But I could not sleep. I took more cream of tartar. It must be the heat of the bed-clothes, I decided, that excited my hives. And yet, whenever I ceased struggling for sleep, and lighted the lamp and read, my skin irritation decreased. But as soon as I turned out the lamp and closed my eyes I was troubled again. So hour after hour passed, through which, between vain attempts to sleep, I managed to wade through many pages of Rosny’s Le Termite—a not very cheerful proceeding, I must say, concerned as it is with the microscopic and over-elaborate recital of Noël Servaise’s tortured nerves, bodily pains, and intellectual phantasma. At last I tossed the novel aside, damned all analytical Frenchmen, and found some measure of relief in the more genial and cynical Stendhal.
Over my head I could hear Mr. Mellaire steadily pace up and down. At four the watches changed, and I recognized the age-lag in Mr. Pike’s promenade. Half an hour later, just as the steward’s alarm went off, instantly checked by that light-sleeping Asiatic, the Elsinore began to heel over on my side. I could hear Mr. Pike barking and snarling orders, and at times a trample and shuffle of many feet passed over my head as the weird crew pulled and hauled. The Elsinore continued to heel over until I could see the water against my port, and then she gathered way and dashed ahead at such a rate that I could hear the stinging and singing of the foam through the circle of thick glass beside me.
The steward brought me coffee, and I read till daylight and after, when Wada served me breakfast and helped me dress. He, too, complained of inability to sleep. He had been bunked with Nancy in one of the rooms in the ’midship-house. Wada described the situation. The tiny room, made of steel, was air-tight when the steel door was closed. And Nancy insisted on keeping the door closed. As a result Wada, in the upper bunk, had stifled. He told me that the air had got so bad that the flame of the lamp, no matter how high it was turned, guttered down and all but refused to burn. Nancy snored beautifully through it all, while he had been unable to close his eyes.
“He is not clean,“ quoth Wada. “He is a pig. No more will I sleep in that place.“
On the poop I found the Elsinore, with many of her sails furled, slashing along through a troubled sea under an overcast sky. Also I found Mr. Mellaire marching up and down, just as I had left him hours before, and it took quite a distinct effort for me to realize that he had had the watch off between four and eight. Even then, he told me, he had slept from four until half-past seven.
“That is one thing, Mr. Pathurst, I always sleep like a baby . . . which means a good conscience, sir, yes, a good conscience.“
And while he enunciated the platitude I was uncomfortably aware that that alien thing inside his skull was watching me, studying me.
In the cabin Captain West smoked a cigar and read the Bible. Miss West did not appear, and I was grateful that to my sleeplessness the curse of sea-sickness had not been added.
Without asking permission of anybody, Wada arranged a sleeping place for himself in a far corner of the big after-room, screening the corner with a solidly lashed wall of my trunks and empty book boxes.
It was a dreary enough day, no sun, with occasional splatters of rain and a persistent crash of seas over the weather rail and swash of water across the deck. With my eyes glued to the cabin ports, which gave for’ard along the main deck, I could see the wretched sailors, whenever they were given some task of pull and haul, wet through and through by the boarding seas. Several times I saw some of them taken off their feet and rolled about in the creaming foam. And yet, erect, unstaggering, with certitude of weight and strength, among these rolled men, these clutching, cowering ones, moved either Mr. Pike or Mr. Mellaire. They were never taken off their feet. They never shrank away from a splash of spray or heavier bulk of down-falling water. They had fed on different food, were informed with a different spirit, were of iron in contrast with the poor miserables they drove to their bidding.
In the afternoon I dozed for half-an-hour in one of the big chairs in the cabin. Had it not been for the violent motion of the ship I could have slept there for hours, for the hives did not trouble. Captain West, stretched out on the cabin sofa, his feet in carpet slippers, slept enviably. By some instinct, I might say, in the deep of sleep, he kept his place and was not rolled off upon the floor. Also, he lightly held a half-smoked cigar in one hand. I watched him for an hour, and knew him to be asleep, and marvelled that he maintained his easy posture and did not drop the cigar.
After dinner there was no phonograph. The second dog-watch was Mr. Pike’s on deck. Besides, as he explained, the rolling was too severe. It would make the needle jump and scratch his beloved records.
And no sleep! Another weary night of torment, and another dreary, overcast day and leaden, troubled sea. And no Miss West. Wada, too, is sea-sick, although heroically he kept his feet and tried to tend on me with glassy, unseeing eyes. I sent him to his bunk, and read through the endless hours until my eyes were tired, and my brain, between lack of sleep and over-use, was fuzzy.
Captain West is no conversationalist. The more I see of him the more I am baffled. I have not yet found a reason for that first impression I received of him. He has all the poise and air of a remote and superior being, and yet I wonder if it be not poise and air and nothing else. Just as I had expected, that first meeting, ere he spoke a word, to hear fall from his lips words of untold beneficence and wisdom, and then heard him utter mere social commonplaces, so I now find myself almost forced to conclude that his touch of race, and beak of power, and all the tall, aristocratic slenderness of him have nothing behind them.
And yet, on the other hand, I can find no reason for rejecting that first impression. He has not shown any strength, but by the same token he has not shown any weakness. Sometimes I wonder what resides behind those clear blue eyes. Certainly I have failed to find any intellectual backing. I tried him out with William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience. He glanced at a few pages, then returned it to me with the frank statement that it did not interest him. He has no books of his own. Evidently he is not a reader. Then what is he? I dared to feel him out on politics. He listened courteously, said sometimes yes and sometimes no, and, when I ceased from very discouragement, said nothing.
Aloof as the two officers are from the men, Captain West is still more aloof from his officers. I have not seen him address a further word to Mr. Mellaire than “Good morning“ on the poop. As for Mr. Pike, who eats three times a day with him, scarcely any more conversation obtains between them. And I am surprised by what seems the very conspicuous awe with which Mr. Pike seems to regard his commander.
Another thing. What are Captain West’s duties? So far he has done nothing, save eat three times a day, smoke many cigars, and each day stroll a total of one mile around the poop. The mates do all the work, and hard work it is, four hours on deck and four below, day and night with never a variation. I watch Captain West and am amazed. He will loll back in the cabin and stare straight before him for hours at a time, until I am almost frantic to demand of him what are his thoughts. Sometimes I doubt that he is thinking at all. I give him up. I cannot fathom him.
Altogether a depressing day of rain-splatter and wash of water across the deck. I can see, now, that the problem of sailing a ship with five thousand tons of coal around the Horn is more serious than I had thought. So deep is the Elsinore in the water that she is like a log awash. Her tall, six-foot bulwarks of steel cannot keep the seas from boarding her. She has not the buoyancy one is accustomed to ascribe to ships. On the contrary, she is weighted down until she is dead, so that, for this one day alone, I am appalled at the thought of how many thousands of tons of the North Atlantic have boarded her and poured out through her spouting scuppers and clanging ports.
Yes, a depressing day. The two mates have alternated on deck and in their bunks. Captain West has dozed on the cabin sofa or read the Bible. Miss West is still sea-sick. I have tired myself out with reading, and the fuzziness of my unsleeping brain makes for melancholy. Even Wada is anything but a cheering spectacle, crawling out of his bunk, as he does at stated intervals, and with sick, glassy eyes trying to discern what my needs may be. I almost wish I could get sea-sick myself. I had never dreamed that a sea voyage could be so unenlivening as this one is proving.
Another morning of overcast sky and leaden sea, and of the Elsinore, under half her canvas, clanging her deck ports, spouting water from her scuppers, and dashing eastward into the heart of the Atlantic. And I have failed to sleep half-an-hour all told. At this rate, in a very short time I shall have consumed all the cream of tartar on the ship. I never have had hives like these before. I can’t understand it. So long as I keep my lamp burning and read I am untroubled. The instant I put out the lamp and drowse off the irritation starts and the lumps on my skin begin to form.
Miss West may be sea-sick, but she cannot be comatose, because at frequent intervals she sends the steward to me with more cream of tartar.
I have had a revelation to-day. I have discovered Captain West. He is a Samurai.—You remember the Samurai that H. G. Wells describes in his Modern Utopia—the superior breed of men who know things and are masters of life and of their fellow-men in a super-benevolent, super-wise way? Well, that is what Captain West is. Let me tell it to you.
We had a shift of wind to-day. In the height of a south-west gale the wind shifted, in the instant, eight points, which is equivalent to a quarter of the circle. Imagine it! Imagine a gale howling from out of the south-west. And then imagine the wind, in a heavier and more violent gale, abruptly smiting you from the north-west. We had been sailing through a circular storm, Captain West vouchsafed to me, before the event, and the wind could be expected to box the compass.
Clad in sea-boots, oilskins and sou’wester, I had for some time been hanging upon the rail at the break of the poop, staring down fascinated at the poor devils of sailors, repeatedly up to their necks in water, or submerged, or dashed like straws about the deck, while they pulled and hauled, stupidly, blindly, and in evident fear, under the orders of Mr. Pike.
Mr. Pike was with them, working them and working with them. He took every chance they took, yet somehow he escaped being washed off his feet, though several times I saw him entirely buried from view. There was more than luck in the matter; for I saw him, twice, at the head of a line of the men, himself next to the pin. And twice, in this position, I saw the North Atlantic curl over the rail and fall upon them. And each time he alone remained, holding the turn of the rope on the pin, while the rest of them were rolled and sprawled helplessly away.
Almost it seemed to me good fun, as at a circus, watching their antics. But I did not apprehend the seriousness of the situation until, the wind screaming higher than ever and the sea a-smoke and white with wrath, two men did not get up from the deck. One was carried away for’ard with a broken leg—it was Iare Jacobson, a dull-witted Scandinavian; and the other, Kid Twist, was carried away, unconscious, with a bleeding scalp.
In the height of the gusts, in my high position, where the seas did not break, I found myself compelled to cling tightly to the rail to escape being blown away. My face was stung to severe pain by the high-driving spindrift, and I had a feeling that the wind was blowing the cobwebs out of my sleep-starved brain.
And all the time, slender, aristocratic, graceful in streaming oilskins, in apparent unconcern, giving no orders, effortlessly accommodating his body to the violent rolling of the Elsinore, Captain West strolled up and down.
It was at this stage in the gale that he unbent sufficiently to tell me that we were going through a circular storm and that the wind was boxing the compass. I did notice that he kept his gaze pretty steadily fixed on the overcast, cloud-driven sky. At last, when it seemed the wind could not possibly blow more fiercely, he found in the sky what he sought. It was then that I first heard his voice—a sea-voice, clear as a bell, distinct as silver, and of an ineffable sweetness and volume, as it might be the trump of Gabriel. That voice!—effortless, dominating! The mighty threat of the storm, made articulate by the resistance of the Elsinore, shouted in all the stays, bellowed in the shrouds, thrummed the taut ropes against the steel masts, and from the myriad tiny ropes far aloft evoked a devil’s chorus of shrill pipings and screechings. And yet, through this bedlam of noise, came Captain West’s voice, as of a spirit visitant, distinct, unrelated, mellow as all music and mighty as an archangel’s call to judgment. And it carried understanding and command to the man at the wheel, and to Mr. Pike, waist-deep in the wash of sea below us. And the man at the wheel obeyed, and Mr. Pike obeyed, barking and snarling orders to the poor wallowing devils who wallowed on and obeyed him in turn. And as the voice was the face. This face I had never seen before. It was the face of the spirit visitant, chaste with wisdom, lighted by a splendour of power and calm. Perhaps it was the calm that smote me most of all. It was as the calm of one who had crossed chaos to bless poor sea-worn men with the word that all was well. It was not the face of the fighter. To my thrilled imagination it was the face of one who dwelt beyond all strivings of the elements and broody dissensions of the blood.
The Samurai had arrived, in thunders and lightnings, riding the wings of the storm, directing the gigantic, labouring Elsinore in all her intricate massiveness, commanding the wisps of humans to his will, which was the will of wisdom.
