A tale of steam and sail and the feud that never dies
R. V. Gery
SHE lay in midstream, the yellow waters of the ebb licking disdainfully at her rusty flanks—a frowsy, antiquated bark of 1,200 tons or so, with tattered laundry hanging in her ratlines and Hecla, Hull, painted in a curve across her clumsy stern. Captain Oliver of the Brindisi, being pulled ashore with his engineer, looked at her as they approached and sniffed.
"See that?” he enquired. “Bang in the fairway, too. One’d think they’d send those old hulks to the scrap heap these times. Out of date, that’s what they are.”
He was a stout, youngish man with clean-shaven cheeks and a tart voice, affecting something of a Navy swagger in his trim blue coat and gold braiding. Behind him in the river, the Brindisi, a new freighter, brilliant with fresh grey paint and crimson boot topping, a dainty house flag at her truck, lay superciliously waiting to dock. The contrast between her and the dishevelled old Hecla was startling.
Pollock, her engineer, a lean and stringy Clydesider, regarded the rust-stained bark with the awful contempt of his class for stick-and-string sailoring.
“Mphm!” he agreed. “Verra picturesque, nae doot, Coptain Oliver. But as ye remark, ontiquated; oot 0’ place in oor progressive ceevilization. Ay!” He lit a foul black pipe and continued to look askance at the Hecla as the boat slid under her counter.
Over the high bulwarks, suddenly and without warning and as if in response to his criticism, came an arc of galley
rubbish—potato peelings, a couple of cods’ heads, tea leaves, together with matters less savory—obviously flung at random from a pan. They descended neatly into the Brindisi's boat, lavishly spattering the two officers and the two men who were rowing them, so that Oliver and Pollock rose in their places and bellowed their w-rath in the choice accents of Mersey and Clyde, a blistering counterpoint of abuse.
A head appeared hurriedly over the rail, a shock head of tow that obviously was attached to a Swede, and after a horrified glance at the infuriated officers in the boat beneath, vanished. Oliver roared in a transport, purple-faced.
“My holy soul! Can’t a man row on the river without one of you offal-slinging lubbers decanting refuse over him? Great jumping Joseph, just you wait a bit. I’m coming aboard you, my friend, and when I’ve done with you and your fish-peddling, twopenny old bumboat. you’ll wish you’d never been bom. Oh, my holy soul, yes! Pull in there!” to the rowers.
The boat bumped against the Hecla's iron sides, and Oliver reached for a dangling rope. As he did so, another face appeared over the bulwark and looked down at him, so that he dropped the rope and stood gaping upward.
It was a long, hairy face, framed in tousled ringlets, bony and gaunt, with a pair of blazing red eyes and a thin, bitter mouth. For an instant it glared down at the steamer captain; then the mouth opened and emitted a stream of profanity that staggered even Oliver.
“And take your filthy selves away from my ship,” it concluded. “I’ll not have any consecrated ash heavers aboard here. This is the ship Hecla, by jiminy—my ship, if you please-and I’m not having her insulted by any sardine-can, tinpot mechanics afloat. Go back to your coffee grinder out yonder and leave clean sailormen alone, you greasy scum! You hear me? Jump now, or I’ll dose ye with this!”
He yanked a dripping bucket on to the rail and held it poised directly above Oliver’s head. He was the picture of elderly rage, but a rage that somehow was in no way contemptible, and the Brindisi's captain checked himself. Pollock spoke from his seat, placatingly; he had an eye on that bucket. •
“Ach, noo, Coptain Oliver,” he said. “Dinna demean yoursel’ by conversin' further wi’ yon auld Methusalum. Leave him tae his ain donnert barge, an’ let’s be gettin’ on. I want ma denner.”
Oliver hesitated a further moment, then with a gulp of indignation he motioned to his oarsmen and the boat pulled away from the bark’s side. As it went, and once out of range of the bucket, he could not resist shaking a fist at the veteran leaning over the side, and shouting: “You wait, mister! Some time you'll be needin’ a tow. See if you’ll get it from me. that’s all!”
The response of the Hecla’s skipper was unreproducible both as to verbiage and gesture. Oliver turned his back on him and the boat proceeded on its way.
