The code of the sea is so different from that by which landsmen chart their course through life that it is hard to judge without injustice. What would you have done, had you been master, in mid-Pacific, of a tramp ship with eighteen murderous Chinese lepers at one end, a mutinous crew at the other, and a tropic gale blowing up!
NORMAN REILLY RAINE
FIFTEEN the world years in stinking of barging old tin-pot about tramp ships is not the best schooling you can get in the use of words, except perhaps, of the hardweather variety that reddens landsmen’s ears; and I’d rather take a haul on a fore-to,-gallant brace any day, than pick up a pen. But since the loss of my vessel under such tragic circumstances first was made known in the press of this country, I have had such a flood of abuse slung at me from seamen’s welfare outfits, tender-hearted but misinformed old ladies and the like, that under pressure from friends I have decided to make public my side of the affair. It’s a job not at all to my liking, mind you, for I’m not the man to dodge consequences or excuse my actions, and my vindication lies in the verdict of the board of inquiry, who added to its finding the kind of tribute a seaman is proud to earn. My refusal to make any public statement other than appeared during the inquiry, and my silence since that time have been misconstrued —so here’s my story; and if a plain, unvarnished yarn will suit your taste, you’ll have it. If frills and literary didos are more to your fancy, the accommodation ladder still is down, you might say, and the closing of these pages will set you ashore again before we get under way. I’m hoping we’ll be shipmates, though, to the end of this cruise.
I’VE been told it’s customary, when writing a personal narrative, to say something of one’s self, so I’ll give you a fo’c’s’le-head view of my past up to the beginning of the last voyage of the Vagabond.
I was born and bred a Bluenose, in a small Nova Scotia seaport, and from earliest days had a passionate love for ships and all things connected with the sea, and a determination to follow it. This desire ruthlessly and systematically was crushed by my father, a shaggy-browed old wind-ship skipper who had served his time in the fo’c’s’les of famous tea clippers and knew what he was about. His ambition was that I should be educated for medicine, a profession which he regarded with inordinate respect; but his opposition to my
aims only served, of course, to sharpen them considerably. Many a bellowing tilt we had in the snug kitchen of the old house, when I pitted my obstinate treble against his deep-sea roar and got my head well smacked for my pains. He’s sleeping in a few hundred fathom of blue water off the Sumatra Coast now, God rest his turbulent, sail-dragging old soul, and it has needed the years to teach me how great was that love for his motherless son, which kept him at sea long after his time, to make me secure for the future. His will was stronger than mine in those days, though, and bar one unforgetable summer when I stowed away aboard a brig trading between Nova Scotia and the Caribbean, I stuck close to my schooling, and didn’t do badly, considering. Always smoldering under the surface, however, was my
determination. It was stoked unceasingly by nights in my turret room at the top of our big house overlooking the sea, as I listened—-when I should have been at my books —to the beat of the winter surf against the iron cliffs and the cries of wild sea birds screaming in the gale, and pictured, with indescribable longing, tall-masted sailing ships battling through the wrack with streaming decks and straining canvas. Sometimes my ambition waned, only to return with new and added force on the homecoming of my father from two and three-year voyages, bringing with him all the colorful romance of foreign lands.
At such times our house would be filled with burly, deep-voiced, rough-jacketed men—ship’s officers and the like—who little guessed how they stirred the heart of
the lumpy lad in the corner seat with their tales of battling the icy seas off old Stiff; of dodging pirate junks down the China Sea; and of quinineand-whisky-sodden wrecks of men along the African fever coast.
T WAS a sizable chap in my second university year when word came of the foundering of the Taku Bar, with the loss of my father and all hands in a hell-belting nor’east monsoon, and the shock of it steadied me a bit. Up to then I’d been taking my studies in a haphazard sort of fashion, being more intent on making the eleven than winning my degree. But when realization drove home that never again in this world was I to hear that tremendous, salt-husked voice and the heavy, quarter-deck tramp of his seaman’s boots, nor feel the scrape of his horny palm across the back of my hand as he was wont to do in rare moments of revealed affection, I determined that whatever my later aims, I would at least fulfil my father’s wishes first. So I buckled down to my books and, in time, became Doctor Curtis.
The writing of my name, by the way, brings out another of the peculiarities of my father and one which has had a profound effect upon my life and disposition. Although he was no scholar, he was an omnivorous reader of the classics and of literature of long centuries ago—and the fact that he did not fully comprehend one half of what he read ift no way detracted from his enjoyment. I can recall the pride with which he used to introduce me to his friends, and the awe wdth which those simple-minded men received the impressive news that “This, mister, is my son, Pelagius Xenophon Curtis!” And nothing w’ould delight him more than when, between voyages, and before our winter fire, he would read to me of thesemi-pagan virtues of Pelagius, a monk of ancient Britain, and of the swash-buckling exploits of Xenophon, the Grecian soldier.
So deep an impression they made upon me in those early days that something of the natures of these longdead gentlemen entered into my soul. This is demonstrated even to the present by moods of stamping, cursing Xenophonian violence, which inevitably give way to a penitent quiescence under the influence of the scandalized Pelagius. I must confess I love my swashbuckler best although, mark you, not without a huge respect and not a little fear of his virtuous partner. I have no doubt that^ to you, all this sounds rather prolix, but I reckon it necessary to a correct understanding of my yarn. So bear with me for a bit and th~~n v~ UI s~on at~ av on our ) t: want t~sun.~ urt~ of me. .~njurc up two of o nt kntt5. k nuckies. n tat herhamn .~n irt! .~ ii mouth and a atitiy t hatch. and hat it an rntrtssion you re it ci tm to \\ ci ri u~h \ tw 1tt~ get tack to w.rking sh r ret it ing tiit ree 1 t ucketi it away in a tilt: cit :htst .~ !~t\ tatl:e~s. Lud wt art a ttetk it as rig .ti~ it :Li1ia_~ in te foe si i it ust-tiaked I~rit ull rigget: hip U hen hit ye irs ot knock tug o 1 vet: it hj~h It LiiI It ne lions, kicks eon it u~ it of -. r it nicer and a it 1e xlirltnce t:t~-.::id liii it. a>~' , at nit liii equally at in ia qLu'~ . - t t~ cath ira! 0: \trt l~atiie or rct~ t.~ `. . R l it It tnbav. you Suit vIat 1 11 v: ti_nt is air .~ it iring man: maybe liii tell Ll rflavt~ ne it
1 1 I tu_t_~ I i~ 1 ...t~*t \ LU flu L~' .1 W urtk i.xter hut 1 r~ t'~ted u~aru of uuy Itt. her itine r. t rainhaekle old lrendi earg unt~ r of true t tisaulLi I )fl.~, u.iiiled !QLt~ h tuch hal teen tt:~&l br nonpaynlunt cf port ututS at l'r:un. 1 -:-~`. lur a ut of tatnt to d her . e nerahie oget tter reh.rtst e:n~1 her t ltu %uit d. and have st nee LëCU eating over the utiLbe arri :truallv a~:ng my rattletrap pay. It is a sad at mtn arv upon t he tt curt ai nt V of mans tenure of h.apptrtess t har my last voyage, which commenced under the aus mess of advent are, should have had so bitter b:td~-autt:natton.
had been knocking about the West coast for some . getting odd bits of cargo for Mexico or Peru or some opera-bouffe republics of Central America, nitrate ports of Chile. There is not much the nitrate ports since the Germans collared and killed the trade and. my lean pickings falling off, I built a few bunks and bulkheads into the Vagabo7id and jolted passengers between Valparaiso, Iquique and other p;?rts. That brought better returns, so I decided to have some repairs and alterations done which would add a bit to my speed. I laid up in Valparaiso while the work was done, and a fair job they made of it, too, for greasers.
After the work was completed, which included the installation of oil-burning engines, I was returning to my hotel, having made arrangements to get to sea again when, crossing the plaza, I ran bows-on smack into old "Warty" Brooke, one of the fastest backs ever turned out by McGill; same old moon face, with warts like doorknobs all over his wrists. He gave a shout and a grin that nearly cut his head in two, and insisted that I lunch with him.
It developed over the table that he was one of the leading medical wallahs of the Chilean government, and chairman of the commission for national hygiene, and as such, had wide powers and responsibilities.
His immediate job in Valparaiso, it seemed, was to secure the transportation of eighteen Chinese coolies from Chile to Canton for segregation in the leper colony there. Only two were in an advanced stage of the disease, and the party was to be accompanied by a Chinese of considerable influence among lower-caste coolies, who was to see that they didn’t cut up any queer business on the way across—for they were far from keen on going. It sounds simple, but Warty had run on a reef, for in spite of a good, fat passage price, no regular steamer line would handle ’em, and the old ass nearly wept because he couldn’t get them off his hands.
No sooner did I understand how matters stood than that old dog Xenophon whispered: “Go on! Take them! We’ll have more fun than dragging Chilanos around the
c:~' Ard for once P~~ag~u~ agr~c~d: humanitarian I urjpcse. I told Brooke I'd transport his the Vqcobond. \Va-y stared for a hit, then iau~hed that odious,
“Ha! Ha! You silly chump!’’he cried. “But then, you always were, you know.” He wiped his eyes. “However, if you're in earnest, take them by all means, and Heaven bless you!”—and the fool exploded again.
I felt like skelping him one with the cruet, but he’s not a bad old bird, Warty—just misguided—so we went into details.
The lepers were to be put aboard next morning from the quarantine launch and I planned tosailthesame night, for I already had signed on my crew. News travels fast in a seaport, however, and as soon as my new hands learned the sort of passengers we were to carry they skipped out, every man Jack of them. I collared the last two on the gangway as they were slinging their hook. Xenophon persuaded 'em to change their minds for the time being,
and lkluk, my Eskimo carpenter, carried them back aboard and laid them in their bunks. They slipped their cable again before dawn, though, so that the only members of my old crowd who stuck with me were my chief engineer, Angus McLosh, who wouldn’t leave his beloved bundle of scrap for all China; lkluk, who didn’t know what leprosy was, and wouldn’t have cared if he did; my stewards and cooks, who, being coolies, didn’t count; and the deck boy, Charlie Yanks tall, shock-headed, and addicted to the Sporting 'rimes, cheap cigarettes and pimples.
Thank the stars they're not finicky in South American ports about the way a ship master replenishes his crew.
At about nine that evening 1 stepped ashore again and interviewed a crimp, Dennisio Callahano by name, as arrant a rogue as ever picked pockets at Donnybrook
Fair. He promised results, however; and at midnight brought off my new crew in a couple of shore boats. I had moved out and dropped hook near the fair-
Next— Pariah Dog
NORMAN REILLY RAINE, author of “Mutiny,” in his wandering across the world, brought up, one day, in a tiny Arab town in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, where the Nubian Desert dips its parched hem in the waters of the Red Sea. As a result, in a month or two there will appear in MacLean’s a novelette, a two-part serial, “The Pariah Dog,” a fast-action story of mystery and intrigue, involving a charming English girl ; the British officers of a Sudanese Camel Corps; Egyptians, dogged little fellaheen soldiers; the wild, raiding tribesmen of the desert; Baggara Arabs; Bedouins; and those fanatic fighting men made famous in Kipling’s “Fuzzy-Wuzzy,” the Hatendoas. MacLcan s editor has no hesitation in recommending tins tale to its readers as probably the best Mr. Rame has yet written.
way after the desertion of my old lot. My renegade delivered with them a list of their names that was a marvel of ingenuity and license, and, said he; “If they don’t seem to answer to thim riddyloike, sorr, it’ll be mebbe the bit potheen Oi laid undher their tongues, bliss thim, ag’inst the pain o’ parrtin’. Fer as sure as Oi’m an honest man, their names be as thruly come by as me own, savin’ yer prisince, sorr!”
There were two men short of the number I required, but my Chilano friend with the peat in his voice assured me he had done his utmost. That meant more delay. However, we propped those present on their feet, one by one, and guided their uncertain fingers as they signed on. Then they were locked in the ’tween decks for safe keeping, where they promptly diverted themselves with singing, shouting and fighting in their artless sailor way.
Wait till I’ve had you at sea a day or so, thought I. I’ll take some of that out of you, I’ll warrant. The officers and engineers had come aboard during the afternoon—I had not much trouble getting them—along with the stores and fresh meat. My fuel-oil tanks were full and, but for the two missing men, I could have got under way at daybreak.
Callahano having told me that he would make an effort to dig up two more hands, I took a turn about the ship to put in the time. Passing by the galley I smelled cooking and, looking in, found lkluk, my one-hundredand-ninety-pound lump of blubber, scoffing a horrible mixture of onions and mutton fat. There was something so completely and delightfully the swine about lkluk. He was a jewel—rather a greasy one—and looked on me with much the affection he would bestow upon a keg of lard. Having kicked him out of the galley I went for’ard again and, seated at my table with a pipe, examined myself as to the motives which had led me so eagerly to volunteer for the undertaking.
Pelagius has an embarrassing habit of analysis. He never allows me to forget that my nature is inclined to self-indulgence with a decided flair for the bizarre and exciting, and frowns upon the pleasure with which I exercise my sinful love of battle and adventure.
So the joy with which I was preparing for the voyage, as something a little different from the usual run of a seafaring life, was pricked by my mentor. And I came to a serious consideration whether my act had not been prompted from vanity and an ebullition of Xenophonian
recklessness, rather than from a humanitarian desire to assist those poor wretches of lepers who had been refused aid by others.
Beset by chaotic musings of this like, I at length turned into my bunk, more than half of a mind to chuck the trip in the interest of self-discipline and a more godly life.
With morning, however, arrived a solution of my problem. Brooke came off in a dinghy at about ten o’clock. With him was a meagre-framed, blue-eyed wisp of a man in clerical garb who was introduced to me as the Reverend Philip D. Canter, of a well-known mission society. In repose, his face was mild and benignant enough, but wher. he spoke of his work— man alive!—his eyes fairly burned with the fire that warmed his life. After doing mission service in Manchuria for many years he had been transferred to Chile to work among the coolies there, and now was desirous of returning to China.
