The days have passed and I have broken my resolve; for here I am again writing while the Elsinore surges along across a magnificent, smoky, dusty sea. But I have two reasons for breaking my word. First, and minor, we had a real dawn this morning. The gray of the sea showed a streaky blue, and the cloud-masses were actually pink-tipped by a really and truly sun.
Second, and major, we are around the Horn! We are north of 50 in the Pacific, in Longitude 80.49, with Cape Pillar and the Straits of Magellan already south of east from us, and we are heading north-north-west. We are around the Horn! The profound significance of this can be appreciated only by one who has wind-jammed around from east to west. Blow high, blow low, nothing can happen to thwart us. No ship north of 50 was ever blown back. From now on it is plain sailing, and Seattle suddenly seems quite near.
All the ship’s company, with the exception of Margaret, is better spirited. She is quiet, and a little down, though she is anything but prone to the wastage of grief. In her robust, vital philosophy God’s always in heaven. I may describe her as being merely subdued, and gentle, and tender. And she is very wistful to receive gentle consideration and tenderness from me. She is, after all, the genuine woman. She wants the strength that man has to give, and I flatter myself that I am ten times a stronger man than I was when the voyage began, because I am a thousand times a more human man since I told the books to go hang and began to revel in the human maleness of the man that loves a woman and is loved.
Returning to the ship’s company. The rounding of the Horn, the better weather that is continually growing better, the easement of hardship and toil and danger, with the promise of the tropics and of the balmy south-east trades before them—all these factors contribute to pick up our men again. The temperature has already so moderated that the men are beginning to shed their surplusage of clothing, and they no longer wrap sacking about their sea-boots. Last evening, in the second dog-watch, I heard a man actually singing.
The steward has discarded the huge, hacking knife and relaxed to the extent of engaging in an occasional sober romp with Possum. Wada’s face is no longer solemnly long, and Louis’ Oxford accent is more mellifluous than ever. Mulligan Jacobs and Andy Fay are the same venomous scorpions they have always been. The three gangsters, with the clique they lead, have again asserted their tyrrany and thrashed all the weaklings and feeblings in the forecastle. Charles Davis resolutely refuses to die, though how he survived that wet and freezing room of iron through all the weeks off the Horn has elicited wonder even from Mr. Pike, who has a most accurate knowledge of what men can stand and what they cannot stand.
How Nietzsche, with his eternal slogan of “Be hard! Be hard!“ would have delighted in Mr. Pike!
And—oh!—Larry has had a tooth removed. For some days distressed with a jumping toothache, he came aft to the mate for relief. Mr. Pike refused to “monkey“ with the “fangled“ forceps in the medicine-chest. He used a tenpenny nail and a hammer in the good old way to which he was brought up. I vouch for this. I saw it done. One blow of the hammer and the tooth was out, while Larry was jumping around holding his jaw. It is a wonder it wasn’t fractured. But Mr. Pike avers he has removed hundreds of teeth by this method and never known a fractured jaw. Also, he avers he once sailed with a skipper who shaved every Sunday morning and never touched a razor, nor any cutting-edge, to his face. What he used, according to Mr. Pike, was a lighted candle and a damp towel. Another candidate for Nietzsche’s immortals who are hard!
As for Mr. Pike himself, he is the highest-spirited, best-conditioned man on board. The driving to which he subjected the Elsinore was meat and drink. He still rubs his hands and chuckles over the memory of it.
“Huh!“ he said to me, in reference to the crew; “I gave ’em a taste of real old-fashioned sailing. They’ll never forget this hooker—at least them that don’t take a sack of coal overside before we reach port.“
“You mean you think we’ll have more sea-burials?“ I inquired.
He turned squarely upon me, and squarely looked me in the eyes for the matter of five long seconds.
“Huh!“ he replied, as he turned on his heel. “Hell ain’t begun to pop on this hooker.“
He still stands his mate’s watch, alternating with Mr. Mellaire, for he is firm in his conviction that there is no man for’ard fit to stand a second mate’s watch. Also, he has kept his old quarters. Perhaps it is out of delicacy for Margaret; for I have learned that it is the invariable custom for the mate to occupy the captain’s quarters when the latter dies. So Mr. Mellaire still eats by himself in the big after-room, as he has done since the loss of the carpenter, and bunks as before in the ’midship-house with Nancy.
Mr. Mellaire was right. The men would not accept the driving when the Elsinore won to easier latitudes. Mr. Pike was right. Hell had not begun to pop. But it has popped now, and men are overboard without even the kindliness of a sack of coal at their feet. And yet the men, though ripe for it, did not precipitate the trouble. It was Mr. Mellaire. Or, rather, it was Ditman Olansen, the crank-eyed Norwegian. Perhaps it was Possum. At any rate, it was an accident, in which the several-named, including Possum, played their respective parts.
To begin at the beginning. Two weeks have elapsed since we crossed 50, and we are now in 37—the same latitude as San Francisco, or, to be correct, we are as far south of the equator as San Francisco is north of it. The trouble was precipitated yesterday morning shortly after nine o’clock, and Possum started the chain of events that culminated in downright mutiny. It was Mr. Mellaire’s watch, and he was standing on the bridge, directly under the mizzen-top, giving orders to Sundry Buyers, who, with Arthur Deacon and the Maltese Cockney, was doing rigging work aloft.
Get the picture and the situation in all its ridiculousness. Mr. Pike, thermometer in hand, was coming back along the bridge from taking the temperature of the coal in the for’ard hold. Ditman Olansen was just swinging into the mizzen-top as he went up with several turns of rope over one shoulder. Also, in some way, to the end of this rope was fastened a sizable block that might have weighed ten pounds. Possum, running free, was fooling around the chicken-coop on top the ’midship-house. And the chickens, featherless but indomitable, were enjoying the milder weather as they pecked at the grain and grits which the steward had just placed in their feeding-trough. The tarpaulin that covered their pen had been off for several days.
Now observe. I am at the break of the poop, leaning on the rail and watching Ditman Olansen swing into the top with his cumbersome burden. Mr. Pike, proceeding aft, has just passed Mr. Mellaire. Possum, who, on account of the Horn weather and the tarpaulin, has not seen the chickens for many weeks, is getting reacquainted, and is investigating them with that keen nose of his. And a hen’s beak, equally though differently keen, impacts on Possum’s nose, which is as sensitive as it is keen.
I may well say, now that I think it over, that it was this particular hen that started the mutiny. The men, well-driven by Mr. Pike, were ripe for an explosion, and Possum and the hen laid the train.
Possum fell away backwards from the coop and loosed a wild cry of pain and indignation. This attracted Ditman Olansen’s attention. He paused and craned his neck out in order to see, and, in this moment of carelessness, the block he was carrying fetched away from him along with the several turns of rope around his shoulder. Both the mates sprang away to get out from under. The rope, fast to the block and following it, lashed about like a blacksnake, and, though the block fell clear of Mr. Mellaire, the bight of the rope snatched off his cap.
Mr. Pike had already started an oath aloft when his eyes caught sight of the terrible cleft in Mr. Mellaire’s head. There it was, for all the world to read, and Mr. Pike’s and mine were the only eyes that could read it. The sparse hair upon the second mate’s crown served not at all to hide the cleft. It began out of sight in the thicker hair above the ears, and was exposed nakedly across the whole dome of head.
The stream of abuse for Ditman Olansen was choked in Mr. Pike’s throat. All he was capable of for the moment was to stare, petrified, at that enormous fissure flanked at either end with a thatch of grizzled hair. He was in a dream, a trance, his great hands knotting and clenching unconsciously as he stared at the mark unmistakable by which he had said that he would some day identify the murderer of Captain Somers. And in that moment I remembered having heard him declare that some day he would stick his fingers in that mark.
Still as in a dream, moving slowly, right hand outstretched like a talon, with the fingers drawn downward, he advanced on the second mate with the evident intention of thrusting his fingers into that cleft and of clawing and tearing at the brain-life beneath that pulsed under the thin film of skin.
The second mate backed away along the bridge, and Mr. Pike seemed partially to come to himself. His outstretched arm dropped to his side, and he paused.
“I know you,“ he said, in a strange, shaky voice, blended of age and passion. “Eighteen years ago you were dismasted off the Plate in the Cyrus Thompson. She foundered, after you were on your beam ends and lost your sticks. You were in the only boat that was saved. Eleven years ago, on the Jason Harrison, in San Francisco, Captain Somers was beaten to death by his second mate. This second mate was a survivor of the Cyrus Thompson. This second mate’d had his skull split by a crazy sea-cook. Your skull is split. This second mate’s name was Sidney Waltham. And if you ain’t Sidney Waltham . . . “
At this point Mr. Mellaire, or, rather, Sidney Waltham, despite his fifty years, did what only a sailor could do. He went over the bridge-rail side-wise, caught the running gear up-and-down the mizzen-mast, and landed lightly on his feet on top of Number Three hatch. Nor did he stop there. He ran across the hatch and dived through the doorway of his room in the ’midship-house.
Such must have been Mr. Pike’s profundity of passion, that he paused like a somnambulist, actually rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, and seemed to awaken.
But the second mate had not run to his room for refuge. The next moment he emerged, a thirty-two Smith and Wesson in his hand, and the instant he emerged he began shooting.
Mr. Pike was wholly himself again, and I saw him perceptibly pause and decide between the two impulses that tore at him. One was to leap over the bridge-rail and down at the man who shot at him; the other was to retreat. He retreated. And as he bounded aft along the narrow bridge the mutiny began. Arthur Deacon, from the mizzen-top, leaned out and hurled a steel marlin-spike at the fleeing mate. The thing flashed in the sunlight as it hurtled down. It missed Mr. Pike by twenty feet and nearly impaled Possum, who, afraid of firearms, was wildly rushing and ki-yi-ing aft. It so happened that the sharp point of the marlin-spike struck the wooden floor of the bridge, and it penetrated the planking with such force that after it had fetched to a standstill it vibrated violently for long seconds.
I confess that I failed to observe a tithe of what occurred during the next several minutes. Piece together as I will, after the event, I know that I missed much of what took place. I know that the men aloft in the mizzen descended to the deck, but I never saw them descend. I know that the second mate emptied the chambers of his revolver, but I did not hear all the shots. I know that Lars Johnson left the wheel, and on his broken leg, rebroken and not yet really mended, limped and scuttled across the poop, down the ladder, and gained for’ard. I know he must have limped and scuttled on that bad leg of his; I know that I must have seen him; and yet I swear that I have no impression of seeing him.
I do know that I heard the rush of feet of men from for’ard along the main deck. And I do know that I saw Mr. Pike take shelter behind the steel jiggermast. Also, as the second mate manoeuvred to port on top of Number Three hatch for his last shot, I know that I saw Mr. Pike duck around the corner of the chart-house to starboard and get away aft and below by way of the booby-hatch. And I did hear that last futile shot, and the bullet also as it ricochetted from the corner of the steel-walled chart-house.
As for myself, I did not move. I was too interested in seeing. It may have been due to lack of presence of mind, or to lack of habituation to an active part in scenes of quick action; but at any rate I merely retained my position at the break of the poop and looked on. I was the only person on the poop when the mutineers, led by the second mate and the gangsters, rushed it. I saw them swarm up the ladder, and it never entered my head to attempt to oppose them. Which was just as well, for I would have been killed for my pains, and I could never have stopped them.
I was alone on the poop, and the men were quite perplexed to find no enemy in sight. As Bert Rhine went past, he half fetched up in his stride, as if to knife me with the sheath knife, sharp-pointed, which he carried in his right hand; then, and I know I correctly measured the drift of his judgment, he unflatteringly dismissed me as unimportant and ran on.
Right here I was impressed by the lack of clear-thinking on any of their parts. So spontaneously had the ship’s company exploded into mutiny that it was dazed and confused even while it acted. For instance, in the months since we left Baltimore there had never been a moment, day or night, even when preventer tackles were rigged, that a man had not stood at the wheel. So habituated were they to this, that they were shocked into consternation at sight of the deserted wheel. They paused for an instant to stare at it. Then Bert Rhine, with a quick word and gesture, sent the Italian, Guido Bombini, around the rear of the half-wheelhouse. The fact that he completed the circuit was proof that nobody was there.
Again, in the swift rush of events, I must confess that I saw but little. I was aware that more of the men were climbing up the ladder and gaining the poop, but I had no eyes for them. I was watching that sanguinary group aft near the wheel and noting the most important thing, namely, that it was Bert Rhine, the gangster, and not the second mate, who gave orders and was obeyed.
He motioned to the Jew, Isaac Chantz, who had been wounded earlier in the voyage by O’Sullivan, and Chantz led the way to the starboard chart-house door. While this was going on, all in flashing fractions of seconds, Bert Rhine was cautiously inspecting the lazarette through the open booby-hatch.
Isaac Chantz jerked open the chart-house door, which swung outward. Things did happen so swiftly! As he jerked the iron door open a two-foot hacking butcher knife, at the end of a withered, yellow hand, flashed out and down on him. It missed head and neck, but caught him on top of the left shoulder.
All hands recoiled before this, and the Jew reeled across to the rail, his right hand clutching at his wound, and between the fingers I could see the blood welling darkly. Bert Rhine abandoned his inspection of the booby-hatch, and, with the second mate, the latter still carrying his empty Smith & Wesson, sprang into the press about the chart-house door.
O wise, clever, cautious, old Chinese steward! He made no emergence. The door swung emptily back and forth to the rolling of the Elsinore, and no man knew but what, just inside, with that heavy, hacking knife upraised, lurked the steward. And while they hesitated and stared at the aperture that alternately closed and opened with the swinging of the door, the booby-hatch, situated between chart-house and wheel, erupted. It was Mr. Pike, with his .44 automatic Colt.
There were shots fired, other than by him. I know I heard them, like “red-heads“ at an old-time Fourth of July; but I do not know who discharged them. All was mess and confusion. Many shots were being fired, and through the uproar I heard the reiterant, monotonous explosions from the Colt’s .44
I saw the Italian, Mike Cipriani, clutch savagely at his abdomen and sink slowly to the deck. Shorty, the Japanese half-caste, clown that he was, dancing and grinning on the outskirts of the struggle, with a final grimace and hysterical giggle led the retreat across the poop and down the poop-ladder. Never had I seen a finer exemplification of mob psychology. Shorty, the most unstable-minded of the individuals who composed this mob, by his own instability precipitated the retreat in which the mob joined. When he broke before the steady discharge of the automatic in the hand of the mate, on the instant the rest broke with him. Least-balanced, his balance was the balance of all of them.
Chantz, bleeding prodigiously, was one of the first on Shorty’s heels. I saw Nosey Murphy pause long enough to throw his knife at the mate. The missile went wide, with a metallic clang struck the brass tip of one of the spokes of the Elsinore’s wheel, and clattered on the deck. The second mate, with his empty revolver, and Bert Rhine with his sheath-knife, fled past me side by side.
Mr. Pike emerged from the booby-hatch and with an unaimed shot brought down Bill Quigley, one of the “bricklayers,“ who fell at my feet. The last man off the poop was the Maltese Cockney, and at the top of the ladder he paused to look back at Mr. Pike, who, holding the automatic in both hands, was taking careful aim. The Maltese Cockney, disdaining the ladder, leaped through the air to the main deck. But the Colt merely clicked. It was the last bullet in it that had fetched down Bill Quigley.
And the poop was ours.
Events still crowded so closely that I missed much. I saw the steward, belligerent and cautious, his long knife poised for a slash, emerge from the chart-house. Margaret followed him, and behind her came Wada, who carried my .22 Winchester automatic rifle. As he told me afterwards, he had brought it up under instructions from her.
Mr. Pike was glancing with cool haste at his Colt to see whether it was jammed or empty, when Margaret asked him the course.
“By the wind,“ he shouted to her, as he bounded for’ard. “Put your helm hard up or we’ll be all aback.“
Ah!—yeoman and henchman of the race, he could not fail in his fidelity to the ship under his command. The iron of all his years of iron training was there manifest. While mutiny spread red, and death was on the wing, he could not forget his charge, the ship, the Elsinore, the insensate fabric compounded of steel and hemp and woven cotton that was to him glorious with personality.
Margaret waved Wada in my direction as she ran to the wheel. As Mr. Pike passed the corner of the chart-house, simultaneously there was a report from amidships and the ping of a bullet against the steel wall. I saw the man who fired the shot. It was the cowboy, Steve Roberts.
As for the mate, he ducked in behind the sheltering jiggermast, and even as he ducked his left hand dipped into his side coat-pocket, so that when he had gained shelter it was coming out with a fresh clip of cartridges. The empty clip fell to the deck, the loader clip slipped up the hollow butt, and he was good for eight more shots.
