NORMAN REILLY RAINE
Out of the noisome bilges, out of the sweating hell of coal dust in the fire hole of the Paladin there sprang an unquenchable flame of manhood.
I’ve sweated in Sourabaya,
And perspired in Lahore;
I’ve dripped all day in the Malay way,
On ihe docks of Singapore.
I’ve wilted in Valparaiso,
Algiers and Milan—-
But hell was beat when I sampled the heat Of lousy old Port Sudan!
—-Marine Fireman’s Song.
ALL OF which brings us to a night of wind and rain and sobbing tide on the waterfront of Shanghai, and a share in the fluctuating fortunes of Mr. Barker, late of Liverpool and the Blue Funnel ship Tyndareus. Mr. Barker was a shining light in that fleabitten, hard working, hard swearing fraternity, the Marine Fireman. Mr. Barker was a peer among peers. The way that he spat was god-like, and to match his insouciant swagger was to march with the elect. But Mr. Barker was down on his luck.
He was not only down on his luck, he was miserable—as miserable as inclement weather and the aftermath of a staggering ten-day drunk can make a man. His abused fibres were a mass of jangling nerves, and he entertained grave doubts as to the amiability of the spectral green leopard which had been his inseparable shadow for the past two days.
The Tyndareus which, for several months, he had graced with his labors, and from which he had done a bunk on her last day in port, had long since threshed her way up the Yellow Sea, and his late shipmates reminisced of him in sweet profanity. But that was not, at the moment, what bothered the thick skull of Mr. Barker. Shanghai offers a bleak lee shore to indigent seafarers, and his immediate concern was to stow away in the home ship he had noticed that afternoon lying out in the stream, and, incidentally, to evade the attentions of his quaint zoological comrade. In pursuance of these commendable aims, he had, that night, much against his inclination and that of his victim, been compelled to back a rikisha coolie against a fish shed in the native quarter and extract the loan of a Mexican dollar wherewith to put his plans into execution.
Now with a couple of miles between him and his benefactor, who still lay, his yellow twisted face to the dripping 3ky, Mr. Barker flattened himself in the shadow of a go-down, not far from the Tiaping jetty, and edged cautiously toward the water. He halted at a corner, where a wharf light cast a beam athwart the glistening planks, lowered himself to his belly and protruded a discreet head. A solitary, turbanned Sikh policeman walked slowly along the quay towards the lights of a vessel noisily working cargo. Waiting until he had halted beside the sweating coolies, Mr. Barker slid across the dock and onto a sampan stage, past which the strong tide fled, sucking hungrily at the filthy piles. At once, a dozen eager shapes ieaped out of the gloom.
“Sampan? sampan? Chee-chee monee!”
He silenced them with a sibilant curse, then beckoned one.
“Ship side!” he growled. “Me blong Paladin ship. You savvy Paladin?"
The coolie nodded. “Can do! Savvy Paladin!” he said. Mr. Barker stepped aboard and ducked out of sight under the canvas hood. The boatman strained at the heavy sweep, and sculled slowly against the tide. The dirty waters of the Woosung plucked at the little craft, then swept on to reflect the lights of the city. The rain slashed in increased fury and cascaded down the sampan hood.
AFTER fifteen minutes hard work the loom of a ship arose, black against an inky sky. Mr. Barker emerged, and, handing the man his Mexican dollar demanded change. The fellow commenced the usual protest and Mr. Barker smiled. He could smile like a hell-cat, could Mr. Barker, and that, bless you, was all that was required. He got his change—in counterfeit coins, as he discovered later. Obedient to instructions, the boatman avoided the lighted gangway and drove his craft against the straining anchor chains. The gentlemen from Liverpool grasped the great links with both hands, as the tide caught the .sampan and swept it into the night. Five minutes later, Mr. Barker lay panting on the Paladin's streaming deck.
