The Trade Wind by Morgan Robertson
The orgy was finished. The last sea-song had resounded over the smooth waters of the bay; the last drunken shout, oath, and challenge were voiced; the last fight ended in helplessness and maudlin amity, and the red-shirted men were sprawled around on the moonlit deck, snoring. Though the barrel of rum broached on the main-hatch was but slightly lowered, their sleep was heavy; scurvy-tainted men at the end of a Cape Horn passage may not drink long or deeply. Some lay as they fell—face upward; others on their sides for a while, then to roll over on their backs and so remain until the sleep was done; for in no other position may the human body rest easy on a hard bed with no pillow. And as they slept through the tropic night the full moon in the east rose higher and higher, passed overhead and disappeared behind a thickening haze in the western sky; but before it had crossed the meridian its cold, chemical rays had worked disastrously on the eyes of the sleeping men.
Captain Swarth, prone upon the poop-deck, was the first to waken. There was pain in his head, pain in his eyes,—which were swollen,—and a whistling tumult of sound in his ears coming from the Plutonian darkness surrounding him, while a jarring vibration of the deck beneath him apprised his awakening brain that the anchor was dragging. As he staggered to his feet a violent pressure of wind hurled him against the wheel, to which he clung, staring into the blackness to windward.
"All hands, there!" he roared! "Up with you all! Go forward and pay out on the chain!"
Shouts, oaths, and growls answered him, and he heard the nasal voice of his mate repeating his order. "Angel," he called, "get the other anchor over and give her all of both chains."
"Aye, aye, sir," answered the mate. "Send a lantern forrard, Bill. Can't see our noses."
"Steward," yelled the captain, "where are you? Light up a deck-lantern and the binnacle. Bear a hand."
He heard the steward's voice close to him, and the sound of the binnacle lights being removed from their places, then the opening and closing of the cabin companionway. He could see nothing, but knew that the steward had gone below to his store-room. In a minute more a shriek came from the cabin. It rang out again and again, and soon sounded from the companionway: "I'm blind, I'm blind, capt'n. I can't see. I lit the lantern and burned my fingers; but I can't see the light. I'm blind." The steward's voice ended in a howl.
"Shut up, you blasted fool," answered Captain Swarth; "get down there and light up."
"Where's that light?" came the mate's voice in a yell from amidships. "Shank-painter's jammed, Bill. Can't do a thing without a light."
"Come aft here and get it. Steward's drunk."
The doors in the forward part of the cabin slammed, and the mate's profanity mingled with the protest of the steward in the cabin. Then shouts came from forward, borne on the gale, and soon followed by the shuffling of feet as the men groped their way aft and climbed the poop steps.
"We're stone-blind, cappen," they wailed. "We lit the fo'c'sle lamp, an' it don't show up. We can't see it. Nobody can see it. We're all blind."
"Come down here, Bill," called the mate from below.
As Captain Swarth felt his way down the stairs a sudden shock stilled the vibrations caused by the dragging anchor, and he knew that the chain had parted.
"Stand by on deck, Angel; we're adrift," he said. "It's darker than ten thousand black cats. What's the matter with you?"
"Can you see the light, Bill? I can't. I'm blind as the steward, or I'm drunker."
"No. Is it lit? Where? The men say they're blind, too."
"Here, forrard end o' the table."
The captain reached this end, searched with his hands, and burned them on the hot glass of a lantern. He removed the bowl and singed the hair on his wrists. The smell came to his nostrils.
"I'm blind, too," he groaned. "Angel, it's the moon. We're moonstruck—moon-blind. And we're adrift in a squall. Steward," he said as he made his way toward the stairs, "light the binnacle, and stop that whining. Maybe some one can see a little."
When he reached the deck he called to the men, growling, cursing, and complaining on the poop. "Down below with you all!" he ordered. "Pass through and out the forrard door. If any man sees the light on the cabin table, let that man sing out."
They obeyed him. Twenty men passed through the cabin and again climbed the poop stairs, their lamentations still troubling the night. But not one had seen the lantern. Some said that they could not open their eyes at all; some complained that their faces were swollen; others that their mouths were twisted up to where their ears should be; and one man averred that he could not breathe through his nose.
