A Master of Fortune
Part 3 out of 5
blue smoke, with now and then a scarlet trail of flame. Here was a
"So you gluttonous, careless brutes have set fire to her, have you?
Here, who was in the engine room?"
Discipline was coming back. A man in black trousers, with a clout round
his neck, stepped out.
"You? Well, slip below, and turn steam into the donkey."
"Steam no lib, sar. Cranes die when we try to work him just now."
"Oh, you holy crowd of savages! Well, if we can't use the hose, you must
hand buckets--and sharp, too. That fire's gaining. Now then, head-men,
"I second head-man, sar."
"I head-man, sar."
"Get buckets, tubs, tins--anything that'll hold water, and look sharp.
If you boys work well now, I'll overlook a lot that's been done. If you
don't, I'll give you fits. Try and get below, some of you, and pull away
what's burning. Probably you'll find some of your dear relations down
there, drunk on gin and smoking pipes. You may knock them on the head if
you like, and want to do a bit more murder. They deserve it."
But though half a dozen of the Krooboys, who were now thoroughly tamed,
tried to get down the hatch, the fire was too strong for them. Even the
water when it came did little to check the burning, for though it sent
up great billows of steam, the flames shot out fiercer and higher every
moment. In that sweltering climate it does not take very much inducement
to make a fire settle down thoroughly to work, once it gets anything
like a tolerable start.
To add to the trouble, news of the wreck had been carried to the village
behind the beach where Captain Kettle had sung for his lodging
over-night, and the one-eyed head-man there and his friends were coming
off to share in the spoil as fast as canoes could bring them. They, too,
would have their theories as to the ownership of wrecked cargoes on the
West African Coast, and as they were possessed of trade guns, they were
not like to forego what they considered their just rights without
But as it happened, a period was put to the scene on the steamer with
considerable suddenness. Sheriff, who had been making sure that there
were no Krooboys lurking forward who could take them from the rear, came
up and looked upon the fire with a blanched face. "Excuse me, Skipper,"
he said, and turned and bawled for the lifeboat to come alongside.
"No hurry for that yet," said Kettle, angrily. "Don't scare the men,
sir. And don't you give orders without my sanction. You made me Captain
here, and, by James! Captain I'll be. We're handicapped for want of the
hose, but we're going to try and get this fire under without. Anyway,
there's no question of leaving the ship yet."
"Good God, man, don't niggle about that now. I know what I'm saying.
There's eight tons of powder in that hold."
"And we may be blown up against the sky as a thin kind of rain any
minute? Well, sir, you're owner, and as you seem to have acted as purser
on board, you ought to know. But hadn't we better ask the Mate for his
cargo-book first, so as to make sure?"
He turned and looked, but Sheriff had gone, and was sliding down into
the lifeboat which had come alongside. "Well, I don't like leaving the
ship, and I suppose for that matter he wouldn't either, being owner, and
being uninsured. But as Mr. Sheriff's gone in such a blazing hurry, it's
probably time for me to go too, if I'm to land home any time in South
Shields again." He hailed the lower deck with a sharp order. "You boys,
there, knock off. Knock off work, I say, and throw down your buckets.
There's powder stowed down below, and it'll be going off directly.
Gunpowder, you savvy, shoot-powder, go _fizz--boosh--bang_!"
There was a sharp clatter of understanding and explanation, but no
movement. The African is not great at making deductions. Captain Kettle
had to give a definite order. "Now, overboard with you, all hands, and
lib for beach. No time for lower boats. You all fit for swim."
They took the hint, and began leaping the bulwark rail like a swarm of
black frogs. "Good-by, boys," he said, in valediction. "You'll find it
cheaper to be good and virtuous next time. You haven't stay enough in
you for a real good fight." And then he went to where the davits dangled
over the water, and slid down to the boat, while the frightened crew
cursed him aloud for keeping them waiting.
Not much was said as they rowed away. The all-nation rowers were openly
terrified; the Mate had all his attention used up in steering to a hair;
and Sheriff sat with his shoulders humped beside his ears in the
position of a man who expects a blow. Captain Kettle held his peace. He
knew that mere words could not urge the sweating crew to heavier effort,
and he puffed at his treasured cigar as any smoker would who had been
divorced from tobacco for so many a month, and does not know when he
will meet with his next indulgence.
And in due time the powder was fired, and the steamer was turned into a
vast volcano of steam and smoke and flame, which vomited iron and human
limbs, and which sent forth an air blast which drove the boat before it
like the hurricane of a tornado. And then the _debris_ from the sky
foamed down into the water, and then there was a long, long silence.
Save for some inconsiderable flotsam, the steamer and all that was in
her had vanished eternally. The canoes from the village were paddling
for the beach again. They were alone on a lonely sea. No man seemed to
have a thought he wished to share.
The Mate was the first to speak. He patted a bundle whose outer housing
was a pillow-case, which lay on the thwart beside him. "Well," he said,
"it's been a close thing. I darn nearly lost those new clothes of mine."
