The Mutiny of the Elsinore - Jack London - ebook
Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1914

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Jack London

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Opis ebooka The Mutiny of the Elsinore - Jack London

Written during a time of tragedy, this novel of sea life fails in either its story or doctrinaire intentions.

Opinie o ebooku The Mutiny of the Elsinore - Jack London

Fragment ebooka The Mutiny of the Elsinore - Jack London

About
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5

About London:

Jack London (January 12, 1876 – November 22, 1916), was an American author who wrote The Call of the Wild and other books. A pioneer in the then-burgeoning world of commercial magazine fiction, he was one of the first Americans to make a huge financial success from writing. Source: Wikipedia

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Chapter 1

 

From the first the voyage was going wrong. Routed out of my hotel on a bitter March morning, I had crossed Baltimore and reached the pier- end precisely on time. At nine o'clock the tug was to have taken me down the bay and put me on board the Elsinore, and with growing irritation I sat frozen inside my taxicab and waited. On the seat, outside, the driver and Wada sat hunched in a temperature perhaps half a degree colder than mine. And there was no tug.

Possum, the fox-terrier puppy Galbraith had so inconsiderately foisted upon me, whimpered and shivered on my lap inside my greatcoat and under the fur robe. But he would not settle down. Continually he whimpered and clawed and struggled to get out. And, once out and bitten by the cold, with equal insistence he whimpered and clawed to get back.

His unceasing plaint and movement was anything but sedative to my jangled nerves. In the first place I was uninterested in the brute. He meant nothing to me. I did not know him. Time and again, as I drearily waited, I was on the verge of giving him to the driver. Once, when two little girls—evidently the wharfinger's daughters— went by, my hand reached out to the door to open it so that I might call to them and present them with the puling little wretch.

A farewell surprise package from Galbraith, he had arrived at the hotel the night before, by express from New York. It was Galbraith's way. Yet he might so easily have been decently like other folk and sent fruit … or flowers, even. But no; his affectionate inspiration had to take the form of a yelping, yapping two months' old puppy. And with the advent of the terrier the trouble had begun. The hotel clerk judged me a criminal before the act I had not even had time to meditate. And then Wada, on his own initiative and out of his own foolish stupidity, had attempted to smuggle the puppy into his room and been caught by a house detective. Promptly Wada had forgotten all his English and lapsed into hysterical Japanese, and the house detective remembered only his Irish; while the hotel clerk had given me to understand in no uncertain terms that it was only what he had expected of me.

Damn the dog, anyway! And damn Galbraith too! And as I froze on in the cab on that bleak pier-end, I damned myself as well, and the mad freak that had started me voyaging on a sailing-ship around the Horn.

By ten o'clock a nondescript youth arrived on foot, carrying a suit- case, which was turned over to me a few minutes later by the wharfinger. It belonged to the pilot, he said, and gave instructions to the chauffeur how to find some other pier from which, at some indeterminate time, I should be taken aboard the Elsinore by some other tug. This served to increase my irritation. Why should I not have been informed as well as the pilot?

An hour later, still in my cab and stationed at the shore end of the new pier, the pilot arrived. Anything more unlike a pilot I could not have imagined. Here was no blue-jacketed, weather-beaten son of the sea, but a soft-spoken gentleman, for all the world the type of successful business man one meets in all the clubs. He introduced himself immediately, and I invited him to share my freezing cab with Possum and the baggage. That some change had been made in the arrangements by Captain West was all he knew, though he fancied the tug would come along any time.

And it did, at one in the afternoon, after I had been compelled to wait and freeze for four mortal hours. During this time I fully made up my mind that I was not going to like this Captain West. Although I had never met him, his treatment of me from the outset had been, to say the least, cavalier. When the Elsinore lay in Erie Basin, just arrived from California with a cargo of barley, I had crossed over from New York to inspect what was to be my home for many months. I

had been delighted with the ship and the cabin accommodation. Even the stateroom selected for me was satisfactory and far more spacious than I had expected. But when I peeped into the captain's room I was amazed at its comfort. When I say that it opened directly into a bath-room, and that, among other things, it was furnished with a big brass bed such as one would never suspect to find at sea, I have said enough.

Naturally, I had resolved that the bath-room and the big brass bed should be mine. When I asked the agents to arrange with the captain they seemed non-committal and uncomfortable. "I don't know in the least what it is worth," I said. "And I don't care. Whether it costs one hundred and fifty dollars or five hundred, I must have those quarters."

Harrison and Gray, the agents, debated silently with each other and scarcely thought Captain West would see his way to the arrangement. "Then he is the first sea captain I ever heard of that wouldn't," I asserted confidently. "Why, the captains of all the Atlantic liners regularly sell their quarters."

"But Captain West is not the captain of an Atlantic liner," Mr. Harrison observed gently.

"Remember, I am to be on that ship many a month," I retorted. "Why, heavens, bid him up to a thousand if necessary."

"We'll try," said Mr. Gray, "but we warn you not to place too much dependence on our efforts. Captain West is in Searsport at the present time, and we will write him to-day.

To my astonishment Mr. Gray called me up several days later to inform me that Captain West had declined my offer. "Did you offer him up to a thousand?" I demanded. "What did he say?"

"He regretted that he was unable to concede what you asked," Mr. Gray replied.

A day later I received a letter from Captain West. The writing and the wording were old-fashioned and formal. He regretted not having yet met me, and assured me that he would see personally that my quarters were made comfortable. For that matter he had already dispatched orders to Mr. Pike, the first mate of the Elsinore, to knock out the partition between my state-room and the spare state- room adjoining. Further—and here is where my dislike for Captain West began—he informed me that if, when once well at sea, I should find myself dissatisfied, he would gladly, in that case, exchange quarters with me.

Of course, after such a rebuff, I knew that no circumstance could ever persuade me to occupy Captain West's brass bed. And it was this Captain Nathaniel West, whom I had not yet met, who had now kept me freezing on pier-ends through four miserable hours. The less I saw of him on the voyage the better, was my decision; and it was with a little tickle of pleasure that I thought of the many boxes of books I had dispatched on board from New York. Thank the Lord, I did not depend on sea captains for entertainment.