"It'll only last a few days, boys," said the captain, bravely; "we shouldn't have slept in the moonlight in these latitudes. Drop the lead over, one of you—weather side. The devil knows where we're drifting, and the small anchor won't hold now; we'll save it." Captain Swarth was himself again.
But not so his men. They had become children, with children's fear of the dark. Even the doughty Angel Todd was oppressed by the first horror of the situation, speaking only when spoken to. Above the rushing sound of wind and the smacking of short seas could be heard the voice of the steward in the cabin, while an occasional heart-borne malediction or groan—according to temperament—added to the distraction on deck. One man, more self-possessed than the rest, had dropped the lead over the side. An able seaman needs no eyes to heave the lead.
"A quarter six," he sang out, and then, plaintively: "We'll fetch up on the Barrier, capt'n. S'pose we try an' get the other hook over."
"Yes, yes," chorused some of the braver spirits. "It may hold. We don't want to drown on the reef. Let's get it over. Chain's overhauled."
"Let the anchor alone," roared the captain. "No anchor-chain'll hold in this. Keep that lead a-going, Tom Plate, if it's you. What bottom do you find?"
"Quarter less six," called the leadsman. "Soft bottom. We're shoaling."
"Angel," said the captain to his mate, who stood close to him, "we're blowing out the south channel. We've been drifting long enough to fetch up on the reef if it was in our way. There's hard bottom in the north channel, and the twenty-fathom lead wouldn't reach it half a length from the rocks."
The mate had nothing to say.
"And the south channel lay due southeast from our moorings," continued the captain. "Wind's nor'west, I should say, right down from the hilltops; and I've known these blasted West India squalls to last three days, blowing straight and hard. This has the smell of a gale in it already. Keep that lead a-going, there."
"No bottom," answered the leadsman.
"Good enough," said the captain, cheerfully.
"No bottom," was called repeatedly, until the captain sang out: "That'll do the lead." Then the leadsman coiled up the line, and they heard his rasping, unpleasant voice, cursing softly but fiercely to himself. Captain Swarth descended the stairs, silenced the steward with a blow, felt of the clock hands, secured his pistols, and returned to the deck.
"We're at sea," he said. "Two hands to the wheel. Loose and set the foretopmast-staysails and the foretopsail. Staysail first. Let a man stay in the slings to square the yard by the feel as it goes up."
"What for?" they answered complainingly. "What ye goin' to do? We can't see. Why didn't you bring to when you had bottom under you?"
"No arguments!" yelled Swarth. "Forrard with you. What are you doing on the poop, anyway? If you can't see, you can feel, and what more do you want? Jump, now. Set that head-sail and get her 'fore the wind—quick, or I'll drop some of you."
They knew their captain, and they knew the ropes—on the blackest of dark nights. Blind men climbed aloft, and felt for foot-ropes and gaskets. Blind men on deck felt for sheets, halyards, and braces, and in ten minutes the sails were set, and the brig was charging wildly along before the gale, with two blind men at the wheel endeavoring to keep her straight by the right and left pressure of the wind on their faces.
"Keep the wind as much on the port quarter as you can without broaching to," yelled the captain in their ears, and they answered and did their best. She was a clean-lined craft and steered easily; yet the off-shore sea which was rising often threw her around until nearly in the trough. The captain remained by them, advising and encouraging.
"Where're ye goin', Bill?" asked the mate, weakly, as he scrambled up to him.
"Right out to sea, and, unless we get our eyes back soon, right across to the Bight of Benin, three thousand miles from here. We've no business on this coast in this condition. What ails you, Angel? Lost your nerve?"
"Mebbe, Bill." The mate's voice was hoarse and strained. "This is new to me. I'm falling—falling—all the time."
"So am I. Brace up. We'll get used to it. Get a couple of hands aft and heave the log. We take our departure from Kittredge Point, Barbados Island, at six o'clock this morning of the 10th October. We'll keep a Geordie's log-book—with a jack-knife and a stick."
