THE BLOOD SHIP
Grosset & Dunlap
Publishers ————— New York
Made in the United States of America
Copyright, 1922, by
W. J. Watt & Company
Printed in the United States of America
THE BLOOD SHIP
It was the writing guy who drew this story out of Captain Shreve. He
talked so much I think the Old Man spun the yarn just to shut him up.
He had talked ever since his arrival on board, early that morning, with
a letter from the owners' agent, and the announcement he intended
making the voyage with us. He had weak lungs, he said, and was in
search of mild, tropical breezes. Also, he was seeking local color,
and whatever information he could pick up about "King" Waldon.
He had heard of the death of "King" Waldon, down in Samoa—Waldon, the
trader, of the vanishing race of island adventurers—and he expected to
travel about the south seas investigating the "king's" past, so he
could write a book about the old viking. He had heard that Captain
Shreve had known Waldon. Hence, he was honoring a cargo carrier with
his presence instead of taking his ease upon a mail-boat.
Captain Shreve must tell him all he knew about the "king." He was
intensely interested in the subject. Splendid material, you know.
That romantic legend of Waldon's arrival in the islands—too good to be
true, and certainly too good not to put into a book. Was Captain
Shreve familiar with the tale? How this fellow, Waldon, sailed into a
Samoan harbor in an open boat, his only companion his beautiful young
wife? Imagine—this man and woman coming from nowhere, sailing in from
the open sea in a small boat, never telling whence they came!
He said this was the stuff to go into his book. Romance, mystery! It
was quite as important as the later and better known incidents in the
"king's" life. That was why Captain Shreve must tell him all he knew
about the fellow. If he could only get at the beginning of the
"king's" career in the islands. Where did the fellow come from? Why
should a man bring his bride into an uncivilized and lawless section of
the world, and settle down for life? There must be a story in that.
Ah, yes, and he was the man who could properly do it.
Well, that was the way that writer talked. He talked so steadily
nobody could slide a word in edgeways. Yet he said he wanted
information. We wondered. If the ability to deliver an unending
monologue, consisting chiefly of the ninth letter in the alphabet, is
any sign of lung power, that chap didn't need any cod-liver oil or sea
air. He could have given up writing, and still have made a good living
ashore as a blacksmith's bellows! And as for the local color and
information—well, he blinked through his black rimmed glasses at our
immaculate decks, and said it was a pity they built ships for use and
not for looks nowadays, and went on talking about himself, and what he
could do with "King" Waldon.
Briggs, the mate, confided to me in a soft aside that the chap was
making the voyage because he knew he had an audience which couldn't
escape—unless it jumped over the side. Captain Shreve didn't confide;
his face kept its accustomed expression of serenity, and he made no
attempt to stem the author's flood of words. I was somewhat surprised
by this meekness, for our Old Man is a great hand to puncture a
windbag; but then, I reflected, the writing guy, being a passenger, was
in the nature of a guest on board, and, according to Captain Shreve's
code, a man to be humored.
We lay in the Stream, with a half dozen hours to pass ere we proceeded
to sea. It was Sunday, so we were idle, the four of us lounging on the
lower bridge deck—the Captain, Briggs, myself, and this human
phonograph. It was a pleasant day, and we would have enjoyed the loaf
in the warm afternoon sunshine, had it not been for the unending drivel
of the passenger. I enjoyed it anyway, for even though the ears be
filled with a buzzing, the eyes are free, and San Francisco Bay is an
". . . and the critics all agree," the passenger rambled on, "that my
genius is proved by my amazingly accurate portraits of character. I
have the gift. That is why I shall do 'King' Waldon so well. I need
but a mental image of the man to make him live again. You must tell me
what he looked like, Captain. Is it true, as I have been told, he was
such a giant of a man, and possessed of such enormous physical
strength? And that his hair retained its yellow luster even in old
age? And that he had a great scar on his face, or head, about which he
never spoke? Ah, yes, you must tell me about him, Captain."
Captain Shreve grunted at this—the first sound he had been able to
squeeze into the talk for half an hour. But the author did not pause;
in fact he hastened on, as though determined to forestall any
interruption. Talk! I don't know when that fellow found any time to
write. He was too eager to tell the world about his gift.
"You know," says he, "I need but a few little intimate facts about
'King' Waldon's appearance and character, and I can make him stalk
through my story as truly alive as when he was in the flesh. If he
were alive I should not need your assistance, Captain; one look at the
man and I could paint him in his true colors. I have that gift. Not
men alone—I am able to invest even inanimate objects with personality.
A house, a street, or a—yes, even a ship. Even this ship. Now, this
Captain Shreve sat up straight in his chair. I thought he was rasped
by the fellow's slur, for he is very proud of his ship. But it was
something else that rubbed the expression of patient resignation from
his face; he was staring over the starboard rail with an expression of
lively interest. I followed his gaze with mine, but saw only a
ferryboat in the distance, and, close by, a big red-stack tug towing a
dilapidated coal hulk.
The Captain's eyes were upon this tow. He tugged excitedly at his
beard. "Well, by George, what a coincidence!" he exclaimed. He turned
to the mate, his bright eyes snapping. "Look, Briggs! Do you know
her? By George, do you recognize her?"
The writing guy was disgusted by this interruption, just when he was
going to prove his genius. Briggs shifted his quid, spat, and
inspected the passing hulk with extreme deliberation. I looked at her
too, wondering what there was about an old coal-carrier that could
pierce Captain Shreve's accustomed phlegm.
The tow was passing abreast, but a couple of hundred yards distant.
The tug was shortening the line, and on the hulk's forecastle-head a
couple of hands were busy at a cathead, preparing to let go anchor.
She was ill-favored enough to look at, that hulk—weather-beaten,
begrimed, stripped of all that makes a ship sightly. Nothing but the
worn-out old hull was left. An eyesore, truly. Yet, any seaman could
see with half an eye she had once been a fine ship. The clipper lines
Suddenly Briggs sat up in his chair, and exclaimed, "Well, blast my
eyes, so it is!" He nodded to the Captain, and then returned his
regard to the hulk, his nostrils working with interest. "So it is! So
it is! Well, blast my——"
"Is what?" I demanded. "What do you two see in that old hull that is
Just then the writing guy decided we had monopolized the conversation
long enough. So he seized the opportunity to exercise for our benefit
the rare gift he was endowed with. He glanced patronizingly at the
coal hulk, wrinkled his nose in disapprobation of her appearance, and
delivered himself in an oracular voice.
"What a horrible looking old tub! Not a difficult task to invest her
with her true personality. An old workhorse—eh? A broken down old
plug, built for heavy labor, and now rounding out an uninspiring
existence by performing the most menial of tasks. An apt
I noticed a faint smile crack the straight line of Captain Shreve's
mouth. But it was Briggs who was unable to contain himself. He turned
full upon the poor scribe, and plainly voiced his withering scorn.
"Why, blast my eyes, young feller, if you weren't as blind as a bat
you'd know you were talking rot! 'A workhorse!' you say. 'A broken
down old plug!' Blast me, man, look at the lines of her!"
The passenger flushed, and stared uncomprehendingly at the poor old
hulk. The tug had gone, and she was lying anchored, now, a few hundred
yards off our starboard bow. A sorry sight. The author could see
nothing but her ugliness.
"Why, she is just a dirty old scow—" he commenced.
"Blast me, can't you even guess what she once was?" went on Briggs,
relentlessly. "Well, young feller, that dirty old scow—as you call
her—is the Golden Bough!"
The passenger only blinked. The name meant nothing to him. But it did
"The Golden Bough!" I echoed. "Surely you don't mean the Golden
"But I do," said Briggs. He waved his hand. "There she is—the
Golden Bough. All that is left of the finest ship that ever smashed
a record with the American flag at her gaff. She's a coal hulk now,
but once she was the finest vessel afloat. Eh, Captain?"
Captain Shreve nodded affirmation. Then he turned to the writing guy,
and courteously salved the chap's self-esteem.
"Small wonder you overlooked her build; it takes a sailor's eye for
such things. And really, your description strikes home to me. We are
all workhorses, are we not, we of the sea? And time breaks down us
all, man and ship." The Old Man was staring at the hulk, and his voice
was sorrowful. "Aye, but time has used her cruelly! What a pity—she
was so bonny!"
The writing guy perked up at this. "Well, you know, I see her through
a layman's eyes," he explained. "And she does look so old, and dirty,
Briggs snorted, and the Captain hastened to continue, cutting off the
mate's hard words. "Oh, yes, she looks old and dirty—no mistake. But
time was when no ship afloat could match her for either looks or speed.
Aye, she was a beauty. Remember how she looked in the old days,
Briggs did. He emphatically blasted his eyes to the effect that he
remembered very well the Golden Bough in the days of her glory, the
days when she was no workhorse, but a double-planked racehorse of the
seas, as anyone but a lubber could see she had once been, just by
looking at her. Yes, blast his eyes, he remembered her. He remembered
one time running the Easting down in the Josiah T. Flynn, a smart
ship, with a reputation, and they were cracking on as they would never
dare crack, on in these degenerate days, when, blast his eyes, the
Golden Bough came up on them, and passed, and ran away from the poor
old Flynn, and Yankee Swope had stood on his poopdeck at the passing,
and waved a hawser-end at the Old Man of the Flynn, asking if he
wanted a tow. "And then we caught hell," commented Mr. Briggs. Aye,
he should say he did remember the Golden Bough. But he had never
sailed in her.
"And she looks commonplace enough," continued Captain Shreve,
"providing you know nothing of her history. But she does not look
commonplace to Briggs or me. I suppose we regard her through the mist
of memory—we see the tall, beautiful ship that was. We know the
record of that ship. Aye, lad, and if those sorry-looking timbers
yonder could talk, you would not have to make the voyage with us in
order to get a taste of the salt. You'd get real local color
there—you'd hear of many a wild ocean race, of smashed records, or
shanghaied crews and mutinies. Yes, and you'd get, perhaps, some of
that particular information you say you are after. Those old, broken
bulwarks yonder have looked upon life, I can tell you—and upon death."
"The dangerous life of the sailor, I presume," drawled the writing guy.
"Falling from aloft, and being washed overboard, and all that sort of
"Not always," retorted Captain Shreve. "There were other ways of going
to Davy Jones in the old clipper days—and in these days, also, for
that matter. Knives, for instance, or bullets, or a pair of furious
hands—if you care for violent tragedy. But I did not mean the
physical dangers of life, particularly; I meant, rather, that Fate
tangles lives on board ship as queerly as in cities ashore. I meant
that the Golden Bough, in her day, left her mark upon a good many
lives. She broke men, and made them. And once, I know, she had to do
with a woman's life, and a woman's love. There was a wedding performed
upon that ship upon the high seas, and a dead man sprawled on the deck
at the feet of the nuptial pair, and the bride was the dead man's
"Oh, come now—" said the writing guy. It was plain he thought the
skipper was stringing him. But I knew how difficult it was to get our
Old Man to spin a yarn, and I was determined he should not be shunted
off on a new tack. I interrupted the author, hurriedly. "Did you ever
make a voyage in the Golden Bough, Captain?" I asked.
"Yes," replied the Captain. "I was a witness to that wedding; and I
played my small part in bringing it about. Yes, that old wreck yonder
has had a good deal to do with my own life. I received my first boost
upward in the Golden Bough. Shipped in the foc'sle, and ended the
voyage in the cabin. Stepped into dead man's shoes. And more
important than that—I won my manhood on those old decks."
"Ah, performed some valorous deed?" purred the writing guy.
"No; I abstained from performing an infamous deed," said Captain
Shreve. "I think that is the way most men win to manhood."
"Oh!" said the writing guy. He seemed about to say a lot more, when I
put my oar in again.
"Let us have the yarn, Captain," I begged.
Captain Shreve squinted at the sun, and then favored the passenger with
one of his rare smiles. "Why, yes," he said. "We have an idle
afternoon ahead of us, and I'll gladly spin the yarn. You say, sir,
you are interested in ships, and sailors, and, particularly, in 'King'
Waldon's history. Well, perhaps you may find some material of use in
this tale of mine; though I fear my lack of skill in recounting it may
offend your trained mind.
"Yet it is simply life and living—this yarn. Human beings set down
upon those decks to work out their separate destinies as Fate and
character directed. Aye, and their characters, and the motives that
inspired their acts, were diverse enough, heaven knows.
"There was Swope, Black Yankee Swope, who captained that hell-ship, a
man with a twisted heart, a man who delighted in evil, and worked it
for its own sake. There was Holy Joe, the shanghaied parson, whose
weak flesh scorned the torture, because of the strong, pure faith in
the man's soul. There were Blackie and Boston, their rat-hearts
steeled to courage by lust of gold, their rascally, seductive tongues
welding into a dangerous unit the mob of desperate, broken stiffs who
inhabited the foc'sle. There were Lynch and Fitzgibbon, the buckos,
living up to their grim code; and the Knitting Swede, that prince of
crimps, who put most of us into the ship. There was myself, with my
childish vanity, and petty ambitions. There was the lady, the
beautiful, despairing lady aft, wife of the infamous brute who ruled
us. There was Cockney, the gutless swab, whose lying words nearly had
Newman's life. And last, and chiefly, there was the man with the scar,
he who called himself 'Newman,' man of mystery, who came like the
fabled knight, killed the beast who held the princess captive, and led
her out of bondage. And I helped him; and saw the shanghaied parson
marry them, there on the bloody deck.
"Stuff for a yarn—eh? But just life, and living. By George, it was
mighty strenuous living, too! And yet, well as I know this tale I
lived in, I am at a loss how to commence telling it. You know, sir,
this is where you writing folk have at disadvantage the chaps who only
live their stories—you see the yarn from the beginning to the end, we
see but those chapters in which Fate makes us characters. The
beginning, the end, the plot—all are beyond our ken. If indeed there
is a beginning, or end, or plot to a story one lives."
"Every story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end," began the
writing guy, sonorously. "Now I——"
Just then I leaned over and placed my number nine brogan firmly upon
that writing guy's kid-clad foot, and held him in speechless agony for
a moment, while Captain Shreve got his yarn fairly launched.
Then, if I must have a beginning for the yarn (said Captain Shreve),
I'll begin with that morning, in this very port of San Francisco, when
I walked out of the Shipping Commissioner's office with my first A.B.'s
discharge in my hand, and a twelve months' pay-day jingling in my
pocket. For I must explain something of my state of mind on that
morning, so you will understand how I got Into Yankee Swope's
It was the heyday of the crimps, and I walked through the very heart of
crimpdom, along the old East street. It is not a very prepossessing
thoroughfare even to-day, when it masquerades as the Embarcadero, a
sinner reformed. In those days, when it was just East street, it
consisted of solid blocks of ramshackle frame buildings, that housed
all the varieties of sharks and harpies who live off Jack ashore; it
was an ugly, dirty, fascinating way, a street with a garish, besotted
face. But on this morning it seemed the most wonderful avenue in the
world to me. I saw East street through the colorful eyes of youth—the
eyes of Romance.
I stepped along with my chest out and my chin up-tilted. A few paces
behind me a beachcomber wobbled along with my sea-bag on his
shoulder—for what A.B. would demean himself with such labor on
pay-day, when moochers abounded at his heel! I was looking for a
But it was not the Sailors' Home. That respectable institution might
do very well for boys, and callow ordinary seamen, but it certainly
would not do for a newly made A.B. Nor was I looking for Mother
Harrison's place, as I told Mother's runner, who stuck at my elbow for
a time. Mother Harrison's was known as the quietest, most orderly
house on the street; it might do for those quiet and orderly old
shellbacks whose blood had been chilled by age; but it would never do
for a young A.B., a real man, who was wishful for all the mad living
the beach afforded. No; I was looking for the Knitting Swede's.
Knitting Swede Olson! Remember him, Briggs? A fine hole for a young
fool to seek! But I was a man, remember—a MAN—and that precious
discharge proved it. I was nineteen years old, and manhood bears a
very serious aspect at nineteen. No wonder I was holding my head in
the air. The fellows in my watch would listen to my opinions with
respect, now I was an able seaman. No longer would I scrub the foc'sle
floor while the lazy beggars slept. No longer would I peggy week in
and week out. I was A.B. at last; a full-fledged man! Of course, I
must straightway prove my manhood; so I was bound for the Knitting
Everybody knew the Knitting Swede in those days; every man Jack who
ever joined a ship. They told of him in New York, and London, and
Callao, and Singapore, and in every foc'sle afloat. The king of
crimps! He sat in his barroom, in East street, placidly knitting socks
with four steel needles, and as placidly ignoring every law of God and
man. He ruled the 'Frisco waterfront, did the Knitting Swede, and made
his power felt to the very ends of the seas.
Stories about him were without number. It was the Knitting Swede who
shanghaied the corpse on board the Tam o' Shanter. It was the
Knitting Swede who drugged the skipper of the Sequoia, and shipped
him in his own foc'sle. It was the Knitting Swede who sent the crowd
of cowboys to sea in the Enterprise. It was the Knitting Swede who
was the infamous hero of quite half the dog-watch yarns. It was the
Knitting Swede who was—oh, the very devil!
And it was on this very account I was bound for the Swede's house.
Very simple, and sailorlike, my motive. In my mind's eye I saw a scene
which would be enacted on board my next ship. Some fellow would ask
me—as some fellow always does—"And what house did you put up in, in
'Frisco, Jack?" And I would take the pipe out of my mouth, and answer
in a carefully careless voice, "Oh, I stopped with the Knitting Swede."
And then the whole foc'sle would look at me as one man, and there would
be respect in their eyes. For only very hard cases ever stopped at the
Well, I found the Swede's place easily enough. And he was there in
person to welcome me. I discovered his appearance to be just what the
stories described—a tall, great paunched man, who bulked gigantic as
he perched on a high stool at the end of the bar, a half-knitted gray
sock in his hands, and an air about him of cow-like contentment. He
possessed a mop of straw-colored hair, and a pair of little, mild, blue
eyes that regarded one with all the innocence of a babe's stare.
He suspended his knitting for a moment, gave me a fat, flabby hand, and
a grin which disclosed a mouthful of yellow teeth.
"Ja, you koom for a good time, and, by and by, a good ship," says he.
"Yoost trust the Swede—he treat you right."
So he sent my bag upstairs to a room, accepted my money for
safekeeping, and I set up the drinks for the house.
What? Give him my money for safekeeping? Of course. There was a code
of honor even in crimpdom, you know. I came to the Swede's house of my
own choosing; no runner of his snared me out of a ship. Therefore I
would be permitted to spend the last dollar of my pay-day, chiefly over
his bar, of course, and when the money was gone, he would ship me in a
ship of my own choosing. Unless, of course, men were exceptionally
scarce, and blood money exceptionally high. Crimpdom honor wouldn't
stand much temptation. But I was confident of my ability to look after
myself. I was a man of nineteen, you know.
So, at the Knitting Swede's I was lodged. I spent most of my first day
there in examining and getting acquainted with my fellow lodgers. Aye,
they were a crowd, quite in keeping with the repute of the house; hard
living, hard swearing, hard fighting A.B.'s, for the most part; the
unruly toughs of the five oceans. I swaggered amongst them and thought
myself a very devil of a fellow. I bought them drinks at the Swede's
bar, and listened with immense satisfaction to their loud comments on
my generosity. It was, "He's a fine lad, and no mistake!" and, "He's a
real proper bloke, for certain!" And I ordered up the rounds, and
swung my shoulders, and felt like a "real proper bloke" indeed.
Well, I saw one chap in the house who really attracted me. I should
liked to have chummed with him, and I went out of my way to be friendly
towards him. He was a regular giant of a man, with yellow hair and
frosty eyes, and a very white face. In fact he looked as if he might
have recently been sick, though his huge, muscular frame showed no
effects of an illness. He had a jagged, bluish scar over one eye,
which traveled up his forehead and disappeared beneath his hair,
plainly the result of some terrible clout. But it was not these
things, not his face or size which drew me to him; it was his bearing.
All of the chaps in Swede Olson's house were hard cases. They boasted
of their hardness. But their hardness was the typical tough's
hardness, nine parts bravado, a savagery not difficult to subdue with
an oak belaying pin in the fist of a bucko mate. But the hardness of
this big, scar-faced man was of a different sort. You sensed,
immediately you looked at him, that he possessed a steely armor of
indifference that penetrated to his very heart. He was a real hard
case, a proper nut, a fellow who simply did not care what happened. It
was nothing he said or did, but his demeanor declared plainly he was
utterly reckless of events or consequences. It was amusing to observe
how circumspectly the bullies of the house walked while in his
But I found him to be a man of silent and lonesome habit, and
temperate. He discouraged my friendly advance with a cold
indifference, and my idea of chumming with him during my pay-day "bust"
soon went glimmering. Yet I admired him mightily from the moment I
first clapped eyes upon him, and endeavored to imitate his carriage of
utter recklessness in my own strutting.
The talk in the Swede's house was all of drink and women and ships. I
was too young and clean to find much enjoyment in too much of the first
two; much liquor made me sick, and I did not find the painted Jezebels
of sailor-town attractive. But ships were my life, and I lent a ready
ear to the gossip about them. To tell the truth, I didn't enjoy the
Knitting Swede's place very much. I did so want to be a hard case, and
I guess I was a pretty hard case, but I didn't like the other hard
cases. Youth likes companionship, but I didn't want to chum with that
gang, willing though most of them were that I permit them to help me
spend my money. I hadn't been ashore twenty-four hours before I found
myself wishing for a clean breeze and blue water.
Shipping was brisk in the port, and I discovered I would have no
trouble in picking my ship when my money was gone. The Enterprise
was loading for Boston; the Glory of the Seas would sail within the
fortnight for the United Kingdom; there were a half-dozen other smart
ships wishing to be manned by smart lads. I had nothing to worry
about. I could blow my pay-day as quickly as I liked; there was no
danger of my being stranded "on the beach."
So I spent my money, as violently as possible. I made a noise in the
Swede's house, and was proud of myself. My first A.B.'s spree!
On the third evening of my "bust," my mettle was tested. There was a
woman in the Swede's house, a slim wisp of a little Jewess, with the
sweet face of a Madonna and the eyes of a wanton. Well—she smiled on
me. She had good reason to; was I not making my gold pieces dance a
merry tune? Was I not fair game for any huntress?
But she belonged to the Swede's chief runner, his number one bouncer,
as ugly a brute as ever thumped a drunken sailor. The bully objected,
with a deal of obscene threatening, to my fancied raiding of his
property. We had it out with bare knuckles in the Swede's big back
room, with all the little tables pushed against the wall to make
fighting space, and the toughest crowd in San Francisco standing by to
see fair play. I was the younger, and as hard as nails, he was soft
and rotten with evil living, so I thrashed him soundly enough in five
After he had taken the count, I turned away and commenced to pull my
shirt on over my head. I heard a sharp curse, a yell of pain, and the
clatter of steel upon the floor. When my head emerged, I beheld my
late antagonist slinking away before the threatening figure of the man
with the scar. The bully's right arm dangled by his side, limp and
broken, and a sheath-knife was lying on the floor, at the big man's
feet. The sight gave me a rather sick feeling at the pit of the
stomach, for I realized I had narrowly escaped being knifed.
The scar-faced man would not listen to my thanks. He bestowed upon me
a cool, bracing glance, and remarked, "You must never take your eyes
off one of that breed!" Then he resumed his seat at a table in the far
corner of the room, and quite plainly dismissed the incident from his
Indeed, the house as speedily dismissed the incident from Its
collective mind. A fist fight or a knifing was but a momentary
diversion in the Swede's place. Five minutes after he left the room,
the whipped bully left the establishment, his one good hand carrying
his duffle. The Knitting Swede would have no whipped bouncer in his
That was a purple night for me. I was the victor, and the fruits of
the victory were very sweet. The Jewess murmured adoring flatteries in
my ear. The others—that crowd of rough, tough men—clapped me
respectfully upon the back, felt gingerly of my biceps, and swore
loudly and luridly I was the best man in the port. I agreed with
them—and set up the drinks, again and again. Oh, I was a great man
that night! The house caroused at my expense till late.
Only my silent friend in the corner declined to take part in the
merry-making. The man with the scar sat alone, drinking nothing, and
regarding with cool and visible contempt the dizzy gyrations of the
roughs who were swilling away the money I had worked for. But his open
contempt of them was not resented, even at the height of the orgy.
They were hard cases, rough, tough fighting men, but they gave the big
fellow plenty of sea-room. No ruffling or swaggering in his direction.
No gibes or practical jokes. The bludgeon-like wit of the house very
carefully passed him by. For he was so plainly a desperate man.
"He's a bad one," whispered the Jewess to me, lifting an eye towards
the lonely table. "He has the house bluffed. Bet you the Swede
doesn't try any of his tricks with him. He's a real bad one. Wonder
who he is?"
I openly admired the man. I'd have given my soul almost to own his
manner. The careless yet grand air of the man, the something about him
that lifted him above the rest of us—aye, he was the real hero, he was
the sort of hard case I wanted to be.
"I know he's a sailorman by the cut of his jib," I said. "But he is so
pale—and that scar—I guess he is just out of the hospital. Been
sick, or hurt, most likely."
The woman gave me a pitying look that set my teeth on edge. She was
continually marveling over my innocence, and I didn't relish being
innocent. "Just out of hospital!" she mocked. "You certainly haven't
been around places like this very much or you would know."
"Know what?" I demanded.
She shook her head, and looked serious. "No, I'll not preach, not even
to you. And I like him—because he saved you."
Next morning the Swede interrupted his knitting long enough to toss my
last ten dollars across the bar. "Ay tank you ship now?" says he.
The huskies who were gathered about the room immediately chorused their
disapproval. "Oh, give the poor beggar a chance!" they sang out. "Let
him rest up a spell, Swede!" But the Swede had gauged me correctly.
He knew I would not want to stay on the beach after my money was spent.
"I am ready to ship," I told him, "but, remember this, Swede, in a ship
of my own choosing."
He grinned widely, and showed his whole mouthful of yellow teeth. His
baby stare rested appreciatively upon me, as though I had just cracked
an excellent joke. "Oh, ja, you pick him yourself," he chortled.
"Mineself get you good ship, easy ship. No bucko, no hardtack, good
pay, soft time, by Yimminy!"
His mirthful humor abruptly vanished. He leaned towards me, and the
lids of his little round eyes slowly lifted. It was like the lifting
of curtains. For an instant I looked into the unplumbed abyss of the
man's soul, and I felt the full impact of his ruthless, powerful mind.
It was an astonishing revelation of character, that glance. I think
the Swede designed it so, for he was about to make me a momentous offer.
"Ay ship you by easy ship, shore-going ship. No vatch, no heavy
veather, good times, ja. You thump mine roonar, you take his
voomans, so—you take his yob. Ja? You ship by the Knitting Swede?"
The eyelids drooped, and his gaze was again one of infantile innocence.
His fat smooth jowls quivered, as he waited with an expectant smile for
I'll admit I was completely bowled over for a moment. A hush had
fallen upon the room. I heard a voice behind me exclaim softly and
bitterly, "Gaw' blimme, 'e's got it!" I knew the voice belonged to a
big Cockney who was, himself, an avowed candidate for the runner's job.
My mind was filled with confused, tingling thoughts. Oh, I was a man,
right enough, to be singled out by the Knitting Swede for his chief
lieutenancy. I was a hard case, a proper nut, to have that honor
offered me. For it was an honor in sailordom. I thought of the
foc'sles to come, and my shipmates pointing me out most respectfully as
the fighting bloke who had been offered a chief runner's berth by the
For I did not doubt there would be other foc'sles, and soon. Life
ashore at the Knitting Swede's was not for me. Young fool, I was, with
all the conceit of my years and inches. Yet I realized clearly enough
I would only be happy with the feel of a deck beneath my feet, and the
breath of open water in my nostrils. I was of the sea, and for the
sea. And if anything were needed to make my decision more certain,
there was the little Jewess. She leaned close, and there was more than
a hint of command in her voice. "Boy, say yes! I want you to, Boy!"
"Boy!" To me, a nineteen-year-old man, who had just been offered a
fighting man's berth! "I want you to," she commanded. I saw more
clearly just what the Swede's offer meant: to spend my days in evil
living, my drugged will twisted about the slim, dishonest fingers of
the wanton; to spend my nights carrying out whatever black rascality
the Swede might command. An ignoble slavery. Not for me!
"I'll only ship in a proper ship, Swede," I said, decisively.
The Swede nodded. My refusal did not disconcert him; I think his
insight had prepared him for it. But the tension in the room released
with a loud gasp of astonishment. It was unbelievable to those bullies
that such an offer could be turned down. A sailorman refusing
unlimited opportunities for getting drunk! "Gaw' strike me blind, 'e
arn't got the guts for hit!" a voice cried at my elbow, and I found the
Cockney openly sneering into my face.
I saw through his motive immediately. Cockney wanted the job, and he
wasn't going to allow the Swede to overlook his peculiar qualifications
a second time. Therefore, he would risk battle with me.
I was nothing loath. I might turn down the job, but I would not turn
down a challenge. I stepped back, and my coat was already on the floor
by the time the Swede had a chance to form his words. And his words
showed him also cognizant of the Cockney's ruse.
"'Vast there, Cocky! Ay give you the yob. No need to fight, and get
smashed sick. To-night I got vork—to put the crew by the Golden
The Cockney's hostility melted into a satisfied smirk. He called upon
his Maker with many blasphemies while he assured the Swede he was the
very "proper blushin' bloke" for the berth. The crowd straightway lost
all interest in the runnership; they had another sensation to occupy
them. At the Swede's words, a low growl ran around the room, a growl
which swelled into a chorus of imprecations.
The Swede was going to ship the crew for the Golden Bough that night!
That meant he needed sailors. And every man who was in debt to the
Swede, or in any way under his thumb (and I suspect every man Jack of
them was under his thumb in some fashion or other), quaked in his
boots, and thought, "Will the Swede choose me?" For they knew ships,
those men, and they knew the Golden Bough. Some of them had sailed
The Swede grinned jocosely at me. "How you like to ship by the Golden
Bough! There ban easy ship, Ja! Plenty grub, easy vork, good
"Yah-h-h!" One swelling, jeering shout from the whole crowd submerged
the Swede's joking reference.
"Plenty to eat!" yelled one. "Aye, plenty o' belaying-pin soup, an'
"Easy work!" sang out another. "In your watch below, which never
"Proper gents, the mates are," spoke up a third. "They eats a
sailorman every mornin' for breakfast!"
Oh, they knew the Golden Bough! Who did not?
"How many, Swede?" called out a man.
"Ay ban ship a crowd of stiffs—and some sailor-mans," stated the Swede.
Cursing broke out afresh. Some of them must go! The bulk of the crew
was to be crimped, of course, in the Swede knew what kennels of the
town. But a few tried sailormen must go to leaven that sodden,
sea-ignorant lump. It was like condemning men to penal servitude. No
wonder they swore. And swear they did, with mouth-filling, curdling
oaths, as though in vain hope their flaming words would quite consume
that evilly known vessel.
In the midst of that bedlam I stood thinking strange thoughts. It is
hardly credible, but I was considering if I should tell the Swede I
would ship in the Golden Bough. And I had heard all about the ship,
too, for if the Knitting Swede was the hero of half the dog-watch
yarns, the Golden Bough was the heroine of the other half. I knew of
the ship, the most notorious blood-ship afloat, and the queen of all
the speedy clippers. I knew of her captain, the black-hearted,
silky-voiced Yankee Swope, who boasted he never had to pay off a crew;
I knew of her two mates, Fitzgibbon and Lynch, who each boasted he
could polish off a watch single-handed, and lived up to his boast. I
knew of the famous, blood-specked passages the ship had made; of the
cruel, bruising life the foremast hands led in her. And I stood before
the Swede's bar and considered shipping. Oh, Youth!
For my thoughts were fathered by the vaulting conceit of my nineteen
years. Consider . . . a few days before I had for the first time
assumed a man's estate in sailordom. Already I was a marked man. Had
I not stopped at the Knitting Swede's, and ruffled on equality with the
hard cases? Had I not whipped the bully of the beach? Had I not been
offered a fighting man's billet by the Swede, himself? Was not that
Then how much greater the glory if I spoke up with a devil-may-care
lilt in my voice, and shipped in the hottest packet afloat!
Glory!—why, I would be the unquestioned cock of any foc'sle I
afterward happened into. You know, in those days the ambitious young
lads regularly shipped in the hot clippers; it was a postgraduate
course in seamanship, and accomplishment of such a voyage gave one a
standing with his fellows. I had intended going in one—in the
Enterprise, or the Glory of the Seas, both loading in port. But
the Golden Bough! No man shipped in her, sober, and unafraid. If I
shipped, I should be famous the world around as the fellow who feared
neither God, nor Devil, nor Yankee Swope and his bucko mates!
So I stood there, half wishful, half afraid, deaf to all save my own
swirling thoughts. And there happened that which gave me my decision.
It was the man with the scar. He had been lounging against the bar, an
uninterested spectator of the bestowing of the runnership. Now, my
eyes fell upon him, and I saw to my surprise that he was shaken out of
his careless humor. He was standing tensely on the balls of his feet,
and his hands were gripping the bar rail so fiercely his fingers seemed
white and bloodless. It was apparent some stern emotion wrestled him;
the profile I saw was set like chiseled marble. There was something
indescribably menacing in his poise. The sight of him jolted my ears
open to the noises of the room.
The crowd was still talking about the Golden Bough. And the talk had
progressed, as talk of the Golden Bough always progressed, from
skipper and mates, to the lady. They spoke of the ship's mystery, of
the Captain's lady. She was a character to pique a sailorman's
interest, the Lady of the Golden Bough. Her fame was as wide, and
much sweeter, than the vessel's. With all their toughs' frankness, the
crowd were discussing the lady's puzzling relations with Swope.
"Uncommon queer, I calls it," said one chap, who had sailed in the
ship. "They call 'em man an' wife, but she lives to port, an' he to
starboard. Separate cabins, dash me! I had it from the cabin boy.
They even eats separate. . . . He's nasty to her—I've heard the devil
snarl at her more than once, when I've had a wheel. . . . Blank me,
she's a blessed angel. There was I with a sprained wrist big as my
blanked head, an' Lynch a-hazin' me to work—and every morning she
trips into the foc'sle with her bright cheer an' her linaments. A
blanked, blessed angel, she is!"
"He beats her," supplemented another man. "I got it from a mate what
chummed with the bloke as was a Sails on her one voyage. He said, that
sailmaker did, as how Swope got drunk, and beat her."
The big Cockney, who had been visibly possessed by a pompous
self-importance since his elevation to the dignity of runner, saw fit
to interpose his contrary opinion of the Lady of the Golden Bough.
Because the man was vile, his words were vile.
"Blimme, yer needn't worrit abaht Yankee Swope's lydy, as yer call 'er.
She arn't nah bleedin' lydy—she's just a blarsted Judy. Yer got to
knock a Judy abaht, arn't yer? Hi 'arve hit straight—'e picked 'er
hoff the streets——"
The man with the scar wheeled on his heel, reached out, and grasped the
Cockney by his two wrists. I exclaimed aloud when I saw the man's full
face. There was death in it. He spoke to Cockney in a voice of cold
fury. "You lie!" he cried. "Say you lie!"
Cockney was a big man, and husky. He cursed, and struggled. But he
was a child in the grasp of that white-faced giant towering over him.
The hands I had seen gripping the rail a moment before, now gripped
Cockney's wrists in the same terrible clutch. They squeezed, as though
to crush the very bones. Cockney squirmed, and whimpered, then he
broke down, and screamed in agony.
"Ow, Gaw' blimme, let hup! Hi never meant northin'! A lie— Ow,
yuss—a lie! She's a proper lydy— Hi never 'eard the hother— Gaw'
strike me blind!"
The man with the scar cast the fellow contemptuously away; and Cockney
lost no time in putting the distance of the room between them. The big
man turned on the Swede, and his voice was sharp and commanding.
"Swede, does the Golden Bough sail to-morrow?"
"Ja, with da flood," the Swede answered.
"Then I ship in her," declared the man. "I ship in the Golden Bough,
It was the spark needed to fire my own resolution. What another dared,
I would dare. I thumped the bar with my fist and sang out valorously,
"I ship in her too, Swede!"
The Swede's needles stopped flashing in and out of the gray yarn. He
regarded us, one after the other, with his baby stare. Then he said to
the big man, "Vat if your frients ship by her?"
"I have no friends," was the curt answer.
The Swede leaned back on his stool, and his big belly quivered with his
wheezy laughter. "By Yimminy, Ay tank da Golden Bough haf vun lively
voyage!" he exclaimed.
We signed articles in the Swede's house, almost within the hour. A
little man with a pimply, bulbous nose appeared in the house; he
carried in his person the authority of Shipping Commissioner and in his
hand the articles of the Golden Bough. After the careless fashion of
the day and port we signed on without further ado for a voyage to Hong
Kong and beyond—sitting at a table in the back room, and cementing the
contract with a drink around.
The Shipping Commissioner made the usual pretense of reading the
articles. Then he squinted up at us.
"What's yer John Henry's?" says he.
My big shipmate mused a moment. He stroked the scar on his forehead—a
habit he had when thinking. He smiled.
"My name is Newman," he made answer. "It is a good name."
He took the pen from the Shipping Commissioner's hand and wrote the
name in the proper place upon the articles. "A. Newman," that is how
he wrote it. Not the first time he had clapped eyes upon ship's
articles, one could see with half an eye. I wrote my own "John Shreve"
below his name, with an outward flourish, but with a sinking sensation
As soon as the ceremony was completed, A. Newman got to his feet,
refused my pressing invitation to visit the bar, and went upstairs to
his room. Now, this seemed very peculiar to my sailor's way of
thinking; it seemed more peculiar than his choice of a name. Here we
were, shipmates, together committed to a high adventure, yet the man
would not tarry by my side long enough to up-end a schooner to a fair
passage. I was to have other surprises before the day was out—the
mean-faced beggar, and the way in which the Knitting Swede put us on
board the Golden Bough. Surprising incidents. But this refusal of
my new shipmate to drink with me was most surprising. Think of a
sailor, a hard case, too, moping alone in his room on the day he
shipped, when downstairs he could wassail away the day. I was
surprised and resentful. It is hard for a nineteen-year-old man to
stand alone, and I felt that Newman, my shipmate, should give me the
moral support of his companionship.
I strutted away the day in lonely glory. I had not the courage to
violate the hoary traditions of the foc'sle and join my ship sober, so
I imbibed as steadily as my youthful stomach permitted. Towards
evening I was, as sailors say, "half seas over."
I was mellow, but not befuddled. I saw things clearly, too clearly.
Of a sudden I felt an urgent necessity to get away from the Swede's
barroom. I wanted to breathe a bit of fresh air, I wanted to shut out
from my mind the sights and sounds and smells of the groggery, the reek
and the smut and the evil faces. Above all, I wished to escape the
importunities of the little Jewess. She had gotten upon my nerves.
Oh, I was her fancy boy to-day, you bet! I was spending my advance
money, you see, and this was her last chance at my pocketbook.
So, when opportunity offered, I slipped away from the crowd unobserved,
and went rolling along East street as though that thoroughfare belonged
to me. And in truth it did. Aye, I was the chesty lad, and my step
was high and proud, during that stroll. For men hailed me, and pointed
me out. I was the rough, tough king of the beach that hour; I was the
lad who had whipped the Knitting Swede's bully, and shipped in the
Upon a corner, some blocks from the Knitting Swede's house, I came upon
a fellow who was spitting blood into the gutter. He was the
sorriest-looking wretch I had ever seen, the gaunt ruin of a man. He
drew his filthy rags about him, and shivered, and prefaced his whine
for alms with a fit of coughing that seemed to make his bones rattle.
I can't say that my heart went out to the man. It didn't. He was too
unwholesome looking, and his face was mean and sly. His voice was as
remarkable as anything about him; instead of speaking words, he whined
them, through his nose it sounded like, and though his tone seemed
pitched low, his whine cut through the East street uproar like a sharp
knife through butter.
Well, he was a pitiful wreck. On the rocks for good, already breaking
up and going to pieces. Without thinking much about it, I emptied my
pockets of their change. He pounced upon that handful of silver with
the avidity of a miser, and slobbered nasal thanks at me. I was the
kindest-hearted lad he had met in many a day, he said.
We would have gone our different ways promptly but for a flurry of
wind. I suspect that, with the money in his hand, he was as eager to
see the last of me as I was to see the last of him. But I felt ashamed
of my distaste of him; it seemed heartless. And when the cold wind
came swooping across from the docks, setting him shivering and
coughing, I thought of the spare pea-coat I had in my bag. It was
serviceable and warm, and I had a new one to wear.
So I carried him back to the Swede's house with me. I did not take him
into the barroom, though he brazenly hinted he would like to stop in
there; but I feared the gibes of the boisterous gang. This bum of mine
was such grotesque horror that the drunken wits of the house would not,
I knew, fail to seize the chance to ridicule me upon my choice of a
chum. Besides it was clothes not whisky I intended giving him.
I took him upstairs by the side entrance, the entrance to the
lodging-house section of the Knitting Swede's establishment. The house
was a veritable rookery above the first floor. I lodged on the third
floor, in a room overlooking the street, a shabby, dirty little
cubicle, but one of the choice rooms at the Swede's disposal—for was I
not spending money in his house?
My companion's complaining whine filled the halls as we ascended the
stairs. He was damning the times and the hard hearts of men. As we
walked along the hall towards my room, the door of the room next to
mine opened and the big man, who signed himself Newman, looked out at
us. I had not known before that he occupied this room, he was so
silent and secretive in his comings and goings.
I hailed Newman heartily, but he gave me no response, not even a direct
glance. He was regarding the derelict; aye, and there was something in
his face as he looked at the man that sent a thrill through me. There
was recognition in his look, and something else. It made me shiver.
As for this fellow with me—he stopped short at first sight of Newman.
He said, "Oh, my God!" and then he seemed to choke. He stumbled
against the banisters, and clung to them for support while his knees
sagged under him. He'd have run, undoubtedly, if he had had the
"Hello, Beasley," said Newman, in a very quiet voice. He came out of
his room, and approached us. Then this man of mine threw a fit indeed.