I turned Possum over to Wada, who was settling with the cabman, and while the tug's sailors were carrying my luggage on board I was led by the pilot to an introduction with Captain West. At the first glimpse I knew that he was no more a sea captain than the pilot was a pilot. I had seen the best of the breed, the captains of the liners, and he no more resembled them than did he resemble the bluff-faced, gruff-voiced skippers I had read about in books. By his side stood a woman, of whom little was to be seen and who made a warm and gorgeous blob of colour in the huge muff and boa of red fox in which she was well-nigh buried.

"My God!—his wife!" I darted in a whisper at the pilot. "Going along with him? … "

I had expressly stipulated with Mr. Harrison, when engaging passage, that the one thing I could not possibly consider was the skipper of the Elsinore taking his wife on the voyage. And Mr. Harrison had smiled and assured me that Captain West would sail unaccompanied by a wife.

"It's his daughter," the pilot replied under his breath. "Come to see him off, I fancy. His wife died over a year ago. They say that is what sent him back to sea. He'd retired, you know."

Captain West advanced to meet me, and before our outstretched hands touched, before his face broke from repose to greeting and the lips moved to speech, I got the first astonishing impact of his personality. Long, lean, in his face a touch of race I as yet could only sense, he was as cool as the day was cold, as poised as a king or emperor, as remote as the farthest fixed star, as neutral as a proposition of Euclid. And then, just ere our hands met, a twinkle of—oh—such distant and controlled geniality quickened the many tiny wrinkles in the corner of the eyes; the clear blue of the eyes was suffused by an almost colourful warmth; the face, too, seemed similarly to suffuse; the thin lips, harsh-set the instant before, were as gracious as Bernhardt's when she moulds sound into speech.

So curiously was I affected by this first glimpse of Captain West that I was aware of expecting to fall from his lips I knew not what words of untold beneficence and wisdom. Yet he uttered most commonplace regrets at the delay in a voice provocative of fresh surprise to me. It was low and gentle, almost too low, yet clear as a bell and touched with a faint reminiscent twang of old New England.

"And this is the young woman who is guilty of the delay," he concluded my introduction to his daughter. "Margaret, this is Mr. Pathurst."

Her gloved hand promptly emerged from the fox-skins to meet mine, and I found myself looking into a pair of gray eyes bent steadily and gravely upon me. It was discomfiting, that cool, penetrating, searching gaze. It was not that it was challenging, but that it was so insolently business-like. It was much in the very way one would look at a new coachman he was about to engage. I did not know then that she was to go on the voyage, and that her curiosity about the man who was to be a fellow-passenger for half a year was therefore only natural. Immediately she realized what she was doing, and her lips and eyes smiled as she spoke.

As we moved on to enter the tug's cabin I heard Possum's shivering whimper rising to a screech, and went forward to tell Wada to take the creature in out of the cold. I found him hovering about my luggage, wedging my dressing-case securely upright by means of my little automatic rifle. I was startled by the mountain of luggage around which mine was no more than a fringe. Ship's stores, was my first thought, until I noted the number of trunks, boxes, suit-cases, and parcels and bundles of all sorts. The initials on what looked suspiciously like a woman's hat trunk caught my eye—"M.W." Yet Captain West's first name was Nathaniel. On closer investigation I did find several "N.W's." but everywhere I could see "M.W's." Then I remembered that he had called her Margaret.

I was too angry to return to the cabin, and paced up and down the cold deck biting my lips with vexation. I had so expressly stipulated with the agents that no captain's wife was to come along. The last thing under the sun I desired in the pet quarters of a ship was a woman. But I had never thought about a captain's daughter. For two cents I was ready to throw the voyage over and return on the tug to Baltimore.

By the time the wind caused by our speed had chilled me bitterly, I noticed Miss West coming along the narrow deck, and could not avoid being struck by the spring and vitality of her walk. Her face, despite its firm moulding, had a suggestion of fragility that was belied by the robustness of her body. At least, one would argue that her body must be robust from her fashion of movement of it, though little could one divine the lines of it under the shapelessness of the furs.

I turned away on my heel and fell moodily to contemplating the mountain of luggage. A huge packing-case attracted my attention, and I was staring at it when she spoke at my shoulder.

"That's what really caused the delay," she said.

"What is it?" I asked incuriously.

"Why, the Elsinore's piano, all renovated. When I made up my mind to come, I telegraphed Mr. Pike—he's the mate, you know. He did his best. It was the fault of the piano house. And while we waited to- day I gave them a piece of my mind they'll not forget in a hurry."

She laughed at the recollection, and commenced to peep and peer into the luggage as if in search of some particular piece. Having satisfied herself, she was starting back, when she paused and said:

"Won't you come into the cabin where it's warm? We won't be there for half an hour."

"When did you decide to make this voyage?" I demanded abruptly.

So quick was the look she gave me that I knew she had in that moment caught all my disgruntlement and disgust.

"Two days ago," she answered. "Why?"

Her readiness for give and take took me aback, and before I could speak she went on:

"Now you're not to be at all silly about my coming, Mr. Pathurst. I probably know more about long-voyaging than you do, and we're all going to be comfortable and happy. You can't bother me, and I promise you I won't bother you. I've sailed with passengers before, and I've learned to put up with more than they ever proved they were able to put up with. So there. Let us start right, and it won't be any trouble to keep on going right. I know what is the matter with you. You think you'll be called upon to entertain me. Please know that I do not need entertainment. I never saw the longest voyage that was too long, and I always arrive at the end with too many things not done for the passage ever to have been tedious, and … I don't play Chopsticks."


Chapter 2

 

The Elsinore, fresh-loaded with coal, lay very deep in the water when we came alongside. I knew too little about ships to be capable of admiring her lines, and, besides, I was in no mood for admiration. I was still debating with myself whether or not to chuck the whole thing and return on the tug. From all of which it must not be taken that I am a vacillating type of man. On the contrary.