He wanted to know if he could take passage on the Vagabond to Hongkong for himself and his daughter, who had been to school in the States and was accompanying him back to the mission field. Yes, she was with him, although I held no conversation with her; men being more in my line, you might say. With men, you’ve got deep water and plenty of sea room to weather a blow. But with women it’s reefs and shoals and sudden tides. And what man has a chart for them all, eh? I tell you, for a plain saiiorman, it’s best to give a wide berth to those waters, and—Hello, I’m off my course!
As I was about to say, it was on the tip of my tongue to refuse to carry them, for there is an old sea superstition that a girl or a priest on board of a ship is a sure sign of disaster, and I was due for enough trouble with my crew without that. Something of this I explained to them, and they were turning away, rather crestfallen, when, suddenly, I decided I’d carry them. Probably you are thinking it was a pretty face that changed my mind for me, but that’s not the case, mister, for Miss Canter had no nonsense of that sort. Her hair, as I noticed at the time, was brown, or some such color, and her nose was of the sort that’s known as snub. She seemed very quiet, and if her clothes were a bit better cut than the rather sedate South American styles, that was to be expected of a girl who’d just come down from the States. She’d a modest, downcast eye, too, and I thought that first day that she’d bronchial trouble of some sort, for I noticed, when I was explaining fo’c’s’le superstitions to her father that her face grew red and she coughed rather frequently into her handkerchief.
The upshot was that they had their gear brought off in the course of the day and took up their quarters aboard.
There was no sign of Callahano and my other two hands during the day, so after nightfall I had lkluk pull me ashore,where I had dinner with Brooke. It was getting on toward morning when I returned to the pierhead, keeping a masthead lookout, as I went, for late-wandering gentlemen of a seafaring turn who might like a good berth. Before going far I came upon two individuals who, swollen with pulque and melody, regaled the slumbering night.
On my accosting them in the gentlest possible manner they took me literally to their arms and breathed priceless vapors upon me. When I offered them accommodation in my fo’c’s’le at a rate somewhat in excess of that prevailing in the port they embraced me with even greater fervor than before. We got aboard without any rumpus when it suddenly occurred to one to ascertain the name of the vessel they were to ornament. No sooner did he hear it than he and his mate rescinded their decision in so ungentlemanly a manner that I was obliged to knock their bullet heads together—a proceeding repugnant to Pelagius but highly gratifying to Xenophon, who, in the act of moving them from the head of the gangway, administered with the utmost impartiality a hearty kick or so. lkluk locked them in the ’tween decks, and I retired to my cabin, followed, I regret to say, by language not recognized in the nice AMlparaisan circles. I bequeathed to each a beautiful Spanish name which, however, failed to awaken their admiration when I signed them on in the morning.
By the way, I happened to notice, that night at tea, that Mary Canter’s eyes were a sort of greenish gray— although, mind you. mister, that had nothing to do with me.
E SAILED at noon on Monday, and soon the white buildings and lofty spires of Valparaiso melted into the soft shadows of her encircling hills. Two days later, about seven bells of the morning watch, we picked up Juan Fernandez Island and passed Mas Afuera before •dawn the next day, too far off to be seen, even had it been daylight. And shortly after we felt that we were comfortably out to sea, with cloudless skies, a dimpled and vividly blue expanse of ocean all about and never a sign of weather—although, for the matter of that, bad blows in those latitudes are the exception.
The Vagabond, for all that she was a venerable crock, was as comfortable a little craft for her tonnage as you’d find afloat. I’m a bit old-fashioned, and love the good wooden decks of my windbag days, so I had wood decks laid on fo’c’s’le head, boat deck and poop. The crew’s accommodations were in the fo’c’s’le, for’ard, their quarters being plain but comfortable. I don’t believe in pampering sailormen, for as sure as you do they’ll forget which end of the ship they belong to. A square deal and few trimmings is my motto, mister.
The officers and engineers were midships, flanking the saloon, abaft which were the steward’s crowd and the saloon pantry. Above the saloon, and opening on the lower bridge deck were two spare staterooms, occupied by the Canters, a small smoking room, the mate’s cabin and lavatory. On the upper bridge deck and abaft the chart room was my cabin and sitting room. The Marconi •operator’s quarters were on top of the engine room deck house. When we got to sea I cleared the after peak of stores, transferred them to the ’tween decks and put the lepers under the poop, so that they might have the poop deck to sun themselves on. We built them bunks, gave them some blankets and there they were, snug as weevils in a sea pie.
I carried only two officers, for I take a watch myself. The mate was an Irishman, Houlihan by name, a tall, wide-shouldered man with a ready tongue and the manners of an Australian bushwhacker. His small, pig eyes twinkled out from under a mouse-colored thatch, and those freckled fists of his had not been over-idle in his time. Xenophon didn’t like him but Pelagius said to give him a chance. He knew his work and was a fine seaman.
The second mate, Bisson, was a slight, blue-eyed young chap, quiet, and steady, and rather shy, who •didn’t slur his “sirs,” but didn’t stress them, either. He worked up his day’s position quick and handy and on the dot, and spent most of his watch below reading and re-reading a well-worn shelf of books—not that he was above a bit of fun, now and then, mind you.
As for the crew— in all my years at sea I never had seen such an ill-favored boiling of rakehells as I’d scraped aboard of that ship! Callahano certainly surpassed himself. There wasn’t enough honest sailer tallow in the whole batch of ’em to arm a deep-sea lead. I had dagos and greasers, a darky, a cockney, a Bowery gun fighter, a Swede with one ear sliced off — by the Lord Harry, it’d make you weep to look at ’em!
The bos’n, Svenson —he of the single ear — was a knucklebrowed, evil-eyed sweep who’d have been an ornament to any gallows. It seems my crimp got him out of jail along with Scatchard, the Barbadian darky, Bird, the cockney, and four of the firemen. However, give him his due, mister, the man was a thorough sailor, having spent most of his life on the old Cape Horners, the hardest school on earth. Scatchard,
Bird, Banks, the deck boy, together with Maldino and Colona—the latter, my two recruits—comprised the deck force under the bos’n.
Angus McLosh, the chief engineer, was a crusty old Caledonian who thought me quite mad, but who, nevertheless, had stuck by me for a number of years, for the sole purpose, I believe, of slinging his Calvinistic brimstone at my impervious head. He loved nothing better than to stand in my room, scratching his mangy
old pelt against the bulkhead, with a “bit dram” in his fist and croak dismally of my past, my present sad state, and my ultimate destination, the contemplation whereof afforded him a deep and dour satisfaction.
His second, a man named Muir, was a fellow countryman, of course, picked by him out of three other applicants for the berth at Valparaiso. Muir was a solemn, cadaverous individual who ate, slept and had his being in a paradise of grime and Dundonian blasphemy. They became great cronies, quarreled bitterly and with the greatest enjoyment, and exchanged prognostications on the outcome of the voyage with profound head waggings and lugubrious satisfaction.
The third engineer, Clixby, was a paunchy, bandylegged incapable with red-rimmed eyes, who, before we’d been at sea a week, twice was found wrapped in noisy slumber and an aura of gin during his watch. He’d a liquor capacity far in excess of his tonnage and exuded a watery awe of his superiors. The balance of the engineroom staff consisted of four firemen, a donkeyman and three oilers.
My four stewards and cooks were Chinese, under the chief steward, Hip Sing, an old shipmate. Hip Sing waged unremitting war upon Ikluk, whom I picked up years ago at Dutch Harbor. The latter was down on the articles as carpenter, although his sole interest in things mundane was pretty well confined to his digestive gear.
“Sparks,” the Marconi man, whose name was Bent, was a young chap—about twenty-three, I should say— who kept to himself and was an inveterate experimenter.
We saw but little of our passengers until the eightyeighth meridian was crossed. Certain unmistakable sounds from the vicinity of the reverend’s room indicated the reason. His daughter seldom appeared, most of her time being devoted to the old man—nor was I sorry, for on the first day at sea she was the innocent cause of an outburst of feeling ón the part of McLosh, the chief engineer. It came about in this way:
Prior to sailing I had not seen fit to mention to him that a girl was to accompany us, for I knew his prejudices and wished to keep peace in the family as long as possible. Then, with the clabber of sailing, it slipped my mind. His first intimation, therefore, was the afternoon of sailing day, when coming up on the bridge to ask me about something or other, he caught the flicker of a
skirt as Miss Canter went past the ladder below. His scrawny neck shot out like a crane’s, he had one good look, then turned to me with a maddening lift of the eyebrow he knew so well how to use.
“Whut’s yon?” he asked, sepulchrally, rubbing his knobby spine against my door jamb.
“What’s what?” asked I, innocently enough. He eyed me darkly. “Whut’s yon, wi’ the wee bit kirtle?” “It’s a woman,” said I. “Are you blind?”
“Oh, a woman! Mphm! Indeed—a woman, did ye say? Aye, an’ whut’s she doin’ aboard of here, if it’s no’ exceedin’ ma place for tae ask?”
“She’s a passenger. She’d the Reverend Canter’s daughter.”
“Oh, indeed, a passenger: The meenister’s daughter, ye said? Mphm! I’d no idea we were tae ha’e the likes o’ that wi’ us. Ha’e ye lost yer heid, man? Dae ye not know the auld sayin’—‘A lass on a shup gi’es fortune the slup,’ hey? I doot ye’re no anxious for tae know it. Ah, weel—ye’re startin’ fine—fine!” He sighed heavily.
“Look here, McLosh, don’t be an old ass!” I cried. “The girl’s traveling with her father. I’ve hardly seen her yet, and the less I do the better I’ll be pleased. Besides--”
He assumed an injured look. “Oh, aye. I ken a’ that—an’ I may see as straight as ony ither body. Still, a body has a right tae his opinion, too. Min’ she disna mak’ a gowk o’ ye afore the v’yage is ower. Man! Man! I’m that supprised at ye-” he ended bitterly, and backed away in secret joy at having scored.
His pleasure was short lived, however, for, as he moved away from the door shaking his fat head, I saw Miss Canter standing behind him waiting to speak to me. I could have laughed to see the blood rush up to Mac’s scraggy old ears, for he knew she must have overheard. Then my own words came back to me and I hope I didn’t look the fool I felt. She wanted to know some detail of the stewards’ service.
“Won’t you come in for a minute?” I asked. “No, thank you,” she said, a shade too sweetly, I thought. “I don’t want to fright—to trouble you.” “Oh, no trouble at all,” I stumbled. “It’s a pleasure!” “Really?” said she, and I felt myself go red again.
As she descended the bridge ladder she glanced back. There was the tiniest tremor in the corner of her lips, and she had another coughing spell into her handkerchief. I wonder-In time the reverend found his sea legs, and one evening
appeared in the saloon for tea. He sat on the settee at my right hand, his daughter next to him. I had expected some restraint, seeing how freely the chief and I had expressed ourselves, but the girl was quite cheerful and included McLosh and myself in her conversation as though never a word had been said. In fact, I thought at times, she paid a shade too much attention to the old Scotch hypocrite, who gave a senile cackle now and then at her sallies until, catching my eye, he had the grace to change a laugh into an embarrassed cough and nearly strangled in consequence, to my great satisfaction.
After a bit the talk got onto the hands.
“But what roughlooking men they are, captain,” said she, and looked at me. “Are all sailors so queer?"
“Aye, ma'am, aye!” broke in McLosh. unexpectedly. "Sailors is queer animals,
"Oh. we’ve worse things than sailors aboard,” said I. "But we keep ’em below to look after the engines so's people won’t have to be looking at ’em—although some of them manage to escape to the top around meal times." That squelched him for a while.
“Is seafaring life so hard as we hear?” the little lady resumed. “I have read so much about ships where the officers make the crew’s lives a terror to them. One book particularly—‘Two Years Before the Mast,’ I n -t11eti told of such hin~. it made me nt te eY for th~ poor. hcaten thin~~s!' I I1ouIth~n gr~n that. and 1 smiled a bit myself
that as vtan~ ago. in t~ old windhai~ days. \lIo~s t anter 1 told °1. k~r s tr v lit t it' of it t litsi ttrtt~'s \ -ui1 r~r.d, 1 !htnk that rnotkrn~ea iTtt'fi _t~~ %oll C Ut --ourst' U s nect'ssarv t tt ti~, but 1 eOuritCrtat1~t t) .~:-utit V fl a :i 01 i fle~' I glanc~d at t(oUiihan. a Ii aa.s Tt~'!ttlt\t O role the trt.. nd ia~ he cdi the h~tit \Ll this aa~ eno~. but trtrt WUS a &~ue1 I lad not ft)i~.id tor. I louli han C tt~t~it Ct' Jit' no-.~. and s4t n a t I i i Iloulihan. 5ifl(~ yni.i re -u `ail of hoan~. saii I. flut lii ne;~ ntoriere with n~-ee~-~:iv Tta.~ut's. I• ri-i trusting our ;~-i~'m.nt to r*-i~nize the t. sir. said and s~.-n~ his way.
' I 'HE next day being Sunday, and a parson aboard. I asked the reverend if he would like to hold a bit of a service. He
was pleas* i, s* 1 -old the mate to have an awning rigged inker hatch in the morning. The following any» I having a turn or two along the lower bridge deck after rea Jast w hen I heard something of a rumpus forward. I looked over the rail. To judge from what hands had objected to being turned to a -ur. lay to rig the tarpaulin and the mate was telling
One of them gave him a bit of back slack, and then, hang me, squared away to him, the rest of them closing I was about to slip down when the mate settled his uld have done it myself, with a ba --and swipe that laid him bubbling in the scuppers. He jumped to his feet—it was Juan Colona, a greasyg and came on again, so the mate dropped nee more for luck, and catching him under the his boot helped him a good fathom along
the deck. “That Mr. Houlihan!” I sang out, to let the
■ >w what they might expect if they’d thoughts of ve ’em plenty of leather for a few days. We’ll make sailors of ’em, yet!”
