The Little Things
The story of a man who forgot the little things when the big thing called
NORMAN REILLY RAINE
WHEN the s.s. Bokhara stopped in mid-ocean for the eighth time in three days it pushed a notch higher, a perceptible distance closer to breaking point, the nervous tension of her crew. The Old Man, looking like a parson in his black, wideawake hat and pongee coat, carefully laid his paint brush on the gunwale of the quarter-boat and stood at the head of the lower bridge ladder, waiting. When the chief appeared, stumping thick-legged over the alleyway coaming, and buttoning his jacket on the way below, the Old Man hailed him in testy query.
“It’s that damned corroded circulating-pump casting again,” the chief snapped. “I’ve tried shoring, with a wedge and a bit of soft rubber in the hole, but the shoring keeps working adrift.”
His temper was on edge. Purposely he omitted the customary ‘sir’. The Old Man noticed and resented this. But he said nothing further; simply clucked, with
his tongue, disapproving sounds that quite adequately— and unjustly—placed the blame for the delay upon the chief’s dumpy shoulders.
It did not matter that the day was still, the sea a deep, calm immensity, the weather settled. That did not matter in the least. What did matter was, that the Bokhara, fifty-four days east-bound, Bombay for Panama hung suspended, rolling idly on a blue mirror, an idle ship. For a wind-bag the length of the voyage would have been nothing. For a steamer-—even a disgraceful tramp like the Bokhara—it was heart-breaking.
Before the vessel stopped, the tap-tap of chipping hammers in the hands of the crew, for’ard, amidship, aft, accompanied the rhythmic pounding of the crankshaft and the beat of the screw. When she glided to rest, all activity ceased. The hands left their work to gaze over the side. Only the doctor, rattling his pots in the galley, broke the profound and indolent stillness.
Flanagan, a great gaunt-faced seaman, with tired monkey eyes and a pallor that no sun could tinge, edged up to his working mate. He had a trick of glancing over his shoulder as he spoke. He did it now.
“The ship’s hoodooed, Belknap, that’s wot,” he murmured, and the pits darkened under his cheek bones. “Look at the break-downs we’ve had. Held us back ten days at least. Steerin’ chain breaks in the Red Sea; trouble wi’ the feed pump valves day after day in the Indian ocean; stopped God knows how many times, for leaky boiler tubes; lost Snuffley Wheeler off Macassar—”
“Tuberculosis. Got it ashore,” Belknap discounted curtly.
“I know. Don’t make no difference. You’re a landsman and a scholard. You don’t understand these things. He died on the ship, didn’t he? Well—! Then this racket. If they wos engineers instead 0’ ruddy tinsmiths—”
His mournful voice droned irritatingly on.
“It’s uncanny, that’s wot. I mind a time I shipped out 0’ Paramaribo in a Dutch bark. The mate went off his dot one night an’ murd—”
“You’re a bloomin’ liar, Flanagan! You an’ yer bloody-minded yarns. You never seen Paramaribo,’ another man interrupted cynically. “If it was the death cell you shipped out of, now—” He laughed shortly. “Shouldn’t talk in your sleep, mate. It’s a bad ’abit. We gets to learn things.”
Flanagan wheeled on him. His slack lips moved without sound, but his eyes were terrible.
Belknap moved away from the threatened quarrel. A sense of futility, growing with each maddening delay, swept down upon him. He longed to shout “Shut up! Shut up!”—to beat them to silence, to still for awhile that everlasting pettifogging clack, that had torn his ragged nerves to fragments in the ten months in which he had been cooped up with his mates. The vessel’s sluggish progress, and succession of tiny retarding mishaps, had raised barriers of irritability between all hands. Pugnacious comment, and acrimonious reply; sometimes blows. The whole ship was tainted with it.
Flanagan and Sharpo still were quarrelling when the bosun, bowlegged, heavy-moustached, and long of arm, his face beaten a hard red by the suns and winds of all the oceans, waddled out of the shadow of the fore peak. He roared!
