The days grow gray. The sun has lost its warmth, and each noon, at meridian, it is lower in the northern sky. All the old stars have long since gone, and it would seem the sun is following them. The world—the only world I know—has been left behind far there to the north, and the hill of the earth is between it and us. This sad and solitary ocean, gray and cold, is the end of all things, the falling-off place where all things cease. Only it grows colder, and grayer, and penguins cry in the night, and huge amphibians moan and slubber, and great albatrosses, gray with storm-battling of the Horn, wheel and veer.
* * * * *
“Land ho!“ was the cry yesterday morning. I shivered as I gazed at this, the first land since Baltimore a few centuries ago. There was no sun, and the morning was damp and cold with a brisk wind that penetrated any garment. The deck thermometer marked 30—two degrees below freezing-point; and now and then easy squalls of snow swept past.
All of the land that was to be seen was snow. Long, low chains of peaks, snow-covered, arose out of the ocean. As we drew closer, there were no signs of life. It was a sheer, savage, bleak, forsaken land. By eleven, off the entrance of Le Maire Straits, the squalls ceased, the wind steadied, and the tide began to make through in the direction we desired to go.
Captain West did not hesitate. His orders to Mr. Pike were quick and tranquil. The man at the wheel altered the course, while both watches sprang aloft to shake out royals and skysails. And yet Captain West knew every inch of the risk he took in this graveyard of ships.
When we entered the narrow strait, under full sail and gripped by a tremendous tide, the rugged headlands of Tierra del Fuego dashed by with dizzying swiftness. Close we were to them, and close we were to the jagged coast of Staten Island on the opposite shore. It was here, in a wild bight, between two black and precipitous walls of rock where even the snow could find no lodgment, that Captain West paused in a casual sweep of his glasses and gazed steadily at one place. I picked the spot up with my own glasses and was aware of an instant chill as I saw the four masts of a great ship sticking out of the water. Whatever craft it was, it was as large as the Elsinore, and it had been but recently wrecked.
“One of the German nitrate ships,“ said Mr. Pike. Captain West nodded, still studying the wreck, then said:
“She looks quite deserted. Just the same, Mr. Pike, send several of your best-sighted sailors aloft, and keep a good lookout yourself. There may be some survivors ashore trying to signal us.“
But we sailed on, and no signals were seen. Mr. Pike was delighted with our good fortune. He was guilty of walking up and down, rubbing his hands and chuckling to himself. Not since 1888, he told me, had he been through the Straits of Le Maire. Also, he said that he knew of shipmasters who had made forty voyages around the Horn and had never once had the luck to win through the straits. The regular passage is far to the east around Staten Island, which means a loss of westing, and here, at the tip of the world, where the great west wind, unobstructed by any land, sweeps round and around the narrow girth of earth, westing is the thing that has to be fought for mile by mile and inch by inch. The Sailing Directions advise masters on the Horn passage: Make Westing. Whatever you do, make westing.
When we emerged from the straits in the early afternoon the same steady breeze continued, and in the calm water under the lee of Tierra del Fuego, which extends south-westerly to the Horn, we slipped along at an eight-knot clip.
Mr. Pike was beside himself. He could scarcely tear himself from the deck when it was his watch below. He chuckled, rubbed his hands, and incessantly hummed snatches from the Twelfth Mass. Also, he was voluble.
“To-morrow morning we’ll be up with the Horn. We’ll shave it by a dozen or fifteen miles. Think of it! We’ll just steal around! I never had such luck, and never expected to. Old girl Elsinore, you’re rotten for’ard, but the hand of God is at your helm.“
Once, under the weather cloth, I came upon him talking to himself. It was more a prayer.
“If only she don’t pipe up,“ he kept repeating. “If only she don’t pipe up.“
Mr. Mellaire was quite different.
“It never happens,“ he told me. “No ship ever went around like this. You watch her come. She always comes a-smoking out of the sou’west.“
“But can’t a vessel ever steal around?“ I asked.
“The odds are mighty big against it, sir,“ he answered. “I’ll give you a line on them. I’ll wager even, sir, just a nominal bet of a pound of tobacco, that inside twenty-four hours we’ll he hove to under upper-topsails. I’ll wager ten pounds to five that we’re not west of the Horn a week from now; and, fifty to fifty being the passage, twenty pounds to five that two weeks from now we’re not up with fifty in the Pacific.“
As for Captain West, the perils of Le Maire behind, he sat below, his slippered feet stretched before him, smoking a cigar. He had nothing to say whatever, although Margaret and I were jubilant and dared duets through all of the second dog-watch.
* * * * *
And this morning, in a smooth sea and gentle breeze, the Horn bore almost due north of us not more than six miles away. Here we were, well abreast and reeling off westing.
“What price tobacco this morning?“ I quizzed Mr. Mellaire.
“Going up,“ he came back. “Wish I had a thousand bets like the one with you, sir.“
I glanced about at sea and sky and gauged the speed of our way by the foam, but failed to see anything that warranted his remark. It was surely fine weather, and the steward, in token of the same, was trying to catch fluttering Cape pigeons with a bent pin on a piece of thread.
For’ard, on the poop, I encountered Mr. Pike. It was an encounter, for his salutation was a grunt.
“Well, we’re going right along,“ I ventured cheerily.
He made no reply, but turned and stared into the gray south-west with an expression sourer than any I had ever seen on his face. He mumbled something I failed to catch, and, on my asking him to repeat it, he said:
“It’s breeding weather. Can’t you see it?“
I shook my head.
“What d’ye think we’re taking off the kites for?“ he growled.
I looked aloft. The skysails were already furled; men were furling the royals; and the topgallant-yards were running down while clewlines and buntlines bagged the canvas. Yet, if anything, our northerly breeze fanned even more gently.
“Bless me if I can see any weather,“ I said.
“Then go and take a look at the barometer,“ he grunted, as he turned on his heel and swung away from me.
In the chart-room was Captain West, pulling on his long sea-boots. That would have told me had there been no barometer, though the barometer was eloquent enough of itself. The night before it had stood at 30.10. It was now 28.64. Even in the pampero it had not been so low as that.
“The usual Cape Horn programme,“ Captain West smiled to me, as he stood up in all his lean and slender gracefulness and reached for his long oilskin coat.
Still I could scarcely believe.
“Is it very far away?“ I inquired.
He shook his head, and forebore in the act of speaking to lift his hand for me to listen. The Elsinore rolled uneasily, and from without came the soft and hollow thunder of sails emptying themselves against the masts and gear.
We had chatted a bare five minutes, when again he lifted his head. This time the Elsinore heeled over slightly and remained heeled over, while the sighing whistle of a rising breeze awoke in the rigging.
“It’s beginning to make,“ he said, in the good old Anglo-Saxon of the sea.
And then I heard Mr. Pike snarling out orders, and in my heart discovered a growing respect for Cape Horn—Cape Stiff, as the sailors call it.
An hour later we were hove to on the port tack under upper-topsails and foresail. The wind had come out of the south-west, and our leeway was setting us down upon the land. Captain West gave orders to the mate to stand by to wear ship. Both watches had been taking in sail, so that both watches were on deck for the manoeuvre.
It was astounding, the big sea that had arisen in so short a time. The wind was blowing a gale that ever, in recurring gusts, increased upon itself. Nothing was visible a hundred yards away. The day had become black-gray. In the cabin lamps were burning. The view from the poop, along the length of the great labouring ship, was magnificent. Seas burst and surged across her weather-rail and kept her deck half filled, despite the spouting ports and gushing scuppers.
On each of the two houses and on the poop the ship’s complement, all in oilskins, was in groups. For’ard, Mr. Mellaire had charge. Mr. Pike took charge of the ’midship-house and the poop. Captain West strolled up and down, saw everything, said nothing; for it was the mate’s affair.
When Mr. Pike ordered the wheel hard up, he slacked off all the mizzen-yards, and followed it with a partial slacking of the main-yards, so that the after-pressures were eased. The foresail and fore-lower- and-upper-topsails remained flat in order to pay the head off before the wind. All this took time. The men were slow, not strong, and without snap. They reminded me of dull oxen by the way they moved and pulled. And the gale, ever snorting harder, now snorted diabolically. Only at intervals could I glimpse the group on top the for’ard-house. Again and again, leaning to it and holding their heads down, the men on the ’midship-house were obliterated by the drive of crested seas that burst against the rail, spouted to the lower-yards, and swept in horizontal volumes across to leeward. And Mr. Pike, like an enormous spider in a wind-tossed web, went back and forth along the slender bridge that was itself a shaken thread in the blast of the storm.
So tremendous were the gusts that for the time the Elsinore refused to answer. She lay down to it; she was swept and racked by it; but her head did not pay off before it, and all the while we drove down upon that bitter, iron coast. And the world was black-gray, and violent, and very cold, with the flying spray freezing to ice in every lodgment.
We waited. The groups of men, head down to it, waited. Mr. Pike, restless, angry, his blue eyes as bitter as the cold, his mouth as much a-snarl as the snarl of the elements with which he fought, waited. The Samurai waited, tranquil, casual, remote. And Cape Horn waited, there on our lee, for the bones of our ship and us.
And then the Elsinore’s bow paid off. The angle of the beat of the gale changed, and soon, with dreadful speed, we were dashing straight before it and straight toward the rocks we could not see. But all doubt was over. The success of the manoeuvre was assured. Mr. Mellaire, informed by messenger along the bridge from Mr. Pike, slacked off the head-yards. Mr. Pike, his eye on the helmsman, his hand signalling the order, had the wheel put over to port to check the Elsinore’s rush into the wind as she came up on the starboard tack. All was activity. Main- and mizzen-yards were braced up, and the Elsinore, snugged down and hove to, had a lee of thousands of miles of Southern Ocean.
And all this had been accomplished in the stamping ground of storm, at the end of the world, by a handful of wretched weaklings, under the drive of two strong mates, with behind them the placid will of the Samurai.
It had taken thirty minutes to wear ship, and I had learned how the best of shipmasters can lose their ships without reproach. Suppose the Elsinore had persisted in her refusal to payoff? Suppose anything had carried away? And right here enters Mr. Pike. It is his task ever to see that every rope and block and all the myriad other things in the vast and complicated gear of the Elsinore are in strength not to carry away. Always have the masters of our race required henchmen like Mr. Pike, and it seems the race has well supplied those henchmen.
Ere I went below I heard Captain West tell Mr. Pike that while both watches were on deck it would be just as well to put a reef in the foresail before they furled it. The mainsail and the crojack being off, I could see the men black on the fore-yard. For half-an-hour I lingered, watching them. They seemed to make no progress with the reef. Mr. Mellaire was with them, having direct supervision of the job, while Mr. Pike, on the poop, growled and grumbled and spat endless blasphemies into the flying air.
“What’s the matter?“ I asked.
“Two watches on a single yardarm and unable to put a reef in a handkerchief like that!“ he snorted. “What’ll it be if we’re off here a month?“
“A month!“ I cried.
“A month isn’t anything for Cape Stiff,“ he said grimly. “I’ve been off here seven weeks and then turned tail and run around the other way.“
“Around the world?“ I gasped.
“It was the only way to get to ’Frisco,“ he answered. “The Horn’s the Horn, and there’s no summer seas that I’ve ever noticed in this neighbourhood.“
My fingers were numb and I was chilled through when I took a last look at the wretched men on the fore-yard and went below to warm up.
A little later, as I went in to table, through a cabin port I stole a look for’ard between seas and saw the men still struggling on the freezing yard.
The four of us were at table, and it was very comfortable, in spite of the Elsinore’s violent antics. The room was warm. The storm-racks on the table kept each dish in its place. The steward served and moved about with ease and apparent unconcern, although I noticed an occasional anxious gleam in his eyes when he poised some dish at a moment when the ship pitched and flung with unusual wildness.
And now and again I thought of the poor devils on the yard. Well, they belonged there by right, just as we belonged here by right in this oasis of the cabin. I looked at Mr. Pike and wagered to myself that half-a-dozen like him could master that stubborn foresail. As for the Samurai, I was convinced that alone, not moving from his seat, by a tranquil exertion of will, he could accomplish the same thing.
The lighted sea-lamps swung and leaped in their gimbals, ever battling with the dancing shadows in the murky gray. The wood-work creaked and groaned. The jiggermast, a huge cylinder of hollow steel that perforated the apartment through deck above and floor beneath, was hideously vocal with the storm. Far above, taut ropes beat against it so that it clanged like a boiler-shop. There was a perpetual thunder of seas falling on our deck and crash of water against our for’ard wall; while the ten thousand ropes and gears aloft bellowed and screamed as the storm smote them.
And yet all this was from without. Here, at this well-appointed table, was no draught nor breath of wind, no drive of spray nor wash of sea. We were in the heart of peace in the midmost centre of the storm. Margaret was in high spirits, and her laughter vied with the clang of the jiggermast. Mr. Pike was gloomy, but I knew him well enough to attribute his gloom, not to the elements, but to the inefficients futilely freezing on the yard. As for me, I looked about at the four of us—blue-eyed, gray-eyed, all fair-skinned and royal blond—and somehow it seemed that I had long since lived this, and that with me and in me were all my ancestors, and that their lives and memories were mine, and that all this vexation of the sea and air and labouring ship was of old time and a thousand times before.