The trouble was that at no time, from the first thought of it, had I been keen for the voyage. Practically the reason I was taking it was because there was nothing else I was keen on. For some time now life had lost its savour. I was not jaded, nor was I exactly bored. But the zest had gone out of things. I had lost taste for my fellow-men and all their foolish, little, serious endeavours. For a far longer period I had been dissatisfied with women. I had endured them, but I had been too analytic of the faults of their primitiveness, of their almost ferocious devotion to the destiny of sex, to be enchanted with them. And I had come to be oppressed by what seemed to me the futility of art—a pompous legerdemain, a consummate charlatanry that deceived not only its devotees but its practitioners.

In short, I was embarking on the Elsinore because it was easier to than not; yet everything else was as equally and perilously easy. That was the curse of the condition into which I had fallen. That was why, as I stepped upon the deck of the Elsinore, I was half of a mind to tell them to keep my luggage where it was and bid Captain West and his daughter good-day.

I almost think what decided me was the welcoming, hospitable smile Miss West gave me as she started directly across the deck for the cabin, and the knowledge that it must be quite warm in the cabin.

Mr. Pike, the mate, I had already met, when I visited the ship in Erie Basin. He smiled a stiff, crack-faced smile that I knew must be painful, but did not offer to shake hands, turning immediately to call orders to half-a-dozen frozen-looking youths and aged men who shambled up from somewhere in the waist of the ship. Mr. Pike had been drinking. That was patent. His face was puffed and discoloured, and his large gray eyes were bitter and bloodshot.

I lingered, with a sinking heart watching my belongings come aboard and chiding my weakness of will which prevented me from uttering the few words that would put a stop to it. As for the half-dozen men who were now carrying the luggage aft into the cabin, they were unlike any concept I had ever entertained of sailors. Certainly, on the liners, I had observed nothing that resembled them.

One, a most vivid-faced youth of eighteen, smiled at me from a pair of remarkable Italian eyes. But he was a dwarf. So short was he that he was all sea-boots and sou'wester. And yet he was not entirely Italian. So certain was I that I asked the mate, who answered morosely:

"Him? Shorty? He's a dago half-breed. The other half's Jap or Malay."

One old man, who I learned was a bosun, was so decrepit that I thought he had been recently injured. His face was stolid and ox- like, and as he shuffled and dragged his brogans over the deck he paused every several steps to place both hands on his abdomen and execute a queer, pressing, lifting movement. Months were to pass, in which I saw him do this thousands of times, ere I learned that there was nothing the matter with him and that his action was purely a habit. His face reminded me of the Man with the Hoe, save that it was unthinkably and abysmally stupider. And his name, as I was to learn, of all names was Sundry Buyers. And he was bosun of the fine American sailing-ship Elsinore—rated one of the finest sailing-ships afloat!

Of this group of aged men and boys that moved the luggage along I saw only one, called Henry, a youth of sixteen, who approximated in the slightest what I had conceived all sailors to be like. He had come off a training ship, the mate told me, and this was his first voyage to sea. His face was keen-cut, alert, as were his bodily movements, and he wore sailor-appearing clothes with sailor-seeming grace. In fact, as I was to learn, he was to be the only sailor-seeming creature fore and aft.

The main crew had not yet come aboard, but was expected at any moment, the mate vouchsafed with a snarl of ominous expectancy. Those already on board were the miscellaneous ones who had shipped themselves in New York without the mediation of boarding-house masters. And what the crew itself would be like God alone could tell—so said the mate. Shorty, the Japanese (or Malay) and Italian half-caste, the mate told me, was an able seaman, though he had come out of steam and this was his first sailing voyage.

"Ordinary seamen!" Mr. Pike snorted, in reply to a question. "We don't carry Landsmen!—forget it! Every clodhopper an' cow-walloper these days is an able seaman. That's the way they rank and are paid. The merchant service is all shot to hell. There ain't no more sailors. They all died years ago, before you were born even."

I could smell the raw whiskey on the mate's breath. Yet he did not stagger nor show any signs of intoxication. Not until afterward was I to know that his willingness to talk was most unwonted and was where the liquor gave him away.

"It'd a-ben a grace had I died years ago," he said, "rather than to a-lived to see sailors an' ships pass away from the sea."

"But I understand the Elsinore is considered one of the finest," I urged.

"So she is … to-day. But what is she?—a damned cargo-carrier. She ain't built for sailin', an' if she was there ain't no sailors left to sail her. Lord! Lord! The old clippers! When I think of 'em!—The Gamecock, Shootin' Star, Flyin' Fish, Witch o' the Wave, Staghound, Harvey Birch, Canvas-back, Fleetwing, Sea Serpent, Northern Light! An' when I think of the fleets of the tea-clippers that used to load at Hong Kong an' race the Eastern Passages. A fine sight! A fine sight!"

I was interested. Here was a man, a live man. I was in no hurry to go into the cabin, where I knew Wada was unpacking my things, so I paced up and down the deck with the huge Mr. Pike. Huge he was in all conscience, broad-shouldered, heavy-boned, and, despite the profound stoop of his shoulders, fully six feet in height.

"You are a splendid figure of a man," I complimented.

"I was, I was," he muttered sadly, and I caught the whiff of whiskey strong on the air.

I stole a look at his gnarled hands. Any finger would have made three of mine. His wrist would have made three of my wrist.

"How much do you weigh?" I asked.

"Two hundred an' ten. But in my day, at my best, I tipped the scales close to two-forty."

"And the Elsinore can't sail," I said, returning to the subject which had roused him.

"I'll take you even, anything from a pound of tobacco to a month's wages, she won't make it around in a hundred an' fifty days," he answered. "Yet I've come round in the old Flyin' Cloud in eighty- nine days—eighty-nine days, sir, from Sandy Hook to 'Frisco. Sixty men for'ard that WAS men, an' eight boys, an' drive! drive! drive! Three hundred an' seventy-four miles for a day's run under t'gallantsails, an' in the squalls eighteen knots o' line not enough to time her. Eighty-nine days—never beat, an' tied once by the old Andrew Jackson nine years afterwards. Them was the days!"

"When did the Andrew Jackson tie her?" I asked, because of the growing suspicion that he was "having" me.

"In 1860," was his prompt reply.

"And you sailed in the Flying Cloud nine years before that, and this is 1913—why, that was sixty-two years ago," I charged.