“Come on, you ’long-shore sojers! Think you can work Tom Cox’s traverse every time the old bucket squats? Lay to it, now!”
An amiable enough man in normal times, he surged among them, bullying and pushing. They hung back sullenly, cursing him under their breaths. He shoved Belknap violently. The next moment he was sitting on the deck holding his jaw, while the man he had hustled straddled him with thin legs, shrieking vituperation,
“You pot-bellied walrus! Keep your dirty hands off me, d’you hear? You touch me again and I’ll knock your bloody lights out!”
The bosun slowly regained his feet, eyes gleaming redly. “You’ll knock my—” He did not finish, but advancing smashed the student with right and left against a winch. He slipped to the deck and lay there, abject, elbow guarding his head against kicks. The bosun glared at him for an undecided moment or two, then walked aft. “Knock my bloody lights out, will he, the narrow-gutted little swab! I’ll larn him!” The renewed clatter of the chipping hammers failed to give him solace.
AT two bells the Bokhara was under way again.
■ Belknap, his face bearing marks of the bosun’s hands, staggered aft from the galley, laden with the forecastle’s evening meal. He was sick for home, and the smell of the greasy food quickened his nostalgia, so that his bruised lips trembled in spite of himself. The sun, in its burnished copper smoothness, seemed to mock the turmoil of his spirit. He entered the evilsmelling forecastle and dumped his load on the table, spread with granite-ware cups and plates and rude cutlery.
“That’s right, Peggy—spill ’arf the tea; we gets so much of it,” someone growled with elaborate sarcasm. Belknap took his place amid disgusted comment.
“Scouse again! Gor blimey! And prunes—and look at this lousy stuff!”
Beers a tousled A.B., with dirty shirt open to his hairy chest and big sweating stomach, grabbed a piece of bread from the barge and broke it, exposing the brown discoloration of weevils. He flung it down, seized another, broke and discarded that. Flanagan knocked his hands away as he reached again.
“Jeez—we ain’t no ladies’ maids, but for God’s sake scrub yer filthy paws afore you handles the grub, mate,” he rasped.
Beers turned on him, snarling, and a fight seemed imminent; but Most, a phlegmatic squarehead of Herculean frame, interposed.
“Shtop id!” he growled. “If you vos in a vind-chammer you vould haff someding to kick aboudt. Und you had better make the best of it. Dere’s no more fresh meat, und diss iss the last of the bread. I heard the steward tell the mate. You gets Liverpool pantiles und pickled mule from now on—und maype you learn vot veevils iss!” His shaggy head nodded portentously.
The meal proceeded amid continual bickering; grousing at the rancid margarine, the fly-clotted ham, the cockroaches that swarmed the place, sharing their meals and their beds, the rats that squeaked about their bunks at night, It was a relief when they were done, and scattered out on deck for an evening smoke.
Belknap washed the dishes and piled them in the rack. There was no hot water, and grease lay in a thick rim around the pan. He wiped it with a piece of old newspaper which, it developed immediately, belonged to a shipmate who had not—so he said. -read it. Another argument, in which Belknap retaliated in the language of his opponent. The atmosphere of the place was sulphuric. Afterward he lay on his lumpy straw-filled palliasse, brooding dumbly, until the snoring of a sailor drove him out into the open.
HE sat on an after hatch. Dark fell, and stars flowed across a luminous sky. The Bokhara in a setting of rippling phosphorus, dipped and rolled to the measured breathing of the sea, and the masthead light painted a faint patch of yellow on the spar as it wove ceaselessly across the stupendous bowl of the night. Far down in the stoke-hold the importunate bang of a fireman’s shovel against a bunker bulkhead signalled the trimmer for more coal. Belknap looked for’ard. The man on stand-by, making tea and toast for the third mate, was a jumping shadow in the door of the lighted galley. The third mate, a black shape on the wing of the bridge, leaned motionless, elbows on the rail, his thoughts half way across the world. A plume of smoke poured from the tall funnel, making a broad smudge astern, then jetted white to the roar of escaping steam. The chief’s voice shouted down the engineroom grating. “You silly fool! What the hell are you blowing off for?” The depths responded faintly. “What say? Can’t hear you. ...” After a time the roar ceased, abruptly, and the sudden hush made articulate the gentle swish of sea water running along the rusty plates. Queer dot, a ship, with its freight of puny hopes and hates, crawling about the wet skin of a planet.
