A story of the sea and the strength to endure of those who live by its conquest
NORMAN REILLY RAINE
CTOBER 15. Lat. 14.57 S. Lon. 118.01 W. Captain Tranko stepped out on to the bridge and closed his cabin door. The night was sultry, the high blue vault of the sky a vapor of equatorial stars. He walked forward, past the open door of the wheelhouse, paused, and looked inside, glancing from the vessel’s course chalked on a slate to the lighted compass card. The wheelsman’s stolid, weatherbeaten face threw back the faint glow. The man seemed alert, but he had allowed her to swing off; now, secretly, he was trying to edge her up again. He knew that the captain saw.
“Mind your steering,” the master told him in a lazy undertone. “If I catch you dozing again I’ll break your neck.”
He passed to the bridge once more. The second mate bulked in the starboard wing, wrapped in his own thoughts; a sombre, lonely man who got spectacularly drunk ashore. At sea he was colorless; always sober.
The master walked to the ladder and down it, over the lower bridge to the waist. Passing the fiddley he could hear the scrape and ring of firemen’s shovels on the stokehold plates far below. The soft hiss of steam at the funnel valve broke suddenly into a roar, and a jet of white shot up into the still sea night. For perhaps three minutes it continued. The chief engineer padded out from his cabin at the head of the port alleyway. He was in carpet slippers and wrinkled flannel pyjamas, broad alternate stripes of white and faded pink, and his sparse grey hair curled above his walnut-wrinkled face in a manner ludicrously infantine. Abruptly the thunder of escaping steam ceased. He roared down through the depths of the engine-room grating to the engineer on watch below.
“What the devil are ye playin’ at, doon there? Canna ye keep up pressure withoot blowing off all night?” Faint, incoherent noises of reassurance floated upward.
“Ruddy young ass!” the chief growled to the old man, coming back. “Thinks we’ll find coal around every corner. Lord, this passage is getting on my nerves!
Too hot to sleep, repair jobs all day and hardly a civil word in anybody! Ah, well . . . I’m away to my bed again. Good-night, sir.”
Captain Tranko walked aft. The upper half of the galley door was open, and there was a smell of peeled vegetables and stale cracker hash. Deep fires glowed in the galley range, reflected in points of ruby on rows of gleaming pots. He thought, with a hard-lipped smile: “Shining saucepan, and rusty pump”—the old sea saying to describe a happy ship. At the far end of the after well deck two faint bull’s eyes of light marked the firemen’s and seamen’s forecastles in the poop. The canvas awning stretched over the poop deck was chalk white in the half light, dipping and lifting against the sea with monotonous regularity. All quiet. But was it?
He returned to the bridge, and stood looking out over the rail, thinking, slowly and painstakingly, for he was that kind of man, of the incidents of the voyage; of how they had led up to the present tension, increasing daily, and affecting tongues and tempers. A long passage; well, not so long in itself, perhaps, but the fag end of a long run. When they sailed from the Erie Basin the shipping news had it:
S. S. Tanganyika, Tranko, New York for Melbourne
and ports. Case oil, gasoline, aviation spirit, carbide.
But that told only part of the story; it did not begin at the beginning. London to Taku via Suez and the Red Sea; sweltering along the Borneo coast and taking a pounding from the Northeast, monsoon in the Yellow Sea. Taku to Tsingtao. Tsingtao to Manila. Manila to Soerabaya. Soerabaya to Bombay. From Bombay, up
the brassy hell of the Persian Gulf to Basra. Basra to Marseilles. On to Hamburg, Rotterdam, Antwerp and London River. London to Bayonne, N. J., to load case oil for Australasia. The crew had been paid off in London, but ships were scarce and he signed them all on again. Those who had families had seen them for two days only in twenty-one months. No wonder their tempers were frayed. In the old days of sail, of course— but these were days of steam, and standards were different.
VjL^HEN the Tanganyika steamed past Staten Island, * outward bound, she carried two hundred tons of coal on deck to take her across the 8,000 miles of South Pacific to Melbourne The carbide was on deck, too, in big steel drums, stowed forward and abaft the waist, with the piled-up coal between. They had heavy weather south of Hatteras, and part of the forward well-deck cargo of carbide fetched adrift and was banged around a bit before it was secured. In the Windward Passage one of the stokers doubled up with what was thought to be fireman’s colic; but it was acute appendicitis, and they left him at Colon. They passed through the Canal, humming with life; alligators on the mud banks, parakeets screaming like bars of colored light across the jungle green, the smooth pull of the electric mules drawing them into the locks. Out on the broad, silky waters of the Gulf of Panama, a tiny excursion steamer audaciously crossed their bows, with stringed music and the gay flutter of handkerchiefs. They passed the islands, their wake washing along the shore—Perico, San José rock, Tortolita, pink as flamingoes in the setting sun, and the Tanganyika said farewell to land and curtsied away into the blue Pacific night.
Seven days out from Panama, with the old tramp’s blunt snout bursting the indigo rollers into glories of snowy foam, and cascading it over forecastle head and
well deck, Moran, the second engineer, with his shirt open to his hairy, sweating stomach, and his face as grey as a wet hammock, ran with a clatter of heavy engine-room boots to the bridge. The deck load of coal was on fire, and the carbide drums, broached off Hatteras and mixed with the sea water taken in over the bow, were stinking death.