They hove the log for him. It was marked for a now useless 28-second sand-glass, which Captain Swarth replaced by a spare chronometer, held to his ear in the companionway. It ticked even seconds, and when twenty-eight of them had passed he called, "Stop." The markings on the line that had slipped through the mate's fingers indicated an eight-knot speed.
"Seven, allowing for wild steering," said the captain when he had stowed away his chronometer and returned to the deck. "Angel, we know we're going about sou'east by east, seven knots. There's practically no variation o' the compass in these seas, and that course'll take us clear of Cape St. Roque. Just as fast as the men can stand it at the wheel, we'll pile on canvas and get all we can out o' this good wind. If it takes us into the southeast trades, well and good. We can feel our way across on the trade-wind—unless we hit something, of course. You see, it blows almost out of the east on this side, and 'll haul more to the sou'east and south'ard as we get over. By the wind first, then we'll square away as we need to. We'll know the smell o' the trades—nothing like it on earth—and the smell o' the Gold Coast, Ivory Coast, Slave Coast, and the Kameruns. And I'll lay odds we can feel the heat o' the sun in the east and west enough to make a fair guess at the course. But it won't come to that. Some of us 'll be able to see pretty soon."
It was wild talk, but the demoralized mate needed encouraging. He answered with a steadier voice: "Lucky we got in grub and water yesterday."
"Right you are, Angel. Now, in case this holds on to us, why, we'll find some of our friends over in the Bight, and they'll know by our rig that something's wrong. Flanders is somewhere on the track,—you know he went back to the nigger business,—and Chink put a slave-deck in his hold down Rio way last spring. And old man Slack—I did him a service when I crippled the corvette that was after him, and he's grateful. Hope we'll meet him. I'd rather meet Chink than Flanders in the dark, and I'd trust a Javanese trader before either. If either of them come aboard we'll be ready to use their eyes for our benefit, not let 'em use ours for theirs. Flanders once said he liked the looks of this brig."
"S'pose we run foul of a bulldog?"
"We'll have to chance it. This coast's full o' them, too. Great guns, man! Would you drift around and do nothing? Anywhere east of due south there's no land nearer than Cape Orange, and that's three hundred and fifty miles from here. Beginning to-morrow noon, we'll take deep-sea soundings until we strike the trade-wind."
The negro cook felt his way through the preparing of meals and served them on time. The watches were set, and sail was put on the brig as fast as the men became accustomed to the new way of steering, those relieved always imparting what they had learned to their successors. Before nightfall on that first day they were scudding under foresail, topsail and topgallantsail and maintopsail, with the spanker furled as useless, and the jib adding its aid to the foretopmast-staysail in keeping the brig before the quartering seas which occasionally climbed aboard. The bowsprit light was rigged nightly; they hove the log every two hours; and Captain Swarth made scratches and notches on the sliding-hood of the companionway, while careful to wind his chronometer daily.
But, in spite of the cheer of his indomitable courage and confidence, his men, with the exception of a few, dropped into a querulous, whining discontent. Mr. Todd, spurred by his responsibility, gradually came around to something like his old arbitrary self. Yank Tate, the carpenter, maintained through it all a patient faith in the captain, and, in so far as his influence could be felt, acted as a foil to the irascible, fault-finding Tom Plate, the forecastle lawyer, the man who had been at the lead-line at Barbados. But the rest of them were dazed and nerveless, too shaken in brain and body to consider seriously Tom's proposition to toss the afterguard overboard and beach the brig on the South American coast, where they could get fresh liver of shark, goat, sheep, or bullock, which even a "nigger" knew was the only cure for moon-blindness.
They had not yet recovered from the unaccustomed debauch; their clouded brains seemed too large for their skulls, and their eyeballs ached in their sockets, while they groped tremblingly from rope to rope at the behest of the captain or mate.
So Tom marked himself for future attention by insolent and disapproving comments on the orders of his superiors, and a habit of moving swiftly to another part of the deck directly he had spoken, which prevented the blind and angry captain from finding him in the crowd.