"And I was seven years old," he chuckled. "My mother was stewardess on the Flyin' Cloud. I was born at sea. I was boy when I was twelve, on the Herald o' the Morn, when she made around in ninety- nine days—half the crew in irons most o' the time, five men lost from aloft off the Horn, the points of our sheath-knives broken square off, knuckle-dusters an' belayin'-pins flyin', three men shot by the officers in one day, the second mate killed dead an' no one to know who done it, an' drive! drive! drive! ninety-nine days from land to land, a run of seventeen thousand miles, an' east to west around Cape Stiff!"

"But that would make you sixty-nine years old," I insisted.

"Which I am," he retorted proudly, "an' a better man at that than the scrubby younglings of these days. A generation of 'em would die under the things I've been through. Did you ever hear of the Sunny South?—she that was sold in Havana to run slaves an' changed her name to Emanuela?"

"And you've sailed the Middle Passage!" I cried, recollecting the old phrase.

"I was on the Emanuela that day in Mozambique Channel when the Brisk caught us with nine hundred slaves between-decks. Only she wouldn't a-caught us except for her having steam."

I continued to stroll up and down beside this massive relic of the past, and to listen to his hints and muttered reminiscences of old man-killing and man-driving days. He was too real to be true, and yet, as I studied his shoulder-stoop and the age-drag of his huge feet, I was convinced that his years were as he asserted. He spoke of a Captain Sonurs.

"He was a great captain," he was saying. "An' in the two years I sailed mate with him there was never a port I didn't jump the ship goin' in an' stay in hiding until I sneaked aboard when she sailed again."

"But why?"

"The men, on account of the men swearin' blood an' vengeance and warrants against me because of my ways of teachin' them to be sailors. Why, the times I was caught, and the fines the skipper paid for me—and yet it was my work that made the ship make money.''

He held up his huge paws, and as I stared at the battered, malformed knuckles I understood the nature of his work.

"But all that's stopped now," he lamented. "A sailor's a gentleman these days. You can't raise your voice or your hand to them."

At this moment he was addressed from the poop-rail above by the second mate, a medium-sized, heavily built, clean-shaven, blond man.

"The tug's in sight with the crew, sir," he announced.

The mate grunted an acknowledgment, then added, "Come on down, Mr. Mellaire, and meet our passenger."

I could not help noting the air and carriage with which Mr. Mellaire came down the poop-ladder and took his part in the introduction. He was courteous in an old-world way, soft-spoken, suave, and unmistakably from south of Mason and Dixon.

"A Southerner," I said.

"Georgia, sir." He bowed and smiled, as only a Southerner can bow and smile.

His features and expression were genial and gentle, and yet his mouth was the cruellest gash I had ever seen in a man's face. It was a gash. There is no other way of describing that harsh, thin-lipped, shapeless mouth that uttered gracious things so graciously. Involuntarily I glanced at his hands. Like the mate's, they were thick-boned, broken-knuckled, and malformed. Back into his blue eyes I looked. On the surface of them was a film of light, a gloss of gentle kindness and cordiality, but behind that gloss I knew resided neither sincerity nor mercy. Behind that gloss was something cold and terrible, that lurked and waited and watched—something catlike, something inimical and deadly. Behind that gloss of soft light and of social sparkle was the live, fearful thing that had shaped that mouth into the gash it was. What I sensed behind in those eyes chilled me with its repulsiveness and strangeness.

As I faced Mr. Mellaire, and talked with him, and smiled, and exchanged amenities, I was aware of the feeling that comes to one in the forest or jungle when he knows unseen wild eyes of hunting animals are spying upon him. Frankly I was afraid of the thing ambushed behind there in the skull of Mr. Mellaire. One so as a matter of course identifies form and feature with the spirit within. But I could not do this with the second mate. His face and form and manner and suave ease were one thing, inside which he, an entirely different thing, lay hid.

I noticed Wada standing in the cabin door, evidently waiting to ask for instructions. I nodded, and prepared to follow him inside. Mr. Pike looked at me quickly and said:

"Just a moment, Mr. Pathurst."

He gave some orders to the second mate, who turned on his heel and started for'ard. I stood and waited for Mr. Pike's communication, which he did not choose to make until he saw the second mate well out of ear-shot. Then he leaned closely to me and said:

"Don't mention that little matter of my age to anybody. Each year I sign on I sign my age one year younger. I am fifty-four, now, on the articles."

"And you don't look a day older," I answered lightly, though I meant it in all sincerity.

"And I don't feel it. I can outwork and outgame the huskiest of the younglings. And don't let my age get to anybody's ears, Mr. Pathurst. Skippers are not particular for mates getting around the seventy mark. And owners neither. I've had my hopes for this ship, and I'd a-got her, I think, except for the old man decidin' to go to sea again. As if he needed the money! The old skinflint!"

"Is he well off?" I inquired.

"Well off! If I had a tenth of his money I could retire on a chicken ranch in California and live like a fighting cock—yes, if I had a fiftieth of what he's got salted away. Why, he owns more stock in all the Blackwood ships … and they've always been lucky and always earned money. I'm getting old, and it's about time I got a command. But no; the old cuss has to take it into his head to go to sea again just as the berth's ripe for me to fall into."

Again I started to enter the cabin, but was stopped by the mate.

"Mr. Pathurst? You won't mention about my age?"

"No, certainly not, Mr. Pike," I said.


Chapter 3

 

Quite chilled through, I was immediately struck by the warm comfort of the cabin. All the connecting doors were open, making what I might call a large suite of rooms or a whale house. The main-deck entrance, on the port side, was into a wide, well-carpeted hallway. Into this hallway, from the port side, opened five rooms: first, on entering, the mate's; next, the two state-rooms which had been knocked into one for me; then the steward's room; and, adjoining his, completing the row, a state-room which was used for the slop-chest.

Across the hall was a region with which I was not yet acquainted, though I knew it contained the dining-room, the bath-rooms, the cabin proper, which was in truth a spacious living-room, the captain's quarters, and, undoubtedly, Miss West's quarters. I could hear her humming some air as she bustled about with her unpacking. The steward's pantry, separated by crosshalls and by the stairway leading into the chart-room above on the poop, was placed strategically in the centre of all its operations. Thus, on the starboard side of it were the state-rooms of the captain and Miss West, for'ard of it were the dining-room and main cabin; while on the port side of it was the row of rooms I have described, two of which were mine.