On that, hearing something at my elbow, I turned, and there was Miss Reverend, breathing hard.
"Oh, you—you brute!” she gasped, “Why didn’t you stop it?” Her eyes were blazing and one little foot s* imped the deck.
I was taken aback for a minute then, thought I, here —I'll hare no petticoat rule on my ship. For I knew the crew would require a deal of licking into shape before they became the God-fearing saüormen I intended they should. So I spoke to her firmly, but kindly, I hope.
“I must ask you, ma’am,” said I, “not to interfere in this ship’s business. I know my duty to my fellows, and a bit of a knocking about is good for any man who’s inclined to get above himself.”
“But it’s downright cruelty! You ought to be ashamed-”
"Perhaps, ma’am,” I replied bluntly, to put an end to it, for I caught the sardonic eye of McLosh who was fiddling with the bridge deck lights. “But I’m not ashamed, nor likely to be. And now, if you’ll oblige
me by leaving the bridge--” With that she went below. Her eyes were wet and I knew the thing really had hurt her. Still, I was glad she hadn't blamed Houlihan, who had only carried out his duty. I can’t say the church service was a howling
Every day I paid a visit of inspection to the lepers’ quarters, aft. It seemed like a throwback to old varsity
days, when we "meds” wore farmed out to hospitals during the summer, to have folk dependent upon me for their physioal well-being, and 1 rather enjoyed it. The eoolies were a filthy lot though, and stunk like a herd of dilapidated goats. Their leader, Quong Lun, u as a sauve, quiet sort, with more than ordinary sharp-
ness. He kept his crowd well in hand, and I had no complaint to make except upon one point.
Walking aft by the galley one night, I heard voices in secretive conversation in the shadow of a boat. It was one of the lepers having a yarn with a steward. I gave the steward a cuff or two and sent the other flying aft where he belonged. Strict orders then were issued that none of the lepers was to come for’ard of the poop. At night, once or twice after that, I fancied I saw shadows flitting along the after well-deck, and I set myself to watch, but nothing developed.
For a couple of days the mate kept things moving very nicely, but without overdoing it, just a kick here and a shove there until the hands jumped to their work and were active and civil. Then suddenly I noticed a difference. One or two things were overlooked; just small things, but they should have been checked for discipline’s sake. I didn’t say anything at first, for it was his pidgin and I don’t like to cross cables. Still, I kept my eyes open.
On a Thursday morning—latitude thirty, thirty-two, south; longitude one hundred and fourteen, ten, west, it was—I was returning from a visit to the lepers, when I saw two of the hands skulking in the ’tween decks with cigarettes, when they should have been chipping paintwork. The bos’n was nowhere in sight and, as I said before, I don’t like to interfere with the mate’s job. When I got topside, though, I called him—he was in the smoking room having a yarn with Miss Canter— and told him what was wanted. He left her, not too handily I noticed, and went below.
As he was passing through the smoking room door she gazed icily past me and called to him, “Don’t forget your promise, Mr. Houlihan!”
I twigged it then; he, an Irishman, and she, an attractive girl—and of course she could wind the soft fellow around her finger, and use her influence to get a little lighter treatment for the crew.
I stepped to the rail to see how Houlihan did, expecting, when I had sent him down to stir them up, to see the two hands come flying out of the ’tween decks like the bat end of a hurricane. Instead of which, they sauntered forth, flipped the butts of their cigarettes nonchalantly into the ditch and took up their chipping hammers like a couple of dons. They were Colona and Maldino.
The mate, still wearing his grin, which he wiped of when he saw me, returned to the lower bridge and looked in the smoking room but the little lady had gone. I called him and he came, smartly enough. “Mister,” said I, “you're falling down on your job.” He flushed under his sunburn. sunburn. “How so, sir?”
“I give you credit for intelligence. Don’t beat about the bush with me.” That flustered him a bit more, so I gave him a home thrust.
“Are you subject to heart trouble, Mr. Houlihan?”
“N-no. sir.” He took my meaning directly.
“That’s right! ft's the one disease I’ll not tolerate aboard of my ship, mister. You might as well know it, in case you develop symptoms.”
“I understand, sir,” he replied, looking me square in the eyes. I expected that would settle the matter.
An unlooked-for development came that evening, though. Mind, I don’t know all the ins and outs of the business even yet. But I do know that he had an interview with the little lady after tea, and, evidently staking more on his charms than they warranted, got heavily snubbed by that same little craft.
THE following morning at breakfast he was sullen and morose; hardly civil, in fact. He saw he’d been made a tool of by the girl with her mistaken ideas of kindness toward the crew, and resentment bit deep. As soon as the meal was over he jumped on deck and commenced to give the hands a day's hazing that smacked of the old hell ships. It was on my tongue to curb him, a time or two, but after my complaint of the day before it would have been inconsistent. Not only that, but Xenophon was spoiling for a row with him, and powerful as the mate was, I could have broken him in two. So I had to hold myself strongly in check, although to see him riding those poor, scurrying sinners would have stirred the heart of “Bully" Hayes himself.
He strode up and down the ship like a bull on the wide, and I saw devils in the men’s eyes as they glared after him up the deck, or crawled bleeding from under his heavy feet. He didn’t show up in the saloon for lunch and a trembling steward told me his door was locked. I knew then that he was firing up out of a bottle for the afternoon’s go, and that tragedy would result unless I kept him away from the men. The girl sat white-faced through the meal, and for the first time she eyed my bulk with other than the cool contempt which had been my portion since I ordered her off the bridge.
When Houlihan came out of his cabin at two bells I gave him a job in the chart room which kept him busy until four o’clock, when it was time for him to take the bridge. He was too good a sailor to evade orders, even when drunk, and for the rest of the watch the ship was fairly peaceable.
DARK falls early in the tropics; and at seven o'clock I had switched on my light and was reading, when there came a gentle tap on the door. It was the reverend, and I saw worry in his kindly face as he stepped inside.
“Will you come down to my room for a few minutes, captain?” he asked.
It had to do with the mate, 1 knew, but I didn't feel like interfering unless it was something to do with the ship. The reverend was so in earnest, however, that 1 went with him.
His daughter had been weeping, 1 saw. But as soon as I entered the room she came straight up to me, with pale cheeks and her firm little chin in the air.
“Captain Curtis," said she, without a tremor. "I want to tell you I'm sorry for interfering where I had no business to!”
Now this was astonishing enough, and my first impulse at this generous acknowledgment of fault, was to tell her it didn't matter. Instead of which I bent a stopper on my tongue for a minute for, thought I, perhaps she expects me to absolve her of blame. That roused the mule.
“It’s brave of you to tell me so, Miss Canter,” I said, and in spite of an inclination to be curt my voice was kindlier than I felt, for she was only a girl, you might say, “but I must point out that you have been playing a dangerous game. My crew are not used to softness, and I treat them as they’re accustomed to, for if I don’t, look you, they’ll take me for easy, and get out of hand quicker than a flea hops. Mr. Houlihan’s job is harder now than it was at the beginning, thanks to you. If we are to have peace there’ll be no more outside interference. I have officers on the articles to work the ship!”
When I had finished, her cheeks were scarlet, as perhaps I intended they should be.
“But I thought I was helping those poor creatures,” she murmured.
“Those poor creatures, as you are good enough to call ’em, ma’am, are a case-hardened lot of scum,” said I. “Their present lot is paradise to the jails and gin dives of Valparaiso, where they came from. Personally, I’m ashamed to have such swabs on my decks!”
“They seem so helpless--” “They’re helpless enough, now,” I continued bitterly, for her studied disregard of myself in the past had rankled. “But they’ll not be so helpless by the time they’re paid off. Moreover, they’ll have earned an honest dollar or two, which is a da--which is more than they’ve done in many a long day.” “But Mr. McLosh told me--”
“McLosh is an old fool and a woman’ll make him say anything. He told me, to-day, that it has taken all his time to check the spread of insubordination to the engine room.”
She buried her face in her hands at that, and the tears trickled through her fingers. I noticed, as she bent her head, that her hair under the shaded cabin lamp held golden lights that I hadn’t noticed before. It’s rather becoming to a woman, that; any woman, of course. It came upon me then that I’d been a shade too hard on her, so I softened a bit.
“I’ll have a friendly talk with the mate tomorrow morning, and define his conduct for him,”
I promised. “Then you’ll find there’ll be no more trouble. How will that do?”
She looked up and smiled. It was like the sun breaking through at the end of a rainy day.
“Will you really do that?” she asked, softly.
“You know, Captain Curtis, I didn’t really believe you meant to be brutal.”
There was an odd little shake in her voice, and I’m free to admit her words gladdened me, because, mister, a man doesn’t like to be misjudged by any woman. I patted her shoulder in my clumsy fashion.
“Don’t worry any more, my dear,” said I. “I want you to enjoy the voyage.
There’s nothing like good sunlight and the free sea air to put music on your tongue, if only you’ll let
them. I even try a note or two myself now and then, when McLosh isn’t about.”
She iaughed outright at that and, for the first time since sailing, I felt we were on the verge of understanding. As she said good night she put her little hand in my ungainly paw and gazed at me with shadowed eyes. I felt a hulking bully for having scored her so.
“I’m sorry for everything—and thank you,” she said, then leaned forward a bit, and smiled. “You didn’t truly mean that, the other day, did you, about—about not wanting me on the ship? For Mr. McLosh is such an old dear, and you--”
At that I got a bit confused, mister, and my exit was hardly what you’d call the soul of poise. For, backing out, I missed the doorway and cracked my skull against the bulkhead, then dropped my cap like a fool of a schoolboy. She laughed at my clumsiness, and yet somehow, I didn’t mind.
When I returned to my cabin I found the chief, who had come up for “a wheen draps an’ a bit convairse.” We chatted for a while until one bell, when he left to “tak’ a scunner at yon felly ablow—Clixby—afore gangin’ ben,” and I went out on the bridge.
The night was beautiful. There was a warm breeze that coaxed the water into ribbons of flaming phosphorus and a million stars blazed in the deep-blue velvet of the tropic sky. The moon was rising and turning the sea to molten silver. I’m not much of a dreamer, mister, my imagination is too sluggish for that. But in mid-ocean, alone with the murmurous wash of the sea along the ship’s side and the clean, free swing of the mast heads against the jewel-dusted sky, I somehow like to think that each twinkling star is the immortal riding light of a foundered vessel, sending to wandering seafarers its cheery message of a safe haven in the harbor of eternity.
“Off his course, again,” I can hear you saying, eh? Ah, well—Pelagius loves such musings.
EIGHT bells struck and the lookout reported the lights. Bird relieved the wheel and Mr. Bisson came up and took over the bridge. The mate went below without speaking, and as he passed the chartroom door, which was on the hook, the beam of yellow light cutting through the dark fell full upon his face, revealing it twisted with ugly passion. Lord knows the thoughts that were boiling in his mind. He’d had a flask on the bridge with him, for I smelled liquor as he passed me to the ladder. Never mind, thought I, I’ll settle his case to-morrow. Little I dreamed at the
moment how his case was to be settled and when. A half hour later I was chatting with the second mate, as my habit is, for I like to keep in touch with the junior officers. It gives them confidence and respect for them-
selves. We hung over the for’ard rail on the darkened bridge watching the play of light and shade as my Vagabond rode and dipped like an old-fashioned courtier to the deep breathing of the sea.
The bos’n was sitting on Number One hatch with Scatchard, the darky, their shadows black against the deck in the flooding moonlight. Svenson was playing softly on a concertina while Scatchard sang, his voice clear and liquid as a ship’s bell.
“A Yankee ship came down the ribber, Blow, boys, blow!
A Yankee mate and a Yankee skipper, Blow, boys, bully boys, blow!”
The time-honored chantey gave me a heart throb, for I love the old windbags—the fairest things that man has ever driven over blue water—but man as I am, and hard as I am, a lump came into my throat and stayed there, for that sin-rotted nigger with the golden voice carried me back on a flood of memory to those saltrimed days when an antarctic gale trumpeted its icy challenge through the crying rigging and my young blood leaped with the fling of the spume, as he sang that sweetest and most plaintive of all old songs of the sea—“Rolling Home.”
Round Capé Horn on a frosty morning, Furling sail ’mid snow and sleet,
You can hear those shellbacks singing: “Soon our loved ones we shall greet.”
That is the song, the theme of which began when Adam was an oakum boy in Chatham dockyard, and will continue until the last old sailorman has gone aloft —the song of Jack when he’s homeward bound.
At the last note rippled away we wrere jerked up with a round turn by violent quarreling at the end of the boat deck. Then, dominating all, Houlihan’s hoarse roar blared out in a hurricane of deep-sea oaths. There was a lull for a moment, the sound of scuffling, then his shout again, appalling in its violence. “Captain!” he bellowed. “Watch out--”
His voice ended in a scream that soared until my flesh pimpled; then shuddered to silence. I felt the color leave my face as I jumped for a pistol and a flash light, and ran down the ladder singing out to Bisson on the bridge to arm himself and allow' no one to pass to or from the fo’c’s’le. The reverend was standing at the smoking-room door. I told him to take his daughter into his room if there wtas a rumpus, and lock the door. At the bottom of the ladder I collided with a steward and sent him whimpering across the deck as I raced around the house. At the break of the w'aist, on the port side, whence the racket had come, I halted.
Forgetful, for a moment, of my torch, I could make out nothing. Then my eye caught a thin, dark stream, as it writhed slowfly from the shadow of the w'haleboat across the moon-whitened deck. I switched on my light and traced it to its source.
Houlihan was stone dead — stabbed in the neck. He lay on his back under the boat, and when I lifted him the poor head fell slack and his glazed eyes slowly opened. His strong brown fingers, so pitifully futile now. were locked about a heavy steel marlinespike.
