She Who Walks the Waters
MACMILLAN — watch your helm!” The words, though shouted with the full strength of First Officer Jim Blunt’s voice, carried barely to the ears of the dour Scot who, with feet spraddled solidly upon the heaving deck, gripped the spokes of the great rosewood wheel with both mittened hands.
Aye, sirr! he bellowed, but the wind tore the speech from his lips and sent it w'hipping out across the wild, grey-green waste of North Atlantic waters. Again a giant roller raced up astern of the Bar sa la, flung her afterpart recklessly toward the heavens, battered savagely under her quarters and then raced on, to be lost in the haze of flying spindrift.
I he towering yards, with close-reefed canvas, rocked crazily against the leaden sky as theBarsala wallowed in the trough. Jim Blunt sprang to the helmsman’s aid, and together they strained at the vast, multi-spoked wheel.
The big three-master staggered up one foam-capped sea hill, soused her long bowsprit out of sight in another and
steadying before the wind, gradually picked up her course.
“ Tis this dom wheel, sirr De’il deliver us frae a’ sich.” MacMillan braced himself anew and resumed his struggle.
Blunt eyed the wheel with a distaste akin to that of the Scot. The man was right; no ordinary seaman could hold the ship steady in a gale such as this, with that monstrous wheel as an opponent. For even in a moderate gale the Barsala's wheel ceased to be an aid in the guidance of the lofty fabric. It became an enemy, a thing imbued with
Satanic impulses of its own, that struck and slashed at the helmsman as though intent solely u[xm his destruction.
That wheel. Blunt knew, was as renowned among the Atlantic sailor folk as was Rick, the Barsala’s skipper. ‘‘Dark Thomas” Rick, the gaunt, black-browed parson’s son, who allowed no grog upon his ship, who spoke words of brotherly Christian love in a whiny voice as he battered unlucky sailors with his great fists. And those great fists of Rick’s were the only ones that could master theBarsala’s wheel when the deep-sea rollers ripped and tore at the ship’s rudder.
A rosewood wheel, standing tall as a tall man’s shoulder and inlaid all around with pale yellow ivory; inlaid with words that were as great a mockery on that wheel as were the words Rick mouthed at the sailormen. Twelve great spokes it had, spokes so heavy and massive that the ordinary man could grasp them with but difficulty, and under each spoke, in the rim of the wheel, was inlaid the name of an apostle. The names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
were set in opposition, so that they appeared to bear the same relation to one another as do the four cardinal points upon a compass card. And on the reverse of the wheel, for ever twirling and turning before the eyes of the helmsman, were the words of an old psalm beginning, “The Lord is my shepherd ...”
BLUNT, like many another man who followed the sea for a living, had heard that this wheel, which was now the Barsala's wheel, had been made in the far-off Indias and had belonged to a great East Indiaman that had come to a bad end during a storm on the Cornish coast.
Jim Blunt hated that helm as he hated the man who had put it on the old Barsala; hated it with all the strength of his slender, sinew'y body, hated it with all the fire in his frosty blue eyes, hated it with all the vigor of his honest sailor soul. For it had been that wheel that had, in the wild waters now' a thousand miles astern, amid the roaring winter gales, flung old Jack Edwards clear across the deck, to topple ajjd vanish for ever in the North Atlantic brine.
It was by that stark and simple promotion of the sea that Blunt had become first officer instead of second.
And Jack Edwards had been his friend. Blunt knew now that they should never have signed articles for this passage. Better to be idle ashore than driving a crew for Dark Thomas Rick.
Driving a crew—and themselves being driven !
Even now, Blunt was sure, Rick would be stirring in his cabin, aroused by the slight change in motion caused by the ship veering.
Presently he would be out although it was his watch below.
Casting his eye alow and aloft to sec that all was shipshape. Blunt stepjxxl over to the binnacle, saw that MacMillan was holding his course, and then looked for Rick. Sure enough, there he came, steadying himself on the life ropes against the pitch of the ship.
“Did ye get off your course, mister?” he demanded, thrusting his great jaw close to Blunt’s ear.
