A tale of a tall ship, an insatiable thirst and a two-legged derelict
A HARD-LOOKING seaman spat and stepped aside to avoid a lurching ragged hobo, and his companion laughed.
“That’s old Johnny Boker. Don’t tell me you never heard of old Johnny?”
“I smelled him. Who is he anyhow? Pah! Looks white, too.”
“A good man to know,” grinned the other. “Here, Johnny Boker! Want a drink?”
The derelict lurched in his tracks, wiped a ragged sleeve across cracked lips, and hurried to accept the drink his parched soul craved. He followed the seamen into Macao’s noisiest bar.
“Not ’til you spin us the yarn,” said his host.
This was Macao’s chief jest. Get Johnny Boker to spin his yam for a drink, then tell him he told it differently
last time. That made Johnny furious, but his fury was always amenable to liquor. He licked his lips now, eyeing yearningly the red liquor his hosts ordered, eager to tell his tale so that he, too, might slake his thirst. He spoke rapidly in a monotone, as one who had repeated the same words unendingly.
“I was bound for Canton in the Flora. Master of her, I was. Sealed orders, which I was to open off Java Head. Gents, those orders told me to lose the ship. Cast her away !”
“You, master of a ship?” growled the doubting one, and spat again, noisily. His companion hushed him and soothed the ruffled Johnny, whose hackles were rising.
“Master of her, I was. Flora. Smart ship, as anybody knows. And I was to cast her away. Plenty of chances to do that, says you. And right you are. But that wasn’t my game. No, gents, not for Johnny Boker ! The mates knew when I read those orders. They knew more than I did. In the racket, they were, from the start, and I wasn’t to know until off Java Head. Ask anybody in these waters. They know I was no ruddy ship murderer ! I never left the deck from the time I read those orders, fearing the mates would do what they knew I’d never do. And I brought the ship safely out of the narrow seas to where she couldn’t come to harm, and I meant to quit that dirty employ soon’s I set foot in Canton. Then—”
Johnny Boker’s eyes darkened. He seemed to gulp. His shaking hand made furtive gestures toward the tantalizing liquor he had all but earned.
“Well?” snapped the unbeliever.
“Go on, Johnny,” said the other. The bar habitues
turned with indulgent grins, waiting for Johnny’s inevitable climax. Johnny was oblivious to all. He finished with a
“Then she hit a derelict in the dark—and we abandoned
her, sinking—and came to port—and the owners tried to collect the insurance. But the ship was picked up, and somebody got hold of the yarn, and there was a trial for barratry. Nobody believed me when I said it was accident. The owners got into trouble, and held out on the mates, and one of them blabbed the plot, and I went to jail. -Injustice, it was, gents.”
“You told it a bit different last time, Johnny,” said his host with a wink.
“I never did! How could I when it’s true?” babbled Johnny. He licked his dry lips again. His teward was due. The jovial seaman nodded to the barman. His companion
“Give him the price and chuck him out. Don’t want bums like him hanging about. Heie!” He gave Johnny a handful of small silver. “A dirty ship murderer too yellow to take his medicine ! Get out!”
Johnny Boker’s eyes widened. He clenched his hand the coins. His throat was like desert sand; his whr^’rc, ,, cried in torment. But this was the first time 'ne “ac* j his yam and been denied drink with audience. o. might push him forth when Jwrf' had drunk, but not unti. And they might jokingly t'áccuse him of varying his tale, but not baldly accuse him Cof the very thing he would av given his poor broken life to hhave refuted. He sud en y hurled the money into the giver’s face> anc' a “ec* ° hung on his nether lip.
“Not if I was dvin’ of thirst !” he screamed. “It was the likes of you that put me where I am ! Bad hearted ! Believe nothing! If you're a sailorman, may you crack on the hobs of Tophet !”
Johnny Boker left behind him a babel of amazement. No man had ever seen him refuse a drink. Johnny wandered the waterside until his racked body refused longer to go dry. He found a friend among the sampanmen, and got beastly drunk, and slept under a bush in the Camoens Gardens until a native policeman found him and sent him to wander again.