A deathly stillness lay over the 1 agabond as I carried his body, the red blood making a tiny patter on the clean teak planks, and laid it on the bunker hatch. Hearing a rustle on the bridge deck. I looked up. It was Mary Canter, and I ordered her inside. Y hen she had gone I cut away the mate s collar, but it was no use.
McLosh appeared and ordered the gaping stewards back to their quarters. Then Bisson, bless his level Continued on page 49 head, hailed from the upper 28 bridge. "Everything all secure for’ard, sir!”
Continued from page 17
The chief and 1 went back to where we had found the body and made a thorough search for a clue to the murderer. We got no trace, however, until at the foot of the ladder leading to the after well deck 1 picked up a bloody clasp knifea huge, horn-handled thing, keen as a razor, such as seamen carry tlie world over.
‘‘Come on,” said I to McLosh, although 1 could hardly get the words out for the blind fury that had me by the throat. “I'm going to the fo’c’s’le. Are you armed?”
He smiled dourly and showed me the snout of an ugly automatic.
“Aye,” said he, coolly, “an’ gin there’s ony hanky-panky there’ll be a muckle fowk takin’ a dander in hell come mornin’!”
Then I noticed by my elbow, the reverend, lugging a Colt nearly as long as himself.
“Might I be of some service, captain? Oh, I know how to use this!” he said, mildly, but his eyes gleamed behind their thick glasses.
“You’d better stay here and look after your daughter,” I returned brusquely, but McLosh interposed.
“A man’s best pit whaur he’s maist wanted, even tho’ he’s but a fechtin’ canary. Come on, meenister—ye’re best wi’ us!” So we went for’ard together, my old henchman breathing sanguinary hopes on the way.
“I doot they’ll no fecht--” said he, regretfully, then brightened as a clever thought struck his bloody old mind. “A wee bit ding ower the skull o’ ane o’ ’em might encoureege the rest,” he suggested hopefully. Then, receiving no answer, fell to grumbling.
The fo’c’s’le door was closed but a light gleamed in the port. I walked to the ladder leading to the fo’c’s’le head, where a black shape stood, mute against the stars.
“Lookout!” I hailed. “Sir?” A tousled head and a pair of frightened eyes appeared at the top of the ladder. “What’s your--Oh, it’s you, Banks?” “Yes, sir.”
“Very good. Stay where you are. Ready, chief?” 1 turned to the fo'c’s’le
“Jist a bit,” said he. “Best make sairtin they’ll not get awa’ frae us?” He turned to the reverend. “Look ye, ma canny wee sirr—bide ye here unner this ladder an’ dinna’ ye louse yersel’ frae it, whiles we gang in. If onybody comes oot afore us twa doobunkles, dunt him wi’ a bullet—an’ dinna fash yersel’ gin we’re five minutes or so. There’s a wheen work tae be done the nicht!”
THE fo’c’s’le was divided into two parts—the port side for the deck force, and the starboard for McLosh’s jewels, with a large common room amidships. Upon our entrance the firemen and oilers drew themselves to one side, which was a good sign. Intuition spoke. “Your lot’s not in it, chief.”
“Aye!” He turned fiercely on his men. “Awa’ tae yer bunks, ye dundercraws! Whut for are ye standin’ there, gowkin’ at yer betters like skivvies at a christ’non?”
They slunk away to their cubicles, leaving in the room Svenson, the bos’n, who stood at the table, his gnarled fingers nervously touching the keys of his concertina; Scatchard, whose eyes rolled in his black face like a brace of billiard balls, and Maldino, who sat on a rough wooden bench coolly licking a cigarette. I summed up the missing ones: Bird, at the wheel, Banks on lookout. Svenson and Scatchard had been on Number One hatch when it happened. That left only Maldino—and Colona.
“Where’s Colona, bos’n?’’ asked I, sharply.
“Ban turn in ’is bunk, sir.” “Get him out of it.”
Presently Colona appeared, escorted by the bos’n.
His sharp, treacherous black eyes met mine boldly enough, and his manner was a compound of assurance and thinly veiled impudence, but I’ve not handled men without learning how to face down
swine of that trim. He dropped his eyes in a minute, and a pallor crept about his dirty gills.
“Where were you twenty minutes ago?” Svenson broke in, the sweat starting on his brow.
“He ban in da fo’c’s’le--” “Madre di Dios! Shut yo’se’f or I shut yo’ queek,” Colona snarled viciously. “Answer my question,” I told the greaser. “A thousand pardons, señor. I was on deck.” “Whereabouts?”
“In the waist,” he replied after a second’s hesitation. I was not prepared for this.
“What were you doing in the waist? You had no business there.”
“Ah, señor—excoos please—I had the beesnes—with that Señor Houlihan.”
It was in my mind to strike him down and he saw it, for he gave ground a bit. McLosh’s voice put me steady again.
“Mphm! Bide yer hand a minnut, captain. Summat’s ablow a’ this. Ax him some mair.”
“What business had you with the mate?”
“To keel him!’’ His white teeth gleamed in a vicious line.
“The bos’n not wish me to speak,” he shrugged. “Why not? I have done notting—although, to-night we have make a compac’ to keel that Señor Houlihan, but some one keel him firs’!” His statement left me without words. Against my knowledge of the character of the man and the deadly hatred he had borne for Houlihan I was inclined to believe him. McLosh again came to my aid.
“We’re lossin’ our time wT yon crackitt,” said he. “He’s no’ the yin we’re scourin’ for.”
I dismissed the hands with a promise of seeing further to them in the morning and we went amidships again.
WHEN I returned to the deck next morning the air was fresh and sweet, and under its beneficence some of the night’s depression blew away. There was still a disagreeable job to be done— that of preparing our poor shipmate for his last voyage—so I had the bos’n roused out and we worked together until the sun was above the horizon.
The reverend appeared while we were making fast the shackles with which we weighted the canvas, and putting the last few stitches in. His face was white and drawn, but he lent us a quiet hand and his presence helped me to go through with the business.
Houlihan lay in his sailor shroud, a grim white shape on the blood-splashed hatch, and as the reverend stood with open prayer book in hand and his dimmed eyes raised aloft, a slender shaft of trembling light pierced a rent in the tarpaulin overhead and rested like a finger of God on the still form. Bird, the Whitechapel rat who assisted us, stood by, scaling the callouses from his grimy palms while the service was read. A shapeless cap hung over one dirty lug until I knocked it off for him, and the bos’n, superstition creeping through his Scandinavian blood, hawked and spat unceasingly over the side.
The reverend’s gentle voice intoned the solemn ritual: “We therefore commit his body to the deep—resurrection—the sea shall give up her dead—our Lord,
who art in Heaven--” He looked at me and nodded.
I gave the word: “Catch hold. Over with him—steady, you fool!” to Bird. A heave, the clink of the shackles against the iron bulwark, a double splash—and, as we gazed after our sinking shipmate, the pale-green belly of a shark flashed in the translucent depths. Latitude twentyfive, twenty south: longitude one hundred and twenty-nine, forty-five west.
“Turn some one to with a bucket and a brush and get that blood off the hatch,” I told the bos’n.
When I went to my room_ the wireless operator came up on the bridge. It was more trouble; I could smell it, mister.
“Good morning, Mr. Bent,” said I, for he was a decent lad, and I wanted to make him easy.
“Good morning, sir. I—I didn't want to bother you last night, but my wireless Continued an page 53 Continued from page 50 set is out of commission. I had left my cabin about ten minutes before the mate was—er--” “Yes—go on!”
“After the excitement I went back and threw in my main switch to try and pick up Tahiti or some other ship in case you required it. There was a flash and a puff of smoke. Some one had short-circuited my motor starter and burned out the dynamo. I’ve got no emergency set, so I’m afraid we’re out of touch with things until we reach Hongkong.”
“You did very well, my lad—although you should have told me of it last night, for your own sake. You’d best shift your gear for’ard into that spare room next the second mate’s. Have the steward fix it up for you. There seems to be rottenness at both ends of the ship, and it won’t do for you to be isolated.” After breakfast I rearranged the watches, making Mr. Bisson temporary mate; the bosun, who could keep a watch, second mate—although I made him live for’ard—and Scatchard, the only man left of the crew who knew an eyebolt from a main yard, you might say, became bosun.
In the afternoon, the chief, the reverend and I held a consultation in a second attempt to arrive at the bottom of the business.
TT WAS decided that McLosh should -A remain where he was, while the reverend and I laid aft, followed by Ikluk, who clung to me like a ponderous shadow. As we approached the poop, one of the group sprawled about on deck arose and shouted down the companion. Quong Lun came up, spotless in white ducks and topee, in striking contrast to his charges. He was large and complaisant.
I came direct to the point, which is a method every Oriental detests.
“I want the man who killed the mate, Quong Lun.” He evinced polite astonishment. “Call them all up here!” I directed.
They ranged before us in every stage of filthy undress. Gad! What a nauseous lot of beasts they were. Most of them had a number of dirty-white, scaly blotches on their yellow hides, and two, in an advanced state of the disease,smelled like carrion.
I counted them, the coolies’ dull-veined eyes following me and then turning to survey Ikluk with sleepy malice. My man was more than a match for them at that game, though. There was one missing, I told Quong Lun. He spread his fat hands and his face creased to a deprecating smile.
“Ah, yes. One man not here now. Him b’long lost.”
“Lost? Where’s he gone? Get him up here!”
“No can do. Him gone one-two day.” “What do you know about him?” “Musfcee/ Him b’long all-same Manchu pig. P’laps him dlown. I catchum plenty hell with that man. Him name Cho-Li. No good man—all time makee fight.” He lifted his shoulders. Again his passionless smile.
I swung on my heel and was about to lay below to search their quarters. Then I stopped suddenly as the reverend sensed my thought.
“Let me go down,” he said. “You are best out here where you can watch them.” He returned after a few minutes with nothing to show. There was no trace of the missing man ; not the slightest evidence to incriminate the lepers. I turned again to Quong Lun:
“Translate what I say to these men. A white line will be painted across the deck twenty feet for’ard of the poop. Any man of you crossing that line by day or night will be shot dead. No warnings—no excuses! That includes you.”
All this had taken some time, and nearly an hour passed before werejoined the chief. He was still in my room, but his manner was queer, and his leathery old figurehead had taken on a deeper shade. Thinking of our late errand I did not remark it at first, but gave him an account of what had passed, pouring out a couple of drinks I as I talked. The reverend was teetotal. Instead of commenting when I had done, the chief picked up his glass with unsteady hand and held it critically to the light.
“Mphm! I see ye believe that whusky improves wi’ keepin’,” he said. “But I’m no sae pa’tickler aboot the quality
o’ mine--Ah, thank ye.” He raised I his glass and wagged it to and fro. The reverend and I exchanged glances. The chief had been drinking. He continued:
"`Here's tae you-an' here's tae me, An' here's tae the lass wi' the dimpled"Whut's the matter wi' ye, Curtis? It's po'try I'm gien ye. Dinna ye likepo'try? Ah, man-ye're a sower de'il."
“We’d better get on with the business instead of drooling,” said I.
“Droolin’ is it? Droolin’ is it?” His voice rose to a ridiculous little squeak as he repeated my words. “It’s no Bobby Bur-rns, I’ll admit, ablins it’s po’try for a’ that! Here, me fechtin’ wee cock sparra’, gie us yer bandy an’ wu’ll hae a song.” He reached for the reverend’s hand.
At that, I’ll not deny I lost my temper, mister, and jerking him to his feet I shook him until his bones rattled.
“You’re full, you bloomin’ old scamp,” I bellowed. “D’ye think that now’s the time to be cutting up your disgraceful didos? I’ll fire you ashore at Hongkong and get shut of you!”
I set him down. He felt his throat a minute before replying, then croaked:
“Thet’s providin’ ye get tae Hongkong, tho’. Ye said I was fu’! I’mnofu’— I wish I was— an’ if ye’re wantin tae know for why, hev a spier ablow at the bottom o’ the bunker hatch!”
Something cold gripped me and the reverend’s face suddenly was drained of color.
cojor. "What is it?" I rapped sharply. "What is itWhat is it? It's Clixby, dead wi' a broken neck, that's whut it is -may the Laird rest his puir drunken soul!" His hard blue eyes showed me the truth and his old voice was husky as he gave me the case.
“Aye! Efter you left for tae see yon leepers I was standin’ in the lavat’ry on the boat deck, lookin’ oot the port at jist naethin’, when I seed Clixby, drunk as a baillie on hogmanay, come ott o’ the alleyway an’ tak’ a stan’ ower the open hatch. He gied a bit whoopit for some pairson ablow, an’ then stood glibberin’ for a minut. Jist then, along comes ane o’ your Chinese stewards wi’ summat frae the galley. He spies Clixby bent ower the hatch an’ swayin’ a bit belike, so he has a canty bit squint aboot an’ then, accidental— oh, quite accidental—slips up an’ gies the puir body a dunt ower the edge! An’ afore ye could crack a louse I was doon on deck, an’ slung yon yella whigmaleary after him! An’ then I’d a drink or two so’s I could find heart to tell ye on ’t.”
SO WE were up against systematic murder for an unknown purpose, with my own Chinese boys involved. Whether it was a part with the sailors’ plot was debatable, but I resolved to leave nothing to chance. Mutiny was bad enough without a gang of yellow devils brewing death at the other end of the ship. It was McLosh, with his pawky Scottish logic, who hit upon the key to the business.
“Pit yersel’s in place o’ yon leepers,” said he. “Whut’s afore them is imprisonment for life in yon leeper colony at Canton. That’s no an invitin' prospect; but here’s a tidy wee ship wi’ the crew kickin’ up a fillimaloop. Whut’s tae stop them frae j’ining the crew, slittin’ the weasands o’ the after guard an’ workin’ up a nice comfortable business in the pirate way doon the China Sea? For a Chinee ud rayther be a pirate than the bishop o’ Edinb’ro’, and I understan’ it’s a verra flourishin’ trade, the noo.”