I never saw such fright in a man's face. He opened his mouth as If to
scream, but nothing came out except a gurgle; and he lifted his arm as
if to ward off an expected blow.
But Newman made no move to strike him. He looked down at him, studying
him, with his stern mouth cracked into a little smile (but, God's
truth, there was no mirth in it) and after a moment he said,
"Surprised? Eh? But no more surprised than I."
The poor wreck got some sound out of his mouth that sounded like
"How—how—" several times repeated.
"And I wanted to meet you more than I can tell," went on Newman. "I
want to talk to you—about——"
The other got his tongue to working in a half-coherent fashion, though
the disjointed words he forced out of his mouth were just husky
whispers. "Oh, my God—you! Not me—oh, my God, not me!—him—he made
No more sense than that to his agonized mumbling. And he got no more
than that out of him when he choked, and an ugly splotch of crimson
appeared upon his pale lips. His knees gave way altogether, and he
crouched there on the floor, gibbering silently at the big man, and
plainly terrified clean out of his wits.
Well, I felt out of it, so to speak. The feeling made me a little
resentful. After all, this bum was my bum.
"Look here, the man's sick," I said to Newman. "Don't look at him like
that—he'll die. You've half scared him to death already."
"Oh, no; he'll not die—yet," said Newman. "He's just a little bit
surprised at the encounter. But he's glad to see me—aren't you,
Beasley? Stop that nonsense, and get up!" This last was barked at the
fellow; it was a soft-voiced but imperative command.
The command was instantly obeyed. That was Newman for you—people
didn't argue with him, they did what he said. I'd have obeyed too,
just as quickly, if he had spoken to me in that tone. There was
something in that man, something compelling, and, besides, he had the
habit of command in his manner.
So Beasley tottered to his feet, and stood there swaying. He found his
tongue, too, in sensible speech. "For God's sake, get me a drink!" he
I was glad to seize the cue. It gave me an excuse to do something.
"I'll get some whisky downstairs," I sang out to Newman, as I moved for
the stairs. "Take him into my room; I'll be right back."
But when I returned with the liquor a few moments later, I discovered
that Newman had taken his prize into his own room. I heard the murmur
of voices through the closed door. But I had rather expected this.
Half seas over I might be, but I was still clear-witted enough to
realize that I had accidentally brought two old acquaintances together,
and that one was pleased at the meeting and the other terrified, and
that whatever was or had been between the two was none of my business.
I had no intention of intruding upon them. But the fellow, Beasley,
had looked so much in need of the stimulant that I ventured a knock
upon the door.
Newman opened, and I handed him the bottle without comment. I could
see my erstwhile tow sitting upon the bed, slumped in an attitude of
collapse. He looked so abject; his condition might have touched a
harder heart than mine. But there was no softening of Newman's heart,
to judge from his face; the little mirthless smile had vanished and his
features were hard and set. Aye, and his manner towards me was curt
"Thank you; he needs a pick-me-up," he said, as he took the bottle.
"And now—you'll excuse us, lad."
It wasn't a question, that last; it was a statement. Little he cared
if I excused him or not. He shut the door in my face, and I heard the
key turn in the lock.
Well, I suppose I should have been incensed by this off-hand dismissal.
Oh, I was no meek and humble specimen; my temper was only too touchy,
and besides there was my reputation as a hard case to look to. But
strangely enough I did not become incensed; I never thought of kicking
down the door, I never thought of harboring a grudge. It wasn't fear
of the big man, either. It was—well, that was Newman. He could do a
thing like that, and get away with it.
The carousing gang downstairs was more than ever distasteful to me. I
went into my own room and lay down upon the bed. The liquor that was
in me made me a bit drowsy, and I rather relished the thought of a nap.
But I discovered I was likely to be cheated of even the nap by my next
door neighbors. The walls in the Swede's house were poor barriers to
sounds, and lying there on the bed I suddenly found myself overhearing
a considerable part of the conversation in the next room. Newman's
deep voice was a mere rumble, a menacing rumble, with the words
undistinguishable, but the beggar's disagreeable whine carried through
the partition so distinctly I could not help overhearing nearly every
word he said. I didn't try to eavesdrop; at the time Beasley's words
had little interest or meaning for me. But afterwards, on the ship, I
had reason to ponder over what he said.
The burden of his speech was to the effect that somebody referred to as
"he" was to blame. Aye, trust a rat of that caliber to set up that
wail. For some time that was all I got from the words that came
through the wall. I wasn't trying to listen; I was drowsing, and
paying very little attention.
But gradually Beasley's whine grew louder and more distinct. I suppose
the whisky was oiling his tongue. Once he cried out sharply, "For
God's sake, don't look at me like that! I'm telling the truth, I swear
I am!" The scrape of a chair followed this outburst, and when the
whine began again it was closer to the wall, and more distinct than
"I didn't want to, but he made me. I had to look out for myself,
hadn't I? I had to do what he said. He had this paper of mine—he
knew they were forgeries—I had to do what he said. But, my God, I
didn't know what he was planning—I swear I didn't!"
Newman's rumble broke in, and then the voluble, reedy voice continued,
"But he was wild when he came home and found you and Mary so thick, and
everybody just waiting for the announcement that it was a match. Why,
he had the whole thing planned, the very day he arrived. I know he
had, because he came to me, in the tavern, and told me I was to drop
hints here and there through the village that you and Beulah Twigg had
been seen together in Boston. I didn't want to, but I had to obey him.
Why, those checks—he could have put me in prison. My father would not
have helped me. You remember my father—he was ready to throw me out
anyway. He never could make allowances for a young fellow's fun.
"He had others dropping hints around. Trust him to handle a job like
that. He was your friend, and Mary's friend—your very best friend,
and all the time the tongues were wagging behind your back. Why, it
was the talk of the town. You and Beulah Twigg, together in Boston;
you and Beulah together at sea; you and Beulah—well, you know what a
story they would make of it in a little town like Freeport. Mary must
have heard the gossip about you; the women would tell her.
"But it didn't seem to have any effect. The two of you were as thick
as ever. We were laying bets in the tavern that you would be married
before you went to sea again. He didn't like that—the talk about your
wedding. But he wasn't beaten yet; he was just preparing his ground.
Oh, he was a slick devil!
"He came to me one day and said, 'Beasley, give me the key to the Old
Place—and keep your mouth shut and stay away from there.'
"Now you begin to understand? The Old Place—that tumble-down old ruin
of a house all alone out there on the cliffs. It belonged to my
father, you remember, but it hadn't been lived in for years. I had a
key because we young bloods used the place for card-playing, and high
"I gave him the key. Why not? It was a small matter. He went off to
Boston—business trip, he said. I could make a good guess at the
nature of the business. Didn't I know his ways? But I wouldn't blab;
he owned me body and soul. I was afraid of him. His soft voice, his
slick ways, and what he could do to me if I didn't obey!
"He brought Beulah Twigg back with him from Boston. Now you
understand? Little Beulah—pretty face, empty head, too much heart.
He owned her body and soul, too. When folks wondered where she had run
off to, I could have told them. I knew how he'd played with her, on
the quiet, while he sparked Mary in the open—last time he was home.
You were home then, also. Remember, you left a day ahead of him, to
join your ship in New York? A China voyage, wasn't it? Well—Beulah
left the same day. Just disappeared. And poor old Twigg couldn't
understand it. You remember the old fool? Beulah was all the family
he had, and after she skipped out he got to drinking. They found him
one morning at the bottom of the cliffs, not a hundred yards from the
spot where they afterwards found her.
"But I knew what had become of Beulah. I guessed right. Didn't I know
his ways with the girls? You know there weren't many women who could
stand out against him. Mary could, and did—that's why he was so wild
against you. But little Beulah—she threw herself at him. And when
she ran away, it was to join him in Philadelphia, and go sailing with
him to South America.
"Now you know how he turned the trick on you, don't you? But—don't
look at me like that! I didn't know what he was doing, I swear I
didn't! I thought he just wanted his sweetheart near him, or that she
insisted on coming, or something like that. I thought it was devilish
bold of him, bringing the girl where everybody knew her. But then, he
really wasn't taking such a chance, because nobody ever went near the
Old Place, except upon my invitation, and he drove her over from the
next township in the night, and she didn't come near the village. I
knew, but he knew I wouldn't blab. My God, no!
"Well, he came to me the next day after he got back from Boston. 'I
ask a favor of you,' he said to me. Yes—asking favors, when he knew I
must do what he said. Smiling and purring—you remember the pleasant
manner he had. 'Just a short note. I know you are handy with the
pen,' he said.
"What could I do? I had to look out for myself. He gave me a page
from an old letter as a sample of the handwriting. It was Mary
Barntree's writing; oh, I knew it well. I had it perfect in a few
minutes. You know—I had a rare trick with the pen in those
days—before this cough got me, and my hand got shaky. The note I
wrote for him was a mere line. 'Meet me at Beasley's Old Place at
three,' with her initial signed. That was all. But he had a sheet of
her own special note paper for me to write on (no, I don't know where
he got it!) and of course he knew—like we all knew—how fond the two
of you were of lovers' walks out on the cliffs.
"Do you remember how you got that note? Oh, he was a slick devil. He
thought of everything. Abel Horn brought it to you—remember? He told
you, with a wink and a grin, that it was from a lady—but he didn't say
what lady. Remember? Well, Beulah had given him the note, and told
him to say that—not to mention names. Abel was a good fellow; he
wouldn't gossip. He knew that.
"That wasn't the only note he had written. He made Beulah write one,
too, addressed to Mary, and asking her to come to the Old Place, and be
secret about it. Ah, now you understand? But—I swear I didn't know
what he was leading up to. No, I didn't. I thought it was—well,
all's fair in love, you know. And I had to do what he said, I had to!
"Poor little Beulah had to do what he said, too. I only feared him,
but she loved and feared him both. He owned her completely. He had
made her into a regular echo of himself. She didn't want to, she cried
about it, but she had to do what he said.
"Mary came, as he knew she would. Didn't she have the kindest heart in
the country? And there he was, with Beulah, with his eyes on her, and
his soft, sly words making her lie seem more true. I heard it all. I
was upstairs. He placed me there, in case Mary didn't believe; then I
was to come in and tell about seeing you and Beulah together in Boston,
and how she begged me to bring her home. But—for God's sake!—I
didn't do it. I didn't have to. Mary believed. How could she help
believing—the gossip, and poor little Beulah sobbing out her story.
Beulah said it was you who got the best of her. She didn't want to say
it, she faltered and choked on the lie, but his eyes were on her, and
his voice urged her, and so she had to say it. The very way she
carried on made the lie seem true.
"Well, Mary did just what he expected her to do. She promised to help
Beulah; she told Beulah she would make you make amends. Then she
rushed out of the house and met you coming along the cliff road—coming
along all spruced up, and with the look about you of one going to meet
a lady. Just as he planned.
"What more could Mary ask in the way of evidence than the sight of you
in that place at that time? Of course she was convinced, completely
convinced. And she behaved just as he knew she would behave—she
denounced you, and threw your ring in your face, and raced off home.
And you behaved just as he knew you would behave. He was a slick
devil! He knew your pride and temper; he counted on them. He knew you
would be too proud to chase Mary down and demand a full explanation;
that you would be too angry to sift the thing to the bottom. You
packed up and went off to New York that night to join your ship—and
that was just what he wanted you to do.
"Next morning you were gone, and—they picked up little Beulah at the
bottom of the cliffs. And you gone in haste, without a word. They
said she jumped—desertion, despair, you know what they would make of
it. The gossip—and Abel Horn's tale—and you running away to sea.
"And I—my flesh would creep when I looked at him. I was certain
she—didn't jump. I tell you he was a devil. There wasn't anything he
wouldn't do. He didn't have such a feeling as mercy. Didn't I find it
out? He wanted to get rid of me—and he did. Before the week was out;
before Beulah was fairly buried, before Mary was outdoors again. He
showed those checks I had signed—and I had to go, I had to go far and
in a hurry. After all I had done for him, that's the way he treated
There was a movement of chairs in the next room, and a scraping of
feet. There was more talk, Newman's heavy murmur, and responding
whines. But I do not remember what else was said. In fact, although I
have given you Beasley's tale in straight-forward fashion, I did not
overhear it as I tell it. I caught it in snatches, so to speak, rather
disconnected snatches which I pieced together afterwards. I heard this
fellow, Beasley, talk while lying drowsing on the bed, and not trying
particularly to understand his words. In fact, I did drop off to
sleep. First thing I knew, the Knitting Swede was shaking me awake.
"Yump out of it, Yackie," says he. "We go aboard."
I turned out, shouldered my sea-bag, and went downstairs. There was
Newman, with his dunnage, waiting. He was alone. There was no sign of
my beggar about. In fact, I never saw him again. Newman's face didn't
As a matter of fact, I didn't even think of asking him questions. I
had forgotten Beasley; I was worrying about myself. Now that the hour
had come to join the ship, I wasn't feeling quite so carefree and
chesty. I went into the bar, and poured Dutch courage into myself,
until the Knitting Swede was ready to leave.
We rode down to the dock in a hack. I was considerably elated when the
vehicle drew up before the door; It is not every sailorman who rides
down to the dock in a hack, you bet! The Swede was spreading himself
to give us a grand send-off, I thought! But I changed my mind when we
started. The hack was on Newman's account, solely; and he made a quick
dash from the door to its shelter, with his face concealed by cap and
pea-coat collar. He didn't want to be seen in the streets—that is why
we rode in the hack!
The ride was made amidst a silence that proved to be a wet blanket to
all my attempts to be jovial, and light-hearted and devil-may-care.
The Swede slumped in one seat, with our dunnage piled by his side,
wheezing profanely as the lurching of the hack over the cobblestones
jolted the sea-bags against him, and grunting at my efforts to make
conversation. Newman sat by my side. Once he spoke.
"You are sure the lady sails, Swede?" was what he said.
"Ja, I have it vrom Swope, himself," the crimp replied.
Now, of course, I had already reasoned it out that Newman was sailing
in the Golden Bough because of the lady aft, and that he had once
owned some other name than "Newman." That was as plain as the nose on
my face. I didn't bother my head about it; the man's reasons were his
own, and foc'sle custom said that a shipmate should be judged by his
acts, not by his past, or his motives. But I did bother my head about
his question in the hack—or rather about the Swede's manner of
replying to it. It was a little thing, but very noticeable to a sailor.
The Swede's manner towards me was one of genial condescension, like a
father towards an indulged child. This was a proper bearing for a
powerful crimp to adopt towards a foremost hand. But the Swede's
manner towards Newman was different. There was respect in it, as
though he were talking to some skipper. It considerably increased the
feeling of awe I was beginning to have for my stern shipmate.
I supposed we would join the rest of the crew at the dock, and go on
board in orthodox fashion, on a tug, with drugged and drunken men lying
around, to be met at the rail by the mates, and dressed down into the
foc'sle. Such was the custom of the port. But when we alighted at
Meigg's Wharf not a sailor or runner was in sight. A regiment of
roosting gulls was in lonely possession of the planking. The hack
rattled away; the Swede, bidding us gather up our dunnage and follow
him, waddled to the wharf edge, and disappeared over the string-piece.
"Why, where is the crew?" I asked of Newman. "You and I, alone, aren't
going to sail the ruddy packet?"
"They'll follow later," replied Newman. "The Swede is going to put us
two aboard. He's getting the boat free now."
I stopped stock still. The constant surprises were rapidly shocking me
sober, and this last one fairly took my breath for a moment. The Swede
was putting us on board!
Now, the King of Crimps didn't put sailormen on board. He hired
runners to oversee the disposal of the slaves. The most he did was
lounge in the sternsheets of his Whitehall while his retainers rowed
him out to a ship to interview the captain, and collect his blood
money. It was unusual for the Swede to go down to the dock with a
couple of men; and now, he was going to fasten his lordly hands upon a
pair of oars and row us out to our vessel!
"Say, what is the idea?" I demanded of Newman. "We are no flaming
dukes to be coddled this way!"
Newman placed his hand upon my shoulders. "What say you call it off,
lad?" he said. "That hell-ship yonder is no proper berth for you.
Take my advice, and dodge around the corner with your bag. I can fix
it with the Swede, all right."
I should have liked to have taken the advice, I admit. I was not in
nearly such a vainglorious mood as I had been back in the Swede's
barroom, with the waterfront applauding me. If Newman had offered to
dodge around the corner with me, I'd have gone. The aspect of that
empty wharf was depressing, and there was something sinister about all
these unusual circumstances surrounding our joining the ship. I began
to feel that there was something wrong about the Golden Bough besides
her bucko mates, and I possessed the superstitions of my kind. But
Newman did not offer to dodge around the corner with me. He was merely
advising me, in a fatherly, pitying fashion that my nineteen-year-old
manhood could not stomach.
"I shipped in her, and I'll sail in her," I told him, shortly. "I can
stand as much hell as any man, and I'd join her if I had to swim for
it. That flaming packet can't scare me away; I'll take a pay-day from
her, yet!" I was bound I'd live up to my reputation as a hard case! I
was letting Newman know I was just as proper a nut as himself.
The Swede hailed us from the darkness beyond. We reached the wharf
edge, and dimly made out the Swede's huge bulk squatting in a Whitehall
boat below. "Yump in!" he bade us. We tossed our bags down, followed
ourselves, and a moment later I was bidding farewell to the beach.
The Swede lay back manfully on the oars, grunting with every stroke.
He was expert; he seemed to make nothing of the inrushing tide, and
quickly ferried us out into the fairway. Newman and I sat together in
the sternsheets, each wrapped in his mantle of dignified silence. I
kept my eyes on the black bulk of the vessel we were rapidly nearing,
and I confess my thoughts were not very cheerful. One needed jolly
companions, and more drink inside than I had, to have cheerful thoughts
when joining the Golden Bough.
The Swede lay on his oars when we were a few hundred yards from the
ship, allowing us to drift down with the tide. He fumbled about his
clothes for a moment, and produced a bottle. "Here, yoongstar, you
take a yolt!" he commanded, passing me the bottle.
I thought he was just bolstering up my courage, and I was grateful. I
swallowed a great gulp of the fiery stuff. It was good liquor, and
possessed an added flavor to which I was stranger.
I passed the bottle to Newman; he accepted it, but I noticed he did not
The Swede lifted up his voice and hailed the ship. Immediately, the
most magnificent fore-topsail-yard-ahoy voice I had ever heard bellowed
a reply, "Ahoy, the boat! What d'ye want?"
"That ban Lynch," remarked the Swede to us. Then he called in reply.
"Ay ban Swede Olson with two hands for you! Heave over da Yacob's
ladder, Mistar Lynch!" He lay back on his oars, and shot us under the
A moment later the three of us were standing on the clipper maindeck,
confronting a large man who inspected us with the aid of a lantern.
Afterwards, I discovered Mister Second Mate Lynch to be a handsome,
muscular chap, with not so much of the "bucko" in his bearing as his
reputation led one to expect. But at the moment I was impressed only
by his big body and stern face. In truth, even that impression was
hazy, for the drink I had taken from the Swede's bottle a moment before
proved to be surprisingly potent. No sooner did I set foot upon the
deck than I commenced to feel a heavy languor overcoming my body and
Lynch turned, and his voice rumbled into the lighted cabin alleyway.
"Oh, Fitz, come here. Those two jaspers we heard of have come aboard."
A moment later a man came from the cabin and stood by Lynch's side.
Here was a true bucko, even my addled wits sensed that. A human
gorilla, with a battered face and brutal, pitiless mouth—the dreaded
Fitzgibbon, "chief kicker" of the Golden Bough.
Mister "Fitz" regarded us with a sneering smile. "Huh, stewed to the
gills! What did you dope 'em with, Swede?" he said. Then he added to
Lynch, "Good beef, though. They'll pull their weight. Hope there are
more like them." He gave his regard to me, looked me up and down
slowly, and then turned his eyes on Newman. "Shipped themselves, did
they? Two jumps ahead o' the police, I bet! Lord, what a cargo he's
This last referred to Newman. I was staring at him, myself, with
stupid surprise, his peculiar antics aiding me to retain a slender
clutch on my senses.
For Newman was drunk, rip-roaring drunk. Now mind, he had been cold
sober a few moments before when I handed him the Swede's bottle, and I
was quite certain he had not touched that bottle to his lips. He came
over the rail with the bottle clutched in his hand, and as soon as he
touched the deck he was as pickled as any sailor who ever joined a
ship. He hung his head, and lurched unsteadily from foot to foot,
mumbling to himself. Suddenly he brandished the bottle, and commenced
to howl, "Blow the Man Down," in a raucous voice.
"Stow that!" commanded Lynch, shortly. "You'll wake up the lady!"
Newman shut up. "Vas da lady on board?" asked the Swede, respectfully.
"Yes, and if that jasper rouses her, I'll shove a pin down his gullet!"
answered Lynch. "Here you two," he commanded us, "gather up your
dunnage and get for'rd!"
Newman and I grappled laboriously with our bags. Fitzgibbon spoke to
the Swede. "When does the crew come off?"
"Flood tide," answered the Swede. "Captain Swope comes with them. And
I send a port gang to get you oondar way."
"Hope there are some more huskies like these two," said Lynch.
"Ja, day ban all able seamans," declared the Swede.
"You're a filthy liar!" I heard Lynch comment. But further words I
lost, for Newman and I went stumbling forward to the forecastle.
We dumped our bags upon the floor, and Newman lighted the lamp. My
knees gave way, and I sat down upon the bench that ran around beside
the tiers of empty bunks. Then, when the flickering light revealed my
companion's face, I felt another shock of surprise.
For Newman was sober again. As soon as he was out of sight of the
group on the after deck, he dropped his inebriety like a mantle. The
face I looked into was alert and hard set, and the eyes gleamed
strangely as though the man were laboring under a strong, repressed
excitement. Newman wore an air of triumph, as though he had just
accomplished a difficult victory. My tongue had suddenly become very
thick, but I managed to mumble a query. "Say, matey, what's the game?"
He regarded me sharply. "What's the matter with you, lad?" he
exclaimed. He leaned over, pressed up one of my eyelids, and looked
into my eye. Then he tilted the bottle he still carried, and wetted
his laps with the liquor. "That . . . Swede! He drugged this bottle!
Bound to get the blood money for you!"
I didn't answer. I couldn't, for while Newman was speaking, a
wonderful thing happened. He suddenly dwindled in size until he was no
larger than a manikin, going through the motion of drinking from a tiny
bottle; while in contrast, his voice increased so tremendously in
volume it broke upon my ears like a surf upon a beach. I couldn't
grasp the miracle.
". . . well, not enough to hurt . . . all right tomorrow . . ." Newman
boomed. Then he picked me up in his arms and deposited me in a bunk.
He got a blanket out of my bag and spread it over me. I found
something very comical about this, though I couldn't laugh as I wished.
One hard case tucking in another hard case, like a mother tucks in her
The last thing I saw, or thought I saw, ere oblivion overcrept me, was
Newman's manikin-sized figure stretching out in a manikin-sized bunk
My head ached, my tongue was thick and wood-tastey, but I awoke in full
possession of my faculties. Even in the brief instant between the
awakening and the eye-opening, I sensed what was about.
The motion told me the ship was under way. The noises that had
probably aroused me, boomed commands, stormed curses, groans, sounds of
blows, feet stamping—all told me that the mates were turning to the
crew. I sat up and looked around.
It had been dark night, and the foc'sle empty, when Newman had tucked
me in for my drugged siesta. Now it was broad day, and a bright streak
of sunlight streaming into the dirty hole through the open door showed
men's forms sprawled in the bunks about me.
The Golden Bough had a topgallant foc'sle, the port and starboard
sides divided by a partition that reached not quite to the deck above,
and which contained a connecting door. Newman and I had stumbled into
the port foc'sle the previous night, and as I sat up, I discovered that
the babel of sound came from the starboard side of the partition. I
swung up into the bunk above my head, raised my eyes above the
partition, and looked down.
I saw Mister Lynch, the second mate, standing in the middle of the
starboard foc'sle's floor. He was turning to the crew with a
vengeance. His method was simple, effective, but rather ungentle. His
long arm would dart into a bunk where lay huddled a formless heap of
rags. This heap of rags, yanked bodily out of bed, would resolve
itself into a limp and drunken man. Then Mister Lynch would commence
to eject life into the sodden lump, working scientifically and
dispassionately, and bellowing the while ferocious oaths in the
"Out on deck with you!" he would cry, shaking the limp bundle much as a
dog would shake a rat. A sharp clout on either jaw would elicit a
profane protest from the patient. The toe of his heavy boot, sharply
applied where it would do the most good, would produce further
evidences of life. Then Lynch would take firm grasp of the scruff of
the neck and seat of the breeches, and hurl the resurrected one through
the door onto the deck, and out of range of my vision. A waspish voice
streaming blistering oaths proved that Mister Fitzgibbon was welcoming
each as he emerged into daylight. Another voice, melodiously
penetrating the uproar, proved another man was watching the crew turn
to. I recognized the silky, musical voice of Yankee Swope. "Stir them
up, Mister! Make them jump! My ship is no hotel!" is what it said.
The second mate boosted the starboard foc'sle's last occupant
deckwards; then he paused a moment for a breathing spell. Next, his
roving eye rested upon my face blinking down at him from the top of the
"Oh, ho—so you have come to life, have you!" he addressed me. "The
Swede said you would be dead until afternoon!"
He stepped through the connecting door, into my side of the foc'sle,
and looked about. I leaped down from the upper bunk and stood before
him, feeling rather sheepish at having been discovered spying.
"Where is that big jasper who came aboard with you?" he suddenly
demanded of me.
"Why;—there!" I replied promptly, indicating the bunk opposite the one
in which I had slept.
Then, I became aware that Newman was not in that bunk; and a rapid
survey of the foc'sle showed he was not in any bunk. He was gone,
though his sea-bag was still lying on the floor. The bunk I thought he
was in contained an occupant of very different aspect from my grim
companion of the night before.
A short, spare man of some thirty years, wearing an old red flannel
shirt, was stretched out upon the bare bunk-boards. Lynch and I
contemplated him in silence for a moment.
He was no beachcomber or sailor, one could tell that at a glance. His
skin had no tan upon it. It was white and soft. Obviously, he was no
inhabitant of the underworld of forecastles and waterside groggeries.
His white face looked intelligent and forceful even in unconsciousness.
In some way, the man had come by a wicked blow upon the head. It was
the cause, I suspected, of his swoon, and stertorous breathing. Dried
blood was plastered on the boards about his head, and his thick, dark
hair was clotted and matted with the flow from his wound.
Lynch leaned over, and opened one of the fellow's loosely clenched
hands. It was as white and soft as a lady's hand.
"This jasper is no bum—or sailor!" declared Lynch. "That damn Swede's
been up to some o' his tricks. Well—we'll make a sailor of him before
we fetch China Sea, I reckon!" He straightened, and turned on me with
another demand for Newman. "Where did you say that big jasper was?"
I shrugged my shoulders helplessly. I could have sworn Newman had
turned into that bunk; and I told him so.
Lynch snorted. "Didn't have the guts to face the music, I reckon, and
cleared out! Well, if he tried to swim for it, I'll bet he's feeding
fishes now!" His eyes roved around the room. Several of the bunks
were occupied by nondescript figures, but Newman's huge bulk did not
appear. "Damned seedy bunch," commented Lynch. "Couldn't afford to
lose good beef. Hello—who's this?"
His eyes rested upon the bunk farthest forward, athwartship bunk in the
eyes. The body of a big man lying therein loomed indistinctly in the
gloom of the corner. Lynch reached the bunk with a bound, and I was
But it was not Newman. It was—the Cockney! The very man to whom the
Swede had tendered the runner's job, the man Newman had manhandled! He
lay on his back, snoring loudly, his bloated, unlovely face upturned to
I laughed. "It's the runner," I said. "The Swede's first runner.
Swede gave him the job yesterday."
"And gave him a swig out of the black bottle last night!" commented
Lynch. Then he grasped the significance of the Swede's double cross,
and his laughter joined mine. "Ho, ho—shanghaied his own runner!
Ho, ho . . . that damned Swede!"
Then it evidently struck Mister Lynch that he was conducting himself
with unseemly levity in company with a foremast hand. His face became
stern, his voice hard, and my moment of grace was ended.
"Turn to!" he commanded me. "What are you standing about for? Get out
on deck, before I boot you out!"
I knew my place, and I obeyed with alacrity. As I reached the door,
his voice held me again for a moment.
"I guess you are a smart lad," says he. "I'll pick you for my watch,
if Fitz doesn't get ahead of me. Got your nerve—shipping in this
packet! If you know your work, and fly about it, you'll be all right.
Otherwise, God help you!"
During my brief communion with Lynch in the foc'sle, I had, of course,
been conscious of ship work proceeding on deck. I had been deaf
otherwise, what with the mate's obscene, shrill voice ringing through
the ship, and the rattle of blocks, the cries of men, and the tramp of
their feet as they pulled together. Now, as I stepped from the foc'sle
into the bright daylight, I saw just what work was doing.
The vessel was aback on the main, her way lost for the moment. Abeam,
a tug was puffing away from us, carrying the port crew—who had lifted
anchor and taken the Golden Bough to sea—back to San Francisco. And
we were fairly to sea; the rugged coast of Marin was miles astern, and
the Golden Gate was lost in a distant haze. The voyage was begun.
I saw this at a glance, out of the corners of my eyes, as I ran aft to
join the crowd. For I was minded to take the second mate's advice, and
fly about my work in the Golden Bough. To wait for an order, was, I
knew well enough, to wait for a blow. The crowd were already at the
lee braces, commencing to trim up the yards, and I tailed onto the line
and threw in my weight, thanking my lucky star that Mister Fitzgibbon
was too busied with the weather braces to accord my advent on deck any
other reception than a sizzling oath.
We got the ship under wary, and then jumped to other work. Mister
Lynch had flung several more sick, frightened wretches out of the
foc'sle, and now he joined with the mate in forcible encouragement of
our efforts. The port gang had hoisted the yards, and loosed the
sails, but the upper canvas was ill sheeted, and soon we were
pully-hauling for dear life.
The best of ships is a madhouse the first day at sea, but the Golden
Bough—God! she was madhouse and purgatory rolled into one! My own
agility and knowledge saved me from ill usage for the moment, since the
mates had plenty of ignorant, clumsy material to work upon. Such
material! I never before or after saw such a welter of human misery as
on that bright morning, such a crowd of sick, suffering, terrified men.
Most of them knew not one rope from another, some of them knew not a
word of English, half of them were still drunk, and stumbled and fell
as they were driven about, the other half were seasick and all but
helpless. Oh, they caught it, I tell you! The mates were merciless,
as their reputations declared them to be. It was sing out an order,
then knock a man down, jerk him to his feet, thrust a line into his
hands, and kick him until he bent his weight upon it. It was bitter
driving. But I'll admit it brought order out of chaos. We cleared the
decks of the first-day-out hurrah's nest in jig time. Mercifully, it
was fair weather, with a light, steady, fair breeze.
I found myself working shoulder to shoulder with a big, trim-bodied
mulatto. He was a sailorman, I saw at a glance, and we stuck together
as much as possible during the morning. He already bore Fitzgibbon's
mark in the shape of a raw gash on his forehead, and his blood-specked
eyes were hot with mingled rage and terror. He murmured over and over
again to me, as though obsessed by the words, "Does yoh know where yoh
am, mate? Lawd—de Golden Bough! de Golden Bough!"
There came an ominous flapping of canvas aloft. "He done gib her too
much wheel!" said the mulatto to me. "Lawd help him!"
The black-bearded man who had been lounging over the poop rail watching
us work, and at whom I had been casting curious and fearful glances as
I rushed about beneath his arctic glare, now swung about and damned the
helmsman's eye with soft voiced, deadly words. The mates' voices
dropped low, and we listened to Yankee Swope's storm of venomous curses
with bated breath.
As a man curses so he is. I learned that truth that morning, a truth
amply tested by the days that came after. It was like a book page
before my eyes, revealing the different characters of the three men who
ruled our world, by comparison of their oaths.
Now Lynch swore robustious oaths in a hearty voice. They enlivened
your legs and arms, for you sensed there was a blow behind the words if
you lagged. But they did not rasp your soul. You knew there was no
personal application to them. They were the oaths of a bluff, hard man
who would drive you mercilessly, but who would none the less respect
your manhood. They were the oaths of the boss to the man, and they
Fitzgibbon's swearing always sounded dirty. His curses fell about you
like a vile shower, and aroused your hot resentment; the same words
that came clean from Lynch's lips, sounded vile from Fitzgibbon,
because the man, himself, was bad through and through. His oaths were
the oaths of a slave-driver to the slave, and they bespoke cruelty.
But the curses of Captain Swope! God keep me from ever hearing their
like again. They sounded worse than harsh, or vile, they sounded
inhuman. The words came soft and melodious from his lips, but they
were forked with poison and viciousness. As we of the foc'sle listened
to him curse the helmsman, that first morning out, each man felt fear's
icy finger touch the pit of his stomach. The captain's words horrified
us, they sounded so utterly evil, and foretold so plainly the suffering
that was to come to us.
He suddenly cut short his cursing, and turning, caught sight of us, men
and mates, standing idle by the main fife rail. "What's this,
Misters?" he sang out. "Going asleep on the job? Rush those
dogs—rush them! And send a man aft to the wheel—a sailorman! This
damned Dutchman does not know how to steer!"
Those evenly spoken words aroused us to a very frenzy of effort.
Fitzgibbon struck out blindly at the man nearest him, and commenced to
curse us in a steady stream. Lynch reached out and dragged me away
from the line on which I was heaving. "Aft with you!" he ordered me.
"Take the wheel—lively, now!"
Lively it was. I ran along the lee deck towards the poop, my belly
griped by the knowledge that the black-bearded man was watching my
progress. Nineteen-year-old man I might be, able seaman and hard case,
but I'll admit I was afraid. I was afraid of that sinister figure on
the poop, afraid of the soft voice that cursed so horribly.
It was a little squarehead who had the wheel. A young Scandinavian, an
undersized, scrawny boy. He was pallid, and glazy-eyed with terror, as
well he might be after facing the Old Man's tirade, and when I took the
spokes from his nerveless grasp he had not sufficient wit left to give
me the course. Indeed, he had not much chance to speak, for Captain
Swope had followed me aft, and as soon as I had the wheel he commenced
on the luckless youth.
"You didn't watch her, did you? Now I'll show you what happens in my
ship when a man goes to sleep on his job!" he purred. Purred—aye,
that is the word. Through his beard I could see the tip of his tongue
rimming his lips, as he contemplated the frightened boy, much like a
cat contemplating a choice morsel about to be devoured; and there was a
beam of satisfaction in his eye. Oh, it was very evident that Yankee
Swope was about to enjoy himself.
The poor squarehead cowered backward, and Swope stepped forward and
drove his clenched list into the boy's face, smashing him against the
cabin skylights. The boy cried out with pain and fear, the blood
gushing from his nose, and, placing his hands over his face, he tried
to escape by running forward. Swope, the devil, ran beside him,
showering blows upon his unprotected head, and as they reached the
break of the poop he knocked the boy down. Then he gave him the boots,
commenced to kick him heavily about the body, while the boy squirmed,
and pleaded in agonized, broken English for mercy. It was a brutal,
revolting exhibition. I was an untamed forecastle savage, myself, used
to cruelty, and regarding it as natural and inevitable, but as I stood
there at the wheel and, watched Yankee Swope manhandle that boy I
became sick with disgust and rage. Aye, and with fear, for what was
happening to the squarehead might well happen to me!
The boy ceased to squirm under the impact of the boots, and his pained
cries were silenced. Then the captain ceased his kicking, though he
did not cease the silky-toned evil curses that slid from his lips. He
leaned over the bruised, insensible form, grasped the clothes, and
heaved the boy clear off the poop, much as one might heave aside a sack
of rubbish. So the little squarehead vanished from my ken for the time
being, though I heard the thud of his body striking the deck below.
Swope stood looking down at his handiwork for a moment; then he swung
about and came aft, brushing invisible dirt from his clothes as he
walked. When he drew near, I saw his eyes were bright with joyous
excitement; yes, by heaven, Captain Swope was happy because of the work
he had just done; he was a man who found pleasure in inflicting pain
upon others! He paused at my side, glanced sharply at me, then aloft
at the highest weather leech, for I was steering full and by. But he
found no cause for offense, and after damning my eye to be careful, he
turned away and commenced pacing up and down. I was in a furious rage
against the man. But when he looked at me my knees felt weak, and I
answered his words respectfully and meekly indeed. God's truth, I was
afraid of him!
Oh, it was not his size. Yankee Swope was only of medium build; I was
much the better man physically, and could have wiped the deck with him
in short order—though, of course, a quick death would have rewarded
any such attempt upon the master of the Golden Bough. Nor was his
face ill to look at. Indeed, he had a handsome face, though beard and
mustache covered half of it, and there was a peculiar and disturbing
glitter in his black eyes. Some of my fear was caused, I think, by the
sinister softness of his voice. But most of it was caused by the
impression the man, himself, gave—call it personality, if you like.
It was much like the impression of utter recklessness that Newman gave,
only in Yankee Swope's case it was not recklessness, but utter
wickedness. An aura of evil seemed to cling about him, he walked about
in an atmosphere of black iniquity that was horrifying. Any foremast
hand would look after Yankee Swope and say, "There—he's sold his soul
to the Devil! He's a bad one, a real bad one, and no mistake!"
So I looked after him, and thought, while he paced the poop, and I held
the wheel. "You're in for it, Shreve!" I thought. "This packet is so
hot she sizzles, and this Old Man is a bad egg, and no fatal error!
There will be bloody, sudden death before this passage is ended, or I'm
a ruddy soldier!"
Standing there at the wheel, with one eye upon Captain Swope and the
other upon my work, I found I owned a full measure of rueful thoughts.
The Golden Bough was an eye-opener to me, used though I was to hard
ships and hard men. I wished I had not shown myself such a hard case
back there in the Swede's. I cursed myself for the vainglorious fool I
was for having put myself in such a hole. The only rift in my cloud of
gloom was Lynch; the second mate seemed favorably disposed towards me,
I reflected, and had promised to choose me for his watch. He said I
would be safe if I jumped lively to my work. I promised myself to do
that same, for I foresaw a cruel fate for the malingering man aboard
From Lynch, my thoughts naturally jumped to Newman. What had become of
him? Deserted, as Lynch had declared? Developed a craven streak, and
cleared out? No. My grim, reserved companion of the night before had
had some strong, secret purpose in joining the Golden Bough; if he
had deserted, I knew it was in obedience to that same hidden purpose,
and not from fear of ship or officers.
It was while I was speculating about Newman's disappearance that Mister
Lynch came aft and reported that fact to the Old Man, in my hearing.
"We have them all hustling except two," he told Swope. "One jasper the
Swede dosed with his black bottle, and another one who has been
sandbagged. I'll have them on deck by muster. A damned seedy bunch,
taken by and large, Captain. We're one hand shy!"
"What's that? One hand shy?" exclaimed Swope, sharply.
"Yes, sir; cleared out, I expect. Came on board last night—one of the
two the Swede told us about, who picked the ship themselves. There's
one of them at the wheel. But the other one, the big one, was gone
this morning. Best looking beef of the entire lot, too. Good
sailorman, or I'm a farmer; looked like an officer down on his luck."
Swope turned to me. "Where is the fellow who came on board with you?"
"I don't know, sir," I replied. "He had disappeared when I woke up
"Huh! Sounds fishy!" was his response. "Don't lie to me, my lad, or
I'll wring your neck for you!" He stood silent a moment, opening and
shutting his fingers, just as though he were turning the matter over in
the palms of his hands. Then he cursed.
"You searched about for'ard for him?" he asked Lynch.
"Yes, sir; he isn't on board," the second mate answered.
"Then why are you bothering me?" the Old Man wanted to know. "If the
swab is gone, he's gone. Drive the rest of them the harder to make up
for his loss!"
He resumed his pacing of the poop, while Lynch went forward.
I was well enough pleased by the ending of the incident. For a moment
I had feared the captain would blame me for Newman's absence. With the
little squarehead's fate fresh in my mind I had no desire to foul
Yankee Swope's temper.
But I could not help thinking about Newman. His going was a mystery,
and, moreover, I was sorry to see the last of him. I wondered why he
had not stayed. It was not fear that made him clear out; of that I was
certain. What then? The lady?
I began to think about the Golden Bough's lady. To think of Newman
was to think of her. I was sure she had drawn him on board the ship.
Had she, then, sent him packing ashore, while I slept? What was he—a
discarded lover? Was she the lass in the beggarman's yarn? Had he
shipped so he might worship his beloved from the lowly foc'sle? Or was
he seeking vengeance? Oh, I read my Southworth and Bulwer in those
days, and had some fine ideas regarding the tender passion. I felt
sure there was some romantic heart-bond between Newman and the lady.
I wondered if the lady were really so lovely, possessed of such
goodness of heart, as glowing foc'sle report declared. Was she really
an incarnate Mercy in this floating hell? Did she really go forward
and bind up the men's hurts? Why did she not show herself on deck this
fine morning? I wanted to see this angel who was wedded to a devil.
I heard her voice first, ascending through the skylight. It thrilled
me. Not the words—she was but giving a direction to the Chinese
steward—but the rich, sweet quality of the voice. I, the foc'sle
Jack, whose ears' portion was harsh, bruising oaths, felt the feminine
accents as a healing salve. They stirred forgotten memories; they sent
my mind leaping backwards over the hard years to my childhood, and the
sound of my mother's voice. No wonder; I had scarce once heard the
mellow sound of a good woman's voice since I ran away to sea five years
before, only the hard voices of hard men, and, now and then, the shrill
voice of some shrew of the waterside.
She ascended from the cabin, and stepped out upon deck, and, as if
moving as far as possible from the harsh voices forward, came aft and
stood near the wheel. And at the first glance, I knew that foc'sle
report of the lady was not overdrawn, that the most glowing description
did ill justice to her loveliness.
