foot on the ladder, he lifted his eyes and swept a last look around. His foot stayed on the first step and his gaze remained fixed for some seconds. He turned back and lifted a pair of binoculars from their box, adjusted them, and looked long and close at the black object that had caught his first glance.
“Port your helm a couple of points,” he said to the man at the wheel. “Port the helm couple o’ points,” repeated the wheel, and twirled the spokes with his eyes on the compass card. “Steady,” said the officer, with the glasses still to his eyes. “Steady it is,” answered the wheel.
The officer took a whistle from his pocket and blew sharply on it. A man leaped from the door of the fo’c’sT and ran aft along the fore deck. “Go and ask the captain will he kindly step on deck a minute,” the officer shouted down, and the man ran on.
The captain was asleep when the man tapped at his door; but he was on the bridge well within fifteen seconds after the tap. Captains are not usually asked to step up on the bridge, no matter how politely, without there being something of moment toward; and it is always well to save odd seconds in finding out just what that thing is.
The mate pointed to the object that had been black against the light on the water, but now, as they approached, showed a dirty white.
“I’ve been passing scraps of stuff for half an hour back, sir,” said the officer, “broken wickerwork baskets, and a straw hat, and then a ship’s bucket. I thought you’d like to have a look at this.”
Now any one of these things is common flotsam on the open sea and would call for no comment. You might pass one to-day and another a year hence and another in the next hemisphere, and nobody would think it worth mention. But when you pass all three within half an hour—there is like to be an extra lookout set. And it may even be that those pitiful scraps of gear and personal
belongings will figure conspicuously in the ship’s log, and in long and expensive cables, and in official reports at Lloyds.
The last floating object was an unmistakable piece of wreckage—the Haitan’s boat floating bottom up and with no more than two or three of her bottom boards showing. The two on the bridge examined it closely as they slid past; and then there was an anxious consultation, and much examination of charts and talk of local currents’ directions and set.
“Smooth water and clear weather for weeks past,” said the captain. “That means only one thing. She’s gone off her course and been piled up somewhere —hereabouts, as I reckon it,” and he set his finger on the spot on the chart.
The ship’s course was altered and she steamed steadily on with an extra hand posted high on the foremast. They picked up some more wreckage to tell them they were on the right road, and then an excited hail from the lookout and a pointed arm sent the mate running along the deck and nimbly up the shrouds with his binoculars in his pocket.
“Spar of some sort, sir,” he shouted down to the bridge a moment later. “Two men on it, and one of them waving to us. Port a trifle, sir—steady—as she goes.”
THEN Can-Do and Harden, with the grating hoisted to its highest possible point, the water lapping a foot below their soles and those ominous fins doing patient sentry-go around them, saw a jet of white steam puff from the Vandyk’s whistle, and thin and vanish in the hot air before the hoarse hoot reached them.
The mate leaned out and shook his fist at the slow circling fins and whispered hoarsely: “Not this time—blast you,” and straightened himself to watch the steamer looming nearer and nearer till they_ could see the leadsman taking cautious soundings, then the boat swung out and dropped into the water.
“What ship d’you reckon she is,” whispered Can-Do trying to wet his dry lips with a dryer tongue, “and where bound?”
“She might be the Vandyk bound for Singapore,” said the mate. “Or, nomore likely to be her sister ship the Van Dieman for Australia. It’s nearer her course, although even she’s'a lump off it.” Can-Do groaned and Harden glanced at him in surprise.
“You don’t seem as pleased about it as I’d expect,” he said. “What in flames does it matter where she’s bound so long’s she takes us there out o’ this?”
“Matter!” rejoined Can-Do bitterly. “It matters so much to me I’d almost as leave stay here if I thought the Vandyk had a chance of coming this way.”
The mate began to wonder a little whether the sun hadn’t been too much for his companion after all; he was just about sure of it when he saw Can-Do strain forward with his eye fixed on the bow of the approaching boat, and as he read on it the name Vandyk, turned and gripped the mate’s hand, croaked a hoarse whoop of joy and exclaimed: “Can-do, can-do! I win yet! Singapore by the twenty-fifth—the game—my girl —Can Do!”