“That wheel, sir—it’s hard for one man to handle it in a following set».” Blunt %houted. “Hadn’t we better double up the helmsmen?”
Dark Thomas Rick stared at his first officer. It seemed to Jim Blunt that there was contempt in the fathomless eyes.
"I’ll have ye know, mister, that on this ship two men are never set at one man’s work.” Rick turned his eyes sanctimoniously upward. "The Lord gives us but poor tools to accomplish His work, but each tool must labor at its own appointed task . . . Get away from that wheel, you scum!” And with one sweep of his great arm. Rick sent the Scot staggering away from the helm. "Look ye now," he roared, seizing the wheel and spinning it rapidly to port, stopping it and spinning it back to starboard so quickly that the ship deviated hardly at all from the course. “ ’Tis child’s play— from Peter to Paul twice over each way and hardly a degree’s deflection . . . Get for Yard with ye, MacMillan, and send me Marvel. At least the Lord has given him strength of body.”
"Aye. sir.” grunted MacMillan without changing the expression of his face one whit. I íe moved off.
While the Scot was making his way forward along the lines, Rick eyed the binnacle carefully and spun the big wheel a few spokes to the right, thus altering the ship's course a bit to the north.
"You’re a little off, sir!” bawled Blunt, pointing at the compass. “Course is east ly by two degrees more.”
Rick turned his massive head.
"This is a new course, mister. Make a note of it, and hold it until I order you to change.”
“But ...” Then Blunt stopped, and clamped his mouth firmly closed.
"We are taking the shortest course to Hamburg. We’ve tarried too long already on this voyage.”
“North of Scotland, eh," commented Blunt. “Bad season to be roundin’ the Orkneys, sir.”
“ ’Tis naught. The Lord appoints our work and we but carry it out. He who knows the fall of the least birdling will not forget the Barsala.”
Blunt said nothing. He was thinking of the additional labor the unfortunate crew would have thrust upon them in
working the ship through the treacherous currents and rocks that lay to the north of Scotland. These and the fogs. And he was thinking, too, of an old legend that generations of seamen had held to, and believed in, concerning the waters that they were to traverse.
He wondered how many other persons on the ship knew it. Did Rick, for instance, know it?
THE MIST hung heavy along the decks of the Barsala, so thick that even the spread of the great lower yards was barely discernible to the anxious eyes of the watchers along the bulwarks. Lanterns glowed hazily, and figures in black
oilskins, gleaming with moisture in the fitful light, wandered about the deck or stood ready to man the ropes.
At intermittent intervals one seaman pulled on the bellows stick that caused the fog signal to utter its coughing roar.
Jim Blunt stood anxiously by the helmsman. It was MacMillan’s trick at the wheel.
“Can you feel steerage way, MacMillan?”
“Aye, sirr,” said the Scot. “A wee bit air pu’s the canvas. Juist enow to keep her in hand.”
“Ever been through these waters before, MacMillan?” Blunt put the question in a calm, almost casual voice.
"Aye—once.” replied MacMillan. “An’ wi’ a guid rope trailin’ astern.” he added without taking his eyes from the dimly lit binnacle.
“Did She come on board?”
“There was a sick man aboord. He died i’ the night-time, an’ i’ th’ mom’ we cam’ clear and beat south.”
Blunt felt a shiver run down his spine. Curse these old sea myths; they got on top of a man in spite of himself. He glanced sidewise at the visage of the helmsman. MacMillan kept his unblinking gaze directed at the compass card and barely moved the great wheel.
“A Spanish lady, wasn’t she, MacMillan?”
“ Tis said. An’ ithers say twas a Norweyan. I dinna ken aught but that She Who Walks the Waters is a de’il i’ her ain right.”
“Funny old yam. The way I heard it was that if a ship was caught in fog or gale around these islands, her crew could make a bargain with She Who Walks the Waters to bring the ship safe through to clear seas. Her price to be one human life from the ship’s company. Is that right?”