"It might have been worse," said Sheriff; "we might well all have been
killed. But as it is," he added with a sigh, "we've merely got to start
fresh from the bottom again. Anyway, Kettle, I'm obliged to you for what
you have done."
The little sailor frowned. "It's kind of you, sir, to say that. But I
hate being beaten. And it's no excuse to say I did my best. I hadn't
figured on that fire and the powder, and that's a fact."
"I wonder," said the Mate thoughtfully, "which of those beggars scoffed
that gold zodiac ring of mine. That steward's boy, Tins, I expect. Took
the ring and left the new blue suit. Well, by gum, they're a funny lot,
"Look here," said Sheriff, "you compel me to be brutal, but the fact is,
they've had enough of you here in Lagos. So far as I can see, you've
only got the choice of two things. You can have a free passage home to
England as a Distressed Seaman by the next steamer, and you know what
that means. The steamer gets paid a shilling a day, and grubs and berths
you accordingly, and you earn your 'bacca money by bumming around the
galley and helping the cook peel spuds. Or else, if you don't like that,
you can do the sensible thing, and step into the billet I offer you."
"By James!" said Kettle, "who's going to turn me out of Lagos; tell me
"Don't get wrathful with me. I'm only telling you what you'll find out
to be the square truth if you stay on long enough. The authorities here
will be equal to handling you if you try to buck against them."
"But, sir, they have no right to touch me. This isn't French territory,
or German, or any of those clamped-down places. The town's as English as
Liverpool, and I'm a respectable man."
"The trouble of it is," said Sheriff drily, "they say you are not. There
are a limited number of white men here in Lagos--perhaps two hundred all
told--and their businesses and sources of income are all more or less
visible to the naked eye. Yours aren't. In the language of
the--er--well--the police court, you've no visible means of subsistence,
and yet you always turn out neat, and spruce, and tidy; you've always
got tobacco; and apparently you must have meals now and again, though I
can't say you've got particularly fat on them."
"I've never been a rich man, sir. I've never earned high wages--only
once as much as fifteen pounds a month--and there's the missis and the
family to provide for; and, as a consequence, I've never had much to
spend on myself. It would surprise a gentleman who's been wealthy like
you, Mr. Sheriff, to see the way I can make half-a-crown spin out."
"It surprises me to see how you've made nothing at all spin out," said
Sheriff; "and as for the Lagos authorities I was speaking about, it's
done more; it's made them suspicious. Hang it, man, be reasonable; you
must see they are bound to be suspicious."
Captain Kettle's brown face grew darker in tint, and he spoke with
visible shame. "I've come by a living, sir, honest, but I couldn't bear
it to be told aloud here to all the world how it was done. I may be
down, Mr. Sheriff, but I have my pride still."
Sheriff spread his hands helplessly. "That's no kind of answer," he
said. "They won't let you continue to stay here in Lagos on an
explanation like that. Come now, Kettle, be sensible: put yourself in
the authorities' place. They've got a town to administer--a big
town--that not thirty years ago was the most murderous, fanatical, rowdy
dwelling of slave-traders on the West Coast of Africa. To-day, by dint
of careful shepherding, they've reduced it to a city of quiet
respectability, with a smaller crime rate than Birmingham; and in fact
made it into a model town suitable for a story-book. You don't see the
Government much, but you bet it's there, and you bet it isn't asleep.
You can bet also that the nigger people here haven't quite forgotten the
old days, and would like to be up to a bit of mischief every now and
again, just for old association's sake, which of course the Government
is quite aware of.
"Now there's nothing that can stir up niggers into ructions against a
white man's government better than a white man, as has been proved tons
of times already, and here are you already on the carpet quite equal to
the job. I don't say you are up to mischief, nor does the Government,
but you must see for yourself that they'd be fools if they didn't play
for safety and ship you off out of harm's way."
"I must admit," said Kettle ruefully, "that there's sense in what you
"Are you going to give a free and open explanation of your means of
employment here in Lagos, and earn the right to stay on openly, or are
you going to still stick to the mysterious?"
The little sailor frowned. "No, sir," he said; "as I told you before, I
have my pride."
"Very-well, then. Now, are you going to be the Distressed Seaman, and be
jeered at all the run home as you cadge round for your 'baccy money, or
are you going to do the sensible thing, and step into this billet I've
put in your way?"
"You corner me."
"I'm glad to hear it, and let me tell you it hasn't been for want of
trying. Man, if I hadn't liked you, I would not have taken all this
trouble to put a soft thing ready to your hand."
"I believe you want service out of me in return, sir," said Kettle
Sheriff laughed. "You aren't the handiest man in the world to get on
with, and if I hadn't been an easy-tempered chap I should have bidden
you go to the deuce long enough ago. Of course, I want something out of
you. A man who has just lost a fortune, and who is down on his luck like
I am, can't afford to go in for pure philanthropy without any possible
return. But, at the same time, I'm finding you a job at fifty pound a
month with a fortnight's wages paid in advance, and I think you might be
decently grateful. By your own telling, you never earned so much as four
sovereigns a week before."