A WEEK LATER Johnny Boker was thrown out of jail. ■Ft He had been taken in for hanging about the wharves. Looking for work, was his tale; spotting a crib to crack, was the verdict. The week of sobriety had done no more than dry up his body and set fire to his throat. Many ships were in Macao, and many times did Johnny spin his yarn. The night after leaving the stone frigate he slept in a barrel at the end of a wharf at which lay a ghostly tall ship. Much activity centred around that tall ship. The captain’s dog nosed Johnny out, and started work on his rags. It failed to awaken the sleeper, but it drew attention to him.
“Blowed if it ain’t the very man we’ve been searching all over Macao for!” laughed a jovial seaman.
“Chuck him into a bunk,” growled the captain of the tall ship; and furtive, active men slung Johnny aboard and dumped him where they wanted him.
VYTH EN Johnny ' ’ opened his aching eyes this time, friendly voices hailed him. A grimy fist stuck under his nose a full bottle. Before his vision could apprize him of his present whereabouts, he shot most of the bottle’s contents into his drouthy system and contentedly slept again.
This was a new departure for Johnny Boker.
Usually he had to suffer many torments after a debauch before he earned surcease. Lady Luck was smiling upon him.
This was a queer ship.
Nobody cared if he slept on. When he did stagger out on deck, he found a happy-go-lucky crowd of men who gave him the good word. There was food, plenty of it, good food too. It was a tall ship, and to the best of his bleary discernment she sailed very smartly over a level sea. Dirty as a hide drogher, she was, and her gear hung like the hair of a hussy who had not been home.
There was a mate aft, smoking a cheroot; the helmsman smoked too, and chatted with the mate. The men about the decks smoked and skylarked, spat on the dirty decks, and shouted to each other. If that were the full crew, it was small enough, thought Johnny Boker foggily; but the royals were made fast, and no staysails were set.
Comfortable, yes, and believing in safety before sorrow. But for a fine tall ship—through the mists and cobwebs of years of disgrace the memory came to Johnny Boker of other ships, other sea ways. He shook his fuddled head.
“Come over and have a shot o’ liquor, old shellback,” invited the cook, and Johnny shuffled to accept. The men who made way for him nudged each other, winked, and one of them slapped Johnny on the back.
“Eat somethin’, Johnny,” said the cook, and clapped a ■g of Canton duck into the trembling fist. Inside the Uey was a stone jug from which Johnny was given a -f Powerful liquor that set his blood to leaping. Every - he had experienced such prodigality before, he had k. L ready to spin his yarn. He coughed now, and began to deliver his piece.
“Stow all that!” roared a red-faced giant. “Sure, we know all about it, Johnny me kad. You’re among friends here. Save yer wind, me ladidie, and sup yer licker. Forgit them old times. These is, the times for sailormen!”
The more Johnny dnank, the less he cared about past or
future. The present was a gorgeous dream, of course; but dreams like this were too rare to spoil. It wasn’t a real ship, certainly; no ship that ever cheated a reef was as comfortable and devil-may-care as this one. Let tomorrow care for itself. There was a nice easy coil of rope to curl up in; the galley was like a sailor’s dream of home. He might have fallen foul of a hellship, seeing how far he had sunk; instead he had fallen on to a rosy cloud manned by jolly spirits sailing over a sea of infinite beatitude.
As he settled into his coil, two men appeared on the poop. To his heavy, closing eyes they were familiar. They spoke, He knew their voices. They were those two men to whom he had last spun his pitiful yarn. In the face of one of them he had hurled a handful of silver. He struggled to get up, to go aft and renew that battle. A bottle was unaccountably in his hand. He drank lovingly, settled into his nest, and forgot all about war.
AFTER five such days as exist only in the imagination of old Snugs, there was activity on deck. There was no difference in the routine of the ship, but the men from aft moved about as if with purpose. The sea lay blue and bare. The ship sailed placidly before a warm and kindly breeze. There were two fine large boats on the skids; and it was about these that activity ruled. Johnny Boker shuffled along, instinctively wanting to do his bit. One of
the men from aft, the second mate, stopped Johnny.