Moran was a whelp—scared bloodless; and as a matter of discipline Captain Tranko detained him on the bridge, disregarding his news, and wrangled with him over the percentage of slip in the chief’s noonday chit. Therefore, there was no panic. But when the old man went down .for a look-see, the forward part of the ship was filled with highly explosive carbide gas. Captain Tranko wagged his. head now, to think of it. Two hundred tons of burning coal, a cloud of gas, and below hatches a quarter of a million dollars worth of case oil, gasoline, and aviation spirit; and an apprentice whimpering with fright and wiping his nose on his sleeve in the ’tween-decks, till the old man sent him for his snoutrag.
They turned to, ship’s boy and master alike, and trimmed coal day and night to the bunkers till the fire was out. When it was over everyone felt better, and bragged a bit to his mate. A good stiff hooker of Jamaica’s best was issued to all hands and the cat; the Tanganyika proceeded on her way, and only the old man had new grey hairs to show for it. That was a week ago. Looking back on it now, it was a blessing in a way, for the hard work kept the men’s minds off themselves. It should have lasted longer. It was too brief. Captain Tranko smiled grimly in the dark to think how brief it might have been. Just one scarlet puff; a fountain of sparks jetting skyward; and afterward a patch of soot undulating on the smooth surface of the South Pacific, fifteen hundred miles from land.
The boot heels of the man come to relieve the wheel
disturbed his thoughts; the melodious double chime of the ship’s bell, echoed from the forecastle head; the lookout’s familiar hail: “Lights are bright!” and the second mate’s answering cry. The old routine. Captain Tranko, not an imaginative man, was stirred. The Tanganyika rolled deeply, her masthead lights weaving wide, graceful arabesques against the twinkling outriders of stellar space. Sharp brine bubbled and foamed in her hawse pipes and ran babbling aft along the seaworn plates in coils of ebony, laced with phosphorescence. Forty men, caught in the iron skin of a tramp ship steaming maggot-like through a blue void, hemmed in by stars; the ocean breathing, slow and deep and still; and far down below its purple rim, the lights of cities flickered in the sky.
r^\CTOBER 16. Lat. 16.20 S. Lon. 121.30 W.
The Tanganyika surged heavily through a comber, forming twin concave runs of glassy peacock blue under the stem. A thunder of foam divided and shot aft, curling over in the lazy sunshine to meet again in the dazzling yeast of the smoke. The gentle heave of the ocean, the dip and sway of the vessel, a cloudless sky, and a great albatross with hard, beady eyes and savage beak, shuttling constantly with motionless wings over the patent log and swooping for bits of galley refuse. A sea picture. There was a steady tap-tap of chipping hammers against the houses amidship, as the crew flaked off old paintwork and dabbed the hammer-crinkled surface with red lead. Somewhere in the waist, benind a half-open door, a violin cried, thinly, like an ailing child. The chief engineer was musical. He had taken a lesson or two when he was twelve; now, forty years later, he was still practising, and frazzled nerves and teeth on edge meant nothing to him in pursuit of his solitary art. “For lord’s sake ... !” some overwrought individual roared; then, fearing a superior’s wrath,
piped “damned fiddle!” and subsided hopelessly.
Topside, the third mate paced the bridge, his angular figure clad in a suit of wrinkled whites that hung on him like a shirt on a handspike. His large face and corded bare neck were the color of leather, and on his head a white cap cover stuck up like a French chef’s hat. The third mate didn’t care. He was a happy-golucky sort of man, and he would breeze home on he tail end of an icy Aleutian Island sneezer, wearing the same. It was all he had.
■ Captain Tranko was on the lower bridge, painting nameboards for the starboard lifeboat. He was a placid, goodhumored-looking man, with a smooth, brown parchment skin tinged red with health, a network of tiny crinkles at the corners of his small, quizzical blue eyes, and a high, bald dome, covered at the moment with a black, wide-awake hat. He looked like a seagoing parson, with his dark pongee coat, and steel bow spectacles on the end of his fleshy nose. He rather fancied himself with a brush, and tailed a final “a” out of its groove with a stubby flourish.
The French-Canadian cook in the galley, ladling out an early dinner to the firemen’s peggy for the men going on watch at eight bells, burned his thumb and swore testily. The peggy snickered. The doctor yelled: “W’at for you laugh at me, hey? Son of a wart, get out of my galley!” And the peggy withdrew, laden with pans and a bucket. The carpenter’s saw was busy in the forepeak. Black-eyed firemen off watch lounged and argued in the violet shadow of the poop deck awning, and made ineffective efforts to slug the albatross with lumps of coal.
At a quarter to noon the bos’n waddled aft, his quick brown eyes, hairy arms and bowed legs giving him, in the bright sunlight, an effect startlingly simian. He was a good man, who had learned his job in sail. No use shamming Abraham with him.
Presently Captain Tranko and his officers stood in a wing of the bridge, white figures sharp against the blue sky, legs planted to steady themselves against the roll of the ship as they raised their sextants to their eyes, manipulating screws with practised fingers.
Captain Tranko worked up his sights and compared them in the sweltering chart room with the second mate’s. The second mate’s rather pasty face was dewed with sweat. It ran in wet trickles down his cheekbones. He said:
“I make it latitude sixteen, thirty-one, south; longitude—”
“Sixteen, twenty-one, south, mister, I think. And one, twenty-one thirty, west longitude,” Captain Tranko corrected him mildly.
The second mate flushed irritably. He repeated his figures with emphasis. The master replied, patiently.
“I gave you the correct position. If you’ll bring me your figures later, I’ll demonstrate where you’re wrong.”