Her age? Oh, twenty-four, perhaps. Beautiful? Aye, judged by any
standard. But it was not her youth, or the trimness of her figure, or
the mere physical beauty of her features that touched the hearts, and
made reverent the voices of rude sailormen. No; it was something
beyond, something greater, than the flesh that commanded our homage.
Once since have I seen a face that was like the face of Captain Swope's
wife—in a great church in a Latin country. It was a painting of the
Madonna, and the master who had painted it had given the Mother's face
an expression of brooding tenderness as deep as the sea, an expression
of pity and sympathy as wide as the world. You felt, as you looked at
the picture, that the artist must have known life, its sufferings and
It was a like expression in the face of the Captain's lady. She was no
pretty lass whose sweet innocence is merely ignorance. She was a woman
who had looked upon life; you felt that she had faced the black evil
and hideous cruelty in a man's world, and that she understood, and
forgave. You felt her soul had passed through a fierce, white heat of
pain, and had emerged burned clean of dross, free of all petty rancor
or hatred. It glowed in her face, this wide understanding and
sympathy, looked from her eyes, and sounded in her voice, and it was
this that won the worship of the desperate men and broken derelicts who
peopled the Golden Bough's forecastle.
Hair? Oh, yes, she had hair, a great mass of it piled on her head,
black hair. Eyes? Her eyes were blue, not the washed out blue of a
morning sky, but the changing, mysterious purple-blue of deep water.
She turned those wonderful eyes upon me, as I stood there at the wheel,
and the red blood flushed my cheeks, while the mask of cynical hardness
I had striven so hard to cultivate fled from my face. She saw through
my pretence, did the lady, she saw me as I really was, a boy playing
desperately at being such a man as my experience had taught me to
admire. I was abashed. I was no longer a hard case with those
pitying, understanding eyes upon me. I was like a lad detected in a
mischief, facing my mother.
She had heard some talk in the cabin, or perhaps she had overheard
Lynch's report to the Old Man, for her words showed she knew me as one
of the men who had shipped in the vessel of my own will. "Why—you are
only a boy!" she said, in a surprised voice. Then her face seemed to
diffuse a sweet sympathy and understanding. I can't explain it, but I
knew that the lady knew just why I had shipped. She looked inside of
me, and read my heart—and understood! "Oh, Boy, why did you do it?"
she exclaimed softly. "It is not worth it—why did you come!
Listen!—do not give offense; whatever they do, show no resentment.
Oh, they are hard—forget your pride, and be willing!"
She seemed about to say more, but Captain Swope interrupted. When she
appeared on deck, he affected not to see her; he had paced past her
twice, but not by the quiver of an eyelash had he shown himself aware
of her presence. Now he suddenly paused nearby. Perhaps his sailor's
sense of fitness was ruffled by the sight of her in conversation with
the man at the wheel; or, more likely, his eye had noted the scene
occurring forward, and he wished to force it upon her attention,
because it would cause her pain.
"Ah, madam, commencing your good works so soon?" he remarked, in a
soft, sneering voice. "Well, from all signs for'ard, you had better
overhaul your medicine chest. You will have a patient or two to
sniffle over to-morrow morning."
The lady shuddered ever so slightly at Swope's words, and her features
contracted, as though with pain. Just for an instant—then she was
serenity again, and she gazed forward, as Swope bade, and silently
watched the mates at their work.
They were manhandling, of course. I might have found humor in the
scene had not the lady just stirred the softer chords of my being.
Away forward, by the foc'sle door, Mister Lynch was engaged in dressing
down the Cockney. This was not a particularly interesting exhibition,
though, for although the Cockney showed fight, he was clearly
outmatched, and arose from the deck only to be knocked down again.
But, by the main hatch was a more interesting spectacle. There, Mister
Fitzgibbon was busied with the spare, red-shirted man, he of the
intelligent face and gashed skull, the man I had found so mysteriously
occupying the bunk Newman had gone to bed in, and who, Lynch declared,
was neither sailor, nor bum. There on the poop, we could not overhear
the small man's words for Mister Fitz's shrill cursing, but he seemed
to be expostulating with the mate. And he seemed intent on forcing
past the mate and coming aft. He would try to run past the hatch, and
Fitzgibbon would punch him and send him reeling backwards. Even as we
watched, the mate seized him by the collar of his red shirt, slammed
him up against the rail, and then, with a belaying pin, hazed him
forward at a run.
I heard the lady sigh—and Swope chuckled. Then I noticed she was
staring fixedly at the side of the cabin skylight. A few drops of the
blood the Old Man had drawn from the little squarehead were splattered
upon the woodwork and the deck. Silently, she regarded them, and her
slight figure seemed to droop a bit. Then, with a queer little shrug,
she squared her shoulders, and faced the Captain with up-tilted
chin. . . . Aye, and I sensed the meaning of that little shrug, and
the squared shoulders. It meant that she had picked up her Cross, and
that she would courageously bear it in pain and sorrow through the dark
days of the coming voyage. For I truly believe the lady suffered
vicariously for every blow that bruised a sailor's flesh on board the
"Yes, I must look to my medicines," she replied to Swope. "I see they
will be required." There was no active hate in her voice, or in her
eyes, but she looked at the man much as one looks at some loathsome yet
inevitable object—a snake, or a toad. And she turned away without
further words, and descended to the cabin. Swope watched her departure
with a half smile parting his beard and mustache. Oh, how I longed to
be able to wipe that sneer from his mouth with my clenched fist!
The Cockney relieved me at the wheel, at one bell, when the mates
turned the crowd to after a short half hour for dinner. Oh, what a
changed Cockney from yestereve! He came slinking meekly along the lee
side of the poop. When he took over the wheel he had hardly spirit
enough in him to mumble over the directions I gave him. His eyes were
puffed half closed, and his lips were cut and swollen. Gone was the
swanking, swaggering Cockney who had paraded before the Swede's bar.
Instead there was only this cowed, miserable sailorman taking over the
wheel. That Cockney had suffered a cruel double cross when he drank of
the black bottle, and was hoisted over the Golden Bough's rail.
Yesterday he was a great man, the "Knitting Swede's" chief bully, with
the hard seafare behind him, and with unlimited rum, and an easy, if
rascally, shore life ahead of him. To-day he was just a shell-back
outward bound, with a sore head and a bruised body; a fellow sufferer
in the foc'sle of a dreaded ship, mere dirt beneath the officers' feet.
Such a fall! Keenly as I had disliked the man yesterday, to-day I was
sorry for him. The more sorry because I felt that the Jocose Swede had
come near having me as the butt of his little joke, instead of Cockney.
I scurried forward, intent upon dinner. I drew my whack from the
Chinaman in the gallery, and bolted it down in the empty foc'sle. It
was a miserable repast, a dish of ill-cooked lobscouse, and a pannikin
of muddy coffee, and I reflected glumly that I had joined a hungry ship
as well as a hot one.
I finished the last of that mysterious stew, and then filled and
lighted my pipe. I felt sure I would be allowed the half hour dinner
spell the rest of the crowd had enjoyed, and I relaxed and puffed
contentedly, determined to enjoy my respite to the last minute. For
the sounds from the deck indicated a lively afternoon for all hands.
But something occurred to interrupt my cherished "Smoke O," something
that caused me to sit up suddenly and stiffly on the bench, while my
pipe fell unheeded from my slackened mouth, and an unpleasant prickle
ran over my scalp and down my spine.
I have already mentioned that the Golden Bough had a topgallant
forecastle; that is, the crew's quarters were away forward, in the bows
of the ship, beneath the forecastle head. It was a gloomy cavern; the
bright day of outdoors was a muddy light within.
Well, in the floor of the port foc'sle, wherein I was sitting, was the
hatch to the forepeak, below. It was this yard square trap-door which
caused my agitation. My glance fell casually upon it, and I saw it
move! It lifted a hair's breadth, and I heard a slight scraping sound
Aye, I was startled! A rat? But I knew that even a ship rat did not
grow large enough to move a trap-door. The ghost of some dead
sailor-man, haunting the scene of his earthly misery? Well, I had the
superstitions of a foc'sle Jack, but I knew well enough that a proper
ghost would not walk abroad in the noon o' day. I stared fascinated at
that moving piece of wood. It slowly lifted about an inch, and then,
through the narrow slit; I saw an eye regarding me with a fixed glare.
I glared back, my amazement struggling with the conviction that was
oversweeping me; and then, just as I was about to speak, Bucko Lynch's
voice came booming into my retreat.
"Hey, you! D'you reckon to spell-o the whole afternoon? If you've
finished your scouse, out on deck with you—and lively about it!"
There was no denying that request, eye or no eye. And at the second
mate's first word, the trap door dropped shut, I clattered out of the
foc'sle, and to work; but I was turning that little matter of the
forepeak hatch over in my mind, you bet!
It was near dusk, well on in the first dog-watch, when the mates let up
with their driving, and herded all hands aft to the main deck. The
forepeak hatch had rested heavily upon my mind all afternoon, and I was
tingling with excitement when I went aft with the rest to face the
ceremony which always concludes the first day out, the choosing and
setting of the watches, and the calling of the muster roll. Something
unexpected was about to happen, I felt sure.
We were a sorry looking crowd gathered there on the main deck, before
the cabin, a tatterdemalion mob, with bruised bodies and sullen faces,
and with hate and fright in our glowering eyes. Those few of us who
were seamen possessed a bitter knowledge of the cruel months ahead, the
rest, the majority, faced a fate all the more dreadful for being dimly
perceived, and of which they had received a fierce foretaste that
Captain Swope came to the break of the poop, lounged over the rail, and
looked us over. In his hand he held the ship's articles. He regarded
us with a sort of wicked satisfaction, seeming to draw delight from the
sight of our huddled, miserable forms. Without saying a word, he
gloated over us, over the puffed face of the Cockney, over the
expression of desperate horror in the face of the red-shirted man, over
the abject figure of the little squarehead, who had been going about
all afternoon sobbing, with his hand pressed to his side, and whose
face was even now twisted with a pain to which he feared to give voice.
Aye, Swope stared down at us, licking his chops, so to speak, at the
sight of our suffering; and we glared back at him, hating and afraid.
Then the lady appeared at the poop rail, some paces distant from the
Old Man. It was heartening to turn one's eyes from the Old Man's
wicked, sneering face to the face of the lady. There was sorrow in
that brooding look she gave us, and pity, and understanding. She was
used to looking upon the man-made misery of men, you felt, and skilled
in softening it. There was a stir in our ranks as we met her gaze, a
half audible murmur ran down the line, and the slackest of us
straightened our shoulders a trifle. The Old Man sensed the sudden
cheer amongst us, and, I think, sensed its cause, for without glancing
at the lady, he drawled an order to the mate, standing just below him.
"Well, Mister Fitz, start the ball rolling—your first say."
The mate allowed his fierce, pig eyes to rove over us, and to my secret
delight he passed me by. "Where's the nigger?" he said, referring to
the mulatto, who was at the wheel. "The wheel? Well, he's my meat."
So the watch choosing began. Lynch promptly chose me, as he had
promised he would, and I stepped over to the starboard deck.
Fitzgibbon chose the Cockney, Lynch picked a squarehead—so the
alternate choosing went, the mates' skilled eyes first selecting all
those who showed in their appearance some evidence of sailorly
"You!" said Fitzgibbon, indicating the red-shirted man, and motioning
him over to the port side of the deck.
The red-shirted man, whose agitated face I had been covertly watching,
instead of obeying the mate, stepped out of line and appealed to Swope.
"Captain, may I speak to you now?" he asked, in a shrill, excited voice.
"Eh, what's this?" exclaimed Swope, gazing down at the fellow. He
lifted his hand and checked the mate, who was already about to collar
his prey. I think Swope knew just what was coming, and he found sport
in the situation. "What do you want, my man?" his soft voice inquired.
A flood of agitated words poured out of the red-shirted man's mouth.
"Captain—a terrible mistake—foully mistreated, all of these men
foully mistreated by your officers—tried to see you and was
beaten. . . ." With an effort he made his speech more coherent. "A
terrible mistake, sir! I have been kidnapped on board this vessel! I
am not a sailor, I do not know how I come to be here—I have been
"How terrible!" said Swope. "I do not doubt your word at all, my man.
Anyone can see you are no sailor, but a guttersnipe. And possibly you
were—er—'kidnapped,' as you call it, in company with the wharf-rats
"But, Captain—good heavens, you do not understand!" cried the man. "I
am a clergyman—a minister of the Gospel! I am the Reverend Richard
Deaken of the Bethel Mission in San Francisco!"
The Reverend Richard Deaken! I saw a light. I had heard of the
Reverend Deaken while I was in the Swede's house. The labors of this
particular sky-pilot were, it appeared, particularly offensive to
crimpdom. He threatened to throw a brickbat of exposure into the camp.
He was appealing to the good people of the city to put a stop to the
simple and effective methods the boarding masters used to separate Jack
from his money, and then barter his carcass to the highest bidder. I
had heard the Swede, himself, say, "Ay ban got him before election!"
And this is how the reverend gentleman had been "got"—crimped into an
outward bound windjammer, with naught but a ragged red shirt and a pair
of dungaree pants to cover his nakedness; and he found, when he made
his disclosure of identity, that the high place of authority was
occupied by a man who enjoyed and jeered at his evil plight.
For, at the man's words, the Old Man threw back his head and laughed
loudly. "Ho, ho, ho! D'ye hear that, Misters? The Swede has given
us a sky-pilot—a damned Holy Joe! By God, a Holy Joe on the Golden
Bough! Ho, ho, ho!" Then he addressed the unfortunate man again.
"So you are a Holy Joe, are you? You don't look it! You look like an
ordinary stiff to me! Let me see—what did you call yourself?
Deaken?" He lifted the articles, and scanned the names that
represented the crew. "Deaken—hey! Well, I see no such name
written here." I did not doubt that. Save my name, and Newman's, I
doubted if any name on the articles could be recognized by any man
present. "I see one name here, written in just such a flourishing hand
as a man of your parts might possess—- 'Montgomery Mulvaney.' That is
undoubtedly you; you are Montgomery Mulvaney!"
"But, Captain—" commenced the parson, desperately.
"Shut up!" snapped Swope. "Now, listen here, my man! You may be a
Holy Joe ashore, or you may not be, that does not concern me. But I
find you on board my vessel, signed on my articles as 'Montgomery
Mulvaney, A.B.' Yet you tell me yourself you are no sailor. Well, my
fancy man, Holy Joe you may be, stiff you are, but you'll be a sailor
before this passage ends, or I'm not Angus Swope! Now then, step over
there to port, and join your watch!"
"But, Captain—" commenced the desperate man again. Then he evidently
saw the futility of appealing to Captain Swope. Abruptly, he turned
and addressed the lady.
"Madam—my God, madam, can you not make him understand——"
The lady shook her head, frowned warningly, and spoke a soft, quick,
sentence. "No, no—do not protest, do as they say!" Well she knew the
futility of argument, and the danger to the one who argued. Indeed,
even while she spoke, the mate took the parson by his shirt collar, and
jerked him roughly into his place. And there he stood, by the
Cockney's side, wearing an air of bewildered dismay both comic and
The mates renewed their choosing, and in a few more moments we were all
gathered in two groups, regarding each other across the empty deck.
There were fifteen men in the mate's watch, but, because of Newman's
absence, only fourteen had fallen to Lynch.
The Old Man handed down the articles to Mister Lynch. "All right,
Mister, muster them," he said. "And (addressing us generally) if you
don't recognize your names, answer anyway—or we'll baptize you anew!"
Lynch held the papers before his face. I thrilled with a sudden
expectancy. Something startling was going to happen, I felt it in my
bones. Some clairvoyant gleam told me the forepeak hatch was wide open
"Answer to your names!" boomed Lynch's great voice. "A. Newman!"
"Here!" was the loud and instant response.
As one man, we swung our heads, and looked forward. Sauntering aft,
and just passing the main hatch, was the man with the scar. He came
abreast of us, and paused there in the empty center of the deck.
It was the lady, on the poop above, who broke the spell of silence the
man's dramatic arrival had placed upon all hands. She broke it with a
kind of strangled gasp. "Roy—it is Roy—oh, God!" she said, and she
swayed, and clutched the rail before her as though to keep from
falling. She stared down at Newman as if he were a ghost from the
But it was the manner of Captain Swope which commanded the attention of
all hands. He was seeing a ghost, too, an evil ghost. It was like
foc'sle belief come true—this man had sold his soul to the Devil, and
the Devil was suddenly come to claim his own. He, too, stared down at
Newman, and clutched the rail for support, while the flesh of his face
became a livid hue, and his expression one of incredulous horror.
"Where have you come from?" he said in a shrill, strained voice.
Newman's clothes and face were smutted with the grime from the peak,
but his air was debonair. He answered Captain Swope airily. "Why—I
come just now from your forepeak—a most unpleasant, filthy hole,
Angus! And less recently, I come from my grave, from that shameful
grave of stripes and bars to which your lying words sent me, Angus!
I've come to pay you a visit, to sail with you. Why, I'm on your
articles—I am 'A. Newman.' An apt name, a true name—eh, Angus?
Come now, are you not glad to see me?"
It was unprecedented, that occurrence. A foremast hand badgering the
captain on his own poop deck; badgering Yankee Swope of the Golden
Bough, whilst his two trusty buckos stood by inactive and gaping.
But, as I explained, there was an air about Newman that said "Hands
off!" It was not so much his huge, muscular body; there was something
in the spirit of the man that was respect-compelling; something lethal,
a half-hidden, over-powering menace; something that overawed. He was
no foc'sle Jack, no commonplace hard case; as he stood there alone, he
had the bearing of a man who commanded large ships, who directed great
affairs. And his bearing held inactive and over-awed those two
fighting mates, while he mocked their god, Swope.
And Swope! The man became craven before Newman's upturned gaze. He
was palsied with fear, stark fear. I saw the sweat beads glistening on
his brow. He lifted a shaking hand and wiped them off. Then he
suddenly turned and strode aft, out of our view, without a parting word
to the mates, without even the time honored, "Below, the watch." In
the quiet that was over us, we heard his footsteps as he walked aft.
They were uncertain, like the footsteps of a drunken man. We heard
them descend to the cabin.
Newman turned his gaze upon the lady. She stood there, clutching the
rail. Her body seemed frozen into the attitude. But her face was
Yes, alive—and not with fear or horror. There was a delight beyond
the powers of description shining in her face. There was incredulity,
with glad conviction overcoming it. Her eyes glowed. Her heart was in
her eyes as she looked at Newman.
Newman spoke, and his voice was rich and sweet, all its harsh menace
"I have come, Mary," says he.
She did not reply with words. But they looked at each other, those
two, and although there were no more words, yet we gained the
impression they were communing. Men and mates, we gaped, curious and
tongue-tied. This was something quite beyond us, outside our
experience. Bully Fitzgibbon, across the deck from me, pulled wildly
at his mustache, and every movement of his fingers betrayed his
For what seemed a long time the man and the woman stood silent,
regarding each other. The dusk, which had been gathering, crept upon
us. The lady's face lost its clear outline, and became shadowy.
Suddenly she turned and flitted aft. We listened to her light
footsteps descending to the cabin, as, a short while before, we had
listened to the Old Man's.
When sound of her had ceased, Newman, without being bidden, stepped to
the starboard side and fell into line beside me.
The mate finally broke the awkward silence. Lack of the usual sting
from his voice showed how the scene had shaken him.
"Well—carry on, Mister!" he said to Lynch. "Finish the mustering."
The second mate read off the list of names. With the single exception
of myself, not a man responded with the usual "Here, sir." Not a man
recognized his name among those called; a circumstance not to be
wondered at, for the list was doubtless made up of whatever names
happened to pop into the Knitting Swede's mind. But the mates did not
care about responses. As soon as Lynch was finished, Fitzgibbon
commanded shortly, "Relieve wheel and lookout. Go below, the watch."
We of the starboard watch went below. Newman came with us, and he
walked as he afterwards walked and worked with us, a man apart.
A man apart Newman was. We instinctively recognized that fact from the
beginning. When we had gained the foc'sle, the rage in our hearts
found expression in bitter cursing of our luck, the Swede, the ship and
the officers. But Newman did not curse, nor did we expect him to. We
sensed that he was glad he was at sea in the Golden Bough, that he
was there for some peculiar purpose of his own. He was, of course, the
dominant personality in the foc'sle, indeed, in the ship. But,
strangely enough, we did not look to him for leadership. We regarded
him curiously, and with awe and some fear, but we did not look to him
to lead the watch. We felt he was not one of us. His business on the
ship was not our business, his aim not our aim.
Because of this aloofness of Newman, I suddenly found myself occupying
the proud position of cock of the starboard watch. A foc'sle must have
its leading spirit, and the cockship is a position much coveted and
eagerly striven for in most ships, decided only after combat between
the fighting men of the crew. But the Golden Bough had an
extraordinary crew. The majority of the men in my watch were just
stiffs, who possessed neither the experience nor desire to contest for
leadership. The few seamen, besides myself and Newman, were
squareheads, quiet peasants of Scandinavia and Germany, who felt lost
and unhappy without somebody always at hand to order them about.
So, within half an hour after going below for that first time, I found
myself giving orders to men and being obeyed. They were the first
orders I had ever given, and, oh, they were sweet in my mouth! Think
of it, my last ship I had been ordered about by the foc'sle cock. I
had gone to the galley at command and fetched the watch's food. Now,
scant days after, I, a fledgling able seaman, was lording it over the
foc'sle of the hottest ship on the high seas, and ordering another man
to go after the supper. And he went. I think I grew an inch during
that dog-watch; I know my voice gained a mature note it lacked before.
I was a true son of the foc'sle, you must understand, with the habits
and outlook of a barbarian. This leadership I so casually assumed may
appear a petty thing, but it was actually the greatest thing that
happened to me since birth. This little savage authority I commenced
to exercise over my companions by virtue of the threat of my fists, was
my first taste of power. It awakened in me the driving instinct, the
desire to lead, and eventually placed me in command of ships; it also
gave me my first sense of responsibility, without which there can be no
During the supper, and after, I found myself watching and studying my
companions. For I feared that my youth might later cause someone to
question my cockship, and I meant to fight for it in that event. But
my scrutiny satisfied my natural confidence. There was no man in my
watch I could not handle in either a rough-and-tumble or stand-up go, I
thought, with the exception of Newman. He would not interfere with
me—his interest lay aft, in the cabin, not in the foc'sle. In the
port watch were two fighting men, my eyes had told me, the Cockney and
the Nigger. If they disputed my will in foc'sle affairs, I was still
confident I should prove the best man. I felt my tenure of office was
secure, and that new, delicious feeling of power quite effaced, for the
moment, the memory of the day, and reconciled me to the ship.
This scrutiny I gave my companions was the first chance I had to fairly
size them up, and I afterwards discovered that my first impressions of
them, individually and collectively, were quite correct.
We were, as you know, thirty men before the mast, fifteen to a watch.
More than half of the thirty were of that class known to sailors as
"stiffs." This is, they were greenhorns masquerading on the articles
as able seamen. And such stiffs! The Knitting Swede must have combed
the jails, and stews, and boozing kens of all San Francisco to assemble
that unsavory mob.
In my watch, Newman, myself, and four square-heads could be called
seamen. But the squareheads knew not a dozen words of English between
them. The other nine were stiffs, various kinds of stiffs, broken men
all, with the weaknesses of dissolute living stamped upon their
Except two men. These two were stiffs right enough, and their faces
were evil, God knows, but they plainly were not to be classed as
weaklings. I noticed them particularly that first watch below because
they sat apart from the wrangling, cursing gang, and whispered to each
other, and stared at Newman, who was lying in his bunk.
They were medium sized men, as pallid of face as Newman, himself, and
their faces gave one the impression of both slyness and force. A grim
looking pair; I should not have cared to run afoul of them on the
Barbary Coast after midnight. I already knew the names they called
each other—the only names I ever knew them by—"Boston," for the blond
fellow with the bridge of his nose flattened, and "Blackie" for the
other, a chap as swarthy as a dago, with long, oily black hair, and
eyes too close together.
Even as I watched, they seemed to arrive at some decision in their
whispered conversation. Blackie got up from the bench and crossed over
to Newman's bunk. The latter was lying with his face to the wall.
Blackie placed his hand upon Newman's shoulder, leaned over, and
whispered into his ear.
I saw Newman straighten out his long body. For an instant he lay
tense, then he slowly turned his head and faced the man who leaned over
him. On his face was the same expression of deadly menace he had shown
the Cockney, back in the Swede's barroom.
Blackie could not withstand that deadly gaze. He backed hurriedly
away, and sat down beside his mate. Then Newman spoke in low, measured
tones, and at the first word the babel of noise stopped in the foc'sle,
and all hands watched his lips with bated breath.
"I play a lone hand," he addressed the pair. "You will keep your
mouths shut, and work, and play none of your deviltries in this ship
unless I give the word. Otherwise—" The great scar on his forehead
was blue and twitching, and his voice was deadly earnest. He did a
thing so expressive it made me shudder. He lifted his hand, and
carelessly placed his forefinger on the outer side of his bunk, and
when he lifted it, two of the myriad cockroaches that infested the
foc'sle were mashed fiat on the board.
Blackie's face set sullenly, and the angry blood darkened his cheeks.
Boston wriggled uneasily on his seat, and cleared his throat as though
about to speak. But, at the instant, Lynch's booming voice came into
the foc'sle, calling the watch on deck, and putting an abrupt end to
There was an immediate scramble for the exit to the deck. Aye, the
mates had put the fear of the Lord—and themselves—into us, and we
were all eager to show how willing we were! But I heard Fitzgibbon
without, as well as Lynch, and, from the gossip I had heard at the
Swede's, I suspected the foc'sle was about to be introduced to the
orthodox hell-ship manner of turning to the watch. Both mates would
meet us coming up, and the first man on deck would get a clout for not
being sooner, and the last man a boot for being a laggard.
So I held back, and allowed another the honor of being first through
This honor was seized by none other than Blackie. I suppose he was
anxious to escape from Newman's disturbing gaze; anyhow, at the second
mate's first summons, he bounded from the bench, and tumbled through
the door. I followed immediately after, and saw my suspicions
Mister Fitz was holding a lantern, and Mister Lynch had his hands free
for business. He met Blackie's egress with a careless jab of his fist
that up-ended the unfortunate stiff, and the injunction, "Hearty, now,
you swabs! Lay aft!"
I quickly sidestepped out of the second mate's range, in case he should
aim a blow at me, and started to obey the command to lay aft. But I
had taken but a step when I was arrested by Blackie's action.
Instead of adopting the sensible course of meekness under insult,
Blackie rebounded from the deck and flew at Lynch. In the light cast
by Mister Fitz's lantern, I saw the gleam of a knife blade in Blackie's
hand. I suppose the anger that Newman's words had raised exploded
beneath Lynch's blow, and caused his mad rashness.
But Bully Lynch made nothing of the assault. "Ah, would you!" I heard
him say as Blackie closed with him, and then the knife-hand went up in
the air, and the weapon fell upon the deck. "I'll teach you!" said
Lynch, and he commenced to shower blows upon the man. Blackie screamed
curses, and fought back futilely. Lynch commented in a monotone with
each of his thudding blows, "Take that—that—that." Soon he knocked
Blackie cold, across the forehatch. Then he turned to us who were
clustered outside the foc'sle door, watching. "Aft, with you!
Jumping, it is, now!"
Aft, we went, and jumping, too, with the mate's laugh in our ears.
I had the second trick at the wheel that watch, from ten o'clock till
midnight. I came panting and sweating to the task, keenly relishing
the chance of resting. For there was to be no "farming" away the night
watches in the Golden Bough; the second mate had kept us upon the
dead run from one job to another, and I sensed this was the routine of
It was a fine, clean smelling night of moon and stars, and brisk
breeze. The wind had freshened since day, and the vessel was stepping
out and showing the paces that made her famous. She had an easy helm;
one of those rare craft that may be said to steer herself. I had time
to think, and receive impressions, as I half lounged at the wheel. The
round moon brightened the world, the west pyramids of canvas above me
bellied taut, the cordage wrung a stirring whistle from the wind, the
silver spray cascaded on the weather deck. I watched the scene with
delight, drank in the living beauty of that ship, and felt the witchery
the Golden Bough practiced upon sailors' minds steal over and possess
me. Aye, she was a ship! I was soon to curse my masters, and the very
day I was born, but never, after that night, did I curse the ship. I
loved her. I felt the full force that night of a hoary sea axiom,
"Ships are all right. 'Tis the men in them."
I was surprised not to see Captain Swope upon the poop. According to
the gossip I had heard at the Knitting Swede's, this eight to twelve
watch was Yankee Swope's favorite prowling time. But he did not
appear; indeed, he had not shown himself since he had so ignominiously
surrendered the deck to Newman. I was not disappointed. I shouldn't
have cared if he remained below the entire voyage.
But I did see the lady that watch. When Mister Lynch, and his
familiars (of whom more anon), had gone forward to a job, she suddenly
stepped out of the companion hatch and flitted aft towards me. Then,
when she was close enough to discern my features by the reflection from
the binnacle lights, she stopped. I heard a sort of gasping sigh that
meant, I knew, disappointment, and she moved over to the rail, and
stood staring at the sea.
I knew what was wrong. She had, in the darkness, mistaken my very
respectable bulk for Newman's gigantic body. She had expected to find
Newman at the wheel; she was eager for a private word with him.
I watched her, with my head half turned on my shoulder. Aye, but it
thrilled me, the sight of her! You will call me a romantic young fool,
but it was not that. It was no thrill of desire, no throb of passion
for her beauty, though she was fair enough, in all faith, as she stood
there in the moonlight. It was something bigger, something deeper, a
wave of sympathy and pity that surged through my being, a feeling I had
never before felt during my savage young life. A pretty pass, you say,
when the ignorant foc'sle Jack pities the captain's wife? Aye, but the
very beasts of the field might have pitied the wife of Yankee Swope.
Her body seemed so slender and childlike. Too fine and dainty to hold
the woe of a hell-ship, and, Heaven knew, what private sorrow besides.
She did not know I was observing her, or else her great trouble caused
her to forget my presence, for she suddenly buried her face in her
hands, and her shoulders commenced to heave. It stabbed me to the
quick, the sight of that noiseless grief. My eyelids smarted, and my
throat bulged uncomfortably. What was her trouble? Swope? Had he
hurt her? Was the talk I had heard at the Swede's correct, did that
black devil beat the lady? My hands grasped the wheel spokes fiercely,
as though I had Swope's sleek throat between my fingers.
I heard Mister Lynch coming aft. I thought the lady would not wish him
to see her weeping, and since she did not seem to hear the approach, I
called softly to her, "Lady! They come!"
She straightened, and, after a second, came swiftly to me. She bent
her face within the narrow radius of the binnacle lights, and her eyes
looked straight into mine. Aye, and the misery and suffering I saw in
those great eyes!
"God bless you, boy," she whispered. "You are his friend? Tell him I
come forward in the morning. Tell him—for my sake—as he loves his
life—to look behind him when he walks in the dark!"
With that she turned and sped to the hatch, and was gone below. And up
the poop ladder tramped Lynch, with the two tradesmen following him.
I have mentioned these two familiars of the second mate before, and I
had better explain them.
The Golden Bough carried neither junior officers, nor bo'suns, an
unusual circumstance, considering the size and character of her crews.
Instead, she carried two sailmakers and two carpenters, and these
tradesmen lived by themselves in the round-house, ate aft at a special
table, and, save when emergency work prevented, stood watch and watch.
They stood their night watches aft, with the officer on deck. This
arrangement—unique in all my sea experience—provided three men,
awake, armed and handy, throughout the night. It worried us a good
deal, this arrangement, when, in due time, we began to talk of mutiny.
But I was not talking, or even thinking, of mutiny this night, or for
many nights. Nothing was further from my thoughts. Mutiny is a
serious business, a hanging business, the business of scoundrels, or
the last resort of desperate men. I knew the consequences of mutiny,
so did the others, squareheads and stiffs, and we had not been
sufficiently maltreated to make us ripe for such an undertaking.
But there was mutiny in the air on the Golden Bough from that very
first day or the voyage. I was soon to learn that there was plenty of
rebellious spirit forward, and shrewd, daring fellows eager to lead,
because of piratical greed. Also, she was a hell-ship. It was part of
a hell-ship's routine to thump the crew to the raw edge of mutiny, and
keep them there.
You must understand the Golden Bough, and to understand her you must
understand the knock-down-and-drag-out system in vogue on board a good
many American ships of that day, and later. A hell-ship was not just
the result of senseless brutality on the part of the officers. She was
the product of a system. The captain rode high in his owner's esteem
when he could point to the golden results of his stern rule at sea; the
bucko mates were specifically hired to haze the crew, and drew extra
large pay for the job.
It was, of course, a matter of dollars. If the owners did not have to
pay wages to the crew, they would save money, wouldn't they? I suppose
some sleek-jowled, comfortable pillar of church and society first
thought of it, and whispered it into his skipper's ear. And the
skipper whispered it to his mates, and they made that ship so hot the
crew cleared out at the first port or call, leaving their wages behind.
So was the hell-ship born.
For instance: We were thirty men before the mast in the Golden Bough,
signed on for the voyage at $25 a month. Of course, we didn't get any
of this wage until the voyage was completed, until the vessel returned
to an American port. Think of the saving to the owners if we deserted
in Hong Kong. They would have no labor bill, practically, for working
the ship from America to China, no labor bill during the months ere she
was ready for sea again. Then when ready to leave Hong Kong, Swope
would ship a new crew, haze them as we were being hazed, and they would
clear out at the next port.
That system worked. It was a money saver, and lasted till the
ascendency of steam, and the passage of tardy laws, ended it. Why,
some skippers—like Yankee Swope—-boasted they never paid off a crew.
Talk about efficiency, and reducing overhead costs! Some of those old
windjammer skippers could swap yarns with these factory experts of
to-day, I tell you!
Of course, not all American ships, or even a majority of them, adopted
this system. But enough did to give American ships an evil name among
sailors that has endured to the present day.
And this evil name helped sustain the system. It completed a kind of
vicious circle. The crew ran away from the hell-ship, and spread the
evil fame of the vessel over the five oceans. Sailors then would not
willing ship in her—save, of course, a few adventuresome young fools,
like myself, who sought glory—and the skipper found himself putting to
sea with a mob of stiffs in his foc'sle.
Often he had trouble getting stiffs. In some ports, where the crimping
system was not developed, the hell ship waited for months for a crew.
In other ports, like San Francisco, where the boarding master's will
was the law of sailortown, the captain paid over his blood money, and
the boarding master delivered him his crew, drunk, drugged and
sandbagged. When he got to sea he would find his crew composed chiefly
of the very scum of the waterside, a mode of unlicked, lawless
ruffians, and his bucko mates would need all their prowess to keep them
subordinate. Hazing such a mob was the only way to manage them. Also,
it made them run away and leave their wages behind.
But there were degrees of "heat" in the hell-ships. The bucko mates
usually contented themselves with working the men at top speed,
depriving them of their afternoon watches below, and thumping the
stiffs, because they were lubberly at their work. This treatment was
sufficiently severe to produce the desired results. This was normal
hell-ship style. The few sailors, in the crew, providing they were
willing, rarely received more than verbal abuse.
Now, brutality feeds upon itself. Some officers, after living under
the system for a time, became perfect fiends. They came to enjoy
beating up men. In some ships, the dressing down of the crew was a
continuous performance, and sailors, as well as stiffs, caught it.
As in the Golden Bough. God's truth, there was blood spilt every
watch! Always, after the first day out, did the foc'sle bunks contain
a miserable wretch or two laid up because of a manhandling.
Yet we of the starboard watch were comparatively lucky. Mister Lynch,
our officer, was what I may call a normal bucko. He hazed for the
results rather than for the pleasure of hazing, though I think he did
get some satisfaction out of thumping the men. You feel a fine thrill
when you see a half dozen huskies cringe away before you with fear in
their eyes. I imagine it is the same thrill a wild animal tamer feels
as he faces his beasts. I felt this fascinating sensation many times
after I had become a mate of ships. Lynch had no mercy on the stiffs
of our watch; he hammered the rudiments of seamanship into them with
astonishing speed. He cuffed a knowledge of English into the
squareheads. But he kept his hands off Newman and me, not because he
was afraid of us—I don't think Lynch feared anything—but because we
knew our work and did it. Oh, I got mine, and with interest, in the
Golden Bough, but not from Lynch.
The mate was a different type. He was all brute, was Fitzgibbon, and
sailors and stiffs alike caught it from him. A natural bully, and,
like most such, at heart craven.
Lynch used his bare fists upon the men, Fitz used brass knuckles. I
don't think Lynch ever bothered to carry a gun in the daytime.
Fitzgibbon never stirred on deck without a deadly bulge in his coat
pocket. Lynch stalked among us by night or day, alone, and unafraid.
After dark, the mate never stirred from the poop unless Sails and Chips
were at his heels. Lynch was a bluff, hard man; Fitzgibbon was a
cruel, sly beast.
And Swope! Well, I cannot explain or judge his character. It would
take a medical man to do that, I think. He was his two mates rolled
into one, plus brains. He had fed a certain strong Sadistic element in
his nature until inflicting pain upon others had become his chief
passion. I can imagine his perverted soul living in former lives—as a
Familiar of the Inquisition, or the red-clad torturer of some medieval
prince. But explain him, no. I will tell his ending, you may judge.
But, of course, I was not musing upon the economy of hell-ships, or the
characters of bucko mates, during the balance of that trick at the
wheel. The lady's message to Newman possessed my mind.
When I went forward at eight bells, I immediately called Newman aside,
and delivered her words. He listened in silence, and his face grew
soft. He squeezed my hand, and whispered somewhat brokenly, "Thank
you, Jack"—an exhibition of emotion that startled as much as it
pleased me, he being such a stern man.
Then, when I repeated the latter part of the lady's message, "Tell him
. . . to look behind him when he walks in the dark," his features
hardened again, and I heard him mutter, "So, that is his game!"
"What is?" I asked.
He did not answer for a moment, and I turned away towards my bunk. But
at that he reached out a detaining hand.
"You are a big man, Shreve," he said. "Not such a difference in our
sizes but that a man might mistake us after dark. Keep your weather
eye lifted, lad; you, too, must look behind when you walk in the dark."
"And what shall I look for?" asked I.
"Death," he said.
Came morning, but not the lady.
And the foc'sle was in sad need of her ministrations. Quite half the
crew needed salves and bandages for their bruises and cuts, and there
was, besides, a more serious case demanding attention.
When the starboard watch was called at four o'clock, we heard a low,
insistent moaning in the port foc'sle. The man who called us said that
the little squarehead—the lad Swope had manhandled—had again fallen
afoul the masters. The hurts Swope had inflicted prevented the boy
moving about as quickly as Mister Fitzgibbon desired, so the bucko had
laid him out and walked upon him during the mid-watch. When he was
through, the lad had crawled on his hands and knees into the foc'sle,
By eight o'clock in the morning, when the starboard watch went below
again, we found the poor chap daft, and babbling, and on fire with
fever. The mate gave up his efforts to arouse him, and admitted to
Lynch that "the damn little stock fish is a bit off color. Needs a
dose o' black draught."
After breakfast, Newman and I stepped into the port foc'sle. The
squareheads of our watch were already there, sitting gloomily about, or
clumsily attempting to make the injured youth more comfortable.
He looked bad, no mistake. Newman shook his head, gravely, as we
"It is a task for her," he said to me. "She has the healing gift. The
boy is badly hurt."
A growled curse took my answer from me. It came from one of the
squareheads, from Lindquist, a sober, bearded, middle-aged man, the one
man among them who could manage a few words of English conversation.
"Koom vrom mine town," he said, indicating the tossing form in the bunk.
His blue eyes had a worried, puzzled expression, and his voice bespoke
puzzled wrath. It was evident his slow moving peasant's mind was
grappling with the bloody fact of a hell-ship. It was something new in
his experience. He was trying to fathom it. Why were he and his mates
thumped, when they willingly did their work? What for? "Nils iss goot
boy," he said to us. "So hard he vork, ja." Then he bent over the
bunk and resumed the application of his old folk remedy, the placing of
wetted woolen socks upon Nils' forehead.
Before the foc'sle door, we found our mob of stiffs, nursing their
hurts, and watching the cabin. For, as all the world of ships knew,
this was the time of day the lady came forward on her errand of mercy.
They were a sorry-looking mob, as sore of heart as of body.
It was not so much medical attention the stiffs wanted, I think, as
sympathy. Bruises and lacerations, so long as they didn't keep a man
off his feet, were lightly regarded in that tough crowd. But the
lady's sweet, sane being was a light in the pall of brutality that hung
over the ship. She was something more than woman, or doctor, to those
men; in her they saw the upper world they had lost, the fineness of
life they had never attained. They had all felt the heartening
influence of her presence at the muster; they craved for it now as
thirsty men crave for water. They were men in hell, and through the
lady they had a vision of heaven.
Two bells went, and then three, and the lady did not come. At last
Wong, the Chinese steward, came forward.
"All slick man go aft," says he. "Lady flix um."
"Is she not coming forward?" asked Newman.
"No can do. Slick man lay aft."
"What have you there?" I demanded, for he bore a glass filled with
"Dosey. Mlissa Mate, him say give slick man inside," and he pointed
into the foc'sle.
Newman ripped out an oath. "Give it here. A bonesetter, not a dose of
physic is needed in there."
He reached out his hand, and Wong obediently surrendered the glass. He
surrendered something else. I was standing by Newman's side, and, saw
the piece of paper that passed into his hand with the tumbler.
Newman's face remained as impassive as the Chinaman's own. He sniffed
of the draught, made a wry face and tossed it, glass and all, over the
side into the sea. Then he turned on his heel and went into the
foc'sle. Wong went aft, followed by most of the watch.
I went after Newman. He was sitting on the edge of his bunk, musing,
and the note was open upon his knee. He handed it to me to read.
It was just a strip of wrapping paper, hastily scribbled over in
pencil. But the handwriting was dainty and feminine. It was from the
lady, plainly enough, even though no name was signed.
"We have quarreled, and he has forbidden me to leave the cabin, or go
forward this voyage. He is drinking, he is desperate—oh, Roy, be
careful, he is capable of anything. I know him now. Do not come aft
with the sick."