Dim as must have been the light of day through the pelting rain and storm-cloud, it caused increased pain in their eyes, and they bound them with their neckerchiefs, applying meanwhile such remedies as forecastle lore could suggest. The captain derided these remedies, but frankly confessed his ignorance of anything but time as a means of cure. And so they existed and suffered through a three days' damp gale and a fourth day's dead calm, when the brig rolled scuppers under with all sail set, ready for the next breeze. It came, cool, dry, and faint at first, then brisker—the unmistakable trade-wind. They boxed the brig about and braced sharp on the starboard tack, steering again by the feel of the wind and the rattling of shaking leeches aloft. The removal of bandages to ascertain the sun's position by sense of light or increase of pain brought agonized howls from the experimenters, and this deterred the rest. Not even by its warmth could they locate it. It was overhead at noon and useless as a guide. In the early morning and late afternoon, when it might have indicated east and west, its warmth was overcome by the coolness of the breeze. So they steered on blindly, close-hauled on the starboard tack, nearly as straight a course as though they were whole men.
They took occasional deep-sea soundings with the brig shaking in the wind, but found no bottom, and at the end of fifteen days a longer heave to the ground-swell was evidence to Captain Swarth's mind that he was passing Cape St. Roque, and the soundings were discontinued.
"No use bothering about St. Paul Rocks or the Rocas, Angel," said he. "They rise out o' the deep sea, and if we're to hit, soundings won't warn us in time. I take it we'll pass between them and well north of Ascension." So he checked in the yards a little and brought the wind more abeam.
One day Yank Tate appeared at the captain's elbow, and suggested, in a low voice, that he examine the treasure-chests in the 'tween-deck. "I was down stowing away some oakum," he said, "an' I was sure I heard the lid close; but nobody answered me, an' I couldn't feel anybody."
Captain Swarth descended to his cabin and found his keys missing; then he and the carpenter visited the chests. They were locked tight, and as heavy as ever.
"Some one has the keys, Yank, and has very likely raided the diamonds. We can't do anything but wait. He can't get away. Keep still about it."
The air became cooler as they sailed on; and judging that the trade-wind was blowing more from the south than he had allowed for, the captain brought the wind squarely abeam, and the brig sailed faster. Still, it was too cool for the latitude, and it puzzled him, until a man came aft and groaned that he had lifted his bandage to bathe his eyes, and had unmistakably seen the sun four points off the port quarter; but his eyes were worse now, and he could not do it again.
"Four points off!" exclaimed Swarth. "Four o'clock in the afternoon. That's just about where the sun ought to be heading due east, and far enough south o' the line to bring this cool weather. We're not far from Ascension. Never knew the sou'east trade to act like this before. Must ha' been blowing out o' the sou'west half the time."
A week later they were hove to on the port tack under double-reefed topsails, with a cold gale of wind screaming through the rigging and cold green seas boarding their weather bow. It was the first break in the friendly trade-wind, and Swarth confessed to himself—though not to his men—that he was out of his reckoning; but one thing he was sure of—that this was a cyclone with a dangerous center.
The brig labored heavily during the lulls as the seas rose, and when the squalls came, flattening them to a level, she would lie down like a tired animal, while the æolian song aloft prevented orders being heard unless shouted near by. Captain Swarth went below and smashed the glass of an aneroid barometer (newly invented and lately acquired from an outward-bound Englishman), in which he had not much confidence, but which might tell him roughly of the air-density. Feeling of the indicator, and judging by the angle it made with the center,—marked by a ring at the top,—he found a measurement which startled him. Setting the adjustable hand over the indicator for future reference, he returned to the deck, ill at ease, and ordered the topsails goose-winged. By the time the drenched and despairing blind men had accomplished this, a further lowering of the barometer induced him to furl topsails and foretopmast-staysail, and allow the brig to ride under a storm-spanker. Then the increasing wind required that this also should be taken in, and its place filled by a tarpaulin lashed to the weather main-rigging.
"Angel," said the captain, shouting into the mate's ear, "there's only one thing to account for this. We're on the right tack for the Southern Ocean; but the storm-center is overtaking us faster than we can drift away from it. We must scud out of its way."