“Ay, sirr; i’ the main ’tis right. She moves mainly i’ the edge o’ th’ mists, ready to guide puir mariners who’ll trail a bit rope for her. She canna come aboord wi’out it—an’ ’tis the sign that the ship's company will pay the price.”
“They draw lots, eh?”
“Noo. She e'en chooses her ain companion. Tis said Shell tak’ but the strongest man or the weakest man from ony ship's company.”
“H’m,” mused Blunt, half to himself. “MacMillan, how many of this crew know that fool yam?” he asked suddenly.
"There was Marvel, the Devonshire man, sirr—an’ Squee. But noo a’ the men know it. Squee has been blabbin’ it i’ the fo’c’sle.”
“You pass the word to Squee to keep his mouth shut. He’s the weakest man aboard ship.”
“Squee e’en thinks he be stronger than yersel, sirr,” said MacMillan calmly.
“Other men have thought that, too, MacMillan,” Blunt’s voice was quiet. “Don’t let Squee fool himself.”
Jim Blunt turned away from the wheel and walked over to the rail. So that was how the land lay ! In spite of himself he had to grin. The fo’c’sle had it all fixed up, in the way of sailormen the world over. The victims, if any were needed, were already selected. The strongest and the weakest— Dark Thomas Rick and himself.
Then his face sobered as he gazed out into the mist.
“I thought I had seen fogs before,” he muttered, "but this is more than a fog, it’s a regular stone wall.”
The Barsala was doing little more than drifting, yet the mist seemed to be moving with her, she moving not through it. It gave Blunt an uncanny feeling.
He flapped his mittened hands together to stimulate the circulation and turned back toward the wheel. The hulking figure of Rick was just emerging from the chart-house, where he had been drinking black coffee as he pored over their estimated rate of drift. Neither officer had slept for nearly twenty-four hours.
Blunt had taken only a couple of steps when there came a sudden cry from the bow; a cry that was taken up and shouted down the misty decks by voice after voice.
“Breakers on the sta’board bow! Breakers on the sta’board bow!”
“Port your helm—hard aport!” roared Blunt, springing into action. “All hands on deck. Stand by to man braces.”
Still hemmed by the mist, the great fabric of the Barsala slowly began to turn—ever so slowly.
“I’ll take her, mister,” shouted Rick. “Get fof Yard into the bows and make ready her anchors. Take a sounding and double the lookouts— lively noy.”
“Right, sir,” snapped Blunt. “She’s hard aport now and beginning to wear.”
Dashing down the quarterdeck stairway, he raced along the midships deck and climbed out over the» foc’s’le head. The jib was beginning to flap as the head came round, and he could hear over the’.whacking canvas the sighing sound of breakers, slow and sobbjing, almost under the painted figurehead. . ”
Only mist lay to port.
The lookout men were pointing down into the fog, and then Blunt saw the swelling bosom of a great green wave burst into lacy foam as it curled over the-outpost fangs of a reef.
“Pass the word to keep her hard aport,” he shouted. “Get that lead up here—take soundings to port. Marvel, take a man and prepare to cast loose those anchor cats.”
Slowly the Barsala rode past the wicked reef. The crewwatched the rocks slide by them in dead silence, with white faces and staring eyes. Only fifty feet of green-grey water lay between them and shipwreck.
“No depth, sir,” shouted the leadsman. “Can’t find bottom.”
Jim Blunt breathed for the first time in a minute. Staring into the mist ahead, he could find nothing, hear nothing. The throbbing of the waters on the reef was already dying out astern.
IT WAS EARLY MORNING when the Barsala made her I perilous passage of the reef, and as the day wore on it seemed to Blunt that the mist grew ever thicker.
And still Rick kept canvas on the ship; kept her moving in the feathery airs that seemed to dwell in the upper reaches Of the fog. Blunt’s judgment would have been to lay her to under bare poles and trust luck that she would stay off the rocks until the mist lifted. Their anchors would not find bottom, in spite of constant soundings to discover a ledge that would give them hold.