A thought occurred to me. "With the death of the mate the cause of the crew's grievance disappeared, but we can't count `em out of further mischief for two reasons: First, by nature they're the most lawless lot of swabs I've ever seen together, and stirring up hellry is meat and drink to `em. Second, they've little to expect from tile voyage when they're paid off. With the exception of Colona and Maldino, whom I recruited myself, I had to give that Irish crimp Callahano a two-month advance note on each man before he'd supply `em. "I also carry a large sum of money on the ship, for I transact all my own busi ness, and the hands would give the lepers assistance in a holy minute, if they were promised the ship's money as their share. Once they were in possession of the vessel they'd make for Samoa or the Society group, take to one of the whale boats when they got near land, and pose as shipwrecked seamen to the authorities. Then they'd scatter over the earth, while we-"
They nodded soberly, and McLosh spoke.
“Aye— Weel, if yon corbies is still scourin’ for a stramach they’ll no find us wi’ our heids doon. I’m thinkin it’d be best for tae gie ’em a bit prod an’ hae it ower wi’! A bloody guid fecht’d ease our noddles—ablains it’s jist as well if we’re no hasty for the lassie’s sake.”
“We’ll be on our guard, day and night, then,” said I. “If they want trouble we’ll show them some of a brand they won’t relish!”
FOR the next day or so the ship was quiet but with an undercurrent of suspense. The men were sullen but fairly respectful and kept to their work, and the lepers gave no sign. I put Ikluk into the saloon pantry to keep an eye on the boys there, for despite his bulk and seeming stupidity there was not a craftier brain on the vessel, and the Asiatic never lived who was a match in guile, with that cross between an Eskimo and an Aleutian Islander.
We slid Clixby, poor weak chap, and the dead coolie steward into the ditch in the middle watch. I raised my eyes as they plopped over the side, and there, off the starboard beam, saw Pitcairn Island rise from the sea, black against the dawn. The sunrise gilded its grim peak with lambent color, and thus it must have appeared when sighted by the mutineers of the famous Bounty, well over a century ago.
FOR two days after passing Pitcairn we steamed through the outriders of the great Paumotu archipelago. Mangareva and Timoe were sighted on a Tuesday afternoon, abeam about ten miles, with a flash of surf on the coral reefs and the feathery tops of the coco palms looking as though they grew out of the sea.
Early the next morning I was walking the deck with Mary Canter. The ship was flooded with golden sunlight, and the Pacific was without a ripple. It was the beginning of a tremendously hot, dry day, against which even the heavy awnings did not afford much relief. Just as the steward rang the breakfast bell Svenson hailed from the bridge. I went up and found him with binoculars trained on the port beam. He handed them to me.
“Ban look like a wreck, sir,” he reported.
In the circle of the lenses, distant about three miles, I picked up a small, dismasted island trading schooner, waterlogged and almost awash. She was down by the head, and on the raised after part stood a waving figure, naked, save for a native lavar-lava about his loins. I changed course to bear down on him and directed the bos’n to get a small boat swung out. When a quarter mile off the wreck I rang “stand by,” and ten minutes later, we lay rollingidly in the glassy swell. Holysailor! You should have seen that boiling of tomcats trying to get the boat away! It was no more than a dinghy, but the way they tugged at the tarpaulin, fumbled the gripes and fouled the guys about the falls would have drawn tears from an eye splice.
After a quarter of an hour or so they got her in the water and, with Mr. Bisson in command, pulled for the schooner with Banks and Maldino at the oars. If you are a lover of vivid pictures of the sea, mister, you should have seen that one; the royal tint of the sky diluted with tropic clouds, the deep-water blue of the gently heaving ocean, wheeling seabirds above the slowly surging derelict, a lip of snowy foam as a roller broke over her and that graceful body with the scarlet clout, balancing easily on the sloping deck.
As the boat neared the man stooped and picked up a small red chest such as islanders keep their most prized possession in. and tucking it under his arm moved to the low, smashed taffrail. Then, waiting for a rise, he stepped skilfully into the stern sheets of the dinghy and calmly regarded us as he drew nigh.
The Vagabond, meanwhile, had drifted past the other’s counter, and I was trying to read her name. The only letters I could decipher, however, were R—ma—iba, for the whole seemed to have been painted out. The grouping of the letters that remained seemed familiar, somehow, and set me thinking, in half-forgotten echoes, of the Torres Strait. Then I had it! Rama Riba, which means Sea Arrow in the Kerepunu dialect of New Guinea. But what was a New Guinea trader doing in these waters?
My musings were interrupted by the arrival of the boat at the ship’s side. I had a pilot ladder slung over, and Bird was waiting at the top with a line for the castaway’s box. The stranger came over the side like a sailor born, his bronzed, superbly muscled body rippling in the sun. As he stepped on deck he glanced up at the bridge and 1 looked into the eyes of a white man.
"Good morning, captain,” he said in the high, somewhat drawling tones of the educated Englishman. "Awfully decent of you to pick me up!”
In surprise at hearing an English voice, when no doubt he had expected the liquid voweling of a native, Bird, the cockney, looked sharply up from where he was unlashing the box. A remarkable change came over his ugly features, and he threw up an elbow as though to ward off a blow.
“Gawd lumme!” he croaked, terror in his voice. “Oh, my cripes! It’s—it’s— me oath, it’s the capting!”
The stranger fastened him with his cold eyes.
“You appear to know me---” “N-no, sir! I don’t know yer—strike me blind if I do! Nor ”—he added under his breath—“I don’t blinkin’ well want to.” He straightened and walked rapidly for’ard, with a nervous backward squint over his shoulder.
All this was puzzling enough. Walk carefully counseled Pelagius, and Zenophon, with a soldier’s caution, seconded him. I dare say my brow was knit when the stranger came up the ladder.
“Quaint rascal, that fellow of yours, captain,” he smiled, but there was no laughter in his eyes. “Thought he knew me, eh? Ha! ha! ha! I am Charles Chance, late master of the schooner Royalist of Waisisi. You came along in the very nick, you know. She’d have foundered before night.”
‘‘Waisisi? That’s in the Solomons, isn’t it?” 1 knew he lied, of course.
“Er—yes. I was trading through the Paumotus. Got dismasted in a squall nearly a week ago. Lost my three native boys and everything I owned, except this box. If you call fit me out with something from the slop chest—for I see you have a lady aboard—and possibly a mouthful of something. You see it’s five days now, since-----”
I awoke to the demands of hospitality and fixed him up with some of my own gear. Obviously, he was far above the average island skipper in breeding and education. What his game had been I didn’t know nor care, so long as he played straight with me, for I’ll not take advantage of a man’s misfortune to pry into his affairs. There were inaccuracies in his story and I didn’t like Bird’s reception of him; acquaintance with that gentleman was scant recommendation—but, after all, that had nothing to do with me. After eating, the castaway turned into a bunk and slept the clock round. It was six bells the next morning before he again appeared on deck.
WHEN I came down to the lower bridge deck to bid good morning to Mary and the reverend as was my custom, he was standing before them, in a suit of whites which, being a trifle small for me, fitted his fine form to perfection. He was relating his experiences in a simple, manly sort of way.
I thought I had never seen so charming a picture as Mary when she gazed up at him. The morning sunlight splashed on the white deck and touched her with light that moved with the roll of the ship. She was rigged in some light, summery stuff with a few beads, and her teeth showed in a fine white line through parted lips. She had lips just like a child. You never saw anything like them, mister— although it was nothing to me, of course.
Where was I? Oh, yes! Her lips were parted, and she was fresh and sweet and sympathetic and the Lord knows what not, as he told them what had happened on the derelict; an ordinary enough tale as a sailorman’s life goes, you’ll understand, but absorbing to a romantic young girl. Sudden squall on a clear, calm night; dismasted; he, turned into his bunk at the time; men washed over the side and the deck swept clear when he scrambled out; nights of sleeplessness; days of thirst, brassy heat and following sharks—all that kind of thing. Not that the chap was cracking on. He wasn’t—but he had a gift of speaking that was fascinating, even to myself—and he seemed all man, which, after all, was what counted most with me. He was a thorough navigator and knew
those waters like the palm of his hand. We had a chat later in the day, and I signed him on as mate, for young Bisson was not fully qualified. He went back to second mate, bless his unselfish hide, and the bos’n returned to the fo’c’s’le where he belonged.
We crossed the one hundred and fortyfifth meridian about nineteen degrees south of the line and all was well. Then something occurred which caused my soul to feel that it had topped a skys’l yard and let the winds of heaven blow through it. It had been a sheep’s game—that of sitting tight-bottled under aggravation; consequently I was touchy as a squid for a few days. But the need for conciliation and subterfuge passed, thank the Prophet, and my swashbuckler was able to stand on his hind legs and call himself a man. But I’d better pay out my yarn with the run of the line.
This, then, is how it came about that my orderly table became a litter of papers, tinned food, tobacco ash and spilled ammunition and we, the after-guard of the Vagabond, found ourselves practically in a state of siege.
THE first incident occurred on a Saturday at about one bell of the last watch. Mr. Chance relieved me on the bridge and I went to my room to get my head down for a few hours. We were then approaching Tahiti, although due to pass considerably to nor’ard of it. I reckoned to draw in a bit, so as to get a bearing off Orohena, the high point, if it was light enough, at seven o’clock.
My room was abaft the chart room with a door connecting. The bulkhead between chart room and wheelhouse had been pierced so that conversation in the wheelhouse could be heard quite readily in the chart room. On the Vagabond, as on all well-conducted ships, the watch officer was not allowed to speak to the man at the wheel, except to give him orders relative to his course or steering. After I got in my bunk I remembered that I had neglected to instruct the mate regarding the change of course, so I climbed out again and went into the chart room to have a glance at the chart before speaking him. Then it was that I overheard a low-pitched confab, and because of what already had taken_ place on the vessel I did not scruple to rig out my ears. Bird, at the wheel, was speaking.
“I ain’t spilled a word, capting, Lord strike me, I ain’t. Yer don’t catch me swankin’ abaht that business o’ the Stornoway Lass!”
“Stow it, you fool!” Chance’s voice was deadly. “Speak that name again and I’ll separate your chin from your dirty neck. Understand that! And whatever your game is, uo for’ard, I’m to know of it. You needn’t be told, my lad, what’ll happen to you, if you nlay me crooked!” “B-but ’ow does I know as yer’ll play the gime strite wi’ me, sir?”
“You’ll take my word for it—and you’ll work with or against me. No riding the fence. Remember how I dilute the blessed quality of mercy, don’t you? Let that he your guide. What’s it to be now? Quick!” “Yer know I can’t ’elp meself—though wot the other coves’ll do if they finds aht I bin givin’ the lark aw’y, I dunno.”
“All right . . . Now then, my man— watch your steering! AVhere do you think you are, Piccadilly?” His quick ear had caught my step. “Ah, can’t you sleep, sir?”
He must have guessed that I overheard, but he gave no sign. I love coolness, even in a rascal, so I answered him casually. Giving instructions as to the course, I turned in again.
Later in the day I was prompted to tell McLosh and the reverend what I had overheard, but McLosh already was prejudiced against the man.
“Yon fowk whut cracks on airs wi’ charity greasin’ their bellies is no tae be trusted,” he had remarked soon after the man came aboard. And so, until Chance showed his hand, I decided I would keep my own counsel. The rest of the day passed without incident.
A FTER leaving Tahiti astern we made -^"A. for the Phoenix group, from whence I planned to take a point of departure for the north cape of Luzon,.
On Monday morning -at about nine fifteen the mate came to me.
“The crew have refused to turn to, sir,” he said. “They're sitting in the fo’c's'le over their breakfast things and swear they Continued on page 56 Continued from page 54 won’t get out on deck. If you like, I’ll handle the tiling.” He spoke quietly enough, but there was a gleam in his cold eyes 1 didn’t like.
‘'You’ll wait for instructions, mister,” said 1, and anger flushed under his cleatskin.
"Very good, sir,” he replied, and waited.
"What’s up with them? Why don’t they turn to?”
“They say it’s for no ears but your own, sir.”
“Lay for’ard and tell ’em to send a deputation aft; two men—no more— and they’d best have a clear idea what their grievance is, or they’ll get short shrift. Then come hack here. I want to talk with you!”
When he returned I gave him my mind. It was time for a show-down, I felt.
“You know this part of the world pretty well, don’t you, mister? Yes—and have you ever heard tell of a man named Christian Gamble, one-time officer in the Royal Navy, and later master of the recruiting schooner Stornoway Lass, who was reputed to have been lost with all hands on French Frigate shoal two years ago; hut who recently turned up in these waters as master of the pearl poacher Rama Riba of New Guinea?”
The latter part of this was guesswork, but it scored a bull. Chance lost his poise and tried to cut in. I silenced him.
“Quite a character, mister. If what they say is true he’s about the rottenest skunk these islands have seen in some years. Many a poor devil of a kidnapped native might tell a tale, I’ve heard; but it’s a hard thing to speak through a cut throat or a thousand fathoms of sea water, eh? I believe in plain dealing, and I fear no man walking, no matter how bloody his hands, so I’ll ask you flat, my buck, why that blackguard should come aboard of my ship off the wreck of the schooner Loyalist of Waisisi, Charles Chance, master, and abuse my hospitality?”
He threw up his handsome head at that and a vein in his temple throbbed like mad. His voice was clear though, but low, and with a queer appeal in it that I could understand in some dim sort of fashion.
“I am Christian Gamble. My business on the Loyalist or Rama Riba or whatever you like to call her has nothing to do with you. As for my reputation—you'll find tradueers of every man if he’s quick to crush a “row—and black-birding isn’t child’s play!”