Four bells chimed on the bridge, was echoed on the forecastle-head, and Belknap went for’ard to relieve the lookout. Flanagan, his broad, angular frame stretched against the stars, j umped at his approach, then glanced nervously over his shoulder.
“Gar!—you startled me, mate,” he whispered. “Say— d’ye notice anything near that stabboard hawse pipe there?”
Belknap did not trouble to conceal his contempt. “Imagining things again?” he grunted.
“No, but—” the man’s fear was real, “sometimes I thinks 0’ the ghost 0’ me murderer creepin’ up over the bows.” He lingered, as though glad of company, even in the face of Belknap’s impatient non-sympathy. “That Sharpo, now—he didn’t happen to mention me to you, eh?” he resumed softly. “Didn’t say nothing about me talkin’ in me sleep, or the like 0’ that, perhaps? No? Well, I’ll be gettin’ along aft, now.” He peered into the gloom of the well-deck.
“Ought to have lights along here,” he whined. “Man c’ld break his leg again them steam pipes. Too dark, that’s wot it is. Man never knows what ’e might meet in the dark.” His heavy feet clanged down the ladder.
When he was gone Belknap pondered. “I suppose I should tip Sharpo off to leave him alone.” An inarticulate wave of sympathy laved him as he thought of Flanagan andhisshadows. “Poor devil,” he mused, but aswiftchange of mood caused his throat to swell. Resentment burned anew. “Why should I butt in?” he grunted. “Let them murder each other if they like. Something’s got to break.”
A puff of wind fanned his cheek, then died away.
Lookout on such a night was a perfunctory job and he leaned against the windlass, trying to reconcile his experience with the anticipations of ten months ago. He had been disillusioned with disconcerting swiftness. It had begun the first night at sea, with a drunken fight in the forecastle that revealed to his mind , already jaundiced by seasickness, the guttersnipe characteristics of his shipmates. It had been deepened by hourly contact with their obscenities, their filthy personal habits, their degrading quarrels over the whacks of greasy, unpalatable food, their swine-like feeding, They got under his skin. Such petty things; things that ashore would not be noticed, or passed off with a laugh. Tiny inconsequences; how they galled and festered now—how large they loomed, in the long, delaying nights, and bickering days.
There was Empey—a mean, nasty little sneak-thief with the soul of a rat. Flanagan the haunted, with his gruesome yarns that went endlessly on. Beers, unwashed, beastly, with a tongue that smutted everything it touched upon. Sharpo, the malingering cynic, with his eternal ‘bloomin’ liar’. Most, the squarehead, an old seaman, contemptuously aloof from the rest of the forecastle, including Belknap. Snuffley Wheeler the consumptive, whose harsh cough through the hot stifling night air of the forecastle had cheated the watch below of sleep, and brought upon his miserable head the searing blasphemy of his mates. Him the sea had claimed off the Celebes.
Seamen! The weather-flaked bows of the Bokhara lifted to the surge of a crestless roller, then plunged until her hawse pipes roared.
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Belknap must have dozed.
A voice, bellowing from the bridge, blasted him out of it, his wits adrift.
"Lookout ahoy! What the hell are you j doing up there? Why don’t you sound the bell and report the lights?”
The bell?. . . the lights? Mechanically he reached for the clapper lanyard and pulled—two double taps and a single.
' “Lights are bright,” he bawled resentfully. The action focussed his thoughts and brought his attention to his job. Sweeping the horizon, his eyes travelled the dim line of sky and sea, then, inj tuitively, it seemed, shot back to a I point almost dead ahead. There was a tiny red glow. He waited to make sure, then again hailed the bridge.