That the crew did not like this blind sailing any more than he did was apparent to Jim Blunt. They congregated in little groups about the deck, muttering in low tones.
The ship’s bell told off the watches with monotonous regularity, its strokes coming in muffled resonance through the damp air. Eight bells had just struck, the watch was changing and the Increasing mirk indicated to Blunt that
.he short winter day was drawing to a close, when the thing he had been waiting for occurred.
Men were moving about the deck, but Blunt s quick eyes spotted one figure that hovered purposefully for a moment near the port mizzen shrouds.
Rick saw it, too, an. leaped down the quarterdeck stairs, followed by Blunt. The figure at the shrouds turned guiltily, and Blunt saw it was the man called Squee.
A light rope was trailing overside, its end made fast to a ratline.
Rick tore it loose and hurled it contemptuously from him. Then he faced Squee. his eyes blazing.
“Who told ye to cast that line overside?” he rasped.
“We uns voted to—all of us.” Squee shifted uneasily on his feet, while his uncertain eyes cast around the other members of the crew for support.
“So —you voted ! On my ship - you voted !” Rick’s voice was thick with rage. “I know why ye voted; I know the evil superstitions you indulge to the mockery of the Lord God. And ye would turn my Christian ship into a brothel for the trafficking of pale she-devils begotten from the spawn of Satan! Ye would take this vessel from under the protection of Him that made you and bring on board a stinking spawn of your imagination . . . Oh. you ingrate; you filthy . . .” Rick’s voice took on a peculiar whining note and his eyes glared.
As he spoke Rick leaned toward the seaman.
Squee cried out, shrilly—a scream—and reached for a knife that was in his belt. Before he could draw it or before anyone could move, Rick seized his face in one huge hand and his other fist came round with a hollow crunch against the side of Squee’s head, just behind the jaw and under the ear.
The man went limp, and Rick flung him to the deck. Without even looking at the staring crew, the captain turned and stalked back to the quarterdeck, where he disappeared in the chart-house.
“Get some water and rub his face,” ordered Blunt, thrusting his slender body through the crowd of men.
“It ain’t no use, sir,” said one of the seamen in a low voice.
“What do you mean?” demanded the first officer.
“He’s dead. I seen Rick kill a man like that onc’t before.”
Jim Blunt dropped to his knees and examined Squee, feeling the heart first, then laying his ear to the inert chest and listening. When he rose to his feet his face was very grim.
“Take him below,” he ordered the bos’n. “Take everything out of his pockets and lock his sea chest, if he has one. Then have the chest put in the officers’ mess. Call Sails; tell him to sew this up at once, with plenty of lead. At four bells tomorrow morning pipe all hands on deck for burial service. That’s all. You men get to your stations.”
Blunt strode aft to the quarterdeck. He found MacMillan again at the wheel. Marvel, the Devonshire man, and the Scot had been alternating tricks at the helm during the fog, as they were the two steadiest men in the crew.
“You saw what happened, MacMillan.” said Blunt without mincing matters. “If any talk — loose talk, you understand —comes up in the fo’c’sle regarding this accident, I want you to put a stop to it—you and Marvel. You understand.”
“Aye. sirr,” nodded the Scot. “But it wasna an
acceedent. Twas done on pairpose. Ye havena sailed wi’ Rick before?”
“Nonsense.” said Blunt sharply. “You don't mean to say he killed the man deliberately, do you?”
“Aye; Rick was in his killin’ mood. Yon mannie is daft, Mister Blunt—daft as a coney. His releegion willna’ let him be. A madman—”
“Hold your tongue, MacMillan!” snapped Blunt. “And see to it that the men hold theirs. I’ll have no loose talk on this ship. When you get to port you can gab to your heart’s content.”
“Aye, sirr—if we get to port,” said the Scot simply.
“Four bells.” The familiar cry came flatly through the mist.
Blunt leaned over the quarterdeck rail.
“Hey. you—what’s wrong?” he said gruffly.
The seaman who had struck the watch looked up. Again he raised his voice.
“Four bells - and all’s well.”