The second mate, thoroughly roused, snapped:
“I need no instructions from you in navigation, Captain Tranko, and I’ll take none. Ye’re not so cocky about your figures when we’re steaming in close waters, I’ve noticed.” He pitched his pencil on the chart. “Put down whatever ye like, o’ course. That’s your privilege. But you’re wrong, just the same.” He turned on his heel abruptly, and left the chartroom.
Captain Tranko fought down the sudden rage that boiled up in him. What did it matter? The man was
wrought up, like the rest of them. Normal times he was dour, true, but civil enough. This was just nerves. It had them all. Little things grated, rubbed raw by heat and monotony and being cooped up, week after week, with each other’s crudenesses and personal peculiarities. It was always the same on a long voyage; little things getting your back up, that ordinarily you wouldn’t even notice. Damn long voyages, anyway! And this was insubordination. Captain Tranko wished for a moment that his nature was different; that he’d been born one of these hard-fisted blood-for-breakfast shipmasters that put the fear in people. Life might be easier for him, so. No good dressing the second mate down now, though. He’d give him a good jawing before they got in. He glanced at the chief’s noonday chit, checked it, and went below to his dinner.
In the saloon the second mate already was eating. He did not look up; merely his neck reddened a little, and he continued noisily scooping up his thick, greasy soup. The room was stifling in spite of the open ports. The air hung motionless, thick with the odor of food. The butter was a viscid yellow pool on its cracked plate. Captain Tranko took his place anr pulled his napkin from its ring.
The mate came in, and the chief. They sat waiting for the steward to serve them, wiping the sweat irritably from their eyes and directing annoyed glances at the disagreeably audible second mate.
The chief leaned toward the mate. “Both feet in the trough,” he murmured.
“Aye,” the mate growled. He turned to the second mate. “Ye’d suck it up easier if they supplied ye with a monkey-pump, mister.”
The second mate put down his spoon deliberately, and turned to face him. He said, like the crack of a whip:
“I’ll suck you up in a minute.”
The mate was disconcerted by the sudden riposte, and avoided the other’s glare by craning his neck after the steward. He was a peaceable man, as a rule. A diversion was caused by the chief, who looked at his plate as the steward set it down. His red face grew purple. He poked at a lump of fat with his spoon. Then he exploded.
“Hell’s bells! In this weather, too! It might as well be burgoo . . . and lobscouse to follow, I’ll be bound.”
“No, sir—curry and rice.”
“Curry and strike-me-blind. It’ll taste like a cross between a sweat rag and a clinker. Don’t tell me. Ship’s cooks could dish up curry and rice, one time.
I mind when I was chief in the old Yosemite , . . ”
“When you was chief in the old Yosemite,” the mate broke in with laborious sarcasm, “Adam was an oakum boy in Chatham dockyard.
You’re no better than the rest of us, chief, so stuff your gob and forget it.”
The chief smacked the table, glinty blue eyes snapping in his red, damp face.
“Who asked you to shove your nose in !” he asked hotly. “You havena’ had good food in your belly from the day ye was foaled.”
Captain Tranko interposed sharply.
“Hold your tongues, the pair o’ you.
You’re worse than a brace of quarrelling brats. Now that’ll do. I’ll have no more of it.”
They subsided, muttering, beads of moisture standing out on their faces and rolling in wet beads from the roots of their hair.
Throughout the balance of the meal, plain, solid and highly indigestible, but typical of merchant vessel fare in the tropics, they ate in silence, unbroken by Captain Tranko’s good-humored reminiscences, or the heavy-witted backchat among themselves that normally enlivened their meals. Each felt that he was close to a myriad pricking needle-points. The second mate hurried through and left the table to go on watch, without the usual perfunctory but customary apology to the master. Captain Tranko called him and said, quietly:
“I’m making due allowance for the heat and so on, Mr. Turner. But don’t try taking both ends and the bight. Better think it over.”
The other stamped out, without reply.
“Sulky beast. What’s up with him?” the mate asked, busy with a toothpick.
“Oh, he’ll come out of it,” the old man said equably. “He’s got the same ingrowing complaint as the rest of. us. Just let him alone.”
He raised himself from his chair and went on deck for a smell of air before stretching out in a Hongkong chair, with the cat in his lap, for his customary afternoon’s snooze.
At four o’clock the mate went up to relieve the bridge. He saw that the second mate’s eyes were bloodshot, his m 041th sullen. “He’s had more than a ‘second mate’s nip,”’ the mate thought to himself, noticing the bulge of the flask in the other’s pocket. He said conciliatingly, as they passed: “Mind your eye, old son. Licking the
monkey’ll not shorten the voyage, and there’s no sense getting into a hank just because the Old Man gave ye a bit of a growl. And the weather’s inkin’ up, so ” “Oh, blast the weather, and the old man, and you too! I’m fed to the teeth with the whole outfit.”
He clumped unsteadily off below.
T3Y TEATIME the Tanganyika was thudding through a short chop that flung dollops of water across the forecastle head. Cold gusts of air heralded the spitting rain squalls, and grey clouds banked the horizon. The temperature dropped like a stone, and in a half hour it was uncomfortably chill in the full blast of the wind. Smoke was snatched from the steamer’s funnel and flattened against the low, swift-flying wrack, and it grew dark so rapidly that the lights were switched on.
Down below, the teatime crowd around the saloon table was better tempered. The mate spread a thick layer of butter over his flinty Liverpool pantile. He predicted:
“It’s going to blow blue marlinspikes afore morning. Oh, it’s all right, sir,” as he caught the master’s enquiring eye, “I’ve seen everything made secure. There’s nothing much will carry away unless we get a real snorter. And the wind’s abeam:”
“It’s swinging. We’ll have it ahead by midnight,” commented the chief, who had entered in time for the last part of the mate’s remark. “More ruddy misery to hold us up—as if the v’yage wasna’ long enough. How long ago’d we clear Panama? . . . Sixteen days, isn’t it? . . . and not sighted another lousy ship.”