I ventured down the hall toward the stern, and found it opened into the stern of the Elsinore, forming a single large apartment at least thirty-five feet from side to side and fifteen to eighteen feet in depth, curved, of course, to the lines of the ship's stern. This seemed a store-room. I noted wash-tubs, bolts of canvas, many lockers, hams and bacon hanging, a step-ladder that led up through a small hatch to the poop, and, in the floor, another hatch.

I spoke to the steward, an old Chinese, smooth-faced and brisk of movement, whose name I never learned, but whose age on the articles was fifty-six.

"What is down there?" I asked, pointing to the hatch in the floor.

"Him lazarette," he answered.

"And who eats there?" I indicated a table with two stationary sea- chairs.

"Him second table. Second mate and carpenter him eat that table."

When I had finished giving instructions to Wada for the arranging of my things I looked at my watch. It was early yet, only several minutes after three so I went on deck again to witness the arrival of the crew.

The actual coming on board from the tug I had missed, but for'ard of the amidship house I encountered a few laggards who had not yet gone into the forecastle. These were the worse for liquor, and a more wretched, miserable, disgusting group of men I had never seen in any slum. Their clothes were rags. Their faces were bloated, bloody, and dirty. I won't say they were villainous. They were merely filthy and vile. They were vile of appearance, of speech, and action.

"Come! Come! Get your dunnage into the fo'c's'le!"

Mr. Pike uttered these words sharply from the bridge above. A light and graceful bridge of steel rods and planking ran the full length of the Elsinore, starting from the poop, crossing the amidship house and the forecastle, and connecting with the forecastle-head at the very bow of the ship.

At the mate's command the men reeled about and glowered up at him, one or two starting clumsily to obey. The others ceased their drunken yammerings and regarded the mate sullenly. One of them, with a face mashed by some mad god in the making, and who was afterwards to be known by me as Larry, burst into a guffaw, and spat insolently on the deck. Then, with utmost deliberation, he turned to his fellows and demanded loudly and huskily:

"Who in hell's the old stiff, anyways?"

I saw Mr. Pike's huge form tense convulsively and involuntarily, and I noted the way his huge hands strained in their clutch on the bridge-railing. Beyond that he controlled himself.

"Go on, you," he said. "I'll have nothing out of you. Get into the fo'c's'le."

And then, to my surprise, he turned and walked aft along the bridge to where the tug was casting off its lines. So this was all his high and mighty talk of kill and drive, I thought. Not until afterwards did I recollect, as I turned aft down the deck, that I saw Captain West leaning on the rail at the break of the poop and gazing for'ard.

The tug's lines were being cast off, and I was interested in watching the manoeuvre until she had backed clear of the ship, at which moment, from for'ard, arose a queer babel of howling and yelping, as numbers of drunken voices cried out that a man was overboard. The second mate sprang down the poop-ladder and darted past me along the deck. The mate, still on the slender, white-painted bridge, that seemed no more than a spider thread, surprised me by the activity with which he dashed along the bridge to the 'midship house, leaped upon the canvas-covered long-boat, and swung outboard where he might see. Before the men could clamber upon the rail the second mate was among them, and it was he who flung a coil of line overboard.

What impressed me particularly was the mental and muscular superiority of these two officers. Despite their age—the mate sixty-nine and the second mate at least fifty—their minds and their bodies had acted with the swiftness and accuracy of steel springs. They were potent. They were iron. They were perceivers, willers, and doers. They were as of another species compared with the sailors under them. While the latter, witnesses of the happening and directly on the spot, had been crying out in befuddled helplessness, and with slow wits and slower bodies been climbing upon the rail, the second mate had descended the steep ladder from the poop, covered two hundred feet of deck, sprung upon the rail, grasped the instant need of the situation, and cast the coil of line into the water.

And of the same nature and quality had been the actions of Mr. Pike. He and Mr. Mellaire were masters over the wretched creatures of sailors by virtue of this remarkable difference of efficiency and will. Truly, they were more widely differentiated from the men under them than were the men under them differentiated from Hottentots—ay, and from monkeys.

I, too, by this time, was standing on the big hawser-bitts in a position to see a man in the water who seemed deliberately swimming away from the ship. He was a dark-skinned Mediterranean of some sort, and his face, in a clear glimpse I caught of it, was distorted by frenzy. His black eyes were maniacal. The line was so accurately flung by the second mate that it fell across the man's shoulders, and for several strokes his arms tangled in it ere he could swim clear. This accomplished, he proceeded to scream some wild harangue and once, as he uptossed his arms for emphasis, I saw in his hand the blade of a long knife.

Bells were jangling on the tug as it started to the rescue. I stole a look up at Captain West. He had walked to the port side of the poop, where, hands in pockets, he was glancing, now for'ard at the struggling man, now aft at the tug. He gave no orders, betrayed no excitement, and appeared, I may well say, the most casual of spectators.

The creature in the water seemed now engaged in taking off his clothes. I saw one bare arm, and then the other, appear. In his struggles he sometimes sank beneath the surface, but always he emerged, flourishing the knife and screaming his addled harangue. He even tried to escape the tug by diving and swimming underneath.

I strolled for'ard, and arrived in time to see him hoisted in over the rail of the Elsinore. He was stark naked, covered with blood, and raving. He had cut and slashed himself in a score of places. From one wound in the wrist the blood spurted with each beat of the pulse. He was a loathsome, non-human thing. I have seen a scared orang in a zoo, and for all the world this bestial-faced, mowing, gibbering thing reminded me of the orang. The sailors surrounded him, laying hands on him, withstraining him, the while they guffawed and cheered. Right and left the two mates shoved them away, and dragged the lunatic down the deck and into a room in the 'midship house. I could not help marking the strength of Mr. Pike and Mr. Mellaire. I had heard of the superhuman strength of madmen, but this particular madman was as a wisp of straw in their hands. Once into the bunk, Mr. Pike held down the struggling fool easily with one hand while he dispatched the second mate for marlin with which to tie the fellow's arms.

"Bughouse," Mr. Pike grinned at me. "I've seen some bughouse crews in my time, but this one's the limit."