"The wages were quite to my taste from the beginning, sir; don't think
me ungrateful there. But what I didn't like was going to sea without
knowing beforehand what I was expected to do. I didn't like it at first,
and I refused the job then; and if I take it now, being, as you say,
cornered, you're not to understand that it's grown any the tastier
"We shouldn't pay a skipper a big figure like that," said Sheriff drily,
"if we didn't want something a bit more than, the ordinary out of him.
You may take it you are getting fifteen pounds a month as standard pay,
and the extra thirty-five for condescending to sail with sealed orders.
But what I told you at first I repeat now: I've got a partner standing
in with me over this business, and as he insists on the whole thing
being kept absolutely dark till we're away at sea, I've no choice but to
observe the conditions of partnership."
Some thirty minutes later than this, Mr. Sheriff got out of his
'rickshaw on the Marina and went into an office and inquired for Mr.
White. One of the colored clerks (who, to do credit to his English
education, affected to be utterly prostrated by the heat) replied with
languor that Mr. White was upstairs; upon which Sheriff, mopping himself
with a handkerchief, went up briskly.
White, a gorgeously handsome young Hebrew, read success from his face at
once. "I can see you've hooked your man," said he. "That's good
business; we couldn't have got another as good anywhere. Have a
"Don't mind if I do. It's been tough work persuading him. He's such a
suspicious, conscientious little beggar. Shout for your boy to bring the
cocktail, and when we're alone, I'll tell you about it."
"I'll fix up your drink myself, old man. Where's the swizzle-stick? Oh,
here, behind the Angostura bottle. And there's a fresh lime for you--got
a basket of them in this morning. Now you yarn whilst I play barmaid."
Mr. Sheriff tucked his feet on the arms of a long-chair and picked up a
fan. He sketched in the account of his embassage with humorous phrase.
The Hebrew had been liberal with his cocktail. He said himself that he
made them so beautifully that no one could resist a second; and so, with
a sigh of gusto, Sheriff gulped down number two and put the glass on the
floor. "No," he said; "no more. They're heavenly, I'll grant, but no
more. We shall want very clear heads for what's in front of us, and I'm
not going to fuddle mine for a commencement. I can tell you we have been
very nearly wrecked already. It was only by the skin of my teeth I
managed to collar Master Kettle. I only got him because I happened to
know something about him."
"Did you threaten to get him into trouble over it? What's he done?"
"Oh, nothing of that sort. But the man's got the pride of an emperor,
and it came to my knowledge he'd been making a living out of fishing in
the lagoon, and I worked on that. Look out of that window; it's a bit
glary with the sun full on, but do you see those rows of stakes the nets
are made fast on? Well, one of those belongs to Captain Owen Kettle, and
he works there after dark like a native, and dressed as one. You know
he's been so long living naked up in the bush that his hide's nearly
black, and he can speak all the nigger dialects. But I guessed he'd
never own up that he'd come so low as to compete with nigger fishermen,
and I fixed things so that he thought he'd have to tell white Lagos what
was his trade, or clear out of the colony one-time. It was quite a neat
bit of diplomacy."
"You have got a tongue in you," said White.
"When a man's as broke as I am, and as desperate, he does his best in
talk to get what he wants. But look here, Mr. White, now we've got
Kettle, I want to be off and see the thing over and finished as soon as
possible. It's the first time I've been hard enough pushed to meddle
with this kind of racket, and I can't say I find it so savory that I'm
keen on lingering over it."
The Jew shrugged his shoulders. "We are going for money," he said.
"Money is always hard to get, my boy, but it's nice, very nice, when
you have it."
Keen though Sheriff was to get this venture put to the trial, brimming
with energy though he might be, it was quite out of the question that a
start could be made at once. A small steamer they had already secured on
charter, but she had to be manned, coaled, and provisioned, and all
these things are not carried out as quickly in Lagos as they would be in
Liverpool, even though there was a Kettle in command to do the driving.
And, moreover, there were cablegrams to be sent, in tedious cypher, to
London and elsewhere, to make the arrangements on which the success of
the scheme would depend.
The Jew was the prime mover in all this cabling. He had abundance of
money in his pocket, and he spent it lavishly, and he practically lived
in the neighborhood of the telegraph office. He was as affable as could
be; he drank cocktails and champagne with the telegraph staff whenever
they were offered; but over the nature of his business he was as close
as an oyster.
A breath of suspicion against the scheme would wreck it in an instant,
and, as there was money to be made by carrying it through, the easy,
lively, boisterous Mr. White was probably just then as cautious a man as
there was in Africa.
But preparations were finished at last, and one morning, when the tide
served, the little steamer cast off from her wharf below the Marina, and
steered for the pass at the further side of the lagoon.
The bar was easy, and let her through with scarcely so much as a bit of
spray to moisten the dry deck planks, and Sheriff pointed to the masts
of a branch-boat which had struck the sand a week before, and had beaten
her bottom out and sunk in ten minutes, and from these he drew good
omens about this venture, and at the same time prettily complimented
Kettle on his navigation.