So they took in the tarpaulin and set the foretopmast-staysail again, and, with the best two helmsmen at the wheel, they sped before the tempest for four hours, during which there was no increase of the wind and no change in the barometer; it still remained at its lowest reading.
"Keep the wind as much on the port quarter as you dare," ordered Swarth. "We're simply sailing around the center, and perhaps in with the vortex."
They obeyed him as they could, and in a few hours more there was less fury in the blast and a slight rise in the barometer.
"I was right," said the captain. "The center will pass us now. We're out of its way."
They brought the brig around amid a crashing of seas over the port rail, and stowing the staysail, pinned her again on the port tack with the tarpaulin. But a few hours of it brought an increase of wind and a fall of the barometer.
"What in d—nation does it mean, Angel?" cried the captain, desperately. "By all laws of storms we ought to drift away from the center."
The mate could not tell; but a voice out of the night, barely distinguishable above the shrieking wind, answered him.
Then there was the faintest disturbance in the sounds of the sea, indicating the rushing by of a large craft.
"What!" roared Swarth. "The Gulf Stream? I've lost my reckoning. Where am I? Ship ahoy! Where am I?"
There was no answer, and he stumbled down to the main-deck among his men, followed by the mate.
"Draw a bucket of water, one of you," he ordered.
This was done, and he immersed his hand. The water was warm.
"Gulf-Stream," he yelled frantically, "Gulf Stream—how in h—l did we get up here? We ought to be down near St. Helena. Angel, come here. Let's think. We sailed by the wind on the southeast trade for—no, we didn't. It was the northeast trade. We caught the northeast trade, and we've circled all over the Western Ocean."
"You're a bully full-rigged navigator, you are," came the sneering, rasping voice of Tom Plate from the crowd. "Why didn't you drop your hook at Barbados, and give us a chance for our eyes?"
The captain lunged toward him on the reeling deck; but Tom moved on.
"Your time is coming, Tom Plate," he shouted insanely; then he climbed to the poop, and when he had studied the situation awhile, called his bewildered mate up to him.
"We were blown out of the north entrance o' the bay, Angel, instead of the south, as we thought. I was fooled by the soundings. At this time o' the year Barbados is about on the thermal equator—half-way between the trades. This is a West India cyclone, and we're somewhere around Hatteras. No wonder the port tack drifted us into the center. Storms revolve against the sun north o' the line, and with the sun south of it. Oh, I'm the two ends and the bight of a d—d fool! Wear ship!" he added in a thundering roar.
They put the brig on the starboard tack, and took hourly soundings with the deep-sea lead. As they hauled it in for the fourth time, the men called that the water was cold; and on the next sounding the lead reached bottom at ninety fathoms.
"We're inside the Stream and the hundred-fathom curve, Angel. The barometer's rising now. The storm-center's leaving us, and we're drifting ashore," said the captain. "I know pretty well where I am. These storms follow an invariable track, and I judge the center is to the east of us, moving north. That's why we didn't run into it when we thought we were dodging it. We'll square away with the wind on the starboard quarter now, and if we pick up the Stream and the glass don't rise, I'll be satisfied to turn in. I'm about fagged out."
"It's too much for me, Bill," answered Mr. Todd, wearily. "I can navigate; but this ain't navigation. This is blindman's-buff."
But he set the head-sail for his captain, and again the brig fled before the wind. Only once did they round to for soundings, and this time found no bottom; so they squared away, and when, a few hours later, the seas came aboard warm, Swarth was confident enough of his position to allow his mind to dwell on pettier details of his business.
It was nearly breakfast-time now, and the men would soon be eating. With his pistols in his coat pockets he stationed himself beside the scuttle of the fore-hatch,—the entrance to the forecastle,—and waited long and patiently, listening to occasional comments on his folly and bad seamanship which ascended from below, until the harsh voice of Tom Plate on the stairs indicated his coming up. He reached toward Tom with one hand, holding a cocked pistol with the other; but Tom slid easily out of his wavering grasp and fled along the deck. He followed his footsteps until he lost them, and picked up instead the angry plaint of the negro cook in the galley amidships.