TT WAS the practice of the Brindisis skipper and engineer * to dine ashore at every port, once and ceremoniously. They favored the best hotel in the place for the meal, but their course thereafter was as a rule varied, now and then erratic. On this occasion, after a repast at the George and Garter, during the entire length of which Oliver delivered himself of muttered diatribe against all sailing vessels and their officers, they set out to tour the other hostel ries and to lay the foundations of a mild spree—gentlemanly, as befitted them, but none the less a spree.
In the course of their investigations they entered a bar parlor, snugly ensconced up a back street, cosily lit, reflecting an aura of comfort and consideration that set the two ship’s officers licking their lips. As the door swung open before them, however, they were confronted with the spectacle of the Hecla’s ancient commander, sitting at a table, a steaming jorum of rum and water in front of him, and glowering at creation generally. Pollock drew back, but not so Oliver. He strode to the bar.
"Two Scotch and soda,” he ordered. "Make ’em double. I want to take the taste of something out of my mouth.”
He flung a glance over his shoulder and found the glower focused on him.
"Yes, Mr. Pollock,” hé went on. “It’s a clean drink— and I need it after what I’ve just seen. Expect you do, too. I don’t know what these pubs are coming to, with the kind o’ things one sees sittin’ around them.” He took a truculent gulp. “Smelly old mossbacks ...”
There was a grunt behind him, much as if a pin had been stuck into somebody. Oliver proceeded, as if oblivious.
“That’s it. Mister Pollock; take a good drink and see if you c’n forget the company we’re in here. And then I’ll see the landlord and tell him what I think of him, allowing nasty old men loafing about his bar. Spoils the place for gentlemen—”
He was interrupted here by the Hecla’s skipper rising to his feet with a sound something between a roar and a choke.
“You addressin’ me. mister?” he demanded thickly.
Oliver swung about.
“Why. no,” he said. “I wasn’t. I’m more partic’ler about who I talk to. Why, was you wantin’ anything for yourself? Because if you was, just say so, and I’ll get me grandmamma, what’s in an old ladies' home, to come an’ give you a pastin’.”
The old man clenched a couple of fists the size of pint pots and lumbered irascibly out into the middle of the floor. He was a gigantic figure, with bowed shoulders the width of a bam door, long, skinny, prehensile arms, and, to crown all, a long-locked crag of a head with the red eyes I>eering out from a forest of grizzled whisker, and a crooked and scarlet nose.
“See you here,” he began, “I dunno who you are, the two of you, except that you’re off that painted-up Jezebel of a spirit kettle out yonder. But my name’s Moon, misters—Hezekiah Moon, by jiminy—and I’ve ate a couple o’ hundred little squirts like you in me time; ate ’em without salt, too. You look out for yourselves, ye tap-twiddlin’, chuck-an’-chance-it navigationers. Call yourselves sailormen, 1 s’pose. By jiminy, I’ve seen better sailormen made out of a potato and two burnt matches. You mind ’oo you’re talkin' to, d’ye hear? I’m Cap’n / Hezekiah Moon, I am, and don't you fergit it!”
He put his hands on his hips and stood there swelling with wrath. Oliver ran a composed eye over him. Then he turned to Pollock.
“Funny.” he said. “Ain’t it, Mr. Pollock? Seems to me
we’ve offended this fine old specimen o’ the genus barnacle. If we ain’t careful ’e’ll give us a hidin’—d’ye hear that, now? And 'is wonderful name’s Moon, says he. Well, I’ve heard of the moon claimin’ to be green cheese, but I ain’t never heard of a green cheese claimin’ to be the moon—”
Smack ! Captain Moon took one rapid pace forward and laid a great hand flat across Captain Oliver’s cheek. The neat skipper, taken off his balance, went on his back in a comer of the bar; and thereupon ensued confusion, a threesided struggle that swayed and stamped amid broken glasses and splintered tables, much sulphurous language, and finally the arrival of the police. The two captains and the engineer were summarily taken in charge and escorted to the station, still muttering threats, but firmly and absolutely resolved neither to charge the other with assault.
Consequently, on paying for the damage to the bar, they were released, and stood in the midnight street, full of recrimination but otherwise with their ardor for battle a trifle dimmed.
“Yes,” said Oliver finally. “It’s about all you c’d expect from the skipper of the Ark. At least I’d say ’e was the skipper of the Ark, only that there ain’t any decent animals that’d associate with him.”