And then, that wonderful Gabriel voice of his, silent (while his creatures laboured his will), unconcerned, detached and casual, more slenderly tall and aristocratic than ever in his streaming oilskins, Captain West touched my shoulder and pointed astern over our weather quarter. I looked, and all that I could see was a vague smoke of sea and air and a cloud-bank of sky that tore at the ocean’s breast. And at the same moment the gale from the south-west ceased. There was no gale, no moving zephyrs, nothing but a vast quietude of air.
“What is it?“ I gasped, out of equilibrium from the abrupt cessation of wind.
“The shift,“ he said. “There she comes.“
And it came, from the north-west, a blast of wind, a blow, an atmospheric impact that bewildered and stunned and again made the Elsinore harp protest. It forced me down on the rail. I was like a windle-straw. As I faced this new abruptness of gale it drove the air back into my lungs, so that I suffocated and turned my head aside to breathe in the lee of the draught. The man at the wheel again listened to the Gabriel voice; and Mr. Pike, on the deck below, listened and repeated the will of the voice; and Captain West, in slender and stately balance, leaned into the face of the wind and slowly paced the deck.
It was magnificent. Now, and for the first time, I knew the sea, and the men who overlord the sea. Captain West had vindicated himself, exposited himself. At the height and crisis of storm he had taken charge of the Elsinore, and Mr. Pike had become, what in truth was all he was, the foreman of a gang of men, the slave-driver of slaves, serving the one from beyond—the Samurai.
A minute or so longer Captain West strolled up and down, leaning easily into the face of this new and abominable gale or resting his back against it, and then he went below, pausing for a moment, his hand on the knob of the chart-room door, to cast a last measuring look at the storm-white sea and wrath-sombre sky he had mastered.
Ten minutes later, below, passing the open cabin door, I glanced in and saw him. Sea-boots and storm-trappings were gone; his feet, in carpet slippers, rested on a hassock; while he lay back in the big leather chair smoking dreamily, his eyes wide open, absorbed, non-seeing—or, if they saw, seeing things beyond the reeling cabin walls and beyond my ken. I have developed an immense respect for Captain West, though now I know him less than the little I thought I knew him before.
Small wonder that Miss West remains sea-sick on an ocean like this, which has become a factory where the veering gales manufacture the selectest and most mountainous brands of cross-seas. The way the poor Elsinore pitches, plunges, rolls, and shivers, with all her lofty spars and masts and all her five thousand tons of dead-weight cargo, is astonishing. To me she is the most erratic thing imaginable; yet Mr. Pike, with whom I now pace the poop on occasion, tells me that coal is a good cargo, and that the Elsinore is well-loaded because he saw to it himself.
He will pause abruptly, in the midst of his interminable pacing, in order to watch her in her maddest antics. The sight is very pleasant to him, for his eyes glisten and a faint glow seems to irradiate his face and impart to it a hint of ecstasy. The Elsinore has a snug place in his heart, I am confident. He calls her behaviour admirable, and at such times will repeat to me that it was he who saw to her loading.
It is very curious, the habituation of this man, through a long life on the sea, to the motion of the sea. There is a rhythm to this chaos of crossing, buffeting waves. I sense this rhythm, although I cannot solve it. But Mr. Pike knows it. Again and again, as we paced up and down this afternoon, when to me nothing unusually antic seemed impending, he would seize my arm as I lost balance, and as the Elsinore smashed down on her side and heeled over and over with a colossal roll that seemed never to end, and that always ended with an abrupt, snap-of-the-whip effect as she began the corresponding roll to windward. In vain I strove to learn how Mr. Pike forecasts these antics, and I am driven to believe that he does not consciously forecast them at all. He feels them; he knows them. They, and the sea, are ingrained in him.
Toward the end of our little promenade I was guilty of impatiently shaking off a sudden seizure of my arm in his big paw. If ever, in an hour, the Elsinore had been less gymnastic than at that moment, I had not noticed it. So I shook off the sustaining clutch, and the next moment the Elsinore had smashed down and buried a couple of hundred feet of her starboard rail beneath the sea, while I had shot down the deck and smashed myself breathless against the wall of the chart-house. My ribs and one shoulder are sore from it yet. Now how did he know?
And he never staggers nor seems in danger of being rolled away. On the contrary, such a surplus of surety of balance has he that time and again he lent his surplus to me. I begin to have more respect, not for the sea, but for the men of the sea, and not for the sweepings of seamen that are as slaves on our decks, but for the real seamen who are their masters—for Captain West, for Mr. Pike, yes, and for Mr. Mellaire, dislike him as I do.
As early as three in the afternoon the wind, still a gale, went back to the south-west. Mr. Mellaire had the deck, and he went below and reported the change to Captain West.
“We’ll wear ship at four, Mr. Pathurst,“ the second mate told me when he came back. “You’ll find it an interesting manoeuvre.“
“But why wait till four?“ I asked.
“The Captain’s orders, sir. The watches will be changing, and we’ll have the use of both of them, without working a hardship on the watch below by calling it out now.“
And when both watches were on deck Captain West, again in oilskins, came out of the chart-house. Mr. Pike, out on the bridge, took charge of the many men who, on deck and on the poop, were to manage the mizzen-braces, while Mr. Mellaire went for’ard with his watch to handle the fore-and main-braces. It was a pretty manoeuvre, a play of leverages, by which they cased the force of the wind on the after part of the Elsinore and used the force of the wind on the for’ard part.
Captain West gave no orders whatever, and, to all intents, was quite oblivious of what was being done. He was again the favoured passenger, taking a stroll for his health’s sake. And yet I knew that both his officers were uncomfortably aware of his presence and were keyed to their finest seamanship. I know, now, Captain West’s position on board. He is the brains of the Elsinore. He is the master strategist. There is more in directing a ship on the ocean than in standing watches and ordering men to pull and haul. They are pawns, and the two officers are pieces, with which Captain West plays the game against sea, and wind, and season, and ocean current. He is the knower. They are his tongue, by which he makes his knowledge articulate.
* * * * *
A bad night—equally bad for the Elsinore and for me. She is receiving a sharp buffeting at the hands of the wintry North Atlantic. I fell asleep early, exhausted from lack of sleep, and awoke in an hour, frantic with my lumped and burning skin. More cream of tartar, more reading, more vain attempts to sleep, until shortly before five, when the steward brought me my coffee, I wrapped myself in my dressing-gown, and like a being distracted prowled into the cabin. I dozed in a leather chair and was thrown out by a violent roll of the ship. I tried the sofa, sinking to sleep immediately, and immediately thereafter finding myself precipitated to the floor. I am convinced that when Captain West naps on the sofa he is only half asleep. How else can he maintain so precarious a position?—unless, in him, too, the sea and its motion be ingrained.
I wandered into the dining-room, wedged myself into a screwed chair, and fell asleep, my head on my arms, my arms on the table. And at quarter past seven the steward roused me by shaking my shoulders. It was time to set table.
Heavy with the brief heaviness of sleep I had had, I dressed and stumbled up on to the poop in the hope that the wind would clear my brain. Mr. Pike had the watch, and with sure, age-lagging step he paced the deck. The man is a marvel—sixty-nine years old, a life of hardship, and as sturdy as a lion. Yet of the past night alone his hours had been: four to six in the afternoon on deck; eight to twelve on deck; and four to eight in the morning on deck. In a few minutes he would be relieved, but at midday he would again be on deck.
I leaned on the poop-rail and stared for’ard along the dreary waste of deck. Every port and scupper was working to ease the weight of North Atlantic that perpetually fell on board. Between the rush of the cascades, streaks of rust showed everywhere. Some sort of a wooden pin-rail had carried away on the starboard-rail at the foot of the mizzen-shrouds, and an amazing raffle of ropes and tackles washed about. Here Nancy and half-a-dozen men worked sporadically, and in fear of their lives, to clear the tangle.
The long-suffering bleakness was very pronounced on Nancy’s face, and when the walls of water, in impending downfall, reared above the Elsinore’s rail, he was always the first to leap for the life-line which had been stretched fore and aft across the wide space of deck.
The rest of the men were scarcely less backward in dropping their work and springing to safety—if safety it might be called, to grip a rope in both hands and have legs sweep out from under, and be wrenched full-length upon the boiling surface of an ice-cold flood. Small wonder they look wretched. Bad as their condition was when they came aboard at Baltimore, they look far worse now, what of the last several days of wet and freezing hardship.
From time to time, completing his for’ard pace along the poop, Mr. Pike would pause, ere he retraced his steps, and snort sardonic glee at what happened to the poor devils below. The man’s heart is callous. A thing of iron, he has endured; and he has no patience nor sympathy with these creatures who lack his own excessive iron.
I noticed the stone-deaf man, the twisted oaf whose face I have described as being that of an ill-treated and feeble-minded faun. His bright, liquid, pain-filled eyes were more filled with pain than ever, his face still more lean and drawn with suffering. And yet his face showed an excess of nervousness, sensitiveness, and a pathetic eagerness to please and do. I could not help observing that, despite his dreadful sense-handicap and his wrecked, frail body, he did the most work, was always the last of the group to spring to the life-line and always the first to loose the life-line and slosh knee-deep or waist-deep through the churning water to attack the immense and depressing tangle of rope and tackle.
I remarked to Mr. Pike that the men seemed thinner and weaker than when they came on board, and he delayed replying for a moment while he stared down at them with that cattle-buyer’s eye of his.
“Sure they are,“ he said disgustedly. “A weak breed, that’s what they are—nothing to build on, no stamina. The least thing drags them down. Why, in my day we grew fat on work like that—only we didn’t; we worked so hard there wasn’t any chance for fat. We kept in fighting trim, that was all. But as for this scum and slum—say, you remember, Mr. Pathurst, that man I spoke to the first day, who said his name was Charles Davis?“
“The one you thought there was something the matter with?“
“Yes, and there was, too. He’s in that ’midship room with the Greek now. He’ll never do a tap of work the whole Voyage. He’s a hospital case, if there ever was one. Talk about shot to pieces! He’s got holes in him I could shove my fist through. I don’t know whether they’re perforating ulcers, or cancers, or cannon-shot wounds, or what not. And he had the nerve to tell me they showed up after he came on board!“
“And he had them all the time?“ I asked.
“All the time! Take my word, Mr. Pathurst, they’re years old. But he’s a wonder. I watched him those first days, sent him aloft, had him down in the fore-hold trimming a few tons of coal, did everything to him, and he never showed a wince. Being up to the neck in the salt water finally fetched him, and now he’s reported off duty—for the voyage. And he’ll draw his wages for the whole time, have all night in, and never do a tap. Oh, he’s a hot one to have passed over on us, and the Elsinore’s another man short.“
“Another!“ I exclaimed. “Is the Greek going to die?“
“No fear. I’ll have him steering in a few days. I refer to the misfits. If we rolled a dozen of them together they wouldn’t make one real man. I’m not saying it to alarm you, for there’s nothing alarming about it; but we’re going to have proper hell this voyage.“ He broke off to stare reflectively at his broken knuckles, as if estimating how much drive was left in them, then sighed and concluded, “Well, I can see I’ve got my work cut out for me.“
Sympathizing with Mr. Pike is futile; the only effect is to make his mood blacker. I tried it, and he retaliated with:
“You oughta see the bloke with curvature of the spine in Mr. Mellaire’s watch. He’s a proper hobo, too, and a land lubber, and don’t weigh more’n a hundred pounds, and must be fifty years old, and he’s got curvature of the spine, and he’s able seaman, if you please, on the Elsinore. And worse than all that, he puts it over on you; he’s nasty, he’s mean, he’s a viper, a wasp. He ain’t afraid of anything because he knows you dassent hit him for fear of croaking him. Oh, he’s a pearl of purest ray serene, if anybody should slide down a backstay and ask you. If you fail to identify him any other way, his name is Mulligan Jacobs.“
* * * * *
After breakfast, again on deck, in Mr. Mellaire’s watch, I discovered another efficient. He was at the wheel, a small, well-knit, muscular man of say forty-five, with black hair graying on the temples, a big eagle-face, swarthy, with keen, intelligent black eyes.