Lying flat, he listened intently. He was fairly safe from detection however, for the night watchman would be in the galley, taking shelter. He arose cautiously, and complimenting the windlass as he stumbled against it, made his way to, and down, the iron ladder to the for’ard well deck. Again he listened, revolving his bullet head in search for a chink of light. Just as he figured; the crew lived aft. Under the f o’castle-head he groped, until, guided by a smell of damp cordage, paint, and Stockholm tar, he came against a partition of palings which cut him off from the refuge of the fore-peak. He cursed forlornly, but, fingering the heavy padlock, discovered with a thrill that it was not snapped shut. “Gawd lumme!” he breathed. Once inside the gate, he closed it, passed his hand through the gratings, and snapped the lock, shutting himself in.
Then—-and then only, he peered out in search of his late companion. It was nowhere to be seen. “Praps it was on’y the treemins—” he murmured. The thought was comforting. Climbing over a jumble of gear—buckets, drums of oil, coils of wire rope—things like that—he came to a sort of wide, high shelf, whereon rested a great coiled towing line. Stiffly, but gratefully, he hoisted himself, inside it, and curling up like a homeless dog composed himself to virtuous repose.
MR. BARKER was awakened next morning by the deafening rattle of the windlass, and the clank of the anchor chain being drawn through the hawse pipe. Cautiously he raised himself above the level of the coil. “ ’Elio!” he ruminated, “—-gettin' underway!” He permitted a triumphant grin to wander about his unlovely features, then, as the windlass ceased its clatter, ducked out of sight again. A few minutes later a white sailor came out of the chain-locker and went aft. Mr. Barker being of that philosophic nature which takes all good as it comes, and refuses bootless research into the probabilities, again sought slumber.
During that day and the next he was undisturbed, except by an interior clamor which bespoke a liquorparched stomach and total lack of sustenance. This he remedied by plugging the lock of the fore-peak so that he could not be shut in, and foraging with desperate caution about the ship in the dark hours. By dint of care, and one golden opportunity which enabled him to win a roast of pork and a dish of boiled potatoes, he managed to eke out a fair existence, until the Paladin was well past Hong Kong. That the missing victuals would probably earn native members of the crew divers smacks upon the head, in no way affected the appreciative appetite of Mr. Barker.
At Singapore, where the Paladin put in for coal, he took a horrible chance. Certain activity in the vicinity of the fore-peak warned him that he was in imminent danger of discovery, so he hopped down the port chain-locker. The risk he ran here was, that had it been necessary to drop the port anchor before coming alongside the coal wharf, it is altogether likely that Mr. Barker would have been distributed to the elements through the hawse pipe, in small, assorted pieces. But he dared it, and luck was in his way.
DN LEAVING Singapore, he resumed his old suite in ^ the fore peak, but now Nemesis awakened, and started in pursuit. To begin with, the Bosun fitted a new lock to the door—one of the fool-proof variety—which, of course was a direct reflection upon, as well as an inconvenience to, Mr. Barker.
It no longer was possible to roam about the ship at night in search of water and food, and Mr. Barker, having in common with other bold natures grown over careless with success, had allowed his stock in hand to decrease, until, as he wrathfully declared in his first evening of close confinement, there was not sufficient to fatten a louse. Add to that another mild attack of the devils, occasioned by too copious indulgence in a tin of shellac, the terrific heat occasioned by the narrowness of his quarters, and the geographical position of the vessel, which then wás but two degrees north of the equator, and it will be seen that his condition was far from enviable.
Three days out of Singapore, Mr. Barker was ill—violently and offensively ill—but it gave him no relief. His tongue was swollen with thirst, and his stomach was numb. Tantalizing visions danced before his eyes, of succulent chops, luscious fruit, crisp fried potatoes, unlimited rootie and delectable bottles of rum. True, he cherished a well-worn quid of tobacco, which he chewed for an hour each day, but the nutriment had passed from it somewhere up in the South China Sea, over a week before. Still, it was better than nothing. Strange forms appeared unbidden before him. It was not the delirium tremens this time. He ardently wished that it was. Mr. Barker sank into coma which lasted for all of that day and night.