In reply to which sally, Captain Hezekiah Moon was understood to make an unfavorable comparison between the appearance of the two steamship officers and that of a brace of blue baboons, and to offer to fight the Brindisi’s ship’s company, single or in mass, with one hand tied behind his back and for the price of a half pint of bitter beer.
It was one o’clock before the Brindisi’s boat passed the silent Hecla, swinging at anchor in the current. Oliver looked at her darkly.
“You mark my words, Mr. Pollock,” he said to the engineer, “I’ll have my own back out of his hide yet.”
’ I 'IME PASSED. The bark, next morning, weighed anchor and with a fussy tug in charge proceeded down river to sea. Captain Oliver watched her going from his bridge, and danced with impotent rage when he saw Hezekiah hoist to the main truck a derisive old frying pan. He fingered his damaged jaw and swore revenge for ten hectic minutes, while Pollock, leaning on the rail below him, rumbled an echo.
That night the Brindisi docked, and began to take on cargo—a mixed consignment for Vigo, Cadiz and down the African coast as far as Dakar. Oliver went ashore and passed a pleasant and profitable evening in agents’ offices, pumping them assiduously as to the future movements of the Hecla. He came off at midnight, chuckling, and went to the engineer’s cabin.
“We’re in luck,” he announced. “He’s bound for Bordeaux first, and he’s got to load there. Then he’s going down the Spanish coast, and we ought to meet him either in the Tagus or at Cadiz. And when we do—”
“An’ when we do, sirr,” Pollock cut in, “ye’ll recollect, if ye please, that whatever proceeding may tak’ place, I’m entitled to a share in them. The auld deevil’s nigh loosed every tooth in my heid.”
Oliver nodded darkly. “I’ll remember,” he said, and went to his quarters to devise vengeance.
The Brindisi went down channel in fine autumn weather, a spick and span vessel in her clean paint and polished brasswork. She touched in due course at Vigo, and thence put into the Tagus, where the line’s Lisbon agent, in response to Oliver’s off-hand enquiry, told him that the bark had sailed for Cadiz a couple of days before. The
captain went aboard again, and the freighter doubled Cape St. Vincent, rolling into the Spanish port of an evening, to see the Hecla unmistakably at anchor in the outer harbor. Oliver grinned malevolently at the sight, and as the Brindisi ran past her he delivered himself of half a dozen ironical toots on the whistle, at which the gaunt figure on her bridge shook a fist by way of reply. Oliver grinned and went to the voice pipe.
“He’s here,” he called down to Pollock.
“Ay?” responded the engineer. “Weel, I’m verra delighted tae hear it, sirr. I’ll be lookin’ fcfrward tae the pleasure of seein’ th’ auld crocodile again.” A sardonic chuckle concluded his words. Obviously Mr. Pollock was not of a forgiving disposition.
“Don’t you worry, Mr. Pollock,” said Oliver. “You’ll be seeing him again soon enough.”
He got into his shore-going uniform and departed for the beach.
The Cadiz representative of the Brindisi’s line was an acrid little man in a hard black hat, much embittered by years of dealing with languid Spaniards, and in no way averse to liquid refreshment. Over a bottle of heavy sherry he proved quite amenable to cross-questioning.
“That old hulk?” he said. “Yes, I know her all right. She’s in here once or twice every six months or so, regular. Moon’s her master—a caution if ever there was one. She belongs to him, most of her.”
“Ah?” said Oliver idly. “Belongs to him, eh? What’s he do—sniff round for the odd consignment, eh? No settled course, I suppose.”
“That’s about it,” said the agent. “He’ll take anything he can get, anywhere.”
“H’m!” Oliver scratched his chin. “Hard case, eh?” There had been a hint of something in the way the other had referred to Moon.
The agent swore suddenly and with venom. “Silly old geezer!” he concluded. “There’s not a time he’s in port here but what he’s across my bows one way or another. I had to put him out of the office no later than yesterday. Why, though? D’ye know anything of him, captain?”
“A little,” Oliver confessed grimly. “Take another glass of sherry, Mr. Green. There’s something I want to say to you.”
For the next ten minutes he leaned over the table, talking in an undertone to thé agent. The latter at first looked puzzled, then amused, and finally positively beaming.