Mr. Mellaire vindicated my judgment by telling me the man was the best sailor in his watch, a proper seaman. When he referred to the man as the Maltese Cockney, and I asked why, he replied:
“First, because he is Maltese, Mr. Pathurst; and next, because he talks Cockney like a native. And depend upon it, he heard Bow Bells before he lisped his first word.“
“And has O’Sullivan bought Andy Fay’s sea-boots yet?“ I queried.
It was at this moment that Miss West emerged upon the poop. She was as rosy and vital as ever, and certainly, if she had been sea-sick, she flew no signals of it. As she came toward me, greeting me, I could not help remarking again the lithe and springy limb-movement with which she walked, and her fine, firm skin. Her neck, free in a sailor collar, with white sweater open at the throat, seemed almost redoubtably strong to my sleepless, jaundiced eyes. Her hair, under a white knitted cap, was smooth and well-groomed. In fact, the totality of impression she conveyed was of a well-groomedness one would not expect of a sea-captain’s daughter, much less of a woman who had been sea-sick. Life!—that is the key of her, the essential note of her—life and health. I’ll wager she has never entertained a morbid thought in that practical, balanced, sensible head of hers.
“And how have you been?“ she asked, then rattled on with sheer exuberance ere I could answer. “Had a lovely night’s sleep. I was really over my sickness yesterday, but I just devoted myself to resting up. I slept ten solid hours—what do you think of that?“
“I wish I could say the same,“ I replied with appropriate dejection, as I swung in beside her, for she had evinced her intention of promenading.
“Oh, then you’ve been sick?“
“On the contrary,“ I answered dryly. “And I wish I had been. I haven’t had five hours’ sleep all told since I came on board. These pestiferous hives. . . “
I held up a lumpy wrist to show. She took one glance at it, halted abruptly, and, neatly balancing herself to the roll, took my wrist in both her hands and gave it close scrutiny.
“Mercy!“ she cried; and then began to laugh.
I was of two minds. Her laughter was delightful to the ear, there was such a mellowness, and healthiness, and frankness about it. On the other hand, that it should be directed at my misfortune was exasperating. I suppose my perplexity showed in my face, for when she had eased her laughter and looked at me with a sobering countenance, she immediately went off into more peals.
“You poor child,“ she gurgled at last. “And when I think of all the cream of tartar I made you consume!“
It was rather presumptuous of her to poor-child me, and I resolved to take advantage of the data I already possessed in order to ascertain just how many years she was my junior. She had told me she was twelve years old the time the Dixie collided with the river steamer in San Francisco Bay. Very well, all I had to do was to ascertain the date of that disaster and I had her. But in the meantime she laughed at me and my hives.
“I suppose it is—er—humorous, in some sort of way,“ I said a bit stiffly, only to find that there was no use in being stiff with Miss West, for it only set her off into more laughter.
“What you needed,“ she announced, with fresh gurglings, “was an exterior treatment.“
“Don’t tell me I’ve got the chicken-pox or the measles,“ I protested.
“No.“ She shook her head emphatically while she enjoyed another paroxysm. “What you are suffering from is a severe attack . . . “
She paused deliberately, and looked me straight the eyes.
“Of bedbugs,“ she concluded. And then, all seriousness and practicality, she went on: “But we’ll have that righted in a jiffy. I’ll turn the Elsinore’s after-quarters upside down, though I know there are none in father’s room or mine. And though this is my first voyage with Mr. Pike I know he’s too hard-bitten“ (here I laughed at her involuntary pun) “an old sailor not to know that his room is clean. Yours“ (I was perturbed for fear she was going to say that I had brought them on board) “have most probably drifted in from for’ard. They always have them for’ard.
“And now, Mr. Pathurst, I am going down to attend to your case. You’d better get your Wada to make up a camping kit for you. The next couple of nights you’ll spend in the cabin or chart-room. And be sure Wada removes all silver and metallic tarnishable stuff from your rooms. There’s going to be all sorts of fumigating, and tearing out of woodwork, and rebuilding. Trust me. I know the vermin.“
Such a cleaning up and turning over! For two nights, one in the chart-room and one on the cabin sofa, I have soaked myself in sleep, and I am now almost stupid with excess of sleep. The land seems very far away. By some strange quirk, I have an impression that weeks, or months, have passed since I left Baltimore on that bitter March morning. And yet it was March 28, and this is only the first week in April.
I was entirely right in my first estimation of Miss West. She is the most capable, practically masterful woman I have ever encountered. What passed between her and Mr. Pike I do not know; but whatever it was, she was convinced that he was not the erring one. In some strange way, my two rooms are the only ones which have been invaded by this plague of vermin. Under Miss West’s instructions bunks, drawers, shelves, and all superficial woodwork have been ripped out. She worked the carpenter from daylight till dark, and then, after a night of fumigation, two of the sailors, with turpentine and white lead, put the finishing touches on the cleansing operations. The carpenter is now busy rebuilding my rooms. Then will come the painting, and in two or three more days I expect to be settled back in my quarters.
Of the men who did the turpentining and white-leading there have been four. Two of them were quickly rejected by Miss West as not being up to the work. The first one, Steve Roberts, which he told me was his name, is an interesting fellow. I talked with him quite a bit ere Miss West sent him packing and told Mr. Pike that she wanted a real sailor.
This is the first time Steve Roberts has ever seen the sea. How he happened to drift from the western cattle-ranges to New York he did not explain, any more than did he explain how he came to ship on the Elsinore. But here he is, not a sailor on horseback, but a cowboy on the sea. He is a small man, but most powerfully built. His shoulders are very broad, and his muscles bulge under his shirt; and yet he is slender-waisted, lean-limbed, and hollow-cheeked. This last, however, is not due to sickness or ill-health. Tyro as he is on the sea, Steve Roberts is keen and intelligent . . . yes, and crooked. He has a way of looking straight at one with utmost frankness while he talks, and yet it is at such moments I get most strongly the impression of crookedness. But he is a man, if trouble should arise, to be reckoned with. In ways he suggests a kinship with the three men Mr. Pike took so instant a prejudice against—Kid Twist, Nosey Murphy, and Bert Rhine. And I have already noticed, in the dog-watches, that it is with this trio that Steve Roberts chums.
The second sailor Miss West rejected, after silently watching him work for five minutes, was Mulligan Jacobs, the wisp of a man with curvature of the spine. But before she sent him packing other things occurred in which I was concerned. I was in the room when Mulligan Jacobs first came in to go to work, and I could not help observing the startled, avid glance he threw at my big shelves of books. He advanced on them in the way a robber might advance on a secret hoard of gold, and as a miser would fondle gold so Mulligan Jacobs fondled these book-titles with his eyes.
And such eyes! All time bitterness and venom Mr. Pike had told me the man possessed was there in his eyes. They were small, pale-blue, and gimlet-pointed with fire. His eyelids were inflamed, and but served to ensanguine the bitter and cold-blazing intensity of the pupils. The man was constitutionally a hater, and I was not long in learning that he hated all things except books.
“Would you care to read some of them?“ I said hospitably.
All the caress in his eyes for the books vanished as he turned his head to look at me, and ere he spoke I knew that I, too, was hated.
“It’s hell, ain’t it?—you with a strong body and servants to carry for you a weight of books like this, and me with a curved spine that puts the pot-hooks of hell-fire into my brain?“
How can I possibly convey the terrible venomousness with which he uttered these words? I know that Mr. Pike, dragging his feet down the hall past my open door, gave me a very gratifying sense of safety. Being alone in the room with this man seemed much the same as if I were locked in a cage with a tiger-cat. The devilishness, the wickedness, and, above all, the pitch of glaring hatred with which the man eyed me and addressed me, were most unpleasant. I swear I knew fear—not calculated caution, not timid apprehension, but blind, panic, unreasoned terror. The malignancy of the creature was blood curdling; nor did it require words to convey it: it poured from him, out of his red-rimmed, blazing eyes, out of his withered, twisted, tortured face, out of his broken-nailed, crooked talons of hands. And yet, in that very moment of instinctive startle and repulsion, the thought was in my mind that with one hand I could take the throat of the weazened wisp of a crippled thing and throttle the malformed life out of it.
But there was little encouragement in such thought—no more than a man might feel in a cave of rattlesnakes or a pit of centipedes, for, crush them with his very bulk, nevertheless they would first sink their poison into him. And so with this Mulligan Jacobs. My fear of him was the fear of being infected with his venom. I could not help it; for I caught a quick vision of the black and broken teeth I had seen in his mouth sinking into my flesh, polluting me, eating me with their acid, destroying me.
One thing was very clear. In the creature was no fear. Absolutely, he did not know fear. He was as devoid of it as the fetid slime one treads underfoot in nightmares. Lord, Lord! that is what the thing was, a nightmare.
“You suffer pain often?“ I asked, attempting to get myself in hand by the calculated use of sympathy.
“The hooks are in me, in the brain, white-hot hooks that burn an’ burn,“ was his reply. “But by what damnable right do you have all these books, and time to read ’em, an’ all night in to read ’em, an’ soak in them, when me brain’s on fire, and I’m watch and watch, an’ me broken spine won’t let me carry half a hundredweight of books about with me?“
Another madman, was my conclusion; and yet I was quickly compelled to modify it, for, thinking to play with a rattle-brain, I asked him what were the books up to half a hundredweight he carried, and what were the writers he preferred. His library, he told me, among other things included, first and fore-most, a complete Byron. Next was a complete Shakespeare; also a complete Browning in one volume. A full hall-dozen he had in the forecastle of Renan, a stray volume of Lecky, Winwood Reade’s Martyrdom of Man, several of Carlyle, and eight or ten of Zola. Zola he swore by, though Anatole France was a prime favourite.
He might be mad, was my revised judgment, but he was most differently mad from any madman I had ever encountered. I talked on with him about books and bookmen. He was most universal and particular. He liked O. Henry. George Moore was a cad and a four—flusher. Edgar Saltus’ Anatomy of Negation was profounder than Kant. Maeterlinck was a mystic frump. Emerson was a charlatan. Ibsen’s Ghosts was the stuff, though Ibsen was a bourgeois lickspittler. Heine was the real goods. He preferred Flaubert to de Maupassant, and Turgenieff to Tolstoy; but Gorky was the best of the Russian boiling. John Masefield knew what he was writing about, and Joseph Conrad was living too fat to turn out the stuff he first turned out.
And so it went, the most amazing running commentary on literature I had ever heard. I was hugely interested, and I quizzed him on sociology. Yes, he was a Red, and knew his Kropotkin, but he was no anarchist. On the other hand, political action was a blind-alley leading to reformism and quietism. Political socialism had gone to pot, while industrial unionism was the logical culmination of Marxism. He was a direct actionist. The mass strike was the thing. Sabotage, not merely as a withdrawal of efficiency, but as a keen destruction-of-profits policy, was the weapon. Of course he believed in the propaganda of the deed, but a man was a fool to talk about it. His job was to do it and keep his mouth shut, and the way to do it was to shoot the evidence. Of course, he talked; but what of it? Didn’t he have curvature of the spine? He didn’t care when he got his, and woe to the man who tried to give it to him.
And while he talked he hated me. He seemed to hate the things he talked about and espoused. I judged him to be of Irish descent, and it was patent that he was self-educated. When I asked him how it was he had come to sea, he replied that the hooks in his brain were as hot one place as another. He unbent enough to tell me that he had been an athlete, when he was a young man, a professional foot-racer in Eastern Canada. And then his disease had come upon him, and for a quarter of a century he had been a common tramp and vagabond, and he bragged of a personal acquaintance with more city prisons and county jails than any man that ever existed.
It was at this stage in our talk that Mr. Pike thrust his head into the doorway. He did not address me, but he favoured me with a most sour look of disapprobation. Mr. Pike’s countenance is almost petrified. Any expression seems to crack it—with the exception of sourness. But when Mr. Pike wants to look sour he has no difficulty at all. His hard-skinned, hard-muscled face just flows to sourness. Evidently he condemned my consuming Mulligan Jacobs’s time. To Mulligan Jacobs he said in his customary snarl:
“Go on an’ get to your work. Chew the rag in your watch below.“
And then I got a sample of Mulligan Jacobs. The venom of hatred I had already seen in his face was as nothing compared with what now was manifested. I had a feeling that, like stroking a cat in cold weather, did I touch his face it would crackle electric sparks.