“It’s fifteen days,” Captain Tranko said. “And from today’s position to the Three Kings, north end of New
Zealand, is only fourteen, and from there’s . . twenty-one days more will see us in Melbourne.'
A heavy sea lurched against the bows. The vessel checked, and brine rattled like buckshot against the thick glass of the ports. She rolled, and plates, carafes, cruets and other table gadgets began a slow, majestic slide along the cloth to starboard. The chief gripped the table edge. He continued, bitterly:
“We’ll be lucky if we enter the Yarra River inside twenty-five days, this rate 0’ goin’—head wind and a heavy sea. Though it has blown the heat away.” Sparks, the radio operator, spoke with his mouth full. “More days, more dollars, chief. And there’s nothing to worry about.”
“If ye had my lousy engines to worry aboot ...” the chief began, but another sweeping roll interrupted him. Dishes and cutlery went together in a mad sweep, cascading to the deck in a series of brittle crashes. The steward was flung in a staggering rush across the table.
“For what we have received . . . ” said the mate with a grin, salvaging the steward by the round of his pants. “The sea’s come up thunderin’ quick, ain’t it?”
Like men learning to walk, they left their places and moved out of the saloon to the reeling deck. Captain Tranko went to his cabin and donned his oilskins, talking meanwhile to Xerxes, his cat, a magnificent tortoiseshell animal with lambent yellow eyes. The waterproofed cloth of his sou’wester felt cold against his bare pate as he jammed it on, and he buttoned the chinstrap. This was better, he thought, feet braced against the settee, than heat, and monotony, and a flat, glaring sea, even if it did cut speed down a bit. It would give the men something different to think about. The gale would not last long; the glass had dropped too quickly. But likely there would be a nasty sea when it had blown itself out.
On deck the wind met him like a solid force. It was blowing with cold, wild purposefulness through the thrumming stays, and with steadily increasing power. There was still a trace of daylight on the horizon, and the waves marched in endless silhouette across a pale, trembling band of green. Sea spray filled the air like fine mist.
Captain Tranko stuck his head down, and the orange spurt of a match, held cunningly against the wind, was thrown back from his hard cupped palms against his face as he sucked the flame into his pipe and capped it with a patent wind grid. Savoring the taste of the smoke through the salt on his lips he joined the mate, and they stood looking out over the stormy waters until a fat black cloud rolled overhead, dousing them with rain and blotting out the last vestige of daylight. The seas rushed out of the blackness and leaped, white-fanged, at the throat of the laboring tramp. Slugged with the weight in her hold, stung by the vicious buffeting, she put her nose down and slogged doggedly through, or rose ponderously, and after a breath-taking pause smashed down upon the advancing combers with a crash that shook her from stem to rudder. The rain drummed on the iron decks, reflecting the dim light at the corner of the midship house, and lashed to phosphorescence the crests of the waves in the outer dark.
An elusive, alien note was lifted on the wings of the wind, tenuous as a pixy’s breath, and penetrated the uproar of the wind-swept deck, bringing to Captain Tranko a queerly poignant longing for company. It was music. Straining his ears he could make out the familiar tune, played already over many thousands of scattered sea miles on the gramophone bought by common contribution, and installed in the third engineer’s cabin. Night on a storm-lashed tramp in the middle of the South Pacific, Captain Tranko thought, with his slow smile, and a tenor voice, thin and clear, reeding through the gale:
“I passed by your window In the cool of the night ...”
The social hour of a tramp ship is in the evening after tea, between six and seventhirty o’clock; and the gatherings of officers and engineers in the third’s cabin on the Tanganyika had not been so frequent of late, for in their personal contacts laughter and good-humored joking had been ousted by sharp-tongued personalities. This was better. Captain Tranko decided to look in on them for awhile. Perhaps Turner was there, and they could sort of get over the morning’s difficulty. No sense a man holding a grudge, he reflected comfortably.
He made his way down to the port alleyway, knocked on the third’s door and opened it. He did not go in, but stood in the doorway, puffing his pipe, and relishing the noise and smoke and sociability within. “No, I’m all right here,” he assured them, when they offered to make room. The stuffy little cabin was crowded, cheerful with tobacco fumes and the yellow light from a shaded bulb over the head of the third’s bunk. His first quick glance told him that the second mate was absent; but there was Fahee, the lean third engineer, a sociable, garrulous lad, sitting in his bunk with his stockinged feet dangling over. Next to him was the fourth, Farmer, with credulous blue eyes, and blond bristles on his cropped head; his first voyage. Sparks was perched on top of the covered hand washstand, rolling a cigarette;
Continued on page 18
Continued from page 16
fat, phlegmatic Sparks, utterly contented with his alternate periods of duty and idleness. On the settee was the grinning third mate, still with his white cap cover perched on the back of his skull, nicotinestained fingers, and lurid tales of beachcombing and sprees in strange, far places. The chief was beside him, scraping dismally at his fiddle: a “seelection,” he called it, politely endured between rounds of the tinny gramophone, while wild seas thundered over the deck and black water washed the port.