“I’ll do it!” he said. “There’s nothing against the law in it, and after all I owe Moon a lot. Teach him a lesson, maybe.” He frowned thoughtfully. “Let’s see, now. Where’ll we send him? Know of anywhere suitable?”
“There’s a godforsaken little hole,” said Oliver, “sixty miles or so south of Cape Blanco on the Mauretanian coast. I was in there once, and, believe me, it’s the last place on earth. You send him down there. Tell him there’s a cargo of tin there—there is some washing goes on in those parts. That’ll take him twelve or fourteen hundred miles out of his way. Serve him right, too.”
The agent looked doubtful. “Will he go?” he said.
“You leave that part of it to me,” said Oliver.
IT WAS late that night, not far short of eleven, when Mr. Pollock, the engineer, after a prolonged and cautious exploration of the Cadiz bars, at last turned into the Cantina of the Twelve Apostles.
For an establishment of so prodigiously respectable a name, its interior at that hour of the evening was a trifle incongruous. Clouds of heavy tobacco smoke obscured the
air; there was a lively bustle of sweating waiters; and on a rickety platform at one end a startlingly décolleté young woman was dancing to the click of castanets and the thump of guitars. Pollock peered inside, shaking his head. Then his eye suddenly brightened as he saw, far back in the smoke, the scarlet nose and picturesque ringlets of Captain Hezekiah Moon.
Instantly the engineer’s demeanor underwent a change. He was, as a matter of fact, ruinously sober for the time of day; but from his entry into the cantina few would have suspected it. Breathing heavily and with a glare of assumed truculence on his face, he lurched between the iron tables, his course buoyed by imprecations in lurid Andalusian, and finally brought himself to an unsteady anchor at the skipper of the Hecla's table.
Captain Moon was once again imbibing rum and water in solitary state. He glared at Pollock out of his little redrimmed eyes.
“What the devil!” he spat. “Get out o’ here, ye squirt! None o’ your dirty engine-room stuff about here. Clear out!”
Pollock leaned his arms on the table top and peered at him.
“Ah, noo, coptain,” he said thickly, “there’s nae call for rudeness, surely. Yer giess is empty, I obsairve. Wull ye allow me to replenish it?”
“No, I won’t,” said Moon angrily. “Get out o’ my sightback to Whatever-his-name-may-be yonder; the master o’ that ashcan o’ yours, I mean.”
“Coptain Oliver, I tak’ it ye’re referrin’ to,” said Pollock. “Weel, as far’s I’m concerned, Coptain Moon, that same Oliver c’d be in the harbor this minute, swummin’, and I’d no lift a finger. The man’s clear impossible, Coptain.”
“What d’ye mean?”
Pollock swayed across the table toward him, and there was a cunningly contrived edge of wrath to his voice.
“Mean?” he demanded, with the hoarse fury of the wronged. “Mean? Man, the Brindisi’s a leevin’ purgatory wi’ yon wee tyrant aboard. A man canna ca’ his soul his ain.”
“Humph!” Captain Moon’s jutting nose seemed to glow redder than ever through the smoke. “It’s taken ye the deuce of a long time leamin’ that, mister, hasn’t it? That man Oliver’s only fit for command of a scow. And by the way”—he glowered reminiscently at Pollock—“if I’m not mistaken, it’s not a fortnight since I’d the handlin’ of yourself as well—”
“Hey, waiter, waiter!” Pollock's voice rose in strategic anxiety. “Just refill the coptain’s giess, will ye, there’s a guid lad. Coptain,” he dropped to a whisper, “I believe ye don’t love Oliver. Am I wrang?”
His attitude was so conspiratorial that Moon said nothing, only continued to glare at him.
“Ye’d have no objection, I mak’ bold to say,” went on Pollock, “to doin’ him a bit o’ dirt?”
“Go on,” Moon said.
“It’s this way,” said the Scot. “He’s had worrd today frae the agent of a verra remunerative cargo that’s awaitin’ shipment down south. Tin it is, I’m told, and it’s lyin’ in the port o’ Shenga, the whuch I needn’t tell ye is in Mauretania. Now, the Brindisi will be here best part of another week, wi’ minor engine-room defects—ye’d no unnerstan’ if I told you, but she’s a new vessel and excusable. And,” he paused, with a look of immense cunning, “the mon that cuts in firrst on that cargo gets it.
That’s what I’m thinkin’, Coptain Moon. D’ye take me?” Moon rose to his feet.