The watch officer leaned alertly forward.
“Can you make it out?”
There was a pause.
“Looks like a vessel’s port light, sir.”
The third mate leveled his night glasses, and Belknap’s eyes returned to the horizon. A passing ship always is of interest at sea. In the desolation of the South Pacific it becomes an event. This was the first the Bokhara had seen in eighteen days.
The bridge addressed him.
“See anything out of the ordinary about that light, lookout?”
He stared ahead. Stars; black water flowing under the bows; he was uncertain.
“Seems a bit large, sir,” he ventured.
Again: “All right.”
Presently the chartroom was flooded with light, and the Old Man in his pajamas stepped out on to the bridge. The chief engineer’s door slammed. Running feet clanged in the alleyway. A minute later the chief and the mate appeared on the bridge beside the Old Man. They gesticulated seaward.
Ahead, the ruby spark of the stranger’s light had grown; had acquired a nimbus of faint pink that alternately deepened and waned. As Belknap turned, his nostrils caught and identified the cause of his vague disquiet. His heart contracted with quick terror. “Oh, Christ above. . ! he prayed, for over the dark
sea was the blood-red glare of a burning ship.
The group on the bridge dissolved, and cabin lights sprang up. The halfI naked crew poured out of their forecastle to stare over the side.
The Old Man’s eyes were blue ice as he spoke to the chief.
“Get another knot on her if you have to blow her apart, Mr. Chappelow,” he said quietly.
The chief’s fat shoulders took on a dignity strange to them as he trotted below. But his black gang needed no driving word. Smoke poured from the funnel crown, and the thin shell of the Bokhara shook with ague under the wild pound of laboring engines.
Sharpo and Beers joined Belknap on the forecastle-head, but the third mate was a reasonable youth and did not notice. Beer’s dirty bare feet tapped impatiently on the steel deck plates. His huge, soft body shook with the tremor of the driving vessel, and he patted the windlass as one would caress I the neck of a straining horse. “Good old gal,” he murmured. “You’ll do it yet! Pore souls! The chief ain’t arf pushin’ ’er, eh?”
A half hour passed. The smoke was definite now, and a bit acrid, and ä gradually, upon the black canvas of the sea was painted, the blazing pyramid I of a full-rigged ship. The lurid glare of I the flames stained with scarlet the belching spirals of the thick smoke pillar that
rolled straight up, stabbed now and then by a spouting geyser of fire. The crackling of the flames was plainly audible, punctuated by heavy explosions; and burning canvas did a death dance in the rigging before being sucked skyward. Awful and majestic destruction, in the midst of a hushed and waiting sea, and Belknap thrilled as the Bokhara swung in a wide curve, her racing crankshaft amost rocking the engines off their bed-plates, her wake a scimitar of foam.
“Swing out the boats, Mister,” the Old Man trumpeted, and the crew jumped to it. Bells jangled in the tramp’s bowels, and she shivered to stillness. The Old Man stepped to the break of the lower bridge, and addressed the crew, clustered about the fiddley.
“That craft is loaded with case oil, men. Explosions and fire have destroyed her boats. There’s more than a fair chance of death for any man who goes aboard, so I’m giving no orders. But there are living souls still aboard. I needn’t tell you more, eh?”
A husky fireman in grimy dungarees stepped forward.
“Wot about us, sir?” he asked simply, indicating with a jerk of his head his mates of the black gang, gathered on the bunker hatch. “We could man one o’ the boats—an’ we’re used to a bit o’ heat,” he ended with grim humor.
The Old Man nodded. “Arrange that, Mister,” he told the mate, and returned to the bridge where he hailed the lookout, and told him to report at the boats. Belknap doubled aft.
At the starboard boat, which had been lowered until it just cleared the water, a violent quarrel raged. Flanagan, his face murderous in the half light, faced Sharpo with doubled fists.