“How are you for a climb?“ Margaret asked me, shortly after we had left the table.
She stood challengingly at my open door, in oilskins, sou’wester, and sea-boots.
“I’ve never seen you with a foot above the deck since we sailed,“ she went on. “Have you a good head?“
I marked my book, rolled out of my bunk in which I had been wedged, and clapped my hands for Wada.
“Will you?“ she cried eagerly.
“If you let me lead,“ I answered airily, “and if you will promise to hold on tight. Whither away?“
“Into the top of the jigger. It’s the easiest. As for holding on, please remember that I have often done it. It is with you the doubt rests.“
“Very well,“ I retorted; “do you lead then. I shall hold on tight.“
“I have seen many a landsman funk it,“ she teased. “There are no lubber-holes in our tops.“
“And most likely I shall,“ I agreed. “I’ve never been aloft in my life, and since there is no hole for a lubber.“
She looked at me, half believing my confession of weakness, while I extended my arms for the oilskin which Wada struggled on to me.
On the poop it was magnificent, and terrible, and sombre. The universe was very immediately about us. It blanketed us in storming wind and flying spray and grayness. Our main deck was impassable, and the relief of the wheel came aft along the bridge. It was two o’clock, and for over two hours the frozen wretches had laid out upon the fore-yard. They were still there, weak, feeble, hopeless. Captain West, stepping out in the lee of the chart-house, gazed at them for several minutes.
“We’ll have to give up that reef,“ he said to Mr. Pike. “Just make the sail fast. Better put on double gaskets.“
And with lagging feet, from time to time pausing and holding on as spray and the tops of waves swept over him, the mate went for’ard along the bridge to vent his scorn on the two watches of a four-masted ship that could not reef a foresail.
It is true. They could not do it, despite their willingness, for this I have learned: the men do their weak best whenever the order is given to shorten sail. It must be that they are afraid. They lack the iron of Mr. Pike, the wisdom and the iron of Captain West. Always, have I noticed, with all the alacrity of which they are capable, do they respond to any order to shorten down. That is why they are for’ard, in that pigsty of a forecastle, because they lack the iron. Well, I can say only this: If nothing else could have prevented the funk hinted at by Margaret, the sorry spectacle of these ironless, spineless creatures was sufficient safeguard. How could I funk in the face of their weakness—I, who lived aft in the high place?
Margaret did not disdain the aid of my hand as she climbed upon the pin-rail at the foot of the weather jigger-rigging. But it was merely the recognition of a courtesy on her part, for the next moment she released her mittened hand from mine, swung boldly outboard into the face of the gale, and around against the ratlines. Then she began to climb. I followed, almost unaware of the ticklishness of the exploit to a tyro, so buoyed up was I by her example and by my scorn of the weaklings for’ard. Where men could go, I could go. What men could do, I could do. And no daughter of the Samurai could out-game me.
Yet it was slow work. In the windward rolls against the storm-gusts one was pinned helplessly, like a butterfly, against the rigging. At such times, so great was the pressure one could not lift hand nor foot. Also, there was no need for holding on. As I have said, one was pinned against the rigging by the wind.
Through the snow beginning to drive the deck grew small beneath me, until a fall meant a broken back or death, unless one landed in the sea, in which case the result would be frigid drowning. And still Margaret climbed. Without pause she went out under the overhanging platform of the top, shifted her holds to the rigging that went aloft from it, and swung around this rigging, easily, carelessly, timing the action to the roll, and stood safely upon the top.
I followed. I breathed no prayers, knew no qualms, as I presented my back to the deck and climbed out under the overhang, feeling with my hands for holds I could not see. I was in an ecstasy. I could dare anything. Had she sprung into the air, stretched out her arms, and soared away on the breast of the gale, I should have unhesitatingly followed her.
As my head outpassed the edge of the top so that she came into view, I could see she was looking at me with storm-bright eyes. And as I swung around the rigging lightly and joined her, I saw approval in her eyes that was quickly routed by petulance.
“Oh, you’ve done this sort of thing before,“ she reproached, calling loudly, so that I might hear, her lips close to my ear.
I shook a denial with my head that brightened her eyes again. She nodded and smiled, and sat down, dangling her sea-boots into snow-swirled space from the edge of the top. I sat beside her, looking down into the snow that hid the deck while it exaggerated the depth out of which we had climbed.
We were all alone there, a pair of storm petrels perched in mid air on a steel stick that arose out of snow and that vanished above into snow. We had come to the tip of the world, and even that tip had ceased to be. But no. Out of the snow, down wind, with motionless wings, driving fully eighty or ninety miles an hour, appeared a huge albatross. He must have been fifteen feet from wing-tip to wing-tip. He had seen his danger ere we saw him, and, tilting his body on the blast, he carelessly veered clear of collision. His head and neck were rimed with age or frost—we could not tell which—and his bright bead-eye noted us as he passed and whirled away on a great circle into the snow to leeward.
Margaret’s hand shot out to mine.
“It alone was worth the climb!“ she cried. And then the Elsinore flung down, and Margaret’s hand clutched tighter for holding, while from the hidden depths arose the crash and thunder of the great west wind drift upon our decks.
Quickly as the snow-squall had come, it passed with the same sharp quickness, and as in a flash we could see the lean length of the ship beneath us—the main deck full with boiling flood, the forecastle-head buried in a bursting sea, the lookout, stationed for very life back on top the for’ard-house, hanging on, head down, to the wind-drive of ocean, and, directly under us, the streaming poop and Mr. Mellaire, with a handful of men, rigging relieving tackles on the tiller. And we saw the Samurai emerge in the lee of the chart-house, swaying with casual surety on the mad deck, as he spoke what must have been instructions to Mr. Pike.
The gray circle of the world had removed itself from us for several hundred yards, and we could see the mighty sweep of sea. Shaggy gray-beards, sixty feet from trough to crest, leapt out of the windward murky gray, and in unending procession rushed upon the Elsinore, one moment overtoppling her slender frailness, the next moment splashing a hundred tons of water on her deck and flinging her skyward as they passed beneath and foamed and crested from sight in the murky gray to leeward. And the great albatrosses veered and circled about us, beating up into the bitter violence of the gale and sweeping grandly away before it far faster than it blew.
Margaret forbore from looking to challenge me with eloquent, questioning eyes. With numb fingers inside my thick mitten, I drew aside the ear-flap of her sou’wester and shouted:
“It is nothing new. I have been here before. In the lives of all my fathers have I been here. The frost is on my cheek, the salt bites my nostrils, the wind chants in my ears, and it is an old happening. I know, now, that my forbears were Vikings. I was seed of them in their own day. With them I have raided English coasts, dared the Pillars of Hercules, forayed the Mediterranean, and sat in the high place of government over the soft sun-warm peoples. I am Hengist and Horsa; I am of the ancient heroes, even legendary to them. I have bearded and bitten the frozen seas, and, aforetime of that, ere ever the ice-ages came to be, I have dripped my shoulders in reindeer gore, slain the mastodon and the sabre-tooth, scratched the record of my prowess on the walls of deep-buried caves—ay, and suckled she-wolves side by side with my brother-cubs, the scars of whose fangs are now upon me.“
She laughed deliciously, and a snow-squall drove upon us and cut our cheeks, and the Elsinore flung over and down as if she would never rise again, while we held on and swept through the air in a dizzying arc. Margaret released a hand, still laughing, and pressed aside my ear-flap.
“I don’t know anything about it,“ she cried. “It sounds like poetry. But I believe it. It has to be, for it has been. I have heard it aforetime, when skin-clad men sang in fire-circles that pressed back the frost and night.“
“And the books?“ she queried maliciously, as we prepared to descend.
“They can go hang, along with all the brain-sick, world-sick fools that wrote them,“ I replied.
Again she laughed deliciously, though the wind tore the sound away as she swung out into space, muscled herself by her arms while she caught footholds beneath her which she could not see, and passed out of my sight under the perilous overhang of the top.
“What price tobacco?“ was Mr. Mellaire’s greeting, when I came on deck this morning, bruised and weary, aching in every bone and muscle from sixty hours of being tossed about.
The wind had fallen to a dead calm toward morning, and the Elsinore, her several spread sails booming and slatting, rolled more miserably than ever. Mr. Mellaire pointed for’ard of our starboard beam. I could make out a bleak land of white and jagged peaks.
“Staten Island, the easterly end of it,“ said Mr. Mellaire.
And I knew that we were in the position of a vessel just rounding Staten Island preliminary to bucking the Horn. And, yet, four days ago, we had run through the Straits of Le Maire and stolen along toward the Horn. Three days ago we had been well abreast of the Horn and even a few miles past. And here we were now, starting all over again and far in the rear of where we had originally started.
* * * * *
The condition of the men is truly wretched. During the gale the forecastle was washed out twice. This means that everything in it was afloat and that every article of clothing, including mattresses and blankets, is wet and will remain wet in this bitter weather until we are around the Horn and well up in the good-weather latitudes. The same is true of the ’midship-house. Every room in it, with the exception of the cook’s and the sail-makers’ (which open for’ard on Number Two hatch), is soaking. And they have no fires in their rooms with which to dry things out.
I peeped into Charles Davis’s room. It was terrible. He grinned to me and nodded his head.
“It’s just as well O’Sullivan wasn’t here, sir,“ he said. “He’d a-drowned in the lower bunk. And I want to tell you I was doing some swimmin’ before I could get into the top one. And salt water’s bad for my sores. I oughtn’t to be in a hole like this in Cape Horn weather. Look at the ice, there, on the floor. It’s below freezin’ right now in this room, and my blankets are wet, and I’m a sick man, as any man can tell that’s got a nose.“
“If you’d been decent to the mate you might have got decent treatment in return,“ I said.
“Huh!“ he sneered. “You needn’t think you can lose me, sir. I can grow fat on this sort of stuff. Why, sir, when I think of the court doin’s in Seattle I just couldn’t die. An’ if you’ll listen to me, sir, you’ll cover the steward’s money. You can’t lose. I’m advisin’ you, sir, because you’re a sort of decent sort. Anybody that bets on my going over the side is a sure loser.“
“How could you dare ship on a voyage like this in your condition?“ I demanded.
“Condition?“ he queried with a fine assumption of innocence. “Why, that is why I did ship. I was in tiptop shape when I sailed. All this come out on me afterward. You remember seem’ me aloft, an’ up to my neck in water. And I trimmed coal below, too. A sick man couldn’t do it. And remember, sir, you’ll have to testify to how I did my duty at the beginning before I took down.“
“I’ll bet with you myself if you think I’m goin’ to die,“ he called after me.
Already the sailors show marks of the hardship they are enduring. It is surprising, in so short a time, how lean their faces have grown, how lined and seamed. They must dry their underclothing with their body heat. Their outer garments, under their oilskins, are soggy. And yet, paradoxically, despite their lean, drawn faces, they have grown very stout. Their walk is a waddle, and they bulge with seaming corpulency. This is due to the amount of clothing they have on. I noticed Larry, to-day, had on two vests, two coats, and an overcoat, with his oilskin outside of that. They are elephantine in their gait for, in addition to everything else, they have wrapped their feet, outside their sea-boots, with gunny sacking.
It is cold, although the deck thermometer stood at thirty-three to-day at noon. I had Wada weigh the clothing I wear on deck. Omitting oilskins and boots, it came to eighteen pounds. And yet I am not any too warm in all this gear when the wind is blowing. How sailors, after having once experienced the Horn, can ever sign on again for a voyage around is beyond me. It but serves to show how stupid they must be.
I feel sorry for Henry, the training-ship boy. He is more my own kind, and some day he will make a henchman of the afterguard and a mate like Mr. Pike. In the meantime, along with Buckwheat, the other boy who berths in the ’midship-house with him, he suffers the same hardship as the men. He is very fair-skinned, and I noticed this afternoon, when he was pulling on a brace, that the sleeves of his oil-skins, assisted by the salt water, have chafed his wrists till they are raw and bleeding and breaking out in sea-boils. Mr. Mellaire tells me that in another week there will be a plague of these boils with all hands for’ard.
“When do you think we’ll be up with the Horn again?“ I innocently queried of Mr. Pike.
He turned upon me in a rage, as if I had insulted him, and positively snarled in my face ere he swung away without the courtesy of an answer. It is evident that he takes the sea seriously. That is why, I fancy, he is so excellent a seaman.
* * * * *
The days pass—if the interval of sombre gray that comes between the darknesses can be called day. For a week, now, we have not seen the sun. Our ship’s position in this waste of storm and sea is conjectural. Once, by dead reckoning, we gained up with the Horn and a hundred miles south of it. And then came another sou’west gale that tore our fore-topsail and brand new spencer out of the belt-ropes and swept us away to a conjectured longitude east of Staten Island.
Oh, I know now this Great West Wind that blows for ever around the world south of 55. And I know why the chart-makers have capitalized it, as, for instance, when I read “The Great West Wind Drift.“ And I know why the Sailing Directions advise: “Whatever you do, make westing! make westing!“
And the West Wind and the drift of the West Wind will not permit the Elsinore to make westing. Gale follows gale, always from the west, and we make easting. And it is bitter cold, and each gale snorts up with a prelude of driving snow.