“Aw, go to hell, you old stiff,“ said Mulligan Jacobs.
If ever I had seen murder in a man’s eyes, I saw it then in the mate’s. He lunged into the room, his arm tensed to strike, the hand not open but clenched. One stroke of that bear’s paw and Mulligan Jacobs and all the poisonous flame of him would have been quenched in the everlasting darkness. But he was unafraid. Like a cornered rat, like a rattlesnake on the trail, unflinching, sneering, snarling, he faced the irate giant. More than that. He even thrust his face forward on its twisted neck to meet the blow.
It was too much for Mr. Pike; it was too impossible to strike that frail, crippled, repulsive thing.
“It’s me that can call you the stiff,“ said Mulligan Jacobs. “I ain’t no Larry. G’wan an’ hit me. Why don’t you hit me?“
And Mr. Pike was too appalled to strike the creature. He, whose whole career on the sea had been that of a bucko driver in a shambles, could not strike this fractured splinter of a man. I swear that Mr. Pike actually struggled with himself to strike. I saw it. But he could not.
“Go on to your work,“ he ordered. “The voyage is young yet, Mulligan. I’ll have you eatin’ outa my hand before it’s over.“
And Mulligan Jacobs’s face thrust another inch closer on its twisted neck, while all his concentrated rage seemed on the verge of bursting into incandescence. So immense and tremendous was the bitterness that consumed him that he could find no words to clothe it. All he could do was to hawk and guttural deep in his throat until I should not have been surprised had he spat poison in the mate’s face.
And Mr. Pike turned on his heel and left the room, beaten, absolutely beaten.
* * * * *
I can’t get it out of my mind. The picture of the mate and the cripple facing each other keeps leaping up under my eyelids. This is different from the books and from what I know of existence. It is revelation. Life is a profoundly amazing thing. What is this bitter flame that informs Mulligan Jacobs? How dare he—with no hope of any profit, not a hero, not a leader of a forlorn hope nor a martyr to God, but a mere filthy, malignant rat—how dare he, I ask myself, be so defiant, so death-inviting? The spectacle of him makes me doubt all the schools of the metaphysicians and the realists. No philosophy has a leg to stand on that does not account for Mulligan Jacobs. And all the midnight oil of philosophy I have burned does not enable me to account for Mulligan Jacobs . . . unless he be insane. And then I don’t know.
Was there ever such a freight of human souls on the sea as these humans with whom I am herded on the Elsinore?
* * * * *
And now, working in my rooms, white-leading and turpentining, is another one of them. I have learned his name. It is Arthur Deacon. He is the pallid, furtive-eyed man whom I observed the first day when the men were routed out of the forecastle to man the windlass—the man I so instantly adjudged a drug-fiend. He certainly looks it.
I asked Mr. Pike his estimate of the man.
“White slaver,“ was his answer. “Had to skin outa New York to save his skin. He’ll be consorting with those other three larrakins I gave a piece of my mind to.“
“And what do you make of them?“ I asked.
“A month’s wages to a pound of tobacco that a district attorney, or a committee of some sort investigating the New York police is lookin’ for ’em right now. I’d like to have the cash somebody’s put up in New York to send them on this get-away. Oh, I know the breed.“
“Gangsters?“ I queried.
“That’s what. But I’ll trim their dirty hides. I’ll trim ’em. Mr. Pathurst, this voyage ain’t started yet, and this old stiff’s a long way from his last legs. I’ll give them a run for their money. Why, I’ve buried better men than the best of them aboard this craft. And I’ll bury some of them that think me an old stiff.“
He paused and looked at me solemnly for a full half minute.
“Mr. Pathurst, I’ve heard you’re a writing man. And when they told me at the agents’ you were going along passenger, I made a point of going to see your play. Now I’m not saying anything about that play, one way or the other. But I just want to tell you, that as a writing man you’ll get stuff in plenty to write about on this voyage. Hell’s going to pop, believe me, and right here before you is the stiff that’ll do a lot of the poppin’. Some several and plenty’s going to learn who’s an old stiff.“
How I have been sleeping! This relief of renewed normality is delicious—thanks to Miss West. Now why did not Captain West, or Mr. Pike, both experienced men, diagnose my trouble for me? And then there was Wada. But no; it required Miss West. Again I contemplate the problem of woman. It is just such an incident among a million others that keeps the thinker’s gaze fixed on woman. They truly are the mothers and the conservers of the race.
Rail as I will at Miss West’s red-blood complacency of life, yet I must bow my head to her life-giving to me. Practical, sensible, hard-headed, a comfort-maker and a nest-builder, possessing all the distressing attributes of the blind-instinctive race-mother, nevertheless I must confess I am most grateful that she is along. Had she not been on the Elsinore, by this time I should have been so overwrought from lack of sleep that I would be biting my veins and howling—as mad a hatter as any of our cargo of mad hatters. And so we come to it—the everlasting mystery of woman. One may not be able to get along with her; yet is it patent, as of old time, that one cannot get along without her. But, regarding Miss West, I do entertain one fervent hope, namely, that she is not a suffragette. That would be too much.
Captain West may be a Samurai, but he is also human. He was really a bit fluttery this morning, in his reserved, controlled way, when he regretted the plague of vermin I had encountered in my rooms. It seems he has a keen sense of hospitality, and that he is my host on the Elsinore, and that, although he is oblivious of the existence of the crew, he is not oblivious of my comfort. By his few expressions of regret it appears that he cannot forgive himself for his careless acceptance of the erroneous diagnosis of my affliction. Yes; Captain West is a real human man. Is he not the father of the slender-faced, strapping-bodied Miss West?
“Thank goodness that’s settled,“ was Miss West’s exclamation this morning, when we met on the poop and after I had told her how gloriously I had slept.
And then, that nightmare episode dismissed because, forsooth, for all practical purposes—it was settled, she next said:
“Come on and see the chickens.“
And I accompanied her along the spidery bridge to the top of the ’midship-house, to look at the one rooster and the four dozen fat hens in the ship’s chicken-coop.
As I accompanied her, my eyes dwelling pleasurably on that vital gait of hers as she preceded me, I could not help reflecting that, coming down on the tug from Baltimore, she had promised not to bother me nor require to be entertained.
Come and see the chickens!—Oh, the sheer female possessiveness of that simple invitation! For effrontery of possessiveness is there anything that can exceed the nest-making, planet-populating, female, human woman?—Come and see the chickens! Oh, well, the sailors for’ard may be hard-bitten, but I can promise Miss West that here, aft, is one male passenger, unmarried and never married, who is an equally hard-bitten adventurer on the sea of matrimony. When I go over the census I remember at least several women, superior to Miss West, who trilled their song of sex and failed to shipwreck me.
As I read over what I have written I notice how the terminology of the sea has stolen into my mental processes. Involuntarily I think in terms of the sea. Another thing I notice is my excessive use of superlatives. But then, everything on board the Elsinore is superlative. I find myself continually combing my vocabulary in quest of just and adequate words. Yet am I aware of failure. For example, all the words of all the dictionaries would fail to approximate the exceeding terribleness of Mulligan Jacobs.
But to return to the chickens. Despite every precaution, it was evident that they had had a hard time during the past days of storm. It was equally evident that Miss West, even during her sea-sickness, had not neglected them. Under her directions the steward had actually installed a small oil-stove in the big coop, and she now beckoned him up to the top of the house as he was passing for’ard to the galley. It was for the purpose of instructing him further in the matter of feeding them.
Where were the grits? They needed grits. He didn’t know. The sack had been lost among the miscellaneous stores, but Mr. Pike had promised a couple of sailors that afternoon to overhaul the lazarette.
“Plenty of ashes,“ she told the steward. “Remember. And if a sailor doesn’t clean the coop each day, you report to me. And give them only clean food—no spoiled scraps, mind. How many eggs yesterday?“
The steward’s eyes glistened with enthusiasm as he said he had got nine the day before and expected fully a dozen to-day.
“The poor things,“ said Miss West—to me. “You’ve no idea how bad weather reduces their laying.“ She turned back upon the steward. “Mind now, you watch and find out which hens don’t lay, and kill them first. And you ask me each time before you kill one.“
I found myself neglected, out there on top the draughty house, while Miss West talked chickens with the Chinese ex-smuggler. But it gave me opportunity to observe her. It is the length of her eyes that accentuates their steadiness of gaze—helped, of course, by the dark brows and lashes. I noted again the warm gray of her eyes. And I began to identify her, to locate her. She is a physical type of the best of the womanhood of old New England. Nothing spare nor meagre, nor bred out, but generously strong, and yet not quite what one would call robust. When I said she was strapping-bodied I erred. I must fall back on my other word, which will have to be the last: Miss West is vital-bodied. That is the key-word.
When we had regained the poop, and Miss West had gone below, I ventured my customary pleasantry with Mr. Mellaire of:
“And has O’Sullivan bought Andy Fay’s sea-boots yet?“
“Not yet, Mr. Pathurst,“ was the reply, “though he nearly got them early this morning. Come on along, sir, and I’ll show you.“
Vouchsafing no further information, the second mate led the way along the bridge, across the ’midship-house and the for’ard-house. From the edge of the latter, looking down on Number One hatch, I saw two Japanese, with sail-needles and twine, sewing up a canvas-swathed bundle that unmistakably contained a human body.
“O’Sullivan used a razor,“ said Mr. Mellaire.
“And that is Andy Fay?“ I cried.
“No, sir, not Andy. That’s a Dutchman. Christian Jespersen was his name on the articles. He got in O’Sullivan’s way when O’Sullivan went after the boots. That’s what saved Andy. Andy was more active. Jespersen couldn’t get out of his own way, much less out of O’Sullivan’s. There’s Andy sitting over there.“
I followed Mr. Mellaire’s gaze, and saw the burnt-out, aged little Scotchman squatted on a spare spar and sucking a pipe. One arm was in a sling and his head was bandaged. Beside him squatted Mulligan Jacobs. They were a pair. Both were blue-eyed, and both were malevolent-eyed. And they were equally emaciated. It was easy to see that they had discovered early in the voyage their kinship of bitterness. Andy Fay, I knew, was sixty-three years old, although he looked a hundred; and Mulligan Jacobs, who was only about fifty, made up for the difference by the furnace-heat of hatred that burned in his face and eyes. I wondered if he sat beside the injured bitter one in some sense of sympathy, or if he were there in order to gloat.
Around the corner of the house strolled Shorty, flinging up to me his inevitable clown-grin. One hand was swathed in bandages.
“Must have kept Mr. Pike busy,“ was my comment to Mr. Mellaire.
“He was sewing up cripples about all his watch from four till eight.“
“What?“ I asked. “Are there any more?“
“One more, sir, a sheeny. I didn’t know his name before, but Mr. Pike got it—Isaac B. Chantz. I never saw in all my life at sea as many sheenies as are on board the Elsinore right now. Sheenies don’t take to the sea as a rule. We’ve certainly got more than our share of them. Chantz isn’t badly hurt, but you ought to hear him whimper.“
“Where’s O’Sullivan?“ I inquired.
“In the ’midship-house with Davis, and without a mark. Mr. Pike got into the rumpus and put him to sleep with one on the jaw. And now he’s lashed down and talking in a trance. He’s thrown the fear of God into Davis. Davis is sitting up in his bunk with a marlin-spike, threatening to brain O’Sullivan if he starts to break loose, and complaining that it’s no way to run a hospital. He’d have padded cells, straitjackets, night and day nurses, and violent wards, I suppose—and a convalescents’ home in a Queen Anne cottage on the poop.