The following morning he awakened into a world peopled by malicious little folk who kept whispering to him that the Paladin had been chartered for the express purpose of running him in circles about the Indian Ocean for the remainder of his days. The temperature of the fore-peak was about 108 degrees, but this, of course, he
did not know. All he could realize was that he, Johnnie Barker of Liverpool, who had boiled the water for seagoing engineers for eight hectic years, and had once been a donkeyman for three days, before being reduced at the instance of an indignant bobby whom he had undertaken to chastise during a moment of "mistaken valor—he, the aforementioned Mr. Barker was to be run in endless and aimless circles, at the whim of a bottle-nosed navigator, who, more than like, didn’t know a slice bar from a piston ring, and had never handled a fire shovel in his misguided life. The thought was not to be borne! It was a shame, he declared, weeping loudly, and forthwith decided to put a stop to it. Floating airily from his couch he grasped a short iron bar, and with two strokes demolished the lock of the fore-peak, and, incidentally, half of the gate. Then, with valiant if uncertain footsteps he staggered from the steaming shadows of his late abode toward the brassy glare of an Indian Ocean sun, that was beating on the metal well-deck in waves of shimmering heat.
THE Chief Officer of the S. S. Paladin, Shanghai, or Bombay and Red Sea ports, leaned idly over the bridge rail. He had been talking to the skipper, Captain Lawson, when interrupted by the arrival of Mr. Cousins, ' the Chief Engineer. The Old Man turned to the Chief. “We’ve got to drive her, Mr. McMaster!” he said. “I’ve just had a wireless from the agents that there’s a full cargo for us at Marseilles, if we can get there by the sixteenth of next month. It’ll be nip and tuck and a lightning discharge at Bombay and Port Sudan, if we are to make it, but I think, with luck, that we can just do it. How are things below?”
“Oh, as well as ye can expect, sir, wi’ such a lot o’ bazaar sera pin’s as we’ve got in the fire-hole. Ye know what it is wi’ natives when ye try to drive the swine. Still, they’ll keep up the gauge, I doot. Mr. Kearney’ll see to that!”
Kearney was the “Deucer”-—the Second Engineer. The Chief Officer, who, during this conversation, had been gazing lazily for’ard, took off his cap and wiped the sweat from the inner band, and his glistening brow.
“You’ll find it damned hot work, Chief!” he said, encouragingly, “I bet—hel-lo!” He stopped suddenly.
The others, turning to see what occasioned his exclamation, saw his eyes fixed intently toward the blue shadow of the fore-peak.
“Excuse me a minute, sir!” he said, and blew his whistle sharply. The sailor on standby came, at the double.
“Tell the Bosun I want him at once!” he directed. “What’s the matter, Mr. Cousins?” the Old Man asked. “I’m not certain, sir, but I rather think it’s a stowaway. I’ll take the Bosun along and find out.” He left the bridge.
A few minutes later he returned along the for’ard deck dragging with him by a firm grip upon his collar, the disreputable figure of Mr. Barker. Attended by the Bosun they brought up on the lower bridge, whence the Old Man had descended to meet them.
“Now then!—what’s this?” said the Old Man sternly. “What are you doing aboard, my man?”
Mr. Barker raised his feeble head, gazed dully at his inquisitor, murmured incoherently and dropped again.
“ ’E said somethink abaht a blue cat wiv yeller spots, sir,” put in the Bosun helpfully, and gave Mr.
Barker an engaging thump that nearly shook his head from his shoulders.
“Answer the Capting, ye scut!” he growled.
“What’s your name?” the Old Man pursued.
“Johnnie Barker!” This with astonishing suddenness and violence.
;; ‘Sir!’ ye dog!” the Bosun hinted.
“Where did you come abroad?”
The others exchanged glances.
“Are you a sailor?”
A T THIS juncture, Mr. Barker, happening to raise his glancing eyes, saw, writhing about one of the Skipper’s brass buttons, a thin and agile lizard of a most marvellous pink. The extraordinary thing about it, however, was that it had a head at each end, each of which entreated the ^ other for a pint of bitters.
Feeling that he would be made more
welcome if he brought this curiosity to the attention of the company, he reached out to pluck it forth. The Old Man skipped nimbly back, and Mr. Barker slipped senseless to the deck.