In the cabin the lamps burn all day long. No more does Mr. Pike run the phonograph, nor does Margaret ever touch the piano. She complains of being bruised and sore. I have a wrenched shoulder from being hurled against the wall. And both Wada and the steward are limping. Really, the only comfort I can find is in my bunk, so wedged with boxes and pillows that the wildest rolls cannot throw me out. There, save for my meals and for an occasional run on deck for exercise and fresh air, I lie and read eighteen and nineteen hours out of the twenty-four. But the unending physical strain is very wearisome.
How it must be with the poor devils for’ard is beyond conceiving. The forecastle has been washed out several times, and everything is soaking wet. Besides, they have grown weaker, and two watches are required to do what one ordinary watch could do. Thus, they must spend as many hours on the sea-swept deck and aloft on the freezing yards as I do in my warm, dry bunk. Wada tells me that they never undress, but turn into their wet bunks in their oil-skins and sea-boots and wet undergarments.
To look at them crawling about on deck or in the rigging is enough. They are truly weak. They are gaunt-cheeked and haggard-gray of skin, with great dark circles under their eyes. The predicted plague of sea-boils and sea-cuts has come, and their hands and wrists and arms are frightfully afflicted. Now one, and now another, and sometimes several, either from being knocked down by seas or from general miserableness, take to the bunk for a day or so off. This means more work for the others, so that the men on their feet are not tolerant of the sick ones, and a man must be very sick to escape being dragged out to work by his mates.
I cannot but marvel at Andy Fay and Mulligan Jacobs. Old and fragile as they are, it seems impossible that they can endure what they do. For that matter, I cannot understand why they work at all. I cannot understand why any of them toil on and obey an order in this freezing hell of the Horn. Is it because of fear of death that they do not cease work and bring death to all of us? Or is it because they are slave-beasts, with a slave-psychology, so used all their lives to being driven by their masters that it is beyond their mental power to refuse to obey?
And yet most of them, in a week after we reach Seattle, will be on board other ships outward bound for the Horn. Margaret says the reason for this is that sailors forget. Mr. Pike agrees. He says give them a week in the south-east trades as we run up the Pacific and they will have forgotten that they have ever been around the Horn. I wonder. Can they be as stupid as this? Does pain leave no record with them? Do they fear only the immediate thing? Have they no horizons wider than a day? Then indeed do they belong where they are.
They are cowardly. This was shown conclusively this morning at two o’clock. Never have I witnessed such panic fear, and it was fear of the immediate thing—fear, stupid and beast-like. It was Mr. Mellaire’s watch. As luck would have it, I was reading Boas’s Mind of Primitive Man when I heard the rush of feet over my head. The Elsinore was hove to on the port tack at the time, under very short canvas. I was wondering what emergency had brought the watch upon the poop, when I heard another rush of feet that meant the second watch. I heard no pulling and hauling, and the thought of mutiny flashed across my mind.
Still nothing happened, and, growing curious, I got into my sea-boots, sheepskin coat, and oilskin, put on my sou’wester and mittens, and went on deck. Mr. Pike had already dressed and was ahead of me. Captain West, who in this bad weather sleeps in the chart-room, stood in the lee doorway of the house, through which the lamplight streamed on the frightened faces of the men.
Those of the ’midship-house were not present, but every man Jack of the forecastle, with the exception of Andy Fay and Mulligan Jacobs, as I afterwards learned, had joined in the flight aft. Andy Fay, who belonged in the watch below, had calmly remained in his bunk, while Mulligan Jacobs had taken advantage of the opportunity to sneak into the forecastle and fill his pipe.
“What is the matter, Mr. Pike?“ Captain West asked.
Before the mate could reply, Bert Rhine snickered:
“The devil’s come aboard, sir.“
But his snicker was palpably an assumption of unconcern he did not possess. The more I think over it the more I am surprised that such keen men as the gangsters should have been frightened by what had occurred. But frightened they were, the three of them, out of their bunks and out of the precious surcease of their brief watch below.
So fear-struck was Larry that he chattered and grimaced like an ape, and shouldered and struggled to get away from the dark and into the safety of the shaft of light that shone out of the chart-house. Tony, the Greek, was just as bad, mumbling to himself and continually crossing himself. He was joined in this, as a sort of chorus, by the two Italians, Guido Bombini and Mike Cipriani. Arthur Deacon was almost in collapse, and he and Chantz, the Jew, shamelessly clung to each other for support. Bob, the fat and overgrown youth, was sobbing, while the other youth, Bony the Splinter, was shivering and chattering his teeth. Yes, and the two best sailors for’ard, Tom Spink and the Maltese Cockney, stood in the background, their backs to the dark, their faces yearning toward the light.
More than all other contemptible things in this world there are two that I loathe and despise: hysteria in a woman; fear and cowardice in a man. The first turns me to ice. I cannot sympathize with hysteria. The second turns my stomach. Cowardice in a man is to me positively nauseous. And this fear-smitten mass of human animals on our reeling poop raised my gorge. Truly, had I been a god at that moment, I should have annihilated the whole mass of them. No; I should have been merciful to one. He was the Faun. His bright, pain-liquid, and flashing-eager eyes strained from face to face with desire to understand. He did not know what had occurred, and, being stone-deaf, had thought the rush aft a response to a call for all hands.
I noticed Mr. Mellaire. He may be afraid of Mr. Pike, and he is a murderer; but at any rate he has no fear of the supernatural. With two men above him in authority, although it was his watch, there was no call for him to do anything. He swayed back and forth in balance to the violent motions of the Elsinore and looked on with eyes that were amused and cynical.
“What does the devil look like, my man?“ Captain West asked.
Bert Rhine grinned sheepishly.
“Answer the captain!“ Mr. Pike snarled at him.
Oh, it was murder, sheer murder, that leapt into the gangster’s eyes for the instant, in acknowledgment of the snarl. Then he replied to Captain West:
“I didn’t wait to see, sir. But it’s one whale of a devil.“
“He’s as big as a elephant, sir,“ volunteered Bill Quigley. “I seen’m face to face, sir. He almost got me when I run out of the fo’c’s’le.“
“Oh, Lord, sir!“ Larry moaned. “The way he hit the house, sir. It was the call to Judgment.“
“Your theology is mixed, my man,“ Captain West smiled quietly, though I could not help seeing how tired was his face and how tired were his wonderful Samurai eyes.
He turned to the mate.
“Mr. Pike, will you please go for’ard and interview this devil? Fasten him up and tie him down and I’ll take a look at him in the morning.“
“Yes, sir,“ said Mr. Pike; and Kipling’s line came to me:
“Woman, Man, or God or Devil, was there anything we feared?“
And as I went for’ard through the wall of darkness after Mr. Pike and Mr. Mellaire along the freezing, slender, sea-swept bridge—not a sailor dared to accompany us—other lines of “The Galley Slave“ drifted through my brain, such as:
“Our bulkheads bulged with cotton and our masts were stepped in gold—
We ran a mighty merchandise of niggers in the hold. . . “
“By the brand upon my shoulder, by the gall of clinging steel,
By the welts the whips have left me, by the scars that never heal . . . “
“Battered chain-gangs of the orlop, grizzled draughts of years gone by . . . “
And I caught my great, radiant vision of Mr. Pike, galley slave of the race, and a driver of men under men greater than he; the faithful henchman, the able sailorman, battered and grizzled, branded and galled, the servant of the sweep-head that made mastery of the sea. I know him now. He can never again offend me. I forgive him everything—the whiskey raw on his breath the day I came aboard at Baltimore, his moroseness when sea and wind do not favour, his savagery to the men, his snarl and his sneer.
On top the ’midship-house we got a ducking that makes me shiver to recall. I had dressed too hastily properly to fasten my oilskin about my neck, so that I was wet to the skin. We crossed the next span of bridge through driving spray, and were well upon the top of the for’ard-house when something adrift on the deck hit the for’ard wall a terrific smash.
“Whatever it is, it’s playing the devil,“ Mr. Pike yelled in my ear, as he endeavoured to locate the thing by the dry-battery light-stick which he carried.
The pencil of light travelled over dark water, white with foam, that churned upon the deck.
“There it goes!“ Mr. Pike cried, as the Elsinore dipped by the head and hurtled the water for’ard.
The light went out as the three of us caught holds and crouched to a deluge of water from overside. As we emerged, from under the forecastle-head we heard a tremendous thumping and battering. Then, as the bow lifted, for an instant in the pencil of light that immediately lost it, I glimpsed a vague black object that bounded down the inclined deck where no water was. What became of it we could not see.
Mr. Pike descended to the deck, followed by Mr. Mellaire. Again, as the Elsinore dipped by the head and fetched a surge of sea-water from aft along the runway, I saw the dark object bound for’ard directly at the mates. They sprang to safety from its charge, the light went out, while another icy sea broke aboard.
For a time I could see nothing of the two men. Next, in the light flashed from the stick, I guessed that Mr. Pike was in pursuit of the thing. He evidently must have captured it at the rail against the starboard rigging and caught a turn around it with a loose end of rope. As the vessel rolled to windward some sort of a struggle seemed to be going on. The second mate sprang to the mate’s assistance, and, together, with more loose ends, they seemed to subdue the thing.
I descended to see. By the light-stick we made it out to be a large, barnacle-crusted cask.
“She’s been afloat for forty years,“ was Mr. Pike’s judgment. “Look at the size of the barnacles, and look at the whiskers.“
“And it’s full of something,“ said Mr. Mellaire. “Hope it isn’t water.“
I rashly lent a hand when they started to work the cask for’ard, between seas and taking advantage of the rolls and pitches, to the shelter under the forecastle-head. As a result, even through my mittens, I was cut by the sharp edges of broken shell.
“It’s liquor of some sort,“ said the mate, “but we won’t risk broaching it till morning.“
“But where did it come from?“ I asked.
“Over the side’s the only place it could have come from.“ Mr. Pike played the light over it. “Look at it! It’s been afloat for years and years.“
“The stuff ought to be well-seasoned,“ commented Mr. Mellaire.
Leaving them to lash the cask securely, I stole along the deck to the forecastle and peered in. The men, in their headlong flight, had neglected to close the doors, and the place was afloat. In the flickering light from a small and very smoky sea-lamp it was a dismal picture. No self-respecting cave-man, I am sure, would have lived in such a hole.
Even as I looked a bursting sea filled the runway between the house and rail, and through the doorway in which I stood the freezing water rushed waist-deep. I had to hold on to escape being swept inside the room. From a top bunk, lying on his side, Andy Fay regarded me steadily with his bitter blue eyes. Seated on the rough table of heavy planks, his sea-booted feet swinging in the water, Mulligan Jacobs pulled at his pipe. When he observed me he pointed to pulpy book-pages that floated about.
“Me library’s gone to hell,“ he mourned as he indicated the flotsam. “There’s me Byron. An’ there goes Zola an’ Browning with a piece of Shakespeare runnin’ neck an’ neck, an’ what’s left of Anti-Christ makin’ a bad last. An’ there’s Carlyle and Zola that cheek by jowl you can’t tell ’em apart.“
Here the Elsinore lay down to starboard, and the water in the forecastle poured out against my legs and hips. My wet mittens slipped on the iron work, and I swept down the runway into the scuppers, where I was turned over and over by another flood that had just boarded from windward.
I know I was rather confused, and that I had swallowed quite a deal of salt water, ere I got my hands on the rungs of the ladder and climbed to the top of the house. On my way aft along the bridge I encountered the crew coming for’ard. Mr. Mellaire and Mr. Pike were talking in the lee of the chart-house, and inside, as I passed below, Captain West was smoking a cigar.
After a good rub down, in dry pyjamas, I was scarcely back in my bunk with the Mind of Primitive Man before me, when the stampede over my head was repeated. I waited for the second rush. It came, and I proceeded to dress.
The scene on the poop duplicated the previous one, save that the men were more excited, more frightened. They were babbling and chattering all together.
“Shut up!“ Mr. Pike was snarling when I came upon them. “One at a time, and answer the captain’s question.“
“It ain’t no barrel this time, sir,“ Tom Spink said. “It’s alive. An’ if it ain’t the devil it’s the ghost of a drownded man. I see ’m plain an’ clear. He’s a man, or was a man once—“
“They was two of ’em, sir,“ Richard Giller, one of the “bricklayers,“ broke in.
“I think he looked like Petro Marinkovich, sir,“ Tom Spink went on.
“An’ the other was Jespersen—I seen ’m,“ Giller added.
“They was three of ’em, sir,“ said Nosey Murphy. “O’Sullivan, sir, was the other one. They ain’t devils, sir. They’re drownded men. They come aboard right over the bows, an’ they moved slow like drownded men. Sorensen seen the first one first. He caught my arm an’ pointed, an’ then I seen ’m. He was on top the for’ard-house. And Olansen seen ’m, an’ Deacon, sir, an’ Hackey. We all seen ’m, sir . . . an’ the second one; an’ when the rest run away I stayed long enough to see the third one. Mebbe there’s more. I didn’t wait to see.“
Captain West stopped the man.