"I do' know who you are, but you want to git right out o' my galley, now. You heah me? I'se had enough o' dis comin' inter my galley. Gwan, now! Is you de man dat's all time stealin' my coffee? I'll gib you coffee, you trash! Take dat!"
Captain Swarth reached the galley door in time to receive on the left side of his face a generous share of a pot of scalding coffee. It brought an involuntary shriek of agony from him; then he clung to the galley-lashings and spoke his mind. Still in torment, he felt his way through the galley; but the cook and the intruder had escaped by the other door and made no sound.
All that day and the night following he chose to lie in his darkened state-room, with his face bandaged in oily cloths, while Yank Tate stood his watch. In the morning he removed the bandages and took in the sight of his state-room fittings: the bulkhead, his desk, chronometer, cutlass, and clothing hanging on the hooks. It was a joyous sight, and he shouted in gladness. He could not see with his right eye and but dimly with his left, but a scrutiny of his face in a mirror disclosed deep lines that had not been there, distorted eyelids, and the left side where the coffee had scalded puffed to a large, angry blister. He tied up his face, leaving his left eye free, and went on deck.
The wind had moderated, but on all sides was a wild gray waste of heaving, white-crested combers, before which the brig was still scudding under the staysail. Three miles off on the port bow was a large, square-bowed, square-yarded ship, hove to and heading away from them, which might be a frigate or a subsidized Englishman with painted ports; but in either case she could not be investigated now. He looked at the compass. The brig was heading about southeast, and his judgment was confirmed. Two haggard-faced men with bandaged eyes were grinding the wheel to starboard and port, and keeping the brig's yaws within two points each way—good work for blind men. Angel Todd stood near, his chin resting in his hand and his elbow on the companionway. Forward the watch sat about in coils of rope and sheltered nooks or walked the deck unsteadily, and a glance aloft showed the captain his rigging hanging in bights and yards pointed every way. She was unkempt as a wreck. The same glance apprised him of an English ensign, union down, tattered and frayed to half its size, at the end of the standing spanker-gaff, with the halyards made fast high on the royal-backstay, above the reach of bungling blind fingers. Tom Plate was coming aft with none of the hesitancy of the blind, and squinting aloft at the damaged distress-signal. He secured another ensign—American—from the flag-locker in the booby-hatch, mounted the rail, and hoisted it, union down, in place of the other. Then he dropped to the deck and looked into the glaring left eye and pepper-box pistol of Captain Swarth, who had descended on him.
"Hands up, Tom Plate, over your head—quick, or I'll blow your brains out!"
White in the face and open-mouthed, Tom obeyed.
"Mr. Todd," called the captain, "come down here—port main-rigging."
The mate came quickly, as he always did when he heard the prefix to his name. It was used only in emergencies.
"What soundings did you get at the lead when we were blowing out?" asked the captain. "What water did you have when you sang out 'a quarter six' and 'a quarter less six'?"
"N-n-one, capt'n. There warn't any bottom. I jess wanted to get you to drop the other anchor and hold her off the reef."
"Got him tight, cappen?" asked the mate. "Shall I help you hold 'im?"
"I've got my sight back. I've got Tom Plate under my gun. How long have you been flying signals of distress, Tom Plate?"
"Ever since I could see, capt'n," answered the trembling sailor.
"How long is that?"
"Second day out, sir."
"What's your idea in keeping still about it? What could you gain by being taken aboard a man-of-war?"
"I didn't want to have all the work piled on me jess 'cause I could see, capt'n. I never thought anybody could ever see again. I slept partly under No. 2 gun that night, and didn't get it so bad."
"You sneaked into my room, got my keys, and raided the treasure-chests. You know what the rules say about that? Death without trial."
"No, I didn't, capt'n; I didn't."
"Search him, Mr. Todd."
The search brought to light a tobacco-pouch in which were about fifty unset diamonds and a few well-jeweled solid-gold ornaments, which the captain pocketed.