“I want you with me, Johnny. You know all about this business.” The second mate tapped his nose, winked, and began to unbatten the mizzen hatch.
It was long since poor Johnny Boker had felt the lift of a deck underfoot. Owners and skippers wanted none of him since that tragic day when the Flora had killed his manhood. Befuddled he was, vague as to what was wanted, but here he was, one of a fine ship’s crew, bound to do his work as a sailorman should. He followed the second mate under hatches.
“Here, old socks, drink to success and no mistake!” the officer said, and stuck a bottle into Johnny’s shaky hand.
Johnny drank, thirstily. He was always thirsty. The second mate lighted a lantern.
“Stick the rest in your pocket, old shellback,” he said, when the bottle was returned. “Come on with me.”
The lantern light flickered, making of the interior of the ship a cavern of dancing shadows. The cargo seemed to be Canton cement, in bags. Easy to crawl over that.
Under the hatch beams Johnny could almost walk upright. He stopped, peering at the big beam, on which figures were stamped. His fuzzy brain tried to convey a message to him, but it was too vague.
“Get a move on ! What are you gaping at?” the second mate growled, and Johnny followed on, almost to the bulkhead.
“It’s about here, ain’t it?” queried the officer, setting down the lantern. He bent to drag aside a cement bag.
“Ah!” he grunted. “Here we are! Go to work on that valve, Johnny Boker. This is one time you’ll make a bit o’ money and no chance to lose. Nobody’s going to pick up this ship. She’s got the proper cargo for a job o’ work. Next time fellows tease you into spinning that yam o’ yours before they’ll stand you a drink, tell ’em to go to the devil, Johnny. Hop to it, old lad. This is your time to laugh. Why, what’s biting you?”
Johnny Boker swallowed painfully. He ached in every bone. His brain wasn’t working very well. But there was no mistaking that suggestion. Here was the flooding valve put into ships by all careful owners trading in valuable but inflammable cargoes. It was only used, honestly, when fire threatened to min all and water might save a part. But it could as easily murder a ship as save her. This ship was to be murdered—and he was to do the killing! He who had the name for it. The second mate, tugging at the rusted valve, growled under his arm at Johnny: “Come on! What’s eating you? Get hold. You know how it works.” Johnny crouched, his fingers curled, his nerves taut.
“Mister, you ain’t goin’ to do it!” His voice was strange even to himself, so chill was it. “You hear me? Not till I’m dead will you do it! I’ll stop you. Hear me? I’ll—” He blundered forward, on to the second mate’s bent back. The valve opened with a jerk. The rushing of water below was like the roar of a cataract. The second mate rose up, his face purple with unbelief. The valve wheel came off in his hand and he faced Johnny so.
“Stop it? Why, you dirty old bum, what did you ship for? Stop it, eh?”
“I’ll stop it and see you crooks get your whacks!” screamed Johnny Boker and clawed for the wheel.
“The devil you will! You’re dangerous!” The second mate beat the frenzied old man over the head with the valve wheel, felling him. He hurled the wheel far down among the cargo, kicked over the lantern, and scrambled on deck. First he put on the hatch, and shoved in the locking bar; then shouted up to the skipper at the
“The old fool’s gone cuckoo! We’ll leave him where he is.”
"What’s he done? You haven’t—? Didn’t you get the job done?”
“It’s done all right—wide open—valve wheel lost among the cargo. And the ship’s on fire too. Oh, yes, it’s done— but I had to wallop the old stiff over the head before I could do it! Talked o’ stopping me, and blowing the gaff on us too !”
“Let him frizzle! One less to share. Into the boats, my sons. Sea’s bare as a baby’s hand. No, leave your gear! This is a real shipwreck. If any of you believes it’s not, he’d better stay aboard. Get a move on. She’s down two feet already.”