But Kettle refused to be drawn into friendliness. He coldly commented
that luck and not skill was at the bottom of these matters, and that if
the bar had shifted, he himself could have put this steamer on the
ground as handily as the other man had piled up the branch-boat. He
refused to come below and have a drink, saying that his place was on the
bridge till he learned from observation that either of the two mates was
a man to be trusted. And, finally, he inquired, with acid formality, as
to whether his employers wished the steamer brought to an anchor in the
roads, or whether they would condescend to give him a course to steer.
Sheriff bade him curtly enough to "keep her going to the s'uth'ard," and
then drew away his partner into the stifling little chart-house. "Now,"
he said, "you see how it is. Our little admiral up there is standing on
his temper, and if he doesn't hear the plan of campaign, he's quite
equal to making himself nasty."
"I don't mind telling him some, but I'm hanged if I'm going to tell him
all. There are too many in the secret already, what with you and the two
in London; and as I keep on telling you, if one whiff of a suspicion
gets abroad, the whole thing's busted, and a trap will be set that you
and I will be caught in for a certainty."
"Poof! We're at sea now, and no one can gossip beyond the walls of the
ship. Besides Kettle is far too staunch to talk. He's the sort of man
who can be as mum as the grave when he chooses. But if you persist in
refusing to trust him, well, I tell you that the thought of what he may
be up to makes me frightened."
"Now look here, my boy," said White, "you force me to remind you that
I'm senior partner here, and to repeat that what I say on this matter's
going to be done. I flatly refuse to trust this Kettle with the whole
yarn. We've hired him at an exorbitant fee--bought him body and soul, in
fact, as I've no doubt he very well understands--and to my mind he's
engaged to do exactly as he's told, without asking questions. But as you
seem set on it, I'll meet you here; he may be told a bit. Fetch
But as Kettle refused to come below, on the chilly plea of business, the
partner went out under the awnings of the upper bridge, where the
handsome White, with boisterous, open-hearted friendliness, did his best
to hustle the little sailor into quick good humor.
"Don't blame me, Skipper, or Sheriff here either, for the matter of
that, for making all this mystery. We're just a couple of paid agents,
and the bigger men at the back insisted that we should keep our mouths
shut till the right time. There's nothing wrong with this caution, I'm
sure you'll be the first to say. You see they couldn't tell from that
distance what sort of man we should be able to pick up at Lagos. I guess
they never so much as dreamed that we'd have the luck to persuade a chap
like you to join."
"You are very polite, sir," said Kettle formally.
"Not a bit of it. I'm not the sort of boy to chuck civility away on an
incompetent man. Now look here, Captain. We're on for making a big pile
in a very short time, and you can stand in to finger your share if
you'll, only take your whack of the work."
"There's no man living more capable of hard work than me, sir, and no
man keener to make a competence. I've got a wife that I'd like to see a
lot better off than I've ever been able to make her so far."
"I'm sure Mrs. Kettle deserves affluence, and please the pigs she shall
"But it isn't every sovereign that might be put in her way," said the
sailor meaningly, "that Mrs. Kettle would care to use."
"I guess I find every sovereign that comes to my fingers contains twenty
"I will take your word for it, sir. Mrs. Kettle prefers to know that the
few she handles are cleanly come by."
Mr. White gritted his handsome teeth, shrugged his shoulders, and made
as if he intended to go down off the bridge. But Sheriff stopped him.
"We'd better have it out," Sheriff suggested; "as well now as later."
"Put it in your own words, then. I don't seem able to get started. You,"
he added significantly, "know as well as I do what to say."
"Very well. Now, look here, Kettle. This mystery game has gone on long
enough, and you've got to be put on the ground floor, like the rest of
us. Did you ever dabble in stocks?"
"But you know what they are?"
"I've heard the minister I sit under ashore give his opinion from the
pulpit on the Stock Exchange, and those who do business there. The
minister of our chapel, sir, is a man I always agree with."
This was sufficiently unpromising, but Sheriff went doggedly on. "I see
your way of looking at it: the whole crowd of stock operators are a gang
of thieves that no decent man would care to touch?"
"That's much my notion."
"And they are quite unworthy of protection?"
"They can rob one another to their heart's content for all I care."
Sheriff smiled grimly. "That's what I wanted to hear you say, Captain.
This cruise we are on now is not exactly a pleasure trip."
"I guessed that, of course, from the pay that was offered."
"What we are after is this: the Cape to England telegraph cable stops at
several places on the road, and we want to get hold of one of the
stations and work it for our own purposes for an hour or so. If we can
do that, our partners in London will bring off a speculation in South
African shares that will set the whole lot of us up for life."
"And who pays the piper? I mean where will the money for your profit
White was quicker than Sheriff to grasp the situation. "From inside the
four walls of the Stock Exchange. S'elp me, Captain, you needn't pity
them. There are lots of men there, my friends too, who would have played
the game themselves if they had been sharp enough to think of it. We
have to be pretty keen in the speculation business if we want to make
money out of it."