“Oh dear, oh dear,“ Mr. Mellaire sighed. “This is the funniest voyage and the funniest crew I’ve ever tackled. It’s not going to come to a good end. Anybody can see that with half an eye. It’ll be dead of winter off the Horn, and a fo’c’s’le full of lunatics and cripples to do the work.—Just take a look at that one. Crazy as a bedbug. He’s likely to go overboard any time.“
I followed his glance and saw Tony the Greek, the one who had sprung overboard the first day. He had just come around the corner of the house, and, beyond one arm in a sling, seemed in good condition. He walked easily and with strength, a testimonial to the virtues of Mr. Pike’s rough surgery.
My eyes kept returning to the canvas-covered body of Christian Jespersen, and to the Japanese who sewed with sail-twine his sailor’s shroud. One of them had his right hand in a huge wrapping of cotton and bandage.
“Did he get hurt, too?“ I asked.
“No, sir. He’s the sail-maker. They’re both sail-makers. He’s a good one, too. Yatsuda is his name. But he’s just had blood-poisoning and lain in hospital in New York for eighteen months. He flatly refused to let them amputate. He’s all right now, but the hand is dead, all except the thumb and fore-finger, and he’s teaching himself to sew with his left hand. He’s as clever a sail-maker as you’ll find at sea.“
“A lunatic and a razor make a cruel combination,“ I remarked.
“It’s put five men out of commission,“ Mr. Mellaire sighed. “There’s O’Sullivan himself, and Christian Jespersen gone, and Andy Fay, and Shorty, and the sheeny. And the voyage not started yet. And there’s Lars with the broken leg, and Davis laid off for keeps—why, sir, we’ll soon be that weak it’ll take both watches to set a staysail.“
Nevertheless, while I talked in a matter-of-fact way with Mr. Mellaire, I was shocked—no; not because death was aboard with us. I have stood by my philosophic guns too long to be shocked by death, or by murder. What affected me was the utter, stupid bestiality of the affair. Even murder—murder for cause—I can understand. It is comprehensible that men should kill one another in the passion of love, of hatred, of patriotism, of religion. But this was different. Here was killing without cause, an orgy of blind-brutishness, a thing monstrously irrational.
Later on, strolling with Possum on the main deck, as I passed the open door of the hospital I heard the muttering chant of O’Sullivan, and peeped in. There he lay, lashed fast on his back in the lower bunk, rolling his eyes and raving. In the top bunk, directly above, lay Charles Davis, calmly smoking a pipe. I looked for the marlin-spike. There it was, ready to hand, on the bedding beside him.
“It’s hell, ain’t it, sir?“ was his greeting. “And how am I goin’ to get any sleep with that baboon chattering away there. He never lets up—keeps his chin-music goin’ right along when he’s asleep, only worse. The way he grits his teeth is something awful. Now I leave it to you, sir, is it right to put a crazy like that in with a sick man? And I am a sick man.“
While he talked the massive form of Mr. Pike loomed beside me and halted just out of sight of the man in the bunk. And the man talked on.
“By rights, I oughta have that lower bunk. It hurts me to crawl up here. It’s inhumanity, that’s what it is, and sailors at sea are better protected by the law than they used to be. And I’ll have you for a witness to this before the court when we get to Seattle.“
Mr. Pike stepped into the doorway.
“Shut up, you damned sea-lawyer, you,“ he snarled. “Haven’t you played a dirty trick enough comin’ on board this ship in your condition? And if I have anything more out of you . . . “
Mr. Pike was so angry that he could not complete the threat. After spluttering for a moment he made a fresh attempt.
“You . . . you . . . well, you annoy me, that’s what you do.“
“I know the law, sir,“ Davis answered promptly. “I worked full able seaman on this here ship. All hands can testify to that. I was aloft from the start. Yes, sir, and up to my neck in salt water day and night. And you had me below trimmin’ coal. I did full duty and more, until this sickness got me—“
“You were petrified and rotten before you ever saw this ship,“ Mr. Pike broke in.
“The court’ll decide that, sir,“ replied the imperturbable Davis.
“And if you go to shoutin’ off your sea-lawyer mouth,“ Mr. Pike continued, “I’ll jerk you out of that and show you what real work is.“
“An’ lay the owners open for lovely damages when we get in,“ Davis sneered.
“Not if I bury you before we get in,“ was the mate’s quick, grim retort. “And let me tell you, Davis, you ain’t the first sea-lawyer I’ve dropped over the side with a sack of coal to his feet.“
Mr. Pike turned, with a final “Damned sea-lawyer!“ and started along the deck. I was walking behind him when he stopped abruptly.
Not as an officer to a passenger did he thus address me. His tone was imperative, and I gave heed.
“Mr. Pathurst. From now on the less you see aboard this ship the better. That is all.“
And again he turned on his heel and went his way.
No, the sea is not a gentle place. It must be the very hardness of the life that makes all sea-people hard. Of course, Captain West is unaware that his crew exists, and Mr. Pike and Mr. Mellaire never address the men save to give commands. But Miss West, who is more like myself, a passenger, ignores the men. She does not even say good-morning to the man at the wheel when she first comes on deck. Nevertheless I shall, at least to the man at the wheel. Am I not a passenger?
Which reminds me. Technically I am not a passenger. The Elsinore has no licence to carry passengers, and I am down on the articles as third mate and am supposed to receive thirty-five dollars a month. Wada is down as cabin boy, although I paid a good price for his passage and he is my servant.
Not much time is lost at sea in getting rid of the dead. Within an hour after I had watched the sail-makers at work Christian Jespersen was slid overboard, feet first, a sack of coal to his feet to sink him. It was a mild, calm day, and the Elsinore, logging a lazy two knots, was not hove to for the occasion. At the last moment Captain West came for’ard, prayer-book in hand, read the brief service for burial at sea, and returned immediately aft. It was the first time I had seen him for’ard.
I shall not bother to describe the burial. All I shall say of it is that it was as sordid as Christian Jespersen’s life had been and as his death had been.
As for Miss West, she sat in a deck-chair on the poop busily engaged with some sort of fancy work. When Christian Jespersen and his coal splashed into the sea the crew immediately dispersed, the watch below going to its bunks, the watch on deck to its work. Not a minute elapsed ere Mr. Mellaire was giving orders and the men were pulling and hauling. So I returned to the poop to be unpleasantly impressed by Miss West’s smiling unconcern.
“Well, he’s buried,“ I observed.
“Oh,“ she said, with all the tonelessness of disinterest, and went on with her stitching.
She must have sensed my frame of mind, for, after a moment, she paused from her sewing and looked at me.
Your first sea funeral, Mr. Pathurst?
“Death at sea does not seem to affect you,“ I said bluntly.
“Not any more than on the land.“ She shrugged her shoulders. “So many people die, you know. And when they are strangers to you . . . well, what do you do on the land when you learn that some workers have been killed in a factory you pass every day coming to town? It is the same on the sea.“
“It’s too bad we are a hand short,“ I said deliberately.
It did not miss her. Just as deliberately she replied:
“Yes, isn’t it? And so early in the voyage, too.“ She looked at me, and when I could not forbear a smile of appreciation she smiled back.
“Oh, I know very well, Mr. Pathurst, that you think me a heartless wretch. But it isn’t that it’s . . . it’s the sea, I suppose. And yet, I didn’t know this man. I don’t remember ever having seen him. At this stage of the voyage I doubt if I could pick out half-a-dozen of the sailors as men I had ever laid eyes on. So why vex myself with even thinking of this stupid stranger who was killed by another stupid stranger? As well might one die of grief with reading the murder columns of the daily papers.“
“And yet, it seems somehow different,“ I contended.
“Oh, you’ll get used to it,“ she assured me cheerfully, and returned to her sewing.
I asked her if she had read Moody’s Ship of Souls, but she had not. I searched her out further. She liked Browning, and was especially fond of The Ring and the Book. This was the key to her. She cared only for healthful literature—for the literature that exposits the vital lies of life.
For instance, the mention of Schopenhauer produced smiles and laughter. To her all the philosophers of pessimism were laughable. The red blood of her would not permit her to take them seriously. I tried her out with a conversation I had had with De Casseres shortly before leaving New York. De Casseres, after tracing Jules de Gaultier’s philosophic genealogy back to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, had concluded with the proposition that out of their two formulas de Gaultier had constructed an even profounder formula. The “Will-to-Live“ of the one and the “Will-to-Power“ of the other were, after all, only parts of de Gaultier’s supreme generalization, the “Will-to-Illusion.“
I flatter myself that even De Casseres would have been pleased with the way I repeated his argument. And when I had concluded it, Miss West promptly demanded if the realists might not be fooled by their own phrases as often and as completely as were the poor common mortals with the vital lies they never questioned.
And there we were. An ordinary young woman, who had never vexed her brains with ultimate problems, hears such things stated for the first time, and immediately, and with a laugh, sweeps them all away. I doubt not that De Casseres would have agreed with her.
“Do you believe in God?“ I asked rather abruptly. She dropped her sewing into her lap, looked at me meditatively, then gazed on and away across the flashing sea and up into the azure dome of sky. And finally, with true feminine evasion, she replied:
“My father does.“
“But you?“ I insisted.
“I really don’t know. I don’t bother my head about such things. I used to when I was a little girl. And yet . . . yes, surely I believe in God. At times, when I am not thinking about it at all, I am very sure, and my faith that all is well is just as strong as the faith of your Jewish friend in the phrases of the philosophers. That’s all it comes to, I suppose, in every case—faith. But, as I say, why bother?“
“Ah, I have you now, Miss West!“ I cried. “You are a true daughter of Herodias.“
“It doesn’t sound nice,“ she said with a moue.
“And it isn’t,“ I exulted. “Nevertheless, it is what you are. It is Arthur Symon’s poem, The Daughters of Herodias. Some day I shall read it to you, and you will answer. I know you will answer that you, too, have looked often upon the stars.“
We had just got upon the subject of music, of which she possesses a surprisingly solid knowledge, and she was telling me that Debussy and his school held no particular charm for her, when Possum set up a wild yelping.
The puppy had strayed for’ard along the bridge to the ’midship-house, and had evidently been investigating the chickens when his disaster came upon him. So shrill was his terror that we both stood up. He was dashing along the bridge toward us at full speed, yelping at every jump and continually turning his head back in the direction whence he came.
I spoke to him and held out my hand, and was rewarded with a snap and clash of teeth as he scuttled past. Still with head turned back, he went on along the poop. Before I could apprehend his danger, Mr. Pike and Miss West were after him. The mate was the nearer, and with a magnificent leap gained the rail just in time to intercept Possum, who was blindly going overboard under the slender railing. With a sort of scooping kick Mr. Pike sent the animal rolling half across the poop. Howling and snapping more violently, Possum regained his feet and staggered on toward the opposite railing.
“Don’t touch him!“ Mr. Pike cried, as Miss West showed her intention of catching the crazed little animal with her hands. “Don’t touch’m! He’s got a fit.“
But it did not deter her. He was half-way under the railing when she caught him up and held him at arm’s length while he howled and barked and slavered.
“It’s a fit,“ said Mr. Pike, as the terrier collapsed and lay on the deck jerking convulsively.
“Perhaps a chicken pecked him,“ said Miss West. “At any rate, get a bucket of water.“
“Better let me take him,“ I volunteered helplessly, for I was unfamiliar with fits.
“No; it’s all right,“ she answered. “I’ll take charge of him. The cold water is what he needs. He got too close to the coop, and a peck on the nose frightened him into the fit.“
“First time I ever heard of a fit coming that way,“ Mr. Pike remarked, as he poured water over the puppy under Miss West’s direction. “It’s just a plain puppy fit. They all get them at sea.“
“I think it was the sails that caused it,“ I argued. “I’ve noticed that he is very afraid of them. When they flap, he crouches down in terror and starts to run. You noticed how he ran with his head turned back?“
“I’ve seen dogs with fits do that when there was nothing to frighten them,“ Mr. Pike contended.
“It was a fit, no matter what caused it,“ Miss West stated conclusively. “Which means that he has not been fed properly. From now on I shall feed him. You tell your boy that, Mr. Pathurst. Nobody is to feed Possum anything without my permission.“
At this juncture Wada arrived with Possum’s little sleeping box, and they prepared to take him below.