The chief finished his piece, flushed and perspiring but proud, and waved aside the mild insincerities that rewarded his effort, and a gramophone record was put on. Queer, the taste that sailormen had; they liked simple, serious things; direct appeals to the emotions. “Bonnie Mary o’ Argyll,” it was now. They were a typical tramp ship group, the old man thought, studying their faces as they smoked and yarned and beat time. Each knew his neighbor’s history; had compared girls and snapshots—that greattime-passer at sea; had confided grumbles, ambitions, amours. The yellow light at the bunk head threw hard, pinched shadows over their strongly masculine faces, but they shared a pitcher of hot cocoa and a plate of thick corned beef sandwiches with the avidity of boys.
With him standing there, however, they were self-conscious—ill at ease; and the reason had nothing to do with the fact that their refreshment was surreptitious booty from the steward’s pantry. He was the master—the old man—and deep-water tradition had dug an immense gulf between them. He might descend from Olympus, but in his presence they were restrained. Captain Tranko had been through the mill. He knew to a shade how they felt, and presently, after a pleasant good-night, he departed. A ship’s master pays for his exalted isolation, if he be a sociable man.
He passed out through the alleyway door to the waist, and climbed the lee ladder to the bridge. Rain smote his face with hard drops and made his eyelids sting, and the wind tore at his oilskins with greedy, destructive fingers. The mate was stolidly pacing the bridge, and wishing for eight bells and the comfort of a read and a smoke in his bunk. Through the uproar of pounding water the old man still could hear the gramophone’s reedy voice. Then the thud of a splattering sea drowned out the ghostly music, and a hail of flying drops rattled on his oilskins. He entered his cabin.
The din of the gale magically was cut off by the heavy teak. Captain Tranko, doffing hi3 oilskins and mopping his red, streaming face on a towel, stooped as he felt a soft, furry shape against his calf. Xerxes was making his sleek stomach resound with welcome. The old man sank with a sigh of content into his easy chair, swung it to minimize the roll and pitch of the ship, and gazed benignly about him. HÍ3 cabin was cheerful, homey. There was his wife’s touch in the rose of the port hangings and door curtain, and her photograph over his bunk. On his desk was a dragon lamp with an elaborate flowered shade picked up in Nagasaki, last voyage but one. It threw a pool of warm color on the smooth wood and on his row of wellthumbed books behind. There were shining bits of Benares brass chaffered for in the bazaars; a carved elephant tusk from Mombasa; the quaintly wrought figure of a fat, dimpled old Chinese sage, with wide-brimmed hat over his eyes and one full lip pushed awry with the profundity of his slumber in his polished wooden cape. They were great friends. A compradore had given it to him in Saigon, years ago. On his bureau were other photographs in fancy frames; his
family, friends, vessels he had sailed in. They were sliding with the motion of the ship, and he got up and stowed them carefully in a drawer.
Captain Tranko sat, his head in a blue haze of tobacco smoke, and stroked his cat, and thought again of his two days at home in twenty-one months; thinking, and watching the slow pendulum sway of the towels on the rack as the Tanganyika rolled; hearing the screaming of the wind and the thump of the seas over the bow, the creak of the straining ship and the tiny click-clack of water bottle and tumbler in the rack above the washstand. Presently he thought again of the group in the third engineer’s cabin. It was nearly eight bells, and they would have broken up now, some to go on watch, others to sleep before going on at midnight. The Tanganyika had settled down, and he realized that it had been a wearing day. Perhaps, by and by, the chief would come up, as he sometimes did, for a game of cribbage cr a yarn. He relaxed, his hand over the chair arm moving gently through Xerxes’ soft fur.
'THE sound of angry voices aroused him from a doze. They rose higher. In a hiatus there was a terrific crash, a bellow of rage and the stamp and scuffle of feet. A fight. How often in his long seafaring life he had heard those sounds! He ran down the saloon companion and into the port alleyway. It was crammed with yelling, gesticulating firemen, stewards and pantry boys, grouped around two men who tumbled and punched and grunted on the deck plates, rolling over and over and snarling like angry dogs. The spectators crowded against the steel wall of the passage to let the master by. He reached two sinewy arms into the mêlée, grasping cloth and flesh indiscriminately, and gave a mighty backward heave. The brawlers flew apart and scrambled to their feet. One was a fireman just come off watch, a broad leather belt holding his pants around his lean black naked waist; the other was the plump chief steward, hair and face dripping gravy, and bits of cooked meat and vegetables trickling over his white uniform. Blood ran from a cut eyebrow in a thin stream, and dripped from the end of his nose. He panted noisily, each labored breath blowing out the red drops in fine spray. Captain Tranko stepped back out of range.
“Confound it, man,” he protested, “don’t fan your gore all over me. What the devil’s up here?”
“This blasted man,” said the steward, shaking with fury, “ ’e emptied the black pan on top of me ’ead, the soor!”
“Aye, Jack Nasty-Face, and I’ll do it again, too!” the man rasped with twitching hands. “And so would you, sir, if ye seen the muck wot ’e dished out, an’ called it the black pan. Wot wasn’t burnt, stunk—and cursed little o’ that. And when I points out to ’im, perlite an’ gentle-like, wot a sod ’e is to expect ’ard-workin’ men to scoff swill like that, ’e up and lends me sauce; so I gives ’im the black pan on top of ’is ’ead for an ’at.”
The master said harshly:
“The black pan is an extra—not something you firemen are entitled to under Board o’ Trade scale. Report to me before noon tomorrow, Barker. I’m going to log you a day’s pay.” He cut short the man’s protestations. “Where is the black pan?”
Someone picked it up and handed it to him. Normally supposed to contain left-over saloon titbits for firemen coming off watch at eight bells, it held, this night, only the remains of whatever unsavory mess a lazy steward had chosen to chuck in. Captain Tranko turned to the steward.