Wada turned the little automatic rifle over to me, where I still stood under the weather cloth at the break of the poop.
“All ready,“ he said. “You take off safety.“
“Get Roberts,“ Mr. Pike called to me. “He’s the best shot for’ard. If you can’t get ’m, jolt the fear of God into him anyway.“
It was the first time I had a human target, and let me say, here and now, that I am convinced I am immune to buck fever. There he was before me, less than a hundred feet distant, in the gangway between the door to Davis’ room and the starboard-rail, manoeuvring for another shot at Mr. Pike.
I must have missed Steve Roberts that first time, but I came so near him that he jumped. The next instant he had located me and turned his revolver on me. But he had no chance. My little automatic was discharging as fast as I could tickle the trigger with my fore-finger. The cowboy’s first shot went wild of me, because my bullet arrived ere he got his swift aim. He swayed and stumbled backward, but the bullets—ten of them—poured from the muzzle of my Winchester like water from a garden hose. It was a stream of lead I played upon him. I shall never know how many times I hit him, but I am confident that after he had begun his long staggering fall at least three additional bullets entered him ere he impacted on the deck. And even as he was falling, aimlessly and mechanically, stricken then with death, he managed twice again to discharge his weapon.
And after he struck the deck he never moved. I do believe he died in the air.
As I held up my gun and gazed at the abruptly-deserted main-deck I was aware of Wada’s touch on my arm. I looked. In his hand were a dozen little .22 long, soft-nosed, smokeless cartridges. He wanted me to reload. I threw on the safety, opened the magazine, and tilted the rifle so that he could let the fresh cartridges of themselves slide into place.
“Get some more,“ I told him.
Scarcely had he departed on the errand when Bill Quigley, who lay at my feet, created a diversion. I jumped—yes, and I freely confess that I yelled—with startle and surprise, when I felt his paws clutch my ankles and his teeth shut down on the calf of my leg.
It was Mr. Pike to the rescue. I understand now the Western hyperbole of “hitting the high places.“ The mate did not seem in contact with the deck. My impression was that he soared through the air to me, landing beside me, and, in the instant of landing, kicking out with one of those big feet of his. Bill Quigley was kicked clear away from me, and the next moment he was flying overboard. It was a clean throw. He never touched the rail.
Whether Mike Cipriani, who, till then, had lain in a welter, began crawling aft in quest of safety, or whether he intended harm to Margaret at the wheel, we shall never know; for there was no opportunity given him to show his purpose. As swiftly as Mr. Pike could cross the deck with those giant bounds, just that swiftly was the Italian in the air and following Bill Quigley overside.
The mate missed nothing with those eagle eyes of his as he returned along the poop. Nobody was to be seen on the main deck. Even the lookout had deserted the forecastle-head, and the Elsinore, steered by Margaret, slipped a lazy two knots through the quiet sea. Mr. Pike was apprehensive of a shot from ambush, and it was not until after a scrutiny of several minutes that he put his pistol into his side coat-pocket and snarled for’ard:
“Come out, you rats! Show your ugly faces! I want to talk with you!“
Guido Bombini, gesticulating peaceable intentions and evidently thrust out by Bert Rhine, was the first to appear. When it was observed that Mr. Pike did not fire, the rest began to dribble into view. This continued till all were there save the cook, the two sail-makers, and the second mate. The last to come out were Tom Spink, the boy Buckwheat, and Herman Lunkenheimer, the good-natured but simple-minded German; and these three came out only after repeated threats from Bert Rhine, who, with Nosey Murphy and Kid Twist, was patently in charge. Also, like a faithful dog, Guido Bombini fawned close to him.
“That will do—stop where you are,“ Mr. Pike commanded, when the crew was scattered abreast, to starboard and to port, of Number Three hatch.
It was a striking scene. Mutiny on the high seas! That phrase, learned in boyhood from my Marryatt and Cooper, recrudesced in my brain. This was it—mutiny on the high seas in the year nineteen thirteen—and I was part of it, a perishing blond whose lot was cast with the perishing but lordly blonds, and I had already killed a man.
Mr. Pike, in the high place, aged and indomitable; leaned his arm on the rail at the break of the poop and gazed down at the mutineers, the like of which I’ll wager had never been assembled in mutiny before. There were the three gangsters and ex-jailbirds, anything but seamen, yet in control of this affair that was peculiarly an affair of the sea. With them was the Italian hound, Bombini, and beside them were such strangely assorted men as Anton Sorensen, Lars Jacobsen, Frank Fitzgibbon, and Richard Giller—also Arthur Deacon the white slaver, John Hackey the San Francisco hoodlum, the Maltese Cockney, and Tony the suicidal Greek.
I noticed the three strange ones, shouldering together and standing apart from the others as they swayed to the lazy roll and dreamed with their pale, topaz eyes. And there was the Faun, stone deaf but observant, straining to understand what was taking place. Yes, and Mulligan Jacobs and Andy Fay were bitterly and eagerly side by side, and Ditman Olansen, crank-eyed, as if drawn by some affinity of bitterness, stood behind them, his head appearing between their heads. Farthest advanced of all was Charles Davis, the man who by all rights should long since be dead, his face with its wax-like pallor startlingly in contrast to the weathered faces of the rest.
I glanced back at Margaret, who was coolly steering, and she smiled to me, and love was in her eyes—she, too, of the perishing and lordly race of blonds, her place the high place, her heritage government and command and mastery over the stupid lowly of her kind and over the ruck and spawn of the dark-pigmented breeds.
“Where’s Sidney Waltham?“ the mate snarled. “I want him. Bring him out. After that, the rest of you filth get back to work, or God have mercy on you.“
The men moved about restlessly, shuffling their feet on the deck.
“Sidney Waltham, I want you—come out!“ Mr. Pike called, addressing himself beyond them to the murderer of the captain under whom once he had sailed.
The prodigious old hero! It never entered his head that he was not the master of the rabble there below him. He had but one idea, an idea of passion, and that was his desire for vengeance on the murderer of his old skipper.
“You old stiff!“ Mulligan Jacobs snarled back.
“Shut up, Mulligan!“ was Bert Rhine’s command, in receipt of which he received a venomous stare from the cripple.
“Oh, ho, my hearty,“ Mr. Pike sneered at the gangster. “I’ll take care of your case, never fear. In the meantime, and right now, fetch out that dog.“
Whereupon he ignored the leader of the mutineers and began calling, “Waltham, you dog, come out! Come out, you sneaking cur! Come out!“
Another lunatic, was the thought that flashed through my mind; another lunatic, the slave of a single idea. He forgets the mutiny, his fidelity to the ship, in his personal thirst for vengeance.
But did he? Even as he forgot and called his heart’s desire, which was the life of the second mate, even then, without intention, mechanically, his sailor’s considerative eye lifted to note the draw of the sails and roved from sail to sail. Thereupon, so reminded, he returned to his fidelity.
“Well?“ he snarled at Bert Rhine. “Go on and get for’ard before I spit on you, you scum and slum. I’ll give you and the rest of the rats two minutes to return to duty.“
And the leader, with his two fellow-gangsters, laughed their weird, silent laughter.
“I guess you’ll listen to our talk, first, old horse,“ Bert Rhine retorted. “—Davis, get up now and show what kind of a spieler you are. Don’t get cold feet. Spit it out to Foxy Grandpa an’ tell ’m what’s doin’.“
“You damned sea-lawyer!“ Mr. Pike snarled as Davis opened his mouth to speak.
Bert Rhine shrugged his shoulders, and half turned on his heel as if to depart, as he said quietly:
“Oh, well, if you don’t want to talk . . . “
Mr. Pike conceded a point.
“Go on!“ he snarled. “Spit the dirt out of your system, Davis; but remember one thing: you’ll pay for this, and you’ll pay through the nose. Go on!“
The sea-lawyer cleared his throat in preparation.
“First of all, I ain’t got no part in this,“ he began.
“I’m a sick man, an’ I oughta be in my bunk right now. I ain’t fit to be on my feet. But they’ve asked me to advise ’em on the law, an’ I have advised ’em—“
“And the law—what is it?“ Mr. Pike broke in.
But Davis was uncowed.
“The law is that when the officers is inefficient, the crew can take charge peaceably an’ bring the ship into port. It’s all law an’ in the records. There was the Abyssinia, in eighteen ninety-two, when the master’d died of fever and the mates took to drinkin’—“
“Go on!“ Mr. Pike shut him off. “I don’t want your citations. What d’ye want? Spit it out.“
“Well—and I’m talkin’ as an outsider, as a sick man off duty that’s been asked to talk—well, the point is our skipper was a good one, but he’s gone. Our mate is violent, seekin’ the life of the second mate. We don’t care about that. What we want is to get into port with our lives. An’ our lives is in danger. We ain’t hurt nobody. You’ve done all the bloodshed. You’ve shot an’ killed an’ thrown two men overboard, as witnesses’ll testify to in court. An’ there’s Roberts, there, dead, too, an’ headin’ for the sharks—an’ what for? For defendin’ himself from murderous an’ deadly attack, as every man can testify an’ tell the truth, the whole truth, an’ nothin’ but the truth, so help ’m, God—ain’t that right, men?“
A confused murmur of assent arose from many of them.
“You want my job, eh?“ Mr. Pike grinned. “An’ what are you goin’ to do with me?“
“You’ll be taken care of until we get in an’ turn you over to the lawful authorities,“ Davis answered promptly. “Most likely you can plead insanity an’ get off easy.“
At this moment I felt a stir at my shoulder. It was Margaret, armed with the long knife of the steward, whom she had put at the wheel.
“You’ve got another guess comin’, Davis,“ Mr. Pike said. “I’ve got no more talk with you. I’m goin’ to talk to the bunch. I’ll give you fellows just two minutes to choose, and I’ll tell you your choices. You’ve only got two choices. You’ll turn the second mate over to me an’ go back to duty and take what’s comin’ to you, or you’ll go to jail with the stripes on you for long sentences. You’ve got two minutes. The fellows that want jail can stand right where they are. The fellows that don’t want jail and are willin’ to work faithful, can walk right back to me here on the poop. Two minutes, an’ you can keep your jaws stopped while you think over what it’s goin’ to be.“
He turned his head to me and said in an undertone, “Be ready with that pop-gun for trouble. An’ don’t hesitate. Slap it into ’em—the swine that think they can put as raw a deal as this over on us.“
It was Buckwheat who made the first move; but so tentative was it that it got no farther than a tensing of the legs and a sway forward of the shoulders. Nevertheless it was sufficient to start Herman Lunkenheimer, who thrust out his foot and began confidently to walk aft. Kid Twist gained him in a single spring, and Kid Twist, his wrist under the German’s throat from behind; his knee pressed into the German’s back, bent the man backward and held him. Even as the rifle came to my shoulder, the hound Bombini drew his knife directly beneath Kid Twist’s wrist across the up-stretched throat of the man.
It was at this instant that I heard Mr. Pike’s “Plug him!“ and pulled the trigger; and of all ungodly things the bullet missed and caught the Faun, who staggered back, sat down on the hatch, and began to cough. And even as he coughed he still strained with pain-eloquent eyes to try to understand.
No other man moved. Herman Lunkenheimer, released by Kid Twist, sank down on the deck. Nor did I shoot again. Kid Twist stood again by the side of Bert Rhine and Guido Bombini fawned near.
Bert Rhine actually visibly smiled.
“Any more of you guys want to promenade aft?“ he queried in velvet tones.
“Two minutes up,“ Mr. Pike declared.
“An’ what are you goin’ to do about it, Grandpa?“ Bert Rhine sneered.
In a flash the big automatic was out of the mate’s pocket and he was shooting as fast as he could pull trigger, while all hands fled to shelter. But, as he had long since told me, he was no shot and could effectively use the weapon only at close range—muzzle to stomach preferably.
As we stared at the main deck, deserted save for the dead cowboy on his back and for the Faun who still sat on the hatch and coughed, an eruption of men occurred over the for’ard edge of the ’midship-house.
“Shoot!“ Margaret cried at my back.
“Don’t!“ Mr. Pike roared at me.
The rifle was at my shoulder when I desisted. Louis, the cook, led the rush aft to us across the top of the house and along the bridge. Behind him, in single file and not wasting any time, came the Japanese sail-makers, Henry the training-ship boy, and the other boy Buckwheat. Tom Spink brought up the rear. As he came up the ladder of the ’midship-house somebody from beneath must have caught him by a leg in an effort to drag him back. We saw half of him in sight and knew that he was struggling and kicking. He fetched clear abruptly, gained the top of the house in a surge, and raced aft along the bridge until he overtook and collided with Buckwheat, who yelled out in fear that a mutineer had caught him.
We who are aft, besieged in the high place, are stronger in numbers than I dreamed until now, when I have just finished taking the ship’s census. Of course Margaret, Mr. Pike, and myself are apart. We alone represent the ruling class. With us are servants and serfs, faithful to their salt, who look to us for guidance and life.
I use my words advisedly. Tom Spink and Buckwheat are serfs and nothing else. Henry, the training-ship boy, occupies an anomalous classification. He is of our kind, but he can scarcely be called even a cadet of our kind. He will some day win to us and become a mate or a captain, but in the meantime, of course, his past is against him. He is a candidate, rising from the serf class to our class. Also, he is only a youth, the iron of his heredity not yet tested and proven.
Wada, Louis, and the steward are servants of Asiatic breed. So are the two Japanese sail-makers—scarcely servants, not to be called slaves, but something in between.
So, all told, there are eleven of us aft in the citadel. But our followers are too servant-like and serf-like to be offensive fighters. They will help us defend the high place against all attack; but they are incapable of joining with us in an attack on the other end of the ship. They will fight like cornered rats to preserve their lives; but they will not advance like tigers upon the enemy. Tom Spink is faithful but spirit-broken. Buckwheat is hopelessly of the stupid lowly. Henry has not yet won his spurs. On our side remain Margaret, Mr. Pike, and myself. The rest will hold the wall of the poop and fight thereon to the death, but they are not to be depended upon in a sortie.
At the other end of the ship—and I may as well give the roster, are: the second mate, either to be called Mellaire or Waltham, a strong man of our own breed but a renegade; the three gangsters, killers and jackals, Bert Rhine, Nosey Murphy, and Kid Twist; the Maltese Cockney and Tony the crazy Greek; Frank Fitzgibbon and Richard Giller, the survivors of the trio of “bricklayers“; Anton Sorensen and Lars Jacobsen, stupid Scandinavian sailor-men; Ditman Olansen, the crank-eyed Berserk; John Hackey and Arthur Deacon, respectively hoodlum and white slaver; Shorty, the mixed-breed clown; Guido Bombini, the Italian hound; Andy Pay and Mulligan Jacobs, the bitter ones; the three topaz-eyed dreamers, who are unclassifiable; Isaac Chantz, the wounded Jew; Bob, the overgrown dolt; the feeble-minded Faun, lung-wounded; Nancy and Sundry Buyers, the two hopeless, helpless bosuns; and, finally, the sea-lawyer, Charles Davis.
This makes twenty-seven of them against the eleven of us. But there are men, strong in viciousness, among them. They, too, have their serfs and bravos. Guido Bombini and Isaac Chantz are certainly bravos. And weaklings like Sorensen, and Jacobsen, and Bob, cannot be anything else than slaves to the men who compose the gangster clique.
I failed to tell what happened yesterday, after Mr. Pike emptied his automatic and cleared the deck. The poop was indubitably ours, and there was no possibility of the mutineers making a charge on us in broad daylight. Margaret had gone below, accompanied by Wada, to see to the security of the port and starboard doors that open from the cabin directly on the main deck. These are still caulked and tight and fastened on the inside, as they have been since the passage of Cape Horn began.
Mr. Pike put one of the sail-makers at the wheel, and the steward, relieved and starting below, was attracted to the port quarter, where the patent log that towed astern was made fast. Margaret had returned his knife to him, and he was carrying it in his hand when his attention was attracted astern to our wake. Mike Cipriani and Bill Quigley had managed to catch the lazily moving log-line and were clinging to it. The Elsinore was moving just fast enough to keep them on the surface instead of dragging them under. Above them and about them circled curious and hungry albatrosses, Cape hens, and mollyhawks. Even as I glimpsed the situation one of the big birds, a ten-footer at least, with a ten-inch beak to the fore, dropped down on the Italian. Releasing his hold with one hand, he struck with his knife at the bird. Feathers flew, and the albatross, deflected by the blow, fell clumsily into the water.