Captain Kettle buttoned his coat, and stepped to the further end of the
bridge with an elaborate show of disgust. "You are on the Stock Exchange
"Er--connected with it, Captain."
[Illustration: "YOU INSOLENT LITTLE BLACKGUARD, YOU DARE TO SPEAK TO ME
"I can quite understand our minister's opinion of stock gamblers now.
Perhaps some day you may hear it for yourself. He's a great man for
visiting jails and carrying comfort to the afflicted."
"By gad!" said White, "you insolent little blackguard, you dare to speak
to me like that!"
"I use what words I choose," said Kettle, truculently. "I'd have said
the same to your late King Solomon if I hadn't liked his ways; but if I
was pocketing his pay, I should have carried out his orders all the
same." He bent down to the voice hatch, and gave a bearing to the black
quartermaster in the wheel-house below, and the little steamer, which
had by this time left behind her the vessels transhipping cargo in the
roads, canted off on a new course to the southward.
"Hullo," said Sheriff, "what's that mean? Where are you off to now?"
Kettle mentioned the name of a lonely island standing by itself in the
But Sheriff and the Jew were visibly startled. Mr. Sheriff mopped at a
very damp forehead with his pocket handkerchief. "Have you heard
anything then?" he asked, "or did you just guess?"
"I heard nothing before, or I should not have signed on for this trip,
sir. But having come so far I'm going to earn out my pay. What's done
will not be on my conscience. The shipmaster's blameless in these
matters; it's the owner who drives him that earns his punishment in the
hereafter; and that's sound theology."
"But how did you guess, man, how did you know where we were bound?"
"A shipmaster knows cable stations as well as he knows owners' agents'
offices ashore. Any fool who had been told your game would have put his
finger on that island at once. That's the loneliest place where the
cable goes ashore all up and down the coast, and it isn't British, and
what more could you want?"
With these meagre assurances, Messieurs Sheriff and White had to be
content, as no others were forthcoming. Captain Kettle refused to be
drawn into further talk upon the subject, and the pair went below to the
stuffy little cabin more than a trifle disconsolate. "Well, here's the
man you talked so big about," said White, bitterly. "As soon as we get
out at sea, he shows himself in his true colors. Why, he's a blooming
Methodist. But if he sells us when it comes to the point, and there's a
chance of my getting nabbed, by gad I'll murder him like I would a rat."
"If he offers a scrimmage," said Sheriff, "you take my tip, and clear
out. He's a regular glutton for a fight; I know he's armed; and he could
shoot the buttons off your coat at twenty yards. No, Mr. White; make the
best or the worst of Captain Kettle as you choose, but don't come to
fisticuffs with him, or as sure as you are living now, you'll finish out
on the under side then. And mind, I'm not talking by guess-work.
"I shall not stick at much if this show's spoiled. Why, the money was as
good as in our pockets, if he hadn't cut up awkward."
"Don't throw up the sponge till some one else does it for you. Look
here, I know this man Kettle a lot better than you do. He wants the pay
very badly. And when it comes to sticking up the cable station, you'll
see him do the work of any ten like us. I tell you, he's a regular demon
when it comes to a scuffle."
It was in this attitude, then, that the three principal members of the
little steamer's complement voyaged down over those warm tropical seas
which lay between Lagos and the isle of their hopes and fears. Two of
them kept together, and perfected the detail of their plans for use in
every contingency; but the other kept himself icily apart, and for an
occupation, when the business of the ship did not require his eye,
wrapped himself up in the labor of literary production. He even refused
to partake of meals at the same table with his employers.
The island first appeared to them as a huddle of mountains sprouting out
of the sea, which grew green as they came more near, and which finally
showed great masses of foliage growing to the crown of the splintered
heights, with a surf frilling the bays and capes at their foot. There
was a town in the hug of one of these bays, and toward it the little
steamer rolled as though she had been an ordinary legitimate trader. She
brought up to an anchor in the jaws of the bay, half-way between the
lighthouse and the rectangular white building on the further beach, and
after due delay, a negro doctor, pulled up by a surf-boat full of other
negroes, came off and gave her pratique.
The rectangular white building, standing in the sea breeze by itself
away from the town beyond, was the cable station, but for the present
they faced it with their backs. Kettle had seen it before; the other two
acted as though it were the last thing to trouble their minds. There was
no going ashore for any of them yet; indeed, the less they advertised
their personal identity, the more chance there was of getting off
Night fell with such suddenness that one could almost have imagined the
sun was permanently extinguished. Round the rim of the bay lights began
to kindle, and presently (when the wind came off the land) strains of
music floated out to them.
"Some saint's day," Sheriff commented.
"St. Agatha's," said Kettle with a sigh.
"Hello, Kettle. I thought you were a straight-laced chapel goer. What
have you to do with saints and their days?"