I looked at Newman inquiringly. But he said nothing to supplement the
note. He took it from me, lighted a match, and burned it up. I
guessed he was disappointed, that he had counted upon the lady coming
"And did the little dear write? And what did she say," drawled an
unpleasant voice behind us.
I swung about with a start, and saw Boston and Blackie lying in their
bunks, one above the other. Boston had spoken, but they were both
The dangerous light came into Newman's face. "Mind your own business!"
he said, shortly.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, broken by Boston, with a
wheedling note in his voice.
"Aw, say, Big 'Un, don't get horstile. We didn't mean to horn in. We
just want to be friends; we feel hurt, Blackie an' me, at the way
you're giving us the go by. We're all on the dodge together, ain't we?
And we got a rich lay, I tell you! Blackie and me has it all figured
out, but we need you to lead, Big 'Un. What d'ye want to pal with that
cub for, when two old friends like Blackie an' me are ready and willing
to work for you? We got a rich lay, I tell you!"
"Damn your thieving schemes," said Newman.
"Aw, now, bring the cub in, if you like," persisted Boston. "He's a
Blackie, the hot-headed, spoke up, resentfully. He lifted his battered
face on his elbow, and lisped through the gap Lynch's fist had made in
his teeth. "Number seven hundred and three wasn't so finicky about his
pals the time he jumped the dead line, and ditched the Big House!"
Newman crossed the foc'sle with one catlike bound. He got Blackie by
the throat and yanked him from the bunk. Then he shook him, and threw
him into the farther corner.
"There will be no scheme set on foot from this foc'sle, save the one I
father," he told the pair in his cool, level voice. "I gave you your
answer last night. Now, if you two come between me and my goal, in
this ship, as God lives, I'll kill you!"
With that, he swung about and stepped into the port foc'sle.
"Come on, Shreve," he said to me, over his shoulder. "Lend a hand.
You and I must attend to this boy."
Presently I was standing by Nils' bunk, together with the squareheads,
marveling at the gentleness with which Newman's huge hands handled the
sufferer. It was an exhibition of practiced skill. The feeling was
strong on me that moment that Newman had gained this skill in no
foc'sle, but in a cabin, where as master he had doctored his own sick.
But, after all, he was no surgeon, and there was little he could do for
the lad. Newman undressed him—the squareheads had not been able to
accomplish this feat, because of the pain their rough handling
caused—and bared the poor broken body to view. The squareheads cursed
deeply and bitterly at the sight of the shocking bruises on the white
flesh. Nils was delirious, staring up at us with brilliant, unseeing
eyes, and babbling in his own lingo.
"He say, mudder, mudder," commented Lindquist in a choked voice. "I
know his mudder."
Newman explored the hurts with his finger, and his gentle touch brought
gasps of agony. His face grew very grave. Then he ripped up a
blanket, and with my assistance, skillfully bandaged Nils about the
When he was through, he looked Lindquist in the eyes, and shook his
"So?" said Lindquist. His eyes, so stupid and dull a while before,
were blazing now. Aye, it was evident his law-abiding mind had arrived
at a lawless decision; his lowering face boded no good for the brute
who had maltreated his young friend. "Gott, if he die!" he said. It
was a full-mouthed promise to avenge, that sentence.
As we left, I became aware that Boston and Blackie had followed Newman
and me, and had witnessed the scene. Said Boston to his mate, in a low
voice that I just caught,
"If the kid croaks we'll have the squareheads with us."
Captain Swope did not emerge from the cabin that day, nor the next day,
nor the next. But we obtained plain confirmation of the lady's word he
was drinking, when, every morning the Chinese cabin boy brought empty
bottles out on deck and heaved them overboard. Whereat, all the
thirsty souls forward clicked their tongues and swore.
But this interim, during which Yankee Swope stayed below, and moped and
drank, was, you may be sure, no peaceful period for the foc'sle. The
Golden Bough's mates could be trusted to hustle the crowd whether or
not the skipper's eyes were upon them. There was bloody, knock-about
work with belaying pin and knuckles, while the ship settled down into
deep sea form, and the mob of stiffs learned to keep out of its own way
and hand the right rope when yelled at.
Since leaving port, the Golden Bough had been standing a southerly
course, on a port tack. Now, on the third day, the wind hauled around
aft, and came on us from the nor'east, as a freshening gale. We
squared away, and went booming down before it, true clipper style. By
nightfall it was blowing hard, and the kites were doused.
The night came down black as coal tar, with an overcast sky, and
lightning playing through the cloud in frequent, blinding flashes. My
watch had the deck from eight to twelve, and Mister Lynch (and his
satellites, Chips and Sails) kept us hustling fore and aft, sweating
sheets, and taking a heave at this and that.
Few watches in my life stand out so sharply in my memory. And it was
not the near tragedy that concluded it that so impressed my mind; it
was the sailing. For Lynch was cracking on, and there was no
faint-hearted skipper interfering with his game. Indeed, had Swope
been on deck before the hour when he did come up, I do not think he
would have protested. This reckless sailing was what made half the
fame of the Golden Bough. It was said that Yankee Swope sailed
around Cape Stiff with padlocks on his topsail sheets! And this night
we showed the gale the full spread of her three t'gan's'ls, and the
ship raced before the wind like a frightened stag.
Oh, I had seen sailing before. I had been in smart ships, had run my
Easting down in southern waters more than once, had made the eastern
passage of the Western Ocean with the winter storm on my back the whole
distance. But this night was my introduction to the clipper style,
where the officers banked fifty per cent on their seamanship, to avert
disaster, and fifty per cent on blind chance that the top hamper would
stand the strain. An incautious system? Aye, but cautious men did not
sail those ships.
It was so dark we had to feel our way about the decks. I could not see
the upper canvas, but I could imagine it standing out like curved sheet
iron. Every moment I expected to hear the explosion of rent canvas, or
the rattle of falling gear on the deck. Not I alone thought so, for
once when Chips and Sails went to windward of me, I heard Sails bawl to
"He'll have the spars about our ears before the hour is out!"
"Not he," responded Chips. "Trust Lynch and his luck!"
True enough. The hour passed, and another, and Lynch still carried on
without mishap. Indeed, the wind had moderated a bit.
Throughout the watch I kept close by Newman's side. That warning, to
look behind me in the dark, had by no means escaped my mind. When we
came on deck, Newman said to me, "A good night for a bad job, Jack!
Keep your eyes open!" Small advice on such a night, when a man could
not have seen his own mother, stood she two feet distant!
That warning had puzzled me, and I did not dare question Newman
concerning it. He was not the kind of man one could question. But
what was likely to lurk in the dark? "Death," said he. Did that mean
he feared a stealthy assassination, a knife thrust from the dark? Did
he think that Captain Swope was planning the cold-blooded murder of an
There was the question. In one way, it opposed my reason. Of course,
this was a hell-ship, and murder might very well take place on board.
But that the captain should deliberately plot the removal of a foc'sle
hand! Able seamen were not of such importance in a hell-ship.
Yet Newman was more than a foremast hand. God knew who he was, or what
his business in the ship, but it was plain he was Swope's enemy, and
there was a private feud between them. His mere appearance had caused
the Old Man to run below, and remain hidden for three days! . . .
There was the lady. She was Newman's friend. She knew the Old Man's
moods, and she was positive about it. The warning was doubtless well
founded, I concluded. And Newman was my friend, my chum for the
voyage, I hoped. If there were danger for him in the dark, it were
well his friend stayed handy by. So, throughout that black watch, I
stuck as close as possible to his elbow.
Six bells went when the watch was forward at a job. Suddenly, down the
wind, came a dear, musical hail, from aft.
"B'Gawd, the Old Man's on deck!" ejaculated Lynch to his assistants.
Then he bellowed aft, "Yes, sir?"
"Reef t'gan's'l's, Mister!" came the command.
"Eh!" blankly exclaimed Lynch. "Now, what is he up to?" But he
yelled back his acknowledgment, "Reef t'gan's'ls, sir!"
When the sails were clewed up, Newman and I were ordered aloft on the
mizzen. The stiffs were useless aloft on such a night, and the fore
and main were given the handful of squareheads and the two tradesmen.
When we jumped for the sheer pole we passed within a foot of a figure
lounging across the rail at the poop break, and we knew it was Swope.
There had been no word from him since the initial order.
It was so dark we did not see his face. As we swung up into the mizzen
rigging, Newman shouted words in my ear that I knew the wind carried to
"The devil is abroad, Jack, and there is hell to pay!"
And when we had gained the yardarm, he added, "It is coming, Jack; one
hand for yourself and one for the ship!"
But he did not act upon the advice himself. No more did I. Indeed,
one needs both arms and a stout back to pass reef points. We leaned
into the work, put our united brawn into it, and progressed briskly.
All the while I stared beneath me, into the whistling, inky void,
trying to discern that spot on the deck below, where the braces that
held this yard steady were made fast. I felt this lofty spot was no
healthful abiding place for Newman and me. I had a premonition of what
Yet, when it did come, I was caught unawares. I felt the wood I leaned
on draw suddenly away from me. There came a jerk that nigh snapped my
neck. My feet left the foot rope, and I was falling, head foremost,
into the blackness. They said I screamed loudly. I was not conscious
I opened my mouth.
It is strange, the trick a thing like that can play with one's senses.
I seemed to be falling for moments, an immeasurable distance.
Actually, the whole thing occurred in about a second's space, and my
feet just about cleared the yardarm when Newman's grip fastened upon my
My face was buried in the smothering folds of the threshing sail; then
Newman had drawn me up until my body balanced on the yard. A second
later my feet were again on the foot rope, and my hands fastened for
dear life to the jackstay.
I was conscious of using my voice then. Aye—but I swore! "By heaven,
he let go the port brace!" I yelled to Newman.
For answer, Newman grabbed me around the waist, just as a fork of
lightning zigzagged through the sky. For the briefest instant, the
ship stood out in a bright light. Far below us, on the deck, we saw
Captain Swope standing, looking up at us. Then blackness again. I
felt myself for a second time jerked clear of my foothold—to
immediately wrap my limbs about a wire rope. For Newman had leaped for
a backstay, as the yard swung close, and carried me with him.
For a moment we hung there, one above the other, then we commenced to
slide to the deck. Mister Lynch's voice came booming up to us, and we
saw the light of a lantern bobbing about. A moment later we clattered
off the poop, on to the main deck.
A group was bunched together in the lee of the cabin, Captain Swope,
and Lynch and the tradesmen. Lynch carried the lighted hurricane lamp
that hung handy in a sheltered nook during the night. Forward, a
respectful distance, the stiffs of the watch made a vague blot in the
gloom. As, we came down the poop ladder a voice I recognized as
Boston's called to us from this last group, "He tried to get you, Big
'Un!" So I knew that the lightning flash had revealed to the watch
what it had revealed to us.
"The brace was slipped," said Newman to Lynch.
"I know," replied the second mate, shortly. There was contempt in his
voice, and I knew, when I looked at his grim, disdainful face, that he
had had no hand in the affair. Bucko Lynch might kill a man in what he
considered the line of duty, but snapping men off a yardarm was not his
style. But I also knew that he was an officer of an American ship, and
would consider it his duty to back up his captain no matter what
villainy the latter attempted.
Swope smiled sweetly at us. One might think that a man, even a ship's
autocrat, when detected in an attempt at cold-blooded murder, would
make some specious explanation of his act. Not Swope. No hypocritical
contrition showed in the face the lantern lighted; rather, a cool,
pitiless inhumanity that squeezed my bowels, even while rage surged
We had understood that Swope was drunk for the past three days, but the
smiling features showed no mark of his dissipation. Neither did he
exhibit any of the fear he had shown at Newman's sudden appearance the
other afternoon. It was plain that Captain Swope had taken heartening
counsel with himself regarding the danger he might incur from Newman's
presence on board. Whatever was the mysterious feud between the two,
Swope had the upper hand. He rested secure in the knowledge of his
power as captain, in his knowledge of Newman's helplessness as a mere
And so he smiled, and said musingly, and distinctly, to Newman, "A miss
is as good as a mile, eh? But it is a long passage!" The cool
insolence of it! God's truth, it chilled me, this careless confession
of the deed, and threat of what the future held. And then, as though
to remove the last possible doubt in our minds that the slipping of the
brace was an accident, that the whole job of striking sail was but a
pretext to get Newman aloft, Swope turned to the second mate.
"I think she'll stand it, Mister," he said. "You may as well shake out
the t'gan's'l's again!"
I went below after that watch with the thought of mutiny stirring in
the back of my mind. But in the back, not the front, mind you. For
mutiny on a ship is a dreadful business, as I, a sailor, well knew. A
neck-stretching business! Yet there the thought was, and it stuck, and
pecked ever more insistently at my consciousness as the days passed.
Of course, I was wild with rage at Swope's attempt. And I was anxious
on Newman's account. You see, I looked upon him as my chum, and—had
he not saved my life, up there, on the yard? It is true, there were
none of the usual manifestations of foc'sle friendship between us; we
did not swap tobacco, and yarns, and oaths. Newman did not permit such
intimacy; always he was a man apart, a marked man. But, from the very
first, the man's personality dominated me, and, after that night on the
yardarm, I felt a passionate loyalty to him. He was not insensible to
my friendliness, I knew; he welcomed it, and found comfort in it.
If he had come to me that night, or afterwards, with a scheme for
taking the ship, I should have joined in straightway, no matter how
harebrained it might seem. But, of course, he did no such thing.
Indeed, he never mentioned the incident to me, after we left the deck
that night. For all of him, it might never have happened. And, you
may be sure, I did not intrude upon his reserve with queries, or
Nor did the rest of the watch approach him. Rather did they avoid him,
as a dangerous person. With that thought of rebellion in my mind, I
watched my watchmates that night with more tolerance than my eyes had
yet shown them. I wanted to judge what stuff was in them.
The stiffs whispered together and eyed us furtively. I did not like
the stuff I saw in them. Rough, lawless, held obedient only by fear,
the scum of the beach—I did not like to imagine them sweeping along
the decks with restraint cast aside, and passions unleashed. The
squareheads were a different kind. Good men and sailors, here, but men
whose habit of life was submission. Yet, I saw they were gravely
disturbed by what had taken place on deck. No wonder. I knew their
minds. "Who is safe in this ship?" they thought. "Who, now, may go
aloft feeling secure he will reach the deck again, alive and unhurt?"
Those squareheads had proof of the mate's temper in the person of their
young landsman, lying broken in his bunk. Now, they had proof of the
My eyes met those of Boston and Blackie, eyeing me speculatively, and
the contact brought my musing to a sharp turn. What did Boston and
Blackie think of it? I could tell from their bearing that, for some
reason, they were pleased. I thought of them as fighting material—and
did not relish the thought. Fighters, yes, but foul fighters. I did
not like to think of being leagued with them in an enterprise. And
what was this "rich lay" they spoke of? What was this game they were
willing I should enter? Did they, too, think mutiny?
These thoughts plagued me for days, and I found no answer, or peace of
mind. Hell was preparing in that ship, I felt it in my bones; and we
were getting enough hell already, with drive, drive, drive, from dawn
to dawn. Yet, there were rifts in the clouds.
For one thing, Lynch quieted my mind of the fear that the Old Man would
again get Newman aloft at night, and attempt his life with better
success. The very next day, Lynch came to the foretop, where Newman
and I were working on the rigging. He examined the work, and then
said, abruptly, to Newman,
"I had nothing to do with that affair last night."
"I know you had not," answered Newman.
"I give you warning—he intends to get you," continued the second mate.
"But he'll not get you that way in my watch. From now on, you need not
go aloft after dark."
"Thank you, sir," said Newman.
"You need not," was the response. "I'm not doing this for your sake.
Well—you understand. And make no mistake, my man, as to my position;
I am a ship's officer, and if trouble comes it will find me doing my
duty by my captain's side."
"There will be no trouble if I can prevent it, sir," was Newman's reply.
"Then you have your work cut out for you. You—understand?"
"Yes, I understand," said Newman.
I watched Mister Lynch leap nimbly to the deck, and go striding aft, a
fine figure of a man. "Why, he's on the square!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, he is not like the others," said Newman. "She says his heart is
She says! Well, it was hardly news to me. I was sure he was in
communication with her. He always made it a point to meet Wong, the
steward, when the latter came forward to the galley. And there were
times in the night watches below when his bunk was empty. He was a
great hand for pacing the deck in lonely meditation, and for stowing
himself away and brooding alone in odd corners. We did not spy upon
him, or force ourselves upon him, you may be sure. Not upon Newman.
The lady was, we understood, forbidden by the Old Man to come forward.
The daily visits to our dogs' kennel, dispensing cheer and mercy, and
for which she was famous the world around, were to be denied us this
voyage. Because of Newman's presence. We missed the visits; they
would have brightened the cruel days. But I don't think any man felt
resentful against Newman. Our sympathies were all with the lady, and
the lady's feelings, we knew, were all with Newman. So it was upon
Yankee Swope's unheeding head we rained our black curses.
The lady was doing what she could to aid us. She held, every morning,
a levee in the cabin for the lame and sick, all who could drag
themselves aft, and tended them skillfully. But this did not help the
bedridden ones. It did not help young Nils.
But nothing could have helped Nils. The bucko had done his work too
well. Not once did the boy rally; daily and visibly his life ebbed.
You must understand the callous indifference of the afterguard to
realize its effect upon the foc'sle. The boy lay dying for weeks, and
not once did the Captain come forward to look at him. Medicines and
opiates were sent forward by the lady, but, though they eased the chap,
they were powerless to salvage his wrecked body. Newman said Nils'
ribs were sticking into his lungs.
Lindquist went aft to ask permission to move the boy to the cabin,
where the lady could nurse him. Swope blackguarded the man, and
Fitzgibbon kicked him forward. Lynch ignored the very existence of
Nils—-the lad was not of his watch, and the whole matter was none of
his business. But Mister Fitz came into the port foc'sle every day, to
make sure Nils could not stand on his feet and turn to; and on deck he
would sing out to his watch that Nils' fate was the fate of each man
did he not move livelier. "Jump, you rats! I'll put you all in your
bunks!" he would tell them.
The sight of their young landsman in agony stirred the berserk in the
squareheads of the crew. It made them ripe for revolt, drove them to
lawless acts, as their shanghaiing and the brutality of the officers
could not have done.
These squareheads were no strangers to each other. They were all
friends and old shipmates. The Knitting Swede had crimped them all out
of a Norwegian bark, plied them with drink, and put them on board the
Golden Bough after he had promised to find them a high-waged coasting
Young Nils was a sort of mascot in this crowd. He was making his first
deep-water voyage under their protection and guidance. Most of them
were his townsmen; they had known him from babyhood. As Lindquist said
to me, his blue eyes filled with pain and rage, "I know his mudder.
When Nils ban so high, I yump him by mine knee." So it was that rage
over the pitiful fate of their dear friend fanned into flame a spark of
rebellion in the squarehead's disciplined souls, and caused them,
eventually, to leap the barriers of race and caste prejudice and make
common cause with the stiffs.
Now, I do not wish to idealize those stiffs. No use saying they were
honest workingmen kidnaped to sea. They were not. They were just what
the mates called them—dogs, scum, vile sweeps of jail and boozing-ken.
With the single exception of the shanghaied parson, there was not a
decent man in the lot. Bums and crooks, all.
These men had lived violent, lawless lives ashore. Here, at sea, the
mates hammered the fear of the Lord and the Law into them. This was
well and good. But the mates hammered too hard. They aimed to cow the
stiffs, and cow them they did. But the stiffs' fear of the afterguard
became so great they were like cornered rats. They came below after a
watch on deck with fresh marks upon their faces and bodies, and heard
little Nils moaning in his pain. And each man said to himself, "I may
be the next to get what the little squarehead got."
Misery loves company, so these stiffs naturally drew close together.
Their common hatred and fear of the afterguard fused them into a unit.
By the time we were a month at sea, the stiffs, like the squareheads,
were in a most dangerous temper, and ripe for any deviltry.
This common state of mind grew beneath my eyes, but at first I did not
see significance in it. A mutinous state of mind is a normal state of
mind in a hell-ship's foc'sle.
But a mutiny was incubating in that ship. There were men forward who
were vitally interested in bringing trouble to a head, in causing an
outbreak of violence, in fomenting an uprising of the slaves. One day,
my eyes were opened to their game.
For weeks I noticed Blackie and Boston circulating among the men during
the dog-watches. They were great whisperers, a secretive pair, and
they never spoke their minds outright before the crowd. I paid them
little attention, for I did not like them, and felt no interest in what
I thought was their gossip. It never occurred to me they were
industriously fanning the spark of revolt, suggesting revenge to the
squareheads, and tickling the rascally imagination of the stiffs with
hints of golden loot.
So far my rule as cock of the foc'sle had been unchallenged. All hands
had accepted my will in foc'sle matters willingly enough, and I had
been careful not to hector. As number one man, it was my place to see
that the men stood their "peggy"—that is, they took their regular turn
about at getting the food at meal time, and cleaning up the foc'sle.
It came Boston's peggy day. He didn't like it a bit. He thought
himself too good for such menial tasks, and suggested that Shorty, the
smallest and weakest of the stiffs, be made permanent peggy. I vetoed
this as unfair, and Boston went about the work, but sullenly.
Next day was Blackie's peggy, as he well knew. When we came below at
noon, he made no move to fetch the grub from the galley.
"How about dinner, Blackie?" I demanded.
"Well—how about it?" he replied. "I'm no servant girl! Get your own
All hands looked at me, expectantly. This was open defiance, and they
wanted to see what the cock would do about it. There was only one
thing I could do, and I did it gladly.
I took that chesty stiff by the throat, and squeezed until his eyes
popped. Then I carried him out on deck and stuck his head in the
wash-deck tub, to cool his ardor; the whole watch following us as
"Well, Blackie, how about dinner?" I asked, when I released my grip.
In answer, he backed quickly away from me, spluttering oaths and salt
water. I watched him warily, for his affair with the second mate had
shown him to be a knife wielder, and I had no wish to be stabbed. True
enough, he jerked out his sheath knife.
"Stop that, you fool!" came Boston's voice, from behind me. "Do you
want to crab the whole game?"
Those words had an astonishing effect upon Blackie. His bellicose
attitude vanished abruptly, he stopped cursing, and his knife went back
into its sheath.
"That dinner, Blackie," I insisted.
"Sure—I'll get it," he answered submissively.
But I wasn't satisfied with my victory. Of course, I was confident I
could have knocked him out as handily as Bucko Lynch, himself, but I
knew it was not fear of me, but obedience to Boston's words that caused
Blackie to give in so readily.
Those words bothered me. "Do you want to crab the whole game?" Now
what the deuce did Boston mean? What game were these two worthies up
to? Undoubtedly, it was that "rich lay" they had spoken to Newman
about. But what had I to do with it? How could I crab their game? I
began to think there was something besides loose talk in these hints of
revenge and loot the pair were dropping in the foc'sle.
I guess Boston knew my suspicions must be aroused, and thought it time
to sound my sentiments. Also, as it turned out, he wanted to pump me
regarding Newman. I was Newman's one close friend, and Boston must
have thought I knew something of the big man's intentions.
Anyway, after supper that evening, as I was sitting on the forehatch,
whittling away at a model of the Golden Bough I was making, Boston
came and sat down beside me.
"Should think you'd be so fed up with this hooker, you wouldn't want
any model of her," he remarked, by way of opening a conversation.
"She's a bonny ship," I told him. "It is not the ship, it is the men
in her. You'll never see a better craft than the Golden Bough,
"Faugh!" he snorted, and followed with a blistering curse. "Blast
your pretty ships! I'd like to see this old hooker go on the rocks, by
God I would! Well—maybe I will see her finish, eh?"
I glanced at him sidewise, and discovered he was likewise regarding me,
with the lids drawn over his pale eyes till they were mere slits. I
didn't like Boston's eyes. For that matter, I didn't like anything
about Boston. But I was interested; I sensed this was no idle talk.
There was something behind the words.
"Small chance of your seeing her finish," I said. "As well found a
ship as there is afloat—and you may call the Old Man and his buckos
what you will, but they are sailormen."
"I've heard of ships sinking in storms," says he.
"You talk like the stiff you are," I scoffed. "Show me the weather
that will drown the Golden Bough, with good sailors aft! Besides,
Boston, we're not likely to have any bad weather, for which you can say
a prayer of thanks, for you stiffs would catch it if we did pick up a
"Why not?" he asked.
"It's a fair weather passage," I explained. "These trades will blow us
clean across one hundred and eighty, into the sou'west monsoon, and
with luck that'll carry us into the China Sea. Of course, there is
always the chance of meeting a hurricane this side, or a typhoon on the
other side. You'll squeal if we do, I bet!"
Says he, "Well, now how about running on a rock? We'll be going among
islands, hey? These South Sea Islands?"
"Forget it," I replied. "We'll not sight the beach this side of the
Orient, unless the Old Man makes a landfall of Guam. We are running
along sixteen north, and that takes us south of the Sandwich group, and
north of the Marshalls and Carolines."
"Well, now, I guess the Big 'Un has been showing you his map, hey?"
"What's that to you?" I said, shortly.
"Nothing. Nothing at all," he answered, hurriedly.
In truth, I was surprised and nettled. I hadn't got the point of
Boston's questions, and I hadn't supposed he was watching Newman and me
For Boston had it right, I had been looking at the Big 'Un's "map."
Newman had a fine, large scale chart of the Pacific in his bag, and
this he brought out every day, and traced upon it the progress of the
voyage. He got the ship's position either from the steward, or from
the lady, I did not know which.
I had been privileged to see the chart, but I knew that none other had
ventured to approach when it was spread out on Newman's bunk. Newman
had traced the ship's probable course clear to Hong Kong, for my
benefit, and explained to me the problems of the passage. He did not
speak like a man merely guessing, but with authority, like a man who
had sailed his own ship over this course. I absorbed the information
greedily, but did not venture to inquire how he was so positive about
Yankee Swope's sailing plans. Somehow, I knew he was correct.
It pricked my conceit to discover that Boston was aware Newman had
fathered the information that was falling from my lips.
"Say, how long before we reach Hong Kong?" went on Boston.
"You had better ask Newman, himself," I retorted.
"Now don't get mad, Jack," he said humbly. "You know I didn't mean
nothing. Guess you sabe as much about sailing as the Big 'Un,
"Well, this is a fast ship—none faster," I told him, mollified by his
flattery. "Say seventy days, at the outside, from 'Frisco to Hong
Kong. Probably sixty days would be nearer to it."
At that he burst out cursing, and consigned the ship and all her
afterguard to the Evil One. "My God, another month of this hell!" he
cried. "Will you stand it, Shreve?"
"Sure. We'll all stand it. What else to do?" I replied.
"What else!" said he. His voice was suddenly crafty. "Well, now,
Shreve, didn't it ever strike you as how we're blasted fools to let
those fellows aft knock us about? There are thirty of us, and two of
"More than that," I warned him. "You forget Captain Swope, and the
tradesmen. There are seven of them, aft, all armed, and of a fighting
breed. You are hinting at a silly business, Boston."
"Oh, I don't know," he persisted. "Thirty to seven ain't so bad. And
they haven't all the arms—we got our knives, ain't we? And maybe
other things, too."
"Forget it," said I. "Don't imagine for a minute these stiffs will
face guns. You and your mate might, but as for the rest of the
gang—why, Lynch could clean them up single-handed. Better stow that
kind of talk. It's dangerous. You have the law against you, and it's
a neck-stretching affair."
"The law?" he echoed. "What do you think that gang cares for the law?
Mighty few laws they ain't broke in their time! And they may be
stiffs, right enough, but they'll fight—for money!"
"Dare say," I remarked, sarcastically. "And I suppose you'll hire them
with your bags of gold, which you probably have stowed under your bunk?"
"Well, now, maybe I'd just have to promise them something," he said.
He glanced around, then leaned towards me and lowered his voice to a
whisper. "Shreve, there are a hundred thousand dollars in hard cash
aft there in the cabin!"
"What's that?" I exclaimed.
"Yes," he said. "I know. You bet I know. Blackie and me knew before
ever we come on board this cursed hooker. The Swede didn't shanghai
us, you bet!"
"Oh, stow that sort of guff, Boston," I told him. "Maybe the Swede
didn't shanghai you; but if he didn't, it was because you and your mate
were willing to ship with the devil himself in order to get out of the
My words touched his temper, as I thought they would. "You seem to
know a lot more than I know myself," he sneered. Before I could
answer, he regained control of his tongue, and continued with oily
suavity. "I guess the Big 'Un has been talking to you? Hasn't he? I
guess maybe he's told you that Blackie and me are two men who can take
a chance without weakening? Say, Jack, what has the Big 'Un been
saying to you about us? I want particular to know."
"He hasn't said a blessed word about you," I answered, truthfully.
Boston cursed, and favored me with an evil squint; then he hid the look
behind a forced laugh. "Well, If you don't want to tell me, I guess
you don't have to," he remarked. "It don't hurt me and Blackie none,
whatever the Big 'Un says. And say, Jack, you and us ought to be good
friends. Blackie and me know that you're a good man, the kind that'll
take a chance, and keep his word. Well, we're the same. There are
only a few of us in this end of the ship that have any backbone to
speak of, and we ought to stick together. There's pay-dirt in this
ship if we only play the game right."
"What do you mean?" I wanted to know.
But Boston concluded he had said almost enough for once. He rapped his
pipe against the hatch-combing to dislodge the dottle, and got to his
feet. I thought he was going to leave me without replying to my query,
but after he had taken a step or two he spoke over his shoulder, softly.
"That's true what I said about the money, Jack. It's there, just
waiting for a few lads of nerve to come and take it."
"If that talk gets aft, the Old Man will have you thumped into a jelly,
just as an example to the other stiffs," I warned him.
He gave the devil's cackle that passed with him for a laugh, and
stepping close to my side, spoke directly into my ear.
"Who is going to take the talk aft? Not you. Blackie and me know that
Jack Shreve ain't a snitch. Not the Big 'Un. You can tell him what I
said if you like. You can tell him something more. Blackie and me
think there is a snitch in this gang, and the Big 'Un had better keep
his eyes peeled for a double-cross. You tell him that. You tell him
to ask Nigger about it."
"What do you mean?" I cried.
His answer was a mysterious shake of the head, and he disappeared into
If Boston meant to give me something to think about, he succeeded. He
left me worried. Not about the treasure or mutiny at which he hinted;
for the time being I put this subject out of my mind. I was concerned
over his unexplained warning. What did it mean? Did some new danger
threaten my friend?
I went in search of Newman, to give him the warning. He was not in his
bunk, so I stepped into the port foc'sle, expecting to find him by
Nils' side. Nils was dying—we had been expecting him to go at almost
any hour for a week past—and Newman had been spending a goodly share
of his watches below by the lad's side.
But he was not there now. The parson, and some of the squareheads of
the port watch, were keeping sick vigil. Nils was very near the time
when he must slip his cable; he lay quiet, eyes closed, hardly
breathing, and his thin, white face seemed already composed into its
death mold. Holy Joe sat holding the boy's hand; his head was bowed,
and I judged he was praying. The others stared miserably at the floor,
or ceiling, or at each other. Aye, the taste of bitter sorrow was in
the air of the port foc'sle. I left without disturbing the silent
watchers, but I wondered at their boldness. They should have been on
deck. Mister Fitzgibbon did not give his men respite, even during the
I went poking about the odd corners of the fore deck, expecting to find
my man tucked away somewhere smoking and meditating, for Newman was a
solitary fellow, very fond of his own company in his free time. I laid
the ill-success of my search to the dusk; it was past seven bells, and
although there was still a glow in the western sky, on board ship it
was quite dark and the sidelights had been out a half hour. Finally, I
decided to lay off, waylay the Nigger when he came for'ard from his
trick at the wheel, and ask him myself what was the meaning of Boston's
talk of "snitch."
Now it was no light undertaking for a foremast hand to trespass abaft
the main mast in the Golden Bough. There was risk in it, risk of a
beating, or worse. A man might lay aft in that ship to work, or in
obedience to orders, but for no other reason. Hell-ship discipline.
So I slipped aft without making a noise, and avoided attracting to
myself unwelcome attention from the poop. I was barefoot, and I crept
along the rail, keeping within the shadows on the lee deck. When I
came abreast the roundhouse, I darted into the black shadow it threw
upon the lee deck, and crouched there, composed to wait. My eyes were
aft, upon the break of the poop, and I was ready to take instant flight
for'ard, did discovery threaten me.
After I had lain there a moment, I noticed the figure of a man standing
motionless, flattened against the cabin wall, on my side of the deck.
He was so still he appeared to be lifeless, a part of the ship; I
looked hard before I decided it was a man. It was too dark to make out
his features, almost too dark to discern outline, but by the bigness of
the blot he made against his background I was sure the man was Newman.
What he was doing in such a position I could not guess, but I was so
sure of my man, I did not hesitate to move towards him. I even spoke
his name, in an urgent whisper.
My hiss brought a prompt response, but not the one for which I was
looking. To my surprise the fellow ran away from me; he slipped across
the deck (padding noiselessly, for he was barefoot, like, myself) and,
bending nearly double, scurried for'ard beside the weather rail.
I stared after him, undecided what to do. The man looked like Newman,
but he did not act like him. I had half a mind to pursue his flitting
Then all at once I discovered I must take cover myself. I heard the
mate's voice, up on the poop; he was hailing his tradesmen.
"We'll take a whirl for'ard," says he. "I'll give the bums a sweat at
the braces so they won't think I'm asleep."
I had moved away from the shadow of the round-house, and was revealed,
as I stood, to any eye looking over the poop rail. I was in a ticklish
position altogether. If braces were to be tightened, the lee of the
roundhouse would be a poor hiding-place for me. In fact it would be no
hiding-place at all. But get out of sight I must, and quickly, or
suffer the unpleasant consequences of discovery.
I heard boots clumping on the poop deck. There wasn't time for me to
escape forward. So I darted aft and flattened myself against the cabin
wall, in exactly the same position, and in very nearly the same spot,
as that occupied by the fellow I had scared away. I was not a second
too soon. Sails and Chips came down the port ladder, and paused on the
main deck, almost within arm's reach of me, waiting for the mate to
If they had glanced in my direction they must have seen me. But they
were looking forward, and were also occupied with talk.
Said Chips, "But what's the game? He's working up trouble, that's
plain. But what's he after this time?"
Said Sails, "He's after that fellow in the Greaser's watch, or I'm a
damn bad guesser. But, his game—well, ask me something easy. Did you
ever know anybody to fathom his game?"
This I heard with one ear. At the same time my other ear was getting
filled with different kind of talk. Aye, my post was between two
conversations, and I found myself eavesdropping in two directions.
This wall I hugged was the forward wall of the sail-locker, which, in
the Golden Bough, was a large room in the cabin space, and as I
stood, my starboard ear was but a few inches distant from the
sail-locker door. This door was in two parts, and the upper half was
barely ajar. Through this narrow slit I heard—I couldn't help
hearing—the murmur of low-voiced talk. Two people were in the
sail-locker, talking. Oh, aye, I had discovered Newman. I recognized
his voice. I recognized the other voice—the lady's voice.
"Oh, Mary—little love—it doesn't seem to matter any more. When I am
with you, it is just a hideous dream from which I have awakened." It
was Newman speaking, and in a voice so tender, so vibrant with feeling,
it was hard to believe the words came out of the mouth of the foc'sle's
iron man. "But now I wish to live again. Ah, little love, I have been
dead too long, dead to everything except pain and hate. But now that I
know, now that we both know—oh, Mary, surely we have earned the right
to live and love. God will not hold it against us, if I take you from
that mad beast. God—I am beginning to believe in God again, Mary,
when I am with you."
"I, too, wish to live—and in clean air," came in the lady's voice.
"Oh, Roy—five years—and the piling up of horrors—oh, I could not
have stood it very much longer, Roy. But now—we can forget."
"That lad for'ard is all ready to slip his cable," came from the other
direction, from Chips. "The steward says he's all set to go."
"He's been all set for a fortnight," was the other man's comment, "but
he hangs on. Takes a lot to kill a squarehead. Most likely he'll be
hanging on when we make port."
"Not if I know Fitz and—him," said Chips. "You don't think they'd
leave evidence of that sort for a port doctor to squint at. Remember
that Portagee, last voyage, and how he finished?"
"Aye, it was hard on the lady, that job was. But he—he's a devil,
sure. No use standing out against him."
"Five years! My God, how have you been able to stand it, Mary?" said
Newman. "Five years—and most of them spent at sea in this blood ship!"
"It has been my penance, Roy. It has seemed to me that in sailing with
him, in lessening even a little bit the misery he causes those poor
men, I have been atoning, in a little measure, for my lack of faith in
you. Oh, it was my fault in the beginning, dearest. If only I had had
faith in the beginning, if only I had trusted my heart instead of my
eyes and ears. I might have known that time that Beulah was lying."
"Hush. How could you know? It was my stubborn, stupid pride. If I
had not rushed away and left the field to him. And I never knew, or
even guessed, until Beasley told me."
"If I was that big fellow, I'd just hop over the side and have it over
with," came from Sails. "If the Old Man is after him, he's bound to
get him, and making a quick finish himself would save a lot o' bother
"What's it about, anyway?" says Chips.
"How do I know?" answered Sails. "I don't go poking my nose into
Yankee Swope's business, you can bet your bottom dollar I don't. I
take my orders, and let it go at that. Same as you. Same as the
others. There's Fitz up there now, chinning with him, and I bet Fitz
don't know much more of his game than you and me. He takes his orders
just like we do."
"That's right. We ain't hired to think. Not in this ship," agreed
"Do you think, Roy, that Beulah—that she jumped—herself?" The lady's
voice was trembling.
"I don't know, dear. I think maybe she did. But Beasley thought—oh,
well, what does it matter now?"
"Beasley thought he did it. I knew—I felt it was him, oh, long, long
ago. It would be like him, Roy. He has never dropped a hint that
would incriminate himself, but I have known his guilt of the other
thing—for which you suffered—ever since our marriage. When he
dropped the mask, revealed himself in his true character—oh, I knew he
must be guilty. And I was helpless."
"My God, five years!" muttered Newman. "How could you stand it?"
"It was not so hard, except at first," said the lady. "Too much horror
numbs, you know. And one thing made it endurable—he has spared me the
intimacy of marriage. It is true, dearest; I am as much a maid as I
was five years ago. He is that kind of a man, Roy. It is not women he
lusts for, it is—oh, it is blood. There is something horrible in his
mind, a diseased spot, an unnatural quirk, that drives him to
abominable cruelties. It is some tigerish instinct he possesses; it
makes him kill and destroy, it makes him inflict pain. Oh, Roy, it is
his pleasure—to inflict pain."
"Lynch doesn't like it," said Sails, in reply to some question I had
"Little good not liking it will do him," was Chips' opinion. "He'll do
what the Old Man wants him to do, just like the rest of us."
"Has he ever used you—as victim?" said Newman, a new, hard note in his
"No, no, not in that way," answered the lady. "It is to the crew he
does that. He has never hurt me physically."
"But mentally, eh?" remarked Newman, "He enjoys refinements of
cruelty, also? Mental torture, when he finds a mind intelligent enough
to appreciate subtleties? That is it?"
"Yes, that is it," said the lady. "It was horrible at first. But
afterwards, when I had found my work, I did not mind him very much. He
let me go on playing doctor to the crew because he thought it hurt me
to see and handle those poor creatures. Oh, it did hurt! But the
work, the being useful—it has saved me, Roy, it has kept me sane."
"He's a good man, none better," said Chips, still talking about Lynch,
"but he's too soft for a bucko's job in this wagon."
"Five years; good God! The prison was heaven compared to what you have
lived through. Oh, my poor darling! And he—the vile brute——"
"No, no, not that attitude! You have promised—" exclaimed the lady.
"He's not soft," Sails disputed with Chips. "He's as hard as they're
made. But he's a square-shooter, Lynch is, and the rest o' us ain't.
That makes the difference. Now we got good reasons to do anything the
skipper says, we being what we are, and him being what he is, and we
knowing he can turn us up, and will, if we don't suit. But Jim
Lynch—not Swope, or any other man, has a hold on him."
"No man, maybe," says Chips. "But in the other quarter, now. If Lynch
ain't soft there, I'm a soldier."
"Who ain't a bit soft in that quarter?" Sails demanded. "I'm mighty
sorry for her, same as you are, same as everyone is, save Fitz. If it
wasn't that Swope has me body and soul, I'd side with Lynch, b'Gawd, in
anything he wanted to start."
"Shut up!" exclaimed Chips. "That's damn fool talk to come out o' your
"Oh, you have softened me, Mary, you have unmanned me!" I heard Newman
say. "I came to this ship to kill, and now—there is little bitterness
left in my heart. I am only eager now to be gone with you beyond his
"I am glad, more glad than I can tell," the lady told him. "His lies
have ruined your life, and mine, but I do not want you to stain your
hands with his blood. Oh, there has been so much bloodshed! You must
not; you have promised!"
"Yes, and I will keep my promise," said Newman. "But you have
promised, too, and you know how I qualified my promise. We cannot take
too many chances with him, and you know that he has no scruples about
shedding blood. He knows, he must know, that I do not intend to leave
you in his hands; he must realize, also, that now he is not safe so
long as either of us is alive and at large. Why, dear, you know the
trap he is preparing!"
"Yes, yes, I know," was the response. "But my prayer is that we may
get away before he is ready."
"It is my prayer, too," said Newman. "I gladly give up my revenge for
your sake, little love. But I intend to protect you, and myself—that,
too, is my promise."
"Here comes Fitz now," said Sails.
It was touch-and-go with discovery a second time as Mister Fitzgibbon
stamped down the ladder. But he was already bawling for the watch, and
had his eyes fixed straight ahead; and immediately he went forward with
the tradesmen at his heels.
I waited until the mate's bellow sounded well forward, and I was sure
my retreat would be unobserved. Then I placed my lips to the opening
in the sail-locker door and called softly, "Newman! Come out of that
at once; you are spied upon!"
I heard the lady gasp, and knew my message was received and understood.