“That’s why I didn’t call your hand the first day you came aboard. So long as you sat tight and played the man I was content to let you be; but when you try to stir your dirty brew aboard of my ship, by the blood of Judas, mister, you strike something your keel can’t slide over. What your game is with my crew I don’t know, but you’ll settle with me, first. I might show you how I pay out ingratitude!”
He gave me back look for look, then, suddenly, he dropped his eyes.
“1 suppose it’s really not much use trying to clear myself,” he said. “But if you can accept the word of one who once was a gentleman, my reason for getting information from your crew was not to use against you. I may be a stew of things that you don’t like, or I may not, according to how much hearsay you’ll believe—but Christian Gamble never played double with a friend. You took me at face value, and I appreciated it!”
Something struck me then, that perhaps I hadn’t given the fellow a fair chance. I liked him despite all, and I don’t care to hang a dog before I catch him at his mutton. So I looked him fair in the eyes.
“Are you for me, or against, Gamble?” asked I.
“For you, till the devil drinks holy water,” he grunted and we clasped hands.
JUST then Bird and Scatchard barged through the fo’c’s’le door and came toward us in the brilliant sunlight, the little cockney with his paint-spotted dungarees and pimply brow, and the huge Barbadian, long-armed as a gorilla, one massive black shoulder bulging through his torn shirt and a dirty red bandanna twisted about Ins lowering forehead. The dogs were none too sure of themselves, however, for all (her hulking bravado. They halted sense feet away, and I went for’ard to Hirni, Chance—or Gamble as I now must call him—at my side. “Well,” said I, “what now?”
Bird licked his lips and nudged his companion. He carefully evaded Gamble’s eyes, I noticed.
“Come on, unload it! I’ve got better to do than stand here all day looking at you two beauties,” said I.
Scatchard swallowed once or twice, then broke into a torrent of West Indies English.
“I’s a ’Badian, sar,” he began, with a ludicrous attempt at dignity. “An’ I’s British, I is, sar, an’ I ain’t goin’ sail no more along o’ dat new mate, sar. Him’s warkin’ up a bobbery fo’ us fo’c’s’le hands. We saved him f’um de sharks— him an’ ’is box o’ p’arls, an’ we’s got no pay cornin’ an—”
“May I question him, sir?” asked Gamble softly. I nodded.
“Where did you get your information about me, my man?” he asked, and Bird, the Cockney, drew back a bit. Then he broke in with the look of a mean little rodent at bay. His voice held a suggestion of reckless desperation. It was plain the man was in mortal terror of my new mate.
“I told ’im abaht yer, ye red-’anded butcher—that’s w’ere ’e got ’is informytion,” he snarled. “I ain’t afride o’ yer nah. There’s too bloody many of us ’ere, for yer. We ain’t a lot o’ pore iggerant savages as yer can clump over the coco an’ drop over the perishin’ side.” He turned to me. “ ’E ain’t wot ’e seems, sir. Arsk ’im, just!
“I knowed ’im afore, an’ strike me blind, I don’t want no more of ’im! We ain’t a-goin to sail under ’im, sir, for ’ell find excuses to murder the blinkin’ lot of us. I knows ’is dynty liitle w’ys! Arsfc ’im if ’e lost ’is boys in a squall, sir? Arsfc ’im wot ’e’s got in the red poke as ’e brought aboard wiv ’im! Not a lousy stitch to ’is back—but ’e ’ung on to that like it was ’is ’art’s blood. No—’e won’t tell yer! ’E’ll
wait for a dark night an’ push yer to--on the point of a knife—that’s wot ’ell do, the--”
The man was slavering with fear and desire to rid himself of the venom that rankled within him. Whatever his experiences with Gamble had been in the past, they had left their mark. He went on, and no word of mine could stay him.
“There’s nothink aboard of this ’ere ’ooker fer us. Me an’ Lickrish ’ere, an’ the rest of the ’ands ’as talked it over. Myke ’im whack up wot’s in the little red box, wiv us, an’ give us a boat an’ some grub. Then we’ll get ter ’ell aht of it. There’s plenty islands ’ereabouts, as we can get to, an’ the Chinks’ll work ’er ter port for yer. We don’t arsk nothink from you, sir, but the boat an’ the grub!”
HE CEASED, panting, and I became conscious of a peculiar stillness about the ship. The engines had stopped!
The Vagabond rolled widely in the heavy swell, and I could hear the scutter of flying fish, overside. There was serious trouble afoot.
“Is that all you’ve got to say?” I asked. ‘‘That’s all, sir,” he answered with white, set face and trembling lips.
“Then get for’ard again and tell your mates I’ll give you just five minutes to turn to. If you’re not on deck and working by then, watch out!”
“Then yer won’t—” “No/ I will not!”
Swift as light his hand rose and something glittered. At the same moment Gamble shot him through the stomach. The latter withdrew his hand from a smoking pocket, an automatic snuggled in the palm. Bird sagged to his knees, a look of pained surprise on his features, then pitched forward. A knife fell from his stretching fingers.
The Barbadian turned and ran for’ard, squealing in panic. Dark shapes clustered about the fo’c’s’le door and a bullet splintered the hatch. Then I heard the crack of Bisson’s weapon on the bridge, and his voice, high-pitched.
“Come back, sir! The lepers are out!” There was a whiplike report from aft. It was Brent’s rifle in the wireless room.
Gamble and I ran for the waist ladder and through the alleyway followed by a stream of lead that spattered harmlessly against the steel bulkhead. Young Bisson banged away to check the crew’s rush and the reverend was down on the lower bridge with his huge Colt. I told him to get up on the bridge and help hold that end of the ship, then Gamble and I dashed aft, one on each side of the house, and
flopped in the lee of the saddle bunker hatch coamings that flanked the fiddley. They afforded good cover and a clear field of fire which gave us mastery of the ladders leading up from the after well deck.
As the first of the lepers appeared over the top of the ladder I shattered his head with a bullet. He grunted and dropped on his fellows struggling up from below. There was a report and a scream, and I knew that Gamble had scored. That checked them for a minute, but they came on again. We had all the advantage though, for but one could get up the ladder at a time. I heard Gamble’s high, cool voice as they made a third rush.
“Come on, you yellow blighters!” he cried gayly. “Come and get your medicine— and if it doesn’t give you gut-ache my name’s not Christian Gamble. Thatior you, sir! Don’t bother about thanks—I’ve plenty more. Here we are, coconut shies! Three for a penny! Set ’em up again, please! Come one, come—Ah, would you, you swine! Up the side, eh? What shockin’ bad taste! Not sportin’, you know. That's better! How will you have yours, sir? Hot and smoking, you say? Right! Don’t mention it. Anything for a good customer!”
I had been fairly busy with my side, but ammunition was running out. “Dig for’ard for some ammunition!” I shouted to Gamble. “Right-o,” he cried, his face alight with recklessness. “By gad! That was great, what?”
“Don’t stop to chin, man!” I snapped. When he had gone I dashed for the fiddley ladder and the wireless room, keeping well in cover of the house against shots from the poop. The door swung open and I got inside as a bullet rang into a fire bucket near the rail. Bent was in his shirt sleeves, dark hair matted over his brow. His face was white and stained with sweat, but his eyes had the right look. The place stunk of cordite. He had done good work, and I told him so. He flushed with pleasure.
“There was really nothing to it, sir,” he disclaimed. “I heard the shot up for’ard, and reckoned these fellows would be out at the first sign of trouble. I dropped the first fellow as they poured out of the door. I couldn’t miss him. Lucky they’ve only got pistols, though. Where did they get them, I wonder?”
“From the stewards, I expect. That’s where the crew got theirs, too, of course.”
A bullet sang through the open port and smashed the oil lamp on the for’ard bulkhead. We both ducked.
“Let ’em have a shot in their ports every minute or so,” said I, “and I’ll send some one aft to help you.”
Gamble and Ikluk appeared just then, getting into the room without drawing fire. The lepers were beginning to conserve their ammunition. Ikluk remained with Bent, and Gamble and I returned to the bridge. A deep, sudden roll of the ship reminded me that she was no longer under way. In the excitement of the fight I had forgotten it. With a sudden tightening of the heart I thought of the chief, and mentioned him to Bisson.
“Something is wrong in the engine room, sir,” said he. “I heard shots from there while the scrap was on, but there’s been nothing since.”
I rushed for the ladder leading down through the fiddley to the stokehold. When halfway down I heard the chief’s dry voice and it eased me of a load heavier than I can tell you, mister, for the dour old devil was more than a father.
“Gin yer freen’ly, ye can climb doon; gin yer not, I’ll fetch ye doon wi’oot the trouble o’ touchin’ the rungs!” said he.
“It’s me, you idiot,” I rapped, in my relief, and continued on.
At the bottom I climbed over the crumpled bodies of two of my stewards who hung against the lower rungs like grotesque rag dolls. McLosh was sitting on a greasy wooden box, covering, with his automatic, Cummings and O’Leary, the fireman and oiler who had been on watch. He regarded me sourly.
“So it’s you, is it? Mphm! Stan' stull, ye baboon! Aye, an’ so it’s reely you. Ye might hae held on a bit wi’ your pairty up top-side till I’d an opportunity for tae lend ye ma sairvices. Yon twa whiffets wanted sair for tae jine it too, on’y, as I p’inted oot, it’s no manners for fowk tae clobber in wi’oot a bid. Man, ’twas a disap’intment, missin’ yon; ’twas a bonny stramach, I doot,” he sighed regretfully. Continued on page 59
Continued from psge 57 "You seem to have had a picnic of your own down here,” said I, eyeing the dead men. “What happened?”
“A picnuc, is ut? Oh, aye! It was that, right enough. They jist pit aside their sweat rags, turned off the fires an’ up yon ladder like a pair o’ blessed angels. ‘I’m sorry,’ says I, 'for tae gi’ ye the climb for nowt. But wull ye do me the kindness for tae get doon off that bloody ladder—for gin ye don’t,’ says I, ‘ye’ll pit me tae the trouble o’ shootin’ ye doon—which, like poverty, would be no disgrace, but verra unhandy.’ For min’ ye, I happened tae be unner the ventilator in the engine room when the firrst shot was fired up on deck, an’ I knew immegjut that these things would be for slingin’ their hook—tho’ why they dinna try for tae pit auld Mac oot o’ the world firrst I dinna unnerstan’. I’m no that formeedable, I doot!”
“Never mind that,” I put in. “Get on with your yarn.”
“Dinna fash yersel’; ye’ll hear on’t! Well, next cam’ yon yella heathen for tae pay a freen’ly call, whiles I was enjoyin’ the company o’ these jewels. But feelin’ they’d be mair at home elsewhere I sent them for tae sairve soup for Auld Nick. Syne when I’ve been debatin’ wi’ mysel’—should I dunt these ither two in the gullet wi’ a shot apiece an’ send their souls skitterin’ tae hell through their teeth so’s tae save Jack Ketch the trouble? I’ve an idea I jist should—an’ if my gun wasna jammed I couldn’t hae resisted the temptation! Sic’ a chance disna come every day. Hae ye anythin’ in your pistol? Aye! Then I’ll jist mak’ them comfortable wi’ a bit hemp aboot their wrists— ablains it’d look them better aroon their necks!”
"Where’s Muir?” asked I, when this was done.
“I dinna ken,” McLosh replied, and anxiety flitted into his hardy blue eyes. “We’d best up an’ see, eh? An’ wu’ll tak’ these gannies wi’ us.”
Locking our prisoners in the chief steward’s room we went to Muir’s cabin. The door was closed and I tried the handle. Instantly a bullet crashed through the heavy teak, and a mournful Scot’s voice arose within.
‘‘Yon’s better than a kirkful o’ missionaries, I doot. Scots wha hae! Tak’that, ye ondecent lot o’ heathen—an’ I’ve a muckle o’ the same, if—”
We jumped back as a second and a third shot followed.
“Muir—ye whiggin’ fule!” roared McLosh. There was dead silence for a moment, then:
“Was onybody cryin’ on me?” asked Muir, in aggrieved tones. “Oh, it’s you, is it, chief? Whut for did ye no say?
I thocht ye was all deid, an’ it was yon canaries frae the poop. I’m lockit in.”
I opened the door with my pass-key and the lank face of the second peered out and gloomed upon us, as though rather disappointed to find us all hearty. He had been locked in while asleep— by one of the stewards, probably—and had settled himself with a sort of joyful lugubriousness to make an epic fight of it when the mutineers should return.
ON THE way to the bridge I stopped at the reverend’s room. Mary came to the door, her face pale and with dark rings below her eyes, but she was "aye bonny for a' that,” as McLosh had remarked more than once. Nor could I rebuke him for his defection from his often and bitterly expressed opinions on “weemen,” for was not I a deserter from the same standard? Think what you will, mister, but I’d have given all I possessed and thrown my sea boots after it to have taken the girl in my arms as she stood, brave-eyed, before me. For a moment, I’m ashamed to say, it was in me to do it, but then, thought I, why should I add to her misery by pushing my clumsy feelings before her? So I simply told her not to worry, everything would be all right; but at the first sign of further fighting she was to go to her father’s room and stay there.
“I don’t mind for myself,” she replied, "if only dad would not expose himself the way he does. He’s brave as a little lion, but far more reckless than he has a right to be. I think you all are splendid—you and Mr.—Gamble, is it? But I wish you would not take unnecessary risks for-well for all our sakes!” She laid her little hand on my arm.
"Don’t think about me, Mary, my dear,” said I gently, touched at her olicitude for such a great lump as me.
“I’m used to bumps and we’ll all pull through. As for Gamble—you may have heard queer things about him, but I can tell you this—he is all man—and a white man at that!”
I can’t tell why I spoke so warmly for Gamble, although what I said was the truth. Perhaps it was because I knew he couldn’t very well try to clear himself with the girl—or perhaps it was because of what I thought I had seen in his eyes as he watched her at table or about the deck.