"Not much of a haul, considering what you left behind," he said calmly. "I suppose you only took what you could safely hide and swim with."
"I only took my share, sir; I did no harm; I didn't want to be driftin' round wi' blind men. How'd I know anybody could ever see any more?"
"Sad mistake, Tom. All we wanted, it seems, was a good scalding with hot coffee." He mused a few moments, then continued: "There must be some medical virtue in hot coffee which the doctors haven't learned, and—well—Tom, you've earned your finish."
"You won't do it, capt'n; you can't do it. The men won't have it; they're with me," stuttered the man.
"Possibly they are. I heard you all growling down the hatch yesterday morning. You're a pack of small-minded curs. I'll get another crew. Mr. Todd," he said to the listening mate, "steward told me he was out of coffee, so we'll break a bag out o' the lazarette. It's a heavy lift—two hundred pounds and over—'bout the weight of a man; so we'll hoist it up. Let Tom, here, rig a whip to the spanker-gaff. He can see."
"Aye, aye, sir," answered the mate. "Get a single block and a strap and a gant-line out o' the bo's'n's locker, Tom."
"Is it all right, capt'n?" asked Tom, lowering his hands with a deep sigh of relief. "I did what seemed right, you know."
"Rig that whip," said Swarth, turning his back and ascending the poop.
Tom secured the gear, and climbing aloft and out the gaff, fastened the block directly over the lazarette-hatch, just forward of the binnacle. Then he overhauled the rope until it reached the deck, and descended.
"Come up here on the poop," called the captain; and he came.
"Shall I go down and hook on, sir?" he asked zealously.
"Make a hangman's noose in the end of the rope," said Swarth.
"Eh—what—a runnin' bowline—a timber-hitch? No, no," he yelled, as he read the captain's face. "You can't do it. The men——"
"Make a hangman's knot in the end of the rope," thundered the captain, his pistol at Tom's ear.
With a face like that of a death's-head he tied the knot.
"Pass it round your neck and draw it tight."
Hoarse, inarticulate screams burst from the throat of the man, ended by a blow on the side of his face by the captain's iron-hard fist. He fell, and lay quiet, while Swarth himself adjusted the noose and bound the hands with his own handkerchief. The men at the wheel strained their necks this way and that, with tense waves of conflicting expressions flitting across their weary faces, and the men forward, aroused by the screams, stood about in anxious expectancy until they heard Swarth's roar: "Lay aft here, the watch!"
They came, feeling their way along by rail and hatch.
"Clap on to that gant-line at the main fife-rail, and lift this bag of coffee out o' the lazarette," sang out the captain.
They found the loose rope, tautened it, hooked the bight into an open sheave in the stanchion, and listlessly walked forward with it. When they had hoisted the unconscious Tom to the gaff, Swarth ordered: "Belay, coil up the fall, and go forrard."
They obeyed, listlessly as ever, with no wondering voice raised to inquire why they had not lowered the coffee they had hoisted.
Captain Swarth looked at the square-rigged ship, now on the port quarter—an ill-defined blur to his imperfect vision. "Fine chance we'd have had," he muttered, "if that happened to be a bulldog. Angel," he said, as the mate drew near, "hot coffee is good for moon-blindness, taken externally, as a blistering agent—a counter-irritant. We have no fly-blisters in the medicine-chest, but smoking-hot grease must be just as good, if not better than either. Have the cook heat up a potful, and you get me out a nice small paint-brush."
Forty-eight hours later, when the last wakening vision among the twenty men had taken cognizance of the grisly object aloft, the gaff was guyed outboard, the rope cut at the fife-rail, and the body of Tom Plate dropped, feet first, to the sea.
Then when Captain Swarth's eyes permitted he took an observation or two, and, after a short lecture to his crew on the danger of sleeping in tropic moonlight, shaped his course for Barbados Island, to take up the burden of his battle with fate where the blindness had forced him to lay it down; to scheme and to plan, to dare and to do, to war and to destroy, against the inevitable coming of the time when fate should prove the stronger—when he would lose in a game where one must always win or die.