"What are you going to do?" I asked. "The man will bleed to death."

"And good riddance," he answered promptly. "We'll have our hands full of him until we can lose him somehow. When he gets easy I'll sew him up, that's all, if I have to ease him with a clout of the jaw."

I glanced at the mate's huge paw and appreciated its anaesthetic qualities. Out on deck again, I saw Captain West on the poop, hands still in pockets, quite uninterested, gazing at a blue break in the sky to the north-east. More than the mates and the maniac, more than the drunken callousness of the men, did this quiet figure, hands in pockets, impress upon me that I was in a different world from any I had known.

Wada broke in upon my thoughts by telling me he had been sent to say that Miss West was serving tea in the cabin.


Chapter 4

 

The contrast, as I entered the cabin, was startling. All contrasts aboard the Elsinore promised to be startling. Instead of the cold, hard deck my feet sank into soft carpet. In place of the mean and narrow room, built of naked iron, where I had left the lunatic, I was in a spacious and beautiful apartment. With the bawling of the men's voices still in my ears, and with the pictures of their drink-puffed and filthy faces still vivid under my eyelids, I found myself greeted by a delicate-faced, prettily-gowned woman who sat beside a lacquered oriental table on which rested an exquisite tea-service of Canton china. All was repose and calm. The steward, noiseless-footed, expressionless, was a shadow, scarcely noticed, that drifted into the room on some service and drifted out again.

Not at once could I relax, and Miss West, serving my tea, laughed and said:

"You look as if you had been seeing things. The steward tells me a man has been overboard. I fancy the cold water must have sobered him."

I resented her unconcern.

"The man is a lunatic," I said. "This ship is no place for him. He should be sent ashore to some hospital."

"I am afraid, if we begin that, we'd have to send two-thirds of our complement ashore—one lump?

"Yes, please," I answered. "But the man has terribly wounded himself. He is liable to bleed to death."

She looked at me for a moment, her gray eyes serious and scrutinizing, as she passed me my cup; then laughter welled up in her eyes, and she shook her head reprovingly.

"Now please don't begin the voyage by being shocked, Mr. Pathurst. Such things are very ordinary occurrences. You'll get used to them. You must remember some queer creatures go down to the sea in ships. The man is safe. Trust Mr. Pike to attend to his wounds. I've never sailed with Mr. Pike, but I've heard enough about him. Mr. Pike is quite a surgeon. Last voyage, they say, he performed a successful amputation, and so elated was he that he turned his attention on the carpenter, who happened to be suffering from some sort of indigestion. Mr. Pike was so convinced of the correctness of his diagnosis that he tried to bribe the carpenter into having his appendix removed." She broke off to laugh heartily, then added: "They say he offered the poor man just pounds and pounds of tobacco to consent to the operation."

"But is it safe … for the … the working of the ship," I urged, "to take such a lunatic along?"

She shrugged her shoulders, as if not intending to reply, then said:

"This incident is nothing. There are always several lunatics or idiots in every ship's company. And they always come aboard filled with whiskey and raving. I remember, once, when we sailed from Seattle, a long time ago, one such madman. He showed no signs of madness at all; just calmly seized two boarding-house runners and sprang overboard with them. We sailed the same day, before the bodies were recovered."

Again she shrugged her shoulders.

"What would you? The sea is hard, Mr. Pathurst. And for our sailors we get the worst type of men. I sometimes wonder where they find them. And we do our best with them, and somehow manage to make them help us carry on our work in the world. But they are low … low."

As I listened, and studied her face, contrasting her woman's sensitivity and her soft pretty dress with the brute faces and rags of the men I had noticed, I could not help being convinced intellectually of the rightness of her position. Nevertheless, I was hurt sentimentally,—chiefly, I do believe, because of the very hardness and unconcern with which she enunciated her view. It was because she was a woman, and so different from the sea-creatures, that I resented her having received such harsh education in the school of the sea.

"I could not help remarking your father's—er, er sang froid during the occurrence." I ventured.

"He never took his hands from his pockets!" she cried.

Her eyes sparkled as I nodded confirmation.

"I knew it! It's his way. I've seen it so often. I remember when I was twelve years old—mother was alone—we were running into San Francisco. It was in the Dixie, a ship almost as big as this. There was a strong fair wind blowing, and father did not take a tug. We sailed right through the Golden Gate and up the San Francisco water- front. There was a swift flood tide, too; and the men, both watches, were taking in sail as fast as they could.

"Now the fault was the steamboat captain's. He miscalculated our speed and tried to cross our bow. Then came the collision, and the Dixie's bow cut through that steamboat, cabin and hull. There were hundreds of passengers, men, women, and children. Father never took his hands from his pockets. He sent the mate for'ard to superintend rescuing the passengers, who were already climbing on to our bowsprit and forecastle-head, and in a voice no different from what he'd use to ask some one to pass the butter he told the second mate to set all sail. And he told him which sails to begin with."

"But why set more sails?" I interrupted.

"Because he could see the situation. Don't you see, the steamboat was cut wide open. All that kept her from sinking instantly was the bow of the Dixie jammed into her side. By setting more sail and keeping before the wind, he continued to keep the bow of the Dixie jammed.

"I was terribly frightened. People who had sprung or fallen overboard were drowning on each side of us, right in my sight, as we sailed along up the water-front. But when I looked at father, there he was, just as I had always known him, hands in pockets, walking slowly up and down, now giving an order to the wheel—you see, he had to direct the Dixie's course through all the shipping—now watching the passengers swarming over our bow and along our deck, now looking ahead to see his way through the ships at anchor. Sometimes he did glance at the poor, drowning ones, but he was not concerned with them.

"Of course, there were numbers drowned, but by keeping his hands in his pockets and his head cool he saved hundreds of lives. Not until the last person was off the steamboat—he sent men aboard to make sure—did he take off the press of sail. And the steamboat sank at once."

She ceased, and looked at me with shining eyes for approbation.

"It was splendid," I acknowledged. "I admire the quiet man of power, though I confess that such quietness under stress seems to me almost unearthly and beyond human. I can't conceive of myself acting that way, and I am confident that I was suffering more while that poor devil was in the water than all the rest of the onlookers put together."