“It was splendid of you, Miss West,“ I said, “and rash, as well, and I won’t attempt to thank you. But I tell you what-you take him. He’s your dog now.“
She laughed and shook her head as I opened the chart-house door for her to pass.
“No; but I’ll take care of him for you. Now don’t bother to come below. This is my affair, and you would only be in the way. Wada will help me.“
And I was rather surprised, as I returned to my deck chair and sat down, to find how affected I was by the little episode. I remembered, at the first, that my pulse had been distinctly accelerated with the excitement of what had taken place. And somehow, as I leaned back in my chair and lighted a cigarette, the strangeness of the whole voyage vividly came to me. Miss West and I talk philosophy and art on the poop of a stately ship in a circle of flashing sea, while Captain West dreams of his far home, and Mr. Pike and Mr. Mellaire stand watch and watch and snarl orders, and the slaves of men pull and haul, and Possum has fits, and Andy Fay and Mulligan Jacobs burn with hatred unconsumable, and the small-handed half-caste Chinese cooks for all, and Sundry Buyers perpetually presses his abdomen, and O’Sullivan raves in the steel cell of the ’midship-house, and Charles Davis lies about him nursing a marlin-spike, and Christian Jespersen, miles astern, is deep sunk in the sea with a sack of coal at his feet.
Two weeks out to-day, on a balmy sea, under a cloud-flecked sky, and slipping an easy eight knots through the water to a light easterly wind. Captain West said he was almost convinced that it was the north-east trade. Also, I have learned that the Elsinore, in order to avoid being jammed down on Cape San Roque, on the Brazil coast, must first fight eastward almost to the coast of Africa. On occasion, on this traverse, the Cape Verde Islands are raised. No wonder the voyage from Baltimore to Seattle is reckoned at eighteen thousand miles.
I found Tony, the suicidal Greek, steering this morning when I came on deck. He seemed sensible enough, and quite rationally took off his hat when I said good morning to him. The sick men are improving nicely, with the exceptions of Charles Davis and O’Sullivan. The latter still is lashed to his bunk, and Mr. Pike has compelled Davis to attend on him. As a result, Davis moves about the deck, bringing food and water from the galley and grumbling his wrongs to every member of the crew.
Wada told me a strange thing this morning. It seems that he, the steward, and the two sail-makers foregather each evening in the cook’s room—all being Asiatics—where they talk over ship’s gossip. They seem to miss little, and Wada brings it all to me. The thing Wada told me was the curious conduct of Mr. Mellaire. They have sat in judgment on him and they do not approve of his intimacy with the three gangsters for’ard.
“But, Wada,“ I said, “he is not that kind of a man. He is very hard and rough with all the sailors. He treats them like dogs. You know that.“
“Sure,“ assented Wada. “Other sailors he do that. But those three very bad men he make good friends. Louis say second mate belong aft like first mate and captain. No good for second mate talk like friend with sailors. No good for ship. Bime by trouble. You see. Louis say Mr. Mellaire crazy do that kind funny business.“
All of which, if it were true, and I saw no reason to doubt it, led me to inquire. It seems that the gangsters, Kid Twist, Nosey Murphy, and Bert Rhine, have made themselves cocks of the forecastle. Standing together, they have established a reign of terror and are ruling the forecastle. All their training in New York in ruling the slum brutes and weaklings in their gangs fits them for the part. As near as I could make out from Wada’s tale, they first began on the two Italians in their watch, Guido Bombini and Mike Cipriani. By means I cannot guess, they have reduced these two wretches to trembling slaves. As an instance, the other night, according to the ship’s gossip, Bert Rhine made Bombini get out of bed and fetch him a drink of water.
Isaac Chantz is likewise under their rule, though he is treated more kindly. Herman Lunkenheimer, a good-natured but simple-minded dolt of a German, received a severe beating from the three because he refused to wash some of Nosey Murphy’s dirty garments. The two bosuns are in fear of their lives with this clique, which is growing; for Steve Roberts, the ex-cowboy, and the white-slaver, Arthur Deacon, have been admitted to it.
I am the only one aft who possesses this information, and I confess I don’t know what to do with it. I know that Mr. Pike would tell me to mind my own business. Mr. Mellaire is out of the question. And Captain West hasn’t any crew. And I fear Miss West would laugh at me for my pains. Besides, I understand that every forecastle has its bully, or group of bullies; so this is merely a forecastle matter and no concern of the afterguard. The ship’s work goes on. The only effect I can conjecture is an increase in the woes of the unfortunates who must bow to this petty tyranny for’ard.
—Oh, and another thing Wada told me. The gangster clique has established its privilege of taking first cut of the salt-beef in the meat-kids. After that, the rest take the rejected pieces. But I will say, contrary to my expectations, the Elsinore’s forecastle is well found. The men are not on whack. They have all they want to eat. A barrel of good hardtack stands always open in the forecastle. Louis bakes fresh bread for the sailors three times a week. The variety of food is excellent, if not the quality. There is no restriction in the amount of water for drinking purposes. And I can only say that in this good weather the men’s appearance improves daily.
Possum is very sick. Each day he grows thinner. Scarcely can I call him a perambulating skeleton, because he is too weak to walk. Each day, in this delightful weather, Wada, under Miss West’s instructions, brings him up in his box and places him out of the wind on the awninged poop. She has taken full charge of the puppy, and has him sleep in her room each night. I found her yesterday, in the chart-room, reading up the Elsinore’s medical library. Later on she overhauled the medicine-chest. She is essentially the life-giving, life-conserving female of the species. All her ways, for herself and for others, make toward life.
And yet—and this is so curious it gives me pause—she shows no interest in the sick and injured for’ard.
They are to her cattle, or less than cattle. As the life-giver and race-conserver, I should have imagined her a Lady Bountiful, tripping regularly into that ghastly steel-walled hospital room of the midship-house and dispensing gruel, sunshine, and even tracts. On the contrary, as with her father, these wretched humans do not exist.
And still again, when the steward jammed a splinter under his nail, she was greatly concerned, and manipulated the tweezers and pulled it out. The Elsinore reminds me of a slave plantation before the war; and Miss West is the lady of the plantation, interested only in the house-slaves. The field slaves are beyond her ken or consideration, and the sailors are the Elsinore’s field slaves. Why, several days back, when Wada suffered from a severe headache, she was quite perturbed, and dosed him with aspirin. Well, I suppose this is all due to her sea-training. She has been trained hard.
We have the phonograph in the second dog-watch every other evening in this fine weather. On the alternate evenings this period is Mr. Pike’s watch on deck. But when it is his evening below, even at dinner, he betrays his anticipation by an eagerness ill suppressed. And yet, on each such occasion, he punctiliously waits until we ask if we are to be favoured with music. Then his hard-bitten face lights up, although the lines remain hard as ever, hiding his ecstasy, and he remarks gruffly, off-handedly, that he guesses he can play over a few records. And so, every other evening, we watch this killer and driver, with lacerated knuckles and gorilla paws, brushing and caressing his beloved discs, ravished with the music of them, and, as he told me early in the voyage, at such moments believing in God.
A strange experience is this life on the Elsinore. I confess, while it seems that I have been here for long months, so familiar am I with every detail of the little round of living, that I cannot orient myself. My mind continually strays from things non-understandable to things incomprehensible—from our Samurai captain with the exquisite Gabriel voice that is heard only in the tumult and thunder of storm; on to the ill-treated and feeble-minded faun with the bright, liquid, pain-filled eyes; to the three gangsters who rule the forecastle and seduce the second mate; to the perpetually muttering O’Sullivan in the steel-walled hole and the complaining Davis nursing the marlin-spike in the upper bunk; and to Christian Jespersen somewhere adrift in this vastitude of ocean with a coal-sack at his feet. At such moments all the life on the Elsinore becomes as unreal as life to the philosopher is unreal.
I am a philosopher. Therefore, it is unreal to me. But is it unreal to Messrs. Pike and Mellaire? to the lunatics and idiots? to the rest of the stupid herd for’ard? I cannot help remembering a remark of De Casseres. It was over the wine in Mouquin’s. Said he: “The profoundest instinct in man is to war against the truth; that is, against the Real. He shuns facts from his infancy. His life is a perpetual evasion. Miracle, chimera and to-morrow keep him alive. He lives on fiction and myth. It is the Lie that makes him free. Animals alone are given the privilege of lifting the veil of Isis; men dare not. The animal, awake, has no fictional escape from the Real because he has no imagination. Man, awake, is compelled to seek a perpetual escape into Hope, Belief, Fable, Art, God, Socialism, Immortality, Alcohol, Love. From Medusa-Truth he makes an appeal to Maya-Lie.“
Ben will agree that I have quoted him fairly. And so, the thought comes to me, that to all these slaves of the Elsinore the Real is real because they fictionally escape it. One and all they are obsessed with the belief that they are free agents. To me the Real is unreal, because I have torn aside the veils of fiction and myth. My pristine fictional escape from the Real, making me a philosopher, has bound me absolutely to the wheel of the Real. I, the super-realist, am the only unrealist on board the Elsinore. Therefore I, who penetrate it deepest, in the whole phenomena of living on the Elsinore see it only as phantasmagoria.
Paradoxes? I admit it. All deep thinkers are drowned in the sea of contradictions. But all the others on the Elsinore, sheer surface swimmers, keep afloat on this sea—forsooth, because they have never dreamed its depth. And I can easily imagine what Miss West’s practical, hard-headed judgment would be on these speculations of mine. After all, words are traps. I don’t know what I know, nor what I think I think.
This I do know: I cannot orient myself. I am the maddest and most sea-lost soul on board. Take Miss West. I am beginning to admire her. Why, I know not, unless it be because she is so abominably healthy. And yet, it is this very health of her, the absence of any shred of degenerative genius, that prevents her from being great . . . for instance, in her music.
A number of times, now, I have come in during the day to listen to her playing. The piano is good, and her teaching has evidently been of the best. To my astonishment I learn that she is a graduate of Bryn Mawr, and that her father took a degree from old Bowdoin long ago. And yet she lacks in her music.
Her touch is masterful. She has the firmness and weight (without sharpness or pounding) of a man’s playing—the strength and surety that most women lack and that some women know they lack. When she makes a slip she is ruthless with herself, and replays until the difficulty is overcome. And she is quick to overcome it.
Yes, and there is a sort of temperament in her work, but there is no sentiment, no fire. When she plays Chopin, she interprets his sureness and neatness. She is the master of Chopin’s technique, but she never walks where Chopin walks on the heights. Somehow, she stops short of the fulness of music.
I did like her method with Brahms, and she was not unwilling, at my suggestion, to go over and over the Three Rhapsodies. On the Third Intermezzo she was at her best, and a good best it was.
“You were talking of Debussy,“ she remarked. “I’ve got some of his stuff here. But I don’t get into it. I don’t understand it, and there is no use in trying. It doesn’t seem altogether like real music to me. It fails to get hold of me, just as I fail to get hold of it.“
“Yet you like MacDowell,“ I challenged.
“Y. . . es,“ she admitted grudgingly. “His New England Idylls and Fireside Tales. And I like that Finnish man’s stuff, Sibelius, too, although it seems to me too soft, too richly soft, too beautiful, if you know what I mean. It seems to cloy.“
What a pity, I thought, that with that noble masculine touch of hers she is unaware of the deeps of music. Some day I shall try to get from her just what Beethoven, say, and Chopin, mean to her. She has not read Shaw’s Perfect Wagnerite, nor had she ever heard of Nietzsche’s Case of Wagner. She likes Mozart, and old Boccherini, and Leonardo Leo. Likewise she is partial to Schumann, especially Forest Scenes. And she played his Papillons most brilliantly. When I closed my eyes I could have sworn it was a man’s fingers on the keys.
And yet, I must say it, in the long run her playing makes me nervous. I am continually led up to false expectations. Always, she seems just on the verge of achieving the big thing, the super-big thing, and always she just misses it by a shade. Just as I am prepared for the culminating flash and illumination, I receive more perfection of technique. She is cold. She must be cold . . . Or else, and the theory is worth considering, she is too healthy.
I shall certainly read to her The Daughters of Herodias.