“That’ll be enough.” he said, “out of you. I’m havin’ no truck with any steamship lubber. I’m a seaman, I am, and you can tell Oliver from me that next time I see him it’ll be worse for him than the last, if that’s any satisfaction to him. Don’t forgit that now, mister—and good night to ye.” He shouldered his way out of the cantina without another word. Pollock winked once at his departing back. In the Brindisi's chartroom Oliver awaited him.
“Fine, sirr,” Pollock chuckled. "If he’s no soundin’ out the agent this momin’ by nine o’clock, and up anchor and oqt o’ this by noon. I’m a Japanee, that’s all. He’s swallowed it, sirr, hook an’ sinker!”
By midday of the morrow it was clear that Pollock was right. The Hecla broke off her present loading operations in a hurry, and Oliver, standing with the engineer on the Brindisi’s bridge, watched her pull out into the roads, creakily hoist her ancient and blackened sails, and stand away to the southward, for the tiny heat-blasted port of Shenga and a mythical load of tin. Oliver chuckled as he saw her go.
“And that’s for him!” he said gleefully. "That’ll take the old fool a month out of his way, good. Show him the Brindisi's not the ship to be played with, by heck!” Pollock grunted assent. "And here’s hopin’, sirr,’he wished piously, “that we’ll foregaither wi’ him at the end of it. I’d like fine tae see his face, the silly auld ram.”
Oliver laughed. “Quite likely you will,” he said. “We’ll not be more than a day or so behind him by the time he’s
called at Shenga—and found out. How’s those engines of yours, by the way? Working into shape?”
“Verra fair,” Pollock said. “Though mind, she’s new and I’d not care to pass an opinion a while yet. First voyage, ye can never tell.”
THE African coast, low cliffs and red and yellow sandhills, was fifteen miles away to port, dim, hot and inhospitable. For four days the Brindisi had ploughed and wallowed her way southwest from Mogador, her last port of call, her engines beating out a steady ten knots under the expert, if anxious, cockering of Pollock and his staff. Ahead, fifty miles or so, was the long hook of Cape Blanco, thrusting far out into the Atlantic, and round which Oliver hoped at some time in the immediate future to see the battered headsails of a very disappointed bark appear. As he stood on the bridge he was imagining the sarcastic signals he would make to the Hecla as she staggered northward again.
A fitful wind blew from seaward, and away down on the western horizon a bank of gloomy cloud threatened weather to follow. Jennings, the first officer, emerged from the charthouse as Oliver was looking at the signs. He had an anxious expression. •
“Seen the glass, sir?” he asked.
The master swung round on him. “Not since breakfast,” he said“Why, what’s doing?”
“It’s dropped half a degree, sir,” Jennings said. “Looks like trouble.”
Oliver went into the house and verified his junior’s
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information. “Yes,” he said. “There’s something coming up. Better go round and ¡see everything’s Bristol fashion, Mr. Jennings."
The mate went down the ladder, and i Oliver resumed his staring ahead. Little by : little the light began to alter, the clear heavens growing overcast with a misty film, and the sun vanishing behind a pyramid mass of cloud that moved sullenly across the sky. Down to leeward the coast disappeared from view, with a final glimpse of its ugliness and the faint line of surf, like a row of teeth at the cliff foot. Slowly but steadily the wind freshened as the forenoon passed, and by noon it was ’blowing half a gale abeam, the Brindisi rolling along easily enough through it.
“She’s a dry .ship, anyway,” Jennings commented, watching the seas cascading away from her weather bow.
“Dry enough,” Oliver replied. “Wonder where old Moon is in this. If what’s coming hits him. he’ll have all his time taken up clawing off that lee shore there in the crank thing he sails.”
The mate agreed politely. He was aware, in common with the Brindisi's ship’s company, of how matters stood between his j skipper and that of the Hecla.
By three o’clock it was blowing in earnest.
I The wind rose to a full gale, and with it the sea, so that even the Brindisi began to take ! it green over her bows, and to plunge and buck like a frightened horse. Pollock called ! up the pipe.
“Can we ease her a wee. sirr?” he asked, j “I’d e’en like to lie to for a while. She’s ; racin’ a lot more than I’m pleased wi’.”