“I pulled an oar afore you could blow yer nose prop’ly,” he snarled, “an’ I’m going in this boat.”
“You’re a bloomin' liar,” Sharpo screamed back. “I’m a member of ’er crew, and you can’t crowd me out!” The bosun thrust between them.
“I’ll bang your silly ’eads together, if you don’t hold your jaw,” he growled. “Get in the boat, the two o' you. You too, Belknap. . . .and Beers and Empey. Most, you’ll go in the port boat with the black gang and the second mate, Come on—look alive! This ain’t Hyde Park!” The mate appeared with a first-aid kit, jumped for the after falls, and slid down. The heavy whaleboat was lowered away, her crew dropped in, and she cast off. “Out oars. . . give way. ...” and under the impetus of willing backs she fairly leaped from the Bokhara's rusty side.
A minute later the other boat fell in astern. Belknap was bowman of the mate’s boat, and seizing his boathook he faced the wreck. She was alight from stem to counter, but the full-bodied violence of it was amidship,
As the whaleboats raced over the flat sea the heat became terrific, and the mate ordered way enough as he sought for a windward approach. The water was dotted with debris—scraps of charred canvas, burnt boat remnants and the like. They glided to rest, and the crews doused themselves with sea water, then turned to watch, under a golden snow of blazing fragments that they beat out with their hands. Every rope and shark and burning spar was reflected on the glassy surface of the sea; every spectacular detail duplicated. There was not a breath of wind, and the heart of the furnace roared, a deep menacing undertone, like a ravening beast. In quick succession three deafening explosions sent geysers of amber dust in transient glory to the starry sky. The The mate jumped to his feet, shielding his eyes with his hands, while he stared at a black mass on the surface some dis-
tance away. “It’s a boat,” he said, and they pulled toward it. It was one of the sailing-ship’s quarterboats, and, as they came alongside, a man, his clothes smoldering, half-raised himself, then flopped over the gunwale. On the bottom boards lay another man, delirious with the pain of his burns, and a blackened corpse.
The mate grasped the first man by the shoulder, and raised his head with the heel of his palm, and looked for signs of consciousness in the blood-red slits of his eyes. He bellowed in the man’s ear. “Are there any alive aboard?”
A flicker of life appeared, and they guessed, rather than heard, the reply “The poop.. .in the saloon....”
The mate was dynamic. He detailed a man to pull the quarter-boat to the Bokhara, then his boat sped away, straight for the burning wreck. He leaned forward, shouting to make himself heard above the increasing thunder of the flames.
“It’s a boarding job, men. There are no soft spots, and she’s apt to go up any minute, so move lively when you get aboard. .all together now! Put your backs into it! Stroke. .! stroke..! stroke. .! ” Rocking back and forth in the stern-sheets he coached them like the coxswain of a racing cutter.
The hot blast of hell smote them. There was a moment of shrivelling menace and the boat shot under the overhang of the stern. A moment later the second mate’s boat bumped alongside. A terrific explosion racked the doomed vessel. Terror yanked at Belknap’s self-control, and his nerve failed him.
“We can’t do it. . . .we can’t go on that deck. ... we’ll all be killed!” he wailed. “Get back before its too late!”
The mate glared at him for a contemptuous second, but Empey, the Whitechapel sneak-thief turned on his thwart and punched at him savagely. “Shut your trap and get that boathook out,” he snapped. “ ’Ere! Give it me!”
He snatched it up and hooked it to the rudder post. Smoke swept down upon them, blinding, suffocating. Empey thrust the boathook into Belknap’s flaccid hands. “Now—’ang onto this. If you let go I’ll bloody-well kill you!” he promised venomously.
They rose from their seats in a crimson haze, fantastic as shadows in a nightmare. Like a cat Flanagan sprang for the rudder chains, grasped an overhanging 'ength of line, chanced his weight upon it and went up, hand over hand, followed by the mate, Sharpo and the rest. The second mate’s crewr followed suit. The counter hid them from sight.