Quite methodically, just as part of the day’s work, the steward chopped down with his knife, catching the log-line between the steel edge and the rail. At once, no longer buoyed up by the Elsinore’s two-knot drag ahead, the wounded men began to swim and flounder. The circling hosts of huge sea-birds descended upon them, with carnivorous beaks striking at their heads and shoulders and arms. A great screeching and squawking arose from the winged things of prey as they strove for the living meat. And yet, somehow, I was not very profoundly shocked. These were the men whom I had seen eviscerate the shark and toss it overboard, and shout with joy as they watched it devoured alive by its brethren. They had played a violent, cruel game with the things of life, and the things of life now played upon them the same violent, cruel game. As they that rise by the sword perish by the sword, just so did these two men who had lived cruelly die cruelly.
“Oh, well,“ was Mr. Pike’s comment, “we’ve saved two sacks of mighty good coal.“
* * * * *
Certainly our situation might be worse. We are cooking on the coal-stove and on the oil-burners. We have servants to cook and serve for us. And, most important of all, we are in possession of all the food on the Elsinore.
Mr. Pike makes no mistake. Realizing that with our crowd we cannot rush the crowd at the other end of the ship, he accepts the siege, which, as he says, consists of the besieged holding all food supplies while the besiegers are on the imminent edge of famine.
“Starve the dogs,“ he growls. “Starve ’m until they crawl aft and lick our shoes. Maybe you think the custom of carrying the stores aft just happened. Only it didn’t. Before you and I were born it was long-established and it was established on brass tacks. They knew what they were about, the old cusses, when they put the grub in the lazarette.“
Louis says there is not more than three days’ regular whack in the galley; that the barrel of hard-tack in the forecastle will quickly go; and that our chickens, which they stole last night from the top of the ’midship-house, are equivalent to no more than an additional day’s supply. In short, at the outside limit, we are convinced the men will be keen to talk surrender within the week.
We are no longer sailing. In last night’s darkness we helplessly listened to the men loosing headsail-halyards and letting yards go down on the run. Under orders of Mr. Pike I shot blindly and many times into the dark, but without result, save that we heard the bullets of answering shots strike against the chart-house. So to-day we have not even a man at the wheel. The Elsinore drifts idly on an idle sea, and we stand regular watches in the shelter of chart-house and jiggermast. Mr. Pike says it is the laziest time he has had on the whole voyage.
I alternate watches with him, although when on duty there is little to be done, save, in the daytime, to stand rifle in hand behind the jiggermast, and, in the night, to lurk along the break of the poop. Behind the chart-house, ready to repel assault, are my watch of four men: Tom Spink, Wada, Buckwheat, and Louis. Henry, the two Japanese sail-makers, and the old steward compose Mr. Pike’s watch.
It is his orders that no one for’ard is to be allowed to show himself, so, to-day, when the second mate appeared at the corner of the ’midship-house, I made him take a quick leap back with the thud of my bullet against the iron wall a foot from his head. Charles David tried the same game and was similarly stimulated.
Also, this evening, after dark, Mr. Pike put block-and-tackle on the first section of the bridge, heaved it out of place, and lowered it upon the poop. Likewise he hoisted in the ladder at the break of the poop that leads down to the main deck. The men will have to do some climbing if they ever elect to rush us.
I am writing this in my watch below. I came off duty at eight o’clock, and at midnight I go on deck to stay till four to-morrow morning. Wada shakes his head and says that the Blackwood Company should rebate us on the first-class passage paid in advance. We are working our passage, he contends.
Margaret takes the adventure joyously. It is the first time she has experienced mutiny, but she is such a thorough sea-woman that she appears like an old hand at the game. She leaves the deck to the mate and me; but, still acknowledging his leadership, she has taken charge below and entirely manages the commissary, the cooking, and the sleeping arrangements. We still keep our old quarters, and she has bedded the new-comers in the big after-room with blankets issued from the slop-chest.
In a way, from the standpoint of her personal welfare, the mutiny is the best thing that could have happened to her. It has taken her mind off her father and filled her waking hours with work to do. This afternoon, standing above the open booby-hatch, I heard her laugh ring out as in the old days coming down the Atlantic. Yes, and she hums snatches of songs under her breath as she works. In the second dog-watch this evening, after Mr. Pike had finished dinner and joined us on the poop, she told him that if he did not soon re-rig his phonograph she was going to start in on the piano. The reason she advanced was the psychological effect such sounds of revelry would have on the starving mutineers.
* * * * *
The days pass, and nothing of moment happens. We get nowhere. The Elsinore, without the steadying of her canvas, rolls emptily and drifts a lunatic course. Sometimes she is bow on to the wind, and at other times she is directly before it; but at all times she is circling vaguely and hesitantly to get somewhere else than where she is. As an illustration, at daylight this morning she came up into the wind as if endeavouring to go about. In the course of half an hour she worked off till the wind was directly abeam. In another half hour she was back into the wind. Not until evening did she manage to get the wind on her port bow; but when she did, she immediately paid off, accomplished the complete circle in an hour, and recommenced her morning tactics of trying to get into the wind.
And there is nothing for us to do save hold the poop against the attack that is never made. Mr. Pike, more from force of habit than anything else, takes his regular observations and works up the Elsinore’s position. This noon she was eight miles east of yesterday’s position, yet to-day’s position, in longitude, was within a mile of where she was four days ago. On the other hand she invariably makes nothing at the rate of seven or eight miles a day.
Aloft, the Elsinore is a sad spectacle. All is confusion and disorder. The sails, unfurled, are a slovenly mess along the yards, and many loose ends sway dismally to every roll. The only yard that is loose is the main-yard. It is fortunate that wind and wave are mild, else would the iron-work carry away and the mutineers find the huge thing of steel about their ears.
There is one thing we cannot understand. A week has passed, and the men show no signs of being starved into submission. Repeatedly and in vain has Mr. Pike interrogated the hands aft with us. One and all, from the cook to Buckwheat, they swear they have no knowledge of any food for’ard, save the small supply in the galley and the barrel of hardtack in the forecastle. Yet it is very evident that those for’ard are not starving. We see the smoke from the galley-stove and can only conclude that they have food to cook.
Twice has Bert Rhine attempted a truce, but both times his white flag, as soon as it showed above the edge of the ’midship-house, was fired upon by Mr. Pike. The last occurrence was two days ago. It is Mr. Pike’s intention thoroughly to starve them into submission, but now he is beginning to worry about their mysterious food supply.
Mr. Pike is not quite himself. He is obsessed, I know beyond any doubt, with the idea of vengeance on the second mate. On divers occasions, now, I have come unexpectedly upon him and found him muttering to himself with grim set face, or clenching and unclenching his big square fists and grinding his teeth. His conversation continually runs upon the feasibility of our making a night attack for’ard, and he is perpetually questioning Tom Spink and Louis on their ideas of where the various men may be sleeping—the point of which always is: Where is the second mate likely to be sleeping?
No later than yesterday afternoon did he give me most positive proof of his obsession. It was four o’clock, the beginning of the first dog-watch, and he had just relieved me. So careless have we grown, that we now stand in broad daylight at the exposed break of the poop. Nobody shoots at us, and, occasionally, over the top of the for’ard-house, Shorty sticks up his head and grins or makes clownish faces at us. At such times Mr. Pike studies Shorty’s features through the telescope in an effort to find signs of starvation. Yet he admits dolefully that Shorty is looking fleshed-up.
But to return. Mr. Pike had just relieved me yesterday afternoon, when the second mate climbed the forecastle-head and sauntered to the very eyes of the Elsinore, where he stood gazing overside.
“Take a crack at ’m,“ Mr. Pike said.
It was a long shot, and I was taking slow and careful aim, when he touched my arm.
“No; don’t,“ he said.
I lowered the little rifle and looked at him inquiringly.
“You might hit him,“ he explained. “And I want him for myself.“
* * * * *
Life is never what we expect it to be. All our voyage from Baltimore south to the Horn and around the Horn has been marked by violence and death. And now that it has culminated in open mutiny there is no more violence, much less death. We keep to ourselves aft, and the mutineers keep to themselves for’ard. There is no more harshness, no more snarling and bellowing of commands; and in this fine weather a general festival obtains.
Aft, Mr. Pike and Margaret alternate with phonograph and piano; and for’ard, although we cannot see them, a full-fledged “foo-foo“ band makes most of the day and night hideous. A squealing accordion that Tom Spink says was the property of Mike Cipriani is played by Guido Bombini, who sets the pace and seems the leader of the foo-foo. There are two broken-reeded harmonicas. Someone plays a jew’s-harp. Then there are home-made fifes and whistles and drums, combs covered with paper, extemporized triangles, and bones made from ribs of salt horse such as negro minstrels use.
The whole crew seems to compose the band, and, like a lot of monkey-folk rejoicing in rude rhythm, emphasizes the beat by hammering kerosene cans, frying-pans, and all sorts of things metallic or reverberant. Some genius has rigged a line to the clapper of the ship’s bell on the forecastle-head and clangs it horribly in the big foo-foo crises, though Bombini can be heard censuring him severely on occasion. And to cap it all, the fog-horn machine pumps in at the oddest moments in imitation of a big bass viol.
And this is mutiny on the high seas! Almost every hour of my deck-watches I listen to this infernal din, and am maddened into desire to join with Mr. Pike in a night attack and put these rebellious and inharmonious slaves to work.
Yet they are not entirely inharmonious. Guido Bombini has a respectable though untrained tenor voice, and has surprised me by a variety of selections, not only from Verdi, but from Wagner and Massenet. Bert Rhine and his crowd are full of rag-time junk, and one phrase that has caught the fancy of all hands, and which they roar out at all times, is: “It’s a bear! It’s a bear! It’s a bear!“ This morning Nancy, evidently very strongly urged, gave a doleful rendering of Flying Cloud. Yes, and in the second dog-watch last evening our three topaz-eyed dreamers sang some folk-song strangely sweet and sad.
And this is mutiny! As I write I can scarcely believe it. Yet I know Mr. Pike keeps the watch over my head. I hear the shrill laughter of the steward and Louis over some ancient Chinese joke. Wada and the sail-makers, in the pantry, are, I know, talking Japanese politics. And from across the cabin, along the narrow halls, I can hear Margaret softly humming as she goes to bed.
But all doubts vanish at the stroke of eight bells, when I go on deck to relieve Mr. Pike, who lingers a moment for a “gain,“ as he calls it.
“Say,“ he said confidentially, “you and I can clean out the whole gang. All we got to do is sneak for’ard and turn loose. As soon as we begin to shoot up, half of ’em’ll bolt aft—lobsters like Nancy, an’ Sundry Buyers, an’ Jacobsen, an’ Bob, an’ Shorty, an’ them three castaways, for instance. An’ while they’re doin’ that, an’ our bunch on the poop is takin’ ’em in, you an’ me can make a pretty big hole in them that’s left. What d’ye say?“
I hesitated, thinking of Margaret.
“Why, say,“ he urged, “once I jumped into that fo’c’s’le, at close range, I’d start right in, blim-blam-blim, fast as you could wink, nailing them gangsters, an’ Bombini, an’ the Sheeny, an’ Deacon, an’ the Cockney, an’ Mulligan Jacobs, an’ . . . an’ . . . Waltham.“
“That would be mine,“ I smiled. “You’ve only eight shots in your Colt.“
Mr. Pike considered a moment, and revised his list. “All right,“ he agreed, “I guess I’ll have to let Jacobs go. What d’ye say? Are you game?“
Still I hesitated, but before I could speak he anticipated me and returned to his fidelity.
“No, you can’t do it, Mr. Pathurst. If by any luck they got the both of us . . . No; we’ll just stay aft and sit tight until they’re starved to it . . . But where they get their tucker gets me. For’ard she’s as bare as a bone, as any decent ship ought to be, and yet look at ’em, rolling hog fat. And by rights they ought to a-quit eatin’ a week ago.“
Yes, it is certainly mutiny. Collecting water from the leaders of the chart-house in a shower of rain this morning, Buckwheat exposed himself, and a long, lucky revolver-shot from for’ard caught him in the shoulder. The bullet was small-calibre and spent ere it reached him, so that he received no more than a flesh-wound, though he carried on as if he were dying until Mr. Pike hushed his noise by cuffing his ears.
I should not like to have Mr. Pike for my surgeon. He probed for the bullet with his little finger, which was far too big for the aperture; and with his little finger, while with his other hand he threatened another ear-clout, he gouged out the leaden pellet. Then he sent the boy below, where Margaret took him in charge with antiseptics and dressings.
I see her so rarely that a half-hour alone with her these days is an adventure. She is busy morning to night in keeping her house in order. As I write this, through my open door I can hear her laying the law down to the men in the after-room. She has issued underclothes all around from the slop-chest, and is ordering them to take a bath in the rain-water just caught. And to make sure of their thoroughness in the matter, she has told off Louis and the steward to supervise the operation. Also, she has forbidden them smoking their pipes in the after-room. And, to cap everything, they are to scrub walls, ceiling, everything, and then start to-morrow morning at painting. All of which serves to convince me almost that mutiny does not obtain and that I have imagined it.
But no. I hear Buckwheat blubbering and demanding how he can take a bath in his wounded condition. I wait and listen for Margaret’s judgment. Nor am I disappointed. Tom Spink and Henry are told off to the task, and the thorough scrubbing of Buckwheat is assured.
* * * * *
The mutineers are not starving. To-day they have been fishing for albatrosses. A few minutes after they caught the first one its carcase was flung overboard. Mr. Pike studied it through his sea-glasses, and I heard him grit his teeth when he made certain that it was not the mere feathers and skin but the entire carcass. They had taken only its wing-bones to make into pipe-stems. The inference was obvious: starving men would not throw meat away in such fashion.
But where do they get their food? It is a sea-mystery in itself, although I might not so deem it were it not for Mr. Pike.
“I think, and think, till my brain is all frazzled out,“ he tells me; “and yet I can’t get a line on it. I know every inch of space on the Elsinore, and know there isn’t an ounce of grub anywhere for’ard, and yet they eat! I’ve overhauled the lazarette. As near as I can make it out, nothing is missing. Then where do they get it? That’s what I want to know. Where do they get it?“
I know that this morning he spent hours in the lazarette with the steward and the cook, overhauling and checking off from the lists of the Baltimore agents. And I know that they came up out of the lazarette, the three of them, dripping with perspiration and baffled. The steward has raised the hypothesis that, first of all, there were extra stores left over from the previous voyage, or from previous voyages, and, next, that the stealing of these stores must have taken place during the night-watches when it was Mr. Pike’s turn below.
At any rate, the mate takes the food mystery almost as much to heart as he takes the persistent and propinquitous existence of Sidney Waltham.
I am coming to realize the meaning of watch-and-watch. To begin with, I spend on deck twelve hours, and a fraction more, of each twenty-four. A fair portion of the remaining twelve is spent in eating, in dressing, and in undressing, and with Margaret. As a result, I feel the need for more sleep than I am getting. I scarcely read at all, now. The moment my head touches the pillow I am asleep. Oh, I sleep like a baby, eat like a navvy, and in years have not enjoyed such physical well-being. I tried to read George Moore last night, and was dreadfully bored. He may be a realist, but I solemnly aver he does not know reality on that tight, little, sheltered-life archipelago of his. If he could wind-jam around the Horn just one voyage he would be twice the writer.
And Mr. Pike, for practically all of his sixty-nine years, has stood his watch-and-watch, with many a spill-over of watches into watches. And yet he is iron. In a struggle with him I am confident that he would break me like so much straw. He is truly a prodigy of a man, and, so far as to-day is concerned, an anachronism.
The Faun is not dead, despite my unlucky bullet. Henry insisted that he caught a glimpse of him yesterday. To-day I saw him myself. He came to the corner of the ’midship-house and gazed wistfully aft at the poop, straining and eager to understand. In the same way I have often seen Possum gaze at me.
It has just struck me that of our eight followers five are Asiatic and only three are our own breed. Somehow it reminds me of India and of Clive and Hastings.
And the fine weather continues, and we wonder how long a time must elapse ere our mutineers eat up their mysterious food and are starved back to work.
We are almost due west of Valparaiso and quite a bit less than a thousand miles off the west coast of South America. The light northerly breezes, varying from north-east to west, would, according to Mr. Pike, work us in nicely for Valparaiso if only we had sail on the Elsinore. As it is, sailless, she drifts around and about and makes nowhere save for the slight northerly drift each day.
* * * * *
Mr. Pike is beside himself. In the past two days he has displayed increasing possession of himself by the one idea of vengeance on the second mate. It is not the mutiny, irksome as it is and helpless as it makes him; it is the presence of the murderer of his old-time and admired skipper, Captain Somers.