“That’s better,” grunted Jim Blunt. “And don’t forget it again.”
He turned back to the boatswain, who was waiting beside the helm.
“All right, bosun; pipe ’em up. Everything’s ready by the mainmast. Line’em up in the waist. Marvel, you keep right on this course. She’s not moving much. One man for lookout, bosun—get along with you.”
Jim Blunt felt in his pocket for the little book and drew it out. Then he walked down the stairway to the ship’s waist
and approached the canvas-covered thing that lay on a plank, one end of which was supported on the bulwark, the other end resting on a barrel.
Rick was in his cabin. Evidently he was not coming on deck for the burial.
Jim Blunt removed his visored officer’s cap. The crew uncovered and the first officer opened the book. He had never officiated at a sea burial before, and had only a remote idea of the proper thing to do. There was a long order for burial of the dead at sea, but he couldn’t leave the ship unmanned while he read through it. Picking the shortest item he could find, he read aloud.
“‘We brought nothing into this world, and it iscertainwe can carry nothing out. The Ix>rd gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’ ”
He snapped the book shut and bowed his head.
“Lord, this man was one of us. Please give him a true course and fair winds and bring him safe to port. Amen. Bosun, tip the plank.”
The boatswain and the ship’s carpenter, one on either side, elevated the head of the plank, and the canvas-covered form slid overside and plunged into the misty water.
A few bubbles came up.
The Barsala moved on into the silence and the men dispersed.
Blunt went aft feeling depressed. The leaden greyness that hung about the ship reminded him of the canvas shroud that had enclosed Squee, and deep in his heart was a sense of impending evil which he could not shake off.
“I’ve got to get some sleep,” he told himself. Stopping at the chart-house, he looked inside. Rick was sitting with his
arms supporting his chin, staring vacantly at the side of the cabin.
“Your watch on deck, sir,” reminded Blunt.
“Eh?” Rick turned toward the first officer. There was a very peculiar expression about his eyes. “Oh, yes. Turn in, mister; I'll take her over.” Blunt went to his cabin and dropped exhausted on the bunk. Sleep came instantly.
His watch below had almost run out when he was awakened by a great shouting and trampling on the quarterdeck overhead. l ie could hear the voice of Dark Thomas twanging like a taut bowsiring. He was saying something about "struggling with beasts at Ephesus.”
Blunt swarmed into his pea-jacket, thrust a revolver into his hip pocket and dashed up the companionway. The skipper met him at the door that gave out of the afterguard njess to the deck. Rick’s eyes were glaring.
Without a word the captain pushed past him and vanished into his cabin. Blunt stared after him for a minute, then turned and passed from the saloon to the deck.
HE WAS not surprised to find the entire crew gathered in a little knot in the waist; only MacMillan. who was holding the wheel and gazing dourly at the binnacle, occupying the after part of the ship.
“What’s going on up here?” he demanded of the
“Naything. sirr,” came the answer. “Yon captain found anither bit rope trailin’ aft fra’ a stem davit, an’ took on like the de’il himsel. ’T winna help him ony. What's done’s done.”
“More of this She Who Walks the Waters nonsense, eh? We've had
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enough of that. It’s already cost the life of one man aboard.”
‘‘Aye an’ ’twill cost anither afore we’re oot.” responded MacMillan.
Blunt swung to the quarterdeck rail.
‘‘You men !” he shouted at the crew. They turned and regarded him without speaking.
"From now on I want you to understand that this ship's company is through with superstitious foolishness. No ropes, no water-walking women, no loose blabbing. This ship is making the northern passage of the Isles. There is always fog here at this season of the year. It’s a bad coast, with reefs and islands. You’re lucky you’re not manning the yards in a living gale. The sooner you understand that discipline and seamanship will pull you through where ghosts won’t, the sooner we’ll have the ship through these straits and
Blunt stopped talking abruptly, and stood leaning on the rail as though frozen there. His jaw hung ojx-n and his eyes stared fixedly.