In clouds of greasy smoke, shot through with firebrands and gobs of burning oil, Belknap, in mortal funk, crouched in the bow of the whaleboat, coughing, retching, flinching at every sound. Danger rammed home the fact that he was a coward—a poltroon without shame. The woodwork of the boat became too hot to touch; the paint bubbled and blistered. Rubbing one hand with the other ash-dry palm, he discovered that the hair on the back was singed and crisp. His bowels knotted in the terrific heat, and he panted hoarsely, swollen tongue trying in vain to moisten his cracking lips. What of his mates on the burning ship.
His fear was boosted to panic, and he became frantic with desire to pull away from that floating holocaust. To hell with the others. They w^ere doomed anyw'ay—no man could survive that volcano —and why should he sacrifice his life to a silly tradition that a man must stick by his shipmates.
He stood up with poised boathook, ready to push away, when, through the ruddy murk above, Flanagan’s face, horribly seared and blackened, and shorn of hair, projected itself.
“Quick,” he croaked. “Shove the boat around to the break of the poop. We
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The Little Things
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can't reach her here. We’ve found some o’ them in the cabin. Move man, for God’s sake!”
Gripped by that indomitable will Belknap pulled clumsily around, fumbling with his hook for holds on the vessel’s high quarter, while Flanagan kept pace with him along the poop, bearing across his wide shoulders the charred and smoking body of a man. He swayed, went to his knees, then lowered his burden over the side to the boat. “It’s their captain,” he said. “He’s alive. Douse him with water.”
Flanagan disappeared, but in his place came the mate, then Beers, then Sharpo, and some of the second mate’s crew, queer, misshapen silhouettes in the scarlet light, bringing the limp bodies of the sailing ship’s company across the poop, and. lowering away.
A broad tongue of fire blazed with sanguinary brilliance and a warring shout went up. The mizzenmast, the last to ignite, and flying pennants of burning canvas, tottered, paused, swayed, flamed until sea and sky rang with its clamor, then swung drunkenly, held by a single wire stay. Its fall was a matter of minutes. The mate, a berserk demigod with clothes afire, sent his deep-sea roar through the tumult. “Back to the boats, men!” he bellowed.
They came, some at a shambling run, others dragging themselves painfully across the smoking planks. They jumped for the boats, splashing in the sea all about, with hardly sufficient strength to cling to the gunwales until they could be dragged in. They lay, then, on the bottom-boards, across the thwarts, over the still bodies of the victims, in tumbled heaps, too bone-weary to grasp the oars, weeping dully in the agony of their burns.
The mate was the last to leave. Deliberately he looked about before he jumped, then landed in the sternsheets. “Come on, lads,” he urged. “Break out the oars! She’s going up any second now!”
Suddenly he jerked to his feet, tiller held slack in his fist, and counted.
“Here,” he yelled. “There’s two of our men missing.”
“Empey’s dead, sir,” one man caid listlessly. “Fell into the after ’old, ’e did, off the main deck.”
“Who is the other, then?”
The exhausted men roused themselves, looking about with haggard, watery eyes.
“Where’s Sharpo?” someone asked.
“Sharpo. . . .Shar-r-po-o. . . .!” The mate’s voice rose in a harsh yell.
A moaning, shapeless huddle in the bows raised itself. It was Flanagan, almost unrecognizable, his face literally cooked. He surged to his feet, blistered mouth working in the glare, and gazed dazedly about him. He murmured Sharpo’s name once or twice, shook his head to clear it, like a wounded beast, then, without warning, launched his gaunt body over the rail of the burning ship. He was outlined for a moment against the spouting mouth of the inferno, then disappeared in a curtain of smoke.
“You can’t make it!. . . .that mizzen. . come back, you bloody fool!” The mate’s voice wailed futilely. His words were drowned in a terrific explosion, and the concussion sent the boat rocking. “We’ll have to leave them! We’ve got to push off! Out oars!” He was crying openly, rubbing his moist nose with the back of a grimy fist.