"Father suffers!" she defended loyally. "Only he does not show it."

I bowed, for I felt she had missed my point.


Chapter 5

 

I came out from tea in the cabin to find the tug Britannia in sight. She was the craft that was to tow us down Chesapeake Bay to sea. Strolling for'ard I noted the sailors being routed out of the forecastle by Sundry Buyers, for ever tenderly pressing his abdomen with his hands. Another man was helping Sundry Buyers at routing out the sailors. I asked Mr. Pike who the man was.

"Nancy—my bosun; ain't he a peach?" was the answer I got, and from the mate's manner of enunciation I was quite aware that "Nancy" had been used derisively.

Nancy could not have been more than thirty, though he looked as if he had lived a very long time. He was toothless and sad and weary of movement. His eyes were slate-coloured and muddy, his shaven face was sickly yellow. Narrow-shouldered, sunken-chested, with cheeks cavernously hollow, he looked like a man in the last stages of consumption. Little life as Sundry Buyers showed, Nancy showed even less life. And these were bosuns!—bosuns of the fine American sailing-ship Elsinore! Never had any illusion of mine taken a more distressing cropper.

It was plain to me that the pair of them, spineless and spunkless, were afraid of the men they were supposed to boss. And the men! Dore could never have conjured a more delectable hell's broth. For the first time I saw them all, and I could not blame the two bosuns for being afraid of them. They did not walk. They slouched and shambled, some even tottered, as from weakness or drink.

But it was their faces. I could not help remembering what Miss West had just told me—that ships always sailed with several lunatics or idiots in their crews. But these looked as if they were all lunatic or feeble-minded. And I, too, wondered where such a mass of human wreckage could have been obtained. There was something wrong with all of them. Their bodies were twisted, their faces distorted, and almost without exception they were under-sized. The several quite fairly large men I marked were vacant-faced. One man, however, large and unmistakably Irish, was also unmistakably mad. He was talking and muttering to himself as he came out. A little, curved, lop-sided man, with his head on one side and with the shrewdest and wickedest of faces and pale blue eyes, addressed an obscene remark to the mad Irishman, calling him O'Sullivan. But O'Sullivan took no notice and muttered on. On the heels of the little lop-sided man appeared an overgrown dolt of a fat youth, followed by another youth so tall and emaciated of body that it seemed a marvel his flesh could hold his frame together.

Next, after this perambulating skeleton, came the weirdest creature I have ever beheld. He was a twisted oaf of a man. Face and body were twisted as with the pain of a thousand years of torture. His was the face of an ill-treated and feeble-minded faun. His large black eyes were bright, eager, and filled with pain; and they flashed questioningly from face to face and to everything about. They were so pitifully alert, those eyes, as if for ever astrain to catch the clue to some perplexing and threatening enigma. Not until afterwards did I learn the cause of this. He was stone deaf, having had his ear-drums destroyed in the boiler explosion which had wrecked the rest of him.

I noticed the steward, standing at the galley door and watching the men from a distance. His keen, Asiatic face, quick with intelligence, was a relief to the eye, as was the vivid face of Shorty, who came out of the forecastle with a leap and a gurgle of laughter. But there was something wrong with him, too. He was a dwarf, and, as I was to come to know, his high spirits and low mentality united to make him a clown.

Mr. Pike stopped beside me a moment and while he watched the men I watched him. The expression on his face was that of a cattle-buyer, and it was plain that he was disgusted with the quality of cattle delivered.

"Something the matter with the last mother's son of them," he growled.

And still they came: one, pallid, furtive-eyed, that I instantly adjudged a drug fiend; another, a tiny, wizened old man, pinch-faced and wrinkled, with beady, malevolent blue eyes; a third, a small, well-fleshed man, who seemed to my eye the most normal and least unintelligent specimen that had yet appeared. But Mr. Pike's eye was better trained than mine.

"What's the matter with YOU?" he snarled at the man.

"Nothing, sir," the fellow answered, stopping immediately.

"What's your name?"

Mr. Pike never spoke to a sailor save with a snarl.

"Charles Davis, sir."

"What are you limping about?"

"I ain't limpin', sir," the man answered respectfully, and, at a nod of dismissal from the mate, marched off jauntily along the deck with a heodlum swing to the shoulders.

"He's a sailor all right," the mate grumbled; "but I'll bet you a pound of tobacco or a month's wages there's something wrong with him."

The forecastle now seemed empty, but the mate turned on the bosuns with his customary snarl.

"What in hell are you doing? Sleeping? Think this is a rest cure? Get in there an' rustle 'em out!"

Sundry Buyers pressed his abdomen gingerly and hesitated, while Nancy, his face one dogged, long-suffering bleakness, reluctantly entered the forecastle. Then, from inside, we heard oaths, vile and filthy, urgings and expostulations on the part of Nancy, meekly and pleadingly uttered.

I noted the grim and savage look that came on Mr. Pike's face, and was prepared for I knew not what awful monstrosities to emerge from the forecastle. Instead, to my surprise, came three fellows who were strikingly superior to the ruck that had preceded them. I looked to see the mate's face soften to some sort of approval. On the contrary, his blue eyes contracted to narrow slits, the snarl of his voice was communicated to his lips, so that he seemed like a dog about to bite.

But the three fellows. They were small men, all; and young men, anywhere between twenty-five and thirty. Though roughly dressed, they were well dressed, and under their clothes their bodily movements showed physical well-being. Their faces were keen cut, intelligent. And though I felt there was something queer about them, I could not divine what it was.

Here were no ill-fed, whiskey-poisoned men, such as the rest of the sailors, who, having drunk up their last pay-days, had starved ashore until they had received and drunk up their advance money for the present voyage. These three, on the other hand were supple and vigorous. Their movements were spontaneously quick and accurate. Perhaps it was the way they looked at me, with incurious yet calculating eyes that nothing escaped. They seemed so worldly wise, so indifferent, so sure of themselves. I was confident they were not sailors. Yet, as shore-dwellers, I could not place them. They were a type I had never encountered. Possibly I can give a better idea of them by describing what occurred.

As they passed before us they favoured Mr. Pike with the same indifferent, keen glances they gave me.