JOHNNY BOKER came to. There was smoke, the reek of burning bags, the roar of water. His head was cut, blood covered him. But his head was clearer than it had been for years. He fumbled for the bottle in his shirt, and drew out the neck and a jagged shard of the rest. He flung it away with a curse. If ever a drink might do a man good, it was now.
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Except for the red glow of the fire, it was dark. Breathing was a torment. It required no Solon to decide how long a cement-laden ship could live with that sluice open. What was that other bit of memory that pounded at his aching head? If he had a drink—but he hadn’t. He must make his brain work. Pity he hadn’t taken more notice of the ship. They hadn’t bothered him much. He had never once had to stand wheel or lookout. He knew nothing about this vessel or her build. But he knew that in many ships of her size there was a hatch in the bulkhead between the holds and the saloon. He must grope for the bulkhead. But that water rushing in frightened him. He tried with his hands to turn the valve. It was hopeless, and he knew it. He started aft.
The fumes were choking him. The sea chuckled among the bags. If he could get out, there must be tools in the carpenter’s shop that would turn that valve. He reached the bulkhead in a panicky crawl, scratched along it, and found a square slide. It, like the valve, was stiff from disuse; but it was just like the one he had built in the Flora. He broke his nails on it, but it moved ! It was stiff, but move it did. And it opened, letting in a rush of cool air that set his pulses leaping again, but fanned the glow behind him into flame. He tumbled through, and slammed the slide shut to damp the blaze.
He fell out on deck. Already the ship rolled sluggishly. There was little breeze, and her yards were aback. She had no forward movement, only that deadly, ugly roll of a foundering ship. The sunshine mocked him as he staggered forward. Far off toward the horizon he saw dimly two small specks with legs, like spiders. Boats, with oars. It was like a funny scene in a pantomime. That a ship must die on such a day ! He croaked hoarsely, thinking of that other far day, when another ship had rushed to her fate in a roaring monsoon.
How thirsty he was ! There was no time to seek water. In the carpenter’s shop were rusty tools. How could a man know which to take? There was no time to make two trials. He snatched up and threw down wrenches. Woozy he was, but he knew they were not the tools. Too small. Too short for leverage. When the ship began to quiver under his feet, he dragged from a pile of junk a pipe wrench. That must do, or he must be beaten. Blindly he got aft and below again. Dumbly he asked why he bothered? He would be better employed securing himself something to get away on. Whatever that might be, it could only lengthen the agony. The ship was in a sailless sea; nothing was left to float him but hatchcovers and gratings. But at least he could get away and keep afloat, and something might come along before his food and water gave out.
Why was he scrabbling painfully over those hot bags, to perhaps drown first and fry afterward? Johnny Boker could not have given any reason. There had never been much of the hero about him; never any of the show hero. All he knew was that ship murder was a fouler crime than man murder. He had no self pride in the knowledge. It was bred in him, bone and blood of him, instinctive. He would have laughed at the suggestion that he was making a play. He just could not help himself. That valve would be shut—or he would drown at the job.
He felt for the square brass from which the wheel had been wrenched. His lungs burned. The water was soughing among the bags of cement very near the upper tiers. At least in the ’tween decks it was. He found the valve, and wrapped the chain around it. He put his weight on it, and it slipped, letting him fall heavily. He got up stubbornly, put the chain around the other way, and swung down again. The valve moved. But the lever was too long for the space. He must shift for another hold. And the water sloshed up in the valve
chamber. He was wet through. Already water was splashed through the bags, and the burning bags fizzed and stank. He lay his weight heavily on the lever. He was dizzy, but he jolted and heaved, and the valve was shut off as he felt himself swooning.
C PLASHING water and the sting of burning shocked Johnny Boker back to consciousness. Dully he listened. There was no roar of waters; only the growing hiss of fire, and the chuckling sob of water surging among bags of solidified cement. From the feel, Johnny Boker knew the ship was about at her limit of flotation. Once let her begin to roll heavily, and that would be the end. Why bother?