Something snapped in Belknap’s brain. “Wait!” he piped, “Wait!” and his soul rose triumphant over its poor clay. They were his mates, those men — Flanagan, and Sharpo, and poor thieving little Empey and those others. They
had risked all, while he had clung lik3 a limpet to the safety of the boat. But he was their shipmate, and, though his belly trembled with dread, he turned with shame and a jealous yearning to prove himself one of them.
Somehow, he gained the deck of the sailing-ship and in a trice had lost his brows, his lashes and most of his hair. His eyeballs were seared. Under his feet the stricken vessel quivered. “Sharpo . . . .Sharpo. . . .Flanagan!” He tried to shout, but his parched throat gave only a whisper. He plunged forward. “Flanagan!” There was no reply.
A crimson mist enveloped him, but he staggered on, trying to find the saloon hatchway. Fire licked about him, and cruel gases bit into his lungs. Vision dimmed, but he battled with unconsciousness, his arms waving in the lurid gloom like the antennae of a dying beetle. The shock of another explosion threw him to his knees. He swayed there, making a supreme effort to shout“Flanaga-a-n . . !”
Dimly his ears caught an answering hail, and out of the mad swirl of smoke, and flame, and strangling fumes, reeled a towering figure, supporting across his back the raving blackened wreck that was Sharpo.
Belknap rocked to his feet, fear burned away; lurched forward, striving to share the burden.
“All right, shipmate,” Flanagan cawed. “I found ’im in the cabin. He got lost in the smoke. Leggo—I can handle ’im. You grab me shirt and lead the way to the boat. Me eyes is burned out. I’m blind.”
TN his bunk, Belknap rolled gingerly
on his side, lips wry with pain. With bandaged hands he felt this face, his head. Bandaged too; great swathes of cotton, yellow-tinged with healing ointment. Dully, his ears noted the drone of voices around the forecastle table. A stranger —that would be one of the rescued men— was telling for the hundredth time of the loss of the Jupiter. Belknap caught fragments” . . fire came up so quick, mates ... no warning . . . exploding case oil burned and .smashed
boats . . . not time enough to
... New York for Batavia . . . eleven of us left, though, thanks to you fellows . . . but your own poor guys !”
Beers’ voice interrupted, weeded with oaths.
“Aye—Most’s gone. There was a—— man for you! Burnt to a crisp, he was, afore he give up. Then that fireman— but he was drowned jumpin’ for ’is boat? Empey, too—pore little swine!”
Another of the Bokhara's crew picked up the thread in a lowered voice.
“Rough on old Flanagan, mates—’im wots afraid of the dark. Stone blind. But there’s a chance, the Old Man says. There’s a Australian liner cornin’ up to take ’im off.”
A feeble croak made itself heard from a bunk across the forecastle.
‘I can ’ear you talkin’ about me! Ne’ mind if I am blind—I can’t see your ugly mugs, that’s one consolation. If you wos more like young Belknap, now! ïf it ’adn’t been for him you’d be sayin’ ‘Pore Flanagan—don’t ’e look natural.’ Didn't think Belknap 'ad the guts, tell you the truth; but he did—plenty. We wos getting damn-well fed up wi’ ’is dainty ways, too, like the fo’castle wasn’t good enough for ’im. Somebody’d have give ’im an ’iding, afore long if this hadn’t ’appened. We thought 'e was yellow till Sharpo played the silly ass an' went lookin’ for booze in the Jupiter's cabin.”
This witticism shook the forecastle with laughter that ceased abruptly, as
the throb of the Bokhara's propeller ceased.
‘Elio,” Flanagan resumed, “the old cripple’s stopped again.”
The beat of the screw carried on, and, as it settled down to work, came another voice, weak and languid, a shade more hollow if possible, than the last.
“You’re a bloomin’ liar, Flanagan,” said Sharpo. “She ain’t.”