"What's your name—you?" Mr. Pike barked at the first of the trio, evidently a hybrid Irish-Jew. Jewish his nose unmistakably was. Equally unmistakable was the Irish of his eyes, and jaw, and upper lip.

The three had immediately stopped, and, though they did not look directly at one another, they seemed to be holding a silent conference. Another of the trio, in whose veins ran God alone knows what Semitic, Babylonish and Latin strains, gave a warning signal. Oh, nothing so crass as a wink or a nod. I almost doubted that I had intercepted it, and yet I knew he had communicated a warning to his fellows. More a shade of expression that had crossed his eyes, or a glint in them of sudden light—or whatever it was, it carried the message.

"Murphy," the other answered the mate.

"Sir!" Mr. Pike snarled at him.

Murphy shrugged his shoulders in token that he did not understand. It was the poise of the man, of the three of them, the cool poise that impressed me.

"When you address any officer on this ship you'll say 'sir,'" Mr. Pike explained, his voice as harsh as his face was forbidding. "Did you get THAT?"

"Yes . . sir,'' Murphy drawled with deliberate slowness. "I gotcha."

"Sir!" Mr. Pike roared.

"Sir," Murphy answered, so softly and carelessly that it irritated the mate to further bullyragging.

"Well, Murphy's too long," he announced. "Nosey'll do you aboard this craft. Got THAT?"

"I gotcha … sir," came the reply, insolent in its very softness and unconcern. "Nosey Murphy goes … sir."

And then he laughed—the three of them laughed, if laughter it might be called that was laughter without sound or facial movement. The eyes alone laughed, mirthlessly and cold-bloodedly.

Certainly Mr. Pike was not enjoying himself with these baffling personalities. He turned upon the leader, the one who had given the warning and who looked the admixture of all that was Mediterranean and Semitic.

"What's YOUR name?"

"Bert Rhine … sir," was the reply, in tones as soft and careless and silkily irritating as the other's.

"And YOU?"—this to the remaining one, the youngest of the trio, a dark-eyed, olive-skinned fellow with a face most striking in its cameo-like beauty. American-born, I placed him, of immigrants from Southern Italy—from Naples, or even Sicily.

"Twist … sir," he answered, precisely in the same manner as the others.

"Too long," the mate sneered. "The Kid'll do you. Got THAT?"

"I gotcha … sir. Kid Twist'll do me … sir."

"Kid'll do!"

"Kid … sir."

And the three laughed their silent, mirthless laugh. By this time Mr. Pike was beside himself with a rage that could find no excuse for action.

"Now I'm going to tell you something, the bunch of you, for the good of your health." The mate's voice grated with the rage he was suppressing. "I know your kind. You're dirt. D'ye get THAT? You're dirt. And on this ship you'll be treated as dirt. You'll do your work like men, or I'll know the reason why. The first time one of you bats an eye, or even looks like batting an eye, he gets his. D'ye get that? Now get out. Get along for'ard to the windlass."

Mr. Pike turned on his heel, and I swung alongside of him as he moved aft.

"What do you make of them?" I queried.

"The limit," he grunted. "I know their kidney. They've done time, the three of them. They're just plain sweepings of hell—"

Here his speech was broken off by the spectacle that greeted him on Number Two hatch. Sprawled out on the hatch were five or six men, among them Larry, the tatterdemalion who had called him "old stiff" earlier in the afternoon. That Larry had not obeyed orders was patent, for he was sitting with his back propped against his sea-bag, which ought to have been in the forecastle. Also, he and the group with him ought to have been for'ard manning the windlass.

The mate stepped upon the hatch and towered over the man.

"Get up," he ordered.

Larry made an effort, groaned, and failed to get up.

"I can't," he said.

"Sir!"

"I can't, sir. I was drunk last night an' slept in Jefferson Market. An' this mornin' I was froze tight, sir. They had to pry me loose."

"Stiff with the cold you were, eh?" the mate grinned.

"It's well ye might say it, sir," Larry answered.

"And you feel like an old stiff, eh?"

Larry blinked with the troubled, querulous eyes of a monkey. He was beginning to apprehend he knew not what, and he knew that bending over him was a man-master.

"Well, I'll just be showin' you what an old stiff feels like, anyways." Mr. Pike mimicked the other's brogue.

And now I shall tell what I saw happen. Please remember what I have said of the huge paws of Mr. Pike, the fingers much longer than mine and twice as thick, the wrists massive-boned, the arm-bones and the shoulder-bones of the same massive order. With one flip of his right hand, with what I might call an open-handed, lifting, upward slap, save that it was the ends of the fingers only that touched Larry's face, he lifted Larry into the air, sprawling him backward on his back across his sea-bag.

The man alongside of Larry emitted a menacing growl and started to spring belligerently to his feet. But he never reached his feet. Mr. Pike, with the back of same right hand, open, smote the man on the side of the face. The loud smack of the impact was startling. The mate's strength was amazing. The blow looked so easy, so effortless; it had seemed like the lazy stroke of a good-natured bear, but in it was such a weight of bone and muscle that the man went down sidewise and rolled off the hatch on to the deck.

At this moment, lurching aimlessly along, appeared O'Sullivan. A sudden access of muttering, on his part, reached Mr. Pike's ear, and Mr. Pike, instantly keen as a wild animal, his paw in the act of striking O'Sullivan, whipped out like a revolver shot, "What's that?" Then he noted the sense-struck face of O'Sullivan and withheld the blow. "Bug-house," Mr. Pike commented.

Involuntarily I had glanced to see if Captain West was on the poop, and found that we were hidden from the poop by the 'midship house.

Mr. Pike, taking no notice of the man who lay groaning on the deck, stood over Larry, who was likewise groaning. The rest of the sprawling men were on their feet, subdued and respectful. I, too, was respectful of this terrific, aged figure of a man. The exhibition had quite convinced me of the verity of his earlier driving and killing days.

"Who's the old stiff now?" he demanded.

"'Tis me, sir," Larry moaned contritely.

"Get up!"

Larry got up without any difficulty at all.

"Now get for'ard to the windlass! The rest of you!"

And they went, sullenly, shamblingly, like the cowed brutes they were.