“Mr. Pike,“ he said wearily, “will you straighten this nonsense out.“
“Yes, sir,“ Mr. Pike responded, then turned on the man. “Come on, all of you! There’s three devils to tie down this time.“
But the men shrank away from the order and from him.
“For two cents . . . “ I heard Mr. Pike growl to himself, then choke off utterance.
He flung about on his heel and started for the bridge. In the same order as on the previous trip, Mr. Mellaire second, and I bringing up the rear, we followed. It was a similar journey, save that we caught a ducking midway on the first span of bridge as well as a ducking on the ’midship-house.
We halted on top the for’ard-house. In vain Mr. Pike flashed his light-stick. Nothing was to be seen nor heard save the white-flecked dark water on our deck, the roar of the gale in our rigging, and the crash and thunder of seas falling aboard. We advanced half-way across the last span of bridge to the fore-castle head, and were driven to pause and hang on at the foremast by a bursting sea.
Between the drives of spray Mr. Pike flashed his stick. I heard him exclaim something. Then he went on to the forecastle-head, followed by Mr. Mellaire, while I waited by the foremast, clinging tight, and endured another ducking. Through the emergencies I could see the pencil of light, appearing and disappearing, darting here and there. Several minutes later the mates were back with me.
“Half our head-gear’s carried away,“ Mr. Pike told me. “We must have run into something.“
“I felt a jar, right after you’ went below, sir, last time,“ said Mr. Mellaire. “Only I thought it was a thump of sea.“
“So did I feel it,“ the mate agreed. “I was just taking off my boots. I thought it was a sea. But where are the three devils?“
“Broaching the cask,“ the second mate suggested.
We made the forecastle-head, descended the iron ladder, and went for’ard, inside, underneath, out of the wind and sea. There lay the cask, securely lashed. The size of the barnacles on it was astonishing. They were as large as apples and inches deep. A down-fling of bow brought a foot of water about our boots; and as the bow lifted and the water drained away, it drew out from the shell-crusted cask streamers of seaweed a foot or so in length.
Led by Mr. Pike and watching our chance between seas, we searched the deck and rails between the forecastle-head and the for’ard-house and found no devils. The mate stepped into the forecastle doorway, and his light-stick cut like a dagger through the dim illumination of the murky sea-lamp. And we saw the devils. Nosey Murphy had been right. There were three of them.
Let me give the picture: A drenched and freezing room of rusty, paint-scabbed iron, low-roofed, double-tiered with bunks, reeking with the filth of thirty men, despite the washing of the sea. In a top bunk, on his side, in sea-boots and oilskins, staring steadily with blue, bitter eyes, Andy Fay; on the table, pulling at a pipe, with hanging legs dragged this way and that by the churn of water, Mulligan Jacobs, solemnly regarding three men, sea-booted and bloody, who stand side by side, of a height and not duly tall, swaying in unison to the Elsinore’s down-flinging and up-lifting.
But such men! I know my East Side and my East End, and I am accustomed to the faces of all the ruck of races, yet with these three men I was at fault. The Mediterranean had surely never bred such a breed; nor had Scandinavia. They were not blonds. They were not brunettes. Nor were they of the Brown, or Black, or Yellow. Their skin was white under a bronze of weather. Wet as was their hair, it was plainly a colourless, sandy hair. Yet their eyes were dark—and yet not dark. They were neither blue, nor gray, nor green, nor hazel. Nor were they black. They were topaz, pale topaz; and they gleamed and dreamed like the eyes of great cats. They regarded us like walkers in a dream, these pale-haired storm-waifs with pale, topaz eyes. They did not bow, they did not smile, in no way did they recognize our presence save that they looked at us and dreamed.
But Andy Fay greeted us.
“It’s a hell of a night an’ not a wink of sleep with these goings-on,“ he said.
“Now where did they blow in from a night like this?“ Mulligan Jacobs complained.
“You’ve got a tongue in your mouth,“ Mr. Pike snarled. “Why ain’t you asked ’em?“
“As though you didn’t know I could use the tongue in me mouth, you old stiff,“ Jacobs snarled back.
But it was no time for their private feud. Mr. Pike turned on the dreaming new-comers and addressed them in the mangled and aborted phrases of a dozen languages such as the world-wandering Anglo-Saxon has had every opportunity to learn but is too stubborn-brained and wilful-mouthed to wrap his tongue about.
The visitors made no reply. They did not even shake their heads. Their faces remained peculiarly relaxed and placid, incurious and pleasant, while in their eyes floated profounder dreams. Yet they were human. The blood of their injuries stained them and clotted on their clothes.
“Dutchmen,“ snorted Mr. Pike, with all due contempt for other breeds, as he waved them to make themselves at home in any of the bunks.
Mr. Pike’s ethnology is narrow. Outside his own race he is aware of only three races: niggers, Dutchmen, and Dagoes.
Again our visitors proved themselves human. They understood the mate’s invitation, and, glancing first at one another, they climbed into three top-bunks and closed their eyes. I could swear the first of them was asleep in half a minute.
“We’ll have to clean up for’ard, or we’ll be having the sticks about our ears,“ the mate said, already starting to depart. “Get the men along, Mr. Mellaire, and call out the carpenter.“
And no westing! We have been swept back three degrees of casting since the night our visitors came on board. They are the great mystery, these three men of the sea. “Horn Gypsies,“ Margaret calls them; and Mr. Pike dubs them “Dutchmen.“ One thing is certain, they have a language of their own which they talk with one another. But of our hotch-potch of nationalities fore and aft there is no person who catches an inkling of their language or nationality.
Mr. Mellaire raised the theory that they were Finns of some sort, but this was indignantly denied by our big-footed youth of a carpenter, who swears he is a Finn himself. Louis, the cook, avers that somewhere over the world, on some forgotten voyage, he has encountered men of their type; but he can neither remember the voyage nor their race. He and the rest of the Asiatics accept their presence as a matter of course; but the crew, with the exception of Andy Fay and Mulligan Jacobs, is very superstitious about the new-comers, and will have nothing to do with them.
“No good will come of them, sir,“ Tom Spink, at the wheel, told us, shaking his head forebodingly.
Margaret’s mittened hand rested on my arm as we balanced to the easy roll of the ship. We had paused from our promenade, which we now take each day, religiously, as a constitutional, between eleven and twelve.
“Why, what is the matter with them?“ she queried, nudging me privily in warning of what was coming.
“Because they ain’t men, Miss, as we can rightly call men. They ain’t regular men.“
“It was a bit irregular, their manner of coming on board,“ she gurgled.
“That’s just it, Miss,“ Tom Spink exclaimed, brightening perceptibly at the hint of understanding. “Where’d they come from? They won’t tell. Of course they won’t tell. They ain’t men. They’re spirits—ghosts of sailors that drowned as long ago as when that cask went adrift from a sinkin’ ship, an’ that’s years an’ years, Miss, as anybody can see, lookin’ at the size of the barnacles on it.“
“Do you think so?“ Margaret queried.
“We all think so, Miss. We ain’t spent our lives on the sea for nothin’. There’s no end of landsmen don’t believe in the Flyin’ Dutchman. But what do they know? They’re just landsmen, ain’t they? They ain’t never had their leg grabbed by a ghost, such as I had, on the Kathleen, thirty-five years ago, down in the hole ’tween the water-casks. An’ didn’t that ghost rip the shoe right off of me? An’ didn’t I fall through the hatch two days later an’ break my shoulder?“
“Now, Miss, I seen ’em makin’ signs to Mr. Pike that we’d run into their ship hove to on the other tack. Don’t you believe it. There wasn’t no ship.“
“But how do you explain the carrying away of our head-gear?“ I demanded.
“There’s lots of things can’t be explained, sir,“ was Tom Spink’s answer. “Who can explain the way the Finns plays tom-fool tricks with the weather? Yet everybody knows it. Why are we havin’ a hard passage around the Horn, sir? I ask you that. Why, sir?“
I shook my head.
“Because of the carpenter, sir. We’ve found out he’s a Finn. Why did he keep it quiet all the way down from Baltimore?“
“Why did he tell it?“ Margaret challenged.
“He didn’t tell it, Miss—leastways, not until after them three others boarded us. I got my suspicions he knows more about ’m than he’s lettin’ on. An’ look at the weather an’ the delay we’re gettin’. An’ don’t everybody know the Finns is regular warlocks an’ weather-breeders?“
My ears pricked up.
“Where did you get that word warlock?“ I questioned.
Tom Spink looked puzzled.
“What’s wrong with it, sir?“ he asked.
“Nothing. It’s all right. But where did you get it?“
“I never got it, sir. I always had it. That’s what Finns is—warlocks.“
“And these three new-comers—they aren’t Finns?“ asked Margaret.
The old Englishman shook his head solemnly.
“No, Miss. They’re drownded sailors a long time drownded. All you have to do is look at ’m. An’ the carpenter could tell us a few if he was minded.“
* * * * *
Nevertheless, our mysterious visitors are a welcome addition to our weakened crew. I watch them at work. They are strong and willing. Mr. Pike says they are real sailormen, even if he doesn’t understand their lingo. His theory is that they are from some small old-country or outlander ship, which, hove to on the opposite tack to the Elsinore, was run down and sunk.
I have forgotten to say that we found the barnacled cask nearly filled with a most delicious wine which none of us can name. As soon as the gale moderated Mr. Pike had the cask brought aft and broached, and now the steward and Wada have it all in bottles and spare demijohns. It is beautifully aged, and Mr. Pike is certain that it is some sort of a mild and unheard-of brandy. Mr. Mellaire merely smacks his lips over it, while Captain West, Margaret, and I steadfastly maintain that it is wine.
The condition of the men grows deplorable. They were always poor at pulling on ropes, but now it takes two or three to pull as much as one used to pull. One thing in their favour is that they are well, though grossly, fed. They have all they want to eat, such as it is, but it is the cold and wet, the terrible condition of the forecastle, the lack of sleep, and the almost continuous toil of both watches on deck. Either watch is so weak and worthless that any severe task requires the assistance of the other watch. As an instance, we finally managed a reef in the foresail in the thick of a gale. It took both watches two hours, yet Mr. Pike tells me that under similar circumstances, with an average crew of the old days, he has seen a single watch reef the foresail in twenty minutes.
I have learned one of the prime virtues of a steel sailing-ship. Such a craft, heavily laden, does not strain her seams open in bad weather and big seas. Except for a tiny leak down in the fore-peak, with which we sailed from Baltimore and which is bailed out with a pail once in several weeks, the Elsinore is bone-dry. Mr. Pike tells me that had a wooden ship of her size and cargo gone through the buffeting we have endured, she would be leaking like a sieve.
And Mr. Mellaire, out of his own experience, has added to my respect for the Horn. When he was a young man he was once eight weeks in making around from 50 in the Atlantic to 50 in the Pacific. Another time his vessel was compelled to put back twice to the Falklands for repairs. And still another time, in a wooden ship running back in distress to the Falklands, his vessel was lost in a shift of gale in the very entrance to Port Stanley. As he told me:
“And after we’d been there a month, sir, who should come in but the old Lucy Powers. She was a sight!—her foremast clean gone out of her and half her spars, the old man killed from one of the spars falling on him, the mate with two broken arms, the second mate sick, and what was left of the crew at the pumps. We’d lost our ship, so my skipper took charge, refitted her, doubled up both crews, and we headed the other way around, pumping two hours in every watch clear to Honolulu.“
The poor wretched chickens! Because of their ill-judged moulting they are quite featherless. It is a marvel that one of them survives, yet so far we have lost only six. Margaret keeps the kerosene stove going, and, though they have ceased laying, she confidently asserts that they are all layers and that we shall have plenty of eggs once we get fine weather in the Pacific.
There is little use to describe these monotonous and perpetual westerly gales. One is very like another, and they follow so fast on one another’s heels that the sea never has a chance to grow calm. So long have we rolled and tossed about that the thought, say, of a solid, unmoving billiard-table is inconceivable. In previous incarnations I have encountered things that did not move, but . . . they were in previous incarnations.
We have been up to the Diego Ramirez Rocks twice in the past ten days. At the present moment, by vague dead reckoning, we are two hundred miles east of them. We have been hove down to our hatches three times in the last week. We have had six stout sails, of the heaviest canvas, furled and double-gasketed, torn loose and stripped from the yards. Sometimes, so weak are our men, not more than half of them can respond to the call for all hands.
Lars Jacobson, who had his leg broken early in the voyage, was knocked down by a sea several days back and had the leg rebroken. Ditman Olansen, the crank-eyed Norwegian, went Berserker last night in the second dog-watch and pretty well cleaned out his half of the forecastle. Wada reports that it required the bricklayers, Fitzgibbon and Gilder, the Maltese Cockney, and Steve Roberts, the cowboy, finally to subdue the madman. These are all men of Mr. Mellaire’s watch. In Mr. Pike’s watch John Hackey, the San Francisco hoodlum, who has stood out against the gangsters, has at last succumbed and joined them. And only this morning Mr. Pike dragged Charles Davis by the scruff of the neck out of the forecastle, where he had caught him expounding sea-law to the miserable creatures. Mr. Mellaire, I notice on occasion, remains unduly intimate with the gangster clique. And yet nothing serious happens.