Unbelievable! The Barsala, moving gently through the mist, had come slowly between two rocky promontories apparently islands that rose abruptly from the water and so narrow was the channel into which she had come like a phantom vessel that her great yards seemed about to foul the land on either side.
Straight and true, as though guided gently by some external force, she moved between the rocks, in the narrow channel.
Coincident with Blunt’s astonishment there came a yell from the lookout in the bows. This man. peering intently ahead through the fog. had not seen the promontories on either side of him until the wash of the gentle swell ujxm the base of the crags had drawn his attention. Then he was right between them and could only howl in terror.
“Steady helm, MacMillan steady helm!” cried Blunt in a low, hoarse voice. “Don’t move that wheel an inch."
It was much too late to do anything but go ahead and trust that open water lay before them. Blunt had instantly sensed the fact that there must be a strong tidal current between the two pieces of land, and it was this suction that was drawing the ship through.
Not a man moved : not a word was spoken, other than Blunt’s caution to the helmsman. It was like some horrible tableau. And so gently did the Barsala move, and so silent was the passage, that white gulls resting on the rocks did not take flight, although the tips of the mainsail yards passed within a biscuit toss of them.
Then, as quickly as they had appeared, the rocks fell away on either side and only mist intervened. The Barsala seemed to bear a charmed life.
A voice, nearly hysterical, broke the silence.
“ ’Twas never mortal hand that held our helm then."
"She’s come aboard—She Who Walks the Waters is on board !”
Blunt realized suddenly that the men were all regarding him with compassion in their eyes. In their imaginations they felt that a choice was to be made between his life and that of Rick as the price of the ship’s safety. And he knew that after what had happened, nothing in the world would budge them from their belief. They were convinced that the ship was in supernatural hands.
Almost at once Jim Blunt felt that a different spirit pervaded the ship. The nervous tension relaxed, and the men assumed a more cheerful aspect. They seemed quietly confident ; sure of themselves, and of the vessel.
So strong was the feeling that Blunt, too, was touched momentarily with the lassitude that was all-pervasive. He lounged against the taffrail and stared moodily down the decks. He noted that MacMillan no longer kept his eyes fastened to the binnacle. The man seemed to be holding the wheel only as a matter of form.
Almost imperceptibly something fanned Blunt’s cheek. Quickly he turned his face. Was the mist moving? He wet his finger surreptitiously and exposed it. There was a faint coolness on one side. Wind? There had been no wind for two days, other than the light high airs that had gently touched their upper canvas.
Stepping quietly across the deck, Blunt entered the door of the chart-house and closed it behind him.
“I think there’s some wind in the making he began, and then stopped, staring at Rick in amazement.
The man was drunk. At least, he had been drinking heavily from the single bottle of brandy that was carried in the ship’s medical stores, and now he sat there at the table, glaring with inhuman eyes at the first officer.
“His Name shall not be mocked,” the captain cried suddenly, smashing a fist upon the chart that lay spread out upon the mahogany surface. "It shall not be mocked, I say!”
“What do you mean?” demanded Blunt, uncertain of the man’s sanity.
"It is I who have done this I, through the will of God. and with His help. And they think -oh. I know what they will think, mister the snivelling, ignorant fools! But we’ll teach them a lesson. They shall feel the hand of the God whom they would mock reach out to smite. Through me it will be raisednot in anger; oh, no, not in anger— but even as a father would correct his children, so shall He correct these these bilge rats."
Again that taut, rising inflection in the captain’s voice. He got to his feet and seized the chart, oversetting the bottle as he
did so. Crumpling the paper between his corded hands, he hurled it on the floor and trod it underfoot.
He threw back his head, and peal after peal of horrible laughter clamored in the cabin.
“Captain—for heaven’s sake—don’t—” Blunt stepped toward the man with one hand raised placatingly.
Instantly Rick struck him. driving him backward across the room, and then the captain vanished through the door to the deck. Dazed for a moment. Blunt staggered to his feet, and followed him just in time to see the apparent madman seize MacMillan and hurl him bodily from the wheel. The Scot crashed into the quarterdeck rail, then rolled over and lay still, blood oozing from his nostrils.