It seemed the square thing to do, anyway, and it pleased her, for a warm flush of color came into her cheeks as I spoke.
That she was growing to like him there was no doubt, for, before the trouble, she had let him attend her in many little ways and, while walking the bridge I had heard them together, his voice deep and persuasive, hers soft and sweet with a tinkle of laughter now and then. I’ll not deny, mister, that an unaccountable moroseness came over me at such time, so that I wanted to break out and kick something —but that was only because I was realizing my own limitations. After all, no one could blame a girl for falling in love with his gay, courageous spirit and handsome face; but I wished sometimes that my own figurehead wasn’t freckled like a leopard’s pelt, and that I had less of the clumsiness of a man of the sea.
"Go back to your room now, my dear, and try and get a bit of rest,” I told her. “Before long I’ll send you up something to eat. We are our own cooks now, you know. The boys have deserted us.”
"Let me cook for you, then,” she urged. “I would love to, really. It would occupy my time and I wouldn’t feel so useless. Do let me try.” And so it was arranged.
ON THE bridge a close watch was kept against a sortie from the fo’c’s’le and we settled down for the day. Every card was on the table, now we had a definite danger to face, and we held the higher hand. I was well content. So long as we kept close watch the crew would have to capitulate, for they had neither food nor water, and a heavy fire could be brought against them if they attempted to leave their quarters. The wireless room commanded the lepers’ accommodations. It was likely they had a supply of food in hand, for they had been preparing for some time—but they would hardly attack until conditions were more favorable to them.
The wind, which came in puffs during the afternoon, died toward sundown, and the Vagabond pitched and rolled in a heavy swell. The heat was overpowering, and our thin clothing clung to our bodies. There was a rumble of distant thunder and the air was pregnant with electricity. The sun dipped, and set the sky aflame, and a deep-green light spread rapidly over the southern horizon. The glass had been dropping since morning, and I knew we were in for a blow.
The body of Bird lay where he had been shot down; flies settled about his mouth and nostrils and the ruddy light of the sky dyed his waxen hands. Without warning the fo’c’s’le door flew open and a form darted out and ran toward us, followed by a clamor of voices and a couple of splitting oaths. It was the lad Banks, his mouth open and gasping, and his eyes turned in mad entreaty to the bridge. I jumped to the rail. Colona, his head still swathed in bandages, stepped from the fo’c’s’le, and, with the coolness ¡ of the practised marksman, took deliberi ate aim and fired. The boy clutched at his side and swung half about with a moan. The Chilano caught him on the spin and emptied his automatic into him, and he pitched headlong over Bird, gave a convulsive jerk ortwoandslowlvstiffened.
It was done and over so quickly that I had only time to get in a couple of shots, which splintered ineffectively against the fo’c’s’le bulkhead. Colona jumped inside again and the door closed. My heart bled for the poor lad who had looked in vain for protection, and my conscience was sore that I had failed him in his hour of need. It cut me up more than anything that had happened.
We kept watch and watch during the night. McLosh and Muir, with the reverend’s help, got steam up, for the Vagabond being an oil burner, three men could handle her, and we rigged cluster lights for’ard, and abaft the bridge space to illuminate the decks and prevent a rush in the dark. But it was a long vigil, and it seemed that dawn would never
We kept watch and watch during the night. McLosh and Muir, with the reverend's help, got steam up, for the a"ohoad being an oil burner, three men could handle her, and we rigged cluster lights for'ard, and ahaft the bridge space to illuminate the decks and prevent a rush in the dark. But it was a long vigil. and it seemed that dawn would never come.
The storm broke with a vengeance at about six bells of the middle watch, and daybreak found us running through a heavy chop with the wind blowing a gale through the whining funnel stays. There was no activity from either end of the ship for the rest of that day. We managed to relieve each other for an hour or two of sleep, now and again, and on the whole, were fairly comfortable.
For forty-eight hours we were under the breathless battering of a tropic gale that at times approached hurricane force. Again and again the old Vagabond plunged bows under to the impact of thundering green seas, and soared, the white brine streaming from her fo’c’s’le head, to meet another smoking monster of the deep. Sea, sky, and vessel were a screaming, smashing inferno of wind and water and flying spume.
The starboard bridge boat was swept away, the frayed falls whipping from bent davits. The working boat lay, a splintered ruin against the house; and eighteen feet of starboard rail, torn from its sockets and hurled across the bunker hatch, cluttered up the port alleyway. Ventilator cowls were snapped off at the standard, the wooden decks were strained and leaking and the vegetable locker from atop the fiddley was whisked away on the lip of a hissing sea. At noon of the third day, however, there was a perceptible slackening both in wind and the sweep of the giant combers, and the glass rose. That is the way of blows in the hot latitudes. They are real busters, but soon wear themselves out.
During the gale our situation on the ship remained unchanged. But I had been doing some tall thinking, the result of which I wished to submit to my companions. They came to my cabin that night—that is, Gamble and McLosh, for the reverend was below with Muir—and I put my proposition before them.
It was now patent to all that we could not hope to reach Hongkong with the crew in mutiny and the lepers in revolt. The distance was but half covered, and the bloodshed aboard had been appalling. We might hope to win out by straight fighting, but they were twenty-two well-armed and desperate men against eight, and a battle would be so costly to our little strength and contain so much risk for Mary that we determined on no account to resort to it unless our hands were forced. We must match force with guile, and find some means of ridding the ship of lepers and crew.
Within twenty-four hours we were due to raise a small coral atoll—Brigantine Island—latitude three degrees, thirty-five south ; longitude one hundred and seventyone, thirty-three west—where I had put in for water some years back—and found none. It was desolate and uninhabited; just a speck in the waste of the South Pacific, but it would answer our purpose admirably. I went into my plan in detail and it met with the unqualified approval of my lieutenants. We discussed it from every conceivable angle ; there was suggestion and counter-thought and finally we knocked it into shape, although McLosh remarked, characteristically; “I notice it’s nane o’ your deck gear that ye’ll be fiddlefaddlin’ wi’, but ye must come doon ablow an’ dallop aboot ma engines. Ye’ll lose no sleep ower the scraggle ye’ll mak’ doon there, but if ye’d tae pit it tae rights again ye’d be more patickler wi’ yer schemes!”
Having thus a grievance to glower over he entered into the thing with melancholic enthusiasm, venting doleful prognostications as to its success, meanwhile, to cheer us along. The battered condition of the Vagabond at the tail end of the gale played into our hands, and made feasible a procedure which, in steady weather, would have had small hope of victory. Time was short, however, so we put our plan into immediate execution.
As a consequence, by noon the next day there was three feet of water in the holds and engine room, and Muir and the reverend worked bare-shanked and unafraid. Every hour my gallant old Vagabond sank deeper, and rode more and more sluggishly to the still difficult sea. Her brave heart beat steadily, though, and slowly but surely she put the foaming knots astern. The slow sinking of the vessel was quickly sensed by the mutineers and there were faint-hearted attempts at communication, heralded by the waving of a dirty rag, which I promptly discouraged with a bullet through the port.
Before daylight, next morning, I was pacing the bridge in anxious effort to pierce the gloom ahead. The sea had subsided to a heavy ground swell, the stars were out and we ran through all the magic of a glorious tropic night. My old mentor Pelagius besieged me with reproaches and cross-questioning on my conduct of the whole affair, but for once his martial rival arose and crushed him. Xenophon, that stern old soldier and condoner of my wild moments, swore that I had done right, and I was but too glad to take refuge in his assurances. Still, the lad, Banks, stuck in my mind.
WE WERE all on deck at daybreak and watched, with varied feelings, the growing light picking out more and more distinctly the details of the ship. There were no lights in the lepers’ quarters aft, but one of the ports of the fo’c’s’le shone like a paling moon. There was tenseness—expectancy—over us all. Bisson raised his head and sniffed.
“I smell the land, sir,” he said quietly. A few minutes later, following his directing finger I made out a dull blur a trifle darker than the rapidly graying sky. The Vagabond scarcely made steerage way, and, instead of rising to the sea, slid heavily through. She was foundering by infinitesimal degrees. It was time for act two.
I whistled down the engine-room tube, as by prearranged signal, then went below to the alleyway outside the room wherein our two prisoners lay. Presently the chief came along from the engine room, with hurried step and spoke his piece like an actor born.
“Guid Lord, sirr,” said he, sharply, “we canna bide ablow much longer. She’s ganna sink unner us, an’ the watter’s nigh put the fires ott. Whut air we tae do?” As he spoke the Vababond lurched heavily.
“We’ll have to take to the boats, that’s all,” said I, curtly. “How much longer do you give her afloat?”
“Pairhaps an hour—mebbe less!” “That’ll be time enough and to spare. There’s a small island a half mile off, with a break in the barrier reef. We’ll load the small bridge boat with grub and water and make for it. Then let the old hooker sink and be damned to her. She’s been trouble enough!”
“An’ whut aboot yon—” “They’ll look after themselves same as we’d have had to do—with less shift, perhaps.”
‘But, man alive! Ye canna--•” Still deeper settled the old ship. A fearriven voice came from the cabin near by. It was Cummings.
“Fer the love of--Cap’n—y’aint gonna leave us here to drown like rats? Oh, have a heart!”
“Aye—they’re meeserable skunks, sirr, but gie ’em a chance for their lives. Gie ’em a boat an’ let ’em get awa’,” the chief growled.
I was silent for a minute, during which I could hear the labored breathing of the two miserable men behind the door.
“All right, then. They don’t deserve it, but they shall have their chance. Lay topside, Mr. McLosh, and tell Ikluk to break out stores for the two maindeck whaleboats and the port bridgeboat. Look sharp! And see that Mr. Canter is out of the engine room. The engines have stopped!”
He doubled on his errand and I unlocked the door. They were too thoroughly cowed to try any tricks.
“Now then, you polecats,” said I, “you’ve heard what was said, and the danger we’re in. Get you, Cummings, along to the poop and tell those yellow devils they may have the port whale-boat. You, O’Leary, nip away to the fo’c’s’le and tell the hands to take the starboard boat and make it snappy! The crew will give the coolies a hand over with their hoat first, then lower their own—and at the first sign of treachery, by the crying Judas, I’ll murder every man jack of you. Now get!” I gave them a boot apiece to help them on their way.
I GOT up on the bridge again and looked about. We had come in fairly close to the reef, I found, but there was deep water steep-to, and it was quite light.
Brigantine Island was a desolate, forsaken strip of sand and coral about three quarters of a mile long by a third of that in width, elevated not more than six feet from the sea at the highest part, and trending from nor’west to sou’east. There were a few thin shrubs scattered about, and an intermittent growth of coarse beach grass. In the center was a lagoon of brackish water, more than half salt, and a few feet in depth. The sandy beach was lined with driftwood and wreckage and three fallen coconut palms on the extreme sou’western spit gave evidence of the recent gale. It was unoccupied and silent, save for the lonely booming of surf against the barrier reef and the weird piping of thousands of wheeling sea birds against the blank blue sky.
The engines still were capable of action, having been stopped by my orders soon after I left the bridge, and Muir was in the engine room. The crew poured from the fo’c’s’le and I knew by their frightened eyes that we had nothing to fear from them for a while. They ran to their boat like cattle and it was not until I got among them that they followed instructions and helped the jabbering coolies. I was a bit rough in my directing, I am afraid, but they were too anxious to get away before the deck went from under them to pay any heed to that. There were tins of biscuits and meat and water breakers to load, and when this was done, they slid— or rather, fell—down the falls, and breaking out the oars like a lot of farmers moved away from the ship’s side. In the meantime, my crowd on the bridge were making a show of stowing a small boat with water and stores.
When a dozen good boat lengths lay between the Vagabond and the boats I returned to the bridge. McLosh approached, a wry grin on his pawky features.
“Eh, man! Yon was unco fine. Are ye ready yet?”
“Yes, thank Heaven! Get below, you old idol, and pump her out!” He disappeared in a flash. I rang the engineroom telegraph. The propeller began to turn lazily and the Vagabond slowly responded. We were dangerously near to the reef by now, and the wheel required delicate handling, so I took it myself. The beating surf spouted up the coral wall in clouds of rainbow spray. The boom of it was in our ears. I spun the wheel hard over for a minute, straightened her out and we began to forge ahead.
Then, too late, came Bisson’s cry from the fo’c’s’le head where he had gone to watch for shoal water. There was a bump, a low crunching, and the ship quivered through all her ancient framework. We had struck on the reef. Ikluk jumped for the telegraph and rang to stop the engines for I would not pull her off until I saw what damage had been done, in case the sea should pour through the hole and we founder in right earnest. McLosh appeared again, his face stained with grease and sweat, and gave a quick glance overside.
“Mphm!” said he. “So wu’ve struck, eh? Mphm! Whut noo?”
“We’ll keep an eye on the boats to see that they don’t turn back. Keep your pumps going. High water was at five o’clock and it’s seven now. She’ll only drop two feet more to low water, and we can estimate the damage. If it’s not too late she should float off at high tide late this afternoon.”
SO WE lay through the day and, had it not been for this final mishap, would have been supremely happy at the success of our scheme—for which McLosh, Muir and the reverend deserve the full credit. Stripped of technicalities, here is what the chief did, mister, and why he was able to control the incoming water to the inch and dispose of it whenever 1 wished.
He removed the valves from the bilge valve chests leading to the hold bilges. Being of the nonreturn type they could not be lifted by the valve spindles. He then opened the sea-suction valve on the ballast pump valve chest or manifold, so that he was able to direct the water into the holds, and removed the cover from the bilge-injection valve thereby flooding the engine room through the main-injection valve on the ship’s side. By this means we took sufficient water into her to give a most convincing impression of danger of immediate foundering—an impression materially added to by the shaking up she had received in the blow and, as you have seen, sufficient to rid us of our dangerous neighbors— which was the sole object of the thing, of course.