And Charles Davis does not die. He seems actually to be gaining in weight. He never misses a meal. From the break of the poop, in the shelter of the weather cloth, our decks a thunder and rush of freezing water, I often watch him slip out of his room between seas, mug and plate in hand, and hobble for’ard to the galley for his food. He is a keen judge of the ship’s motions, for never yet have I seen him get a serious ducking. Sometimes, of course, he may get splattered with spray or wet to the knees, but he manages to be out of the way whenever a big graybeard falls on board.
A wonderful event to-day! For five minutes, at noon, the sun was actually visible. But such a sun!—a pale and cold and sickly orb that at meridian was only 90 degrees 18 minutes above the horizon. And within the hour we were taking in sail and lying down to the snow-gusts of a fresh south-west gale.
Whatever you do, make westing! make westing!—this sailing rule of the navigators for the Horn has been bitten out of iron. I can understand why shipmasters, with a favouring slant of wind, have left sailors, fallen overboard, to drown without heaving-to to lower a boat. Cape Horn is iron, and it takes masters of iron to win around from east to west.
And we make easting! This west wind is eternal. I listen incredulously when Mr. Pike or Mr. Mellaire tells of times when easterly winds have blown in these latitudes. It is impossible. Always does the west wind blow, gale upon gale and gales everlasting, else why the “Great West Wind Drift“ printed on the charts! We of the afterguard are weary of this eternal buffeting. Our men have become pulpy, washed-out, sore-corroded shadows of men. I should not be surprised, in the end, to see Captain West turn tail and run eastward around the world to Seattle. But Margaret smiles with surety, and nods her head, and affirms that her father will win around to 50 in the Pacific.
How Charles Davis survives in that wet, freezing, paint-scabbed room of iron in the ’midship-house is beyond me—just as it is beyond me that the wretched sailors in the wretched forecastle do not lie down in their bunks and die, or, at least, refuse to answer the call of the watches.
Another week has passed, and we are to-day, by observation, sixty miles due south of the Straits of Le Maire, and we are hove-to, in a driving gale, on the port tack. The glass is down to 28.58, and even Mr. Pike acknowledges that it is one of the worst Cape Horn snorters he has ever experienced.
In the old days the navigators used to strive as far south as 64 degrees or 65 degrees, into the Antarctic drift ice, hoping, in a favouring spell, to make westing at a prodigious rate across the extreme-narrowing wedges of longitude. But of late years all shipmasters have accepted the hugging of the land all the way around. Out of ten times ten thousand passages of Cape Stiff from east to west, this, they have concluded, is the best strategy. So Captain West hugs the land. He heaves-to on the port tack until the leeward drift brings the land into perilous proximity, then wears ship and heaves-to on the port tack and makes leeway off shore.
I may be weary of all this bitter movement of a labouring ship on a frigid sea, but at the same time I do not mind it. In my brain burns the flame of a great discovery and a great achievement. I have found what makes all the books go glimmering; I have achieved what my very philosophy tells me is the greatest achievement a man can make. I have found the love of woman. I do not know whether she cares for me. Nor is that the point. The point is that in myself I have risen to the greatest height to which the human male animal can rise.
I know a woman and her name is Margaret. She is Margaret, a woman and desirable. My blood is red. I am not the pallid scholar I so proudly deemed myself to be. I am a man, and a lover, despite the books. As for De Casseres—if ever I get back to New York, equipped as I now am, I shall confute him with the same ease that he has confuted all the schools. Love is the final word. To the rational man it alone gives the super-rational sanction for living. Like Bergson in his overhanging heaven of intuition, or like one who has bathed in Pentecostal fire and seen the New Jerusalem, so I have trod the materialistic dictums of science underfoot, scaled the last peak of philosophy, and leaped into my heaven, which, after all, is within myself. The stuff that composes me, that is I, is so made that it finds its supreme realization in the love of woman. It is the vindication of being. Yes, and it is the wages of being, the payment in full for all the brittleness and frailty of flesh and breath.
And she is only a woman, like any woman, and the Lord knows I know what women are. And I know Margaret for what she is—mere woman; and yet I know, in the lover’s soul of me, that she is somehow different. Her ways are not as the ways of other women, and all her ways are delightful to me. In the end, I suppose, I shall become a nest-builder, for of a surety nest-building is one of her pretty ways. And who shall say which is the worthier—the writing of a whole library or the building of a nest?
The monotonous days, bleak and gray and soggy cold, drag by. It is now a month since we began the passage of the Horn, and here we are, not so well forward as a month ago, because we are something like a hundred miles south of the Straits of Le Maire. Even this position is conjectural, being arrived at by dead reckoning, based on the leeway of a ship hove-to, now on the one tack, now on the other, with always the Great West Wind Drift making against us. It is four days since our last instrument-sight of the sun.
This storm-vexed ocean has become populous. No ships are getting round, and each day adds to our number. Never a brief day passes without our sighting from two or three to a dozen hove-to on port tack or starboard tack. Captain West estimates there must be at least two hundred sail of us. A ship hove-to with preventer tackles on the rudder-head is unmanageable. Each night we take our chance of unavoidable and disastrous collision. And at times, glimpsed through the snow-squalls, we see and curse the ships, east-bound, that drive past us with the West Wind and the West Wind Drift at their backs. And so wild is the mind of man that Mr. Pike and Mr. Mellaire still aver that on occasion they have known gales to blow ships from east to west around the Horn. It surely has been a year since we of the Elsinore emerged from under the lee of Tierra Del Fuego into the snorting south-west gales. A century, at least, has elapsed since we sailed from Baltimore.
* * * * *
And I don’t give a snap of my fingers for all the wrath and fury of this dim-gray sea at the tip of the earth. I have told Margaret that I love her. The tale was told in the shelter of the weather cloth, where we clung together in the second dog-watch last evening. And it was told again, and by both of us, in the bright-lighted chart-room after the watches had been changed at eight bells. Yes, and her face was storm-bright, and all of her was very proud, save that her eyes were warm and soft and fluttered with lids that just would flutter maidenly and womanly. It was a great hour—our great hour.
A poor devil of a man is most lucky when, loving, he is loved. Grievous indeed must be the fate of the lover who is unloved. And I, for one, and for still other reasons, congratulate myself upon the vastitude of my good fortune. For see, were Margaret any other sort of a woman, were she . . . well, just the lovely and lovable and adorably snuggly sort who seem made just precisely for love and loving and nestling into the strong arms of a man—why, there wouldn’t be anything remarkable or wonderful about her loving me. But Margaret is Margaret, strong, self-possessed, serene, controlled, a very mistress of herself. And there’s the miracle—that such a woman should have been awakened to love by me. It is almost unbelievable. I go out of my way to get another peep into those long, cool, gray eyes of hers and see them grow melting soft as she looks at me. She is no Juliet, thank the Lord; and thank the Lord I am no Romeo. And yet I go up alone on the freezing poop, and under my breath chant defiantly at the snorting gale, and at the graybeards thundering down on us, that I am a lover. And I send messages to the lonely albatrosses veering through the murk that I am a lover. And I look at the wretched sailors crawling along the spray-swept bridge and know that never in ten thousand wretched lives could they experience the love I experience, and I wonder why God ever made them.
* * * * *
“And the one thing I had firmly resolved from the start,“ Margaret confessed to me this morning in the cabin, when I released her from my arms, “was that I would not permit you to make love to me.“
“True daughter of Herodias,“ I gaily gibed, “so such was the drift of your thoughts even as early as the very start. Already you were looking upon me with a considerative female eye.“
She laughed proudly, and did not reply.
“What possibly could have led you to expect that I would make love to you?“ I insisted.
“Because it is the way of young male passengers on long voyages,“ she replied.
“Then others have . . . ?“
“They always do,“ she assured me gravely.
And at that instant I knew the first ridiculous pang of jealousy; but I laughed it away and retorted:
“It was an ancient Chinese philosopher who is first recorded as having said, what doubtlessly the cave men before him gibbered, namely, that a woman pursues a man by fluttering away in advance of him.“
“Wretch!“ she cried. “I never fluttered. When did I ever flutter!“
“It is a delicate subject . . . “ I began with assumed hesitancy.
“When did I ever flutter?“ she demanded.
I availed myself of one of Schopenhauer’s ruses by making a shift.
“From the first you observed nothing that a female could afford to miss observing,“ I charged. “I’ll wager you knew as quickly as I the very instant when I first loved you.“
“I knew the first time you hated me,“ she evaded.
“Yes, I know, the first time I saw you and learned that you were coming on the voyage,“ I said. “But now I repeat my challenge. You knew as quickly as I the first instant I loved you.“
Oh, her eyes were beautiful, and the repose and certitude of her were tremendous, as she rested her hand on my arm for a moment and in a low, quiet voice said:
“Yes, I . . . I think I know. It was the morning of that pampero off the Plate, when you were thrown through the door into my father’s stateroom. I saw it in your eyes. I knew it. I think it was the first time, the very instant.“
I could only nod my head and draw her close to me. And she looked up at me and added:
“You were very ridiculous. There you sat, on the bed, holding on with one hand and nursing the other hand under your arm, staring at me, irritated, startled, utterly foolish, and then . . . how, I don’t know . . . I knew that you had just come to know . . . “
“And the very next instant you froze up,“ I charged ungallantly.
“And that was why,“ she admitted shamelessly, then leaned away from me, her hands resting on my shoulders, while she gurgled and her lips parted from over her beautiful white teeth.
One thing I, John Pathurst, know: that gurgling laughter of hers is the most adorable laughter that was ever heard.
I wonder. I wonder. Did the Samurai make a mistake? Or was it the darkness of oncoming death that chilled and clouded that star-cool brain of his, and made a mock of all his wisdom? Or was it the blunder that brought death upon him beforehand? I do not know, I shall never know; for it is a matter no one of us dreams of hinting at, much less discussing.
I shall begin at the beginning—yesterday afternoon. For it was yesterday afternoon, five weeks to a day since we emerged from the Straits of Le Maire into this gray storm-ocean, that once again we found ourselves hove to directly off the Horn. At the changing of the watches at four o’clock, Captain West gave the command to Mr. Pike to wear ship. We were on the starboard tack at the time, making leeway off shore. This manoeuvre placed us on the port tack, and the consequent leeway, to me, seemed on shore, though at an acute angle, to be sure.
In the chart-room, glancing curiously at the chart, I measured the distance with my eye and decided that we were in the neighbourhood of fifteen miles off Cape Horn.
“With our drift we’ll be close up under the land by morning, won’t we?“ I ventured tentatively.
“Yes,“ Captain West nodded; “and if it weren’t for the West Wind Drift, and if the land did not trend to the north-east, we’d be ashore by morning. As it is, we’ll be well under it at daylight, ready to steal around if there is a change, ready to wear ship if there is no change.“
It did not enter my head to question his judgment. What he said had to be. Was he not the Samurai?
And yet, a few minutes later, when he had gone below, I noticed Mr. Pike enter the chart-house. After several paces up and down, and a brief pause to watch Nancy and several men shift the weather cloth from lee to weather, I strolled aft to the chart-house. Prompted by I know not what, I peeped through one of the glass ports.
There stood Mr. Pike, his sou’wester doffed, his oilskins streaming rivulets to the floor, while he, dividers and parallel rulers in hand, bent over the chart. It was the expression of his face that startled me. The habitual sourness had vanished. All that I could see was anxiety and apprehension . . . yes, and age. I had never seen him look so old; for there, at that moment, I beheld the wastage and weariness of all his sixty-nine years of sea-battling and sea-staring.
I slipped away from the port and went along the deck to the break of the poop, where I held on and stood staring through the gray and spray in the conjectural direction of our drift. Somewhere, there, in the north-east and north, I knew was a broken, iron coast of rocks upon which the graybeards thundered. And there, in the chart-room, a redoubtable sailorman bent anxiously over a chart as he measured and calculated, and measured and calculated again, our position and our drift.
And I knew it could not be. It was not the Samurai but the henchman who was weak and wrong. Age was beginning to tell upon him at last, which could not be otherwise than expected when one considered that no man in ten thousand had weathered age so successfully as he.
I laughed at my moment’s qualm of foolishness and went below, well content to meet my loved one and to rest secure in her father’s wisdom. Of course he was right. He had proved himself right too often already on the long voyage from Baltimore.
At dinner Mr. Pike was quite distrait. He took no part whatever in the conversation, and seemed always to be listening to something from without—to the vexing clang of taut ropes that came down the hollow jiggermast, to the muffled roar of the gale in the rigging, to the smash and crash of the seas along our decks and against our iron walls.
Again I found myself sharing his apprehension, although I was too discreet to question him then, or afterwards alone, about his trouble. At eight he went on deck again to take the watch till midnight, and as I went to bed I dismissed all forebodings and speculated as to how many more voyages he could last after this sudden onslaught of old age.