Was there ever such a voyage! This morning, when I came on deck, I found nobody at the wheel. It was a startling sight—the great Elsinore, by the wind, under an Alpine range of canvas, every sail set from skysails to try-sails and spanker, slipping across the surface of a mild trade-wind sea, and no hand at the wheel to guide her.
No one was on the poop. It was Mr. Pike’s watch, and I strolled for’ard along the bridge to find him. He was on Number One hatch giving some instructions to the sail-makers. I awaited my chance, until he glanced up and greeted me.
“Good morning,“ I answered. “And what man is at the wheel now?“
“That crazy Greek, Tony,“ he replied.
“A month’s wages to a pound of tobacco he isn’t,“ I offered.
Mr. Pike looked at me with quick sharpness.
“Who is at the wheel?“
“Nobody,“ I replied.
And then he exploded into action. The age-lag left his massive frame, and he bounded aft along the deck at a speed no man on board could have exceeded; and I doubt if very many could have equalled it. He went up the poop-ladder three steps at a time and disappeared in the direction of the wheel behind the chart-house.
Next came a promptitude of bellowed orders, and all the watch was slacking away after braces to starboard and pulling on after braces to port. I had already learned the manoeuvre. Mr. Pike was wearing ship.
As I returned aft along the bridge Mr. Mellaire and the carpenter emerged from the cabin door. They had been interrupted at breakfast, for they were wiping their mouths. Mr. Pike came to the break of the poop, called down instructions to the second mate, who proceeded for’ard, and ordered the carpenter to take the wheel.
As the Elsinore swung around on her heel Mr. Pike put her on the back track so as to cover the water she had just crossed over. He lowered the glasses through which he was scanning the sea and pointed down the hatchway that opened into the big after-room beneath. The ladder was gone.
“Must have taken the lazarette ladder with him,“ said Mr. Pike.
Captain West strolled out of the chart-room. He said good morning in his customary way, courteously to me and formally to the mate, and strolled on along the poop to the wheel, where he paused to glance into the binnacle. Turning, he went on leisurely to the break of the poop. Again he came back to us. Fully two minutes must have elapsed ere he spoke.
“What is the matter, Mr. Pike? Man overboard?“
“Yes, sir,“ was the answer.
“And took the lazarette ladder along with him?“ Captain West queried.
“Yes, sir. It’s the Greek that jumped over at Baltimore.“
Evidently the affair was not serious enough for Captain West to be the Samurai. He lighted a cigar and resumed his stroll. And yet he had missed nothing, not even the absence of the ladder.
Mr. Pike sent look-outs aloft to every skysail-yard, and the Elsinore slipped along through the smooth sea. Miss West came up and stood beside me, searching the ocean with her eyes while I told her the little I knew. She evidenced no excitement, and reassured me by telling me how difficult it was to lose a man of Tony’s suicidal type.
“Their madness always seems to come upon them in fine weather or under safe circumstances,“ she smiled, “when a boat can be lowered or a tug is alongside. And sometimes they take life—preservers with them, as in this case.“
At the end of an hour Mr. Pike wore the Elsinore around, and again retraced the course she must have been sailing when the Greek went over. Captain West still strolled and smoked, and Miss West made a brief trip below to give Wada forgotten instructions about Possum. Andy Pay was called to the wheel, and the carpenter went below to finish his breakfast.
It all seemed rather callous to me. Nobody was much concerned for the man who was overboard somewhere on that lonely ocean. And yet I had to admit that everything possible was being done to find him. I talked a little with Mr. Pike, and he seemed more vexed than anything else. He disliked to have the ship’s work interrupted in such fashion.
Mr. Mellaire’s attitude was different.
“We are short-handed enough as it is,“ he told me, when he joined us on the poop. “We can’t afford to lose him even if he is crazy. We need him. He’s a good sailor most of the time.“
The hail came from the mizzen-skysail-yard. The Maltese Cockney it was who first sighted the man and called down the information. The mate, looking to windwards, suddenly lowered his glasses, rubbed his eyes in a puzzled way, and looked again. Then Miss West, using another pair of glasses, cried out in surprise and began to laugh.
“What do you make of it, Miss West?“ the mate asked.
“He doesn’t seem to be in the water. He’s standing up.“
Mr. Pike nodded.
“He’s on the ladder,“ he said. “I’d forgotten that. It fooled me at first. I couldn’t understand it.“ He turned to the second mate. “Mr. Mellaire, will you launch the long boat and get some kind of a crew into it while I back the main-yard? I’ll go in the boat. Pick men that can pull an oar.“
“You go, too,“ Miss West said to me. “It will be an opportunity to get outside the Elsinore and see her under full sail.“
Mr. Pike nodded consent, so I went along, sitting near him in the stern-sheets where he steered, while half a dozen hands rowed us toward the suicide, who stood so weirdly upon the surface of the sea. The Maltese Cockney pulled the stroke oar, and among the other five men was one whose name I had but recently learned—Ditman Olansen, a Norwegian. A good seaman, Mr. Mellaire had told me, in whose watch he was; a good seaman, but “crank-eyed.“ When pressed for an explanation Mr. Mellaire had said that he was the sort of man who flew into blind rages, and that one never could tell what little thing would produce such a rage. As near as I could grasp it, Ditman Olansen was a Berserker type. Yet, as I watched him pulling in good time at the oar, his large, pale-blue eyes seemed almost bovine—the last man in the world, in my judgment, to have a Berserker fit.
As we drew close to the Greek he began to scream menacingly at us and to brandish a sheath-knife. His weight sank the ladder until the water washed his knees, and on this submerged support he balanced himself with wild writhing and outflinging of arms. His face, grimacing like a monkey’s, was not a pretty thing to look upon. And as he continued to threaten us with the knife I wondered how the problem of rescuing him would be solved.
But I should have trusted Mr. Pike for that. He removed the boat-stretcher from under the Maltese Cockney’s feet and laid it close to hand in the stern-sheets. Then he had the men reverse the boat and back it upon the Greek. Dodging a sweep of the knife, Mr. Pike awaited his chance, until a passing wave lifted the boat’s stern high, while Tony was sinking toward the trough. This was the moment. Again I was favoured with a sample of the lightning speed with which that aged man of sixty-nine could handle his body. Timed precisely, and delivered in a flash and with weight, the boat-stretcher came down on the Greek’s head. The knife fell into the sea, and the demented creature collapsed and followed it, knocked unconscious. Mr. Pike scooped him out, quite effortlessly it seemed to me, and flung him into the boat’s bottom at my feet.
The next moment the men were bending to their oars and the mate was steering back to the Elsinore. It was a stout rap Mr. Pike had administered with the boat-stretcher. Thin streaks of blood oozed on the damp, plastered hair from the broken scalp. I could but stare at the lump of unconscious flesh that dripped sea-water at my feet. A man, all life and movement one moment, defying the universe, reduced the next moment to immobility and the blackness and blankness of death, is always a fascinating object for the contemplative eye of the philosopher. And in this case it had been accomplished so simply, by means of a stick of wood brought sharply in contact with his skull.
If Tony the Greek be accounted an appearance, what was he now?—a disappearance? And if so, whither had he disappeared? And whence would he journey back to reoccupy that body when what we call consciousness returned to him? The first word, much less the last, of the phenomena of personality and consciousness yet remains to be uttered by the psychologists.
Pondering thus, I chanced to lift my eyes, and the glorious spectacle of the Elsinore burst upon me. I had been so long on board, and in board of her, that I had forgotten she was a white-painted ship. So low to the water was her hull, so delicate and slender, that the tall, sky-reaching spars and masts and the hugeness of the spread of canvas seemed preposterous and impossible, an insolent derision of the law of gravitation. It required effort to realize that that slim curve of hull inclosed and bore up from the sea’s bottom five thousand tons of coal. And again, it seemed a miracle that the mites of men had conceived and constructed so stately and magnificent an element-defying fabric—mites of men, most woefully like the Greek at my feet, prone to precipitation into the blackness by means of a rap on the head with a piece of wood.
Tony made a struggling noise in his throat, then coughed and groaned. From somewhere he was reappearing. I noticed Mr. Pike look at him quickly, as if apprehending some recrudescence of frenzy that would require more boat-stretcher. But Tony merely fluttered his big black eyes open and stared at me for a long minute of incurious amaze ere he closed them again.
“What are you going to do with him?“ I asked the mate.
“Put ’m back to work,“ was the reply. “It’s all he’s good for, and he ain’t hurt. Somebody’s got to work this ship around the Horn.“
When we hoisted the boat on board I found Miss West had gone below. In the chart-room Captain West was winding the chronometers. Mr. Mellaire had turned in to catch an hour or two of sleep ere his watch on deck at noon. Mr. Mellaire, by the way, as I have forgotten to state, does not sleep aft. He shares a room in the ’midship-house with Mr. Pike’s Nancy.
Nobody showed sympathy for the unfortunate Greek. He was bundled out upon Number Two hatch like so much carrion and left there unattended, to recover consciousness as he might elect. Yes, and so inured have I become that I make free to admit I felt no sympathy for him myself. My eyes were still filled with the beauty of the Elsinore. One does grow hard at sea.
One does not mind the trades. We have held the north-east trade for days now, and the miles roll off behind us as the patent log whirls and tinkles on the taffrail. Yesterday, log and observation approximated a run of two hundred and fifty-two miles; the day before we ran two hundred and forty, and the day before that two hundred and sixty-one. But one does not appreciate the force of the wind. So balmy and exhilarating is it that it is so much atmospheric wine. I delight to open my lungs and my pores to it. Nor does it chill. At any hour of the night, while the cabin lies asleep, I break off from my reading and go up on the poop in the thinnest of tropical pyjamas.
I never knew before what the trade wind was. And now I am infatuated with it. I stroll up and down for an hour at a time, with whichever mate has the watch. Mr. Mellaire is always full-garmented, but Mr. Pike, on these delicious nights, stands his first watch after midnight in his pyjamas. He is a fearfully muscular man. Sixty-nine years seem impossible when I see his single, slimpsy garments pressed like fleshings against his form and bulged by heavy bone and huge muscle. A splendid figure of a man! What he must have been in the hey-day of youth two score years and more ago passes comprehension.
The days, so filled with simple routine, pass as in a dream. Here, where time is rigidly measured and emphasized by the changing of the watches, where every hour and half-hour is persistently brought to one’s notice by the striking of the ship’s bells fore and aft, time ceases. Days merge into days, and weeks slip into weeks, and I, for one, can never remember the day of the week or month.
The Elsinore is never totally asleep. Day and night, always, there are the men on watch, the look-out on the forecastle head, the man at the wheel, and the officer of the deck. I lie reading in my bunk, which is on the weather side, and continually over my head during the long night hours impact the footsteps of one mate or the other, pacing up and down, and, as I well know, the man himself is for ever peering for’ard from the break of the poop, or glancing into the binnacle, or feeling and gauging the weight and direction of wind on his cheek, or watching the cloud-stuff in the sky adrift and a-scud across the stars and the moon. Always, always, there are wakeful eyes on the Elsinore.
Last night, or this morning, rather, about two o’clock, as I lay with the printed page swimming drowsily before me, I was aroused by an abrupt outbreak of snarl from Mr. Pike. I located him as at the break of the poop; and the man at whom he snarled was Larry, evidently on the main deck beneath him. Not until Wada brought me breakfast did I learn what had occurred.
Larry, with his funny pug nose, his curiously flat and twisted face, and his querulous, plaintive chimpanzee eyes, had been moved by some unlucky whim to venture an insolent remark under the cover of darkness on the main deck. But Mr. Pike, from above, at the break of the poop, had picked the offender unerringly. This was when the explosion occurred. Then the unfortunate Larry, truly half-devil and all child, had waxed sullen and retorted still more insolently; and the next he knew, the mate, descending upon him like a hurricane, had handcuffed him to the mizzen fife-rail.
Imagine, on Mr. Pike’s part, that this was one for Larry and at least ten for Kid Twist, Nosey Murphy, and Bert Rhine. I’ll not be so absurd as to say that the mate is afraid of those gangsters. I doubt if he has ever experienced fear. It is not in him. On the other hand, I am confident that he apprehends trouble from these men, and that it was for their benefit he made this example of Larry.