BLIT I must get back to the landing parties. When the Vagabond first got way on her they immediately knew they’d been tricked and lay on their oars, more than half minded to return and fight their way back on board. Second thought convinced them that this would be hopeless against the Vagabond's high sides, however, so they again made for the beach. The lepers reached the island first and, leaping into shallow water, dragged their boat up on the dazzling sand. The crew were not so handy. They pulled better at the oars, but duplicated our misfortune on a smaller scale by staving their boat against a submerged tooth of coral. She sank under them just as they made the beach. They floundered ashore and stood in a group, gazing about them. Then they noticed that the Vagabond was hard and fast, and greeted the discovery with a hoarse cheer.
The two parties kept distant from each other about two hundred yards. They drifted about the island by groups and pairs, shied shells and stones at the sea birds and ever and again came to the water’s edge and gazed by turns at the stranded Vagabond and out to sea. At noon some of the lepers approached the crew, and, from their gesticulations, appeared to be begging something. They were refused, and returned to their own ground. Scatchard seemed to be ruling it over the sailor crowd and held forth to them in great style, for we could hear the rough guffaws which his words excited. In the afternoon they stretched out upon the sand or in the scanty shade of the beach scrub and slept.
Aboard the Vagabond the steady throbbing of the pumps droned monotonously through the long, hot day, and a thick stream of brine poured from her rusty side. Foot by foot the water level decreased in holds and engine room and inch by inch the sea arose about the reef on which she lay. Then it was noticed that as the sea advanced so did the power of the pumps decrease. At six-thirty we knew that the injury to her hull was mortal. The pumps stopped. Gamble and I stripped and dived into the murky waters of Number One hold and, after heart-breaking labor, and nearly drowning ourselves, discovered her case was hopeless and that my Vagabond would never leave that lonely reef unless she slipped off or was pounded by a rising sea to her final resting place twelve hundred fathom down. It meant a lot to me, mister, for all that she was only a dirty, rusty, old sea casket. I loved her for I had saved her from the bone yard, and together we had held through calm and storm, idleness and high adventure over all the oceans of the earth— and she was my only home.
When dark fell our enemies built great fires of driftwood on the beach, and sat about them smoking and drinking and roaring snatches of ribald song. I was puzzled to know where they got the liquor until I taxed Ikluk. He confessed that he had put a case of whisky from my stores into the crew’s boat in hopes that they’d get full and murder each other. 1 learned, too, the cause of the lepers’ vain pleading during the afternoon. He had put casks of pickles into the coolies’ boat instead of water breakers, to see what devilment he could stir up between them out of that and despite the caustic tongue of Pelagius I felt more than a little pleased. But 1 didn’t spare my boot when Ikluk confessed and he used care when he moored himself for a few days.
We kept a sharp lookout all through the night against visitors from either party, for I’d determined they’d get neither bite nor sup from the ship as long as I was on her. A conference resulted in plans for our future movements. It was decided to slip away the following night in the remaining quarter boat and make for Duke of York Island, which lay about three hundred miles south of our position. It was not a pleasant outlook, with a woman in an open boat, for it might be flat calm for days or weeks with never enough breeze to cool your tongue, or it might spring up a fury that’d drop you to Davy Jones before you could wink, you might say. But it had to be chanced, for it was only a matter of days before those devils ashore would kick up a lather. At the Union group, where we were to make for, we could get a schooner for Apia in Samoa and so home. After coming to this decision I went on watch and let Bisson get some badly needed sleep. The boy was a tower of strength in his unobtrusive fashion, Heaven bless him. I’ 11 never forget it.
Sunday dawned with a cloudless sky. We were out fairly early and after breakfast sat on the sloping deck—for the Vagabond had settled a bit aft—and looked out over a scene of peace. The sun beat down upon the awnings, and raised a gentle quimmer over the still waters of the lagoon. The sea birds cried and fought and cheated the sharks of bits of galley refuse, and their piping accompanied the reverend as he read aloud a few points from those sailing directions which guide poor Jack through the reefs and shoals of life and gain him pratique in that calm shelter where dwells the greatest Harbor Master of all. We had come through much and it did us good, for it washed some of the cynicism from Gamble’s reckless eyes and put my own heart at ease.
The day passed quietly, the folk on the island amusing themselves with such amiable diversions as stoning the birds, tearing the legs off sand crabs and squabbling a bit among themselves ... In the evening a dispute arose between the two camps about the division of the crew’s water. It ended in Svenson knocking a coolie down. Quong Lun went over and there was protracted argument in which every one cast the stopper off his jaw tackle at the same time, terminating in a visit en masse to the crew’s stove-in boat. More quarreling ensued and Smith pulled a gun. Others intervened and the Chinese returned to his own camp. He set his mates digging in the sand for moisture, but after a fruitless hour they gave it up as a bad job and stretched out to sleep.
WE HAD decided to delay our departure for another twenty-four hours in order that our preparations might be as snug and safe as possible, so when night of the second day fell, warm and starlit, we sat once more under the velvet sky, and again the fires of piled-up wreckage threw dancing scarlet on the placid water. Scatchard sang and the bos’n played—just simple fo’c’s’le melodies— and rascals though the fellows were, their music affected me as ever those old songs must.
It was then, sitting silent, with our eyes on the beach fires and our thoughts Lord knows where, that the reverend, in gentle tones, told us of the betrothal of Mary to Frank Bisson. For a moment I was stunned, and that there was an ache in my innards that’ll not shift for a while I’ll not deny, for old fool that I was, I had hoped, mister, d’ye see, that some day, perhaps —Ah, well, we’ll never mind that. She got one of the finest boys afloat, and I’ll say with pride that when we heard the news he came straight to me like the man he is, and said, “I was hoping for your good wishes, sir.” He has them. Gamble felt it a bit, too, for when the congratulations were over—they were soft-spoken but oh, so deeply meant—he came and sat alongside me, and actually smoked some of my Irish honeydew in his abstraction. It was McLosh, though, that hapless, lovable old idiot, who struck the right note and set all our minds on the right track again with a laugh. Said he to Bisson: “Gin yer heart was as hard as yer heid is saft, son, she’d aye mak’ pulp o’t wi’ jist the sun o’ her bonny smile. Dinna ye forget, now—a firm hand on the tiller, plenty o’ paint fer tae keep her tidy an’ a judeeshus easin’ off in a seaway’ll carry ye through fair weather an’ foul. Och aye! I was marrit ane time masel’—an’ gin I’d kept ma eyes on ma ain craft instid o’ gogglin’ eftor ithers I doot by now I’d no be able for tae ca’ soul nor pay day ma ain!” After which startling marital disclosure he returned to his pipe; but I knew his tough old heart was glad for them.
When I turned in that night my mind was a whirl of thought, but I found slumber almost immediately and was awakened for my watch on deck refreshed in mind and body. I found, too, that I could look with a certain detachment on Mary’s affair. I recollected a score of little things the significance of which had missed me at the time. The boy had always been attentive to her in a diffident, shy sort of fashion, and she often gave him
a smile and a few words in my presence. But, by the two-toed gods, mister, I don’t know how these fledgelings do these things. Here am I, a stormy petrel of thirty-nine, and I haven’t learned woman yet—nor ever will, I suppose. Well, he almost deserves her, the sly young dog. But why the devil didn’t he confide in me? Did he think I wouldn’t help him, I wonder? No—I reckon he knew me better than that.
The mutineers were about the island early, gathering wood for their breakfast fires. I noticed that the lepers had detailed some of their party to sleep in their boat, evidently fearful of an attempt to appropriate it. Sea and sky were deadly calm and the blue waters of the lagoon mirrored the clouds in a shimmer of milky white. The coral sand radiated heat and the coolies must have been suffering acutely for lack of water, so that I rather expected a visit. We had it.
ABOUT five in the afternoon the boat - put off, with eight of them in it, led by Quong Lun. They pulled through the break in the reef to within a hundred yards of the Vagabond, then lay on their oars, every lapboard of their craft reflected in waving lines on the still sea. Quong Lun stood up.
“Captain, no have got water. No got water—China boy makee die. That too bad, eh? You give some water to China boy?”
“You may get to hell for it,” said I. “for you’ll get none here!”
“That’s the stuff tae gie ’em,” said the chief. “Let their tongues dander oot till they can kneel tae their prayers on ’em!” A bit more followed and I was about to bid them clear off, when Mary came to my side with such a look as I couldn’t resist.
“I’ll make a deal with you, then,” said I to Quong Lun. “You’ll every one drop your weapons over the side. Then, and not before, you can come alongside, and I’ll give you one breaker of water. If you don’t like my terms you can lump ’em.” There was a hullabaloo among them at that, but they were suffering badly, so had to agree. One by one their weapons went into the sea—every mother’s son of ’em was armed, mister—and I allowed them to close in and lowered a water breaker into the boat. Every move we made was being watched by the fo’c’s’le hands from the shore.
The lepers got under way again, and I was turning to go to my room, when Gamble caught my sleeve and directed my attention to the beach. McLosh gave a grunt and ran to the side. Colona, Cummings, the darky, and the b were sauntering along the sand tow ¿rd the point for which the boat was making, while the rest of the crew, which included most of the stoke-hold crowd, walked with seeming carelessness in the direction of a sand dune behind which the lepers who had been left on shore were sleeping. The darky and his lot halted and lay down on the beach, and, resting on their elbows, watched the unskilful progress of the coolies’ boat. I sensed what was coming and called to Bisson in a low tone to get Mary out of the way.
Suddenly Gamble sprang on the rail. “Watch out!" he roared, but his warning was too late. The boat grounded in shallow water and the Chinese jumped out to drag her up. Then they smelled treachery and attempted to get her afloat again. With the coolness of utter devils the mutineers spat a murderous burst of fire from their automatics into the midst of the coolies, and at the same moment their mates opened up on the sleeping men.
Almost at the first shot Quong Lun went down, face first into the shore ripples, then another and another until the flooding tide was streaked with crimson. The survivors fled for the beach, hotly pursued by the shouting mutineers, bullets kicking up spurts of sand about their feet and finding an occasional billet in a flying body. Those of the lepers who had weapons put up a short, desperate fight, then they, too, ran, firing backward as they went. Smith went down in a flurry of sand and spouting blood, and a second later Courtet caught a bullet in the groin and doubled up in screaming agony.
The white men held a brief debate then, separated from each other by a dozen yards, formed a line and combed the island, shooting down the survivors of the first attack with as little compunction as if they were killing rats. No quarter was given. The poor, squealing devils were hunted out of lióles, from behind dunes, and riddled in the cover of flimsy shrubs. Colona was shot in the back by a man they passed. His mates turned and pumped away at the sniper with a ferocity that was appalling. The man sank in a clawing heap and they passed on. Mary, up on the bridge, had her head on the rail. "Oh, dear Lord! Dear Lord!” she moaned. The reverend prayed aloud.
Their work completed, the mutineers returned to the beach, and wading out, dragged up the heavy boat. One coolie, lying with still a spark of life in him across the gunwale, they kicked off into the sea. The sun had set by now, and the afterglow shone red over the lonely island, dotted with stiffening corpses. The murderers came, a shouting, maudlin group, to the water’s edge and shook their dirty fists at us. ‘‘Your turn next, you—” they promised. I was for getting Bent’s rifle and having a pot at them, but the others were against it. There had been too much bloodshed that day, they argued, and I saw they were right.
AFTER nightfall we lowered our boat, stored it with everything I thought likely we should need, and put out to sea. A breeze sprang up, so that by morning we were out of sight of the island. It broke me up to leave the old Vagabond to those sweeps, and it was with heavy heart that I said farewell. Life in an open boat in mid-Pacific strips the soul to its essentials, and thoughts are born too ethereally balanced for expression in the clatter of an everyday world.
I thought we were in for a long run of it, for the breeze was fitful and we did not make much progress, but help wasathand. On the evening of the third day, the slight wind being then west-southwest, and our dead reckoning position about latitude four degrees, fifty-one, south; longitude_ one hundred and seventy-one, fifty-eight, west, we sighted a pennant of steamer smoke flung across the darkling sky. Gamble popped off a number of distress flares, of which the boat carried a supply, and an hour later, when it was quite dark, a large vessel bore down upon us, the emerald, gold and ruby of her running lights twinkling over the heaving water. It was the French sloop-of-war Aldebaran, which makes periodic inspection trips about the French possessions in the South Pacific. She was then en route from Apia to Papeete.
The commander was most kind and, when he heard our story, proceeded under a full head of steam for Brigantine Island. He had been interested in our story and, I believe, politely incredulous, but there was a new note in his voice and his eyes were grim as he returned with his landing party from a trip about that island of the dead. Yes, he got them ; they were on the Vagabond, drunk as owls— Svenson, Scatchard, Mendoza, Jiminez, Harris, O’Leary and Cummings. Three or four of the coolies were still alive—the stamina of the brutes was amazing—and they were brought off to the Aldebaran and given the best of care in her sickbay. The French commander put a charge aboard of my faithful old Vagabond, and she went off the reef into the cool, blue depths—the proper resting place for a stout-hearted ship. The mutineers were later turned over to the New Zealand authorities at Apia, where they made a spectacular jail break and two of them, Scatchard and the bos’n, managed to get clear away and have not yet been found.
Our little crowd was lucky. We had passed through an experience that comes to few, but Heaven was good to us after all. I have health and strength and, what I value most, faithful friends, for McLosh, Gamble, Muir and Ikluk are sailing with me again when I commission a new ship that I now am bargaining for. Frank Bisson accompanied Mary and the reverend to Hongkong to help them in the mission field—they were married at Papeete—and Heaven knows we wished them years of happiness.
THERE’S my story, mister, and I'm glad it’s done. If it doesn’t answer criticism it has eased my mind to set it down, and may serve to temper the harshness of the unthinking. After all, that is something, isn’t it? And if you find yourself condemning, answer me one question: What would you have done in like case? The quality of your answer will indicate your measure as a man.