I waited for no other response. I scuttled away from that perilous
spot as fast as caution permitted my legs to travel. Jack Shreve was
no Newman; I had not his cool nerve when it came to flouting hell-ship
rules. In truth, I was in a blue funk all the time I was aft, for fear
I would be discovered. And there was another reason for my haste in
getting forward. There was a sudden uproar in front of the foc'sle
that bade fair to carry through the ship.
There was trouble in the air; I could sniff it as I ran. Although time
enough had elapsed since the mate sang out his order to man the braces,
the watch was not yet at the rail; and this was a strange thing in a
ship where men literally flew about their work. The trouble was in the
port foc'sle; I could see the crowd bunched on the deck before the
door, and Mister Fitzgibbon's voice had risen to a shrill, obscene
scream as he poured blistering curses upon some luckless head.
I dodged across the deck and around the starboard side of the deck
house, and thus came upon the scene in a casual manner, as though I had
just stepped out of my own foc'sle to see what was wrong. I mingled
with my watch mates, who had turned out to a man to watch the row.
Over on the port side of the deck a royal shindy seemed to be
preparing. Aye, the mate had at last struck fire from his squareheads!
They were on the verge of open rebellion. The stiffs of the port watch
had fallen to one side, and stood quaking and irresolute, but the
squareheads, all of them, were bunched squarely between the mate and
the foc'sle door, and to the mate's stream of curses they interposed a
wall of their own oaths. Mister Fitzgibbon had his right hand in his
coat pocket, and all hands knew that hand was closed about the butt of
a revolver; moreover, the tradesmen stood on either side of him,
prepared to back him up in whatever course he chose to take. They were
good men, those tradesmen, fighting men, and skilled in just such
battles as this promised to be. The port watch Sails, who stood
nearest to me, was armed with a heavy sheet pin, and he stood with his
face half turned towards the starboard side. Aye, they were canny
fighters—if it came to blows they would not be taken in the flank by
Mister Fitzgibbon was swearing over the heads of the squareheads. He
threw his words into foc'sle. He was calling upon Holy Joe, the
parson, to come out of it blasted quick and be skinned alive, b'Gawd!
Broken bones were being promised to poor Holy Joe. That was why the
squareheads were showing fight—not to protect their own skins, but to
save the parson from the mate's wrath. For their little Nils was
dying, and Holy Joe was by his side, praying for his passing soul. As
I learned afterwards, when the mate sang out for his watch to man the
braces, all jumped to obey save the parson; he stayed with Nils. His
absence was noted immediately, for the mate was lynx-eyed; and
Fitzgibbon was all for invading the foc'sle and hauling out the truant
by the scruff of the neck. Aye, Mister Fitz was all for teaching a
lesson with boot and fist, for Holy Joe was a small man and a pacifist,
fair game for any bucko. But the squareheads would not have it so.
For Nils was dying, and Holy Joe was praying for his soul.
Suddenly Mister Fitzgibbon stopped cursing, and in a voice that meant
business, ordered the watch aft to the braces. The stiffs tumbled over
themselves in their eagerness to obey; but not a squarehead budged.
They still stood between the mate and his victim. So he drew the
revolver out of his pocket, and pointed it at Lindquist.
"Lay aft—or I'll splatter lead among you!" he said.
He meant it. He would have shot Lindquist, I am sure, for winging a
man, or worse, meant little to the mate of the Golden Bough, and the
squarehead bravely stood his ground. But the threat to shoot into the
men who were shielding him had the effect of drawing the parson out of
the foc'sle. He suddenly appeared in the lighted doorway.
"Oho, that brought you out of it—hey, you sniveling
this-and-that!" hailed Fitzgibbon. He lifted his aim from Lindquist,
and brought the weapon to bear upon Holy Joe. "Step aft, here, you
swab, or I'll drill you through, s'help me!"
The words brought a menacing growl from the squareheads; there was a
stir among them, and they seemed about to fling themselves upon the
trio. But Holy Joe checked the movement with a word.
"Steady, lads," said he. "No violence; obey your orders. Spread out,
there, boys, and let me through; I will speak with him."
That was what he said, but it was how he said it that really
mattered. Aye, Holy Joe might have been the skipper, himself, from his
air. He spoke with authority, in a deep, commanding voice, and the
squareheads instantly gave him the obedience they had refused the mate.
They did not, indeed, tumble aft in the wake of the stiffs; but they
did spread out and make a lane through their midst down which Holy Joe
advanced with quick and firm step. Right up to Fitzgibbon he walked,
and stopped, and said to the bucko's face,
"Put away that weapon! Would you add another murder to your crimes?"
To me, to the mate and his henchmen, indeed, to all hands, it was a
most astounding situation. And perhaps the most surprising element in
it was the fact that Holy Joe was not immediately shot or felled with a
blow, and the additional fact that none of us expected him to be.
It was the stiff, not the officer, who commanded the deck that moment.
By some strange magic I could not as yet fathom, the little parson had
assumed the same heroic proportions Newman had assumed the day he
chased the skipper from the poop. Oh, it was no physical change that
took place; it was rather as if the man doffed a mask and revealed
himself to us in his true self. There he stood, a full head shorter
than his antagonist, with his head tilted back to meet the larger man's
eyes, and Bully Fitzgibbon quailed before his gaze.
I watched the little man, awe-stricken. I had been bred to worship
force, it was the only deity I knew, and Holy Joe was in my eyes the
symbol of force. He radiated force, and it was a strange and wonderful
force. I had glimpsed this power in Newman; now, for the first time in
my life I saw it fully revealed. The only kind of force I had known or
imagined was brute force, the kind of force Mister Fitzgibbon
epitomized; but now, in this duel of wills that was taking place before
my eyes, I saw another and superior power at work. It was a force of
the mind, or soul, that Holy Joe employed; it was a moral force that
poured out of the clean spirit of the man and subdued the brute force
pitted against him.
"Put down that weapon!" Holy Joe repeated.
Slowly, the mate lowered his arm.
The parson turned to the squareheads; aye, he turned his back full upon
the bucko, and the latter made no move against him.
"Obey your orders, men," Holy Joe said to the sailors. "Go to your
work as he commands. I will stay with the boy."
The squareheads obeyed without question. They knew, just as all of us
knew, that their little champion was in no danger of mishandling, at
least not at that moment. They trooped aft, heavy-footed, murmuring,
but docile, and joined the stiffs at the lee braces. Holy Joe, now
alone on that deck so far as physical backing went, turned again to the
mate. But indeed he needed no physical backing; his indomitable spirit
had cowed the bucko.
"Your men will give you no further trouble, sir; they are at their
stations," said he.
It was the first time he had used the "sir." For an instant it seemed
a weakening. It gave Mister Fitzgibbon the heart to bluster.
"I ordered you aft with the rest," he began. "What d'ye mean——"
"I have other work to do this watch—as you know," interrupted the
parson. He said the words so solemnly and sternly they sounded like a
judgment; aye, and they nipped the rising courage of the mate. He
could only mumble, and stammer out,
"You—you refuse duty?"
Holy Joe was silent for an instant. All of us were silent. One could
have heard a pin drop upon the deck. Then, out of the port foc'sle, a
dreadful sound came to our ears, a low, strangled moan. It stabbed the
vitals of the most hardened of us; with my own eyes I saw the mate
tremble. Aye, in some way Holy Joe had sent a fear into the brute soul
of Fitzgibbon; in some way he had sent a fear into the brute souls of
us all, and, at least in my case, a great wonder. The pain-filled wail
of Nils, coming as it did, seemed magic-inspired to light for me a
universal truth. I felt it crudely, saw it dimly, but there it was,
dramatized before my eyes, the age-long, ceaseless battle between the
Beast in Man and the God in Man, the resistless power of service and
sacrifice. Aye, and Holy Joe's softly spoken reply to the mate's words
confirmed what I saw and felt.
"You speak of my duty, sir," said he. "I see it—and do it!"
With that he turned on his heel and walked into the foc'sle.
When he had disappeared something seemed to have gone from the air we
breathed, something electric and vitalizing. There was an immediate
let down of the nervous tension that had gripped us, a common sigh, and
a half-hysterical snigger from some fellow behind me. Mister
Fitzgibbon seemed to come out of a trance; he shook himself, and stared
at Sails and then at Chips. He glared across the deck at us of the
starboard watch. He even swore. But there was no life to his curse,
and he made no step to follow the defiant stiff into the foc'sle.
Instead, he went to the job at hand, and quite obviously sought to
regain mastery and self-respect by sulphuric blustering towards the men
bent over the ropes. He was a defeated man. He knew it, and we knew
A hand fell upon my shoulder. Newman stood behind me.
"A brave act and a brave man," said he. "But they will not let him
keep his triumph." After a pause he added, "They dare not."
I seized Newman's arm and led him aside, intending to impart my news.
But eight bells struck, and while they were striking, Mister Lynch's
voice summoned the starboard watch to assist in the job the mate had
started. We hurried aft with the crowd, and I found chance to say to
him no more than,
"Be careful; someone is spying upon you. Boston told me—and I saw
"I couldn't see. It was too dark, and he cleared out on the run. Ask
When we had belayed, the watch was relieved, and Newman went aft to the
wheel. Lynch kept the rest of us on the jump, as ever, and I had no
chance to steal a word with the Nigger when he came forward. At four
bells I relieved the wheel. I found Captain Swope and the mate pacing
the poop with their heads together. As I took over the wheel, Newman
whispered to me, "Keep your weather eye lifted for squalls, Jack!"
I did not need his warning; the mere presence of either of the pair was
sufficient to keep any sailorman wide awake and watchful of his p's
and q's while steering her. There was nothing uncommon about the Old
Man's presence; he was in the habit of appearing on the poop at all
hours of the night, though he never went forward. But for the mate to
give up his sleep in fair weather was unprecedented. There was
something in the carriage and attitude of the two, as they slowly paced
fore and aft, or stood at the break staring forward, that gave me a
feeling of impending disaster. Aye, I could smell trouble coming.
Captain Swope could smell it, too. That is why he walked the deck with
Fitzgibbon by his side. I could feel the alertness of the man. Yankee
Swope had his finger upon the pulse of his ship. A mutiny, however
sudden, would not catch the master of the Golden Bough napping. That
is what I thought as I watched him, and Boston's vague scheme became
harebrained in my eyes.
The second mate was seldom aft during the two hours I stood at the
wheel. The times he did appear, he engaged in conversation with the
Old Man, beyond my hearing. But near midnight be clumped aft
hurriedly, bringing the tradesmen with him. The strollers happened to
be near me at the moment he appeared, and he came towards them,
"Well, sir—he's gone," he said.
So I knew that Nils was dead.
"Very good," said Swope. "And the hands?"
"All quiet, sir."
Mister Lynch's voice was quite respectful, but I fancied I detected in
it a note of contempt.
"There was danger of trouble, even before the boy went out," he went
on. "Morton stood by the door and heard it all." This Morton was the
sailmaker in the starboard watch. "The big Cockney in the port watch
was all for trouble, a rush aft of all hands; he said he had the
backing of my watch. The squareheads were willing; they want revenge.
But the big jasper in my watch, Newman, went into the foc'sle and
squelched the scheme with a word. He clapped a stopper on the
Cockney's jaw, and told the squareheads there was to be no trouble. So
there will be none, Captain."
A black curse slid out of the skipper's mouth. Aye, the man breathed
"So—he commands for'ard, eh?" he said. "Well, I command aft." He
seemed to think over the matter for a moment, and arrive at a decision.
"Well, Mister, if it doesn't happen to-night, it may happen another
night," he said. "Tell your men to keep their eyes and ears open.
And—better have that body carted aft, and your sailmaker fit him to
canvas. We'll dump him at dawn."
"Very good, sir," replied Lynch, and he went forward again.
The Old Man and the mate immediately went into conference. They moved
over to the rail, and spoke in soft tones, so I overheard nothing they
said. A ray of light from the companion hatch fell upon them, and
watching them furtively, it seemed to me that Captain Swope was laying
down the law to Fitzgibbon, giving him certain orders, to which he at
first objected, and then agreed.
It looked wicked to me, this secretive conversation. My excited mind
saw evil in it. I smelled evil, tasted evil, the very skin of my body
was prickled with the air or evil that lay upon the ship. A case of
nerves? Aye, I had nerves. Most sailormen had nerves when they were
within sight of Captain Swope. This night he seemed to drench the ship
with evil, it poured out of him as ink from a squid, it was almost
something tangible. Somehow I knew that Newman's long grace was ended.
This black villain had prepared a net to trap my friend, and was even
now casting it. Somehow I knew that fresh wrongs and miseries were to
be heaped upon the wretched foc'sle. As I watched Captain Swope out of
the corners of my eyes, God's truth, I was afraid to my marrow.
Presently the second mate returned aft. "You may have your trouble
now, Captain, if you wish," he said in the same clear, carrying voice
he had before used, as he approached the skipper. "The squareheads
won't give up the body. They'll fight if we take it. They say they'll
drop him overside themselves."
The captain appeared pleased with this news. He laughed, that soft,
musical little chuckle of his that contained so much malice and
cruelty. "Oh, let the dogs dispose of their own offal, Mister," he
said, carelessly. Then, when Lynch went down to the main deck, Swope
spoke eagerly, though in low voice, to the mate. Aye, the Old Man was
gleeful, and the mate received his instructions with servile pleasure.
Presently, they went below, and the yelp of the cabin boy—roused from
sleep, doubtless, by the toe of the skipper's boot—and the subsequent
clink of glasses, told me they were toasting the occasion.
I was consumed with dread. But just what to dread, I could not guess.
The Cockney took over the helm at midnight. I hurried forward, eager
to see what was happening in the fore part of the ship, and anxious to
speak with Newman.
The air of unease, of expectancy, which I had felt so strongly aft, was
even more evident forward. My watch, though off duty, did not go below
directly. Men were standing about whispering to each other. The wheel
and lookout had been relieved, but the mate did not summon his watch to
labor, as was his custom; he kept to the poop, and we heard not a peep
from him. The squareheads had taken a lamp from the lamp-locker and a
sack of coal from the peak, and Lindquist had the body of Nils upon the
forehatch preparing it for sea-burial. He stitched away in silence,
his mates watched him in silence. But it was not a peaceful calm.
I found Newman in the port foc'sle, talking to Holy Joe. When I
entered, I heard Newman say: "They are good, simple lads—use your
authority as a minister. Reason, command, do your best to convince
them they must be obedient. Tell them they will be the ones to suffer
in case of trouble."
"I will do my best," the parson answered. With a nod to me, he went
out on deck.
"Who was he?" I asked, when we were alone.
Newman looked blank.
"The spy," I added. "Didn't you ask the Nigger?"
"Oh, that—I have been too busy to bother about it," was the careless
response. "It really doesn't matter, Jack; I dare say it was some one
he set to dog my heels." He inclined his head aft to indicate who
"he" might be.
"But—remember what happened that night on the yardarm! And—I heard
some of you talk aft there; I couldn't help hearing! I tell you,
Newman, the afterguard is awake and waiting; the Old Man is afraid of
trouble. I think he is afraid you will lead the crowd, and try to take
"No; he is afraid I won't," said Newman.
I blinked. The words struck me with the force of a blow.
The big man smiled at my puzzled expression, and his hand clapped upon
my shoulder with a firm, friendly pressure. "Strange things happen in
this ship, eh, Jack?" said he, in a kindly voice. "No wonder you are
stumped, you are too young and straightforward to be alert to intrigue.
You do not understand, yet you are eager to risk your skin in another
man's quarrel? And you believe in me, eh, Jack?"
I felt embarrassed, and a little resentful. I did not like to be
reminded so bluntly of my youth and inexperience.
"You saved my life, and I don't forget a debt like that," I growled,
Newman gave a little chuckle. He knew very well it was liking, not
debt, that made me his man.
"I want you to know, Jack, that your friendship is a strength to me,"
he said, with sudden earnestness. "It is a strength and a comfort to
her, too. Your unquestioning faith in me has given both of us courage.
You have helped me regain my own faith in men and in right. Heaven
knows, a man needs faith in this ship!"
Oh, but I was exalted by these words! I was in the hero-worship stage
of life, and this mysterious giant by my side was my chosen idol. The
lady aft had quickened into activity whatever chivalry my nature
contained, and it was pure, romantic delight to be told I had served
her by loyalty to the man. Aye, I felt lifted up; I felt important.
"You can count on me. I'll back you to the limit," I said. Then I
rushed on, eagerly, and blurted out what was on my mind. "You are in
danger; I know it, I feel it. That Old Man is planning something
against you. Remember that night on the yardarm! Remember the lady's
warning! Look at Nils! I tell you, we'll have to fight! You can
depend upon me, I'll back you to the limit in anything. So will the
squareheads—you know how desperate and bitter they are. So will the
stiffs—they are just waiting for you to say the word. Every man-jack
for'ard will follow you!"
He checked me with stern words. "Put that thought out of your mind!"
he exclaimed. "There will be no mutiny, if I can prevent it. If one
occurs, I shall help put it down."
I was astonished and crestfallen. But after a moment he went on, more
"I know you are thinking of my safety, lad, and I thank you. But you
do not know what you are proposing. Mutiny on the high seas is
madness, and these jail-birds for'ard would be worse masters than those
we now have. Besides, you do not understand my situation—an uprising
of the crew whether or not led by me, is the very thing the captain
expects and wishes. You are quite right in thinking he intends to kill
me—and not me alone—but at present he is checkmated. I am an able
seaman, I do my work and enjoy the favor of my watch officer, and both
Lynch and the tradesmen revere the lady and hate, while they fear,
their master. But in case of a mutiny—why, Jack, those fellows aft
would unite, and back up Swope in anything he chose to do. Their own
safety would depend upon it. He would have his excuse to kill."
"But if we win—" I commenced.
"We would be murderers, and our necks would be forfeit," he
interrupted. "Put away the thought, lad, for only evil can come of it.
A mutiny would mean disaster to the crew, to you, to me, and above all,
to her. For her sake, Jack, we must prevent any outbreak."
"For her sake?" I echoed. I was aghast. Somehow, it had never
occurred to me that the lady might be in any danger. "You don't mean
that she would be harmed!" I exclaimed.
He nodded, and there crept into his eyes an expression grim and
desperate. "I have cursed myself for giving way to the storm of hate
and passion that brought me on board this ship," he said, moodily.
"And yet—it could not have been otherwise."
He observed my questioning face, and added, "Swope knows we have talked
together, she and I. He knows he must extinguish us both if he would
rebury for good and all the truth he thought was already buried."
"His wife—his own wife!" I exclaimed.
The words probed the quick. For a minute Newman's reserve was gone,
and the tormented soul of the man was plainly visible.
"It is a lie, a legal lie!" he cried.
He calmed immediately. His self-control took charge; it was as if his
will, caught napping for an instant, awoke, and drew a curtain that
shut out alien eyes.
I was dumb, ashamed and sorry to have unwittingly hurt my friend. But
now he was speaking again, in his accustomed sober, emotionless voice.
"Of course, I trust you absolutely, Jack. I'd like to tell you the
whole story. But—I am not free to talk——"
"You don't have to tell me anything," I blurted. "I know you are my
man, and you know I am your man."
"You are a friend!" he exclaimed. "But I will not sail under false
colors in your eyes, lad. I am a jail-bird, an escaped felon."
"Oh, I knew all about that long ago," I said, carelessly.
He looked his surprise.
"I heard that bum's story through the wall, that night in the Knitting
Swede's," I explained. "I didn't try to listen, but I couldn't help
hearing him. About the frame-up they worked on you—Beulah Twigg, and
Mary—that's the lady, isn't it?—and the one Beasley called 'he'—I
know 'he' is Yankee Swope. Oh, it was a dirty trick they played on
you, Newman. I'm with you in anything you do to get even."
He shook his head, smiling. "What a young savage you are, Jack!" says
he. "An eye for an eye, eh? But you guess wrongly, lad. That
treachery you heard Beasley explain was but the beginning. I was sent
to prison for a murder, the brutal and cowardly murder of a helpless
"I know it was a frame-up," I cried. "And, anyway, I don't care. I
know you're on the square, and that is all that matters with me."
"If I were not, your faith would make me on the square," he answered.
"But—I was not guilty. I came on board the Golden Bough intending
to become a murderer—but that madness is past. Now I am anxious to
prevent killing—any killing. Now I am determined to preserve peace in
"For she is safe so long as I am alive, and he cannot easily dispose of
me so long as the crew is peaceful. You can understand that, can you
not? Angus Swope is a fiend; he is more than half-insane from long
indulgence of his cruel lusts. But he is cunning. I am a menace to
his safety, and now he knows that she is also a menace. But he will
not offer her violence or do her any harm while I am at large. By God,
it would be his death, and he knows it. I give him no chance to strike
at me alone and openly, so he is striking at me through the crew.
"For he must consider the attitude of his second mate. Lynch is her
friend, remember that, Jack. He is an honest man. He is bluff and
harsh and without imagination, as brutal a bucko as one is likely to
find In any ship, but he is 'on the square,' as you put it. Also, he
has more than an inkling of the true state of affairs in the ship. He
knows who I am, and he guesses why the captain fears and hates me. I
wish I could tell you what he has done, and is doing, in my—no, in her
behalf. And in spite of his bucko's code. He would not lift a finger
to aid me in case of trouble (you remember the warning he gave us that
day we were in the rigging) for he is an officer, a bucko, and I am a
hand. But he would not stand for another such attempt at murder as
Swope made the night we were aloft. He told Swope he would not stand
for it, he would not keep silent. It was a brave thing to do, to defy
such a master. This is Lynch's last voyage in the Golden Bough, as
he well knows. So our canny skipper set to work his crooked wits, and
for weeks he has been fomenting a rebellion of the port watch. Mister
Fitz is a more pliant and obedient tool than Lynch."
I was excited, wide-eyed. For I was suddenly seeing a light. The
words I heard were truth, I knew. It explained what I had seen and
heard that night upon the poop. This trouble that threatened was made
to order, to the captain's order; even as Newman said.
"Good heavens—then Nils' death—and the hazing"—I could not continue.
The heartlessness, the malignant cruelty of the man who had ordered
these things was too horrifying.
"Nils' injury was unpremeditated, I believe," said Newman, "but leaving
him die without attention or nursing was a calculated brutality,
designed to inflame the boy's mates. Fitzgibbon's bitter hazing,
without distinction or justice, was for the same purpose. They kept a
close eye upon the boy's condition; they evidently figured that the
hour of his death would be the hour of explosion. As you know, it very
nearly was—only the parson's courage averted trouble in the dog-watch,
and but a little while ago I had to quiet a storm. But the danger is
passed now, I think. The little fellow's mates are naturally quiet,
"The squareheads may be kept quiet," I said, "but how about the stiffs?
How about Boston and Blackie?"
An expression of disgust and contempt showed in his face as I mentioned
the names. "I will attend to them if they try any of their tricks," he
"But they are, and have been, trying their tricks," I persisted, "and
for some reason they are eager to have you know what they are up to.
Boston told me to tell you." I repeated Boston's gossip. "He knew
about the spy," I said.
He nodded. "I know; I have had an eye upon them. What Boston told you
about the treasure is quite true; the ship is carrying specie. And
they are precious rascals, capable of any villainy; I know them well,
they—they broke jail with me. But they have wit enough to know that
their gang of stiffs could put up no sort of fight, unless backed by
the sailors in the crew. It is loot they are after, and there will be
trouble from them before the ship makes port; but now we are in
mid-sea, and they realize they would be quite helpless with a ship on
their hands and no navigator. That is what they want of me. A pair of
poisonous rats, Jack!
"But they will keep quiet. They had better. I promised them I would
kill them both if they disobeyed me!"
I gazed at the big man with admiring awe. He spoke so coolly, was so
conscious of the strength and power that was in himself. Here was the
sort of man I should like to be, I thought, here was the true hard
case, no bully, no ruffian, but a man, a good man, a man so hard and
bright, so finely tempered, he was to the rest of us as steel to mud.
Oddly enough, as I had this thought, it also occurred to me that there
was a man in the ship who might with justice claim to be Newman's peer,
another man of heroic stature—poor meek little Holy Joe.
"If Swope does not interfere with the decent burial of that poor boy,
there will be no outbreak," added Newman.
"He will not interfere," I was able to assure him. I repeated the
skipper's words to Mister Lynch. "'Let the dogs dispose of their own
offal!' is what he said."
To my surprise Newman was disturbed by this news. He stared at me,
"Swope said that?" he exclaimed. "Now what is he up to?"
He sat thinking for a moment, then he said:
"The burial of Nils is the weak point in my defense. If Swope offers
an indignity to the boy's body, even I will not be able to restrain
Nils' mates. Surely Swope has guessed that. I have planned to bury
the lad from the foredeck just as quickly as preparations can be made;
that is why Lindquist is at work on the forehatch. If Swope is
overlooking this chance, he must have something else up his sleeve."
He got to his feet and moved toward the door.
"Lindquist must be nearly finished. I will carry out my plan at any
hazard. Common decency demands we should not let the boy be cast into
the sea by the very men who murdered him."
At the door we were met by Olson, one of the squareheads, come to tell
Newman that all was ready for the burial. So we joined the crowd, and
Nils was put away, in the dead of night, by the light of one lantern
and many stars. The hum of the wind aloft and the purr and slap of the
waters against the bows were his requiem.
That scene left its mark upon the mind of every man who took part in or
witnessed it—and every foc'sle man save the helmsman saw Nils go over
the side. It was already late in the middle watch, but no man had yet
gone to his sleep; and, considering the habits of sailors and the
custom of the sea, this single fact describes how disturbed was the
Yet the putting away of Nils was peaceful. We knew that the mate was
not alone upon the poop, that the men aft were alert and must know what
was going on forward; but, despite Newman's fears, there was no
interference from that quarter.
Nils' bier was a painter's stage, and four of the lad's shipmates held
the plank upon their shoulders, with the weighted feet of the shrouded
form pointed outboard. The rest of us, sailors and stiffs, stood about
with bared, bowed heads; aye, and most of us, I think, with wet eyes
and tight throats. It seemed a cruel and awful thing to see one of our
number disappear forever, and Holy Joe's words, spoken so softly and
clearly, were of a kind to squeeze the hearts of even bad men. That
parson had the gift of gab; he was a skilled orator and he could play
upon our heartstrings as a musician upon a harp.
Yet he did not preach at us, or even look at us. He wasted no words,
and the ceremony proceeded with the dispatch Newman desired. All Holy
Joe did was lift his face to the night and pray in simple words that
Nils might have a safe passage on this long voyage he was starting.
The words seemed to wash clean our minds. For the moment the most
vicious man in that hard and vicious crowd thought cleanly and
innocently. Our wrongs and hatreds seemed small and of little
consequence. Aye, while Holy Joe prayed for the dead we stood about
like a group of awed children. When he was finished praying, he
recited the beautiful words of the Service, and raised his hand—and
the pall-bearers tipped their burden into the sea.
Silently we listened to the dull splash, silently we watched the four
men lower the stage to the deck. It was over. The parson fell into
step with Newman, and the two paced up and down, conversing in low
tones. The crowd dispersed.
Some of my watch went into the foc'sle, to their bunks. Most of the
men sat about the decks, and smoked and talked in whispers. But the
topic of Nils was avoided, as was talk of mutiny. The squareheads did
not mutter threats, the stiffs did not curse. The spell of the
parson's words was still upon us, and peace reigned.
Newman had won, I thought, and danger was passed.
I found the Nigger seated upon the fore-bitts, whetting his knife upon
a stone. There was something sinisterly suggestive about his
occupation at that hour; it was the first break in the strange calm
which had fallen upon the crew.
"Tell me, Nigger, who's the man that's spying on the big fellow?" I
said abruptly, as I sat down beside him.
Nigger did not pause in his work, but he turned his battered face to
me. A couple of days before he had fallen afoul of the mate's brass
knuckles for perhaps the twentieth time since he had been in the ship,
and his face was a mass of bruised flesh, a shocking sight, even though
his color hid the extent of his injuries.
The Nigger had been, perhaps, the worst misused man in the crew—and
this notwithstanding the fact he was by far the best sailor in the port
watch. But Fitzgibbon hated "damned niggers," especially did he hate
"these spar-colored half-breeds," as he was fond of calling this
fellow. I do believe he chose the Nigger for his watch so he might
pummel him to his heart's content. Beat him up he had, constantly, and
without cause, and as a result Nigger had become a surly, moody man.
"Who say dat Ah know?" demanded Nigger, in reply to my question.
"Boston said so."
"Dat man's too free wif his lip. Ah don't tell him Ah knows who's the
spy; Ah tells him Ah knows dey is one."
I waited patiently, for Nigger's temper would not bear pressing. He
reversed his stone, spat upon it, and resumed his monotonous whetting,
then, after looking around to make sure he could not be overheard, he
explained what he did know.
"Night befoh last Ah was hangin' 'round aft——"
"What?" I cried, surprised. "Hanging around aft—what for?"
"Dat's my business," he told me, curtly. Then, after a moment, he
added, "But Ah don't care if yoh know, because Ah knows yoh ain't no
snitch. Ah was hangin' 'round waitin' to meet Mistah Mate when he
ain't got them othah two debbils wif him. Ah was waitin' 'round to
meet dat man alone. And he come to de break ob de poop wif de Old Man,
and de Old Man say, 'Ah got a good man watchin' every move he makes; he
can't turn around in de foc'sle wifout me knowin' it. We'll be wahned
befoh it happens.' Dat's what de Old Man say to Mistah Mate. And Ah
knows he mus' be talkin' about de big fellow, and so Ah tells Boston
"But didn't you hear any names mentioned?" I asked him.
"Dat's all Ah hears," he answered. "Den dey went away."
I was disappointed. The Nigger's news amounted to just nothing; we
already knew that a spy was watching Newman. But indeed this fact
seemed not so threatening as it had a few hours before. Newman's
careless contempt of the spy had made me contemptuous, too. And,
indeed, what could a spy report against the big man that could injure
him? Newman was openly working for peace, counseling obedience. His
actions invited scrutiny.
I voiced this thought to my companion.
"Well, anyway, a spy can't hurt Newman. He is doing nothing underhand,
or wrong. He's keeping peace in this ship."
Nigger gave a queer little hoot of derision. "Does Ah look like
peace?" he said. "Dis am a debbil-ship; Ah tells yoh dey can't be no
peace in dis ship nohow."
I gestured towards the forehatch. A dozen men sat upon it, quietly
smoking and gossiping. "The squally weather is past," I said. "Those
lads don't want trouble. A few hours ago they were all for fight—but
now they've settled down. And don't you try to start trouble! The big
fellow wants peace, the lady wants peace, we must help them to keep
peace. Don't you want to help the lady and the big fellow?"
"De lady been awful good to me," said Nigger, in almost a whisper. "Ah
gone crazy long ago if it ain't foh de lady." He stopped his whetting
and tried the edge of the blade with his thumb; then, suddenly, he
reached out and clutched my wrist, and continued in a voice so charged
with pain and grief, that I was appalled.
"Ah'd do mos' anything foh de lady, but, Shreve, it ain't foh me, and
it ain't foh any of us forward to say what's goin' to happen in dis
ship. Ah ain't no sea-lawyer; man and boy Ah've gone to sea twenty
year, and Ah ain't nebber made no trouble in no ship, no suh. But, oh
mah Lawd, yoh knows what all's happened to me in dis ship! Dey won't
let me be a man. 'Yoh niggah, yoh black beast!' Dat's what dey calls
me, and dat's what dey makes me! Ah wants peace, yoh wants peace—but
does dey want peace? No, suh! Yoh say de ship peaceful now? Dis am a
debbil-ship, and dey's a king debbil aft! And dey's a shark overside,
and he wasn't waitin' foh what jus' went into the water, no, suh! Yoh
ebber sail out East? Yoh ebber see de quiet befoh a typhoon, so quiet
seems like yoh can't breathe? Dat's de kind ob peace dat's on de
Golden Bough. Ah don' want to make no trouble no time, but, oh mah
Lawd, when Ah does mah work right an' gets hazed foh it, when dat mate
makes a beast out ob me—does yoh think Ah stand dat fohebber?"
I had no answer of good cheer. What could I say? The man's wrongs
were too bitter, his hurts too constant, to be glossed over or soothed
by any words I could think of. For I knew he still had weeks of brutal
mistreatment ahead of him. This Nigger was a man who would not,
perhaps could not, cringe and whine—and so the mate was "breaking" him.
But after all Nigger gave me the promise I was after. "Ah nebber talks
trouble. Ah nebber wants trouble, and Ah nebber stirs up no trouble."
The day following Nils' death was the most peaceful day we had had
since leaving port.
There was less cursing and driving from the men aft, and less wrangling
among ourselves. But it was a strange peace. An air of suspense lay
upon the ship; we went around on tiptoe, so to speak. The quiet before
the typhoon—aye, Nigger's phrase just about described it. We went
around telling each other that the trouble had blown over, and nothing
was going to happen, and all the time we were watching and waiting for
something—we didn't know just what—to happen.
During the morning, Mister Fitzgibbon and his bullies came swaggering
forward and into the port foc'sle. Now that was a moment that very
nearly saw the calm broken; for an instant I was sure there would be a
grand blow-up. For the mate was after Nils' belongings, his sea-chest.
Even though it was the custom to take a dead man's gear aft, the
squareheads resented the removal of Nils' effects. Especially did they
resent Fitzgibbon's part in the removal. The lads in my watch crowded
the door connecting the rooms, and the port watch men collected on deck
and glowered in at the proceedings.
The muttered curses grew in volume. Oh, it looked like trouble, right
enough—-for just a moment. Now that I was enlightened as to the
skipper's game, I could see what the mate was up to. He, who was
largely responsible for Nils' death, had come forward upon this errand
because he knew—or Swope knew—his presence would enrage Nils' mates.
The Chinese steward, or the tradesmen alone, could have taken Nils'
gear without raising a murmur from the squareheads, but quite naturally
they would resent Fitzgibbon's pawing over the poor lad's treasures.
But Newman took the sting out of the mate's visit, Newman and Holy Joe,
working separately, but with a common end in view. Oh, it was
rich—but you must know the foc'sle mind to understand how rich we
thought it was. It was nothing subtle, nothing above our heads.
Newman made us laugh, at the mate's expense, and—presto!—impending
tragedy was turned into farce.
Fitzgibbon, himself, was overhauling Nils' gear. The tradesmen stood
idle and watchful, one near either door of the foc'sle. Out on deck,
Holy Joe was busy; we could hear him urging his crowd to be quiet and
peaceful. Newman pushed through our crowd until he was fairly into the
port foc'sle, and there he stood, filling the doorway, and effectually
blocking any attempt on the part of those behind him to rush the room.
Well, Newman looked down at the mate, and he commenced to chuckle very
softly to himself. After a moment we began to chuckle too, every
man-jack of us. We didn't laugh out loud—not one of us, except
Newman, who had the nerve to laugh out loud at Blackjack
Fitzgibbon—but, hidden behind the big fellow's back, we chuckled and
snickered readily enough. And the butt of the joke was the mate,
It was the mate's behavior. Anybody could see with half an eye that
the fellow was looking for trouble. He expected trouble, and it made
him nervous. He was determined he would be ready for it. So he kept
one hand in his coat pocket, where he carried his gun, and tried with
the other hand to cast adrift the lashings that held the chest to the
bunk posts. It was a two-hand job, and he made slow work of it. But
he wouldn't call one of his tradesmen to help him—that would have left
a door unguarded, you see. Nor could he fix his attention upon the
job; he kept twisting his ugly face this way and that way until his
head looked as if it were on a pivot.
If Newman hadn't pointed it out, I doubt if any of us would have seen
the humor of the scene. But Newman's chuckle forced it upon us.
Mister Fitzgibbon did look ridiculous—fumbling blindly with the ropes,
and at the same time trying to keep both ends of the foc'sle in sight
"I'll lend you one of my hands, Mister," said Newman, suddenly.
The mate glanced at him, startled, but before he could open his mouth,
Newman stepped past the tradesman and bent over one end of the chest.
"It's neatly wrapped; the lad would have been a good sailorman,
Mister," he remarked as he undid the lashing.
The mate realized he was at a disadvantage. He glared vindictively at
the big fellow, and snarled an oath in reply. Then he drew a knife,
and committed the lubberly act of cutting through the lashing at his
end of the chest. Newman had finished undoing the rope at his end, and
now he stepped back into the doorway.
I've never been sure, but I think Newman did it purposely. The rope's
end was spliced about the handle of the chest, and when he cast the
rope loose, it trailed upon the floor. Newman left the bight turned
about the bunk-post, and in such fashion that it would tighten into a
Now that it was a case of our laughing at him, the mate was eager to
get out of the foc'sle with as little loss of dignity as possible. He
started to walk away, dragging Nils' chest after him. The clove-hitch
checked him. He jerked, with all his strength, and his strength was
enormous—there was a crack like a pistol shot as the bunk-post
snapped, the chest leaped like a live thing at the man, and
Fitzgibbon's heels flew out from under him. He landed upon his back,
and the chest landed upon his stomach; and the wind went out of him
with an explosive oof!
Oh, it was rich. Aye, it was the kind of joke the foc'sle could
appreciate. We did appreciate it. We did not quite dare roar our
laughter, but our chuckles would have shaken windows ashore. Even the
tradesmen grinned—behind their hands—as they lifted the chest from
off their boss, and him to his feet. He needed assistance, too; he had
no wind for curses, and bent double nursing the injured spot while he
grunted at the tradesmen to pick up the chest and carry it aft. He
paid no attention to the rest of us, but as he hobbled out of the
foc'sle in the wake of the others, he gave Newman a look of such
malignant hatred that we all knew just where he placed the blame for
It did not bother Newman, that look. He was on deck at the mate's
heels. Bravado, I thought at first, and I was close behind Newman, for
I wanted to have a hand in any further fun. He followed the mate aft,
at a respectful distance. Suddenly, I understood his action, for I saw
how warily he was watching the hands, the port watch squareheads,
particularly, who were bunched about the foredeck. Newman wasn't
following the mate to make sport for us; he was seeing that the mate,
and the tradesmen, got aft without trouble. He was seeing to it that
no one on deck gave the bucko the excuse to start trouble that had been
denied him in the foc'sle. Aye, Newman was a wise lad; he would not be
Yet, despite his care, he nearly lost. Mister Fitzgibbon brushed past
Cockney, who was standing alone by the forward end of the deck-house.
He croaked something at the man, an oath, I thought. Cockney waited
until he passed by, and then suddenly whipped out his knife and drew
back his arm to throw it at the mate's back.
Newman might possibly have reached Cockney. But he did not try.
Instead, he leaped in the other direction, a cat-like bound that took
him over to the rail, as far away from Cockney as he could get. It was
Holy Joe who spoiled Cockney's knife-play. He was standing behind
Cockney, and, quick as Newman himself, he leaped forward and struck
Cockney's arm. It spoiled the aim. The knife did not go in the mate's
direction at all; it went flashing across the deck, and stuck quivering
in the rail.
"You fool!" cried Holy Joe.
The mate wheeled about at that. Aye, and he had his pistol half out of
his pocket as he turned. We could see by his face that he understood
what had happened; indeed, he would have been blind not to have been
able to read the meaning of the scene—Cockney still bent in the
attitude of throwing, and the parson clutching his arm. I expected—we
all expected—he would shoot Cockney. Surely, this was his chance, if
he wanted trouble.
But he hardly glanced at the man. His eyes passed him by, and darted
about until they spotted Newman lounging over there by the rail, with
his hands in his pockets. I guess it was an unpleasant surprise to
find Newman over there, just opposite to where he expected to find him.
The knife was sticking in the rail close by Newman's shoulder; there
could be no connecting it and Newman—indeed, Newman's own knife was in
plain view, in its sheath.
Newman shook his head. "Not this time, Mister," says he.
The mate was stumped, and enraged. His face grew actually purple with
his choked rage, as he glared at Newman. But he did not draw the gun
free of his pocket; he had no excuse to offer Newman violence, and he
did not deign to notice Cockney. He did not even seem to notice the
naked knife. Slowly his hand opened, and the butt of the weapon
dropped back into his pocket. Then he turned, and went aft.
I breathed again. So, I guess, did the others. When Fitzgibbon was
beyond ear-shot, Cockney began to damn Holy Joe for spoiling his aim.
But he didn't get very far with his tirade before Newman had him
shouldered against the wall of the deck-house.
Cockney changed his tune then, and mighty quick. For Newman looked as
he had looked that day in the Knitting Swede's; aye, there was death in
"Ow, Gaw', 'ear me. Hi didn't mean no trouble!" Cockney bleated. "Hit
was the nyme 'e called me. 'E myde me see red, that's wot."
"Would have been a damn good job if he'd landed!" cried Boston's voice.
There was an emphatic chorus of approval of this sentiment from the
hands, from squareheads and stiffs both. "We'd have been rid of one o'
them, anyhow!" piped up Blackie.
The backing gave Cockney heart. "Hi'd 'ave spliced 'is bleedin' 'eart
but 'e spoiled me throw, the blarsted Bible shark, the——"
"That will do," said Newman quietly, and Cockney shut up.
"Cockney has the guts, anyway," says Boston.
"The bucko hain't; he backed down," says Blackie.
"That will do you," Newman threw over his shoulder, and they shut up.
"If I were sure—" said Newman to Cockney. He left the sentence
unfinished, but he must have looked the rest for Cockney fell into a
"Ow, s' 'elp me, Hi didn't mean no trouble. Hit was the nyme 'e
called—'e called me old mother hout o' 'er blinkin' nyme, that's wot!
Hi didn't mean for to do it—but me temper—the wy the blighter's used
us blokes—hand the nyme on top o' that——"
"Well, remember, if I thought for a moment—" broke in Newman.
I thought Cockney would flop at the big fellow's feet this time. But
he recovered quickly enough when Newman turned away, without further
words, and without offering to thump him. He slouched forward, and
immediately became the hero of the hour with the gang. Aye; I was even
a bit envious. It took a hard case to heave a knife at a bucko—even
at his back.
"But why didn't he shoot Cockney?" I asked Newman. "Didn't he see him?"