Even while he wondered, he was crawling back to the hatch, bound to carry on while the ship remained on top of the water. In the saloon he found whisky, and renewed his strength with the last of a solitary bottle. It was enough to kill all doubt in his powers. He felt his feet more solidly on the planks as he hurried forward to see what the donkey engine was like. It was more than any man could do even to start the hand pumps; yet pump he must, or sink. The donkey engine might be useful or usej less—if it was like the rest of the ship’s I gear. He found the boiler rusty and leaky. ! The donkey engine was connected with the pumps, but how would the boiler stand steam? And how raise steam to try?
As he swayed beside the decrepit boiler, smoke from the burning holds stung his nostrils. There was a crack in the rusty boiler, a valve glass w'as broken. All that he knew' of machinery was what any master of sail would pick up through having simple hoisting gear in his ship ; and Johnny Boker’s experience of such was far astern of him now. Fuel? He shook his aching head and stepped outside on to the logily reeling deck.
On the boat gallows, one boat remained. How had they forgotten that? A glance at the opened planks and the broken keel answered the question. A spiral of smoke made the mainmast appear to be twisting. Johnny Boker knew that was only a mirage. But a glance overside showed the water lipping the scuppers. That was no mirage. Other means of floating him from this doubly doomed old hooker? There was a smashed hencoop, and a bucket rack full of buckets. Once those buckets had been polished teak, with the ship’s name enscrolled on each. Now rack and buckets were covered with faded paint. They would burn, however. There were the hatches. But well he knew that if he opened one of them the blaze within would vomit forth on the inrushing air and render the end complete.
He picked up as much of the hencoop as he could carry and dragged it to the donkey room. There was water in the boiler; the crack was above the level of it. All seemed so futile. Better see to himself. He broke the wood, found a wad of oakum, and started the fire; then he saw smoke issuing everywhere, and shook his head. It was too much for one man, any man. He trotted aft, and entered the saloon again. In the master’s room he might find out where the ship was at the last plotted position. That would tell him what chance he had if he risked all and got overboard on a hatch cover.
There was nothing to tell him. All papers had been taken, the working chart too. Dumbly he ran from room to room. Nothing. Nothing in the mate's room, or the second mate's. In the chartroom—ah ! On the floor was the log slate, broken. He muttered nervously, piecing the slate together. He only hoped to find the rough figures of the last watch kept. But there was more. Perhaps this was all that had been done on that final day. There, below the record for the four hours, was a brief calculation, and his befogged memory, clearing amazingly, suggested that this was a
rough reckoning to bring up the position to the hour of abandonment. There was a latitude, and a longitude, with the last course and distance applied. No chart to see, nothing but a memory. He puzzled over it, trying to bridge the years. Vaguely he visualized the seas he had known; sketched mentally the coasts once as familiar as his thirst.
He believed he had placed the ship. If so, there was little hope of anything coming along, for she lay well between shipping tracks. There had been method in her abandonment. His own chances, if he went I adrift on a hatchcover, were still less. He glanced forward. Steam hid the donkeyroom. He walked aft, to look at the compass, to find in what direction lay possible safety. He could manage to swing those backed yards, and the ship could be moving. Every mile she covered would better his chances. But it was hopeless. Full of water, she might move a mile an hour. There were many miles.
He came to the wheel. There he stopped.
! He rubbed his eyes and a queer sound escaped his throat. On the boss of the wheel he read the name, Flora. It was painted on the sides of the wheel gear casing. There I was the brass bell. Flora! For a moment Johnny Boker gazed out across the sea and breathed ill wishes after those vanished boats. In the next minute a man possessed j of a grim purpose took the poop ladder at breakneck speed and plunged again into the steam of the donkeyhouse.
TOHNNY BOKER did what he did instincJ tively. If it was foolish, he didn’t know it. He judged by results. There was hissing steam, and jets of boiling water blistered him. He ripped off his ancient duck jacket and wrapped it around the broken valve. Even he knew that, with all those leaks, the old boiler wouldn’t blow up. He wanted to stop the big leak, because when he tried the pump lever there was not steam enough to start it. Down to the hold he groped again. He’d stop it with cement. That he needed iron cement never occurred to him. A couple of handfuls would do. The hold was a red bed of glowing bags. He ripped a bag near him and scooped out the white dust. A red tongue of fire flickered at him, and he flung the cement at it. That bit of fire died. A new idea came to him. In a frenzy he ripped bags wherever his knife reached, and began scattering cement over the burning bags until the combined smoke and cement dust sent him back, coughing agonizingly.