I fell asleep quickly, and awoke at midnight, my lamp still burning, Conrad’s Mirror of the Sea on my breast where it had dropped from my hands. I heard the watches change, and was wide awake and reading when Mr. Pike came below by the booby-hatch and passed down my hail by my open door, on his way to his room.
In the pause I had long since learned so well I knew he was rolling a cigarette. Then I heard him cough, as he always did, when the cigarette was lighted and the first inhalation of smoke flushed his lungs.
At twelve-fifteen, in the midst of Conrad’s delightful chapter, “The Weight of the Burden,“ I heard Mr. Pike come along the hall.
Stealing a glance over the top of my book, I saw him go by, sea-booted, oilskinned, sou’westered. It was his watch below, and his sleep was meagre in this perpetual bad weather, yet he was going on deck.
I read and waited for an hour, but he did not return; and I knew that somewhere up above he was staring into the driving dark. I dressed fully, in all my heavy storm-gear, from sea-boots and sou’-wester to sheepskin under my oilskin coat. At the foot of the stairs I noted along the hall that Margaret’s light was burning. I peeped in—she keeps her door open for ventilation—and found her reading.
“Merely not sleepy,“ she assured me.
Nor in the heart of me do I believe she had any apprehension. She does not know even now, I am confident, the Samurai’s blunder—if blunder it was. As she said, she was merely not sleepy, although there is no telling in what occult ways she may have received though not recognized Mr. Pike’s anxiety.
At the head of the stairs, passing along the tiny hall to go out the lee door of the chart-house, I glanced into the chart-room. On the couch, lying on his back, his head uncomfortably high, I thought, slept Captain West. The room was warm from the ascending heat of the cabin, so that he lay unblanketed, fully dressed save for oilskins and boots. He breathed easily and steadily, and the lean, ascetic lines of his face seemed softened by the light of the low-turned lamp. And that one glance restored to me all my surety and faith in his wisdom, so that I laughed at myself for having left my warm bed for a freezing trip on deck.
Under the weather cloth at the break of the poop I found Mr. Mellaire. He was wide awake, but under no strain. Evidently it had not entered his mind to consider, much less question, the manoeuvre of wearing ship the previous afternoon.
“The gale is breaking,“ he told me, waving his mittened hand at a starry segment of sky momentarily exposed by the thinning clouds.
But where was Mr. Pike? Did the second mate know he was on deck? I proceeded to feel Mr. Mellaire out as we worked our way aft, along the mad poop toward the wheel. I talked about the difficulty of sleeping in stormy weather, stated the restlessness and semi-insomnia that the violent motion of the ship caused in me, and raised the query of how bad weather affected the officers.
“I noticed Captain West, in the chart-room, as I came up, sleeping like a baby,“ I concluded.
We leaned in the lee of the chart-house and went no farther.
“Trust us to sleep just the same way, Mr. Pathurst,“ the second mate laughed. “The harder the weather the harder the demand on us, and the harder we sleep. I’m dead the moment my head touches the pillow. It takes Mr. Pike longer, because he always finishes his cigarette after he turns in. But he smokes while he’s undressing, so that he doesn’t require more than a minute to go deado. I’ll wager he hasn’t moved, right now, since ten minutes after twelve.“
So the second mate did not dream the first was even on deck. I went below to make sure. A small sea-lamp was burning in Mr. Pike’s room, and I saw his bunk unoccupied. I went in by the big stove in the dining-room and warmed up, then again came on deck. I did not go near the weather cloth, where I was certain Mr. Mellaire was; but, keeping along the lee of the poop, I gained the bridge and started for’ard.
I was in no hurry, so I paused often in that cold, wet journey. The gale was breaking, for again and again the stars glimmered through the thinning storm-clouds. On the ’midship-house was no Mr. Pike. I crossed it, stung by the freezing, flying spray, and carefully reconnoitred the top of the for’ard-house, where, in such bad weather, I knew the lookout was stationed. I was within twenty feet of them, when a wider clearance of starry sky showed me the figures of the lookout, whoever he was, and of Mr. Pike, side by side. Long I watched them, not making my presence known, and I knew that the old mate’s eyes were boring like gimlets into the windy darkness that separated the Elsinore from the thunder-surfed iron coast he sought to find.
Coming back to the poop I was caught by the surprised Mr. Mellaire.
“Thought you were asleep, sir,“ he chided.
“I’m too restless,“ I explained. “I’ve read until my eyes are tired, and now I’m trying to get chilled so that I can fall asleep while warming up in my blankets.“
“I envy you, sir,“ he answered. “Think of it! So much of all night in that you cannot sleep. Some day, if ever I make a lucky strike, I shall make a voyage like this as a passenger, and have all watches below. Think of it! All blessed watches below! And I shall, like you, sir, bring a Jap servant along, and I’ll make him call me at every changing of the watches, so that, wide awake, I can appreciate my good fortune in the several minutes before I roll over and go to sleep again.“
We laughed good night to each other. Another peep into the chart-room showed me Captain West sleeping as before. He had not moved in general, though all his body moved with every roll and fling of the ship. Below, Margaret’s light still burned, but a peep showed her asleep, her book fallen from her hands just as was the so frequent case with my books.
And I wondered. Half the souls of us on the Elsinore slept. The Samurai slept. Yet the old first mate, who should have slept, kept a bitter watch on the for’ard-house. Was his anxiety right? Could it be right? Or was it the crankiness of ultimate age? Were we drifting and leewaying to destruction? Or was it merely an old man being struck down by senility in the midst of his life-task?
Too wide awake to think of sleeping, I ensconced myself with The Mirror of the Sea at the dining-table. Nor did I remove aught of my storm-gear save the soggy mittens, which I wrung out and hung to dry by the stove. Four bells struck, and six bells, and Mr. Pike had not returned below. At eight bells, with the changing of the watches, it came upon me what a night of hardship the old mate was enduring. Eight to twelve had been his own watch on deck. He had now completed the four hours of the second mate’s watch and was beginning his own watch, which would last till eight in the morning—twelve consecutive hours in a Cape Horn gale with the mercury at freezing.
Next—for I had dozed—I heard loud cries above my head that were repeated along the poop. I did not know till afterwards that it was Mr. Pike’s command to hard-up the helm, passed along from for’ard by the men he had stationed at intervals on the bridge.
All that I knew at this shock of waking was that something was happening above. As I pulled on my steaming mittens and hurried my best up the reeling stairs, I could hear the stamp of men’s feet that for once were not lagging. In the chart-house hall I heard Mr. Pike, who had already covered the length of the bridge from the for’ard-house, shouting:
“Mizzen-braces! Slack, damn you! Slack on the run! But hold a turn! Aft, here, all of you! Jump! Lively, if you don’t want to swim! Come in, port-braces! Don’t let ’m get away! Lee-braces!—if you lose that turn I’ll split your skull! Lively! Lively!—Is that helm hard over! Why in hell don’t you answer?“
All this I heard as I dashed for the lee door and as I wondered why I did not hear the Samurai’s voice.
Then, as I passed the chart-room door, I saw him.
He was sitting on the couch, white-faced, one sea-boot in his hands, and I could have sworn his hands were shaking. That much I saw, and the next moment was out on deck.
At first, just emerged from the light, I could see nothing, although I could hear men at the pin-rails and the mate snarling and shouting commands. But I knew the manoeuvre. With a weak crew, in the big, tail-end sea of a broken gale, breakers and destruction under her lee, the Elsinore was being worn around. We had been under lower-topsails and a reefed foresail all night. Mr. Pike’s first action, after putting the wheel up, had been to square the mizzen-yards. With the wind-pressure thus eased aft, the stern could more easily swing against the wind while the wind-pressure on the for’ard-sails paid the bow off.
But it takes time to wear a ship, under short canvas, in a big sea. Slowly, very slowly, I could feel the direction of the wind altering against my cheek. The moon, dim at first, showed brighter and brighter as the last shreds of a flying cloud drove away from before it. In vain I looked for any land.
“Main-braces!—all of you!—jump!“ Mr. Pike shouted, himself leading the rush along the poop. And the men really rushed. Not in all the months I had observed them had I seen such swiftness of energy.
I made my way to the wheel, where Tom Spink stood. He did not notice me. With one hand holding the idle wheel, he was leaning out to one side, his eyes fixed in a fascinated stare. I followed its direction, on between the chart-house and the port-jigger shrouds, and on across a mountain sea that was very vague in the moonlight. And then I saw it! The Elsinore’s stern was flung skyward, and across that cold ocean I saw land—black rocks and snow-covered slopes and crags. And toward this land the Elsinore, now almost before the wind, was driving.
From the ’midship-house came the snarls of the mate and the cries of the sailors. They were pulling and hauling for very life. Then came Mr. Pike, across the poop, leaping with incredible swiftness, sending his snarl before him.
“Ease that wheel there! What the hell you gawkin’ at? Steady her as I tell you. That’s all you got to do!“
From for’ard came a cry, and I knew Mr. Mellaire was on top of the for’ard-house and managing the fore-yards.
“Now!“—from Mr. Pike. “More spokes! Steady! Steady! And be ready to check her!“
He bounded away along the poop again, shouting for men for the mizzen-braces. And the men appeared, some of his watch, others of the second mate’s watch, routed from sleep—men coatless, and hatless, and bootless; men ghastly-faced with fear but eager for once to spring to the orders of the man who knew and could save their miserable lives from miserable death. Yes—and I noted the delicate-handed cook, and Yatsuda, the sail-maker, pulling with his one unparalysed hand. It was all hands to save ship, and all hands knew it. Even Sundry Buyers, who had drifted aft in his stupidity instead of being for’ard with his own officer, forebore to stare about and to press his abdomen. For the nonce he pulled like a youngling of twenty.
The moon covered again, and it was in darkness that the Elsinore rounded up on the wind on the starboard tack. This, in her case, under lower-topsails only, meant that she lay eight points from the wind, or, in land terms, at right angles to the wind.
Mr. Pike was splendid, marvellous. Even as the Elsinore was rounding to on the wind, while the head-yards were still being braced, and even as he was watching the ship’s behaviour and the wheel, in between his commands to Tom Spink of “A spoke! A spoke or two! Another! Steady! Hold her! Ease her!“ he was ordering the men aloft to loose sail. I had thought, the manoeuvre of wearing achieved, that we were saved, but this setting of all three upper-topsails unconvinced me.
The moon remained hidden, and to leeward nothing could be seen. As each sail was set, the Elsinore was pressed farther and farther over, and I realized that there was plenty of wind left, despite the fact that the gale had broken or was breaking. Also, under this additional canvas, I could feel the Elsinore moving through the water. Pike now sent the Maltese Cockney to help Tom Spink at the wheel. As for himself, he took his stand beside the booby-hatch, where he could gauge the Elsinore, gaze to leeward, and keep his eye on the helmsmen.
“Full and by,“ was his reiterated command. “Keep her a good full—a rap-full; but don’t let her fall away. Hold her to it, and drive her.“
He took no notice whatever of me, although I, on my way to the lee of the chart-house, stood at his shoulder a full minute, offering him a chance to speak. He knew I was there, for his big shoulder brushed my arm as he swayed and turned to warn the helmsmen in the one breath to hold her up to it but to keep her full. He had neither time nor courtesy for a passenger in such a moment.
Sheltering by the chart-house, I saw the moon appear. It grew brighter and brighter, and I saw the land, dead to leeward of us, not three hundred yards away. It was a cruel sight—black rock and bitter snow, with cliffs so perpendicular that the Elsinore could have laid alongside of them in deep water, with great gashes and fissures, and with great surges thundering and spouting along all the length of it.
Our predicament was now clear to me. We had to weather the bight of land and islands into which we had drifted, and sea and wind worked directly on shore. The only way out was to drive through the water, to drive fast and hard, and this was borne in upon me by Mr. Pike bounding past to the break of the poop, where I heard him shout to Mr. Mellaire to set the mainsail.
Evidently the second mate was dubious, for the next cry of Mr. Pike’s was:
“Damn the reef! You’d be in hell first! Full mainsail! All hands to it!“
The difference was appreciable at once when that huge spread of canvas opposed the wind. The Elsinore fairly leaped and quivered as she sprang to it, and I could feel her eat to windward as she at the same time drove faster ahead. Also, in the rolls and gusts, she was forced down till her lee-rail buried and the sea foamed level across to her hatches. Mr. Pike watched her like a hawk, and like certain death he watched the Maltese Cockney and Tom Spink at the wheel.
“Land on the lee bow!“ came a cry from for’ard, that was carried on from mouth to mouth along the bridge to the poop.
I saw Mr. Pike nod his head grimly and sarcastically. He had already seen it from the lee-poop, and what he had not seen he had guessed. A score of times I saw him test the weight of the gusts on his cheek and with all the brain of him study the Elsinore’s behaviour. And I knew what was in his mind. Could she carry what she had? Could she carry more?
Small wonder, in this tense passage of time, that I had forgotten the Samurai. Nor did I remember him until the chart-house door swung open and I caught him by the arm. He steadied and swayed beside me, while he watched that cruel picture of rock and snow and spouting surf.