The Old Man turned to the Mate.
“Hum! The poor devil’s starving!” he said. “Stick him in a bunk till he comes round, and when he’s alright again we’ll find out what he’s fit for.”
Two days later. After recuperation from the effects of his sojourn in the fore-peak, Mr. Barker was turned over to the Chief, and by him to the Second Engineer, to work out his passage home.
Now the^Deucer,” Mr. Kearney, was a Tyneside man with peculiar and deep-rooted ideas on many things. For example, he believed that a stowaway was a stumer and a blight, and should be treated accordingly. He extended this sentiment so as to embrace all the tribes of Africa, the Middle and Far East, and expressed his feelings frequently and with great force. As he possessed the physique of a pugilist and the soul of a bully, embittered somewhat, perhaps, by the fact of promotion delayed for many years, it may be suspected that Mr. .Barker’s outlook was not roseate. In fact, Mr. Barker’s person aroused in the Deucer a violent antipathy—not that this was extraordinary. Many people had felt so about that gallant gentlemen in his time—but Mr. Kearney’s emotions took the form of mad, unreasoning rage.
Their first interview was not encouraging. It left Mr. Barker with the conviction —not unwarranted—that the Deucer meant to break his heart. The Second had sent for him from the engine-room. As Mr. Barkerentered from the fire-hole, bent nearly double to pass between the great boilers, he was the recipient of a stinging smack on the skull. “Thatquoth Mr. Kearney, “is to larn ye to take off yer cap when ye come in the engine room to talk to me, and that—” he obliged with one on the opposite side of Mr, Barker’s figure-head, “is to impress it on ye! Now then! What ship was ye on afore ye sneaked aboard this packet?”
“The Tyndareus,—sir.” he added quickly as he saw the Deucer’s thin lips close. Mr. Barker was not without rude tact.
“Ye’re a liar—ye was a trimmer!—but no matter. Ye’re goin’ to fire aboard this hooker! We’re drivin’ her, this trip, an’ it’ll be hot as Satan’s breath—but you’ll stay with it if every lascar on the ship quits! Let me see that gauge drop, an’ I’ll keep ye in the stoke-hold till ye’re naught but dried blood an’ withered guts! Ye’ll stand double watches—ye’ll carry water for the niggers an’ ye’ll know what hell’s like if I catch ye idle! Now, get out! ye — coolie!” He aided Mr. Barker’s departure with a kindly kick.
Now Mr. Barker, as no doubt you have guessed, was
no pampered scion of the idle rich. In fact, aspersions without number, and possibly with reason, had, in the past been cast upon his ancestry—but he had never been called a coolie. In addition, he, a white man, one of the ruling caste, was condemned to play lackey to a lot of stinking lascars! In that black moment the seed of vengeance was implanted in Mr. Barker’s receptive heart, and watered and tended, day by day, through kicks, abuse and never-ceasing insult. One thing he had in common with his swarthy companions, however. He could bide his time—and when that time came, ah!— that was a thought which he hugged to his grimy bosom! Day after day, night after night he toiled, speaking no word to the sweating natives beside him, obeyed the orders of the quietly malicious serang, who rejoiced to find a white man under his thumb, and distilled the poison from his whisky-rotten body.
His overtaxed muscles creaked and gave, and for the first few days, he lived m agony. The thermometer crept up to 118 degrees, and still he toiled, when the straining coolies turned sick and faint. Red spots danced before Mr. Barker’s eyes, but he grinned obstinately to himself, and the heavy fire shovel abated not a jot of its skilful swing. There is true artistry in the correct manipulation of a marine fire shovel, when 118 degrees of heat tie men’s innards into excruciating knots, and the belching furnaces roar in a crimson haze. Having little imagination, but plenty of blind, unreasoning doggedness, Mr. Barker stuck it.