But now he had seen his weapon. For half an hour he crawled over the red hot cargo, flinging the killing dust, until with a last desperate attack he beat out the last red ember with empty bags. His shirt was burned from him; his face and arms were blistered, and he knew he had no eyebrows; but he whistled between tight teeth and scrambled on deck with half a bagful of cement and made it into a paste. He must do all he meant to do while his taut nerves held him up.
With a bit of stick he smeared the cement over the crack. It hardened at once—and fell off. Questing like a hound, he found canvas and made a jacket for the boiler. With the top lashing placed but not hauled taut, he poured his cement in like a poultice, then hauled snug and furiously wrapped the end of the line about all. Then he tried again the pump. He had to kick it over with his boot, but it started with a clank and a hiss and a squealing of rusted rods, and water began to gush from the lip of the outlet inside the fiferail.
Johnny Boker was laughing madly now. He tore into the galley and got the slush ! tub. All of the grease went over the wheezy ' machinery. Then he broke up all the wood he could find to feed the fire. The buckets were not easy; he left them. The racks, even his hencoop remnants, went to the red maw of the insatiable donkey. But things began to happen. Johnny found long disused cunning returning to him. He rigged the braces so that he could handle them together at the donkey drums: then with a high quavering yell he filled away
the backed yards, and saw the sails draw. His run to the helm was done on nerve alone, for his body was beaten; but he saw the ship swing drunkenly to the compass point he decided on, and he saw that she held the course with a becket on the wheel. Then he lay down on the poop and sobbed with his head in his arms; sobbed and laughed and all but choked.
' I 'HE donkey devoured wood. Johnny -L fed it. And the ship rose higher. The breeze strengthened. Soon there was a line of bubbles along her side, a tangible wake astern. Johnny slept for an hour, then found food. He craved liquor; since there was none, he was forced to eat. He found himself eating ravenously. He had not eaten like it for years. The wild plan he had conceived grew less wild. He had hoped to bring the ship to within coastwise shipping routes. Now he was to do more than that. He flogged his memory until he contrived a rough sketch chart; and on it the positions of the chief points at least were definite. Perils on the way he must risk.
There was the handling of sail. The lighter the ship rode the harder the breeze blew, and that was to be a problem. The ship killers had hauled up the courses when they hove her to. Johnny Boker let them hang. He wouldn’t be able to handle them anyhow if it blew much harder. So the Flora surged forward with a fine bow wave, and the wind boomed in her royals.
During the first night a squall sneaked along and awoke Johnny with a capful of rain in the face. He got to his feet in time to see his royals go shrieking down wind in a snapping streamer of canvas tatters. He was not going to risk clambering aloft, not he ! He had his job. Let the wind stow his superfluous canvas. It did, and through the night the shreds still clinging to the boltropes and jackstays beat a tattoo that was like the rattle of a stick along a fence. But to Johnny Boker it was the rattle of the miles reeling astern.
Then the donkey died of decrepitude; disintegrated. Johnny grinned because the water was more than half out of the ship. The wind increased. He saw a distant light. No more sleep for Johnny. Here was the goal in sight! He had work to do now; the hardest of all. Unless he was to be picked up and towed in, he must get ready to anchor. For one man to drag from the locker the whole length of one cable meant killing labor.
Johnny Boker did it. With a handy billy he hauled up and ranged the long, heavy ahain. Went below and unshackled the end. He dragged the end to the foremast and shackled it around the massive spar. Then he levered and hauled and pinched, and shoved the bower anchor over the bow until it hung in the ringstopper. Lights grew plentiful. On the morning of the fifth day a steamer circled him. He paid her no attention. The Flora was moving too fast for boat or vessel to fasten on; and that madman on her deck made no move to slow her down. Johnny had climbed aloft and caught the high loom of the land, and recognized it. There lay Hongkong, and he knew Hongkong. He carried on with his preparations.