“You deserved what you got. Now
get these men something fit to eat, and see there’s plenty of it!”
“But the cook’s turned in, sir—” “Cook it yourself, then, and look smart. If you men haven’t had something in a half hour, let me know. Now get away where you belong, and no more rows.” He went back to his room; but the incident had revived his restlessness. The change made by the weather in the tempers of the Tanganyika’s company was superficial only. He fed Xerxes from a saucer of condensed milk, undressed slowly, and got into his bunk.
OCTOBER 17. Lat. 17.51 s. Lon.
Dawn broke on a cold, hard rushing day. Enormous crested seas rushed down on the Tanganyika from a horizon as clear as blue crystal, and the sky was a cloudless chute for the whistling gale. The vessel’s pitching was tremendous, and in spite of the fiddles bracketed to the saloon table the officers had difficulty keeping the breakfast coffee, liver and bacon out of their laps. Turner, the second mate, did not appear at breakfast. Those at table heard the steward knocking at his door in the alleyway outside the saloon, but there was no response. The chief and the mate flew a significant eyebrow signal, but Captain Tranko made no comment.
The wind increased in force in the morning watch, and the men chipping about the decks were glad to get down out of the blast, in the shelter of the bulwarks. The old man noticed that there had been trouble among them. One, a lanky Newfoundland A. B., had a black eye and a split lip, and another wore a dirty bloodstained bandage around his lug. The ash hoist in the fiddley clanked and clattered as the heavy buckets came up, and firemen lugged them across the wet deck. They staggered, and cursed each other and the motion of the ship, and the wind plucked up the contents of the galvanized cans and enveloped them in a cloud of choking, rust-colored dust. And all the while the Tanganyika was taking them solid over the bows.
At eleven o’clock the chief sought Captain Tranko.
“We’ll have to cut down, sir. The propeller’s racin,’ so I’m afeard she’ll shimmy hersel’ adrift. Look at that, now.”
The poop soared dizzily against the horizon until the propeller boss was clear of the water. The blades threw up a cloud of spray like a rotary plow in a snowdrift, dazzling white against the ocean’s blue, and for thirty seconds the vessel shook madly, masts, samson posts, funnel and stays. The deck trembled under foot with the propeller’s convulsive shuddering before it plunged again.
“Just as you like, chief,” the master said, and revolutions were cut down by half.
Just before noon, the second mate appeared suddenly on the lower bridge. He staggered and slipped, and collided with a stanchion before climbing the ladder to the navigating bridge, and he did not succeed in reaching the top until his third try. Captain Tranko, coming out of his cabin with his sextant, almost collided with him.
The second mate should have been dressed to go on watch at eight bells. Instead, he was in trousers and pyjama jacket, with bare feet. His pallid face, surmounted by a mop of wind-blown hair, expressed drunken obstinacy, and something more. Plainly, he was set for trouble. Muttering incoherently, he barged around the wheelhouse and stood swaying widely in the brilliant sunlight, the wind whipping his pyjama jacket
and molding it around his bony, high-
The third mate was on watch, and the mate was already on the bridge, ready to take the noon sight. Turner stood indecisive for a moment, looking from one to another of them, and oblivious of the shouting gale. The master stepped up to him and spoke, with his mouth close to the other’s ear.
“What do you mean,” he said angrily, “by coming on the bridge in that gear? Why aren’t you ready to go on watch?” Then, before Turner could reply, he ended dispassionately, “You’re stinking drunk, mister. Leave the bridge.”
The second mate stared at him, crazy sparks in his veinous, heavy-lidded eyes. He said:
“I’m sober enough to take your measure, Captain Swanko, for all o’ your fanny manners. But don’t sweat. Your turn’ll come. One at a time’s my motto
He darted suddenly around the master, and before the latter could prevent, had reached the mate. Mr. Halliday, hearing nothing for the wild rush of the wind and the seas breaking against the vessel’s hull, was standing with his podgy, heavyset back to the wheelhouse, adjusting his sextant. Without warning the second mate grabbed his arm and whirled him about, and catching him off balance smacked him square on the button. The mate went down like a poled bull and Turner straddled him, his hooked hands weaving viciously.
“How’s that brand o’ monkey pump, ye cro’ jack-eyed beauty,” he yelled. “Stand up on your pins and watch me pay ye off for your free advice.”
Captain Tranko and the third mate rushed him, but he broke loose and made a bolt for the bridge ladder. They did not pursue him, but turned to assist the mate, who got slowly to his feet, with a sprained thumb and an ugly open bruise on his jaw where the second mate’s ring had cut him. He demanded furiously:
“What’s to do now, sir? Is he to get away wi’ this? Punching a man when he ain’t looking!”
Captain Tranko steadied himself on the handrail.
“No use getting magged about it, mister. He’s drunk. You leave it to me and I’ll take the proper measures ...”
“Proper measures be blowed! I’ll take my own blasted measures. If you’re afraid o’ the man, sir, I’m not. If I get my hands on him I’ll break his neck.”
“You’ll get away below and have your dinner, Mr. Halliday. Then after you’ve got some liniment on that thumb of yours you’ll come back up here and relieve Mr. Bennett while he has his. I’ll have no more quarrelling among the officers.”
“D’ye mean to say,” the mate demanded bluntly, “we’ve got to stand double watch for a drunken louse like yon? This is his watch—and I’ve got me rights, sir.”
“And I have mine, Mr. Halliday, and one of ’em is to act as I think best. He’s not fit to go on watch. When he’s slept it off I’ll have a talk with him, but if I tackle him now he’ll likely get himself into further trouble.”