No matter how hard he strove to give satisfaction, however, the Deucer’s venom continued to function in many ingenious, man-killing ways. For instance, on one occasion, when weak-kneed from heat and fatigue after hours of feeding the insatiable fires-—he was standingdouble watches, be it remembered—he dragged his weary body to the top of the fidley for a breath of heat-charged air, Mr. Kearney engaged him in conversation. The purport of it was that the cylinder-tops needed polishing, and that Mr. Barker was the very man for the job. As this meant working on top of the hot cylinders with the fiery breath of the pounding engines blowing up from below, it may be seen that this was a neat little refinement in torture that Mr. Kearney had devised. For the first time, Mr. Barker openly rebelled, and, rebelling, gave his guttersnipe tongue full play. “Awright! awright! ye arf-strung lump o’ camel fat!” he bawled, his strident voice hoarse with rage, “I’ll ’ave to do it, o’ course—but mark me words, swag belly—we’ll meet in ’ell, some day, me an’ you will, an’ when we do—!” The remainder of Mr. Barker’s prophecy was interesting but unprintable. The Deucer’s boot relieved his tongue of the necessity for reply, and Mr. Barker crawled, bleeding but unchastened, onto the sizzling cylinder-tops.
TT WAS not alone the stowaway
upon whom the Deucer exercised his fancy, however. He extended it to the native firemen and trimmers of his watch. A lascar crew is controlled by tindals, or foremen, who, in turn, are responsible to an overseer or serang. It is long established custom in ships trading out to the East, for the white engineers to convey their orders through these overmen. The natives bitterly resent and oppose any deviation from this system. Such resentment was no deterrent upon the amiable soul, the Second Engineer, however. It was foot and fist and crackling oath, when he wanted things done—and Mr. Kearney, comparatively new to the ways of his Eastern brethren, went his incandescent way, blissfully unmindful of glittering dark eyes, and the nervous slipping of brown fingers abouts the hafts of thin, keen blades. They are a primitive lot, the lascsrs, and an eye for an eye is the keystone of their faith.
Came an afternoon in the molten furnace of the Red Sea. A terrific sun cast waves of shimmering, dazzling heat over brazen sky, and windless, oily water. What slight air was in motion drifted, hot and stifling, off the Sudanese desert, filled with particles of fine grey sand that irritated the nose and throat, and made the eyes water, red-rimmed with imperceptible friction. Mirages appeared in the merciless sky, halflimned, of mud-walled towns and sandy desolation, then faded into burning haze.
The Paladin dipped lethargically over the long, blue swells. The metal decks radiated—too hot for even the
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toughened feet of the lascars. The ship’s officers, off watch, lay supine in long Madeira chairs under the bridge awnings, panting with exhaustion, and calling incessantly for Bass. In the engineroom the temperature was 129 degrees. To enter its precincts was to receive a blast of the inferno. Two lascar firemen and an oiler had been carried out, overcome. Sheer animalism enabled the rest to carry on. Mr. Kearney, outstretched in his chair in soporific content, stirred lazily. Fie ‘was in pajamas and slippers, with a yellow silk handkerchief, souvenir of a Cingalese amour, over his mottled face. His pajama jacket was thrown open, exposing a great hairy torso, beaded and glistening with moisture. He resembled a giant sloth. The ringing of one bell at a quarter to four brought him fully awake, for he went on watch at eight bells. He stretched, and yawned, and composed himself for another ten minutes of idleness, then, as the ring of shovels in the fire hole ascended through the fidley top, and the rumble of the ash hoist broke the peace, Mr. Kearney was seized with inspiration. That inspiration had to do with one, Johnnie Barker, late of Liverpool and the S. S. Tyndareus.
“Strewth!” the Deucer ruminated, “why didn’t I think of that before!”— then, on reflection, was glad that he had not thought of it before. What time better than to-daywith the engine-room temperature what it was? Mr. Kearney had never heard of that amiable family the
Borgias, and he thought Attila was the name of a ship, but his nature lost nothing by these omissions. Jubilantly he waited for four o’clock and the beginning of his watch below.
JUST as eight bells was struck on the engineroom crowbar, which marked the passing of the black gang’s troglodytic hours, Mr. Kearney put in an appearance. The relieving firemen passed through the narrow door into the firehole, their greasy bodies naked to the waist, and dirty sweat-rags slung about their necks. When the relief was complete the last to leave the firehold was Mr. Barker.