"I was told that one once, sir, and I can't help remembering it. You see
the date is February 5th, and that's my eldest youngster's birthday."
Sheriff swore. "I wish you'd drop that sort of sentimental bosh,
Skipper; especially now. I want to get this business over first, and
then, when I go back with plenty in my pocket, I can begin to think of
family pleasures and cares again. Come now, have you thought out what we
can do with the steamer after we've finished our job here?"
"Run up with the coast and sink her, and then go ashore in the surf-boat
at some place where the cable doesn't call, and leave that as soon as
possible for somewhere else."
"It will be a big saving of necks," said Kettle drily. "Why sir, you've
been a steamer-owner in your time, and you must know how we're fixed.
You've given up your papers here, and you're known. You can't go into
another port in the whole wide world without papers, and as far as
forging a new set, why that's a thing that hasn't been done this thirty
years outside a story-book."
Mr. White came up to hear. "I don't see that," he said.
"You fellows don't understand everything in Jerusalem," said Kettle,
with a cheerful insult, and walked away. Captain Kettle regarded
Sheriff as a gull, and pitied him accordingly; but White he recognized
as principal knave, and disliked him accordingly.
But when the start was made for the raid, some hour and a half before
the dawn, Kettle was not backward in fulfilling his paid-for task.
Himself he saw a surf-boat lowered into the water and manned by black
Krooboy paddlers; himself he saw his two employers down on the thwarts,
and then followed them; and himself he sat beside the head-man who
straddled in the stern sheets at the steering oar, and gave him minute
The boat was avoiding the bay altogether. She was making for the strip
of sand in front of the cable station, and except when she was
shouldered up on the back of a roller, the goal was out of sight all
"There's a rare swell running, and it's a mighty bad beach to-night,"
Kettle commented. "I hope you gentlemen can swim, for the odds are
you'll have to do it inside the next ten minutes."
"If we are spilt getting ashore," said White, "how do you say we'll get
"The Lord knows," said Kettle.
"Well, you're a cheerful companion, anyway."
"I wasn't paid for a yacht skippering job and asked to say nice things
which weren't true. But if you don't fancy the prospect, go back and try
a trade that's less risky. You mayn't like honest work, but it strikes
me this kind of contract's out your weight anyway."
The Jew looked as if he would like to let loose his tongue, and perhaps
handle a weapon, but his motto was "business first," and he could not
afford to have an open fracas with Kettle then. So he swallowed his
resentment, and said, "Get on," and clung dizzily on to his thwart.
As each roller passed tinder her, the surf-boat swooped higher and
higher, and the laboring paddles seemed to give her less and less
momentum. The head-man strained at the steering oar. The Krooboys had
hard work to keep their perches on the gunwale.
At last the head-man shouted, and the paddles ceased. They were waiting
for a smooth. Roller after roller swept under them, and the boat rode
them dizzily, but kept her place just beyond the outer edge of the surf.
From over his shoulder, the head-man watched the charging seas with
animal intentness. Then with a sudden shriek he gave the word, and the
paddles stabbed the water into spray. The heavy boat rushed forward
again, and a great towering sea rushed after her. It reared her up,
stern uppermost, and passed, leaving her half swamped by its foaming
passage; and then came another sea, and the boat broached to and spilt.
The Krooboys jumped like black frogs from either gunwale, and Kettle
jumped also, and made his way easily to the sand, being used to this
experience. But Sheriff was pulled on to the beach with difficulty, and
the Jew was hauled there in a state verging on the unconscious. He
looked at the fearsome surf, and shuddered openly. "How shall we get off
again?" he gasped.
"More swimming," said Kettle tersely. "And perhaps not manage it at all.
You'd better give up the game, and go off decently to-morrow morning
from the Custom House wharf."
But Mr. White, whatever might be the list of his failings, was
certainly possessed of dogged pluck, and as he had got that far with his
enterprise, did not intend to desert it. He got rid of the sea-water
that was within him, and resolutely led the way to the cable station,
which loomed square and solid through the dusk. Sheriff followed, and
Captain Kettle, with his hands in his pockets, brought up the rear. The
Krooboys, according to their orders, stayed on the beach, brought in the
boat, collected her furniture, and got all ready for relaunching.
White seemed to know the way as if he had been there before. He went up
to the building, entered through an open door, and strode quietly in his
rubber-soled shoes along a dark passage. At the end was a room in
partial darkness, and a man who watched a spot of light which darted
hither and back, and between whiles wrote upon paper. To him White went
up, and clapped a cold revolver muzzle against the nape of his neck.
"Now," he said, "I want the loan of your instrument for about an hour.
If you resist, you'll be shot. The noise of the shot will bring out the
other men on the station, and they'll be killed also. There are plenty
of us here, and we are well armed, and we intend to have our own way. If
you are not anything short of a fool, you'll go and sit on that chair,
and keep quiet till you're given leave to talk."