The mate grins at the mutiny, calls it a snap, speaks gleefully of how his wages are running up, and regrets that he is not ashore, where he would be able to take a hand in gambling on the reinsurance. But the sight of Sidney Waltham, calmly gazing at sea and sky from the forecastle-head, or astride the far end of the bowsprit and fishing for sharks, saddens him. Yesterday, coming to relieve me, he borrowed my rifle and turned loose the stream of tiny pellets on the second mate, who coolly made his line secure ere he scrambled in-board. Of course, it was only one chance in a hundred that Mr. Pike might have hit him, but Sidney Waltham did not care to encourage the chance.
And yet it is not like mutiny—not like the conventional mutiny I absorbed as a boy, and which has become classic in the literature of the sea. There is no hand-to-hand fighting, no crash of cannon and flash of cutlass, no sailors drinking grog, no lighted matches held over open powder-magazines. Heavens!—there isn’t a single cutlass nor a powder-magazine on board. And as for grog, not a man has had a drink since Baltimore.
* * * * *
Well, it is mutiny after all. I shall never doubt it again. It may be nineteen-thirteen mutiny on a coal-carrier, with feeblings and imbeciles and criminals for mutineers; but at any rate mutiny it is, and at least in the number of deaths it is reminiscent of the old days. For things have happened since last I had opportunity to write up this log. For that matter, I am now the keeper of the Elsinore’s official log as well, in which work Margaret helps me.
And I might have known it would happen. At four yesterday morning I relieved Mr. Pike. When in the darkness I came up to him at the break of the poop, I had to speak to him twice to make him aware of my presence. And then he merely grunted acknowledgment in an absent sort of way.
The next moment he brightened up, and was himself save that he was too bright. He was making an effort. I felt this, but was quite unprepared for what followed.
“I’ll be back in a minute,“ he said, as he put his leg over the rail and lightly and swiftly lowered himself down into the darkness.
There was nothing I could do. To cry out or to attempt to reason with him would only have drawn the mutineers’ attention. I heard his feet strike the deck beneath as he let go. Immediately he started for’ard. Little enough precaution he took. I swear that clear to the ’midship-house I heard the dragging age-lag of his feet. Then that ceased, and that was all.
I repeat. That was all. Never a sound came from for’ard. I held my watch till daylight. I held it till Margaret came on deck with her cheery “What ho of the night, brave mariner?“ I held the next watch (which should have been the mate’s) till midday, eating both breakfast and lunch behind the sheltering jiggermast. And I held all afternoon, and through both dog-watches, my dinner served likewise on the deck.
And that was all. Nothing happened. The galley-stove smoked three times, advertising the cooking of three meals. Shorty made faces at me as usual across the rim of the for’ard-house. The Maltese Cockney caught an albatross. There was some excitement when Tony the Greek hooked a shark off the jib-boom, so big that half a dozen tailed on to the line and failed to land it. But I caught no glimpse of Mr. Pike nor of the renegade Sidney Waltham.
In short, it was a lazy, quiet day of sunshine and gentle breeze. There was no inkling to what had happened to the mate. Was he a prisoner? Was he already overside? Why were there no shots? He had his big automatic. It is inconceivable that he did not use it at least once. Margaret and I discussed the affair till we were well a-weary, but reached no conclusion.
She is a true daughter of the race. At the end of the second dog-watch, armed with her father’s revolver, she insisted on standing the first watch of the night. I compromised with the inevitable by having Wada make up my bed on the deck in the shelter of the cabin skylight just for’ard of the jiggermast. Henry, the two sail-makers and the steward, variously equipped with knives and clubs, were stationed along the break of the poop.
And right here I wish to pass my first criticism on modern mutiny. On ships like the Elsinore there are not enough weapons to go around. The only firearms now aft are Captain West’s .38 Colt revolver, and my .22 automatic Winchester. The old steward, with a penchant for hacking and chopping, has his long knife and a butcher’s cleaver. Henry, in addition to his sheath-knife, has a short bar of iron. Louis, despite a most sanguinary array of butcher-knives and a big poker, pins his cook’s faith on hot water and sees to it that two kettles are always piping on top the cabin stove. Buckwheat, who on account of his wound is getting all night in for a couple of nights, cherishes a hatchet.
The rest of our retainers have knives and clubs, although Yatsuda, the first sail-maker, carries a hand-axe, and Uchino, the second sail-maker, sleeping or waking, never parts from a claw-hammer. Tom Spink has a harpoon. Wada, however, is the genius. By means of the cabin stove he has made a sharp pike-point of iron and fitted it to a pole. To-morrow be intends to make more for the other men.
It is rather shuddery, however, to speculate on the terrible assortment of cutting, gouging, jabbing and slashing weapons with which the mutineers are able to equip themselves from the carpenter’s shop. If it ever comes to an assault on the poop there will be a weird mess of wounds for the survivors to dress. For that matter, master as I am of my little rifle, no man could gain the poop in the day-time. Of course, if rush they will, they will rush us in the night, when my rifle will be worthless. Then it will be blow for blow, hand-to-hand, and the strongest pates and arms will win.
But no. I have just bethought me. We shall be ready for any night-rush. I’ll take a leaf out of modern warfare, and show them not only that we are top-dog (a favourite phrase of the mate), but why we are top-dog. It is simple—night illumination. As I write I work opt the idea—gasoline, balls of oakum, caps and gunpowder from a few cartridges, Roman candles, and flares blue, red, and green, shallow metal receptacles to carry the explosive and inflammable stuff; and a trigger-like arrangement by which, pulling on a string, the caps are exploded in the gunpowder and fire set to the gasoline-soaked oakum and to the flares and candles. It will be brain as well as brawn against mere brawn.
* * * * *
I have worked like a Trojan all day, and the idea is realized. Margaret helped me out with suggestions, and Tom Spink did the sailorizing. Over our head, from the jiggermast, the steel stays that carry the three jigger-trysails descend high above the break of the poop and across the main deck to the mizzenmast. A light line has been thrown over each stay, and been thrown repeatedly around so as to form an unslipping knot. Tom Spink waited till dark, when he went aloft and attached loose rings of stiff wire around the stays below the knots. Also he bent on hoisting-gear and connected permanent fastenings with the sliding rings. And further, between rings and fastenings, is a slack of fifty feet of light line.
This is the idea: after dark each night we shall hoist our three metal wash-basins, loaded with inflammables, up to the stays. The arrangement is such that at the first alarm of a rush, by pulling a cord the trigger is pulled that ignites the powder, and the very same pull operates a trip-device that lets the rings slide down the steel stays. Of course, suspended from the rings, are the illuminators, and when they have run down the stays fifty feet the lines will automatically bring them to rest. Then all the main deck between the poop and the mizzen-mast will be flooded with light, while we shall be in comparative darkness.
Of course each morning before daylight we shall lower all this apparatus to the deck, so that the men for’ard will not guess what we have up our sleeve, or, rather, what we have up on the trysail-stays. Even to-day the little of our gear that has to be left standing aroused their curiosity. Head after head showed over the edge of the for’ard-house as they peeped and peered and tried to make out what we were up to. Why, I find myself almost looking forward to an attack in order to see the device work.
And what has happened to Mr. Pike remains a mystery. For that matter, what has happened to the second mate? In the past three days we have by our eyes taken the census of the mutineers. Every man has been seen by us with the sole exception of Mr. Mellaire, or Sidney Waltham, as I assume I must correctly name him. He has not appeared—does not appear; and we can only speculate and conjecture.
In the past three days various interesting things have taken place. Margaret stands watch and watch with me, day and night, the clock around; for there is no one of our retainers to whom we can entrust the responsibility of a watch. Though mutiny obtains and we are besieged in the high place, the weather is so mild and there is so little call on our men that they have grown careless and sleep aft of the chart-house when it is their watch on deck. Nothing ever happens, and, like true sailors, they wax fat and lazy. Even have I found Louis, the steward, and Wada guilty of cat-napping. In fact, the training-ship boy, Henry, is the only one who has never lapsed.
Oh, yes, and I gave Tom Spink a thrashing yesterday. Since the disappearance of the mate he had had little faith in me, and had been showing vague signs of insolence and insubordination. Both Margaret and I had noted it independently. Day before yesterday we talked it over.
“He is a good sailor, but weak,“ she said. “If we let him go on, he will infect the rest.“
“Very well, I’ll take him in hand,“ I announced valorously.
“You will have to,“ she encouraged. “Be hard. Be hard. You must be hard.“
Those who sit in the high places must be hard, yet have I discovered that it is hard to be hard. For instance, easy enough was it to drop Steve Roberts as he was in the act of shooting at me. Yet it is most difficult to be hard with a chuckle-headed retainer like Tom Spink—especially when he continually fails by a shade to give sufficient provocation. For twenty-four hours after my talk with Margaret I was on pins and needles to have it out with him, yet rather than have had it out with him I should have preferred to see the poop rushed by the gang from the other side.
Not in a day can the tyro learn to employ the snarling immediacy of mastery of Mr. Pike, nor the reposeful, voiceless mastery of a Captain West. Truly, the situation was embarrassing. I was not trained in the handling of men, and Tom Spink knew it in his chuckle-headed way. Also, in his chuckle-headed way, he was dispirited by the loss of the mate. Fearing the mate, nevertheless he had depended on the mate to fetch him through with a whole skin, or at least alive. On me he has no dependence. What chance had the gentleman passenger and the captain’s daughter against the gang for’ard? So he must have reasoned, and, so reasoning, become despairing and desperate.
After Margaret had told me to be hard I watched Tom Spink with an eagle eye, and he must have sensed my attitude, for he carefully forebore from overstepping, while all the time he palpitated just on the edge of overstepping. Yes, and it was clear that Buckwheat was watching to learn the outcome of this veiled refractoriness. For that matter, the situation was not being missed by our keen-eyed Asiatics, and I know that I caught Louis several times verging on the offence of offering me advice. But he knew his place and managed to keep his tongue between his teeth.
At last, yesterday, while I held the watch, Tom Spink was guilty of spitting tobacco juice on the deck.
Now it must be understood that such an act is as grave an offence of the sea as blasphemy is of the Church.
It was Margaret who came to where I was stationed by the jiggermast and told me what had occurred; and it was she who took my rifle and relieved me so that I could go aft.
There was the offensive spot, and there was Tom Spink, his cheek bulging with a quid.
“Here, you, get a swab and mop that up,“ I commanded in my harshest manner.
Tom Spink merely rolled his quid with his tongue and regarded me with sneering thoughtfulness. I am sure he was no more surprised than was I by the immediateness of what followed. My fist went out like an arrow from a released bow, and Tom Spink staggered back, tripped against the corner of the tarpaulin-covered sounding-machine, and sprawled on the deck. He tried to make a fight of it, but I followed him up, giving him no chance to set himself or recover from the surprise of my first onslaught.
Now it so happens that not since I was a boy have I struck a person with my naked fist, and I candidly admit that I enjoyed the trouncing I administered to poor Tom Spink. Yes, and in the rapid play about the deck I caught a glimpse of Margaret. She had stepped out of the shelter of the mast and was looking on from the corner of the chart-house. Yes, and more; she was looking on with a cool, measuring eye.
Oh, it was all very grotesque, to be sure. But then, mutiny on the high seas in the year nineteen-thirteen is also grotesque. No lists here between mailed knights for a lady’s favour, but merely the trouncing of a chuckle-head for spitting on the deck of a coal-carrier. Nevertheless, the fact that my lady looked on added zest to my enterprise, and, doubtlessly, speed and weight to my blows, and at least half a dozen additional clouts to the unlucky sailor.
Yes, man is strangely and wonderfully made. Now that I coolly consider the matter, I realize that it was essentially the same spirit with which I enjoyed beating up Tom Spink, that I have in the past enjoyed contests of the mind in which I have out-epigrammed clever opponents. In the one case, one proves himself top-dog of the mind; in the other, top-dog of the muscle. Whistler and Wilde were just as much intellectual bullies as I was a physical bully yesterday morning when I punched Tom Spink into lying down and staying down.
And my knuckles are sore and swollen. I cease writing for a moment to look at them and to hope that they will not stay permanently enlarged.
At any rate, Tom Spink took his disciplining and promised to come in and be good.
“Sir!“ I thundered at him, quite in Mr. Pike’s most bloodthirsty manner.
“Sir,“ he mumbled with bleeding lips. “Yes, sir, I’ll mop it up, sir. Yes, sir.“
I could scarcely keep from laughing in his face, the whole thing was so ludicrous; but I managed to look my haughtiest, and sternest, and fiercest, while I superintended the deck-cleansing. The funniest thing about the affair was that I must have knocked Tom Spink’s quid down his throat, for he was gagging and hiccoughing all the time he mopped and scrubbed.
The atmosphere aft has been wonderfully clear ever since. Tom Spink obeys all orders on the jump, and Buckwheat jumps with equal celerity. As for the five Asiatics, I feel that they are stouter behind me now that I have shown masterfulness. By punching a man’s face I verily believe I have doubled our united strength. And there is no need to punch any of the rest. The Asiatics are keen and willing. Henry is a true cadet of the breed, Buckwheat will follow Tom Spink’s lead, and Tom Spink, a proper Anglo-Saxon peasant, will lead Buckwheat all the better by virtue of the punching.
* * * * *
Two days have passed, and two noteworthy things have happened. The men seem to be nearing the end of their mysterious food supply, and we have had our first truce.
I have noted, through the glasses, that no more carcasses of the mollyhawks they are now catching are thrown overboard. This means that they have begun to eat the tough and unsavoury creatures, although it does not mean, of course, that they have entirely exhausted their other stores.
It was Margaret, her sailor’s eye on the falling barometer and on the “making“ stuff adrift in the sky, who called my attention to a coming blow.
“As soon as the sea rises,“ she said, “we’ll have that loose main-yard and all the rest of the top-hamper tumbling down on deck.“
So it was that I raised the white flag for a parley. Bert Rhine and Charles Davis came abaft the ’midship-house, and, while we talked, many faces peered over the for’ard edge of the house and many forms slouched into view on the deck on each side of the house.
“Well, getting tired?“ was Bert Rhine’s insolent greeting. “Anything we can do for you?“
“Yes, there is,“ I answered sharply. “You can save your heads so that when you return to work there will be enough of you left to do the work.“
“If you are making threats—“ Charles Davis began, but was silenced by a glare from the gangster.
“Well, what is it?“ Bert Rhine demanded. “Cough it off your chest.“
“It’s for your own good,“ was my reply. “It is coming on to blow, and all that unfurled canvas aloft will bring the yards down on your heads. We’re safe here, aft. You are the ones who will run risks, and it is up to you to hustle your crowd aloft and make things fast and ship-shape.“
“And if we don’t?“ the gangster sneered.
“Why, you’ll take your chances, that is all,“ I answered carelessly. “I just want to call your attention to the fact that one of those steel yards, end-on, will go through the roof of your forecastle as if it were so much eggshell.“
Bert Rhine looked to Charles Davis for verification, and the latter nodded.
“We’ll talk it over first,“ the gangster announced.
“And I’ll give you ten minutes,“ I returned. “If at the end of ten minutes you’ve not started taking in, it will be too late. I shall put a bullet into any man who shows himself.“
“All right, we’ll talk it over.“
As they started to go back, I called:
They stopped and turned about.
“What have you done to Mr. Pike?“ I asked.
Even the impassive Bert Rhine could not quite conceal his surprise.
“An’ what have you done with Mr. Mellaire!“ he retorted. “You tell us, an’ we’ll tell you.“
I am confident of the genuineness of his surprise. Evidently the mutineers have been believing us guilty of the disappearance of the second mate, just as we have been believing them guilty of the disappearance of the first mate. The more I dwell upon it the more it seems the proposition of the Kilkenny cats, a case of mutual destruction on the part of the two mates.
“Another thing,“ I said quickly. “Where do you get your food?“
Bert Rhine laughed one of his silent laughs; Charles Davis assumed an expression of mysteriousness and superiority; and Shorty, leaping into view from the corner of the house, danced a jig of triumph.
I drew out my watch.
“Remember,“ I said, “you’ve ten minutes in which to make a start.“
They turned and went for’ard, and, before the ten minutes were up, all hands were aloft and stowing canvas. All this time the wind, out of the north-west, was breezing up. The old familiar harp-chords of a rising gale were strumming along the rigging, and the men, I verily believe from lack of practice, were particularly slow at their work.
“It would be better if the upper-and-lower top-sails are set so that we can heave to,“ Margaret suggested. “They will steady her and make it more comfortable for us.“
I seized the idea and improved upon it.
“Better set the upper and lower topsails so that we can handle the ship,“ I called to the gangster, who was ordering the men about, quite like a mate, from the top of the ’midship-house.
He considered the idea, and then gave the proper orders, although it was the Maltese Cockney, with Nancy and Sundry Buyers under him, who carried the orders out.