Mr. Barker had just done eight hours of the hardest, hottest work of his toiling career, and now, utterly fagged, and blinded by perspiration he staggered toward the foot of the ladder leading to the open air. Half stupefied, he did not hear the voice of the Deucer demanding his presence, but was made quickly aware of his wishes by a heavy hand across his mouth.
“ ’Ere!” said Mr. Kearney. “Where the ’ell was you goin’?”
“Off watch, sir,” replied Mr. Barker, through puffing lips.
Mr. Kearney shook his head, and a fierce, glad light shone in his narrowed eyes.
“Oh, no, yer not!” he grinned. “Not yet. I’ve got a bit of a job for ye, first.” Mr. Barker’s heart sank. Something swelled in his throatand choked him.
“I’ve done me double watch in the fire’ole, sir!” he mumbled thickly.
“Is it talkin’ back ye are?” roared the Deucer, and, putting forth a massive fist, rubbed it none too gently under Mr. Barker’s crooked nose. “I’ve-got a job for ye!” he repeated heavily. “Ye’ll sleep the better for it. . I want the bilges cleanin’.”
Mr. Barker stared, unbelieving. After eight hours of torture in the firehole, to be sent bilge diving—and on a day like this! Of all nauseating jobs on a deep-water ship—and there are many—bilge cleaning is the worst. Even when a low temperature deadens the odor somewhat, it is a nightmare, but in hot weather it becomes ghastly—a foul thing that would turn a pole-cat faint. It means stooping in a confined space, in four feet of indescribable filth, and, with hands and a rake, scraping out a months-old accumulation of grease, ashes, waste and the oily excrement of the engineroom.
To Mr. Barker’s bruised lips there rushed, suddenly, a flood of soul-splitting blasphemy. His legs trembled with impotent rage. His hard fists became knots of whitened muscle and for one red moment he was near snuffing out Mr. Kearney’s light forever.
Then, amazingly, he swallowed his tumultuous oaths, for a thin voice crept into his brain—a long cherished thought became articulate: “He can’t break you— you’re white! —and a magic thing within his warped, vulgar soul responded. Behind his mask of coal dust, cut by sweat into fine grey lines, was born a spirit— a sublime manifestation of that un-named “something” by virtue of which white men rule. If called upon to express his emotions in this crisis, Mr. Barker would have been at a loss, and would most likely have said, self-consciously, and with a sheepish grin, “I didn’t arf give ’im a narsty look—ho!—not arf!” But the narsty look held a quality that chilled the Deucer’s craven blood and enabled the stowaway to retire unmolested to the bilges.
Some time later, he entered the firehole.
It was a sweating hell of coal dust, foulair and reeking bodies. The lascars, naked, now, save for a breeeh-clout and sweat-rag, swung their great shovels, the sweat running down their shining bodies, so that they looked like toiling demons in the red glare of the fires. Two trimmers were busy in the sweltering gloom of the bunkers.
AS THE Deucer turned to go, his eye fell on a lascar cleaning his fire. There were stated times for this duty and now was not one of them. Exultation filled him. Here was an excuse to blow off steam.
He pushed roughly past the other men and confronted the culprit. “ Kija ke waste?— ye scabby black swine!” he roared. “Who told ye to clean fires?” The native cringed. “Bura tindal, sahib! Him speak too bloody much clinker!”
Mr. Kearney floored him with a cruel back hand swipe, then swung on his heel gnd glared about him for the Number One tindal,
uBura tindal! idhar ao! Come here, ye pig-livered Mohammedan scum!” he shouted. “Jaldi Kuro!”
Wherein Mr. Kearney made a mistake that was fatal. Even in his comparatively short time in the East he'had witnessed the surprisingly ingenious death meted out, once to a Dutch captain, and another occasion to an English supercargo, who had inadvertently desecrated a prayer rug. The manner of their demise had made certain dishes unpalatable to him for weeks after.