“HumpTi! Not forgettin’ that he might take a crack at you,” the mate snorted contemptuously. But Captain Tranko remained unmoved.
The wheelsman coming off watch spread the news about the row among the officers, and members of the crew idled about the galley, or craned their necks from the poop, eager for further developments. But Captain Tranko seemed in no hurry to bring matters to a head. He ate his dinner as leisurely as the uncomfortable motion would allow, and
Continued on page 50
Continued from page 48
directed commonplace observations to the others at the table. Sparks, however, was hungry, and tucked into his food, the chief was worried about a faulty crankshaft bearing that had developed through laboring in the heavy sea, and the mate’s black brows met above his nose and he refused to be drawn.
' I ’HE afternoon wore on with no sign of the second mate. The wind slacked off and the sea increased. The air was warmed with the easing of the gale, but colossal tumbling seas, with roaring crests and stupendous hollows marbled with the swirling white of spent foam, stretched to the farthest horizon. On the starboard bow the western sky was streaked with crimson and orange, and the sky overhead was a clear, robin’segg blue.
Just before four o’clock the chief steward climbed to the bridge, his fat legs having difficulty in adjusting themselves to the dizzy heave of' the deck. He wanted the key to the medicine chest. “What’s wrong now, steward?” “There’s been a scrap in the stoke’old, sir, and somebody laid out Ali Ahmed, the Gyppo fireman, with a shovel. ’E’s cut something cruel. And cook ’ad to kick the donkeyman out o’ the galley. I dunno wot’s come over the ship, sir.” “Mr. Turner showed himself yet?” “No, sir. But ’e’s carryin’ on in ’is cabin like a madman, a’cursin’ ’is parrot and knockin’ it about in its cage.” The steward leaned nearer, anxiety in his pop eyes. “Mr. Turner’s got a pistol in there with ’im, so I’d warn the mate not to be rash, if I was you, sir.”
“All right, steward. Thank you.”
The mate came on deck to relieve the bridge. He was sullen and bitter still, his face a heavy mask. He took over from the third mate in silence, and pointedly ignored the master.
Suddenly over the crash of boarding seas Captain Tranko heard a terrific hammering against a teakwood door. He went below. The chief steward met him at the foot of the companion, his round face starting sweat. He quavered: “It’s ’im, sir. ’E’s locked himself in and thrown the key out o’ the port, and now ’e’s tryin’ to break ’is way out.” “Better keep clear, then,” the master said equably. He went up to the second mate’s door, straining and quivering from the incessant hammering within, and gave it a hearty kick.
“Inside there, mister?” he hailed.
The attack on the door was redoubled, and a hurricane of blasphemy went up. The third mate came out of his room, his hair and naked torso gleaming with water, and a rough towel in his hand. He grinned widely.
“If ye want any help, sir, I used to be pretty useful in a free-for-all, and ...” “Thanks,” Captain Tranko said, “but you’d better keep out of sight. He’s got a popgun, I’m told.” But the third mate remained in the alleyway.
The stream of abuse from the second mate ceased abruptly, and for a minute there was no sound but a certain stealthy rustling. The third mate’s keen ears divined its meaning. He said, quick and tense, “Get away from the door, sir. He’s going to shoot ...”
Captain Tranko stepped out of direct range of the door. His face was without color, but he did not give ground. The pistol roared and a heavy slug crashed through the door, tearing part of the lock away. The narrow space was filled with the din, and acrid smoke drifted out, as shot after shot plowed through the lock. Suddenly Turner’s shoulder battered the door. It flew open, and the second mate came roaring through.
Captain Tranko leaped for him,straight in, regardless of his gun; but Turner sideswiped with a cruel backhand and sent him staggering. His foot caught on the boxed-in steam deck line and he pitched headlong over the coaming into
the saloon. As he scrambled to his feet, dazed and bleeding, he heard the two mates fighting in the alleyway, and dived back, just as Turner butted the third mate in the mouth with his knee, then cracked him over the skull with the pistol barrel. The third mate sat down with a jar and a grunt, and the other tore open the heavy steel door at the end of the alleyway. He clattered down the ladder to the forward well deck, and set off at a shambling run over the tops of the lashed carbide drum, toward the fore peak. Halfway, he swung about and halted, shouting defiance.
Y^APTAIN TRANKO and the second ^ mate started after him; but at the top of the ladder they halted for one frozen second, then simultaneously roared a warning to the madman on the deck load. Dead ahead of the Tanganyika’s dipping bows there loomed, black and stark against the blood-red sunset, the glassy thirty-foot wall of a gigantic comber. Slowly and majestically it rose, flinging its terrible crest against the sky, with a bubbling thunder of snowy foam that dribbled over the lip and into its vast dark curling belly. The sky was blotted out.
“Hold all!” Captain Tranko’s hardweather voice boomed out.
The second mate, attracted by the roar of the towering horror behind him, turned. For a brief moment he stood, frightened sober, a pigmy figure in his wind-whipped clothes, and put his hands before his eyes. Then, too late, he darted uncertainly, toward the shelter of the forepeak. With the sound of a thousand Niagaras the monster broke.