The big man glanced at Holy Joe, and smiled. "Perhaps he didn't want
to see him," he replied.
And I was so thick-headed I didn't understand. But it really was a
peaceful day. After Nils' chest went aft, we might have been a
comfortable family ship so little were we troubled by the afterguard.
Lynch, of course, kept his watch busy while it was on deck, but he
didn't haze; and Fitzgibbon all but forgot he had a watch. It was a
queer rest. It got upon my nerves, this waiting for something—I
didn't know what—to happen.
It carried over into the night, this unusual quiet. Aye, Captain Swope
kept the deck that night in the first watch, as well as Fitzgibbon, and
not a single man was damned or thumped. When we turned out for the
middle watch, we found the port watch lads crowing that they had farmed
away their hours on deck.
Well, we didn't farm, by a long shot. Trust Lynch to keep hands busy.
It was rule number one with him. He sweated us up in the usual style,
yet his manner was milder than usual and he didn't lay a finger on even
the most lubberly of the stiffs. Aye, for the first time during the
voyage—perhaps for the first time in the life of the ship—a full day
passed in the Golden Bough and not a man felt the weight of a boot or
a fist. It was an occasion, I can tell you!
Yet, for all of the afterguard's surprising gentleness, that mid-watch
was a nightmare to me. Newman disappeared.
Ever since the night at the beginning of the voyage when Captain Swope
tried to snap us off the yardarm, I made it a practice to stick close
to the big fellow during the night watches. I owed him my life, and,
anyway I was eager to give him the service of a friend, of a mate. I
was always dreading that Swope would try again some dark night, and
with better success. It is so easy to do things in the dark, you see;
get a man separated from the watch, beyond the reach of friendly eyes,
give him a crack on the head and a boost over the rail, and then what
proof, what trace, have you? Just a line in the logbook, "Man lost
overboard in the night." Aye, many a lad—and many an officer—has had
just that happen to him.
So it was that in the night watches I became Newman's shadow. It was
literally shoulder to shoulder with us, we handed the same lines, bent
over the same jobs. Newman never mentioned it, never asked me to stick
close, but I knew he welcomed the attention. He knew the danger of
walking alone in the dark in that ship. Mister Lynch kept his word and
never again sent either of us aloft at night. In fact, the second mate
did more than that; from that night on, whenever Newman had a night
wheel, Lynch stayed aft on the poop during the trick. Oh, there was no
friendship between the two; I know that for certain. Lynch was an
officer, and Newman just a hand. But he was a square man, and he was
seeing to it that Newman got a square deal, at least in his watch.
And, I guessed, the lady had something to do with Lynch's attitude.
She was not friendless in the cabin, as I had discovered.
This night Newman had no wheel. Neither had I. During the first half
of the watch we touched elbows. As usual, the second mate worked sail
and kept us dancing a lively jig. He made work, Lynch did. He would
walk along the deck and jerk each buntline in passing—and then order
lads aloft to overhaul and stop the lines again. He would command a
tug on this line, a pull on that; no sail was ever trimmed fine enough
to suit him. Oh, aye, he was but following his nature and training; he
could not bear being idle himself, and he knew that busy men don't
brood themselves into trouble. And running a watch ragged was
We were aft on a job—brailling in the spanker, I recall—when I missed
Newman. An instant before we were together, we had handed the same
line; suddenly he was gone from my side. At first I thought he had
passed around to the other side of the mizzenmast, for we were coiling
down gear that had been disarranged during the job, and I was not
worried. But when the second mate ordered us forward to another job,
my friend was not with the gang.
The second mate left one of his tradesmen aft, and during the remainder
of the watch kept us forward of the waist of the ship. He drove us,
kept us jumping, at perfectly useless jobs on the head sails. It was
as plain as the nose on my face that he was purposely keeping us
forward. Something was going on, aft there by the boat skids, by the
break of the poop; it was a moonless night, but once or twice I saw
shadows flitting about the main deck.
I was in a quandary. Something was going on aft—but what? Newman was
missing. The bucko knew he was absent from the gang, he must have
known. Yet he ignored his absence. Was it treachery? Was Newman in
trouble? Had he and I been mistaken in our judgment of Bucko Lynch?
Oh, I was tormented with fear—and with doubt. I wanted to gallop aft
and lend him a hand, succor him, at least help him to put up a good
fight. But I wasn't sure he was in trouble, that he would welcome my
advertising his disappearance. Perhaps he was keeping a rendezvous,
with the second mate's aid.
That was what the other lads thought. Oh, aye, they missed him too.
But they didn't have wit enough to realize that Lynch also had sharp
eyes; they thought Lynch didn't know Newman was gone. They thought it
was a great joke, a score against the cabin. They thought Newman had
boldly slipped away from work to meet the lady.
"The Big Un's queenin', b'gawd, right under the Old Man's nose!"
That's how Boston put it.
I did nothing. I made no break. Luckily. At seven bells, Lynch
marshaled us aft again, to set the spanker this time. As we worked,
Newman slipped into the group as quietly and unobtrusively as he had
slipped out nearly two hours before. Coiling down gear, I discovered
that the running part of the spanker vang was off the pin, and trailing
over the side. It dropped down past the open and lighted porthole of
one of the cabin berths. Whose berth? Well, I thought that Boston had
the right of it. Newman had been "queenin'," with his feet in the
ocean, so to speak.
But he had been up to something else, as well. As he and I walked
forward, after the watch was relieved, we were overtaken by Lindquist,
who was coming from the helm.
"Vat you ban doing mit da longboat to-night?" he asked Newman,
"Nothing, lad. You must have dreamed at your Sybeel—understand?" was
Newman's prompt reply.
It took a moment to filter into the squarehead's mind. But he got it.
"So—ja, it ban dream; I see noddings," he said.
"And you say nothing?"
"Ja, even to mineself I say noddings," promised Lindquist.
At the foc'sle door, Newman placed a detaining hand upon my shoulder
and held me back.
"Was there much comment among the hands?" he asked.
I told him what Boston had said, and that it was the common opinion.
"That will do no harm," he remarked. "So long as they did not see, or
guess—yes, it is a good blind."
I was a little resentful, and showed it. "You know I don't want you to
tell me anything you don't want to tell me, but I think you might have
dropped a hint In my ear. How was I to know that the greaser hadn't
played a trick on you, and given you over to the Old Man? I don't know
what game you're playing, and if you don't want to tell me I don't want
to know—but I tell you I came pretty near spoiling it, whatever it is.
I was on the verge of going aft and raising a row, just to find out
what had become of you."
"Jack, it isn't my mistrust that keeps you in the dark," says he. "You
know I trust you absolutely. But I cannot explain—others have that
right. But, lad, I can tell you this—things are moving, aft there,
and the sky is brighter for me—and for her. And, you must not worry
about me if this should happen again, some other night. I shall be
safe; don't come hunting me, it might ruin everything. You will know
soon just what is happening. And you already know, Jack, how I count
upon you—and she, too. If things should go wrong, if he outwits me,
it is your head and arm I count upon to aid her."
"Anything, any time," was my eager response. "Oh, I want to help."
I found my hand being tightly squeezed in his, and there was a little
catch in his voice. "A thick-and-thin friend, eh, Jack? I've learned
something about friendship since I have known you."
This strange peace, this interlude of quiet, lasted for several days.
It was a curious time, a period of uneasy suspense for me, for I could
feel hell simmering beneath the smooth surface of the ship's life, but
I could not see it, or guess when or where it would bubble over.
Even Lynch toned down his adjectives, and slackened his driving. He
was commanded to do so by Captain Swope while the watch was within
hearing. The Old Man told him to "go easy with those boys, Mister;
we've made it too hard for them this voyage." Aye, that was a nice
bitter pill for Bucko Lynch to swallow before his watch; oh, the lads
enjoyed it, I can tell you.
Fitzgibbon, the roaring lion, became the bleating lamb. He hardly
worked his men during those days, let alone haze them. He let Nigger
alone. He stopped swearing at Holy Joe. Why, a man might fancy from
his manner that he had become afraid of his men. Aye, a man might
fancy from their behavior that the lot of them aft possessed a sudden
fear of the crew. Even the tradesmen were publicly ordered to treat
the men with civility. But I didn't fancy they were afraid. I knew
better. It was part of the game Swope was playing.
"I took the trick when Nils died," explained Newman, when I asked him
what the new program meant, "and now our sweet captain is dealing a new
hand, from a cold deck. He is nursing the scum, because this time he
will strike through them, instead of through the squareheads."
By "scum," Newman meant our unsavory mob of stiffs. And indeed they
were being "nursed," and without even suspecting it. Inevitably, the
unwonted gentleness of the men aft was interpreted as weakness and
fear, and of course their stiffs' courage mounted and slopped over.
Aye, he was a canny brute, was Captain Swope; he knew just how to play
such a crowd as we were. And I think he thoroughly enjoyed such a
There was valorous talk in the foc'sle, and half-veiled insolence on
deck. These cringing stiffs began to swank and swagger. They began to
bluster openly about what they could do and would do; they began to
tell each other how easy it would be to "dump 'em over, and take charge
o' the hooker." That's the sort they were. It took bucko methods to
keep them decent.
Blackie and Boston were plainly jubilant over this turn of events. Now
they were fairly shrewd men, even if they were damned rascals, and one
would have thought they possessed sufficient insight to at least be
suspicious of the skipper's sudden 'bout-face. But they were not.
They were just as convinced as the rest of the stiffs that the
afterguard had suddenly become afraid of the foc'sle. Just lack of
imagination, I suppose; I've read that it is usually a characteristic
of professional criminals.
They ceased hinting darkly and whispering in corners, and came out
fiat-footed with their great news. Aye, and it was a weighty argument
with the stiffs. Even though they knew about it already—as most of
them did—it was a delight to talk about it openly. There was money in
the hooker. That is what made their tongues wag. Aye, money; kegs and
kegs of shining trade dollars, aft in the lazaret, to be had for the
taking by lads with stiff backbones. And their backbones were stiff
enough for the job. So Boston and Blackie told them, so Cockney told
them, so they told each other.
It surprised me that Newman ignored this state of affairs among the
stiffs. He could have clapped stoppers on Boston's and Blackie's jaws
by just telling them to shut up. They stood in such awe and fear of
him. He could have as easily silenced Cockney; aye, and the gang, too.
We all stood in awe of him. There wasn't a man forward who would dream
of opposing him openly.
But Newman was contemptuous of stiffs' talk. "Oh, let them blow off
steam," says he. "Big talk, small deeds; that's their caliber, Jack.
They'll have their sauciness hammered out of them quickly enough when
Swope plays his next card."
"Aye, but what if Blackie and Boston, or that Cockney, make trouble?
They are bossing the stiffs."
"Those two jail-birds know what I will do to them if they go beyond
talk," said Newman. "As for that Whitechapel beauty, he is quite
harmless, I think. They would not follow him into a fight; they know
he is scum, like themselves, for all his bluster. They would follow
me, or you, if we led the sailors aft. But so long as the sailors are
quiet, there is no danger. That scum would not fight alone. And, as
you know, our little friend has his Norsemen eating out of his hand."
This last was certainly true. By "our little friend" Newman meant Holy
Joe. The squareheads idolized him. For one thing, his being a parson
gave him, from the beginning, standing with them. They were decent,
simple villagers, with an inbred respect for the cloth. But more
important, was the service he had rendered their dead shipmate. They
were not the men to forget a thing like that, or fail to be impressed
by the fine courage Holy Joe had exhibited when he faced the angry mate.
Now there was a curious thing. The decent men in the crew gave Holy
Joe unstinted admiration; his bravery that day clinched his authority
over the squareheads. They would have done almost anything for him;
aye, they loved the little man, and admired him. Yet the stiffs were
not much impressed by what Holy Joe did to the mate. I guess they
simply couldn't understand it. But Cockney's trying to stick a knife
into the mate's back quite captured their fancy. Aye, that attempted
murder was a great deed; it made Cockney their hero. I won't say that
the rest of us damned Cockney. We were, after all, foc'sle savages,
and our hatred of Fitzgibbon was very bitter. But it took the stiffs
to honor Cockney for that knife-play.
Well, Newman might dismiss this fellow with a contemptuous word, but I
couldn't. Cockney had become a rival I must reckon with. I didn't
like the way he lorded it over the stiffs in my watch, even if the
stiffs themselves did like it. I didn't like the noise he made in the
starboard foc'sle, or the hard case airs he assumed. I was number one
bully in my watch, and intended to remain so. I was, in fact, cock of
the crew (Newman excepted, of course) and I thought that Cockney's
chesty boasting was in a way a defiance of me.
No doubt I was right. As I discovered in time, Cockney had a good
reason behind his blatant tongue. It was necessary that he accustom
some of the crew, even a few stiffs if no more, to follow his
leadership. But he couldn't blow big in his own foc'sle, because Holy
Joe wouldn't allow it; and he didn't dare lay a curse or a finger on
the little parson because he knew if he did the squareheads would jump
him in a body. So he ventured into my bailiwick, hoping, I suppose,
that the open support of Boston and Blackie, his size, which matched my
own, and his newly got reputation as a bad man with a knife, would
It didn't. His dirty and violent talk sickened and wearied me, and
just as soon as I had a reasonable pretext I ordered him out of the
foc'sle. This wasn't as high-handed as it sounds, for Cockney had the
gall one afternoon to leave the deck during his watch out, and break
into my watch's rest with his obscene gabble.
He was disposed to dispute my order, and the stiffs backed him up with
talk. So I turned out and turned to. I slapped a few stiffs, and
threw Cockney through the door. He invited me out on deck, and of
course I accepted. We had a nice set-to before all hands. Even the
tradesmen came forward to see the sport.
Well, Newman's estimate of the man was correct. Cockney was scum,
yellow scum. His fighting methods were as foul as his tongue; he tried
all of his slum tricks, the knee, the eye-gouge, the Liverpool-butt,
and when he found I was up to them, and the stronger man in the
clinches, he wanted to call enough. But I was too incensed by this
time to let him escape easily, and I battered him all about the
foredeck. Finally he turned tail and fled aft. Of course I did not
pursue beyond the deck-house. His fleeing the battle really pleased me
more than knocking him out. I felt sure that such an ignominious
defeat would cook his goose with the stiffs.
It did. Boston and Blackie stopped grooming Cockney for mob leader;
they had seen that he lacked guts in a pinch, and that finished him
with them. The other stiffs still welcomed and admired him (for,
although he was a good sailor, he was one of them at heart, and, after
all, hadn't he tried to stick the mate?), but he was no longer their
hero. Aye, it was quite a fall for Cockney; he lost a lot of face when
he ran away from my fists. He kept out of my foc'sle thereafter.
I mentioned that this fight started because Cockney came into our
foc'sle during his watch on deck. Now, that illustrates the surprising
slackness of discipline in the port watch. Just a few days before the
mate was ready to shoot Holy Joe for going below during his watch on
deck, but he never bothered his head about Cockney's much worse
offense. In fact, during these strange days he seemed not to bother
his head about anything his men did. He promenaded on the poop during
his watches on deck, alone, or arm-in-arm with the captain, and just
about left the ship to sail herself. No wonder the stiffs commenced to
believe they could take liberties; in fact, they could take them in the
mate's watch, and get away with it.
But they couldn't take liberties in the second mate's watch. You bet
they couldn't! Bucko Lynch curbed his vocabulary and stopped using his
fists, as the captain ordered, but he didn't stop working his men.
There was no slackness in his watch; he kept us up to scratch. That
made the starboard stiffs especially bitter against him. They felt
themselves cheated of the easy times Fitzgibbon's men were having.
But the sailors didn't feel that way about it. They were worried, just
as I was. The sailors knew ships as the stiffs did not. They could
feel ships. Those dumb squareheads could not reason it out as I
could (with Newman's assistance), but they could feel the undercurrent
of intrigue. They were glad to escape the thumpings to which the mates
had accustomed them; but they were not satisfied with the new order for
they could feel that this strange peace was unreal, unhealthful. Aye,
the calm before the typhoon. They felt it just as I felt it, just as
Nigger felt it. As for pessimistic Nigger, so strictly did he mind his
own business these quiet days he was like a dumb man, a silent brown
shadow. But he went on sharpening his knife.
To heighten the squareheads' foreboding, and to scare the wits half out
of us all, Nils' ghost visited the ship. You know what sort of men we
were in that foc'sle; save Newman and the parson, we were ignorant men,
and superstitious. We all believed implicitly in ghosts, I, and the
squareheads, Nigger and Cockney, and even the stiffs who had not the
sea in their blood. Aye, even Blackie and Boston believed in haunts.
It seemed reasonable to us that Nils should come back to the scene of
his earthly misery. Reasonable, and fearsome.
Nils came at night, in the middle watch, always in the middle watch.
That circumstance might have aroused suspicion in sceptical minds. But
we were not sceptical.
Lynch had us busy forward this night. Aye, it had become a practice
with him to keep us busy in the fore part of the ship during the night
watches. One of his tradesmen, Connolly, kept the poop watch for him.
No, we did not think this arrangement odd; we worked too hard to think.
Newman had the first wheel. At four bells, a lad named Oscar went aft
to relieve the big fellow. A moment later he reappeared forward,
wild-eyed and spluttering his own lingo. Oh, he was a frightened
squarehead. All we could understand of his speech was the word "Nils."
The word was enough. We didn't need the commotion and consternation
among Oscar's countrymen to help us interpret. He had seen Nils.
"What's the matter with you?" demanded Lynch.
Lindquist answered for Oscar. Nils was at the wheel. Oscar had gone
aft to relieve Newman, and he had seen his dead shipmate at the wheel,
steering the ship. He was afraid to relieve a ghost.
"Oh, rot!" says Lynch. "Here, come along aft with me, the lot of you.
We'll lay this ghost."
Oscar did not want to go aft again, but he had to. It was better to
face a ghost than disobey Bucko Lynch. That is what the rest of us
thought, too. We were all afraid to go aft, but more afraid not to.
So we huddled close upon the second mate's heels, and clumped noisily
upon the deck, as though to rout the wraith with our racket.
Perhaps our racket did send Nils away. It certainly aroused the men
sleeping in the cabin, and the roundhouse. But we saw Newman at the
helm, not Nils.
"Well, m'son, where's your ghost?" demanded Mister Lynch.
Oscar was still too frightened to muster his scant English, but
Lindquist talked for him. "He say like dis, sir, Nils ban at da wheel
when he koom aft, oond den he yump vrom der wheel oond run for'ard yust
like da time da captain thoomp him."
"Rot!" says Lynch. "My man, have you permitted a ghost stand your
trick at the wheel?" This last to Newman.
"Hardly a ghost, sir," answered Newman. We could not see his face, but
from his tone I knew he was smiling. "Do I look like one? Not yet, I
hope. I was just about to turn over the wheel to the lad, sir, when he
shied—at the shadow of the mizzen stays'l I think—and rushed away
"What is wrong, Mister?" inquired the captain's soft voice. Aye, we
all jumped as if it were the ghost talking. Captain Swope, with Mister
Fitzgibbon behind him, had popped up from below as quietly as If he
were a ghost.
"Nothing wrong, Captain," replied Mister Lynch. "One of my jaspers
declared he saw the little squarehead's ghost dancing about the poop,
and now the lot of them have nerves. I brought them aft to teach them
better in a peaceful way."
This was a straight dig at the Old Man's "be gentle" orders, but it
didn't pierce his skin. Swope laughed, genuinely amused, his soft,
rippling laugh that always frightened us so much. "Peaceful, eh? By
the Lord, Mister, it sounded like an army overhead. And it was no more
than a ghost!" He peered aft, and discerned Newman at the wheel,
recognizing him by bulk, I guess, for the binnacle lights were half
shuttered and Newman's face invisible. But I'm sure he recognized him,
for he pursed his lips in a way I had seen him do before when he looked
at Newman. He strolled away forward, to the break of the poop,
glancing this way and that, and back again to the hatch. "If it were
moonlight, I'd say your man was touched," says he to Lynch. "But I
suppose he was half asleep and dreaming."
"I'll wake him up and work the dreams out of him," promised Mister
"But no hazing, Mister. The men are in bad enough temper as it is."
Aye, thus to Lynch, as though the rest of us were beyond ear-shot. But
all the time his eyes were upon us, measuring the effect of his words.
Oh, he was a sly beast, a "slick one," as Beasley said.
"Which is the lad who beheld this—ghost?" he added.
The second mate shoved Oscar forward so that he stood in the light that
streamed up from the cabin.
"So one little ghost scared you, eh?" says he to poor trembling Oscar.
"Why, my man, if all the ghosts in this ship were to begin walking
about, we living men would be crowded into the sea." With that he went
below, laughing, as though he had just made a fine joke, and leaving us
more frightened than ever.
The mate went below again also, but he wasn't laughing. We sensed that
the news worried Fitzgibbon, and that strengthened our conviction.
Blackjack Fitzgibbon had cause for worry. So we thought. Wasn't it
he, as well as Swope, who mishandled the boy to his death?
That ended the scene aft. Oscar relieved the wheel; he had to. Lynch
put the rest of us to work again, and during the balance of the watch
we saw ghosts in every corner.
When we went below at eight bells, we held a grand talk in the foc'sle,
a parliament that practically all hands attended. Aye, we were quite
convinced that the ghost was abroad. Oscar stuck to his yarn, and
embellished it, and left no room in our minds for doubt. Newman
laughed at us, and denied the presence of a spook on the poop; that
done he turned in and slept. But his evidence didn't shake our belief.
Oscar gave too many particulars.
The compass had not been shuttered when he went aft to relieve the
wheel, and he had seen Nils standing in the light. He couldn't be
mistaken. "Yust as plain like a picture." He knew him by his boyish
stature, by his beardless features, by his clothes. He was wearing his
Scotch-plaid coat and red tam-o'-shanter; Oscar couldn't be mistaken in
them, because he had helped Nils pick them out in a Glasgow slops shop
"last ship." Didn't his mates remember those togs?
His mates remembered them. So did the rest of us. That coat and cap
had hung on the wall opposite Nils' bunk all during his illness. He
was very proud of these colorful garments. Of course, we told each
other, he would appear in them after death. And, of course, he was
bound to come back. Didn't murdered men always come back? So we
assured each other; and the older men began spinning yarns about other
ghosts in other ships. Aye, we talked so much we were afraid to turn
in. Captain Swope's words about the ghost crew in the Golden Bough
impressed us mightily. We told each other that many men must have died
cruel deaths in this notorious hooker; very likely Nils' spirit was but
one of many. Some of the lads recalled mysteries of the night that
they had encountered in this ship, shadowy things melting into
darkness, strange noises, and the like; and always they had seen or
heard these things aft, around the break of the poop or beneath the
boat skids—in just about the spot where Nils had been beaten up, first
by the skipper and then by the mate. Aye, Nils gave us the creeps.
Another herald of storm, I felt.
Next night Nils did not walk, though the lads in both watches insisted
they saw and heard things that were not right or natural. The night
following in the midwatch—our midwatch—half the watch swore they saw
him flit across the main deck and disappear behind the roundhouse.
The next night marked Nils' last and most startling appearance. In the
heart of the middle watch, while my mates were sound asleep, the ghost
walked into the empty port foc'sle.
That is, the port foc'sle should have been empty, since the mate had
the watch out. But it happened that Nigger, coming from the wheel,
seized an opportunity to slip into the deserted room for a quiet
smoke-O. It was a liberty he was safe in taking, now that the bucko
mate had reformed.
My bunk in the starboard foc'sle was handy to the door connecting the
two rooms, and when he burst terror-stricken through that door my
unconscious head was right in front of him. I awakened abruptly to
discover Nigger clawing my hair; aye, and when I looked up and saw his
convulsed face and gleaming, bulging eyes, I knew at once he had seen
He was too scared to talk; he could only stutter. "Gug-gug-gug-God!"
But he pointed into the other foc'sle.
Well, my bowels were water, as the saying is, but nevertheless I turned
out promptly. I had to. Other men were waking up. Even Newman, in
the bunk opposite, had his eyes open; and he was regarding me in a very
curious way. So I couldn't hold back. I was bully of the crowd, and I
would not let the crowd think I was afraid to face anything, even a
Out I rolled, and into the doorway I stepped. There I stopped. God's
truth, I was frozen to the spot with terror. For Nils' shadow lay
athwart the floor of the port fo'sle, his moving shadow. It was this
shadow coming in through the deck door that had frightened Nigger. He
recognized the shadow as Nils because a tam-o'-shanter crowned the
silhouette, and Nils had owned the only tam on board.
I recognized that awful shadow, too. But I saw more than the shadow.
I saw a white hand appear on the door jamb. A ghost-like hand, it was
so white and small, a patch of plaid cloth, a little bare, white foot
lifting above the sill, and then the tam and the white face beneath it.
Aye, that white face with its great, staring eyes!
So much I saw during the instant I stood in the doorway. Then Newman
pushed past me and crossed the port foc'sle in a bound. He joined the
white face in the other doorway, and disappeared with it into the outer
Not a man save I—and Newman—had had nerve enough to turn out. Not a
man save I—and Newman—had seen that white face. Even Nigger had not
seen it; he had run out on deck through the starboard door. But my
watch-mates were awake and eager. "Is it gone?" they chorused.
"Yes," I answered gruffly. I rolled into my bunk, and turned my face
to the wall. My wits were still spinning from shock, and I didn't want
to answer questions.
"Where did Big 'Un go?" came from Blackie's bunk.
"How do I know? Stow the guff, the lot of you; I want to sleep."
But I didn't sleep. I lay there thinking about the face I had seen.
Nils' shadow, Nils' clothes—and the lady's face! The ghost that had
scared all hands was the lady dressed in Nils' clothes!
The lady brought Newman bad news. As I afterwards learned, the steward
overheard a conversation between the captain and the mate, and reported
it to her, and she immediately risked her masquerade forward to carry
the tale to Newman.
During the morning Newman said to me, "Watch your step to-day, Jack.
I watched my step, but not until the middle of the afternoon watch,
when I went aft to relieve Newman at the wheel, did I see any
indications of a coming breach of the afterguard's own peace. I sensed
it then, before I saw it. Aye, as soon as I stepped upon the poop I
smelled the old air. The very carriage of the officers said that the
old times were back again.
Newman gave me the course. I repeated it aloud, as is the custom.
Then he whispered, hurriedly.
"I think he intends to lock me up. Help Deakin keep peace for'ard.
Remember, lad, my life—and hers—may depend upon it."
He started forward. I wanted to call after him, run after him, ask him
a score of questions and directions.
But I was chained to my task. I dare not leave the wheel. Neither
dare I call out. For Captain Swope had appeared on deck. He stood
lounging against the companion hatch, staring aft, in our direction.
Bucko Fitzgibbon stood by his side. They had suddenly appeared from
below as the helm was changing hands.
Aye, and as soon as I clapped eyes upon them I knew that at last hell
was about to bubble over. They had thrown off the masks of meekness
that so ill fitted them. Fitzgibbon was truculence personified. The
expression in Swope's face when he looked at Newman was so terrible it
might almost of itself make a lad stop breathing—an expression of
gloating, pitiless, triumphant cruelty.
Lynch, in charge of the deck, stood apart from the others, but he too
was looking aft, not at me, but at Newman. There was something in his
bearing also which declared plainly that some ugly thing was about to
Yet Newman was permitted to pass the companion hatch without
interference. In fact, the pair turned their backs to him. I had, for
an instant, the wild hope that Newman was mistaken in his fears. But
only for an instant. Because, when Newman neared the forward end of
the poop, the two tradesmen of the port watch suddenly popped up from
the ladder and confronted him. Sails carried a sawed-off shotgun in
the crook of his arm, and Chips had a pair of handcuffs dangling in his
Newman stopped short. Who would not, with the muzzle of a shotgun
carelessly pointed at his breast? No order to halt was needed.
Suddenly I saw through the skipper's game. Aye, and the devilish craft
of it horrified me, and wrung a cry of warning from my throat. For
when Newman halted, Swope and Fitzgibbon turned towards him, and, while
Swope continued to lounge against the hatch, the mate closed in behind
Newman, and I saw a revolver in his hand. At the same time, the man
with the shotgun said something to Newman, something that angered the
big fellow, I could tell from the way his shoulders humped and his body
tensed. Squarely behind him stood the mate.
Oh, it was a clever murder Yankee Swope had planned, a safe murder! If
Newman made any motion that could be interpreted as resisting arrest,
and was shot in the back and killed—why, the officer who shot him was
performing his duty, and an unruly sailor had received his deserts!
That is the way the log would put it, and that is the way folks ashore
would look at it.
The second mate saw through the scheme, also. I am sure he had no
previous knowledge of it, for an expression of surprise and
consternation showed in his face, and he threw up his arm in a warning
gesture. But it was I who warned Newman. I sang out lustily,
"Look out—behind you!"
Newman looked behind him. He threw back his head and laughed. It
amused him to see the mate standing there so sheepishly, with his
pistol in his hand. But I did not laugh, for Yankee Swope was staring
at me, and there was fury in his face. God's truth, my hair stood up,
and my toes crawled in their boots! Oh, I knew I had let myself in for
it with that warning shout.
But if Newman laughed, he did not venture to move. He, too, saw
through the skipper's plan, and by his action promptly defeated it. He
laughed, but he also elevated his hands above his head to show his
unarmed condition and his pacific intent. Then, ignoring the mate, he
spoke to Captain Swope.
"Am I to consider myself under arrest, Captain?"
Swope turned his face to the speaker, and glad I was to be free of his
gaze. He was a furious man that moment; I could see him biting his
lips, and clenching and unclenching his hands from excess of anger.
Yet he answered Newman in a soft, even voice, and in the same
half-bantering vein the big fellow had used. He was a strong man, was
Swope; he could control his temper when he thought it necessary.
"Yes, my man, you may consider yourself under arrest!" he said.
"Then you will notice I offer no resistance," added Newman. "I am
unarmed, and eager to obey all legal commands of my captain. Shall I
lower my arms, and permit this gentleman to fasten the irons upon my
"No less eager to break into limbo, than to break out of it—eh?"
commented the captain. "Yes, I grant you permission to be
handcuffed—but not that way!—turn around, and place your hands
together behind your back."
Newman promptly complied with the directions, and the carpenter stepped
forward and slipped on the cuffs.
"Lock those irons tightly, Connolly," Swope directed the tradesman.
"We have to deal with a desperate man, a tricky man, a damned
jail-bird, Connolly. Squeeze those irons down upon his wrists. It
doesn't matter if they pinch him."
From where I stood I could not see, but I could imagine the steel rings
biting cruelly into my friend's flesh. I felt a rage against the
captain which overcame the sick fear of what he might do to me. But my
rage was impotent; it could not help Newman.
Mister Lynch tried to help him; and by his action indicated plainly
what was his position in the matter of the arrest. He crossed the
deck, and examined the prisoner's wrists.
"These irons are too tight, and will torture the man," he said to the
captain. "In my judgment, sir, it is not necessary to secure him in
"In my judgment it is," was Swope's bland response. Then he added,
"And now, Mister Fitzgibbon, and you, Mister Lynch—if you will escort
this mutinous scoundrel below to the cabin, I'll see that this affair
is properly entered in the logbook, and then we will put him in a place
where he cannot work further mischief. Connolly, you and your mate may
A moment later I was alone on the poop. So quickly and quietly had the
affair been managed that none of the watch on deck seemed to be aware
of it. They were busied about the fore part of the ship at the various
jobs Lynch had set them to. But the tradesmen of the watch were not in
sight, and I had no doubt they were forewarned, and had joined the port
watch tradesmen before the cabin, to guard against any possible trouble.
I wondered what to do. Do something, I felt I must. If I sang out and
informed the watch, the afterguard would reach me and squelch my voice
long before my mates could lay aft. And indeed, laying aft in a body
was what the crew must not do. That would be trouble, mutiny perhaps,
and Newman's injunction was to keep the peace.
I could do nothing to help my friend. But I felt I must do something.
The cabin skylights were open, for it was tropic weather, and a murmur
of voices ascended through the opening. I could not distinguish words,
but I felt I must know what they were saying to Newman, or about him.
So I took a chance. I slipped the wheel into the becket, and crept to
the edge of the skylights.
I could peek into only a narrow section of the saloon, for I did not
dare shove my face into the opening. They would have seen me. But I
could hear every voice, every word, and my ears gave me an accurate
picture of the scene below.
The first voice I heard was the voice of one of my foc'sle mates, and
he was giving testimony against Newman.
"'E was in the syl-locker mykin' hup to 'er," the speaker said, "an'
tellin' as 'ow 'e'd lead the crew arft, and kill the hofficers, and
tyke charge 'imself. That's wot 'e says, s' 'elp me!"
"Ah, yes, he was making up to her, eh? And plotting mutiny? And my
wife lent herself to such a scheme, did she?" This came in Swope's
voice, soft, purring, the very tone an insult. "So my wife was in the
sail-locker with this convict, and he was making up to her? Well,
"You know that creature is lying, Angus!" broke in another voice. Aye,
and I very nearly gave myself away by craning my head to see the
speaker. For this was the lady's voice, hot with anger and resentment
and loathing. "You know very well why I met Roy in the sail-locker;
you know very well we were planning to avoid bloodshed, not cause it."
"What are you doing here?" exclaimed the captain, with a savage edge to
his words. "This is a man's business, madam! Return to your room at
once. Mister Fitzgibbon, take her to her room!"
There was the sound of movement below. A chair scraped. Then Lynch's
voice rang out sharply, "Stop that, Fitz!" The lady's voice said, "You
need not touch me, I am going." A second later she spoke again, from a
different point, and I judged her to be in the doorway of her
stateroom. "You, at least, Mister Lynch, will bear witness that I deny
these charges against myself and against—against him. They are lies.
This spy is lying, my husband is lying. I know the truth. Do you hear
me, Angus? I know the truth, and you cannot silence me with lies!" A
"Now we will continue our examination," said Captain Swope.
Just then I heard a faint slatting of canvas aloft. I sped for the
wheel, and when, an instant later, the tradesman, Morton, poked his
head above the level of the poop, and looked aft, I had the ship steady
again. Morton's head disappeared, and after waiting a few moments to
make sure he did not intend coming up on the poop, I returned to the
My precious shipmate was talking again. "Hi 'eard 'im sy in the
Knitting Swede's 'ow 'e was shipping in this ship just to ryse 'ell."
"He said that, did he?" commented Captain Swope. "Now what have you to
say to that, Newman?"
For the first time I heard my friend's voice. His words were cool,
contemptuous. Aye, they heartened me; they told me he was far from
"The rat lies, of course, as all of you know."
"And you say that Newman has persistently endeavored to stir up the
crew to acts of disobedience and violence?" continued the captain.
"Yes, sir," was the answer. "'E would sy as 'ow there was a lot o'
money in the lazaret, and if we would follow 'im arft 'e would give hit
"Now I know that is a lie," broke in Lynch. The second mate's voice
was also contemptuous, but not cool; I could tell he was excited and
angry. "I've watched this crowd, Captain; I know them like I know the
back of my hand. This man, Newman, is the best sailor for'ard, and the
strongest influence for peace. He, and the little Holy Joe the crimp
gave us, prevented a riot the night the boy died. I know this fellow
is lying, Captain!"
"That will do, Mister Lynch," exclaimed Swope. "I did not ask your
opinion in this matter. I would suggest, sir, that it is your watch on
deck, and the ship may need your attention."
"Very good, sir," retorted Lynch. "But I wish to tell you this,
Captain—I know this man is innocent of these charges, and I will not
be a party to your action against him."
"Have a care, sir; I am captain of this vessel," cried Swope.
"I recognize your authority, but that does not alter my stand in this
case," said Lynch.
"That will do, sir; go on deck!" was the captain's command.
I was at the wheel, and the ship was on her course, when the second
mate appeared. Oh, but he was in a towering rage! He stamped the deck
like a full watch. He sang out to me, "Damn your eye, man, watch your
wheel; the wake is like a snake's track!" I answered meekly, "Yes,
sir," and held her nose true. He looked at me sharply, and I knew that
he guessed what I had been up to. But he said nothing more; instead,
he stormed for'ard, and worked out his rage among the stiffs.
I overheard no more of the proceedings in the cabin, for I did not dare
leave the wheel while Mister Lynch was on deck. But I was easier in my
mind concerning Newman's fate, for what I had overheard convinced me
the big fellow stood in no immediate danger of his life. That Swope
meant to kill, I had not the least doubt—Newman, himself, said as
much—but the time was not ripe for that act.
So I occupied myself with thoughts about the traitor in the crew. At
that moment Captain Swope was not the only man on board with murder in
his heart! My fingers pressed the spokes as though they had hold of
the Cockney's throat.
I cursed myself for a stupid fool not to have known Cockney was the
spy. I should have known. He was that sort, a bully and a boot-licker
by turns. In the foc'sle he was more violent than any other in his
denunciation of the buckos; on deck he cringed before them. He had
always fawned upon Newman, but I suspected he hated my friend, because
of what happened in the Knitting Swede's. But I had not suspected him
of treachery to his foc'sle mates, because he was an old sailor and a
good one, and there were plenty of stiffs on board more fitted, I
thought, for spy's work. But Cockney was the man. I could not mistake
his voice for another's. He was even now down below bearing false
witness against my friend.
I watched the deck closely, and pretty soon I saw Cockney go forward.
So I knew that the farcical examination of Newman was ended, and that
he was probably locked up with the rats in the lazaret. I promised
myself I would have a heart-to-heart talk with Cockney just as soon as
eight bells released me from the wheel.
But when eight bells did go, I had something else to think about.
Indeed, yes! My own skin, no less.
All hands were mustered aft when the port watch came on deck. This was
unusual, a break in routine, for it was not customary to call the crew
aft at the close of the day watches. Moreover, the men were herded aft
by the tradesmen, who were armed. Mister Lynch came up on the poop,
and was obviously taking no part in the proceedings. Oh, it was the
end of the easy times, and all hands knew it.
When the men were collected by the main mast, the little parson was
plucked out of the crowd and ushered into the cabin, where the skipper
and the mate awaited him. Aye, that was the reason for the muster;
Holy Joe must be punished for his defiance of Fitzgibbon. Five minutes
after he entered the cabin, he was thrown out upon the deck, bruised,
bleeding and unconscious, and his mates were told to pick him up and
carry him forward.
The Old Man and the mate appeared on the poop immediately afterwards.
The instant I clapped eyes upon Swope, I knew that my turn was next. I
saw it in his eyes, in his face and carriage. He looked and behaved
just as he had that day he attacked Nils. He looked at me with a
bright, cruel glare; he smiled, and licked his lips with his tongue.
Oh, I was frightened; worse, I felt sick and weak. And I felt anger,
too; aye, there was rising in me a wild and murderous rage, which, if I
let it go, would, I knew, master both fear and caution. I kept
repeating to myself during the few minutes of grace allowed me, "I must
not lose my temper, I must not lose my temper." For if I did lose my
temper, and defy my masters with fist and tongue, I knew I should be
beaten until I was physically disabled, perhaps fatally disabled. And
then who would hold the crew in check, who would labor to save Newman?
The Cockney came aft to relieve the wheel. There was a smirk on his
face, and a swagger in his walk, as he came along the lee side of the
poop. I noticed him leer confidentially at the mate, as he passed that
worthy. That Cockney thought himself a very clever fellow, no doubt,
having been taken into the confidence of the ship's masters, having
been assigned to do their secret dirty work. It was all I could do to
keep from flying at his throat, when he came within reach of my arms.
He murmured some hypocritical words as he stepped into my place. He
was a good dissembler.
"My heye, but poor 'Oly Joe caught it," says he. "They bloomin' near
skinned 'im alive. They 'arve Newman in the lazaret. Blimme, Shreve,
we got to do somethink abaht it!"
The answer he got was a grunt. My mind and eyes were on the officers.
I started forward, saying to myself, "I must not lose my temper."
"Not so fast, my lad. I think I should like to look you over."
These were the words with which Captain Swope arrested my progress. He
had permitted me to almost reach the ladder leading to the main deck,
before he hailed. The cat and the mouse; aye, that was it! He must play
with his prey. Such teasing gave him pleasure.
I stopped, of course, and turned, and faced him. Never did Captain Swope
remind me more of a cat than that instant, when I met his glittering,
pitiless eyes, and saw his smiling, red-lipped mouth, and listened to his
soft, purring voice. I was his mouse, helpless, trapped. God's truth, I
felt like one!
He looked me over slowly, from head to foot. The mate walked around
behind me, and I knew the attack would come from that direction. Swope
knew that I knew it; that is why he held my eyes to the front with his
deliberate and insulting inspection. The cat and the mouse—he would
enjoy my nervousness.
I think I disappointed him, for I tried hard to appear unconcerned. So,
finally, he spoke again.
"What is your name?"
"Jack S-hreve, sir," I answered.
"Shreve? Now, what signboard did you rob? Shreve is a good name, too
good for a foc'sle rat. Did you come by it honestly? Did you have a
father by that name? I dare say not. A gutter product would not know
his father, eh, my lad?"
There was no mistaking the deliberate intent of the insult, or its foul
meaning. Despite my efforts, I felt the blood in my cheeks, and my
fingers clenched of their own accord. I thought how white was Yankee
Swope's neck, and how near, and how easily I could reach out and choke
the vile words in his throat. I very nearly lost my temper—and with it,
my life, and, I think, the other two lives, which I actually valued above
The thing which saved me was the glimpse of a cold, speculative gleam in
my tormentor's eyes. It was the mere shadow of an expression, but it
acted like cold water upon my hot thoughts. I divined, suddenly, that
something more than sport was behind the captain's insults. He wanted me
to blow up in a great rage, and attack him, or the mate. I suddenly knew
this was so, and the danger of my losing my temper was past.
I lowered my eyes, afraid their expression would betray my knowledge, and
said submissively, "Yes, sir, I guess so, sir."
"I was told you had a long tongue, but you do not seem very glib this
minute," Captain Swope went on. "You've taken a reef in it, eh,
I said, "Yes, sir."
"But you forgot to take a reef in it awhile back, didn't you?"
I knew he was referring to the shout that warned Newman. I did not
venture a reply.