"I don't think I'll argue it with you," said the operator coolly. He got
up and sat where he was told, and Kettle, according to arrangement,
stood guard over him. "I suppose you malefactors know," he added, "that
there are certain pains and penalties attached to this sort of
amusement, and that you are bound to get caught quite soon, whether you
shoot me or let me go?"
Nobody answered him. White had sat down at the instrument table, and was
tapping out messages like a man well accustomed to the work.
"Of course with those black mask things over your faces I couldn't
recognize you again, even if I was put in the box; but, my good chaps,
your steamer's known, there's no getting over that. Much better clear
out before any mischief's done, and own up you've made a mistake."
White turned on the man with a sudden fury. "If you don't keep
your silly mouth shut, I'll have you throttled," he threatened,
and after that the only noise that broke the silence was the
_tap--taptap--taptapping_ of the telegraph instrument.
Only two men in that darkened room knew what message was being
dispatched, and these were White and the dispossessed operator. The one
worked with cool, steady industry, and the other listened with strained
intentness. Sheriff was outside the door keeping guard on the rest of
the house. But Kettle, from his station behind the operator's chair,
listened with a strange disquietude. He had been told that the object of
the raid was to arrange a stock exchange robbery, and to this he had
tacitly agreed. According to his narrow creed (as gathered from the
South Shields chapel) none but rogues and thieves dealt in stocks and
shares, and if these chose to rob one another, an honest man might well
look on non-interferent. But what guarantee had he that this robbery was
not planned to draw plunder from the outside public as well? The pledged
word of Mr. White. And that was worth? He smiled disdainfully when he
thought of the slenderness of its value.
_Tap--taptap--tap--tap--taptap_, said the tantalizing instrument, going
steadily on with its hidden speech.
The stifling heat of the room seemed to get more oppressive. The mystery
of the thing beat against Kettle's brain.
Of course he could not read the deposed operator's thoughts, though he
could see easily that the man was reading the messages which White was
so glibly sending off. But it was clear that the man's agitation was
growing; growing, too, out of all proportion to the coolness he had
shown when his room was first invaded. At last an exclamation was forced
from him, almost, as it seemed, involuntarily. "Oh, you ghastly
scoundrel," he murmured, and on that Kettle spoke. He could not stand
the mystery any longer.
"Tell me," he said, "exactly what message that man's sending."
"But I forbid you to do any such thing," said White, and reached for his
revolver. But before his fingers touched it, he looked up and saw
Kettle's weapon covering him.
"You put that down," came the crisp order, and White obeyed it nervously
"And now go and stand in the middle of the room till I give you leave to
White did this also. He grasped the fact that Captain Kettle was not in
a mood to be trifled with.
"Now, Mr. Telegraph Clerk, as you understand this tack-hammer language,
and as I could see you've been following all the messages that's been
sent, just tell me the whole lot of it, please, as near as you can
"He called up London first, and gave what sounded like a registered
address, and sent the word 'corruscate.' That's probably code; anyway I
don't know what it meant. Then he called the Cape, and sent a message to
the Governor. He hadn't got to the end, and there was no signature, but
it was evidently intended to make them believe that it was sent from the
Colonial Office at home."
"Well," said Kettle, "what was the message?"
"Good Lord, man, he's directing the Governor to declare war on the
Transvaal. You know there's been trouble with them lately, and they'll
believe that it comes from the right place. If this is some
"Then, by heavens, it'll be carried through unless you let me stop it at
once. The thing's plausible enough--"
But here White recovered from his temporary scare, and cut in with a
fine show of authority. "S'help me, Kettle, you're making a pretty mess
of things. You make me knock off in the middle of a message, and they'll
not know what's up at the other end if I don't go on. Look at
"I see the spot of light winking about."
"That's the operator at the next station calling me."
"But is it true what this gentleman's been telling me?"
"I suppose it is, more or less. But what of that? What did you lose your
temper for like this? You knew quite well what we came here for."
"I knew you came to steal money from stockbrokers. I knew nothing about
going to try and run my country in for a war."
"Poof, that's nothing. The war would not hurt you and me. Besides, it
must go on now. I've cabled my partner in London to be a bear in Kaffirs
for all he's worth. We must smash all the instruments here so they can't
contradict the news, and then be off."
"Your partner can be a bear or any other kind of beast, in any sort of
niggers he chooses, but I'm not going to let you run England into war at
"Pah, my good man, what does that matter to you? What's England ever
done for you?"
"I live there," said Kettle, "when I'm at home, and as I've lived
everywhere else in the world, I'm naturally a bit more fond of the old
shop than if I'd never gone away from her beach. No, Mr. White,
England's never done anything special for me that I could, so to speak,
put my finger on, but--ah would you!"
White, in desperation, had made a grab at the revolver lying on the
instrument table, but with a quick rush Kettle possessed himself of it,
and Mr. White found himself again looking down the muzzle of Captain
But a moment later the aim was changed. Sheriff, hearing the whispered
talk, had come in through the doorway to see what it was about, and
promptly found himself favored in his turn.