I But Oliver was staring through his glasses ahead. He had caught a glimpse of something with the last of the visibility—the ; blown and straining headsails of a sailing ! vessel making north at full speed. His eyes glistening at the spectacle, he had swung the freighter a point or so off the wind in order to pass the stranger as close as might j lx*. He had more than a suspicion that this was the Hecla, for sailing ships were not so common on that coast as to make it likely that there were two ancient barks at once on that square of sea. He was not going to miss any opportunity of underlining his glee at her wild goose chase; and besides, if it was Moon’s vessel, he could imagine her master’s comments on the Brindisi, hove to for a mere gale of wind.
“No, Mr. Pollock,” he said. “We’ll hold her as she goes. This won’t last.”
There was a sulky murmur of dissent from below-, but the engineer raised no further objections. Orders w-ere orders, and he turned to the nursing of his quivering, jumping engines, while Oliver peered anxiously through his glass for another glimpse of the ship ahead.
AT LAST he caught her, three or four miles away, driving helter-skelter on her course. There w-as no doubt of it now-. She was the Hecla all right, and he turned to the pipe to convey his news to Pollock.
“Here he is!” he called dow-n to Pollock. “Dead ahead of us. We’ll pass him within half a mile. Got any messages?”
Pollock chuckled. “Ay,” he said. "Gi’e him ma love, sirr. and ask him whut’s the price o’ asses’ milk in Cadiz.”
“How’re your engines now?”
"Easier, sirr. They’re—”
A sudden sickening jar thudded under Oliver’s feet. It was followed by the tearing shriek of agonized steel against rending steel. The Brindisi shook from stem to stem as if palsied; and even as he listened, white-faced, Oliver could feel the way fall off her as the propeller no longer bit the water.
“What’s that?” he yelled at the pipe.
It was unresponsive, for Pollock had fled from the far end of it. The skipper dived frenziedly below-.
“Main shaft!” Pollock shouted through clouds of steam three minutes later, standing on the reeling lower platform, his
expression that of a beaten dog. “Snapped like a carrot, sirr, just forward o’ the bushin’s.” He broke into frenzied, appalling cursings of the Brindisi’s builders.
Main shaft! A dockyard job, thought Oliver. And meanwhile—that lee shore a scant fifteen miles distant, and a rising gale.
“You can’t patch it?” he asked mechanically, knowing the answer.
“Patch it!” shouted Pollock. “Na, there’s nae patchin’ for you. There’s a three-inch break in it, man. It’s a replacement job.”
Oliver laughed bitterly. “You’ll be replacing it in the water in three hours, Pollock,” he said. “We’ll be ashore by then. Even if I could hold her head to sea, she’d drift in.”
The two men stared at one another. Trained seamen both of them, they knew well enough when a case was desperate. Then the engineer turned away, and began to give methodical orders for the raking out of fires. Oliver watched him for a moment; then he clawed his way up to the bridge again, and gave the order for all hands.
They came trooping out of the foc’s’le, fighting their way across the well deck, now swept by the seas. The master looked them over, his face very stem. He was about to lose his ship, on her first voyage; but that was less than nothing. How many of all of them would see African soil through that shocking surf before them? He gulped uncontrollably before speaking.
And then he did not speak. A quartermile distant, faint through the flying water, the Hecla tore past them, under storm canvas, but going like a stag through the tumbling seas. Oliver stared at her, openmouthed, a second; then, with an unintelligible cry, he had dived for the charthouse. snatched a blue light from its case, and ignited it with a bang against the rail. He stood holding it aloft, while the crew gaped.
The bark, for a few dreadful minutes, continued on her course. Then she checked, and swung like lightning up into the wind, carrying away a couple of headsails in the process. Another blue light broke out on her decks, and Oliver turned to the men.
“There’s half a chance.” he said. “That fellow may be able to hold us off until the weather eases. It’s a matter of passing a line. Bos’n, there’s plenty crude oil in number one hold. Break out half a dozen kegs and sling them. Jump, now! The rest of you to quarters, and stand by!”
He went into the house again, his face working, and called down to Pollock.
“Come up here,” he said. “I—want to talk to you.”
A GREAT pool of oil spread out, acres wide, from the Brituiisi. It tamed the furious, plucking seas into great docile hills of water; hills, nevertheless, whose towering flanks seemingly would overwhelm a boat before it had struggled fifty yards.