“A good full!“ Mr. Pike snarled. “Or I’ll eat your heart out. God damn you for the farmer’s hound you are, Tom Spink! Ease her! Ease her! Ease her into the big ones, damn you! Don’t let her head fall off! Steady! Where in hell did you learn to steer? What cow-farm was you raised on?“
Here he bounded for’ard past us with those incredible leaps of his.
“It would be good to set the mizzen-topgallant,“ I heard Captain West mutter in a weak, quavery voice. “Mr. Pathurst, will you please tell Mr. Pike to set the mizzen-topgallant?“
And at that very instant Mr. Pike’s voice rang out from the break of the poop:
“Mr. Mellaire!—the mizzen-topgallant!“
Captain West’s head drooped until his chin rested on his breast, and so low did he mutter that I leaned to hear.
“A very good officer,“ he said. “An excellent officer. Mr. Pathurst, if you will kindly favour me, I should like to go in. I . . . I haven’t got on my boots.“
The muscular feat was to open the heavy iron door and hold it open in the rolls and plunges. This I accomplished; but when I had helped Captain West across the high threshold he thanked me and waived further services. And I did not know even then he was dying.
Never was a Blackwood ship driven as was the Elsinore during the next half-hour. The full-jib was also set, and, as it departed in shreds, the fore-topmast staysail was being hoisted. For’ard of the ’midship-house it was made unlivable by the bursting seas. Mr. Mellaire, with half the crew, clung on somehow on top the ’midship-house, while the rest of the crew was with us in the comparative safety of the poop. Even Charles Davis, drenched and shivering, hung on beside me to the brass ring-handle of the chart-house door.
Such sailing! It was a madness of speed and motion, for the Elsinore drove over and through and under those huge graybeards that thundered shore-ward. There were times, when rolls and gusts worked against her at the same moment, when I could have sworn the ends of her lower-yardarms swept the sea.
It was one chance in ten that we could claw off. All knew it, and all knew there was nothing more to do but await the issue. And we waited in silence. The only voice was that of the mate, intermittently cursing, threatening, and ordering Tom Spink and the Maltese Cockney at the wheel. Between whiles, and all the while, he gauged the gusts, and ever his eyes lifted to the main-topgallant-yard. He wanted to set that one more sail. A dozen times I saw him half-open his mouth to give the order he dared not give. And as I watched him, so all watched him. Hard-bitten, bitter-natured, sour-featured and snarling-mouthed, he was the one man, the henchman of the race, the master of the moment. “And where,“ was my thought, “O where was the Samurai?“
One chance in ten? It was one in a hundred as we fought to weather the last bold tooth of rock that gashed into sea and tempest between us and open ocean. So close were we that I looked to see our far-reeling skysail-yards strike the face of the rock. So close were we, no more than a biscuit toss from its iron buttress, that as we sank down into the last great trough between two seas I can swear every one of us held breath and waited for the Elsinore to strike.
Instead we drove free. And as if in very rage at our escape, the storm took that moment to deal us the mightiest buffet of all. The mate felt that monster sea coming, for he sprang to the wheel ere the blow fell. I looked for’ard, and I saw all for’ard blotted out by the mountain of water that fell aboard. The Elsinore righted from the shock and reappeared to the eye, full of water from rail to rail. Then a gust caught her sails and heeled her over, spilling half the enormous burden outboard again.
Along the bridge came the relayed cry of “Man overboard!“
I glanced at the mate, who had just released the wheel to the helmsmen. He shook his head, as if irritated by so trivial a happening, walked to the corner of the half-wheelhouse, and stared at the coast he had escaped, white and black and cold in the moonlight.
Mr. Mellaire came aft, and they met beside me in the lee of the chart-house.
“All hands, Mr. Mellaire,“ the mate said, “and get the mainsail off of her. After that, the mizzen-topgallant.“
“Yes, sir,“ said the second.
“Who was it?“ the mate asked, as Mr. Mellaire was turning away.
“Boney—he was no good, anyway,“ came the answer.
That was all. Boney the Splinter was gone, and all hands were answering the command of Mr. Mellaire to take in the mainsail. But they never took it in; for at that moment it started to blow away out of the bolt-ropes, and in but few moments all that was left of it was a few short, slatting ribbons.
“Mizzen-topgallant-sail!“ Mr. Pike ordered. Then, and for the first time, he recognized my existence.
“Well rid of it,“ he growled. “It never did set properly. I was always aching to get my hands on the sail-maker that made it.“
On my way below a glance into the chart-room gave me the cue to the Samurai’s blunder—if blunder it can be called, for no one will ever know. He lay on the floor in a loose heap, rolling willy-nilly with every roll of the Elsinore.
There is so much to write about all at once. In the first place, Captain West. Not entirely unexpected was his death. Margaret tells me that she was apprehensive from the start of the voyage—and even before. It was because of her apprehension that she so abruptly changed her plans and accompanied her father.
What really happened we do not know, but the agreed surmise is that it was some stroke of the heart. And yet, after the stroke, did he not come out on deck? Or could the first stroke have been followed by another and fatal one after I had helped him inside through the door? And even so, I have never heard of a heart-stroke being preceded hours before by a weakening of the mind. Captain West’s mind seemed quite clear, and must have been quite clear, that last afternoon when he wore the Elsinore and started the lee-shore drift. In which case it was a blunder. The Samurai blundered, and his heart destroyed him when he became aware of the blunder.
At any rate the thought of blunder never enters Margaret’s head. She accepts, as a matter of course, that it was all a part of the oncoming termination of his sickness. And no one will ever undeceive her. Neither Mr. Pike, Mr. Mellaire, nor I, among ourselves, mention a whisper of what so narrowly missed causing disaster. In fact, Mr. Pike does not talk about the matter at all.—And then, again, might it not have been something different from heart disease? Or heart disease complicated with something else that obscured his mind that afternoon before his death? Well, no one knows, and I, for one, shall not sit, even in secret judgment, on the event.
* * * * *
At midday of the day we clawed off Tierra Del Fuego the Elsinore was rolling in a dead calm, and all afternoon she rolled, not a score of miles off the land. Captain West was buried at four o’clock, and at eight bells that evening Mr. Pike assumed command and made a few remarks to both watches. They were straight-from-the-shoulder remarks, or, as he called them, they were “brass tacks.“
Among other things he told the sailors that they had another boss, and that they would toe the mark as they never had before. Up to this time they had been loafing in an hotel, but from this time on they were going to work.
“On this hooker, from now on,“ he perorated, “it’s going to be like old times, when a man jumped the last day of the voyage as well as the first. And God help the man that don’t jump. That’s all. Relieve the wheel and lookout.“
* * * * *
And yet the men are in terribly wretched condition. I don’t see how they can jump. Another week of westerly gales, alternating with brief periods of calm, has elapsed, making a total of six weeks off the Horn. So weak are the men that they have no spirit left in them—not even the gangsters. And so afraid are they of the mate that they really do their best to jump when he drives them, and he drives them all the time. Mr. Mellaire shakes his head.
“Wait till they get around and up into better weather,“ he astonished me by telling me the other afternoon. “Wait till they get dried out, and rested up, with more sleep, and their sores healed, and more flesh on their bones, and more spunk in their blood—then they won’t stand for this driving. Mr. Pike can’t realize that times have changed, sir, and laws have changed, and men have changed. He’s an old man, and I know what I am talking about.“
“You mean you’ve been listening to the talk of the men?“ I challenged rashly, all my gorge rising at the unofficerlike conduct of this ship’s officer.
The shot went home, for, in a flash, that suave and gentle film of light vanished from the surface of the eyes, and the watching, fearful thing that lurked behind inside the skull seemed almost to leap out at me, while the cruel gash of mouth drew thinner and crueller. And at the same time, on my inner sight, was grotesquely limned a picture of a brain pulsing savagely against the veneer of skin that covered that cleft of skull beneath the dripping sou’-wester. Then he controlled himself, the mouth-gash relaxed, and the suave and gentle film drew again across the eyes.
“I mean, sir,“ he said softly, “that I am speaking out of a long sea experience. Times have changed. The old driving days are gone. And I trust, Mr. Pathurst, that you will not misunderstand me in the matter, nor misinterpret what I have said.“
Although the conversation drifted on to other and calmer topics, I could not ignore the fact that he had not denied listening to the talk of the men. And yet, even as Mr. Pike grudgingly admits, he is a good sailorman and second mate save for his unholy intimacy with the men for’ard—an intimacy which even the Chinese cook and the Chinese steward deplore as unseamanlike and perilous.
Even though men like the gangsters are so worn down by hardship that they have no heart of rebellion, there remain three of the frailest for’ard who will not die, and who are as spunky as ever. They are Andy Fay, Mulligan Jacobs, and Charles Davis. What strange, abysmal vitality informs them is beyond all speculation. Of course, Charles Davis should have been overside with a sack of coal at his feet long ago. And Andy Fay and Mulligan Jacobs are only, and have always been, wrecked and emaciated wisps of men. Yet far stronger men than they have gone over the side, and far stronger men than they are laid up right now in absolute physical helplessness in the soggy forecastle bunks. And these two bitter flames of shreds of things stand all their watches and answer all calls for both watches.
Yes; and the chickens have something of this same spunk of life in them. Featherless, semi-frozen despite the oil-stove, sprayed dripping on occasion by the frigid seas that pound by sheer weight through canvas tarpaulins, nevertheless not a chicken has died. Is it a matter of selection? Are these the iron-vigoured ones that survived the hardships from Baltimore to the Horn, and are fitted to survive anything? Then for a De Vries to take them, save them, and out of them found the hardiest breed of chickens on the planet! And after this I shall always query that phrase, most ancient in our language—“chicken-hearted.“ Measured by the Elsinore’s chickens, it is a misnomer.
Nor are our three Horn Gypsies, the storm-visitors with the dreaming, topaz eyes, spunkless. Held in superstitious abhorrence by the rest of the crew, aliens by lack of any word of common speech, nevertheless they are good sailors and are always first to spring into any enterprise of work or peril. They have gone into Mr. Mellaire’s watch, and they are quite apart from the rest of the sailors. And when there is a delay, or wait, with nothing to do for long minutes, they shoulder together, and stand and sway to the heave of deck, and dream far dreams in those pale, topaz eyes, of a country, I am sure, where mothers, with pale, topaz eyes and sandy hair, birth sons and daughters that breed true in terms of topaz eyes and sandy hair.
But the rest of the crew! Take the Maltese Cockney. He is too keenly intelligent, too sharply sensitive, successfully to endure. He is a shadow of his former self. His cheeks have fallen in. Dark circles of suffering are under his eyes, while his eyes, Latin and English intermingled, are cavernously sunken and as bright-burning as if aflame with fever.
Tom Spink, hard-fibred Anglo-Saxon, good seaman that he is, long tried and always proved, is quite wrecked in spirit. He is whining and fearful. So broken is he, though he still does his work, that he is prideless and shameless.
“I’ll never ship around the Horn again, sir,“ he began on me the other day when I greeted him good morning at the wheel. “I’ve sworn it before, but this time I mean it. Never again, sir. Never again.“
“Why did you swear it before?“ I queried.
“It was on the Nahoma, sir, four years ago. Two hundred and thirty days from Liverpool to ’Frisco. Think of it, sir. Two hundred and thirty days! And we was loaded with cement and creosote, and the creosote got loose. We buried the captain right here off the Horn. The grub gave out. Most of us nearly died of scurvy. Every man Jack of us was carted to hospital in ’Frisco. It was plain hell, sir, that’s what it was, an’ two hundred and thirty days of it.“
“Yet here you are,“ I laughed; “signed on another Horn voyage.“
And this morning Tom Spink confided the following tome:
“If only we’d lost the carpenter, sir, instead of Boney.“
I did not catch his drift for the moment; then I remembered. The carpenter was the Finn, the Jonah, the warlock who played tricks with the winds and despitefully used poor sailormen.
* * * * *
Yes, and I make free to confess that I have grown well weary of this eternal buffeting by the Great West Wind. Nor are we alone in our travail on this desolate ocean. Never a day does the gray thin, or the snow-squalls cease that we do not sight ships, west-bound like ourselves, hove-to and trying to hold on to the meagre westing they possess. And occasionally, when the gray clears and lifts, we see a lucky ship, bound east, running before it and reeling off the miles. I saw Mr. Pike, yesterday, shaking his fist in a fury of hatred at one such craft that flew insolently past us not a quarter of a mile away.
And the men are jumping. Mr. Pike is driving with those block-square fists of his, as many a man’s face attests. So weak are they, and so terrible is he, that I swear he could whip either watch single-handed. I cannot help but note that Mr. Mellaire refuses to take part in this driving. Yet I know that he is a trained driver, and that he was not averse to driving at the outset of the voyage. But now he seems bent on keeping on good terms with the crew. I should like to know what Mr. Pike thinks of it, for he cannot possibly be blind to what is going on; but I am too well aware of what would happen if I raised the question. He would insult me, snap my head off, and indulge in a three-days’ sea-grouch. Things are sad and monotonous enough for Margaret and me in the cabin and at table, without invoking the blight of the mate’s displeasure.