I ordered Tom Spink to the long-idle wheel, and gave him the course, which was due east by the steering compass. This put the wind on our port quarter, so that the Elsinore began to move through the water before a fair breeze. And due east, less than a thousand miles away, lay the coast of South America and the port of Valparaiso.
Strange to say, none of our mutineers objected to this, and after dark, as we tore along before a full-sized gale, I sent my own men up on top the chart-house to take the gaskets off the spanker. This was the only sail we could set and trim and in every way control. It is true the mizzen-braces were still rigged aft to the poop, according to Horn practice. But, while we could thus trim the mizzen-yards, the sails themselves, in setting or furling, were in the hands of the for’ard crowd.
Margaret, beside me in the darkness at the break of the poop, put her hand in mine with a warm pressure, as both our tiny watches swayed up the spanker and as both of us held our breaths in an effort to feel the added draw in the Elsinore’s speed.
“I never wanted to marry a sailor,“ she said. “And I thought I was safe in the hands of a landsman like you. And yet here you are, with all the stuff of the sea in you, running down your easting for port. Next thing, I suppose, I’ll see you out with a sextant, shooting the sun or making star-observations.“
Four more days have passed; the gale has blown itself out; we are not more than three hundred and fifty miles off Valparaiso; and the Elsinore, this time due to me and my own stubbornness, is rolling in the wind and heading nowhere in a light breeze at the rate of nothing but driftage per hour.
In the height of the gusts, in the three days and nights of the gale, we logged as much as eight, and even nine, knots. What bothered me was the acquiescence of the mutineers in my programme. They were sensible enough in the simple matter of geography to know what I was doing. They had control of the sails, and yet they permitted me to run for the South American coast.
More than that, as the gale eased on the morning of the third day, they actually went aloft, set top-gallant-sails, royals, and skysails, and trimmed the yards to the quartering breeze. This was too much for the Saxon streak in me, whereupon I wore the Elsinore about before the wind, fetched her up upon it, and lashed the wheel. Margaret and I are agreed in the hypothesis that their plan is to get inshore until land is sighted, at which time they will desert in the boats.
“But we don’t want them to desert,“ she proclaims with flashing eyes. “We are bound for Seattle. They must return to duty. They’ve got to, soon, for they are beginning to starve.“
“There isn’t a navigator aft,“ I oppose.
Promptly she withers me with her scorn.
“You, a master of books, by all the sea-blood in your body should be able to pick up the theoretics of navigation while I snap my fingers. Furthermore, remember that I can supply the seamanship. Why, any squarehead peasant, in a six months’ cramming course at any seaport navigation school, can pass the examiners for his navigator’s papers. That means six hours for you. And less. If you can’t, after an hour’s reading and an hour’s practice with the sextant, take a latitude observation and work it out, I’ll do it for you.“
“You mean you know?“
She shook her head.
“I mean, from the little I know, that I know I can learn to know a meridian sight and the working out of it. I mean that I can learn to know inside of two hours.“
Strange to say, the gale, after easing to a mild breeze, recrudesced in a sort of after-clap. With sails untrimmed and flapping, the consequent smashing, crashing, and rending of our gear can be imagined. It brought out in alarm every man for’ard.
“Trim the yards!“ I yelled at Bert Rhine, who, backed for counsel by Charles Davis and the Maltese Cockney, actually came directly beneath me on the main deck in order to hear above the commotion aloft.
“Keep a-runnin, an’ you won’t have to trim,“ the gangster shouted up to me.
“Want to make land, eh?“ I girded down at him. “Getting hungry, eh? Well, you won’t make land or anything else in a thousand years once you get all your top-hamper piled down on deck.“
I have forgotten to state that this occurred at midday yesterday.
“What are you goin’ to do if we trim?“ Charles Davis broke in.
“Run off shore,“ I replied, “and get your gang out in deep sea where it will be starved back to duty.“
“We’ll furl, an’ let you heave to,“ the gangster proposed.
I shook my head and held up my rifle. “You’ll have to go aloft to do it, and the first man that gets into the shrouds will get this.“
“Then she can go to hell for all we care,“ he said, with emphatic conclusiveness.
And just then the fore-topgallant-yard carried away—luckily as the bow was down-pitched into a trough of sea-and when the slow, confused, and tangled descent was accomplished the big stick lay across the wreck of both bulwarks and of that portion of the bridge between the foremast and the forecastle head.
Bert Rhine heard, but could not see, the damage wrought. He looked up at me challengingly, and sneered:
“Want some more to come down?“
It could not have happened more apropos. The port-brace, and immediately afterwards the starboard-brace, of the crojack-yard—carried away. This was the big, lowest spar on the mizzen, and as the huge thing of steel swung wildly back and forth the gangster and his followers turned and crouched as they looked up to see. Next, the gooseneck of the truss, on which it pivoted, smashed away. Immediately the lifts and lower-topsail sheets parted, and with a fore-and-aft pitch of the ship the spar up-ended and crashed to the deck upon Number Three hatch, destroying that section of the bridge in its fall.
All this was new to the gangster—as it was to me—but Charles Davis and the Maltese Cockney thoroughly apprehended the situation.
“Stand out from under!“ I yelled sardonically; and the three of them cowered and shrank away as their eyes sought aloft for what new spar was thundering down upon them.
The lower-topsail, its sheets parted by the fall of the crojack-yard, was tearing out of the bolt-ropes and ribboning away to leeward and making such an uproar that they might well expect its yard to carry away. Since this wreckage of our beautiful gear was all new to me, I was quite prepared to see the thing happen.
The gangster-leader, no sailor, but, after months at sea, intelligent enough and nervously strong enough to appreciate the danger, turned his head and looked up at me. And I will do him the credit to say that he took his time while all our world of gear aloft seemed smashing to destruction.
“I guess we’ll trim yards,“ he capitulated.
“Better get the skysails and royals off,“ Margaret said in my ear.
“While you’re about it, get in the skysails and royals!“ I shouted down. “And make a decent job of the gasketing!“
Both Charles Davis and the Maltese Cockney advertised their relief in their faces as they heard my words, and, at a nod from the gangster, they started for’ard on the run to put the orders into effect.
Never, in the whole voyage, did our crew spring to it in more lively fashion. And lively fashion was needed to save our gear. As it was, they cut away the remnants of the mizzen-lower-topsail with their sheath-knives, and they loosed the main-skysail out of its bolt-ropes.
The first infraction of our agreement was on the main-lower-topsail. This they attempted to furl. The carrying away of the crojack and the blowing away of the mizzen-lower-topsail gave me freedom to see and aim, and when the tiny messengers from my rifle began to spat through the canvas and to spat against the steel of the yard, the men strung along it desisted from passing the gaskets. I waved my will to Bert Rhine, who acknowledged me and ordered the sail set again and the yard trimmed.
“What is the use of running off-shore?“ I said to Margaret, when the kites were snugged down and all yards trimmed on the wind. “Three hundred and fifty miles off the land is as good as thirty-five hundred so far as starvation is concerned.“
So, instead of making speed through the water toward deep sea, I hove the Elsinore to on the starboard tack with no more than leeway driftage to the west and south.
But our gallant mutineers had their will of us that very night. In the darkness we could hear the work aloft going on as yards were run down, sheets let go, and sails dewed up and gasketed. I did try a few random shots, and all my reward was to hear the whine and creak of ropes through sheaves and to receive an equally random fire of revolver-shots.
It is a most curious situation. We of the high place are masters of the steering of the Elsinore, while those for’ard are masters of the motor power. The only sail that is wholly ours is the spanker. They control absolutely—sheets, halyards, clewlines, buntlines, braces, and down-hauls—every sail on the fore and main. We control the braces on the mizzen, although they control the canvas on the mizzen. For that matter, Margaret and I fail to comprehend why they do not go aloft any dark night and sever the mizzen-braces at the yard-ends. All that prevents this, we are decided, is laziness. For if they did sever the braces that lead aft into our hands, they would be compelled to rig new braces for’ard in some fashion, else, in the rolling, would the mizzenmast be stripped of every spar.
And still the mutiny we are enduring is ridiculous and grotesque. There was never a mutiny like it. It violates all standards and precedents. In the old classic mutinies, long ere this, attacking like tigers, the seamen should have swarmed over the poop and killed most of us or been most of them killed.
Wherefore I sneer at our gallant mutineers, and recommend trained nurses for them, quite in the manner of Mr. Pike. But Margaret shakes her head and insists that human nature is human nature, and that under similar circumstances human nature will express itself similarly. In short, she points to the number of deaths that have already occurred, and declares that on some dark night, sooner or later, whenever the pinch of hunger sufficiently sharpens, we shall see our rascals storming aft.
And in the meantime, except for the tenseness of it, and for the incessant watchfulness which Margaret and I alone maintain, it is more like a mild adventure, more like a page out of some book of romance which ends happily.
It is surely romance, watch and watch for a man and a woman who love, to relieve each other’s watches. Each such relief is a love passage and unforgettable. Never was there wooing like it—the muttered surmises of wind and weather, the whispered councils, the kissed commands in palms of hands, the dared contacts of the dark.
Oh, truly, I have often, since this voyage began, told the books to go hang. And yet the books are at the back of the race-life of me. I am what I am out of ten thousand generations of my kind. Of that there is no discussion. And yet my midnight philosophy stands the test of my breed. I must have selected my books out of the ten thousand generations that compose me. I have killed a man—Steve Roberts. As a perishing blond without an alphabet I should have done this unwaveringly. As a perishing blond with an alphabet, plus the contents in my brain of the philosophizing of all philosophers, I have killed this same man with the same unwaveringness. Culture has not emasculated me. I am quite unaffected. It was in the day’s work, and my kind have always been day-workers, doing the day’s work, whatever it might be, in high adventure or dull ploddingness, and always doing it.
Never would I ask to set back the dial of time or event. I would kill Steve Roberts again, under the same circumstances, as a matter of course. When I say I am unaffected by this happening I do not quite mean it. I am affected. I am aware that the spirit of me is informed with a sober elation of efficiency. I have done something that had to be done, as any man will do what has to be done in the course of the day’s work.
Yes, I am a perishing blond, and a man, and I sit in the high place and bend the stupid ones to my will; and I am a lover, loving a royal woman of my own perishing breed, and together we occupy, and shall occupy, the high place of government and command until our kind perish from the earth.
Margaret was right. The mutiny is not violating standards and precedents. We have had our hands full for days and nights. Ditman Olansen, the crank-eyed Berserker, has been killed by Wada, and the training-ship boy, the one lone cadet of our breed, has gone overside with the regulation sack of coal at his feet. The poop has been rushed. My illuminating invention has proved a success. The men are getting hungry, and we still sit in command in the high place.
First of all the attack on the poop, two nights ago, in Margaret’s watch. No; first, I have made another invention. Assisted by the old steward, who knows, as a Chinese ought, a deal about fireworks, and getting my materials from our signal rockets and Roman candles, I manufactured half a dozen bombs. I don’t really think they are very deadly, and I know our extemporized fuses are slower than our voyage is at the present time; but nevertheless the bombs have served the purpose, as you shall see.
And now to the attempt to rush the poop. It was in Margaret’s watch, from midnight till four in the morning, when the attack was made. Sleeping on the deck by the cabin skylight, I was very close to her when her revolver went off, and continued to go off.
My first spring was to the tripping-lines on my illuminators. The igniting and releasing devices worked cleverly. I pulled two of the tripping-lines, and two of the contraptions exploded into light and noise and at the same time ran automatically down the jigger-trysail-stays, and automatically fetched up at the ends of their lines. The illumination was instantaneous and gorgeous. Henry, the two sail-makers, and the steward—at least three of them awakened from sound sleep, I am sure—ran to join us along the break of the poop. All the advantage lay with us, for we were in the dark, while our foes were outlined against the light behind them.
But such light! The powder crackled, fizzed, and spluttered and spilled out the excess of gasolene from the flaming oakum balls so that streams of fire dripped down on the main deck beneath. And the stuff of the signal-flares dripped red light and blue and green.
There was not much of a fight, for the mutineers were shocked by our fireworks. Margaret fired her revolver haphazardly, while I held my rifle for any that gained the poop. But the attack faded away as quickly as it had come. I did see Margaret overshoot some man, scaling the poop from the port-rail, and the next moment I saw Wada, charging like a buffalo, jab him in the chest with the spear he had made and thrust the boarder back and down.
That was all. The rest retreated for’ard on the dead run, while the three trysails, furled at the foot of the stays next to the mizzen and set on fire by the dripping gasolene, went up in flame and burned entirely away and out without setting the rest of the ship on fire. That is one of the virtues of a ship steel-masted and steel-stayed.
And on the deck beneath us, crumpled, twisted, face hidden so that we could not identify him, lay the man whom Wada had speared.
And now I come to a phase of adventure that is new to me. I have never found it in the books. In short, it is carelessness coupled with laziness, or vice versa. I had used two of my illuminators. Only one remained. An hour later, convinced of the movement aft of men along the deck, I let go the third and last and with its brightness sent them scurrying for’ard. Whether they were attacking the poop tentatively to learn whether or not I had exhausted my illuminators, or whether or not they were trying to rescue Ditman Olansen, we shall never know. The point is: they did come aft; they were compelled to retreat by my illuminator; and it was my last illuminator. And yet I did not start in, there and then, to manufacture fresh ones. This was carelessness. It was laziness. And I hazarded our lives, perhaps, if you please, on a psychological guess that I had convinced our mutineers that we had an inexhaustible stock of illuminators in reserve.
The rest of Margaret’s watch, which I shared with her, was undisturbed. At four I insisted that she go below and turn in, but she compromised by taking my own bed behind the skylight.
At break of day I was able to make out the body, still lying as last I had seen it. At seven o’clock, before breakfast, and while Margaret still slept, I sent the two boys, Henry and Buckwheat, down to the body. I stood above them, at the rail, rifle in hand and ready. But from for’ard came no signs of life; and the lads, between them, rolled the crank-eyed Norwegian over so that we could recognize him, carried him to the rail, and shoved him stiffly across and into the sea. Wada’s spear-thrust had gone clear through him.
But before twenty-four hours were up the mutineers evened the score handsomely. They more than evened it, for we are so few that we cannot so well afford the loss of one as they can. To begin with—and a thing I had anticipated and for which I had prepared my bombs—while Margaret and I ate a deck-breakfast in the shelter of the jiggermast a number of the men sneaked aft and got under the overhang of the poop. Buckwheat saw them coming and yelled the alarm, but it was too late. There was no direct way to get them out. The moment I put my head over the rail to fire at them, I knew they would fire up at me with all the advantage in their favour. They were hidden. I had to expose myself.
Two steel doors, tight-fastened and caulked against the Cape Horn seas, opened under the overhang of the poop from the cabin on to the main deck. These doors the men proceeded to attack with sledge-hammers, while the rest of the gang, sheltered by the ’midship-house, showed that it stood ready for the rush when the doors were battered down.
Inside, the steward guarded one door with his hacking knife, while with his spear Wada guarded the other door. Nor, while I had dispatched them to this duty, was I idle. Behind the jiggermast I lighted the fuse of one of my extemporized bombs. When it was sputtering nicely I ran across the poop to the break and dropped the bomb to the main deck beneath, at the same time making an effort to toss it in under the overhang where the men battered at the port-door. But this effort was distracted and made futile by a popping of several revolver shots from the gangways amidships. One is jumpy when soft-nosed bullets putt-putt around him. As a result, the bomb rolled about on the open deck.
Nevertheless, the illuminators had earned the respect of the mutineers for my fireworks. The sputtering and fizzling of the fuse were too much for them, and from under the poop they ran for’ard like so many scuttling rabbits. I know I could have got a couple with my rifle had I not been occupied with lighting the fuse of a second bomb. Margaret managed three wild shots with her revolver, and the poop was immediately peppered by a scattering revolver fire from for’ard.
Being provident (and lazy, for I have learned that it takes time and labour to manufacture home-made bombs), I pinched off the live end of the fuse in my hand. But the fuse of the first bomb, rolling about on the main deck, merely fizzled on; and as I waited I resolved to shorten my remaining fuses. Any of the men who fled, had he had the courage, could have pinched off the fuse, or tossed the bomb overboard, or, better yet, he could have tossed it up amongst us on the poop.
It took fully five minutes for that blessed fuse to burn its slow length, and when the bomb did go off it was a sad disappointment. I swear it could have been sat upon with nothing more than a jar to one’s nerves. And yet, in so far as the intimidation goes, it did its work. The men have not since ventured under the overhang of the poop.
That the mutineers were getting short of food was patent. The Elsinore, sailless, drifted about that morning, the sport of wind and wave; and the gang put many lines overboard for the catching of mollyhawks and albatrosses. Oh, I worried the hungry fishers with my rifle. No man could show himself for’ard without having a bullet whop against the iron-work perilously near him. And still they caught birds—not, however, without danger to themselves, and not without numerous losses of birds due to my rifle.