Larry could stand no more than an hour in irons, at which time his stupid brutishness overcame any fear he might have possessed, because he bellowed out to the poop to come down and loose him for a fair fight. Promptly Mr. Pike was there with the key to the handcuffs. As if Larry had the shred of a chance against that redoubtable aged man! Wada reported that Larry, amongst other things, had lost a couple of front teeth and was laid up in his bunk for the day. When I met Mr. Pike on deck after eight o’clock I glanced at his knuckles. They verified Wada’s tale.
I cannot help being amused by the keen interest I take in little events like the foregoing. Not only has time ceased, but the world has ceased. Strange it is, when I come to think of it, in all these weeks I have received no letter, no telephone call, no telegram, no visitor. I have not been to the play. I have not read a newspaper. So far as I am concerned, there are no plays nor newspapers. All such things have vanished with the vanished world. All that exists is the Elsinore, with her queer human freightage and her cargo of coal, cleaving a rotund of ocean of which the skyline is a dozen miles away.
I am reminded of Captain Scott, frozen on his south-polar venture, who for ten months after his death was believed by the world to be alive. Not until the world learned of his death was he anything but alive to the world. By the same token, was he not alive? And by the same token, here on the Elsinore, has not the land-world ceased? May not the pupil of one’s eye be, not merely the centre of the world, but the world itself? Truly, it is tenable that the world exists only in consciousness. “The world is my idea,“ said Schopenhauer. Said Jules de Gaultier, “The world is my invention.“ His dogma was that imagination created the Real. Ah, me, I know that the practical Miss West would dub my metaphysics a depressing and unhealthful exercise of my wits.
To-day, in our deck chairs on the poop, I read The Daughters of Herodias to Miss West. It was superb in its effect—just what I had expected of her. She hemstitched a fine white linen handkerchief for her father while I read. (She is never idle, being so essentially a nest-maker and comfort-producer and race-conserver; and she has a whole pile of these handkerchiefs for her father.)
She smiled, how shall I say?—oh, incredulously, triumphantly, oh, with all the sure wisdom of all the generations of women in her warm, long gray eyes, when I read:
“But they smile innocently and dance on,
Having no thought but this unslumbering thought:
‘Am I not beautiful? Shall I not be loved?’
Be patient, for they will not understand,
Not till the end of time will they put by
The weaving of slow steps about men’s hearts.“
“But it is well for the world that it is so,“ was her comment.
Ah, Symons knew women! His perfect knowledge she attested when I read that magnificent passage:
“They do not understand that in the world
There grows between the sunlight and the grass
Anything save themselves desirable.
It seems to them that the swift eyes of men
Are made but to be mirrors, not to see
Far-off, disastrous, unattainable things.
‘For are not we,’ they say, ‘the end of all?
Why should you look beyond us? If you look
Into the night, you will find nothing there:
We also have gazed often at the stars.’“
“It is true,“ said Miss West, in the pause I permitted in order to see how she had received the thought. “We also have gazed often at the stars.“
It was the very thing I had predicted to her face that she would say.
“But wait,“ I cried. “Let me read on.“ And I read:
“‘We, we alone among all beautiful things,
We only are real: for the rest are dreams.
Why will you follow after wandering dreams
When we await you? And you can but dream
Of us, and in our image fashion them.’“
“True, most true,“ she murmured, while all unconsciously pride and power mounted in her eyes.
“A wonderful poem,“ she conceded—nay, proclaimed—when I had done.
“But do you not see . . .“ I began impulsively, then abandoned the attempt. For how could she see, being woman, the “far-off, disastrous, unattainable things,“ when she, as she so stoutly averred, had gazed often on the stars?
She? What could she see, save what all women see—that they only are real, and that all the rest are dreams.
“I am proud to be a daughter of Herodias,“ said Miss West.
“Well,“ I admitted lamely, “we agree. You remember it is what I told you you were.“
“I am grateful for the compliment,“ she said; and in those long gray eyes of hers were limned and coloured all the satisfaction, and self-certitude and answering complacency of power that constitute so large a part of the seductive mystery and mastery that is possessed by woman.
Heavens!—how I read in this fine weather. I take so little exercise that my sleep need is very small; and there are so few interruptions, such as life teems with on the land, that I read myself almost stupid. Recommend me a sea-voyage any time for a man who is behind in his reading. I am making up years of it. It is an orgy, a debauch; and I am sure the addled sailors adjudge me the queerest creature on board.
At times, so fuzzy do I get from so much reading, that I am glad for any diversion. When we strike the doldrums, which lie between the north-east and the south-east trades, I shall have Wada assemble my little twenty-two automatic rifle and try to learn how to shoot. I used to shoot, when I was a wee lad. I can remember dragging a shot-gun around with me over the hills. Also, I possessed an air-rifle, with which, on great occasion, I was even able to slaughter a robin.
While the poop is quite large for promenading, the available space for deck-chairs is limited to the awnings that stretch across from either side of the chart-house and that are of the width of the chart-house. This space again is restricted to one side or the other according to the slant of the morning and afternoon sun and the freshness of the breeze. Wherefore, Miss West’s chair and mine are most frequently side by side. Captain West has a chair, which he infrequently occupies. He has so little to do in the working of the ship, taking his regular observations and working them up with such celerity, that he is rarely in the chart-room for any length of time. He elects to spend his hours in the main cabin, not reading, not doing anything save dream with eyes wide open in the draught of wind that pours through the open ports and door from out the huge crojack and the jigger staysails.
Miss West is never idle. Below, in the big after-room, she does her own laundering. Nor will she let the steward touch her father’s fine linen. In the main cabin she has installed a sewing-machine. All hand-stitching, and embroidering, and fancy work she does in the deck-chair beside me. She avers that she loves the sea and the atmosphere of sea-life, yet, verily, she has brought her home-things and land-things along with her—even to her pretty china for afternoon tea.
Most essentially is she the woman and home-maker. She is a born cook. The steward and Louis prepare dishes extraordinary and de luxe for the cabin table; yet Miss West is able at a moment’s notice to improve on these dishes. She never lets any of their dishes come on the table without first planning them or passing on them. She has quick judgment, an unerring taste, and is possessed of the needful steel of decision. It seems she has only to look at a dish, no matter who has cooked it, and immediately divine its lack or its surplusage, and prescribe a treatment that transforms it into something indescribably different and delicious—My, how I do eat! I am quite dumbfounded by the unfailing voracity of my appetite. Already am I quite convinced that I am glad Miss West is making the voyage.
She has sailed “out East,“ as she quaintly calls it, and has an enormous repertoire of tasty, spicy, Eastern dishes. In the cooking of rice Louis is a master; but in the making of the accompanying curry he fades into a blundering amateur compared with Miss West. In the matter of curry she is a sheer genius. How often one’s thoughts dwell upon food when at sea!
So in this trade-wind weather I see a great deal of Miss West. I read all the time, and quite a good part of the time I read aloud to her passages, and even books, with which I am interested in trying her out. Then, too, such reading gives rise to discussions, and she has not yet uttered anything that would lead me to change my first judgment of her. She is a genuine daughter of Herodias.
And yet she is not what one would call a cute girl. She isn’t a girl, she is a mature woman with all the freshness of a girl. She has the carriage, the attitude of mind, the aplomb of a woman, and yet she cannot be described as being in the slightest degree stately. She is generous, dependable, sensible—yes, and sensitive; and her superabundant vitality, the vitality that makes her walk so gloriously, discounts the maturity of her. Sometimes she seems all of thirty to me; at other times, when her spirits and risibilities are aroused, she scarcely seems thirteen. I shall make a point of asking Captain West the date of the Dixie’s collision with that river steamer in San Francisco Bay. In a word, she is the most normal, the most healthy, natural woman I have ever known.
Yes, and she is feminine, despite, no matter how she does her hair, that it is as invariably smooth and well-groomed as all the rest of her. On the other hand, this perpetual well-groomedness is relieved by the latitude of dress she allows herself. She never fails of being a woman. Her sex, and the lure of it, is ever present. Possibly she may possess high collars, but I have never seen her in one on board. Her blouses are always open at the throat, disclosing one of her choicest assets, the muscular, adequate neck, with its fine-textured garmenture of skin. I embarrass myself by stealing long glances at that bare throat of hers and at the hint of fine, firm-surfaced shoulder.
Visiting the chickens has developed into a regular function. At least once each day we make the journey for’ard along the bridge to the top of the ’midship-house. Possum, who is now convalescent, accompanies us. The steward makes a point of being there so as to receive instructions and report the egg-output and laying conduct of the many hens. At the present time our four dozen hens are laying two dozen eggs a day, with which record Miss West is greatly elated.
Already she has given names to most of them. The cock is Peter, of course. A much-speckled hen is Dolly Varden. A slim, trim thing that dogs Peter’s heels she calls Cleopatra. Another hen—the mellowest-voiced one of all—she addresses as Bernhardt. One thing I have noted: whenever she and the steward have passed death sentence on a non-laying hen (which occurs regularly once a week), she takes no part in the eating of the meat, not even when it is metamorphosed into one of her delectable curries. At such times she has a special curry made for herself of tinned lobster, or shrimp, or tinned chicken.
Ah, I must not forget. I have learned that it was no man-interest (in me, if you please) that brought about her sudden interest to come on the voyage. It was for her father that she came. Something is the matter with Captain West. At rare moments I have observed her gazing at him with a world of solicitude and anxiety in her eyes.
I was telling an amusing story at table yesterday midday, when my glance chanced to rest upon Miss West. She was not listening. Her food on her fork was suspended in the air a sheer instant as she looked at her father with all her eyes. It was a stare of fear. She realized that I was observing, and with superb control, slowly, quite naturally, she lowered the fork and rested it on her plate, retaining her hold on it and retaining her father’s face in her look.
But I had seen. Yes; I had seen more than that. I had seen Captain West’s face a transparent white, while his eyelids fluttered down and his lips moved noiselessly. Then the eyelids raised, the lips set again with their habitual discipline, and the colour slowly returned to his face. It was as if he had been away for a time and just returned. But I had seen, and guessed her secret.
And yet it was this same Captain West, seven hours later, who chastened the proud sailor spirit of Mr. Pike. It was in the second dog-watch that evening, a dark night, and the watch was pulling away on the main deck. I had just come out of the chart-house door and seen Captain West pace by me, hands in pockets, toward the break of the poop. Abruptly, from the mizzen-mast, came a snap of breakage and crash of fabric. At the same instant the men fell backward and sprawled over the deck.
A moment of silence followed, and then Captain West’s voice went out:
“What carried away, Mr. Pike?“
“The halyards, sir,“ came the reply out of the darkness.
There was a pause. Again Captain West’s voice went out.
“Next time slack away on your sheet first.“
Now Mr. Pike is incontestably a splendid seaman. Yet in this instance he had been wrong. I have come to know him, and I can well imagine the hurt to his pride. And more—he has a wicked, resentful, primitive nature, and though he answered respectfully enough, “Yes, sir,“ I felt safe in predicting to myself that the poor devils under him would receive the weight of his resentment in the later watches of the night.
They evidently did; for this morning I noted a black eye on John Hackey, a San Francisco hoodlum, and Guido Bombini was carrying a freshly and outrageously swollen jaw. I asked Wada about the matter, and he soon brought me the news. Quite a bit of beating up takes place for’ard of the deck-houses in the night watches while we of the after-guard peacefully slumber.
Even to-day Mr. Pike is going around sullen and morose, snarling at the men more than usual, and barely polite to Miss West and me when we chance to address him. His replies are grunted in monosyllables, and his face is set in superlative sourness. Miss West who is unaware of the occurrence, laughs and calls it a “sea grouch“—a phenomenon with which she claims large experience.
But I know Mr. Pike now—the stubborn, wonderful old sea-dog. It will be three days before he is himself again. He takes a terrible pride in his seamanship, and what hurts him most is the knowledge that he was guilty of the blunder.