Another brutal sea-superstition vindicated. From now on and for always these imbeciles of ours will believe that Finns are Jonahs. We are west of the Diego de Ramirez Rocks, and we are running west at a twelve-knot clip with an easterly gale at our backs. And the carpenter is gone. His passing, and the coming of the easterly wind, were coincidental.
It was yesterday morning, as he helped me to dress, that I was struck by the solemnity of Wada’s face. He shook his head lugubriously as he broke the news. The carpenter was missing. The ship had been searched for him high and low. There just was no carpenter.
“What does the steward think?“ I asked. “What does Louis think?—and Yatsuda?“
“The sailors, they kill ’m carpenter sure,“ was the answer. “Very bad ship this. Very bad hearts. Just the same pig, just the same dog. All the time kill. All the time kill. Bime-by everybody kill. You see.“
The old steward, at work in his pantry, grinned at me when I mentioned the matter.
“They make fool with me, I fix ’em,“ he said vindictively. “Mebbe they kill me, all right; but I kill some, too.“
He threw back his coat, and I saw, strapped to the left side of his body, in a canvas sheath, so that the handle was ready to hand, a meat knife of the heavy sort that butchers hack with. He drew it forth—it was fully two feet long—and, to demonstrate its razor-edge, sliced a sheet of newspaper into many ribbons.
“Huh!“ he laughed sardonically. “I am Chink, monkey, damn fool, eh?—no good, eh? all rotten damn to hell. I fix ’em, they make fool with me.“
And yet there is not the slightest evidence of foul play. Nobody knows what happened to the carpenter. There are no clues, no traces. The night was calm and snowy. No seas broke on board. Without doubt the clumsy, big-footed, over-grown giant of a boy is overside and dead. The question is: did he go over of his own accord, or was he put over?
At eight o’clock Mr. Pike proceeded to interrogate the watches. He stood at the break of the poop, in the high place, leaning on the rail and gazing down at the crew assembled on the main deck beneath him.
Man after man he questioned, and from each man came the one story. They knew no more about it than did we—or so they averred.
“I suppose you’ll be chargin’ next that I hove that big lummux overboard with me own hands,“ Mulligan Jacobs snarled, when he was questioned. “An’ mebbe I did, bein’ that husky an’ rampagin’ bull-like.“
The mate’s face grew more forbidding and sour, but without comment he passed on to John Hackey, the San Francisco hoodlum.
It was an unforgettable scene—the mate in the high place, the men, sullen and irresponsive, grouped beneath. A gentle snow drifted straight down through the windless air, while the Elsinore, with hollow thunder from her sails, rolled down on the quiet swells so that the ocean lapped the mouths of her scuppers with long-drawn, shuddering sucks and sobs. And all the men swayed in unison to the rolls, their hands in mittens, their feet in sack-wrapped sea-boots, their faces worn and sick. And the three dreamers with the topaz eyes stood and swayed and dreamed together, incurious of setting and situation.
And then it came—the hint of easterly air. The mate noted it first. I saw him start and turn his cheek to the almost imperceptible draught. Then I felt it. A minute longer he waited, until assured, when, the dead carpenter forgotten, he burst out with orders to the wheel and the crew. And the men jumped, though in their weakness the climb aloft was slow and toilsome; and when the gaskets were off the topgallant-sails and the men on deck were hoisting yards and sheeting home, those aloft were loosing the royals.
While this work went on, and while the yards were being braced around, the Elsinore, her bow pointing to the west, began moving through the water before the first fair wind in a month and a half.
Slowly that light air fanned to a gentle breeze while all the time the snow fell steadily. The barometer, down to 28.80, continued to fall, and the breeze continued to grow upon itself. Tom Spink, passing by me on the poop to lend a hand at the final finicky trimming of the mizzen-yards, gave me a triumphant look. Superstition was vindicated. Events had proved him right. Fair wind had come with the going of the carpenter, which said warlock had incontestably taken with him overside his bag of wind-tricks.
Mr. Pike strode up and down the poop, rubbing his hands, which he was too disdainfully happy to mitten, chuckling and grinning to himself, glancing at the draw of every sail, stealing adoring looks astern into the gray of snow out of which blew the favouring wind. He even paused beside me to gossip for a moment about the French restaurants of San Francisco and how, therein, the delectable California fashion of cooking wild duck obtained.
“Throw ’em through the fire,“ he chanted. “That’s the way—throw ’em through the fire—a hot oven, sixteen minutes—I take mine fourteen, to the second—an’ squeeze the carcasses.“
By midday the snow had ceased and we were bowling along before a stiff breeze. At three in the afternoon we were running before a growing gale. It was across a mad ocean we tore, for the mounting sea that made from eastward bucked into the West End Drift and battled and battered down the huge south-westerly swell. And the big grinning dolt of a Finnish carpenter, already food for fish and bird, was astern there somewhere in the freezing rack and drive.
Make westing! We ripped it off across these narrowing degrees of longitude at the southern tip of the planet where one mile counts for two. And Mr. Pike, staring at his bending topgallant-yards, swore that they could carry away for all he cared ere he eased an inch of canvas. More he did. He set the huge crojack, biggest of all sails, and challenged God or Satan to start a seam of it or all its seams.
He simply could not go below. In such auspicious occasions all watches were his, and he strode the poop perpetually with all age-lag banished from his legs. Margaret and I were with him in the chart-room when he hurrahed the barometer, down to 28.55 and falling. And we were near him, on the poop, when he drove by an east-bound lime-juicer, hove-to under upper-topsails. We were a biscuit-toss away, and he sprang upon the rail at the jigger-shrouds and danced a war-dance and waved his free arm, and yelled his scorn and joy at their discomfiture to the several oilskinned figures on the stranger vessel’s poop.
Through the pitch-black night we continued to drive. The crew was sadly frightened, and I sought in vain, in the two dog-watches, for Tom Spink, to ask him if he thought the carpenter, astern, had opened wide the bag-mouth and loosed all his tricks. For the first time I saw the steward apprehensive.
“Too much,“ he told me, with ominous rolling head. “Too much sail, rotten bad damn all to hell. Bime-by, pretty quick, all finish. You see.“
“They talk about running the easting down,“ Mr. Pike chortled to me, as we clung to the poop-rail to keep from fetching away and breaking ribs and necks. “Well, this is running your westing down if anybody should ride up in a go-devil and ask you.“
It was a wretched, glorious night. Sleep was impossible—for me, at any rate. Nor was there even the comfort of warmth. Something had gone wrong with the big cabin stove, due to our wild running, I fancy, and the steward was compelled to let the fire go out. So we are getting a taste of the hardship of the forecastle, though in our case everything is dry instead of soggy or afloat. The kerosene stoves burned in our state room, but so smelly was mine that I preferred the cold.
To sail on one’s nerve in an over-canvassed harbour cat-boat is all the excitement any glutton can desire. But to sail, in the same fashion, in a big ship off the Horn, is incredible and terrible. The Great West Wind Drift, setting squarely into the teeth of the easterly gale, kicked up a tideway sea that was monstrous. Two men toiled at the wheel, relieving in pairs every half-hour, and in the face of the cold they streamed with sweat long ere their half-hour shift was up.
Mr. Pike is of the elder race of men. His endurance is prodigious. Watch and watch, and all watches, he held the poop.
“I never dreamed of it,“ he told me, at midnight, as the great gusts tore by and as we listened for our lighter spars to smash aloft and crash upon the deck. “I thought my last whirling sailing was past. And here we are! Here we are!
“Lord! Lord! I sailed third mate in the little Vampire before you were born. Fifty-six men before the mast, and the last Jack of ’em an able seaman. And there were eight boys, an’ bosuns that was bosuns, an’ sail-makers an’ carpenters an’ stewards an’ passengers to jam the decks. An’ three driving mates of us, an’ Captain Brown, the Little Wonder. He didn’t weigh a hundredweight, an’ he drove us—he drove us, three drivin’ mates that learned from him what drivin’ was.
“It was knock down and drag out from the start. The first hour of puttin’ the men to fair perished our knuckles. I’ve got the smashed joints yet to show. Every sea-chest broke open, every sea-bag turned out, and whiskey bottles, knuckle-dusters, sling-shots, bowie-knives, an’ guns chucked overside by the armful. An’ when we chose the watches, each man of fifty-six of ’em laid his knife on the main-hatch an’ the carpenter broke the point square off.—Yes, an’ the little Vampire only eight hundred tons. The Elsinore could carry her on her deck. But she was ship, all ship, an’ them was men’s days.“
Margaret, save for inability to sleep, did not mind the driving, although Mr. Mellaire, on the other hand, admitted apprehension.
“He’s got my goat,“ he confided to me. “It isn’t right to drive a cargo-carrier this way. This isn’t a ballasted yacht. It’s a coal-hulk. I know what driving was, but it was in ships made to drive. Our iron-work aloft won’t stand it. Mr. Pathurst, I tell you frankly that it is criminal, it is sheer murder, to run the Elsinore with that crojack on her. You can see yourself, sir. It’s an after-sail. All its tendency is to throw her stern off and her bow up to it. And if it ever happens, sir, if she ever gets away from the wheel for two seconds and broaches to . . . “
“Then what?“ I asked, or, rather, shouted; for all conversation had to be shouted close to ear in that blast of gale.
He shrugged his shoulders, and all of him was eloquent with the unuttered, unmistakable word—“finish.“
At eight this morning Margaret and I struggled up to the poop. And there was that indomitable, iron old man. He had never left the deck all night. His eyes were bright, and he appeared in the pink of well-being. He rubbed his hands and chuckled greeting to us, and took up his reminiscences.
“In ’51, on this same stretch, Miss West, the Flying Cloud, in twenty-four hours, logged three hundred and seventy-four miles under her topgallant-sails. That was sailing. She broke the record, that day, for sail an’ steam.“
“And what are we averaging, Mr. Pike?“ Margaret queried, while her eyes were fixed on the main deck, where continually one rail and then the other dipped under the ocean and filled across from rail to rail, only to spill out and take in on the next roll.
“Thirteen for a fair average since five o’clock yesterday afternoon,“ he exulted. “In the squalls she makes all of sixteen, which is going some, for the Elsinore.“
“I’d take the crojack off if I had charge,“ Margaret criticised.
“So would I, so would I, Miss West,“ he replied; “if we hadn’t been six weeks already off the Horn.“
She ran her eyes aloft, spar by spar, past the spars of hollow steel to the wooden royals, which bent in the gusts like bows in some invisible archer’s hands.
“They’re remarkably good sticks of timber,“ was her comment.
“Well may you say it, Miss West,“ he agreed. “I’d never a-believed they’d a-stood it myself. But just look at ’m! Just look at ’m!“
There was no breakfast for the men. Three times the galley had been washed out, and the men, in the forecastle awash, contented themselves with hard tack and cold salt horse. Aft, with us, the steward scalded himself twice ere he succeeded in making coffee over a kerosene-burner.
At noon we picked up a ship ahead, a lime-juicer, travelling in the same direction, under lower-topsails and one upper-topsail. The only one of her courses set was the foresail.
“The way that skipper’s carryin’ on is shocking,“ Mr. Pike sneered. “He should be more cautious, and remember God, the owners, the underwriters, and the Board of Trade.“
Such was our speed that in almost no time we were up with the stranger vessel and passing her. Mr. Pike was like a boy just loosed from school. He altered our course so that we passed her a hundred yards away. She was a gallant sight, but, such was our speed, she appeared standing still. Mr. Pike jumped upon the rail and insulted those on her poop by extending a rope’s end in invitation to take a tow.
Margaret shook her head privily to me as she gazed at our bending royal-yards, but was caught in the act by Mr. Pike, who cried out:
“What kites she won’t carry she can drag!“
An hour later I caught Tom Spink, just relieved from his shift at the wheel and weak from exhaustion.
“What do you think now of the carpenter and his bag of tricks?“ I queried.
“Lord lumme, it should a-ben the mate, sir,“ was his reply.
By five in the afternoon we had logged 314 miles since five the previous day, which was two over an average of thirteen knots for twenty-four consecutive hours.
“Now take Captain Brown of the little Vampire,“ Mr. Pike grinned to me, for our sailing made him good-natured. “He never would take in until the kites an’ stu’n’sails was about his ears. An’ when she was blown’ her worst an’ we was half-fairly shortened down, he’d turn in for a snooze, an’ say to us, ‘Call me if she moderates.’ Yes, and I’ll never forget the night when I called him an’ told him that everything on top the houses had gone adrift, an’ that two of the boats had been swept aft and was kindling-wood against the break of the cabin. ‘Very well, Mr. Pike,’ he says, battin’ his eyes and turnin’ over to go to sleep again. ‘Very well, Mr. Pike,’ says he. ‘Watch her. An’ Mr. Pike . . .’ ‘Yes, sir,’ says I. ‘Give me a call, Mr. Pike, when the windlass shows signs of comin’ aft.’ That’s what he said, his very words, an’ the next moment, damme, he was snorin’.“
* * * * *
It is now midnight, and, cunningly wedged into my bunk, unable to sleep, I am writing these lines with flying dabs of pencil at my pad. And no more shall I write, I swear, until this gale is blown out, or we are blown to Kingdom Come.