A lithe, muscular fellow stepped forward, deadly hate smoldering in his sulky eyes. Careless Mr. Deucer. That insuit to Mohammed did its work. As he advanced, the tindal gave a peculiar, penetrating elk! elk! with his tongue, then stood, quiet, almost with dignity, facing the infuriated engineer.
“What_ in — do ye mean by givin’ orders without consultin’ me?” he bellowed, and raised his great fist to strike. Then his arm halted in mid-air, as though paralyzed. His jaw dropped, and the color crept slowly from his face.
In response to the tindal’s signal, the lascar firemen had ceased work and were1 joined by the two trimmers from the bunkers. It was then that the Deucer saw his danger, and moisture poured down his ashen face. He was surrounded by a ring of murderous black faces, in which eyes '
flamed with vengeance long deferred. Simulating carelessness, he moved toward the exit. They closed silently in on him. Retreating toward the furnaces, he stood at bay, wild-eyed, licking his dry lips and looking for a way to safety. He tried to shout but the sound froze in his throat. Then the memory of the_ multilated Dutch captain came before him and, pride forsaking him, he whimpered, his stomach cold with dread.With the suddenness of cats they were on him. Lashing out with feet and fists, he shook them off and laid them bleeding on the stoke hole deck plates, but ever and again they were up and attacking. The dim light gleamed on a quick blade. He dropped, spouting blood. Swiftly, they ringed him, and, lifting him bodily, carried him toward a furnace. With his last, waning strength, he here made a second desperate fight and they were forced to drop him, so that, for a moment, he was free of their clutching hands. Backward he gave, blood-flecked and mad with fear, seeing, in the gleam of their frantic eyes, the fate that was in store for him. Again they closed in. The metal of the fire door burned into his flesh. His craven soul failed him then, and he shrieked—a scream of animal terror that trailed off into a muffled sigh.
MR. BARKER, late of Liverpool and the S. S. Tyndareus, dragged his poisoned body from the bilges to the engineroom deck plates and retched miserably. He had done all that human endurance could accomplish, and he was finished—down and out. Covered in the filth of the bilges, weak and dizzy, he knew that it was but a matter of a few minutes ere he must elapse into a state of revolting unconsciousness. Let the Deucer have his triumph—let him smash him—kill him! Better to die in the open than drown in the bilges like a rat in a midden! Mr. Barker laid his damp head on the deck and wept for sheer heartsickness and bodily exhaustion.
Unaccountably-, he was on his feet again!
He shook his head to free it of the deadly bilge fumes that beset it and listened intently. Then, not knowing just why, he set off at a shambling run across the engineroom and through the fire-hole door.
The sight in the stoke-hold petrified him. He was just in time for the last act in the tragedy of Mr. Kearney. A halfdozen lascars were in the act of forcing the body of the Deucer into number two furnace door. The maddened natives, noting the stowaway, did not heed. To them he was the fire-hole drudge, despised by his own race—a servant of theirs. Besides, had he not more cause, perhaps, than they, to hate the man they had murdered?
There is a fine old British regimental march which goes:—
Some talk of Alexander,
And some of Hercules;
Of Hector and Lysander,
And such great names as these—
Mr. Barker-grasped a fire shovel. That shovel was in the hands of a master. As a bolt of summer lightning—as a snake strikes—as the dust of the wrath of God he was at them!—a raging cursing atom who dealt death with a weapon grown to his hands! A lascar, frothing with religious zeal, leaped at him. He mét the man and drove the edge of the shovel at the base of his corded neck. It severed flesh, bone and muscle! Another ‘ sprang! The shovel flashed and spattered his brains on the bunker bulkhead! Nor did it cease then. It hacked and stabbed and swung, a dreadful, flashing thing in the hands of its berserk warrior, straight into the thick of the swarming mob which, reinforced as it was by lascars from all parts of the ship, was forced to draw back in bloody marvel at such a man as this!
Forgotten his bitter wrongs! Gone the memory of shameful humiliation before these men! Only the thought that flared through his heated brain! They had killed a white man—one of his race!
“Come on, ye dogs!” he screamed, his bow-legs astride the body of the Deucer. “Come on an’ face me!”