Oliver and Pollock, saying no word, watched such a boat spraddling across the waves and in and out of their valleys. The light was dying; but even so they could see the tall, commanding figure balanced easily in the stem sheets, both hands gripping the steering oar. Four times had the Brindisi attempted to get a line down to the Hecla, jockeying easily in stays three hundred yards to leeward ; and four times the attempt had failed, so that Oliver had gritted his teeth in mute anger. Now the Hecla's crew of mossbacks were showing him how; showing steamship men deep-sea sailoring in the old tradition. And the man in the stem of the oncoming boat was Hezekiah Moon. Once again Oliver cursed, and Pollock echoed him.
Over the oily swells she came and under the freighter’s steel sides, her crew fending her off deftly—bearded, uncouth fellows in the mold of Moon himself. A coil of inch Manila hissed aboard, was caught and made fast; then as the Brindisi's hands hauled on it. bringing in the eye of a steel hawser, Hezekiah Moon himself grasped at the
wildly dangling sea ladder and hoisted himself on deck with the agility of a cat.
“In trouble, eh?” he asked Oliver.
“Main shaft,” the master replied shortly. He did not meet Moon’s eye any too readily.
“Main shaft, eh? Some more o’ your rattletrap machin’ry, eh? Well, don’t ask me to understand it, that’s all. I’m only a smelly old man, wasn’t it, and not fit to consort wi’ the likes of ye. I’m not to know anything about your hifalutin’ shafts and pistons an’ cranks. I’m a seaman, not a mechanic.”
Pollock began some angry retort before Oliver could stop him. Moon swung round •on him, a grey twinkle in his eye.
“Oh, it’s you, is it?” he asked. “Thought you an’ the skipper here didn’t agree. You’re the lad that sicked me on to a cargo o’ tin that didn’t exist, aren’t ye? Or was it the two of ye? Eh?”
He showed his yellow teeth in a grin of amusement at the discomfited Oliver and Pollock. Then* he laughed once, a short sharp laugh like the bark of a dog.
"You want a tow, captain,” he said to Oliver. “Well, I’ll tow ye off, for a price. Otherwise, there’s the lee shore yonder, and ye can drift in there for all of me. I’ll get some pickings o’ salvage out of it, I’ve no doubt. Which’ll it be?”
“Tow, of course.” said Oliver. “How much?”
Moon affected to reckon on his fingers.
“Let’s see,” he said. “There’s three weeks for vessel and crew from Cadiz to Shenga and back. Call that three hundred pound. Then there’s damages for wilful misdirection —another three, say, and I’m letting you off easy. That’s six.” He paused in a pregnant silence, and Oliver’s eyes popped at him like a lobster’s. “Then there’s the shock to my own feelin’s, bein’ fooled by a brace of jackanapes like you an’ the Scotch-
man here. That’s serious. Oh, well, say a ! thousand pound and have done with it. Put it in writing and I’ll pull ye out of this.”
“A thousand!” Oliver shrieked at him. “You’re a pirate! I’ll not pay it!”
Moon stuck his head out of the door.
“Boat away!” he called. “I hope ye can swim, captain.”
Oliver took a look at the sea and thought of the coast, and climbed down.
“But don’t you count on my owners paying this.” he said, as Moon buttoned the precious document inside his oilskins. “They’ll repudiate.”
“Oh, no, they won’t,” said Moon placidly. “They know better. I don’t know what they’ll do to you. though.”
With which parting shot he went over the side. Oliver shook a fist after him, foaming at the mouth. Pollock tried to comfort him.
“Weel, onyway,” he said, “he’d his run to Shenga an’ back for naethin’. He’ll no be sae far aheid on the deal, for he’s runnin’ light now—must be.”
The bos’n was standing at their side, also watching the boat as it made the Hecla. He looked up at the last words.
“Beg pardon, sir,” he said. “One o’ their men was just braggin’ to me that they’d loaded eight hundred ton o’ prime manganese ores down yonder. Said it was the best cargo the old man’d had for two year or better. And he’s not light, sir—look at him!”
The Hecla had fallen away momentarily j and was now passing them on the wind-1 ward tack. She was undoubtedly heavily 1 laden. On her poop stood Captain Moon, waving a large hand at the Brindisi. Oliver , glanced at Pollock, but the Scot was mute. The situation was beyond even his powers of expression.