Their procedure was to toss their hooks and bait over the rail from shelter and slowly to pay the lines out as the slight windage of the Elsinore’s hull, spars, and rigging drifted her through the water. When a bird was hooked they hauled in the line, still from shelter, till it was alongside. This was the ticklish moment. The hook, merely a hollow and acute-angled triangle of sheet-copper floating on a piece of board at the end of the line, held the bird by pinching its curved beak into the acute angle. The moment the line slacked the bird was released. So, when alongside, this was the problem: to lift the bird out of the water, straight up the side of the ship, without once jamming and easing and slacking. When they tried to do this from shelter invariably they lost the bird.
They worked out a method. When the bird was alongside the several men with revolvers turned loose on me, while one man, overhauling and keeping the line taut, leaped to the rail and quickly hove the bird up and over and inboard. I know this long-distance revolver fire seriously bothered me. One cannot help jumping when death, in the form of a piece of flying lead, hits the rail beside him, or the mast over his head, or whines away in a ricochet from the steel shrouds. Nevertheless, I managed with my rifle to bother the exposed men on the rail to the extent that they lost one hooked bird out of two. And twenty-six men require a quantity of albatrosses and mollyhawks every twenty-four hours, while they can fish only in the daylight.
As the day wore along I improved on my obstructive tactics. When the Elsinore was up in the eye of the wind, and making sternway, I found that by putting the wheel sharply over, one way or the other, I could swing her bow off. Then, when she had paid off till the wind was abeam, by reversing the wheel hard across to the opposite hard-over I could take advantage of her momentum away from the wind and work her off squarely before it. This made all the wood-floated triangles of bird-snares tow aft along her sides.
The first time I was ready for them. With hooks and sinkers on our own lines aft, we tossed out, grappled, captured, and broke off nine of their lines. But the next time, so slow is the movement of so large a ship, the mutineers hauled all their lines safely inboard ere they towed aft within striking distance of my grapnels.
Still I improved. As long as I kept the Elsinore before the wind they could not fish. I experimented. Once before it, by means of a winged-out spanker coupled with patient and careful steering, I could keep her before it. This I did, hour by hour one of my men relieving another at the wheel. As a result all fishing ceased.
Margaret was holding the first dog-watch, four to six. Henry was at the wheel steering. Wada and Louis were below cooking the evening meal over the big coal-stove and the oil-burners. I had just come up from below and was standing beside the sounding-machine, not half a dozen feet from Henry at the wheel. Some obscure sound from the ventilator must have attracted me, for I was gazing at it when the thing happened.
But first, the ventilator. This is a steel shaft that leads up from the coal-carrying bowels of the ship beneath the lazarette and that wins to the outside-world via the after-wall of the chart-house. In fact, it occupies the hollow inside of the double walls of the afterwall of the chart-house. Its opening, at the height of a man’s head, is screened with iron bars so closely set that no mature-bodied rat can squeeze between. Also, this opening commands the wheel, which is a scant fifteen feet away and directly across the booby-hatch. Some mutineer, crawling along the space between the coal and the deck of the lower hold, had climbed the ventilator shaft and was able to take aim through the slits between the bars.
Practically simultaneously, I saw the out-rush of smoke and heard the report. I heard a grunt from Henry, and, turning my head, saw him cling to the spokes and turn the wheel half a revolution as he sank to the deck. It must have been a lucky shot. The boy was perforated through the heart or very near to the heart—we have no time for post-mortems on the Elsinore.
Tom Spink and the second sail-maker, Uchino, sprang to Henry’s side. The revolver continued to go off through the ventilator slits, and the bullets thudded into the front of the half wheel-house all about them. Fortunately they were not hit, and they immediately scrambled out of range. The boy quivered for the space of a few seconds, and ceased to move; and one more cadet of the perishing breed perished as he did his day’s work at the wheel of the Elsinore off the west coast of South America, bound from Baltimore to Seattle with a cargo of coal.
The situation is hopelessly grotesque. We in the high place command the food of the Elsinore, but the mutineers have captured her steering-gear. That is to say, they have captured it without coming into possession of it. They cannot steer, neither can we. The poop, which is the high place, is ours. The wheel is on the poop, yet we cannot touch the wheel. From that slitted opening in the ventilator-shaft they are able to shoot down any man who approaches the wheel. And with that steel wall of the chart-house as a shield they laugh at us as from a conning tower.
I have a plan, but it is not worth while putting into execution unless its need becomes imperative. In the darkness of night it would be an easy trick to disconnect the steering-gear from the short tiller on the rudder-head, and then, by re-rigging the preventer tackles, steer from both sides of the poop well enough for’ard to be out of the range of the ventilator.
In the meantime, in this fine weather, the Elsinore drifts as she lists, or as the windage of her lists and the sea-movement of waves lists. And she can well drift. Let the mutineers starve. They can best be brought to their senses through their stomachs.
* * * * *
And what are wits for, if not for use? I am breaking the men’s hungry hearts. It is great fun in its way. The mollyhawks and albatrosses, after their fashion, have followed the Elsinore up out of their own latitudes. This means that there are only so many of them and that their numbers are not recruited. Syllogism: major premise, a definite and limited amount of bird-meat; minor premise, the only food the mutineers now have is bird-meat; conclusion, destroy the available food and the mutineers will be compelled to come back to duty.
I have acted on this bit of logic. I began experimentally by tossing small chunks of fat pork and crusts of stale bread overside. When the birds descended for the feast I shot them. Every carcass thus left floating on the surface of the sea was so much less meat for the mutineers.
But I bettered the method. Yesterday I overhauled the medicine-chest, and I dosed my chunks of fat pork and bread with the contents of every bottle that bore a label of skull and cross-bones. I even added rough-on-rats to the deadliness of the mixture—this on the suggestion of the steward.
And to-day, behold, there is no bird left in the sky. True, while I played my game yesterday, the mutineers hooked a few of the birds; but now the rest are gone, and that is bound to be the last food for the men for’ard until they resume duty.
Yes; it is grotesque. It is a boy’s game. It reads like Midshipman Easy, like Frank Mildmay, like Frank Reade, Jr.; and yet, i’ faith, life and death’s in the issue. I have just gone over the toll of our dead since the voyage began.
First, was Christian Jespersen, killed by O’Sullivan when that maniac aspired to throw overboard Andy Fay’s sea-boots; then O’Sullivan, because he interfered with Charles Davis’ sleep, brained by that worthy with a steel marlin-spike; next Petro Marinkovich, just ere we began the passage of the Horn, murdered undoubtedly by the gangster clique, his life cut out of him with knives, his carcass left lying on deck to be found by us and be buried by us; and the Samurai, Captain West, a sudden though not a violent death, albeit occurring in the midst of all elemental violence as Mr. Pike clawed the Elsinore off the lee-shore of the Horn; and Boney the Splinter, following, washed overboard to drown as we cleared the sea-gashing rock-tooth where the southern tip of the continent bit into the storm-wrath of the Antarctic; and the big-footed, clumsy youth of a Finnish carpenter, hove overside as a Jonah by his fellows who believed that Finns control the winds; and Mike Cipriani and Bill Quigley, Rome and Ireland, shot down on the poop and flung overboard alive by Mr. Pike, still alive and clinging to the log-line, cut adrift by the steward to be eaten alive by great-beaked albatrosses, mollyhawks, and sooty-plumaged Cape hens; Steve Roberts, one-time cowboy, shot by me as he tried to shoot me; Herman Lunkenheimer, his throat cut before all of us by the hound Bombini as Kid Twist stretched the throat taut from behind; the two mates, Mr. Pike and Mr. Mellaire, mutually destroying each other in what must have been an unwitnessed epic combat; Ditman Olansen, speared by Wada as he charged Berserk at the head of the mutineers in the attempt to rush the poop; and last, Henry, the cadet of the perishing house, shot at the wheel, from the ventilator-shaft, in the course of his day’s work.
No; as I contemplate this roll-call of the dead which I have just made I see that we are not playing a boy’s game. Why, we have lost a third of us, and the bloodiest battles of history have rarely achieved such a percentage of mortality. Fourteen of us have gone overside, and who can tell the end?
Nevertheless, here we are, masters of matter, adventurers in the micro-organic, planet-weighers, sun-analysers, star-rovers, god-dreamers, equipped with the human wisdom of all the ages, and yet, quoting Mr. Pike, to come down to brass tacks, we are a lot of primitive beasts, fighting bestially, slaying bestially, pursuing bestially food and water, air for our lungs, a dry space above the deep, and carcasses skin-covered and intact. And over this menagerie of beasts Margaret and I, with our Asiatics under us, rule top-dog. We are all dogs—there is no getting away from it. And we, the fair-pigmented ones, by the seed of our ancestry rulers in the high place, shall remain top-dog over the rest of the dogs. Oh, there is material in plenty for the cogitation of any philosopher on a windjammer in mutiny in this Year of our Lord 1913.
* * * * *
Henry was the fourteenth of us to go overside into the dark and salty disintegration of the sea. And in one day he has been well avenged; for two of the mutineers have followed him. The steward called my attention to what was taking place. He touched my arm half beyond his servant’s self, as he gloated for’ard at the men heaving two corpses overside. Weighted with coal, they sank immediately, so that we could not identify them.
“They have been fighting,“ I said. “It is good that they should fight among themselves.“
But the old Chinese merely grinned and shook his head.
“You don’t think they have been fighting?“ I queried.
“No fight. They eat’m mollyhawk and albatross; mollyhawk and albatross eat’m fat pork; two men he die, plenty men much sick, you bet, damn to hell me very much glad. I savve.“
And I think he was right. While I was busy baiting the sea-birds the mutineers were catching them, and of a surety they must have caught some that had eaten of my various poisons.
The two poisoned ones went over the side yesterday. Since then we have taken the census. Two men only have not appeared, and they are Bob, the fat and overgrown feebling youth, and, of all creatures, the Faun. It seems my fate that I had to destroy the Faun—the poor, tortured Faun, always willing and eager, ever desirous to please. There is a madness of ill luck in all this. Why couldn’t the two dead men have been Charles Davis and Tony the Greek? Or Bert Rhine and Kid Twist? or Bombini and Andy Fay? Yes, and in my heart I know I should have felt better had it been Isaac Chantz and Arthur Deacon, or Nancy and Sundry Buyers, or Shorty and Larry.
* * * * *
The steward has just tendered me a respectful bit of advice.
“Next time we chuck’m overboard like Henry, much better we use old iron.“
“Getting short of coal?“ I asked.
He nodded affirmation. We use a great deal of coal in our cooking, and when the present supply gives out we shall have to cut through a bulkhead to get at the cargo.
The situation grows tense. There are no more sea-birds, and the mutineers are starving. Yesterday I talked with Bert Rhine. To-day I talked with him again, and he will never forget, I am certain, the little talk we had this morning.
To begin with, last evening, at five o’clock, I heard his voice issuing from between the slits of the ventilator in the after-wall of the chart-house. Standing at the corner of the house, quite out of range, I answered him.
“Getting hungry?“ I jeered. “Let me tell you what we are going to have for dinner. I have just been down and seen the preparations. Now, listen: first, caviare on toast; then, clam bouillon; and creamed lobster; and tinned lamb chops with French peas—you know, the peas that melt in one’s mouth; and California asparagus with mayonnaise; and—oh, I forgot to mention fried potatoes and cold pork and beans; and peach pie; and coffee, real coffee. Doesn’t it make you hungry for your East Side? And, say, think of the free lunch going to waste right now in a thousand saloons in good old New York.“
I had told him the truth. The dinner I described (principally coming out of tins and bottles, to be sure) was the dinner we were to eat.
“Cut that,“ he snarled. “I want to talk business with you.“
“Right down to brass tacks,“ I gibed. “Very well, when are you and the rest of your rats going to turn to?“
“Cut that,“ he reiterated. “I’ve got you where 1 want you now. Take it from me, I’m givin’ it straight. I’m not tellin’ you how, but I’ve got you under my thumb. When I come down on you, you’ll crack.“
“Hell is full of cocksure rats like you,“ I retorted; although I never dreamed how soon he would be writhing in the particular hell preparing for him.
“Forget it,“ he sneered back. “I’ve got you where I want you. I’m just tellin’ you, that’s all.“
“Pardon me,“ I replied, “when I tell you that I’m from Missouri. You’ll have to show me.“
And as I thus talked the thought went through my mind of how I naturally sought out the phrases of his own vocabulary in order to make myself intelligible to him. The situation was bestial, with sixteen of our complement already gone into the dark; and the terms I employed, perforce, were terms of bestiality. And I thought, also, of I who was thus compelled to dismiss the dreams of the utopians, the visions of the poets, the king-thoughts of the king-thinkers, in a discussion with this ripened product of the New York City inferno. To him I must talk in the elemental terms of life and death, of food and water, of brutality and cruelty.
“I give you your choice,“ he went on. “Give in now, an’ you won’t be hurt, none of you.“
“And if we don’t?“ I dared airily.
“You’ll be sorry you was ever born. You ain’t a mush-head, you’ve got a girl there that’s stuck on you. It’s about time you think of her. You ain’t altogether a mutt. You get my drive?“
Ay, I did get it; and somehow, across my brain flashed a vision of all I had ever read and heard of the siege of the Legations at Peking, and of the plans of the white men for their womenkind in the event of the yellow hordes breaking through the last lines of defence. Ay, and the old steward got it; for I saw his black eyes glint murderously in their narrow, tilted slits. He knew the drift of the gangster’s meaning.
“You get my drive?“ the gangster repeated.
And I knew anger. Not ordinary anger, but cold anger. And I caught a vision of the high place in which we had sat and ruled down the ages in all lands, on all seas. I saw my kind, our women with us, in forlorn hopes and lost endeavours, pent in hill fortresses, rotted in jungle fastnesses, cut down to the last one on the decks of rocking ships. And always, our women with us, had we ruled the beasts. We might die, our women with us; but, living, we had ruled. It was a royal vision I glimpsed. Ay, and in the purple of it I grasped the ethic, which was the stuff of the fabric of which it was builded. It was the sacred trust of the seed, the bequest of duty handed down from all ancestors.
And I flamed more coldly. It was not red-brute anger. It was intellectual. It was based on concept and history; it was the philosophy of action of the strong and the pride of the strong in their own strength. Now at last I knew Nietzsche. I knew the rightness of the books, the relation of high thinking to high-conduct, the transmutation of midnight thought into action in the high place on the poop of a coal-carrier in the year nineteen-thirteen, my woman beside me, my ancestors behind me, my slant-eyed servitors under me, the beasts beneath me and beneath the heel of me. God! I felt kingly. I knew at last the meaning of kingship.
My anger was white and cold. This subterranean rat of a miserable human, crawling through the bowels of the ship to threaten me and mine! A rat in the shelter of a knot-hole making a noise as beast-like as any rat ever made! And it was in this spirit that I answered the gangster.
“When you crawl on your belly, along the open deck, in the broad light of day, like a yellow cur that has been licked to obedience, and when you show by your every action that you like it and are glad to do it, then, and not until then, will I talk with you.“
Thereafter, for the next ten minutes, he shouted all the Billingsgate of his kind at me through the slits in the ventilator. But I made no reply. I listened, and I listened coldly, and as I listened I knew why the English had blown their mutinous Sepoys from the mouths of cannon in India long years ago.
* * * * *
And when, this morning, I saw the steward struggling with a five-gallon carboy of sulphuric acid, I never dreamed the use he intended for it.
In the meantime I was devising another way to overcome that deadly ventilator shaft. The scheme was so simple that I was shamed in that it had not occurred to me at the very beginning. The slitted opening was small. Two sacks of flour, in a wooden frame, suspended by ropes from the edge of the chart-house roof directly above, would effectually cover the opening and block all revolver fire.
No sooner thought than done. Tom Spink and Louis were on top the chart-house with me and preparing to lower the flour, when we heard a voice issuing from the shaft.
“Who’s in there now?“ I demanded. “Speak up.“
“I’m givin’ you a last chance,“ Bert Rhine answered.
And just then, around the corner of the house, stepped the steward. In his hand he carried a large galvanized pail, and my casual thought was that he had come to get rain-water from the barrels. Even as I thought it, he made a sweeping half-circle with the pail and sloshed its contents into the ventilator-opening. And even as the liquid flew through the air I knew it for what it was—undiluted sulphuric acid, two gallons of it from the carboy.