The man was mad. He mouthed every foul oath that years of the fo’castle had taught him! He taunted and defamed them! Wildly he laughed, and scorned their bloodshot eyes and snarling teeth, as they advanced on him by stealthy inches. He spat—obscenely—and sneered in their evil faces. He heaped anathema
upon their gods and cast doubt upon the virtue of their females!
“Look, ye scum!” he shouted, and beat himself upon the chest with the handle of his shovel, “I’m a white man!—just one white man!—but I’ll fight the whole— black lot o’ yez! I’m white,!.. .white!” Again he beat himself, and, carried away by blood lust, challenged them again and again.
Without warning he launched himself full upon them! The shovel flashed like a crusader’s sword! There was a welter of stabbing arms and stumbling legs. Shrieks, moans and deep-throated curses mingled with the ring and smash of that inspired weapon against flesh and bone, rewarded, every now and again, by the thud of stricken men! To and fro, up and down the smooth deck plates, slippery now with the blood of the fallen, the battle surged. The stowaway seemed to be wrapped in an invulnerable mantle. Bleeding, he was, from a dozen wicked slashes, yet ever he fought on, and carried the fray to them like an avenging devil!
IT WAS too unequal to last, however, despite the superhuman strength and fighting qualities of the white man. Forced back at length, he took his final stand astride the body of his old enemy. Gathering together his little remaining strength for one last smashing onslaught, he whirled the shovel above his head and —tripping over the outstretched leg of the dead engineer went with a crash to the deck!
In the very moment of his downfall the thought flashed through Mr. Barker’s fuddled mind, that even in death the Deucer had managed to wreak his spite upon him. Instantly, however, he was on his feet to meet the onslaught. _ A tawny -figure hurled itself toward, him, then, seeming to crumple up midway in its flight, pitched headlong to the deck? At the same instant the room was filled with a heavy report—then another—and a second lascar went down! The remainder made a mad rush for the monkey ladder and the upper deck. The fight had ended like a torch plunged into a pail of water. Standing in the doorway was the tall form of Captain Lawson, a smoking revolver in his hand. At his back were the ship’s officers, and one-half the white crew.
Mr. Barber reeled drunkenly on his feet. All about him, an unbelievable shambles, lay the victims to his prowess. Himself dripped redly from a score of wounds. But he was happy. He had proven himself. Things were going rather hazy. The stoke-hold began to swing— right—left—right—left—then in a slowly accelerating circle. The Old Man and his party retreated to a distance worlds away. He had shown them, he had! He had shown the Deucer, too, for all that he was as a one-eyed kipper! He spoke and his voice was cracked and hoarse.
“Look!” he croaked, and smote himself once more upon the chest, “I’m not a blarsted coolie, I ain’t. I’m a Weedin' white man—that’s wot I am!” And no one disputed him.
Mr. Barker, late of Liverpool and the S. S. Tyndareus, would have fallen,but for a dozen eager arms outstretched to save his over-weary frame.
WHAT’S to be done with this fellow, Mr. McMaster?” The Old Man sat on the edge of a bunk wherein reposed the much bandaged form of Mr. Barker, as the Paladin surged her way from Port Sudan toward Suez. “Now poor Kearney’s gone and there’s a step up all round, we’ll need a new Fourth. Do you think our fire-eating friend here—” He stopped
smiling, and turned to the patient. “What do you say, Barker? It’s up to you, really.”
“Wot’s that, sir?”
“Why, what would you have us do for you?—what do you wish for most?”
“Can I say out me wish, sir?”
“Of course you may. Now then—speak up! eh?”
The unhandsome eyes of the stowaway sought the blue sky through the open port. Into them crept a dreamier, more peaceful light. Hope, long suppressed, awoke in his grimy breast and a soft, anticipatory smile played about the corners of his hard lips. He heaved a deep, wistful sigh. The Old Man bent his head to listen.
“Well, sir—if it ain’t arskin’ loo much— I’d like a good tot o’ rum, sir, so I would,” said Mr, Barker gently.