"So now you have put your tongue in gaskets," he commented, after a
pause. "Too bad you didn't do it before. A long tongue is a very bad
habit, my lad, and I do not allow my hands to have bad habits. I correct
He struck me then, not a heavy, stunning blow, but a short-armed,
slashing uppercut, which ripped the flesh of my cheek, and sent me
stumbling backwards against the mate's body. I took that blow meekly, I
took Fitzgibbon's harder blow meekly. I stood there and let the two of
them pummel me, and knock me down and kick me, and I made no show of
resistance. I buried my head in my arms, and drew up my knees, and let
them work their will on me.
Oh, it was a cruel dressing down they gave me! My face became raw meat,
my body a mass of shooting pains. I took it meekly. I tried to guard my
vitals, and my addled, star-riddled wits clung to the one idea—"I must
not lose my temper!"
I took my medicine. I did not lift a hand against them. I grovelled on
the deck like a cur, and did not fight back.
It was hard to behave like that. It was the hardest thing I had ever
done—keeping my temper, and taking that beating without show of
resistance. I was a fighting animal; never before in my life had I
tamely turned the other cheek. Long afterwards I came to realize that
those few moments, during which I lay on the deck and felt their boots
thud into my flesh, were educative moments of vital importance in my
growth into manhood. I was learning self-control; it was being literally
kicked into me. It was a lesson I needed, no doubt—but, oh, it was a
bitter, bitter lesson.
They gave over their efforts, finally. I had not much wit left in me,
but I heard the captain's voice, faintly, as though he were at a
distance, instead of bending over me.
"There's no fight in this rat," he said. "Might as well boot him off the
poop, Mister, and let him crawl into his hole. He's not dangerous, and
the ship needs him as beef."
No sooner said than done. I had obligingly saved them the trouble of
booting me very far, for I had been inching myself forward ever since the
onslaught. When the captain spoke, I was almost at the head of the
ladder to the main deck—an instant after he spoke, I was lying on the
main deck at the foot of the poop ladder, and all the stars in the
universe were dancing before my eyes.
I got dizzily to my hands and knees, and then to my feet, and staggered
forward. Captain Swope's soft voice followed me.
"Next time reef your tongue before you open your mouth!" he called.
I made my way into the foc'sle, and my watchmates grabbed me, and swabbed
and kneaded my hurts, and swore their sympathy. My injuries were not
very severe—some nasty gashes about the head and face, and innumerable
bruises upon the body. Fortunately I was in no way disabled. My bones
were intact. I was in far better case, they told me, than poor Holy Joe.
He was lying in his bunk unconscious, that very moment; he had a broken
arm, and most of his teeth were gone.
I saw at once that the men were quite wild with rage and anxiety. From
the sounds that came in the foc'sle door, I knew that the mate was hazing
his men. Aye, he was going after them in the good old way, quite as if
there had been no peaceful interlude. I did not have to see the mates'
men to know their temper; I could tell from the temper of my own watch
how the other watch felt.
It was a terrific shock to most of them, that sudden return of brutality.
Aye, just in that I saw the devilish cunning of Captain Swope. He knew
what the effect would be upon the minds of the men of slackening his
hell-ship discipline, and then, when the habit of passive endurance was
weakened, suddenly tightening the reins. He knew that then the bit would
be well nigh unendurable. Oh, Swope had calculated shrewdly; he foresaw
the effect not only of an outburst of promiscuous brutality, but of the
arrest of Newman, and the beating up of Holy Joe.
I could see the effect at a glance. The stiffs were panicky. These
valorous stiffs were glowering, really dangerous at last. The
squareheads were hysterical with rage. The squareheads knew why Holy Joe
had suffered—because of them, because of Nils. Because of Newman, too,
but they did not guess that. Then, the knowledge that Newman was trapped
was a heavy blow to sailors and stiffs alike. They had all, consciously
or unconsciously, depended upon Newman's sane strength. With him taken
from them they felt—every man-jack—that their backs were to the wall.
Just as soon as the blood was washed out of my eyes, and I could see my
mates' faces, just as quickly as the ringing in my ears subsided, and I
could hear their voices, I knew that the moment was past when the peace
could be kept in that foc'sle. Perhaps Newman could have composed the
crowd, but I doubt it. The captain had succeeded in driving them too far
and too hard, in frightening them too much. He had won, I thought
despairingly; he would get his mutiny.
For it was now the elemental instinct of self-preservation that swayed
the men and determined their actions. Oh, there was plenty of sympathy
for me, and for Holy Joe and Newman; there was rage on our account; but
underlying the sympathy and rage was a very terrible fear. It was a fear
of death, a fear that each man felt for himself. Self-preservation,
My shipmates, sailors and stiffs, had reached a point where they were
afraid not to take some violent and illegal action against the men in
command of the ship. Their long misuse, the wrongs and indignities each
man had suffered, the fate of Nils, the events of the afternoon, had all
culminated in the belief these men now had—good men and bad men both,
remember!—that they must revolt, that they must kill the men aft before
the men aft killed them! There were other factors at work, of course,
greed for gold and lust of revenge, but this simple, primal fear for
their own skins was the determining factor in the situation.
"By God, I never go on deck but I'm scared o' my life!" swore one of the
stiffs, named Green. And he voiced the common feeling.
I was, of course, much concerned for the parson. I went into the port
foc'sle to look at him—and he looked bad, lying there unconscious. The
squareheads had washed his face, but had not ventured to touch his arm.
His face was in a shocking state, and I feared his body might be broken,
as was Nils' body. He was much worse off than I; for he had not my iron
muscles, to withstand hard knocks, nor my skill in rough-and-tumble
fighting, which had enabled me to protect the vital parts of my body.
"We'll have to get him aft, where the lady can attend to him—or else get
her for'ard," I declared.
"No chance," answered Boston.
"If we take him aft dey ban kill him," asserted one of the squareheads.
"She can't come for'ard; she's locked in her room," said another.
"How do you know that?" I cried.
"Cockney says so. He was there when the skipper locked her in," said
For an instant I forgot Holy Joe, and his evil plight.
"What yarn did that Cockney bring for'ard with him?" I demanded.
"Why, he was there when they got the Big 'Un," answered Blackie. "He was
helpin' the steward break out a cask o' beef from the lazaret, when they
brought Big 'Un into the cabin, cuffed up, and with the drop on him. He
says the hen squawked, and the Old Man shut her in her room. Then they
kicked him out on deck, so he wouldn't see too much o' what was goin' on.
He says they put the Big 'Un down in the lazaret, and they're goin' to
croak him sure, and if we got any guts we'll go aft tonight and turn him
loose. That's what Cockney says."
Well, I let myself go, verbally. I said things about that Cockney, and I
was only sorry Cockney was not there to hear them. I knew most of the
hard words of three languages, and I used them all. Oh, it was a relief
to give even verbal release to the ocean of hate and rage in my soul! I
told the crowd what I thought of Cockney. Then I told them why. I told
them what had really happened in the cabin, what Cockney really was.
They believed me. They knew me; they knew I would not lie in such a
case, they could not help but sense the sincerity of my loathing. They
knew Cockney, also. They knew he was the sort to spy and perjure—a good
many of them were that sort themselves!—and as soon as I paused for
breath, this man and that began to recall certain suspicious acts of
Cockney he had noticed. Aye, they believed me, and the curses heaped on
Cockney's head were awful to the ear.
They had good reason to curse. My disclosure gave them a fresh fear.
Consternation was in their faces and voices, especially in the faces and
voices of the stiffs. I knew very well what frightened them. Cockney
had been most violent and outspoken among those advocating mutiny, far
more outspoken than the cautious Blackie or Boston, and the disaffected
had naturally confided in him. I knew that every man in the crew who had
expressed a willingness to revolt was known by name to Cockney (and
without doubt to Yankee Swope) and these men now could not escape the
feeling that they were marked men. If anything had been needed to settle
the conviction of the foc'sle that mutiny was necessary, this unmasking
of Cockney supplied the need.
I felt this, rather than thought it out. It was in the air, so to speak.
At the moment, I was too much concerned for the little parson to reason
coolly. Oh, I reasoned about it a little while later, not coolly
perhaps, but certainly quickly, and leaped helter-skelter to a momentous
decision. But just then I thought about Holy Joe.
I wanted to get his arm set, and his body examined. I, myself, was not
competent to do either. The squarehead had spoken truth—it would be
madness to carry the man aft for treatment; and I judged Cockney had
spoken truly, too, when he said the lady was locked up. That agreed with
what I, myself, had heard, I appealed to the crowd.
"We've got to get Holy Joe fixed up. Any of you know anything about bone
setting? Who'll lend a hand?"
To my surprise, Boston volunteered. "I worked in a hospital once," he
He set to work immediately in an efficient, businesslike manner. I was
astonished. His fingers were as deft—though not as gentle—as Newman's.
I thought, as I tore a blanket into strips, under his direction, how
characteristic it was of the fellow to let a hurt shipmate lie unattended
when he possessed the skill to help him. Aye, that was the sort of scut
"A clean break; no trick to set it," he announced, after examining the
arm. Nor was it. We cut up a bunkboard for splints, used the blanket
for bandages, and triced the injured member in short order. Boston was
deft, but he didn't try to spare his patient any pain; when he snapped
the ends of the bone together, Holy Joe came out of his swoon with a cry
He half raised himself, and looked at us. "Let there be no trouble,
boys—for God's sake, no fighting!" he said. Then he fainted away again.
We undressed him, and Boston pronounced his ribs sound. Then we carried
him into the starboard foc'sle, and placed him in my bunk, which had a
"Now you see what he got?" said Boston, wiping his hands on his greasy
pants. "And you see what you got. And you know what happened to Big
'Un. Well, how about it, Shreve? Do you stand with us?"
"With the crowd, sink or swim—that's what we want to know?" added
I sized them up. Sailors and stiffs, they stood shoulder to shoulder.
There was no longer a division in that crowd. And they looked to me to
I was thinking, desperately trying to discover a course that would help
Newman. So I tried to put the crowd off.
"You heard what Holy Joe said?" I asked.
"He's balmy—and besides what d'ye think a Holy Joe would say?" retorted
Boston. "Now, here's the lay, Shreve—we got to put a stop to this sort
o' work." He pointed to the bunk that held Holy Joe. "That means we got
to take charge of this hooker," he went on. "All hands are agreed to it.
But where do you stand—with us, or against us?"
I made my plea for peace, knowing beforehand it was useless. "How about
Newman?" I said. "You know as well as I that the skipper is out to kill
him. And I have Newman's word for it that the Old Man wants to kill the
lady, too. He's just waiting for an excuse. That's why he's dressing us
down this way, and hazing us raw—so we'll mutiny, and give him the
excuse he needs. Can't you see that?"
"He'll croak 'em anyway—and maybe we can save them," retorted Boston.
"No, Lynch won't allow it," said I. "He's for Newman and the lady. The
Old Man will not dare do it unless we give him the chance by attacking
the cabin, because Lynch would testify against him at the Inquiry. The
Old Man has logged Newman as a mutineer, and our going aft would make him
out one. As it is, Lynch is standing up for him—and for us."
But this was too much for the crowd to swallow. Too many of them had
felt the weight of the second mate's fist.
"Lynch for us? By God, when I have my knife in his gullet—then he'll be
for us!" swore Blackie, and the chorus of approval which followed this
statement showed what the rest thought.
"The last thing Newman said to me, when I relieved him," I went on, "was
a command to prevent this trouble. He said his life, and hers, depended
on our keeping quiet."
"And how about us, how about our lives?" demanded Boston. "That damned
murderer aft is out to croak us, too, ain't he—all of us he can spare?
Look what he's done already! No, by God, we're going to put a stop to
it—and we want to know if you are with us?"
I tried sarcasm. "I suppose you'll end it by walking aft and letting
them empty their shotguns into you! I suppose you'll chase them
overboard, guns and all, with your cute little knives, and your
belaying-pins! Good Lor', men, have you gone crazy? If I hadn't
overheard Cockney, I suppose he'd have led you aft, and got half of you
filled with shot. As it is, they know you are talking mutiny, and they
will be expecting you. You can't surprise them—and what can you do
against their guns?"
Blackie cursed Cockney in a way to curdle the blood. Then he made plain
the fear that was driving the men.
"They know we are talking mutiny—yes, and what's more, they know who's
"We got to do it now, guns or no guns—ain't that right, mates?" said the
"And the money, too!" added Blackie, artfully. "Enough of it aft there
to set us all up for gents."
Boston plucked me by the sleeve. "Me and Jack are goin' to have a few
words private," says he to the rest. "He's with us—no fear—a feller
like Jack Shreve stands by his mates. Come on, Jack."
I went with him willingly. I was anxious to hear what he had to say
"private." I was even more anxious to get away from the crowd for a few
moments, and think out some scheme whereby I could avert the impending
Boston led me up on the foc'sle head, and we sat down upon an anchor
"We ain't such fools as you think, Blackie and me," he commenced
abruptly. "We ain't goin' to face guns with knives—not us. But guns to
guns—well, that's different now, ain't it?"
"What do you mean?" I demanded. "Have you got a gun?"
In answer, he lifted my hand and placed it over his dungaree jacket, I
felt something hard, of irregular shape, beneath the thin cloth, the
outline of a revolver.
"It ain't the only one," he assured me. "Two brace we came on board
with—and we weren't drunk, you bet. We hid them safe before them
fellers aft went through the dunnage. And Cockney didn't find out about
them, either. They don't know aft that we're heeled. The rest o' the
gang ain't acquainted with the fact yet, either. We'll let them know
when the time comes."
He paused, and looked at me inquiringly. "Well?" I asked.
"Well!" he echoed. "Well, just this—a gang that has guts enough to face
shotguns with sheath-knives is a pretty tough gang, ain't it? And it'll
be a lot tougher when it finds out it has four guns of its own, and
plenty o' shells. And it kind of evens up the chances, doesn't it?"
I was thinking fast. All chance to keep the peace was gone, I realized.
"We ain't goin' to let them fellers slaughter us; don't you worry none
about that," went on Boston. "This ain't the first gun-play me and
Blackie has took part in, you bet! He's a dead shot, and I'm a good one.
We got it all planned out, Blackie and me. We never intended going aft
like the Cockney wanted us to. We're goin' to lay low, behind cover, and
pick 'em off—the mates, and old Swope, too, if he shows his blasted
head. Then, where will them sailmakers and carpenters be, with their
boss gone? They'll be rattled, they'll be up Battle Creek, that's where
they'll be. We can rush 'em then. And if a few of our fellers swaller
lead—why, there'll be the fewer to share the swag."
"Newman—" I began.
"We'll do the best we can for Big 'Un," says Boston. "We need him.
We'll try and get the Old Man first pop—and if we have decent luck
plunkin' the mates, it'll be over so quick nobody can hurt Big 'Un."
I thought, and was silent.
"What's holdin' you back?" demanded Boston. "I know you ain't afraid.
Look here, Shreve, you know you can't hold the crowd back. You and
Blackie and me could all be against it, and still they'd go aft. They're
goin' to get Swope before Swope gets more o' them. And if it's Big 'Un
you're worryin' about—why, we got to do this to save him. Look
here—let me give you a tip, if the Big 'Un hasn't: When Big 'Un come on
board this ship he found out somethin' from the skipper's Moll that he
wanted to find out, and now, if he gets ashore alive with what he found
out, there'll be a sheriff's necktie party for Yankee Swope. That's what
all this bloody business has been about. You can lay your last cent that
Swope will get Big 'Un, if we don't get Swope."
"Boston, give me that gun," I said.
He took a look at my face, and smiled, satisfied. He drew the weapon
from under his clothes, a long-barreled, heavy caliber service Colt's,
and passed it to me. I thrust it out of sight, beneath my own waist-band.
"Now, I'm boss," I said. "I'll give the word."
His smile widened. This was what he wanted, as I well knew. Boston and
Blackie could plan and instigate. But they could not lead that crowd.
The sailors despised them, the stiffs hated and feared them second only
to the afterguard. They needed me as leader. They flattered themselves,
I dare say, that they could control me—or extinguish me when the time
For my part, I had made my decision. It was a desperate, a terrible
decision. It was necessary that I pretend to fall in with Boston's plans
if I were to execute my decision.
"When it gets dark, I am going aft—alone," I told him. "You and Blackie
keep the crowd quiet, and forward of the house, until I return."
"What you goin' to do?" he asked.
"Make sure that Newman will be safe when we make the attack," I
explained. "We must make sure of that—he's our navigator."
"That's so," he agreed. "But how'll you do it?"
"I'll kill Captain Swope," I said.
I was in earnest. I meant to do the murder. Aye, murder is what the
law of man would call it, and murder is the right term. I planned the
deed, not in cold blood perhaps, but certainly with coolness and
foresight. I intended to creep aft in the night and shoot down the
But you must understand my motive before you judge. More than that,
you must bear in mind my environment, my character and its background,
and the dilemma which faced me. I intended to become an assassin—but
not for hate, or greed, or, indeed, any personal satisfaction or gain.
I was, remember, a nineteen-year-old barbarian, The impressionable,
formative years of my youth had been spent in deepwater foc'sles, among
men who obeyed but one law—fear. The watch, the gang, was my social
unit; loyalty to a shipmate was the one virtue I thoroughly understood
and respected. And it was loyalty to Newman that determined me to kill.
Newman was my friend—aye, more than that, he was in my youthful eyes a
demi-god, a man to revere and worship above all others. He was
prisoner, helpless. The crew were bent on mutiny; I could not stop
them. The mutiny was planned and expected by the captain; and its
outbreak would be the needed excuse for the slaying of Newman, and,
Newman said, of the lady.
How could I save Newman? That was my problem. How indeed? The evil
choice was inevitably mine; and I considered it the lesser evil. If I
killed Swope, Newman would be safe. Perhaps the mutiny would collapse,
would never come off. This last was something Boston and Blackie,
blinded by their greed, quite overlooked. But I knew it was hate and
fear of Swope, rather than greed, that impelled the squareheads to
revolt. If Swope were killed, they might not go on with it, and what
the sailors decided, the stiffs must agree to. And in any case, Newman
would be safe.
I did not approach my task in a spirit of revulsion and horror.
Indeed, no. Why should I have felt thus? In my experience I had not
yet gathered the idea that human life was sacred. Certainly, my
experience in the Golden Bough had not taught me that. I confess,
the job I planned was distasteful, extremely so—but, I thought,
I planned Yankee Swope's murder in spite of self-sacrifice. Aye, truly
I did! I dare say few acts in my life have had a finer, cleaner, less
I did not expect to escape after firing the shot. I expected the mates
or the tradesmen would kill me. True, I thought of hiding on the dark
deck, and picking off the captain when he appeared on the poop. That
is what Boston and Blackie expected me to do. But I dismissed this
thought without serious consideration. It was uncertain, and I meant
to make sure of the brute. Besides, it was, I felt, cowardly, and I
would not be a coward. I intended to get into the cabin and shoot
Swope in his own arm-chair, so to speak. Afterwards—well, they could
do what they pleased with me. My friend would be safe.
So I lived through a few very exalted hours before the first night
watch came. Unhappy? Not I. In moments I touched the skies in
For I was the sacrifice. I was the center of the drama. I was Fate.
I was a romantic-minded young ass, and the situation flattered my
generous conceit. I was tossing away my life, you see, with a grand
gesture, to help my friend. I was dying for my friend's sake. My
imagination gave my death nobility. I imagined Newman and the lady
remembering me sadly all their lives long, thinking of me always as
their saviour. I imagined my name on sailors' lips, in ships not yet
launched; they would talk of me, of Jack Shreve, the lad who killed
Yankee Swope so his shipmate might live.
My resolution did not weaken; rather, it grew firmer with the passage
of the hours. Of course, I did not take the crew into my confidence
(there might be, I thought, another Cockney among them), but I laid
down the law to Boston and Blackie, and they promised faithfully to
obey my injunctions. They promised they would keep the men in check
until I had completed my task. They promised also to mislead the spy,
and see that no man laid violent hands upon him.
This last I considered important. The crowd was eager for vengeance
upon Cockney. He had committed the unpardonable sin, he had betrayed
his mates. Blackie wanted to slit his throat, and drop him over the
side; and the men voted an emphatic aye to the suggestion. Sentence
would have been executed as soon as Cockney came forward from the wheel
had I not interposed my veto and given my reasons.
It was not solicitude for the spy's life that influenced me. I, too,
considered he had forfeited his right to life by his act. But I
pointed out that offering immediate violence to Cockney might alarm the
afterguard, and change their plan of action; moreover, we might use the
spy to carry false tales of our intentions to the enemy.
So when Cockney breezed into the foc'sle, at four bells, his reception
in no way aroused his suspicions. Everything seemed going his way. He
sympathized volubly with me, and would have awakened Holy Joe (who had
dropped into a healing sleep, after regaining consciousness) to
sympathize with him, had I permitted. Aye, he was a good dissembler,
was Cockney—but we matched him. His mouth dripped curses on Swope and
his minions, he exhorted us to "'arve guts" and rush the poop at muster
time. He was willing to risk his own skin by leading the rush. "Wot
did we think abaht it?"
Boston told him we thought early evening a bad time for the adventure.
We were going to wait until morning, until the beginning of the
"gravvy-eye" watch, just before dawn. That was the hour in which to
strike. Men slept soundest just before dawn; those who were awake were
less alert. The mutiny was timed for four A. M.
"Hi cawn't 'ardly wyte that long, Hi'm that eager to get my knife
'twixt that myte's bleedin' ribs," said Cockney.
The Nigger had come in during the discussion. He seated himself, and
recommenced his favorite task of stropping his knife upon a whetstone.
At the Cockney's last words he lifted his head.
"Don' yoh touch de mate," he said to Cockney. "Dat man's mah meat,
yes, suh, mah meat!"
Cockney disputed this. He raved, and swore, and even threatened
Nigger. Aye, he made a fine bluster. "'E wasn't goin' to give hup 'is
chawnce at the bleedin' myte, not 'im! 'E 'ad a score to settle with
that blighter, so 'e 'ad. The Nigger could 'arve the bloomin' second
myte, that's wot."
Nigger was so incensed he got up and left the foc'sle, leaving the last
word to the spy. Nigger had brooded so much over his wrongs he was a
bit cracked; he took no part in the councils of the crew, and did not
know, I am sure, that Cockney had been unmasked as a traitor. Else he
would never have acted as he later did.
It came down night. It was a good night for my purpose, dark and
shadowless, with a mere sliver of a new moon in the sky. I had little
difficulty in gaining entrance to the cabin.
After the eight o'clock muster, when my watch was sent below, I slipped
around the corner of the roundhouse, where the tradesmen lived (it was
on the maindeck, between the mainmast and the after-hatch) and crouched
there in the darkness while my mates trooped forward. This roundhouse
(which was really square, of course, like most roundhouses on board
ship) was very plentifully supplied with ports. Designedly so, no
doubt, for it was the cabin's outpost. There were two portholes in its
forward wall, commanding the foredeck, and three portholes in either of
the side walls. The door to the house was in the after wall. It was
built like a fortress, and used as one.
As I lay there on the deck, pressed against the forward wall, I saw the
muzzles of shotguns sticking out of the portholes above my head. There
was no light showing in the roundhouse, but the tradesmen were in there
just the same. Aye, and prepared and alert. They were covering the
deck with guns; and I knew they would continue to cover the deck
throughout that night.
Oh, Swope was canny, as canny as he was cruel. He would provoke
mutiny, but he would run no chance of losing his ship or his life. He
was prepared. What could a few revolvers do against these entrenched
men? My shipmates' revolt could have but one end—mass murder and
So I thought, as I lay there on the deck, watching my chance to slip
aft. Swope's plan, Swope's mutiny, I thought. Swope was the soul of
the whole vile business. His plan—and I was going to spoil it! I was
going to put a bullet in his black heart.
I might have picked him off at that very moment, if I aimed carefully.
For, as my mates' footsteps died away forward, I edged around the
corner of the roundhouse, and saw the enemy standing on the poop. The
three of them were there, both mates, with the skipper standing between
them. I picked him out of the group easily, even in the darkness, for
he was of much slighter build than either of his officers, and besides
I heard his voice.
"The rats have discovered some courage—but they'll lose it soon
enough, when they face our reception," I heard him say. "But—no
nodding to-night, Misters! Keep your eyes and ears open!"
Fitzgibbon mumbled something. The captain laughed his soft, tinkling
"I'm going down to take a look at him now," he said, and the three of
them moved aft, out of sight.
Aye, I might have picked him off then. But I didn't even entertain the
thought. It was no part of my plan to slay from concealment. I was
the hero, the avenger, the saviour! I meant to face him in his own
The door of the roundhouse was closed, so I did not fear the inmates
would observe me entering the cabin. The break of the poop seemed
clear of life. I scuttled on my hands and knees until I was past the
booby-hatch; then I arose to my feet and flitted noiselessly to the
cabin door. I opened it just wide enough to admit my body, and stepped
into the lighted cabin alleyway.
My bare feet made no noise as I crept toward the saloon. This was the
first time I had set foot within the sacred precincts of the
quarterdeck. From the gossip of those who had been aft to sick-call,
or to break out stores, I had some notion of the lay of the land, but
not a very clear one.
There were three doors opening upon the alley-way; the one on the port
side was the inner door of the sail-locker, the two on the starboard
side let into the mates' rooms. That much I knew. I also knew that I
need not fear these doors, since both mates were on deck.
But at the end of the alleyway was the saloon, the great common room of
the cabin. I paused uncertainly upon the threshold; I didn't know
which way to turn for concealment, and I had to get out of the alleyway
quickly, for any moment a tradesman might come in behind me.
There were several doors on each side of the saloon. To starboard, I
knew, lay the captain's quarters, and, from the sounds, the pantry. To
port, I knew, lay the lady's quarters, and the steward's room. But
which door was which, I did not know. I decided I had best duck into
the captain's room.
But before I could act upon this decision the forward door on the port
side slowly opened, and Wong, the steward, stepped out. I shrank back
into the alleyway as the door opened, and the Chinaman did not glance
in my direction. His whole attention was riveted upon the companion
stairs; Swope's voice sounded up there in the entrance to the hatch.
Wong softly closed the door behind him, and ran on tiptoe across the
saloon, disappearing into the pantry. I did not hesitate an instant.
Wong had not locked the door behind him, and his room would be handy
enough for my purpose. From it I could command the interior of the big
room, and step forth when the moment arrived. I crossed the corner of
the saloon in a bound, and turned the doorknob as silently as had Wong.
I opened the door and stepped in backwards. My eyes assured me I was
unseen. I closed the door, all save a crack, through which I meant to
watch for the coming of my victim.
I heard a gasp behind me. I shut the door tight and wheeled about—and
found myself staring into the wide-open eyes of the lady.
She was on her knees, at the other end of the room. Aye, and it was a
room, a spacious cabin, not a cubbyhole berth I had blundered into; the
lady's own quarters, no less. There was a lamp burning in gimbals, and
its light disclosed to my first startled glance that it was a woman's
room. Aye, to my foc'sle-bred senses the quarters were palatial.
The lady crouched on her knees, with her skirts spread wide, and her
hands hidden behind her back. When first her eyes met mine, I saw she
was fear-stricken. But immediately she recognized me the fear gave way
"Oh, I thought it was—" she began. Then she saw the revolver in my
hand, and the fear leaped into her eyes again. Aye, fear, and
comprehension. "That—oh, Boy, what do you mean to do?"
I had been gaping, open-mouthed, too surprised to utter a sound. But
her swift recognition, and her words, brought me to myself. Also, just
then we heard Captain Swope's voice. He was in the saloon, calling out
an order to the steward. We listened with strained attention, both of
us. He told the steward to open the lazaret hatch, and be sharp about
I jerked my thumb over my shoulder, and nodded significantly to the
lady. "Don't be afraid, ma'am," I whispered. "He isn't going to hurt
Newman. He isn't going to hurt anyone—not any more." Oh, the dread
that showed in her face when we heard Swope's voice!
She brought her hands into view, when I spoke. Something she had been
holding behind her back dropped on the deck with a metallic clink, and
she pressed her hands against her bosom.
"You—you mean—" she began.
I nodded again. I really thought I was reassuring her, lifting a load
of care from her heart.
"I'm going out there and get him. Don't be afraid, ma'am. I won't
make a miss of it. He isn't going to hurt Newman, or you, or anyone,
after I've finished. And ma'am, please—will you try and slip for'ard
and tell the men not to mutiny. They'll listen to you, especially when
you tell them the Old Man is dead. They don't want to mutiny,
ma'am—anyway, the squareheads don't—but they're afraid not to. If
you tell them I've killed him, and appeal to them, the sailors will
keep quiet, I know; and they'll make the stiffs keep quiet, too. It
will save some lives, ma'am—for the crowd is coming aft to-night, like
the Old Man plans, and the tradesmen are in the roundhouse, with guns,
waiting for them."
There was anguish in her whispered reply. "Coming aft? No, no, they
must not! It would mean—his death——"
She stopped. We listened. We heard Swope again, out in the saloon.
He was damning Wong for a sluggard, and demanding a lighted lantern
that instant or sooner, or "I'll take a strip off your yellow hide, you
"No, not Newman's death," I answered the lady. I turned, and laid my
hand upon the door knob. My weapon was ready. This was the moment I
Before I could open the door, I felt the lady's cool fingers upon my
"No, no, not that! Not murder!" she exclaimed. "Oh, Boy, you would
not take life—you would not do that!"
I turned and faced her, astonished. Her eyes were but a few inches
distant from mine, now, and to my amazement I read in their expression
not approbation but startled horror. And I could not mistake the
meaning in her voice. She disapproved of my killing Captain Swope.
I was as shocked as she. Here I had been happy in the consciousness I
was playing the hero, I had believed myself cutting a very pretty
figure indeed in the lady's eyes, and, instead—well, my bubble was
pricked. As I looked into the lady's eyes, I could feel my grand
dimensions dwindling in my own eyes. More than that, I began to feel
ashamed. Just why that look in her eyes should shame me, I didn't
know. My education had not progressed to the self-analytic stage. But
shame me it did. I felt mean, vile. I felt, without consciously
reasoning about it, that murdering Yankee Swope would, perhaps, be not
such a noble deed after all. I confronted something that was superior
to the barbarous moral code of my brutal world. I discovered it in the
lady's wide open eyes. It vanquished me. It took from me the feeling
I was doing right.
But I could not surrender thus tamely. Indeed, the need for the deed
remained as urgent.
"But, ma'am, you know I must!" I said. "You know—he will kill him!"
Her little fingers were plucking at mine, which were stubbornly gripped
about the revolver's stock. "I know you must not!" she answered. "You
must not take human life!" It was a commandment she uttered, and I
took it as such. Especially, when she added, "Do you think he would
kill in that fashion?"
That finished me. Aye, she knew how to beat down my defense; her
woman's insight had supplied her with an invincible argument. I
averted my eyes from hers, and hung my head; I allowed her to take the
revolver from my grasp.
For I knew the answer to her question. "He" would not creep into the
cabin and shoot Captain Swope. She meant Newman, and I knew that
Newman would scorn to do the thing I planned to do. Kill Swope in fair
fight, with chances equal? Newman might do that. But shoot him down
like a mad dog, when he was unprepared and perhaps unarmed—no, Newman
would not do that. Nor would any decent man.
I passed another milestone in my evolution into manhood, as I stood
there, hangdog and ashamed. I added another "don't" to my list.
She brushed back the hair from my forehead. Oh, there was magic in her
fingers. That gentle stroke restored my pride, my self-respect. It
was a gesture of understanding. I felt now as I felt the first time I
saw the lady, like a little boy before a wise and merciful mother. I
knew the lady understood. She knew my heart was clean, my motive good.
She held up the weapon she had taken from me. "This—is not the way,"
she said. "It is never the way. You must not!"
"I must not," I echoed. "Yes, ma'am; I won't do it now.
I floundered and stopped. "What—how," aye, that was it. If I did not
kill Captain Swope what would happen to Newman? That was the question
that hammered against my mind, that sent a wave of sick fear through
me. If I did not kill Swope—then Newman was lost.
"But—I must do something," I added, miserably. "You know what will
happen when the hands come aft. It will be the skipper's excuse;
Newman told me it would. I can't see him butchered without doing
something to prevent it. Why, ma'am, Newman is my friend!"
"He is my life," said she. Her voice was so low I barely caught the
words. "But I would not buy his life with murder; it would lower him
to their level." She swayed, and clutched at my shoulder; I thought
she was falling, and gripped her arm to steady her. But she was not
the swooning kind. Not the lady. She recovered herself instantly.
She clutched my lapels, and laid down the law to me.
"There must be no fighting. The men must not come aft," said she. "If
they do, it will ruin everything. Boy, you must stop them. Deakin
will help you. You must hold them back."
I shook my head. "It's too late," I informed her. "They will not
listen to the parson, or me; they are too afraid."
"But they must be stopped!" she cried.
"Only one man can stop them—and that's Newman, himself," I replied.
"What time have they set?" she asked, quickly.
"Next eight bells," I told her. "We gave the skipper's spy to
understand it was timed for four o'clock in the morning; but the lads
really mean to make the rush at midnight."
"Then we have time," was her verdict. "And you must help me."
She pointed to the deck. My eyes followed her gesture, and for the
first time I examined the floor of the room. The first thing my gaze
encountered was a large carpenter's auger, or brace and bit; the next
thing I saw, was a pattern of holes in the floor. There were two rows
of them, parallel, each about eighteen inches long, and the same
distance apart. The holes overlapped each other, and made a continuous
cut in the deck.
The lady thrust out her hands, palms up, for my inspection. Upon each
palm was a great red blister.
"I was nearly despairing," said she, "I could longer press down hard
enough. But now——"
She did not need to explain. The sight of the holes and the auger told
me enough to set me to work instantly. Aye, I grabbed up the tool and
turned to with a song in my heart and the strength of Hercules in my
arms. There was after all a chance to save my friend, and it depended
in part upon my haste and strength. A chance to save him without
The lady locked the door, and came and sat down beside me. While I
worked she explained the plot behind the task. She talked eagerly,
without reserve; it helped her, eased her mind, I think, to unload into
I was boring my way to Newman. My task was to connect the two rows of
holes already bored through the deck with two other rows; when I was
finished there would be an opening in the deck some eighteen inches
square. A manhole to the lazaret below, where lay Newman.
But this was not all. She told me there was a scheme to free her and
him completely from the captain and the ship. Well, I had guessed
something like that was in the wind; but I did not tell her so. She
said that Mister Lynch was in the plot; aye, this hard bucko, this
"square-shooter," as I had heard him called, was the instigator and
prime mover in the affair. One of the tradesmen was also friendly, and
had brought the lady the tool I was using to cut through the deck.
Wong, the steward, who was the lady's devoted slave, played a very
The plot was this. We were to get Newman out of the lazaret (she
always called him "Roy" when she spoke of him or to him; and when she
mentioned Swope, it was always with a little hesitating catch in her
voice) through this hole we were making. She had the key that would
release him from irons. Wong had stolen it from the skipper's desk.
When he was out of the lazaret, the situation would be managed by
Mister Lynch. The ship's longboat, in the port skids, was ready for
the water. They planned, said the lady, to launch this boat at night,
in the second mate's watch, and she and Newman were to sail away
For it was no haphazard plan born of desperation after Newman's arrest.
Newman knew all about it. It had kept him occupied this past week; it
was responsible in large measure for the mysterious happenings of the
past week, for Newman's absences, and for the lady's masquerade in
Nils' clothes. She had access to Nils' chest through Wong, who had
charge of it, and she first dressed up in Nils' clothes so that she
might, as she thought, move about at night on deck unobserved. When
she was observed, and taken for a ghost, both Newman and Lynch told her
to continue the masquerade; it helped their business with the longboat,
because it kept spying eyes away from that part of the ship. They had
been provisioning and preparing this boat for a week, working thus in
the night, and by stealth. Another day or two, and they would have
But the captain's blow this afternoon had jeopardized the entire
scheme. Indeed, it was on the verge of utter ruin. For Newman was in
the black hole in irons, and the crew were preparing to mutiny.
It was this last, the threatened uprising, that terrified the lady. It
would finally ruin their chances of escape, she told me. At all
hazards, we must get Newman out of the lazaret before the sailors'
attack occurred. We must get him forward, she said, so that he might
squelch the mutiny before it began. Oh, Newman could tame Boston and
Blackie, he could tame the stiffs and compose the squareheads; she had
no doubt he could do all that, and instantly. I was not so sure. I
didn't think that anything or anybody could stop the crew—unless it
was killing Swope, which she forbade. But I didn't say so.
And in any event, the immediate thing to do was to release Newman. It
would at least give him a fighting chance. She urged haste, and I
worked like a fiend. It was hard work. The deck planking was three
inches thick, and the number of holes I must bore seemed endless. I
was surprised at the amount of work already accomplished; it did not
seem possible that this slender woman had done the two long rows of
holes. Nor had she, I learned. Wong had bored most of them, during
the odd moments he could slip away unobserved from his work. The
tradesman who furnished the tool had even driven a few. The lady had
done some of the work, as the condition of her hands proved. But my
coming was really providential. She could never have finished the job
on time, and now she knew of the crew's intention, she recognized the
need of haste.
I longed mightily for a saw. Yet I knew I could not have used a saw
had I possessed one. A saw makes a carrying noise. The tool I had was
nearly noiseless. I sweated and wondered, and now and then asked a
I wondered what Lynch would do when the lads came aft. Aye, and I
discovered that this was one reason the lady was so terrified at the
prospect of mutiny. For Lynch, she was certain, would make common
cause with the rest of the afterguard against any uprising forward. He
was helping her and Newman. But he had no interest in helping the
hands. The hands were just hands to him, so much beef to work and
beat. He would never side with the foc'sle against the cabin.
"I have sailed three voyages with Lynch," said she. "He is a hard man,
a cruel man; I have seen him do terrible things to sailors. But he is
also, according to his lights, a just man. His brutality is always for
what he considers the ship's welfare, never for any personal reason.
You know how he has treated you, and Roy, and other men who know and do
"Fair enough," I admitted.
"When my—my husband tried to kill Roy, that night you and he were
aloft together, he violated James Lynch's very strict code. He
considered that attempt a serious blot upon his honor. He told
him—Angus—as much. He told him he would not have that sort of thing
in his watch. It wasn't regard for Roy that made him say that; it was
just that he thinks it is not right to kill or even hurt a man for
personal reasons, but only when the welfare of the ship is at stake.
And also, I think—well, he—likes me. He is willing to help me. That
is why, a week ago, he came to me and offered his help. He had
discovered what my—my husband really intended doing; I think he
overheard a conversation between my—between Angus and the mate. He
said we were both in danger, I as well as Roy, and that we must leave
"Roy suggested the longboat, and he agreed. Roy can navigate, of
course, and there are islands not distant from our present position.
So we have been preparing the boat, and Mr. Lynch planned to launch it
some midwatch when the mate and—and Captain Swope were in their
berths. He hoped to get us away so quietly they would know nothing
about it until hours later."
"But surely Lynch didn't intend staying by the ship? Why, when the Old
Man found out he'd skin him alive!" I exclaimed.
"He said not, and I think not," she said. "He has sailed under my—my
husband for years. He is not like Mr. Fitzgibbon, and the others. He
does not fear my husband. I think Angus fears him. He knows things
that have happened in this ship that my—my husband dare not have told
on shore. He refused when we urged him to come with us; he declared he
would be in no danger, that he could guard himself. I think he can."
The lady clenched her hands, and her voice broke a little, as she
disclosed the anxiety that was wrenching her soul.
"But now—I don't know what he will do. If we can free Roy in time; if
we can stop trouble forward! Then I know Mr. Lynch will keep his
promise; he will lock up Angus and the mate, get them out of the way
somehow, until Roy and I have left the ship. But if the men rise
before we have gone—then he will think his duty is to the ship. He
will not think of us, and my—my husband will do what he wishes. Do
"Yes, ma'am. But we have until midnight, or after, and it's just a
little past two bells, now. Ten minutes more, ma'am, and I'll have
this hole open."
But it took a little longer than ten minutes. Three bells struck while
I was still whittling and digging at the caulking in the seams with my
sheath knife. But the echo of the big ship's bell forward had hardly
died away when I carefully, ever so carefully, lifted up and laid back
the cut-away section of the deck. I had left the caulking at one end
nearly intact, so the solid piece laid back like a trap-door.
The lady and I knelt by the side of the hole and peered down into the
littered darkness. We could make out, dimly, heaps of barrels and
boxes. A damp, chill air rushed up into our faces, carrying with it
the sound of a scurrying rat, and another sound which made the lady
gasp and tremble, and caused me to grind my teeth with rage. It was a
long, drawn-out sigh, the moan of a man in agony of flesh or spirit.
It was Newman's voice. Mingling with it, and following it, came the
low, demoniac chuckle of Captain Swope.
Lying flat and craning my neck into the hole, I saw, far over on the
other side of the ship, the flicker of a lantern upon boxes. I
immediately drew back, got to my feet, and extinguished the lamp in the
gimbals. Then I snatched a blanket from the steward's bunk, and spread
it across the hole. That done, there was no danger of light or draught
betraying us to the man below.
I asked orders of the lady, and discussed ways and means with her. It
was decided at once that I should go below and effect Newman's
release—and she gave me the small key that the Chinaman had filched.
I was the stronger and more active, and could more easily make my way
about in the dark, cluttered lazaret; besides, her work lay above.
Swope was evidently pleasuring himself by viewing and taunting his
helpless prisoner; he must be drawn away from this amusement.
She could not go on deck herself, she said; Fitzgibbon was up there,
and would see her—and she was supposed to be locked in her room. But
she would send Wong on deck with a message to Mister Lynch; she would
have Lynch sing out for the captain's presence on the poop. When the
captain responded to the hail, I was to accomplish my task. I was to
bring Newman to this room. What happened then depended upon
chance—and Lynch. Newman and I must get forward, some way, and quiet
the men; Lynch would take care of Swope. She had a fine faith in the
second mate, had the lady.
I had never been in the lazaret, the task of breaking out stores having
usually fallen to the stiffs. But from foc'sle gossip I knew it was a
big storeroom, comprising the whole 'tweendeck beneath the cabin space.