He meant to haul up all the sails that wouldn’t lower, leaving only those which would come down by the run on simply letting go halliards. He stowed the lower topsails, and coiled down the gear of the other sails, leaving the halliards on a sliphitch with the coils as near together as he could get them. Then he rummaged the flag locker and found the signal book. There would be no time to hoist strings of flags when he wanted them. He hoisted them now; a hoist at every flag halliard; and he made them tell a brief but complete story. Then he washed himself, found an old jacket in the galley and put it on before taking the wheel.
He steered for the Tathong Channel because the wind was fair for that. He could not manoeuvre. The loom of the peak was dissolving into a clear vista, and he could see the shipping. He felt queer about the throat. Kowloon Bay was a packed
mass of native craft. But he had his eye on the signal station, and tried to look nonchalant as he passed it. His signals were read, for he saw answering signals go up, but he held his course since he could make no more conversation. Then he saw a police boat steam out. The officer hailed him. He briefly waved a hand ahead and kept going. They chased him, and he waved them on. And when he had reached the place he had fixed upon, he hove down his helm, and the police boat was hard put to it to avoid getting run under. They recovered and came on again. Johnny Boker left the wheel, ran forward and snatched at his slip-hitches as he passed, and then on to the forecastle head to let go the anchor in a crash of chain amid the thunder and thrash of emptying sails.
The police officer found him on the forecastle head, gasping for breath, sitting on a bollard and grinning like the winner of a sweepstake.
“You can take her, officer, I’ve anchored her!” panted Johnny.
“I’m going to take you, my lad,” said the officer, and Johnny Boker smiled in complete agreement.
'"PHERE were two naval officers, a Lloyd’s -L man, and two prosperous-looking business men waiting for Johnny Boker next morning in the admiral’s office. Something seemed to please the Lloyd’s man very much. He read again a report brought from the Flora an hour ago. The business men and the naval officers had discussed an almost forgotten matter in which the Flora figured before. Then Johnny Boker was ushered in, a new Johnny Boker, erect and bold-eyed, with no mean aspect to show to any man. His clothes were little better than yesterday, but the man inside them was different.
“Good morning, Captain Boker,” the admiral said.
Johnny Boker’s eyes flashed. He stiffened up. Much he had hoped, but this he had never dared to expect. The other men were greeting him in friendly fashion.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” he replied, and waited.
“Captain Boker, there’s little to be said. No intricacies in this case. A claim has already been made for insurance on the Flora. Lloyd’s cabled from Macao this morning.”
“My men havé been on board, captain,” said Lloyd’s man with a smile. “They report that all but the top tier of the cargo is bags of soil. My company will be glad to recognize your services in saving them a bad loss.”
“It’s a clear salvage case, Captain Boker,” the admiral went on. “You stand solid. Nobody’s going to contest your claim under the circumstances. Subject to our trifling claim, the ship’s yours.”
Johnny looked around, bewildered. This was so much more than he had dreamed of One of the prosperous business men spoke then, and all the clouds that had overshadowed old Johnny Boker for these many bleak years rolled away.
“I’d like to say, Captain Boker. that some years ago I was interested in the Flora, and realize now that you had a pretty rotten deal. I’m sure now, and my partner here is too, that the Flora will never sink while you are in command; so if you want to sail the ship yourself, and need financial backing, why ...”
Johnny Boker scarcely heard. All those men stood up to shake his hand as Captain Boker. Not one of them asked him for his story to make mock of him. But the admiral did ask him to lunch, and the Lloyd’s man did take him to his outfitter and establish his credit, and he did see, while talking to the prosperous business men on the esplanade, a steamer come in from Macao with a police escort on the foredeck. His friends were a bit in the way so he did not recognize everybody, but one face among those escorted men he could swear to. He fingered a healing scar on his head made by a blow from a valve wheel, and waved his hand toward that face and smiled without malice.