Captain Tranko and the third mate scrambled back into the alleyway, slammed the steel door shut and sent home the bolts. Next instant they were thrown off their feet as the Tanganyika stopped dead, pounded deep under hundreds of tons of dropping water. There was pandemonium; rending, crashing, the crack of parted steel and splintered wood as the wave filled the forward well deck, split cargo booms, tore the deck load adrift, and launched its might over navigating bridge and funnel. It swept aft, hurdling the houses in the waist. In a flash the superstructure was brushed clean of lockers, ventilators, and both boats. Twenty feet of the port rail were ripped out, and lay like a crumpled tinsel in the starboard alleyway and the port wing of the bridge was sheared sharp off and carried over the side. Tons of water cascaded down the fiddley to the stokehold. The colossus, its strength unabated, strode over the poop, taking with it stanchions, awning, ventilators and hand steering-gear, and rolled its mighty way to the ocean’s farthest tumbling rim.
The wake astern was a foaming maelstrom, strewn with bobbing wreckage. The Tanganyika, dripping brine, rose with heart-breaking sluggishness to the surface and shook herself free of the weight of water, and Captain Tranko, sprawled over the third mate outside Turner’s splintered door, unable to move or to think for a span of seconds, felt the color creep back into his face. “Good old girl,” he thought, as he felt his vessel’s gallant struggle to recover. The steady beat of the propeller was like a heart, pumping the life of movement through her again.
The ship’s company dredged themselves together and began to take stock. Terrified firemen, pouring like rats from the stokehold, were driven back by the raging chief. Saloon, pantries, stewards’ quarters, cabins, galley and both forecastles had had a thorough washing, and there was hardly a dry corner in the ship.
Captain Tranko and the third mate, in the face of dead certainty that Turner had been washed away, found his unconscious body jammed securely between a
samson post and two carbide drums. He was frightfully cut and bruised and had a smashed left leg, and they had heavy work dragging him along the careening deck load and up the laddei to the waist. The master left him ir charge of the stewards and went on tc the bridge.
Shortly after dark he was told that a delegation of the men wished to speak with him.
“What do they want?” he demanded.
“They’re having a grumble because the galley fire’s out, and there’s no hot supper,” the steward said.
But the master was beyond marvelling at the naive simplicity and quick forgetfulness of seamen. He went down tc them.
“If that grandfather had hit us abeam or pooped us, instead of coming aboard over the eyes,” he told them with grim truth, “you’d be toasting at a darn sight hotter blaze than any galley fire, by now. The saloon’s as bad off as what you are, so lay aft, and let me hear no more of it.”
They supped on rum and water, and biscuits and tinned meat, with a bottle of pickles; and after the meal all hands were turned to, in the light of cluster lamps, to make what repairs were essential to the safety of the vessel. A fire was started in the galley range, and at midnight the men had a hot and plentiful supper before being piped down. Once again the steady thrum-thrum of the rotating propeller shaft dominated the ship, and the masthead lights of the Tanganyika wove steadily, tirelessly forward against the stars. The sea had gone down, and a pale moon gleamed over the waste of heaving waters as it might once have shone upon a molten world. One bell chimed, echoed by the lookout on the forecastle head. Captain Tranko turned in to his cabin, and was met by Xerxes, arching and purring against his legs.
OCTOBER 30. Lat. 33.03 s. Lon. 169.53 W.
Clear in the bright sunlight a half mile ahead, a vessel bore down toward the Tanganyika, Panama bound, and the crew of the tramp grouped along the bulwarks to watch her. On the bridge Captain Tranko and the mate were surveying her through glasses with lively interest.
“Red boot-topping, black hull, blue funnel . . ” the mate droned, “I’ll bet she’s the Phemius. Look . . there’s a P . . . and something else . . . and it ends in I-U-S. I told ye, sir.”
“She’s the Persius,” said the third mate, who was looking through the long glass nearby. “I was quartermaster in her once.”
“You,” said the mate with a grin, “was quartermaster in the Ark wi’ Skipper Noah, too, wasn’t ye?”
The bos’n was passing below. He looked up eagerly.
“Who is she, sirs? Can ye make out?” The mate told him, and the name of the stranger ran the length of the ship. She was vital; a tangible link with the outside world. The first vessel they had sighted in thirty days. As they drew abeam the old man put his hand to the whistle cord and pulled, three long, deep-throated blasts. Intently, they waited. Presently from the Persius’ whistle valve jetted a plume of steam, white against the vivid blue of sea and sky. She sounded three sonorous friendly notes—the seafaring man’s hail and farewell. A white-clad figure waved from the other’s bridge, and answering gestures broke out along the Tanganyika’s battered length. The cook leaned beaming from the galley, ignoring the foraging apprentice at the opposite door. The carpenter, smoking on number one patch, spat through his teeth and shaded his eyes with his hand. The donkeyrqan, scraping his dinner plate over the side, broke into lusty, unmelodious song: “O—oh, Willie the
Continued on page 52
Continued from page 50
Weeper was a chimley sweeper . . . ” Under the Tanganyika’s rusty bows the heavy blue Pacific swell was scattered in broken rainbows. Tobacco smoke curled contentedly from the poop, and drifted away in the still air. The mate turned to the old man.
“I hope she don’t meet the grandfather that gave us such a belt two weeks ago, sir.”
“I hope not.” Captain Tranko was silent for a minute; then he continued slowly. “I was talking to the second mate this morning, Mr. Halliday. He feels
pretty mean. He’s had a bad drubbing— and he’s a married man. Probably he’il find it difficult to get another ship. I should prefer charges, I suppose, still what do you think?”
The mate’s eyes were dreamy. They followed his thoughts to the other ship across the water, her quarter dipping in the swing of the sea. She was outward bound, while they ... He spat, suddenly, embarrassed at being tricked into enu¿ tion, angry at his own weakness. “Oh, hell, what’s the use, sir? Life’s too short . . and we’ll be in port in another ten days.”