SEIZING the wheel, Rick spun it hard to port and jammed it with his knee. So quickly had the thing been done that the crew could only gape in astonishment for a
Then realization came to them. An angry clamor rose, ominous. Forgotten w-ere the relations of captain and crew, forgotten the ingrained discipline of the sea.
“He be wrackin’ un. He be puttin’ us on the rocks.” the deep voice of Marvel rose over the babbling.
The Devonshire man moved his bulk purposefully toward the quarterdeck stairs, and the men followed him.
"Keep to your kennel, you dogs!” shouted Rick, drawing a revolver from his pocket and levelling it at the foremost. “Put a foot on this deck and I’ll kill you.”
"He’ll kill us anyway; let’s get him first,” cried a voice.
They surged forward and were about to rush when Jim Blunt stepped in front of them.
"Is this mutiny?” he asked quietly.
“No, zur. it beant; we be no mutineers.” Marvel acted as spokesman. “But ’e be a-killin’ of us. ’E be a-castin’ of us away to save his skin from our bargain.”
All this time the Barsala was swinging slowly through the compass, Rick holding the wheel jammed with his knee.
Blunt faced aft and met Rick’s gaze, his own blue eyes frosty and hard.
“Rick,” he snapped, “you are not in a fit state of mind to command this ship. I am taking her over. I order you to release that wheel and stand clear.” As he spoke. Blunt stepped resolutely toward the great figure of the captain.
Rick answered never a word, but fired into the deck in front of the first officer’s feet.
As though nothing had happened. Blunt walked straight toward him. with a strong feeling of certainty that he would be able to disarm the man quietly.
But he had counted without the crew. As soon as the mate’s body covered the revolver
in Rick’s grasp, they surged forward like a wolf pack.
Rick tried to swing his gun on them too soon after he fired almost point blank at Blunt, with the result that he missed the first officer. But before Blunt could reach that big arm the gun had blasted twice at the advancing men, and there was blood on the quarterdeck.
Even as Jim Blunt grappled with the big captain, he felt the deck heave under his feet and heard a rumble in the cordage overhead. Clinging to the mighty arm and torso, he heaved madly in an endeavor to throw the captain off balance, and the two men fell to the deck with the gun exploding again almost in Blunt’s ear.
Under the great wheel they rolled, with Blunt beneath, and the captain lifted his pistol to strike the helpless mate.
Rick’s face was a mask, contorted and livid.
As he leaned forward with the impetus of the blow, his head came in contact with the spokes, that were twirling madly as the Barsala heeled in the freshening gale.
There was a crack and a hollow, ripping sound.
Jim Blunt shuddered as, lying there, he felt his face spattered with something warm and soft.
Then there was a crowd around the wheel, and he heard Marvel’s deep voice shouting.
“Un be blood an’ brains from Matthew to Mark !”
Blunt felt someone pull a heavy weight off his chest, and willing hands hauled the first officer to his feet.
The wind was blowing—steadily, freshening and the mist was scudding away to the north. Behind the Barsala and to starboard, lay the islands and ragged coastline. There was clear water ahead, spumy and blue in the spots where the sunlight was breaking through increasingly.
“Take the helm. Marvel,” said Blunt, suddenly weary. "Stand out easterly to get some offing. Bo’sun, pipe all hands. Stand by to get more canvas on her.”
"Aye, aye, cap’n,” and the boatswain trilled his pipe.
There came the tramp of feet on the deck, the creak of the yards, and with a bellying thunder of canvas the Barsala stood out to open water.
“Ye can e’en pu’ in that bit rope trailin’ aft, Cap’n Blunt,” said a strangely nasal Scottish voice from the scuppers, where MacMillan was feeling gingerly of his damaged cartilage.
Blunt nodded absently and walked to the stem davits. As he coiled up the light line, icy-cold from the northern waters, his eyes scanned the distant edge of the retreating fog.
Was there, he wondered anything more than an old legend stalking the waters within those misty borders?