The Golden Bough, like most clippers of her day, sometimes carried
emigrant passengers, and had need of a spacious lazaret.
The lady sketched the lay of the land for me. The hatch to the lazaret
was in the saloon floor, well aft, on the starboard side. Wong was
more familiar than any man with the lazaret's interior, and he had
decided the deck should be cut through from this room, rather than at
any other point. This, said the lady, was because farther aft, on this
side of the ship, a strong room occupied the lazaret space (aye, the
same strong room which so tickled the fancy of some of my shipmates!).
The Chinaman had planned with foresight; he had even disposed stores
below to convenience and shield the man who played rescuer. When I
dropped through the hole, the lady told me, I would find myself in a
narrow alleyway, walled with tiers of beef casks and other stores; if I
followed this alleyway I would come to the lazaret hatch, near where
Newman was secured.
She thought I should wait until I heard the captain leave the lazaret.
But to this I demurred. The success of the scheme might well depend
upon the leeway of a moment's time. The ship's noises, always present
in a ship's hold, would cover any slight noise I might make. Truth to
tell, that sound of Newman in pain had thrown me into a fever of
impatience to get to his side; and I suspect it rendered the lady less
"God bless you, Boy—and, oh, be careful," she whispered.
I drew back the blanket, and lowered my body into the opening. I hung
by my hands an instant, and felt her draw the blanket over my head as
she covered the hole again. Then I let go, and dropped.
I crouched behind a row of flour barrels, which stood on end handy to
the hatch, and peered through the chinks. The captain had hung his
lantern on a beam overhead, and its rays limned like a stage-setting an
open space some six feet square. Aye, a stage-setting, and the scene a
torture chamber. I bit my lips to restrain a cry of horror and rage
when I looked through the chinks between the barrels, and it was with
difficulty I kept myself from rushing forth and falling upon the fiend
who had contrived and was enjoying the scene.
Captain Swope was seated upon an upturned keg. He had placed the
lantern so its light fell full upon Newman (it illumined himself, for
my eyes, as well) and he was talking to the prisoner, mocking him.
And Newman! It was the sight of him that made me choke, that made me
finger my knife hilt. Newman—my friend!
He was at the far end of that open space, trussed up to the starboard
limbers. Trussed up—and in what way! You will remember, when they
placed him under arrest, the captain ordered his hands ironed behind
his back. The reason was now apparent. His hands were still behind
his back; aye, when they trussed him up, they drew up his hands until
they were on a level with his head, and secured him in that position.
His feet were also ironed, and the chain lashed to a limber. So he
stood, or rather hung—for he could not stand properly with his arms
wrenched back in that position—and the whole weight of his body
dragged upon his wrists and shoulder blades. So he had stood during
the hours that had passed since afternoon. Torture, agony—that is
what it meant to be trussed up in that position.
I thought I recognized Fitzgibbon's handiwork in this torture; though I
dare say it was originally Swope's invention. But we had seen
Fitzgibbon use this same method of inflicting pain and terror, we men
forward. One day, for an imagined insolence, he had trussed up Nigger
to the mainmast in this very fashion, and left him there for a short
half-hour. After five minutes Nigger was wild with pain. When he was
cut down, his arms seemed paralyzed, and it was a full day ere the ache
passed from them.
And Newman had been enduring this pain for hours. But now, I thought,
he must be mercifully unconscious, for his head hung upon his breast,
and he made no sign that he heard the captain's gibes.
It was sport to Swope's liking, and he was enjoying himself right
royally. Aye, I could tell. The words that slid between his full lips
were laden with the sensuous delight their utterance gave the speaker.
I lay in my retreat waiting for the hail that would draw the beast on
deck, and while I waited I listened to him, and observed his manner.
Oh, Swope was having a fine time, a happy time. If the lady had not
taken the revolver from me, I fear I should have shot the man despite
my promise. As it was my sheath knife lay bared in my hand, and I had
to fight myself to keep from leaping the barrier and confronting him.
Aye, to face him, and make him eat the steel out of my hand!
Yes, Swope was in a happy mood. A rollicking, loquacious mood. He
talked. Unconsciously he made me witness to his confession of black
treacheries, and deeds more loathsome than I could have imagined myself.
When I reached my position behind the barrels, and was able to
distinguish his words—he was boasting of and baring his secrets in a
voice not meant to carry beyond Newman's ears—he was taunting Newman.
"Well, why don't you call upon God to help you?" says he. "He has
helped you a lot in the past, hasn't he, Roy? And He has helped her a
lot, hasn't he? Helped her to stand me. Oh, that's a joke! The just
and merciful One—d'you remember how old Baintree used to rant? You
approved, didn't you. You agreed with old Baintree. So did I, Roy, to
"But you—why you were a damned Puritan, Roy. You wouldn't do this,
you wouldn't do that, you would be clean of vice—your very words,
Roy!—and you would be honest and just with men. That's the sort of
thing that paid, says you.
"And didn't it pay you, though! Ho, ho; it's too rich, Roy! You would
make yourself as good a man as old Baintree; you would make yourself
worthy of his daughter. Remember telling me that? And didn't you,
though—with my help! My help, Roy—not God's! It was Black Angus and
the Devil did it!
"Well, well, I thought I would surprise you with my little tale of how
I used the Twigg girl to spoil your chance with Mary. But Beasley
surprised you instead. Didn't he, now? A neat trick, eh, Roy? You
"You never guessed, either, all that I had planned for you that time.
If you hadn't been in such a hurry to leave town! But then—I was just
as well pleased. With Beulah out of the way as well as you—it was
plain sailing with Mary, Roy.
"No, I never wanted Mary. Not for herself. She's not my kind, Roy; a
damned, sniveling saint isn't my idea of a woman. But I wanted her
money. Old Baintree's money. And I got it.
"I got Baintree, too. It was necessary; I had to kill the old fool.
He knew too much about me, and if he told Mary—well, I was playing the
saint with her, just then. He would never have consented to her
marrying me; and also—the money, you know. So I eliminated him, Roy.
And God let you suffer for what I did! Ho, ho, that's rich, isn't it?
Come to think of it, it's sound theology—vicarious atonement, eh? You
got stripes, and I got Mary—and her money, which I have spent most
"But you were always a fool, Roy—a stupid, trusting fool. You trusted
me, didn't you? I was your bosom friend, your boyhood chum, whose wild
ways grieved you. Fool, fool, if you had possessed the wit of a
jackass you would have known I hated you! Hate, hate, hate! I have
hated you all my life, Roy! I hated you when we were boys and you made
me take second place. I have hated you ever since; I hate you now—so
much it is almost love, Roy! Eh, but I never love. I hate. And when
I hate—I hurt!"
To all this tirade Newman returned no answer. He did not seem to hear.
He hung silent in his bonds, his head on his breast and his face
hidden. He might have been unconscious. I thought he was, for he did
not even look up when the captain was excitedly chanting his hate.
Swope was plainly piqued at this indifference; he got up from his keg
and stepped close to Newman.
"But you are not thinking of yourself, are you, Roy?" he says. "You
are thinking of her, I know. How sweet! Sentiment was always your
strong point. Well, think hard about her, Roy, think your fill; for
she is almost as near her end as you are near yours. But not quite so
near. I intend to break that haughty spirit before I—er—eliminate
her. Oh, yes, it will break. Trust me to know the sure way. Roy,
don't you want to know what I am going to do to Mary?"
He paused a moment, and, chuckling and smacking his lips, stood looking
at Newman's bowed figure. Then he said slowly and deliberately,
actually lingering over the words. "I am going to make a strumpet of
the wench for Fitzgibbon's pleasure!"
Newman stirred. "Ah, that wakes you up!" cried Swope. It did, indeed.
Newman was not unconscious. I could have wished he was, so he might
not have heard those words. He lifted his face to the light, and I
could see the sweat of agony upon it. He did not speak. He just
looked at the man in front of him. It was a look of unutterable
loathing; his expression was as though he were regarding something
indescribably obscene and revolting. And then he pursed his lips and
spat in Captain Swope's face.
The skipper stepped back, and swabbed his cheek with his sleeve. I
thought he would strike Newman, kick him, practice some devilish
cruelty upon him in payment. Aye, I was crouched for the spring, with
my sheath knife ready; if he had laid finger upon Newman I should have
had his life in an instant. I was all the barbarian that moment, my
new-found scruples forgotten. I was in a killing mood. What man would
not have been.
But Captain Swope did not attempt to repay the insult with any physical
cruelty. He knew he was already racking his enemy's body to the limit
of endurance, and his aim, I discovered, was to supplement this bodily
suffering with mental torture. Indeed, Swope seemed pleased at
Newman's act. He laughed as he wiped his face.
"That stings—eh, Roy? It's true—be certain of that, you soft-hearted
fool. I tell the truth sometimes, Roy—when it serves my purpose. And
I want you to imagine the details of what is going to happen to her.
Think of it, Roy—the Lady of the Golden Bough, the saintly Mrs.
Swope, the sweet Mary Baintree that was—lying in Fitzgibbon's arms!
Chuckling, Swope resumed his seat. He leaned forward, and watched
Newman with hawklike intensity. But Newman gave him little cause to
chortle; his head dropped again upon his breast, and he gave no sound,
"Why don't you call on God?" asked Swope. "Why don't you call on me?"
Newman lifted his head. "You degenerate beast!" he said. He said it
evenly, without passion, and immediately withdrew his features from the
But the captain was satisfied. He slapped his thigh with delight.
"It stings, eh, Roy? It burns! It runs through your veins like fire!
Doesn't it? It's a hot thought. And here's another one to keep it
company— You can do nothing to prevent it! To hairy old Fitz she'll
go—and you can't prevent it! Think of that, Roy!"
Newman gave no sign he heard, but the black-hearted villain on the keg
knew that the big fellow's ears were open and that his words were like
stabs in a raw wound. He talked on, and described villainies to come
and villainies accomplished; the tale of his misdeeds seemed to possess
him. He gloried in them, gloated over them. And as I listened, I
realized, ignorant young whelp though I was, that this man was
different from any man I had ever met or imagined. He wasn't human; he
was a freak, a human-looking thing with a tiger's nature.
Always he reminded me of a cat, from the very first moment I clapped
eyes upon him; never did he remind me more of a cat—or tiger—than
when he sat upon the keg and teased Newman. He seemed to purr his
content with the situation.
"I know what you are thinking, Roy," says he. "You are thinking that
my brave and upright second mate will prevent it happening to our dear
little Mary? Am I right, eh? Vain thought. Our friend, Lynch, will
not be here to interfere. I have seen to that. He grows dangerous,
does Jim Lynch, so—elimination. Ah, I could write a treatise upon the
Art of Elimination—couldn't I? Angus Swope, the great eliminator! It
is my specialty, Roy.
"Neatness, thoroughness, dispatch, everything shipshape, no loose ends
flying—that's my style, Roy. Now there was neatness and dispatch
about my running you out of Freeport when I found your presence there
inconvenient. Don't you think there was? Eh, you great fool? You
pulled my chestnuts out of the fire very nicely indeed. But I was not
as thorough as I should have been in that affair. A loose end, or two,
eh, Roy? Beasley—and yourself. Ah—but I improved with practice. I
left no loose end that night in Bellingham, did I? Unless the fact
that your neck didn't stretch, as I intended, could be called a loose
end. But then—you'll be tucked out of sight again very soon, and this
time for good and all. I never did believe in imprisonment for life,
Roy; it is such a cruel punishment. I'm a tender-hearted man, Roy—ho,
ho, that's rich, eh? I told that judge, after he sentenced you, that
he would have been acting more kindly had he disregarded the jury's
recommendation and hanged you out of hand. And do you know what he
told me, Roy? He said I was right, that you deserved hanging. Ho, ho,
deserved hanging! And he was a godly man, Roy.
"Oh, what a great fool you were! How easily I made you play my game!
That night you had me to dinner on board your ship, in Bellingham—you
never guessed why I fished for that invitation? Why I persuaded you to
send your mates ashore that night? Just another of Angus' scrapes,
thought you; he wants to confide in me, and ask my advice. Angus wants
my help, thought you. So I did, Roy, so I did.
"I needed your help badly. But not the kind or help you would have
offered; no, I needed your help in a different way. I needed a
"I was skating on pretty thin ice just about then, Roy, I needed old
Baintree's money. I needed Mary to get the money. But Mary was only
willing to take me because her father wished her to; and I was heartily
sick of playing the saint to stand well with him. Oh, well, I'll tell
you—why not? The old hypocrite had a Puritan's sharp eyes, and he had
caught me in a slip-up or two, and I knew he was about to tell Mary to
break the betrothal. And there was another thing, a little investment
I handled for him. He was bound to discover about it shortly, when the
payments were due, and—well, you know, Roy, what an absurd attitude he
had towards a little slip like that. I was in a rather desperate fix,
you see; yes, I really needed your help, Roy.
"Besides there was you, yourself, to be taken care of. You were one of
my worries, not a big worry, but still a worry. What if you forgot
your pride? What if Mary forgot her pride? Of course, you were in
Bellingham, and outward bound; and she was home in Freeport—but who
can tell what a woman will do where her heart is concerned? Besides, I
hated you, damn you! I was not going to overlook the luck that brought
the three of us into the same port at the same time. You had been my
catspaw once; why not again?
"So I had you invite me off to dinner. That cozy little dinner, in
your own cabin, just you and I, and Stord to wait on us. I bet you
never guessed until your trial that your steward was my man, if you
guessed it then. Aye, body and soul my man. When I crooked my finger,
Stord bent his body.
"Do you remember that dinner, Roy? I bet you do! I crucified you,
damn you! You would be brave, you would be gallant, eh? You would
congratulate me upon the coming marriage, toast the best man, who had
won the race. Oh, I enjoyed your hospitality that night! How you
wrenched out the words! You didn't want to talk about Mary, did you?
But I made you talk, I made you squirm, eh? And then, when I was sick
of your platitudes—just a nod to Stord, and three little drops of
chloral in your glass!
"Do you want to know what happened next? I'll lay that you've wondered
many a time just what happened after you had so strangely dropped
asleep, with your head in your plate. Well, I'll tell you what
happened. I sent Stord on the run to Baintree's hotel. He bore a
message from you. He told the dear captain that you were ill, on your
ship, and that you wished very much to see him. You can guess how the
old fool would act in a case like that. A chance to do a good deed,
store up treasures in heaven, all that, eh? You might have been a bad
man in Freeport, but, you were sick and needed him.
"He came in a hurry, all a-flutter like an old hen. Just as I knew he
would come. And as he leaned over you, in your own cabin,
I—er—separated him from his temporal worries with an iron belaying
pin from your own rail. Then I gave you the clout for luck (it has
left a fine scar, I note) and placed the pin on the table. And thus
your chief mate discovered you when he came on board, you and your
victim, and the weapon you used, just as I planned. And your steward's
testimony, and my reluctant admissions, finished you. You see,
Roy—neatness and thoroughness!
"I took Stord to sea with me, as my steward. But, unfortunately, he
went over the side one dark night, off the Horn. A loose end tucked
in, eh, Roy?
"And I'll tuck in other loose ends between now and dawn—you, for
instance, and our brave Mister Lynch. I have it already written down
for Fitz to copy into the logbook. 'During the fighting, James Lynch,
second mate, was stabbed by one of the mutineers; but owing to the
darkness and confusion his assailant was not recognized.' That's how
the log will read when we bowse into port. And—'During the fighting,
the sailor, Newman, attempted to escape from custody, and was shot by
the captain.' You see, Roy, everything shipshape! A line for each in
the log—and two loose ends tucked in—eliminated!
"You will have some time in which to think it over, before it happens,
Roy. You should thank me for that—for giving you something to think
about. It will take your mind off your pain, eh? Yes, you need
something to think about, for you'll hang there for four or five hours
yet. No danger of your sleeping, eh, Roy? Well, keep your ears open
and you'll be forewarned. There'll be some shooting on deck. I've
gone to a great deal of trouble to bring it about; your shipmates are a
gutless crew, Roy, and I had begun to think I could not get a fight out
of them. But the swabs are coming aft at the end of the mid-watch.
Eight bells in the mid-watch—count the bells, Roy. Eight
"Then there will be just one loose end left—and you know what I have
planned for her! Think about it, Roy—think about our darling little
Mary! At the mercy of the wolves, Roy! At the mercy of our dear,
gentle Fitzgibbon! At the mercy—yes, I do believe at the mercy, also,
of my new second mate.
"Oh, yes, he is already nominated for the office. Of course, he must
first remove the incumbent—but that, as I explained, is arranged for.
He is a greasy cockney, gutter-snipe—but useful. I wouldn't think of
having him at table with me, Roy—but I think I'll let him amuse
himself with Mary—after Fitz! Ah, that stings, eh, Roy!"
It did, indeed. Newman lifted the face of a madman to his torturer.
Aye, the creature's vile words, and viler threat, had stung him beyond
his power of self-control. All the pent-up fury in his soul burst
forth in one explosive oath.
"God blast you forever, Angus!" he cried.
Just that, and no more. Newman had his grip again. He was no man to
indulge in impotent ravings.
But the outburst was sufficient to delight Captain Swope. He threw
back his head and laughed that chuckling, demon's laugh of his.
Delighted—why, he could hardly control himself to keep his seat on the
keg, and as he laughed his feet beat a jig upon the deck.
"I told you to call upon God!" was his gleeful answer to Newman. "And
you have! Now, we'll see who wins—you and God, or Angus and the
Devil! Eh, Roy—who wins?
"We'll see, Roy—we'll see if God takes your advice. We'll see if He
helps you, or Lynch. Or Mary. Ah, the saintly Mary, the pure, the
unapproachable! We'll see if He protects her from Fitz's dirty arms,
or the greasy kisses of the Cockney! Eh, Roy? We'll see if He keeps
her from—eliminating herself!
"That's the way of it, Roy. Clever—yes? Neatness and thoroughness,
and everything shipshape and Bristol fashion—that's my style, Roy. I
know Mary (who should know her better than her legal spouse, eh, Roy?)
and I have arranged matters so she will tuck in her own end. Listen,
Roy, I have another item for the logbook which Fitzgibbon will copy.
It needs but a date-line to be complete. It will read like this:
'To-day, while suffering from an attack of temporary insanity, the
captain's wife destroyed herself. The captain is broken-hearted.'
With details added, Roy. And the yarn cabled home when we make port.
Suicide at sea—and I am broken-hearted! Artistic, eh? And she'll do
it—you know she'll do it!"
He sat there watching Newman, waiting. I suppose he expected and
desired a fresh outburst from the prisoner. But in this he was
disappointed; Newman gave no sign.
"Ah, well, I fear I've overstayed my welcome this visit," he said,
finally. He got to his feet, and stood before Newman with legs
spraddled and arms akimbo; drinking in lustfully the picture of the
other man's utter misery. "Interesting chat we've had—old times,
future, and all that—eh, Roy? But a sailor's work, you know—like a
woman's—never done. I have duties to attend to, Roy. But I will
return—ah, yes, you know I will return. You'll wait here for me, eh,
Roy? Anxiously awaiting my return, counting the bells against my
coming. Well—remember—eight bells in the middle watch."
He turned and stepped towards the ladder. With his foot raised to the
bottom step, he stopped, and stared aloft, mouth agape. I stared too,
We heard a shot, a single pistol shot.
The captain wheeled upon Newman. His hand flew to his pistol pocket.
But he did not draw. He would have died then and there, if he had, for
I was tensed for the leap.
But he was uncertain. This was not the hour—and the other shots, the
volley, we both expected did not come. Instead, came the second mate's
voice bellowing orders, "Connolly—the wheel! Hard alee! Weather main
brace!" Then, clearer, as he shouted through the cabin skylights,
"Captain—on deck, quick!"
It was the hail for which I had waited so long and anxiously. But the
news that came with it was strange and startling.
"The man at the wheel," shouted Lynch, "has jumped overboard with the
mate!" Then his cry went forward, "Man overboard!"
Swope leaped for the ladder. I saw consternation in his face as he
So I knew that this was something he hadn't arranged.
I was at Newman's side before Captain Swope's feet vanished from the
ladder. If he had paused to close the lazaret hatch behind him, he
must surely have seen me. But he did not pause; I heard his steps
racing up the companion stairs to the poop, and his voice shouting his
command: "Watch the main deck, Mister! Light a flare!"
I threw my arms about Newman, and babbled in his ear. "Oh, the
beast!—it's I—Jack—the devil, I heard what he said!—come to free
you!" Truth to tell, the things I had overheard unnerved me somewhat,
and I was incoherent, almost, from rage and horror.
But Newman brought me to myself in short order. "I know—but not so
loud—they'll hear you!" Aye, his first words, and he smiled into my
face. This man on the rack smiled, and thought clearly, whilst I
babbled. "Be quick," he bade me. "Cut the lashings."
I obeyed in jig time. The chains of both the hand and foot irons were
secured to the limbers by rope lashings. With two strokes of my knife
I severed them. Before I could catch him, Newman fell forward upon his
face. His misused limbs could not support him.
I knelt by his side, sobbing and spluttering, and fishing in my pocket
for the key the lady had given me. It was the sight of his raw,
bleeding wrists and ankles that maddened me; aye, the sight of them
would have maddened a saint. You will recall that the Old Man had
commanded that Newman's wrists be tightly cuffed; and he had seen to it
that the leg cuffs were equally tight. Tight ironing was a favorite
sport of Swope's; he was notorious for it among sailormen. I saw the
results upon Newman.
The flesh above the irons was puffed and inflamed; the constriction and
chafing had broken the skin, and the cuffs upon both arms and legs were
buried in the raw wounds. Exquisite agony—aye, trust Swope to produce
that! I had to push back the swollen, bruised mass before I could
insert the little flat key, and effect the release.
When I had them off, I turned Newman over on his back, and, with my arm
about him, prepared to lift him erect. Before I could do so,
assistance arrived. Light feet pattered down the lazaret ladder; there
was a swish of skirts, a gasp, and the lady was on her knees by
Newman's side. "Roy—Roy—I was in time—" she cried. Her arms went
around his neck.
I released him to her for the instant, and straightened up and
listened. There was noise on deck, and confusion. The ship was in
stays; she hung there, aback. I could hear Lynch, somewhere forward,
bawling orders; and overhead, Swope sang out to the wheel, and then
hailed the roundhouse.
"Roundhouse, there—on deck and lend a hand! Man the
lifeboat—lifeboat falls, there! For God's sake, Mister—what's the
matter there on deck?"
Oh, he was worried, was Swope. It showed in his voice; for once his
tone was not full and musical, it was shrill and screechy. He was
sorely shaken, madly anxious to save his faithful jackal; the
Eliminator had not planned Fitzgibbon's removal.
Thoughts, questions, rushed through my mind. I listened for other
sounds, for shots and shouts and sounds of strife. For there was
confusion up there on the dark decks, and the captain had forgotten his
caution and withdrawn his ambush. I knew that Boston and Blackie would
not overlook this chance; promise or no promise they would profit by
It was this thought that spurred me to action. We must get out of this
hole we were in; the lazaret was a trap. The die was cast; the mutiny
was on—or would be in a moment.
I said as much to my companions. Newman attempted to get to his feet.
"A hand, Jack—it must be stopped," he said.
I gave him the hand. More than that, I took him upon my back and
tottered up the ladder with him, the lady assisting as well as she was
able. She knew what had happened on deck, and she told us in a word or
She had not been able to find Wong (we afterwards discovered that Wong
had gone forward to the galley, and surprised the crew at a conference,
and had been detained prisoner by them), so she crawled up the
companion ladder herself, and lurked in the cuddy, waiting for a chance
to speak with Lynch. The Nigger was at the wheel, she said.
Fitzgibbon walked up to him and struck him—as he had struck him many,
many times before. But this time Nigger did not submit—he whipped out
his knife and stabbed the mate. More than that, he grasped the mate in
his powerful arms, dragged him to the taffrail, and flung him
overboard. It happened so quickly that neither Connolly, the
tradesman, nor Lynch, both of whom were on the poop, could interfere.
But Lynch took a shot at Nigger, and perhaps struck him, for Nigger
went over the rail and into the sea with his victim.
It was Nigger, despised, half-lunatic Nigger, who was not in my
reckoning, nor in Swope's, who put the match to the tinder and upset
such carefully laid plans. As I feared, the revolt of the crew blazed
up immediately. My shipmates were eager, too eager. As it turned out,
their precipitancy was to cost them their chance of victory, for they
began to riot while the three tradesmen were still handy to the
roundhouse door, though, indeed, they had no knowledge, as had I, of
the captain's ambuscade.
I staggered into the saloon, and set Newman down upon the divan which
ran around the half-round, and which was but a step from the hatch. He
got to his feet at once, and, though the lady and I stretched out our
arms to catch him, this time he did not fall. He swayed drunkenly, and
hobbled when he took a step, but such was his vitality and so strong
the urge of his will, that life was already returning to his misused
It was just then that pandemonium broke out on deck—a shot, a string
of shots and a bedlam of howls and yells. Overhead was bedlam, too.
The skipper's tune changed instanter. He had been singing out to
Mister Lynch to "topsail haul," and to the tradesmen to man the boat
falls—but now he was screaming to the latter in a voice shaken with
excitement—or panic—to regain their posts, to get into the roundhouse
and "turn loose on 'em—pepper 'em! And, for God's sake, throw out the
Oh, the Great Eliminator was shocked most unpleasantly In that moment,
I think—to discover, when his trusty mate was overboard, that his
mutinous crew had firearms!
I looked to Newman for orders, for he was now in command of our forlorn
hope. But he had his arm about the lady's shoulders, and was speaking
urgently into her ear. My thought was of a place to hide. I ran
towards the cabin alleyway. I had no intention of going out on that
dangerous deck, my object was to see if the inner door to the
sail-locker was unlocked. In the sail-locker, I thought, we could
hide, the three of us, until the fight died down.
But my design was frustrated. Before I reached the sail-locker, the
door to the deck, at the end of the alleyway, burst open, and the
tradesman, Morton, pitched headlong over the base-board. He scrambled
to his hands and knees and scuttled towards me. There was a whistling
thud near my head. I leaped back into the cabin, out of range, so
quickly I tripped and sat down hard upon the deck. For a shot fired
after the fleeting Morton had just missed my skull.
Morton crawled into the saloon, and looked at me with a stupid wonder
in his face. He was wounded; he nursed his shoulder, and there was a
spreading stain upon his white shirt.
"They have guns—in the rigging," says he. Then he grunted, and
The heavy roar of shotguns, for which my ear was cocked, did not come.
There were two pistols in action overhead, and pistol shots rattled
forward, and I could tell from the sounds that a free fight was raging
somewhere on the main deck. But the heavier discharges did not come.
For an instant I thought—aye, and hoped!—that the tradesmen had been
cut off from the roundhouse.
Suddenly the saloon grew bright with a reflected glare. I was on my
feet again, and I peered into the alleyway, looking out through the
door Morton had opened. The roundhouse cut off any view of the main
deck, but I could see that the whole deck, aye, the whole ship, was
alight with a growing glare, a dazzling greenish-white light.
Then I knew what Captain Swope meant when he screamed for "flares."
Distress flares, signal flares, such as a ship in trouble might use.
He had stocked the roundhouse with them.
Cunning, aye, deadly cunning. This was something Boston and Blackie
had not dreamed of. A flare thrown on deck when the men came aft—and
slaughter made easy for the defenders of the roundhouse!
Something of this I spoke aloud to Newman. There was no answer, and I
became conscious he was not behind me. I wheeled about. Newman, with
the lady's assistance, was hobbling up the ladder to the deck above. I
swore my amazement and dismay at what seemed to me madness, but I
hurried after them, and emerged on the poop at their heels.
The night was banished by the strong light flaring forward. That was
my impression when I leaped out on deck. When I turned forward, I saw
the whole ship, clear to the foc'sle, bathed in that light. Not one,
but a half dozen flares were burning at once; they had been thrown upon
the deck both to port and starboard. Everything on the decks was
brightly revealed, every ringbolt, the pins in the rails, deadeyes,
sails, gear, aye, every rope in the rigging was boldly etched against
the glowing background. With that one sweeping glance I took in the
scene. High up in the main rigging, almost to the futtock shrouds, the
figure of a man was revealed: he was blazing away in the direction of
the poop with a revolver. On the deck, near the mainmast, the second
mate was laying about him with a capstan bar, and a dozen men seemed
boiling over each other in efforts to close with him. Other figures
lay motionless upon the deck.
So much for what I saw forward; what concerned me that instant was what
was right before my eyes. Captain Swope was leaning against the mizzen
fife rail, screened by the mast from those forward, returning the fire
of the man in the rigging—but no, even as I clapped eyes upon him, he
shot, and I saw he aimed, not at the man in the rigging, but at the
group fighting on the deck. At his second officer, no less! Aye, and
I understood in a flash why I had not beard the shotguns; the tradesmen
had not Swope's murderous intent towards Mister Lynch. and they held
their fire because they could not rake the gang without hitting Lynch.
The tradesman, Connolly, was crouched against the companion hatch; he
was staring after Newman and the lady, mouth agape. He saw them
directly they appeared on deck, which Swope did not. He raised his gun
uncertainly, then lowered it, then raised it again, covering Newman's
broad back—and by that time I was upon him, my clutch was upon his
wrist, and my right fist impacted violently against his head. It was a
knockout blow, at the base of the brain, and he slumped down,
unconscious. I straightened up, with the gun in my hand.
It was at this instant that Captain Swope became aware of our presence.
It was Newman, himself, who attracted his attention—aye, and the
attention of the whole ship, as well.
For Newman had marched into the light. He stood now almost at the
forward poop rail, with his arms raised above his head; and he sent his
voice forward in a stentorian hail, a cry that was like a thunderclap.
"Stop fighting, lads! Stop it, I say! It is I—Newman! Stop fighting
and go for'ard!"
If ever a human face showed amazement and discomfiture, Swope's did.
He had been so busy at his game of potting his officer he did not see
Newman until the latter walked into his range of vision and sent forth
his hail. He could have shot Newman then, and I could not have
prevented, for he had his weapon leveled. But this sudden apparition
seemed to paralyze him; he just lowered his arm, and stared.
It startled and paralyzed all hands. The struggle on the main deck
ceased abruptly. It was the strangest thing I ever beheld, the way
Newman's thunderous command seemed to turn to graven images the men on
deck. They were frozen into grotesque attitudes, arms drawn back to
strike, boots lifted to kick. Mister Lynch stood with his capstan bar
poised, as though he were at bat in a baseball game. Every face was
lifted to the giant figure standing there on the poop. I even saw in
the brilliant light a white face framed in one of the portholes in the
Newman repeated his command. He did not beg or entreat; he commanded,
and I don't think there was a sailor or stiff on the main deck who,
after his first word, dreamed of disobeying him. Such was the big
man's character superiority, such was the dominance his personality had
acquired over our minds. I tell you, we of the foc'sle looked upon
Newman as of different clay; it was not alone my hero-worship that
magnified his stature, in all our eyes he was one of the great, a being
apart from and above us.
And not only foc'sle eyes regarded him in this light. There were the
tradesmen peering out of the roundhouse ports, with never a thought in
their minds of disobeying his injunction. I had it from their own lips
afterwards; it was not just surprise at the big fellow's sudden
appearance that stayed their hands, it was the power of his
personality. There was Mister Lynch, arrested by Newman's voice in
mid-stroke, as it were. There was Swope, standing palsied and
impotent, with a growing terror in his face.
"Go for'ard, lads! Go below! Come up here, Lynch! Not another blow,
men—for'ard with you!"
The frozen figures on the deck came to life. There was a murmur, a
shuffling of feet, and Lynch lowered his great club. But it was an
From one quarter came the single note of dissent. The man in the main
rigging sang out. It was Boston's voice.
"Go aft, mates!" he shouted. "We've got them—we've won—don't listen
to him!" Then he threw his voice at Newman. "Damn you, Big 'Un,
you've spoiled the game!" A flash followed the oath, and a splinter
flew from the deck at Newman's feet.
There was a flash from my gun as well. I fired without taking
conscious aim; I swear, an invisible hand seemed to lift my arm, a
finger not mine seemed to press the trigger—and that greedy, murderous
rascal in the rigging screamed, and loosed his hold. He struck the
sheer pole in his descent, and bounced into the sea.
The shots seemed to awaken Captain Swope from his surprise and terror.
He had suddenly moved with catlike swiftness; when I lowered my eyes
from the rigging, I saw he had left his refuge behind the mizzenmast
and was standing in the open deck. Aye, there he stood in that light,
which had reached its maximum, revealed to all eyes—and stamped upon
his face was an expression of insane fury so terrible and deadly he
seemed not a human being at all, but a mad beast crouched to spring.
His lips were drawn back from his teeth, and a froth appeared upon his
black beard. The crowd forward saw the demon unmasked in his face,
even as I saw it, and from them arose a gasping "a-ah!" of horror.
The sound caused the lady, who was standing at Newman's elbow, to turn
around; or perhaps it was the feel of Swope's burning eyes that spun
her about so quickly. He was raising his arm, the arm that held the
gun, not quickly but slowly and carefully. With a stab of horror I saw
him aim, not at the man, but at the woman.
No outside power this time seemed to aid me. I shot. I should have
hit the beast, he was not ten paces distant—but only a click answered
when my hammer fell. My gun was empty. I threw up my arm, intending
to hurl the weapon, and I think I cried out. Swope shot—and the lady
threw up her hands and fell.
You must understand, this all happened in a brief instant of time.
Aye, it was but a short moment since we stepped out on deck. What
happened after that shot must be measured by seconds.
For the lady was still falling, and my hand was still reaching behind
me to gather energy for a throw, when Newman bore down upon his enemy.
I had not seen him turn around even, and there he was at arm's grips
with the captain. There was another flash from Swope's revolver, in
Newman's very face. It was a miss, for Newman's hands—helpless lumps
of flesh but a few moments before—closed upon Swope's neck. I saw
Newman's face. It was a terrible face, the face of an enraged and
smiting god. The great scar stood out like a dark line painted upon
He lifted Swope from his feet with that throat grip. He whirled him
like a flail, and smashed him down upon the deck, and let him go. And
there Yankee Swope lay, sprawled, and still, his head bent back at a
fatal angle. A broken neck, as a glance at the lolling head would
inform; and, as we discovered later, a broken back as well. It was
death that Newman's bare hands dealt in that furious second.
Newman did not waste so much as a glance at the work of his hands. He
had turned to the lady, with a cry in his throat, a low cry of pain and
grief—which changed at once to a shout of gladness. For the lady was
stirring, getting to her feet, or trying to.
Newman gathered her slight form into his great arms. I heard him
exclaim, "Where, Mary? Did it—" And she answered, dazedly, "I am all
right—not hit." He took a step towards me, towards the companion.
The swelling murmur from the deck arrested him.
He walked to the break of the poop, with the woman in his arms. She
seemed like a child held to his breast. He spoke to the men below in a
hushed, solemn voice.
"It is ended," he said. "Swope is dead."
As he stood there, the flares commenced to go out. One by one they
guttered and extinguished, and the black night swept down like a
Five bells chimed in the cabin.
It was the end, even as Newman said. The end of the mutiny, the end of
hate and dissension in that ship, the end, for us, of Newman, himself,
and the lady. Peace came to the Golden Bough that night, for the
first time, I suppose, in her bitter, blood-stained history. A peace
that was bought with suffering and death, as we discovered when we
reckoned the cost of the night's work.
Swope was dead—for which there was a prayer of thanks in every man's
heart. Fitzgibbon was gone, and the Nigger. Boston was dead at my
hand; his partner, Blackie, lay stark in the scuppers, as did also the
stiff named Green, each with a bashed in skull, the handiwork of Mister
Such was the death list for that night's work. It was no heavier I
think—though of much different complexion—than the list Captain Swope
As for wounded—God's truth, the Golden Bough was manned by a crew of
cripples for weeks after. Lynch had wrought terribly, there on the
main deck—broken pates, broken fingers, a cracked wrist, a broken
foot, and three men wounded, though not seriously, by Swope's and
Connolly's shots. Such were the foc'sle's lighter casualties. Aft,
the list was shorter. Morton had a bullet wound in the shoulder; it
would lay him up for the rest of the passage, but was not dangerous.
Connolly had a lump behind his ear. Lynch was bruised a bit, and his
clothes were slashed to ribbons, otherwise he had escaped scathless.
The lady was not really hurt at all. Swope's bullet plowed through her
mass of hair, creasing her so lightly the skin was unbroken, though the
impact knocked her down.
I was almost the only man on the ship who bore no marks of that fight,
though I was a sight from the beating, and Lynch—or perhaps it was
Newman—made me bo'sun of the deck in the labor of bringing order out
of chaos. I rallied the unhurt and lightly hurt, and we carried the
worse injured into the cabin, where the lady and Newman attended them.
I opened the barricaded galley, and freed the frightened Chinamen, Wong
and the cook and the cabin boy, and Holy Joe, the parson. As I learned
afterwards, Holy Joe, when he learned of the intended mutiny,
threatened, in vain attempt to stop it, to go aft and blow the plot.
Blackie and Boston wanted to kill him for the threat, but the
squareheads would not have it so, and he was shut up in the galley with
By Lynch's order, we launched the dinghy, and, with me at the tiller
and two lordly tradesmen at the oars, set out in humane but hopeless
quest for the mate and the Nigger. I cruised about for nigh an hour,
and came back empty-handed. We had not really expected to find them,
or trace of them. Fitzgibbon had been stabbed, and it was known, also,
that he did not know how to swim; and as for the Nigger, "I plugged him
as he jumped," said Lynch.
When we got back, Lynch had me muster the available hands, and we
launched the longboat. All the rest of the night, Wong and his two
under-servants cargoed that craft with stores of every kind.
One other man had lost his mess number in that ship, we discovered, as
the night wore on. The traitor. We found not hide or hair of Cockney;
he was gone from the ship, leaving no trace. At least, no trace I
could discover. But when I looked for him, I became conscious of a new
attitude towards me on the part of my shipmates. I had been their
mate, in a way their leader and champion. Now, by virtue of Lynch's
word—and Newman's—I was their boss. I was no longer one of them.
Aye, and sailorlike they showed it by their reserve. They said
truthfully enough they did not know what had become of Cockney—and
they kept their guesses to themselves. But my own guess was as good,
and as true. Boston and Blackie had attended to Cockney. I could
imagine how. A knife across the windpipe and a boost over the side;
without doubt some such fate was Cockney's.
Mister Lynch made no effort to put the ship on her course. We left the
yards as they were, and drifted all the rest of the night. I, and the
unwounded tradesmen, kept the deck; in the cabin, the lady and Newman
labored, and conferred with Lynch and Holy Joe. Aye, Holy Joe, as well
as myself, was lifted to higher estate by that night's happenings. He
lived aft, even as I, the rest of the voyage, and was doctor of bodies
as well as souls.
Near dawn, they called me into the cabin, and put dead man's shoes upon
my feet, so to speak.
"Shreve, it is my duty to take the ship into port," says Lynch. "What
will be the outcome of tonight's work, I do not know. But I do not
fear. My testimony, and that of the sailmakers and carpenters, to say
nothing of your story, and the stories of the other men forward, will
be more than sufficient to convince any court of justice. There will
be no jailing because of to-night's trouble—you may tell the men that."
"Yes, sir," I replied. Aye, it was good news to take forward to the
poor shaking wretches in the foc'sle.
"You understand, I am captain for the remainder of the passage," Lynch
went on. "And I have decided to appoint you chief mate. Connolly will
be second mate."
Aye, that was it. Jack Shreve, chief mate of the Golden Bough! "I
have decided," says Lynch—but I knew the decision belonged to Newman
and the lady, who were smiling at me across the table.
"And you understand—they are leaving in the longboat," added Lynch.
I looked at my friend, and the lady, and my new honor was bitter and
worthless in my mouth.
"Take me with you," I urged.
"To share an outlaw's career? No, lad—we must go alone," said Newman.
I remember he added to Lynch, "If this boy proves the friend to you he
was to me, you will be a lucky man, Captain."
The sky was just graying with the coming day when the two left the
ship. But before they went over the side, there took place in the
growing light on the deck before the cabin a scene as strange and
solemn as any I have seen since. Holy Joe married them, there on the
deck—and in the scuppers, behind the lady's back, covered up with a
spare sail, lay the ship's dead, Yankee Swope among them. Aye, the
parson tied the knot, for this life and next, as he said, and I was
best man, and Captain Lynch gave away the bride.
"Roy Waldon, do you take this woman—" that was the way the parson put
it, standing there before them, with his one good hand holding the
Book, peering up into Newman's face through his puffed, blackened eyes.
A minister in dungaree! "Mary Swope, do you take this man—" that was
how he put it. And though the lady's face was wan and haggard, yet
there was a glory in it beyond power to describe.
And then they cast off from the ship, those two who were now one.
Newman stepped the mast, and drew aft the sheet, and the little craft
caught the breeze and scudded away from us. We lined the rail, lame
men and well men, and cheered our farewell. I wept.
A long time we watched them. The sun leaped up from the sea, and the
longboat seemed to sail into its golden heart; and after the sun had
risen above it, the boat was visible for a long time as a dwindling,
ever dwindling speck. I moved up onto the poop, the longer to see. So
did Lynch. Side by side, we watched the speck dip over the rim of the
Lynch sighed, and walked away. I heard him exclaim, and turned to
observe him picking up something from the deck. He held it out to me,
in the palm of his hand.
It was a little wisp of hair, the lady's hair, a relic of the battle.
Lynch stared at it—then he looked out over the sea, into the path of
the sun. Aye, and there was that in his eyes which opened mine. I
began at last to understand Bucko Lynch—"Captain" Lynch as he was to
remain to the end of his days. I knew from that look in his eyes why
no parson would now ever say to him, "Do you take this woman?"
Slowly, Lynch put the little wisp of hair into his waistcoat pocket.
He drew a deep breath, and shrugged his shoulders; then he hailed me
with seamanly brusqueness.
"Lively, now, Mister—we'll put the ship on her course!"
"Yes, Captain," I answered. And the "Mister" roared his first command
along those decks.