The gangster must have received the liquid fire in the face and eyes. And, in the shock of pain, he must have released all holds and fallen upon the coal at the bottom of the shaft. His cries and shrieks of anguish were terrible, and I was reminded of the starving rats which had squealed up that same shaft during the first months of the voyage. The thing was sickening. I prefer that men be killed cleanly and easily.
The agony of the wretch I did not fully realize until the steward, his bare fore-arms sprayed by the splash from the ventilator slats, suddenly felt the bite of the acid through his tight, whole skin and made a mad rush for the water-barrel at the corner of the house. And Bert Rhine, the silent man of soundless laughter, screaming below there on the coal, was enduring the bite of the acid in his eyes!
We covered the ventilator opening with our flour-device; the screams from below ceased as the victim was evidently dragged for’ard across the coal by his mates; and yet I confess to a miserable forenoon. As Carlyle has said: “Death is easy; all men must die“; but to receive two gallons of full-strength sulphuric acid full in the face is a vastly different and vastly more horrible thing than merely to die. Fortunately, Margaret was below at the time, and, after a few minutes, in which I recovered my balance, I bullied and swore all our hands into keeping the happening from her.
* * * * *
Oh, well, and we have got ours in retaliation. Off and on, through all of yesterday, after the ventilator tragedy, there were noises beneath the cabin floor or deck. We heard them under the dining-table, under the steward’s pantry, under Margaret’s stateroom.
This deck is overlaid with wood, but under the wood is iron, or steel rather, such as of which the whole Elsinore is builded.
Margaret and I, followed by Louis, Wada, and the steward, walked about from place to place, wherever the sounds arose of tappings and of cold-chisels against iron. The tappings seemed to come from everywhere; but we concluded that the concentration necessary on any spot to make an opening large enough for a man’s body would inevitably draw our attention to that spot. And, as Margaret said:
“If they do manage to cut through, they must come up head-first, and, in such emergence, what chance would they have against us?“
So I relieved Buckwheat from deck duty, placed him on watch over the cabin floor, to be relieved by the steward in Margaret’s watches.
In the late afternoon, after prodigious hammerings and clangings in a score of places, all noises ceased. Neither in the first and second dog-watches, nor in the first watch of the night, were the noises resumed. When I took charge of the poop at midnight Buckwheat relieved the steward in the vigil over the cabin floor; and as I leaned on the rail at the break of the poop, while my four hours dragged slowly by, least of all did I apprehend danger from the cabin—especially when I considered the two-gallon pail of raw sulphuric acid ready to hand for the first head that might arise through an opening in the floor not yet made. Our rascals for’ard might scale the poop; or cross aloft from mizzenmast to jigger and descend upon our heads; but how they could invade us through the floor was beyond me.
But they did invade. A modern ship is a complex affair. How was I to guess the manner of the invasion?
It was two in the morning, and for an hour I had been puzzling my head with watching the smoke arise from the after-division of the for’ard-house and with wondering why the mutineers should have up steam in the donkey-engine at such an ungodly hour. Not on the whole voyage had the donkey-engine been used. Four bells had just struck, and I was leaning on the rail at the break of the poop when I heard a prodigious coughing and choking from aft. Next, Wada ran across the deck to me.
“Big trouble with Buckwheat,“ he blurted at me. “You go quick.“
I shoved him my rifle and left him on guard while I raced around the chart-house. A lighted match, in the hands of Tom Spink, directed me. Between the booby-hatch and the wheel, sitting up and rocking back and forth with wringings of hands and wavings of arms, tears of agony bursting from his eyes, was Buckwheat. My first thought was that in some stupid way he had got the acid into his own eyes. But the terrible fashion in which he coughed and strangled would quickly have undeceived me, had not Louis, bending over the booby-companion, uttered a startled exclamation.
I joined him, and one whiff of the air that came up from below made me catch my breath and gasp. I had inhaled sulphur. On the instant I forgot the Elsinore, the mutineers for’ard, everything save one thing.
The next I know, I was down the booby-ladder and reeling dizzily about the big after-room as the sulphur fumes bit my lungs and strangled me. By the dim light of a sea-lantern I saw the old steward, on hands and knees, coughing and gasping, the while he shook awake Yatsuda, the first sail-maker. Uchino, the second sail-maker, still strangled in his sleep.
It struck me that the air might be better nearer the floor, and I proved it when I dropped on my hands and knees. I rolled Uchino out of his blankets with a quick jerk, wrapped the blankets about my head, face, and mouth, arose to my feet, and dashed for’ard into the hall. After a couple of collisions with the wood-work I again dropped to the floor and rearranged the blankets so that, while my mouth remained covered, I could draw or withdraw, a thickness across my eyes.
The pain of the fumes was bad enough, but the real hardship was the dizziness I suffered. I blundered into the steward’s pantry, and out of it, missed the cross-hall, stumbled through the next starboard opening in the long hall, and found myself bent double by violent collision with the dining-room table.
But I had my bearings. Feeling my way around the table and bumping most of the poisoned breath out of me against the rotund-bellied stove, I emerged in the cross-hall and made my way to starboard. Here, at the base of the chart-room stairway, I gained the hall that led aft. By this time my own situation seemed so serious that, careless of any collision, I went aft in long leaps.
Margaret’s door was open. I plunged into her room. The moment I drew the blanket-thickness from my eyes I knew blindness and a modicum of what Bert Rhine must have suffered. Oh, the intolerable bite of the sulphur in my lungs, nostrils, eyes, and brain! No light burned in the room. I could only strangle and stumble for’ard to Margaret’s bed, upon which I collapsed.
She was not there. I felt about, and I felt only the warm hollow her body had left in the under-sheet. Even in my agony and helplessness the intimacy of that warmth her body had left was very dear to me. Between the lack of oxygen in my lungs (due to the blankets), the pain of the sulphur, and the mortal dizziness in my brain, I felt that I might well cease there where the linen warmed my hand.
Perhaps I should have ceased, had I not heard a terrible coughing from along the hall. It was new life to me. I fell from bed to floor and managed to get upright until I gained the hall, where again I fell. Thereafter I crawled on hands and knees to the foot of the stairway. By means of the newel-post I drew myself upright and listened. Near me something moved and strangled. I fell upon it and found in my arms all the softness of Margaret.
How describe that battle up the stairway? It was a crucifixion of struggle, an age-long nightmare of agony. Time after time, as my consciousness blurred, the temptation was upon me to cease all effort and let myself blur down into the ultimate dark. I fought my way step by step. Margaret was now quite unconscious, and I lifted her body step by step, or dragged it several steps at a time, and fell with it, and back with it, and lost much that had been so hardly gained. And yet out of it all this I remember: that warm soft body of hers was the dearest thing in the world—vastly more dear than the pleasant land I remotely remembered, than all the books and all the humans I had ever known, than the deck above, with its sweet pure air softly blowing under the cool starry sky.
As I look back upon it I am aware of one thing: the thought of leaving her there and saving myself never crossed my mind. The one place for me was where she was.
Truly, this which I write seems absurd and purple; yet it was not absurd during those long minutes on the chart-room stairway. One must taste death for a few centuries of such agony ere he can receive sanction for purple passages.
And as I fought my screaming flesh, my reeling brain, and climbed that upward way, I prayed one prayer: that the chart-house doors out upon the poop might not be shut. Life and death lay right there in that one point of the issue. Was there any creature of my creatures aft with common sense and anticipation sufficient to make him think to open those doors? How I yearned for one man, for one proved henchman, such as Mr. Pike, to be on the poop! As it was, with the sole exception of Tom Spink and Buckwheat, my men were Asiatics.
I gained the top of the stairway, but was too far gone to rise to my feet. Nor could I rise upright on my knees. I crawled like any four-legged animal—nay, I wormed my way like a snake, prone to the deck. It was a matter of several feet to the doorway. I died a score of times in those several feet; but ever I endured the agony of resurrection and dragged Margaret with me. Sometimes the full strength I could exert did not move her, and I lay with her and coughed and strangled my way through to another resurrection.
And the door was open. The doors to starboard and to port were both open; and as the Elsinore rolled a draught through the chart-house hall my lungs filled with pure, cool air. As I drew myself across the high threshold and pulled Margaret after me, from very far away I heard the cries of men and the reports of rifle and revolver. And, ere I fainted into the blackness, on my side, staring, my pain gone so beyond endurance that it had achieved its own anæsthesia, I glimpsed, dream-like and distant, the sharply silhouetted poop-rail, dark forms that cut and thrust and smote, and, beyond, the mizzen-mast brightly lighted by our illuminators.
* * * * *
Well, the mutineers failed to take the poop. My five Asiatics and two white men had held the citadel while Margaret and I lay unconscious side by side.
The whole affair was very simple. Modern maritime quarantine demands that ships shall not carry vermin that are themselves plague-carriers. In the donkey-engine section of the for’ard house is a complete fumigating apparatus. The mutineers had merely to lay and fasten the pipes aft across the coal, to chisel a hole through the double-deck of steel and wood under the cabin, and to connect up and begin to pump. Buckwheat had fallen asleep and been awakened by the strangling sulphur fumes. We in the high place had been smoked out by our rascals like so many rats.
It was Wada who had opened one of the doors. The old steward had opened the other. Together they had attempted the descent of the stairway and been driven back by the fumes. Then they had engaged in the struggle to repel the rush from for’ard.
Margaret and I are agreed that sulphur, excessively inhaled, leaves the lungs sore. Only now, after a lapse of a dozen hours, can we draw breath in anything that resembles comfort. But still my lungs were not so sore as to prevent my telling her what I had learned she meant to me. And yet she is only a woman—I tell her so; I tell her that there are at least seven hundred and fifty millions of two-legged, long-haired, gentle-voiced, soft-bodied, female humans like her on the planet, and that she is really swamped by the immensity of numbers of her sex and kind. But I tell her something more. I tell her that of all of them she is the only one. And, better yet, to myself and for myself, I believe it. I know it. The last least part of me and all of me proclaims it.
Love is wonderful. It is the everlasting and miraculous amazement. Oh, trust me, I know the old, hard scientific method of weighing and calculating and classifying love. It is a profound foolishness, a cosmic trick and quip, to the contemplative eye of the philosopher—yes, and of the futurist. But when one forsakes such intellectual flesh-pots and becomes mere human and male human, in short, a lover, then all he may do, and which is what he cannot help doing, is to yield to the compulsions of being and throw both his arms around love and hold it closer to him than is his own heart close to him. This is the summit of his life, and of man’s life. Higher than this no man may rise. The philosophers toil and struggle on mole-hill peaks far below. He who has not loved has not tasted the ultimate sweet of living. I know. I love Margaret, a woman. She is desirable.
In the past twenty-four hours many things have happened. To begin with, we nearly lost the steward in the second dog-watch last evening. Through the slits in the ventilator some man thrust a knife into the sacks of flour and cut them wide open from top to bottom. In the dark the flour poured to the deck unobserved.
Of course, the man behind could not see through the screen of empty sacks, but he took a blind pot-shot at point-blank range when the steward went by, slip-sloppily dragging the heels of his slippers. Fortunately it was a miss, but so close a miss was it that his cheek and neck were burned with powder grains.
At six bells in the first watch came another surprise. Tom Spink came to me where I stood guard at the for’ard end of the poop. His voice shook as he spoke.
“For the love of God, sir, they’ve come,“ he said.
“Who?“ I asked sharply.
“Them,“ he chattered. “The ones that come aboard off the Horn, sir, the three drownded sailors. They’re there, aft, sir, the three of ’em, standin’ in a row by the wheel.“
“How did they get there?“
“Bein’ warlocks, they flew, sir. You didn’t see ’m go by you, did you, sir?“
“No,“ I admitted. “They never went by me.“
Poor Tom Spink groaned.
“But there are lines aloft there on which they could cross over from mizzen to jigger,“ I added. “Send Wada to me.“
When the latter relieved me I went aft. And there in a row were our three pale-haired storm-waifs with the topaz eyes. In the light of a bull’s-eye, held on them by Louis, their eyes never seemed more like the eyes of great cats. And, heavens, they purred! At least, the inarticulate noises they made sounded more like purring than anything else. That these sounds meant friendliness was very evident. Also, they held out their hands, palms upward, in unmistakable sign of peace. Each in turn doffed his cap and placed my hand for a moment on his head. Without doubt this meant their offer of fealty, their acceptance of me as master.
I nodded my head. There was nothing to be said to men who purred like cats, while sign-language in the light of the bull’s-eye was rather difficult. Tom Spink groaned protest when I told Louis to take them below and give them blankets.
I made the sleep-sign to them, and they nodded gratefully, hesitated, then pointed to their mouths and rubbed their stomachs.
“Drowned men do not eat,“ I laughed to Tom Spink. “Go down and watch them. Feed them up, Louis, all they want. It’s a good sign of short rations for’ard.“
At the end of half an hour Tom Spink was back.
“Well, did they eat?“ I challenged him.
But he was unconvinced. The very quantity they had eaten was a suspicious thing, and, further, he had heard of a kind of ghost that devoured dead bodies in graveyards. Therefore, he concluded, mere non-eating was no test for a ghost.
The third event of moment occurred this morning at seven o’clock. The mutineers called for a truce; and when Nosey Murphy, the Maltese Cockney, and the inevitable Charles Davis stood beneath me on the main deck, their faces showed lean and drawn. Famine had been my great ally. And in truth, with Margaret beside me in that high place of the break of the poop, as I looked down on the hungry wretches I felt very strong. Never had the inequality of numbers fore and aft been less than now. The three deserters, added to our own nine, made twelve of us, while the mutineers, after subtracting Ditman Olansen, Bob and the Faun, totalled only an even score. And of these Bert Rhine must certainly be in a bad way, while there were many weaklings, such as Sundry Buyers, Nancy, Larry, and Lars Jacobsen.
“Well, what do you want?“ I demanded. “I haven’t much time to waste. Breakfast is ready and waiting.“
Charles Davis started to speak, but I shut him off.
“I’ll have nothing out of you, Davis. At least not now. Later on, when I’m in that court of law you’ve bothered me with for half the voyage, you’ll get your turn at talking. And when that time comes don’t forget that I shall have a few words to say.“
Again he began, but this time was stopped by Nosey Murphy.
“Aw, shut your trap, Davis,“ the gangster snarled, “or I’ll shut it for you.“ He glanced up to me. “We want to go back to work, that’s what we want.“
“Which is not the way to ask for it,“ I answered.
“Sir,“ he added hastily.
“That’s better,“ I commented.
“Oh, my God, sir, don’t let ’m come aft.“ Tom Spink muttered hurriedly in my ear. “That’d be the end of all of us. And even if they didn’t get you an’ the rest, they’d heave me over some dark night. They ain’t never goin’ to forgive me, sir, for joinin’ in with the afterguard.“
I ignored the interruption and addressed the gangster.
“There’s nothing like going to work when you want to as badly as you seem to. Suppose all hands get sail on her just to show good intention.“
“We’d like to eat first, sir,“ he objected.
“I’d like to see you setting sail, first,“ was my reply. “And you may as well get it from me straight that what I like goes, aboard this ship.“—I almost said “hooker.“
Nosey Murphy hesitated and looked to the Maltese Cockney for counsel. The latter debated, as if gauging the measure of his weakness while he stared aloft at the work involved. Finally he nodded.
“All right, sir,“ the gangster spoke up. “We’ll do it . . . but can’t something be cookin’ in the galley while we’re doin’ it?“
I shook my head.
“I didn’t have that in mind, and I don’t care to change my mind now. When every sail is stretched and every yard braced, and all that mess of gear cleared up, food for a good meal will be served out. You needn’t bother about the spanker nor the mizzen-braces. We’ll make your work lighter by that much.“
In truth, as they climbed aloft they showed how miserably weak they were. There were some too feeble to go aloft. Poor Sundry Buyers continually pressed his abdomen as he toiled around the deck-capstans; and never was Nancy’s face quite so forlorn as when he obeyed the Maltese Cockney’s command and went up to loose the mizzen-skysail.
In passing, I must note one delicious miracle that was worked before our eyes. They were hoisting the mizzen-upper-topsail-yard by means of one of the patent deck-capstans. Although they had reversed the gear so as to double the purchase, they were having a hard time of it. Lars Jacobsen was limping on his twice-broken leg, and with him were Sundry Buyers, Tony the Greek, Bombini, and Mulligan Jacobs. Nosey Murphy held the turn.
When they stopped from sheer exhaustion Murphy’s glance chanced to fall on Charles Davis, the one man who had not worked since the outset of the voyage and who was not working now.
“Bear a hand, Davis,“ the gangster called.
Margaret gurgled low laughter in my ear as she caught the drift of the episode.
The sea-lawyer looked at the other in amazement ere he answered:
“I guess not.“
After nodding Sundry Buyers over to him to take the turn Murphy straightened his back and walked close to Davis, then said very quietly:
“I guess yes.“
That was all. For a space neither spoke. Davis seemed to be giving the matter judicial consideration. The men at the capstan panted, rested, and looked on—all save Bombini, who slunk across the deck until he stood at Murphy’s shoulder.
Under such circumstances the decision Charles Davis gave was eminently the right one, although even then he offered a compromise.
“I’ll hold the turn,“ he volunteered.
“You’ll lump around one of them capstan-bars,“ Murphy said.
The sea-lawyer made no mistake. He knew in all absoluteness that he was choosing between life and death, and he limped over to the capstan and found his place. And as the work started, and as he toiled around and around the narrow circle, Margaret and I shamelessly and loudly laughed our approval. And our own men stole for’ard along the poop to peer down at the spectacle of Charles Davis at work.
All of which must have pleased Nosey Murphy, for, as he continued to hold the turn and coil down, he kept a critical eye on Davis.
“More juice, Davis!“ he commanded with abrupt sharpness.
And Davis, with a startle, visibly increased his efforts.
This was too much for our fellows, who, Asiatics and all, applauded with laughter and hand-clapping. And what could I do? It was a gala day, and our faithful ones deserved some little recompense of amusement. So I ignored the breach of discipline and of poop etiquette by strolling away aft with Margaret.
At the wheel was one of our storm-waifs. I set the course due east for Valparaiso, and sent the steward below to bring up sufficient food for one substantial meal for the mutineers.
“When do we get our next grub, sir?“ Nosey Murphy asked, as the steward served the supplies down to him from the poop.
“At midday,“ I answered. “And as long as you and your gang are good, you’ll get your grub three times each day. You can choose your own watches any way you please. But the ship’s work must be done, and done properly. If it isn’t, then the grub stops. That will do. Now go for’ard.“
“One thing more, sir,“ he said quickly. “Bert Rhine is awful bad. He can’t see, sir. It looks like he’s going to lose his face. He can’t sleep. He groans all the time.“
* * * * *
It was a busy day. I made a selection of things from the medicine-chest for the acid-burned gangster; and, finding that Murphy knew how to manipulate a hypodermic syringe, entrusted him with one.
Then, too, I practised with the sextant and think I fairly caught the sun at noon and correctly worked up the observation. But this is latitude, and is comparatively easy. Longitude is more difficult. But I am reading up on it.
All afternoon a gentle northerly fan of air snored the Elsinore through the water at a five-knot clip, and our course lay east for land, for the habitations of men, for the law and order that men institute whenever they organize into groups. Once in Valparaiso, with police flag flying, our mutineers will be taken care of by the shore authorities.
Another thing I did was to rearrange our watches aft so as to split up the three storm-visitors. Margaret took one in her watch, along with the two sail-makers, Tom Spink, and Louis. Louis is half white, and all trustworthy, so that, at all times, on deck or below, he is told off to the task of never letting the topaz-eyed one out of his sight.
In my watch are the steward, Buckwheat, Wada, and the other two topaz-eyed ones. And to one of them Wada is told off; and to the other is assigned the steward. We are not taking any chances. Always, night and day, on duty or off, these storm-strangers will have one of our proved men watching them.
* * * * *
Yes; and I tried the stranger men out last evening. It was after a council with Margaret. She was sure, and I agreed with her, that the men for’ard are not blindly yielding to our bringing them in to be prisoners in Valparaiso. As we tried to forecast it, their plan is to desert the Elsinore in the boats as soon as we fetch up with the land. Also, considering some of the bitter lunatic spirits for’ard, there would be a large chance of their drilling the Elsinore’s steel sides and scuttling her ere they took to the boats. For scuttling a ship is surely as ancient a practice as mutiny on the high seas.
So it was, at one in the morning, that I tried out our strangers. Two of them I took for’ard with me in the raid on the small boats. One I left beside Margaret, who kept charge of the poop. On the other side of him stood the steward with his big hacking knife. By signs I had made it clear to him, and to his two comrades who were to accompany me for’ard, that at the first sign of treachery he would be killed. And not only did the old steward, with signs emphatic and unmistakable, pledge himself to perform the execution, but we were all convinced that he was eager for the task.
With Margaret I also left Buckwheat and Tom Spink. Wada, the two sail-makers, Louis, and the two topaz-eyed ones accompanied me. In addition to fighting weapons we were armed with axes. We crossed the main deck unobserved, gained the bridge by way of the ’midship-house, and by way of the bridge gained the top of the for’ard-house. Here were the first boats we began work on; but, first of all, I called in the lookout from the forecastle-head.
He was Mulligan Jacobs; and he picked his way back across the wreck of the bridge where the fore-topgallant-yard still lay, and came up to me unafraid, as implacable and bitter as ever.
“Jacobs,“ I whispered, “you are to stay here beside me until we finish the job of smashing the boats. Do you get that?“
“As though it could fright me,“ he growled all too loudly. “Go ahead for all I care. I know your game. And I know the game of the hell’s maggots under our feet this minute. ’Tis they that’d desert in the boats. ’Tis you that’ll smash the boats an’ jail ’m kit an’ crew.“
“S-s-s-h,“ I vainly interpolated.
“What of it?“ he went on as loudly as ever. “They’re sleepin’ with full bellies. The only night watch we keep is the lookout. Even Rhine’s asleep. A few jolts of the needle has put a clapper to his eternal moanin’. Go on with your work. Smash the boats. ’Tis nothin’ I care. ’Tis well I know my own crooked back is worth more to me than the necks of the scum of the world below there.“
“If you felt that way, why didn’t you join us?“ I queried.
“Because I like you no better than them an’ not half so well. They are what you an’ your fathers have made ’em. An’ who in hell are you an’ your fathers? Robbers of the toil of men. I like them little. I like you and your fathers not at all. Only I like myself and me crooked back that’s a livin’ proof there ain’t no God and makes Browning a liar.“
“Join us now,“ I urged, meeting him in his mood. “It will be easier for your back.“
“To hell with you,“ was his answer. “Go ahead an’ smash the boats. You can hang some of them. But you can’t touch me with the law. ’Tis me that’s a crippled creature of circumstance, too weak to raise a hand against any man—a feather blown about by the windy contention of men strong in their back an’ brainless in their heads.“
“As you please,“ I said.
“As I can’t help pleasin’,“ he retorted, “bein’ what I am an’ so made for the little flash between the darknesses which men call life. Now why couldn’t I a-ben a butterfly, or a fat pig in a full trough, or a mere mortal man with a straight back an’ women to love me? Go on an’ smash the boats. Play hell to the top of your bent. Like me, you’ll end in the darkness. And your darkness’ll be—as dark as mine.“
“A full belly puts the spunk back into you,“ I sneered.
“’Tis on an empty belly that the juice of my dislike turns to acid. Go on an’ smash the boats.“
“Whose idea was the sulphur?“ I asked.
“I’m not tellin’ you the man, but I envied him until it showed failure. An’ whose idea was it—to douse the sulphuric into Rhine’s face? He’ll lose that same face, from the way it’s shedding.“
“Nor will I tell you,“ I said. “Though I will tell you that I am glad the idea was not mine.“
“Oh, well,“ he muttered cryptically, “different customs on different ships, as the cook said when he went for’ard to cast off the spanker sheet.“
Not until the job was done and I was back on the poop did I have time to work out the drift of that last figure in its terms of the sea. Mulligan Jacobs might have been an artist, a philosophic poet, had he not been born crooked with a crooked back.
And we smashed the boats. With axes and sledges it was an easier task than I had imagined. On top of both houses we left the boats masses of splintered wreckage, the topaz-eyed ones working most energetically; and we regained the poop without a shot being fired. The forecastle turned out, of course, at our noise, but made no attempt to interfere with us.
And right here I register another complaint against the sea-novelists. A score of men for’ard, desperate all, with desperate deeds behind them, and jail and the gallows facing them not many days away, should have only begun to fight. And yet this score of men did nothing while we destroyed their last chance for escape.
“But where did they get the grub?“ the steward asked me afterwards.
This question he has asked me every day since the first day Mr. Pike began cudgelling his brains over it. I wonder, had I asked Mulligan Jacobs the question, if he would have told me? At any rate, in court at Valparaiso that question will be answered. In the meantime I suppose I shall submit to having the steward ask me it daily.
“It is murder and mutiny on the high seas,“ I told them this morning, when they came aft in a body to complain about the destruction of the boats and to demand my intentions.
And as I looked down upon the poor wretches from the break of the poop, standing there in the high place, the vision of my kind down all its mad, violent, and masterful past was strong upon me. Already, since our departure from Baltimore, three other men, masters, had occupied this high place and gone their way—the Samurai, Mr. Pike, and Mr. Mellaire. I stood here, fourth, no seaman, merely a master by the blood of my ancestors; and the work of the Elsinore in the world went on.
Bert Rhine, his head and face swathed in bandages, stood there beneath me, and I felt for him a tingle of respect. He, too, in a subterranean, ghetto way was master over his rats. Nosey Murphy and Kid Twist stood shoulder to shoulder with their stricken gangster leader. It was his will, because of his terrible injury, to get in to land and doctors as quickly as possible. He preferred taking his chance in court against the chance of losing his life, or, perhaps, his eyesight.
The crew was divided against itself; and Isaac Chantz, the Jew, his wounded shoulder with a hunch to it, seemed to lead the revolt against the gangsters. His wound was enough to convict him in any court, and well he knew it. Beside him, and at his shoulders, clustered the Maltese Cockney, Andy Fay, Arthur Deacon, Frank Fitzgibbon, Richard Giller, and John Hackey.
In another group, still allegiant to the gangsters, were men such as Shorty, Sorensen, Lars Jacobsen, and Larry. Charles Davis was prominently in the gangster group. A fourth group was composed of Sundry Buyers, Nancy, and Tony the Greek. This group was distinctly neutral. And, finally, unaffiliated, quite by himself, stood Mulligan Jacobs—listening, I fancy, to far echoes of ancient wrongs, and feeling, I doubt not, the bite of the iron-hot hooks in his brain.
“What are you going to do with us, sir?“ Isaac Chantz demanded of me, in defiance to the gangsters, who were expected to do the talking.
Bert Rhine lurched angrily toward the sound of the Jew’s voice. Chantz’s partisans drew closer to him.
“Jail you,“ I answered from above. “And it shall go as hard with all of you as I can make it hard.“
“Maybe you will an’ maybe you won’t,“ the Jew retorted.
“Shut up, Chantz!“ Bert Rhine commanded.
“And you’ll get yours, you wop,“ Chantz snarled, “if I have to do it myself.“
I am afraid that I am not so successfully the man of action that I have been priding myself on being; for, so curious and interested was I in observing the moving drama beneath me that for the moment I failed to glimpse the tragedy into which it was culminating.
“Bombini!“ Bert Rhine said.
His voice was imperative. It was the order of a master to the dog at heel. Bombini responded. He drew his knife and started to advance upon the Jew. But a deep rumbling, animal-like in its sound and menace, arose in the throats of those about the Jew.
Bombini hesitated and glanced back across his shoulder at the leader, whose face he could not see for bandages and who he knew could not see.
“’Tis a good deed—do it, Bombini,“ Charles Davis encouraged.
“Shut your face, Davis!“ came out from Bert Rhine’s bandages.
Kid Twist drew a revolver, shoved the muzzle of it first into Bombini’s side, then covered the men about the Jew.
Really, I felt a momentary twinge of pity for the Italian. He was caught between the mill-stones, “Bombini, stick that Jew,“ Bert Rhine commanded.
The Italian advanced a step, and, shoulder to shoulder, on either side, Kid Twist and Nosey Murphy advanced with him.
“I cannot see him,“ Bert Rhine went on; “but by God I will see him!“
And so speaking, with one single, virile movement he tore away the bandages. The toll of pain he must have paid is beyond measurement. I saw the horror of his face, but the description of it is beyond the limits of any English I possess. I was aware that Margaret, at my shoulder, gasped and shuddered.
“Bombini!—stick him,“ the gangster repeated. “And stick any man that raises a yap. Murphy! See that Bombini does his work.“
Murphy’s knife was out and at the bravo’s back. Kid Twist covered the Jew’s group with his revolver. And the three advanced.
It was at this moment that I suddenly recollected myself and passed from dream to action.
“Bombini!“ I said sharply.
He paused and looked up.
“Stand where you are,“ I ordered, “till I do some talking.—Chantz! Make no mistake. Rhine is boss for’ard. You take his orders . . . until we get into Valparaiso; then you’ll take your chances along with him in jail. In the meantime, what Rhine says goes. Get that, and get it straight. I am behind Rhine until the police come on board.—Bombini! do whatever Rhine tells you. I’ll shoot the man who tries to stop you.—Deacon! Stand away from Chantz. Go over to the fife-rail.“
All hands knew the stream of lead my automatic rifle could throw, and Arthur Deacon knew it. He hesitated barely a moment, then obeyed.
“Fitzgibbon!—Giller!—Hackey!“ I called in turn, and was obeyed. “Fay!“ I called twice, ere the response came.
Isaac Chantz stood alone, and Bombini now showed eagerness.
“Chantz!“ I said; “don’t you think it would be healthier to go over to the fife-rail and be good?“
He debated the matter not many seconds, resheathed his knife, and complied.
The tang of power! I was minded to let literature get the better of me and read the rascals a lecture; but thank heaven I had sufficient proportion and balance to refrain.
“Rhine!“ I said.
He turned his corroded face up to me and blinked in an effort to see.
“As long as Chantz takes your orders, leave him alone. We’ll need every hand to work the ship in. As for yourself, send Murphy aft in half an hour and I’ll give him the best the medicine-chest affords. That is all. Go for’ard.“
And they shambled away, beaten and dispirited.
“But that man—his face—what happened to him?“ Margaret asked of me.
Sad it is to end love with lies. Sadder still is it to begin love with lies. I had tried to hide this one happening from Margaret, and I had failed. It could no longer be hidden save by lying; and so I told her the truth, told her how and why the gangster had had his face dashed with sulphuric acid by the old steward who knew white men and their ways.
* * * * *
There is little more to write. The mutiny of the Elsinore is over. The divided crew is ruled by the gangsters, who are as intent on getting their leader into port as I am intent on getting all of them into jail. The first lap of the voyage of the Elsinore draws to a close. Two days, at most, with our present sailing, will bring us into Valparaiso. And then, as beginning a new voyage, the Elsinore will depart for Seattle.
* * * * *
One thing more remains for me to write, and then this strange log of a strange cruise will be complete. It happened only last night. I am yet fresh from it, and athrill with it and with the promise of it.
Margaret and I spent the last hour of the second dog-watch together at the break of the poop. It was good again to feel the Elsinore yielding to the wind-pressure on her canvas, to feel her again slipping and sliding through the water in an easy sea.
Hidden by the darkness, clasped in each other’s arms, we talked love and love plans. Nor am I shamed to confess that I was all for immediacy. Once in Valparaiso, I contended, we would fit out the Elsinore with fresh crew and officers and send her on her way. As for us, steamers and rapid travelling would fetch us quickly home. Furthermore, Valparaiso being a place where such things as licences and ministers obtained, we would be married ere we caught the fast steamers for home.
But Margaret was obdurate. The Wests had always stood by their ships, she urged; had always brought their ships in to the ports intended or had gone down with their ships in the effort. The Elsinore had cleared from Baltimore for Seattle with the Wests in the high place. The Elsinore would re-equip with officers and men in Valparaiso, and the Elsinore would arrive in Seattle with a West still on board.
“But think, dear heart,“ I objected. “The voyage will require months. Remember what Henley has said: ‘Every kiss we take or give leaves us less of life to live.’“
She pressed her lips to mine.
“We kiss,“ she said.
But I was stupid.
* * * * *
“Oh, the weary, weary months,“ I complained. “You dear silly,“ she gurgled. “Don’t you understand?“
“I understand only that it is many a thousand miles from Valparaiso to Seattle,“ I answered.
“You won’t understand,“ she challenged.
“I am a fool,“ I admitted. “I am aware of only one thing: I want you. I want you.“
“You are a dear, but you are very, very stupid,“ she said, and as she spoke she caught my hand and pressed the palm of it against her cheek. “What do you feel?“ she asked.
“Hot cheeks—cheeks most hot.“
“I am blushing for what your stupidity compels me to say,“ she explained. “You have already said that such things as licences and ministers obtain in Valparaiso . . . and . . . and, well . . . “
“You mean . . . ?“ I stammered.
“Just that,“ she confirmed.
“The honeymoon shall be on the Elsinore from Valparaiso all the way to Seattle?“ I rattled on.
“The many thousands of miles, the weary, weary months,“ she teased in my own intonations, until I stifled her teasing with my lips.