"Shift your pistol to muzzle end, and bring it here."
Sheriff obeyed the order promptly. He had seen enough of Captain
Kettle's usefulness as a marksman not to dispute his wishes.
"Did you know that we came here to stir up a war between our folks at
home and the Transvaal?"
"I suppose so."
"And smash up the telegraph instruments afterward, so that it could not
be contradicted till it was well under way?"
"That would have been necessary."
"And you remember what you told me on that steamboat? Oh! you liar!"
said Kettle, and Sheriff winced.
"I'm so beastly hard up," he said.
Captain Kettle might have commented on his own poverty, but he did not
do this. Instead, he said: "Now we'll go back to the ship, and of course
you'll have to scuttle her just as if you'd brought off your game here
successfully. Run England in for a bloody war, would you, just for some
filthy money? By James! no. Come, march. And you, Mr. Telegraph Clerk,
get under weigh with that deaf and dumb alphabet of yours, and ring up
the Cape, and tell them what's been sent is all a joke, and there's to
be no war at all."
"I'll do that, you may lay your heart on it," said the operator. "But
Mr. I-don't-know-what-your-name-is, look here. Hadn't you better stay?
I'll see things are put all right. But if you go off with those two
sharks, it might be dangerous."
"Thank you, kindly, sir," said Kettle; "but I'm a man that's been
accustomed to look after myself all the world over, and I'm not likely
to get hurt now. Those two may be sharks, as you say, but I'm not
altogether a simple little lamb myself."
"I shall be a bit uneasy for you. You're a good soul whoever you may be,
and I'd like to do something for you if I could."
"Then, sir," said Kettle, "just keep quiet, here, and get on with your
work contradicting that wire, and don't send for any of those little
Portuguese soldiers with guns to see us off. It's a bad beach, and we
mayn't get off first try, and if they started to annoy us whilst we were
at work, I might have to shoot some of them, which would be a trouble."
"I'll see to that," said the operator. "We'll just shake hands if you
don't mind, before you go. There's more man to the cubic inch about you
than in any other fellow I've come across for a long time. I've no club
at home now, or I'd ask you to look me up. But I dare say we shall meet
again some time. So long."
"Good-by, sir," said Kettle, and shook the operator by the hand. Then he
turned, and drove the other two raiders before him out of the house, and
down to the beach, and, with the Krooboys, applied himself to launching
the surf-boat through the breakers.
"Run the old shop into a war, would you?" he soliloquized to two very
limp, unconscious figures, as the Krooboys got the surf-boat afloat
after the third upset. "It's queer what some men will do for money." And
then, a minute later, he muttered to himself: "By James! look at that
dawn coming up behind the island there; yellow as a lemon. Now, that is
fine. I can make a bit of poetry out of that."
"Her cargo'll have shifted," said the third mate, "and when she got that
list her people will have felt frightened and left her."
"She's a scary look to her, with her yard-arms spiking every other sea,"
said Captain Image, "and her decks like the side of a house. I shouldn't
care to navigate a craft that preferred to lie down on her beam
"Take this glass, sir, and you'll see the lee quarter-boat davit-tackles
are overhauled. That means they got at least one boat in the water. To
my mind she's derelict."
"Yard-arm tackles rigged and overhauled, too," said Captain Image.
"She'll have carried a big boat on the top of that house amidships, and
that's gone, too. Well, I hope her crew have got to dry land somewhere,
or been picked up, poor beggars. Nasty things, those old wind-jammers,
Mr. Strake. Give me steam."
"But there's a pile of money in her still," said the third mate,
following up his own thoughts. "She's an iron ship, and she'll be two
thousand tons, good. Likely enough in the 'Frisco grain trade. Seems to
me a new ship, too; anyway, she's got those humbugging patent tops'ls."
"And you're thinking she'd be a nice plum if we could pluck her in
anywhere?" said Image, reading what was in his mind.
"Well, me lad, I know that as well as you, and no one would be
pleaseder to pocket L300. But the old _M'poso's_ a mailboat, and because
she's got about a quarter of a hundredweight of badly spelt letters on
board, she can't do that sort of salvage work if there's no life-saving
thrown in as an extra reason. Besides, we're behind time as it is, with
smelling round for so much cargo, and though I shall draw my two and
a-half per cent, on that, I shall have it all to pay away again, and
more to boot, in fines for being late. No, I tell you it isn't all sheer
profit and delight in being skipper on one of those West African coast
boats. And there's another thing: the Chief was telling me only this
morning that they've figured it very close on the coal. We only have
what'll take us to Liverpool ourselves, without trying to pull a yawing,
heavy, towing thing like that on behind us."
Strake drummed at the white rail of the bridge. He was a very young man,
and he was very keen on getting the chance of distinguishing himself;
and here, on the warm, windless swells abeam, the chance seemed to sit
beckoning him. "I've been thinking, sir, if you can lend me half a dozen
men, I could take her in somewhere myself."
"I'm as likely to lend you half a dozen angels. Look at the deck hands;
look at the sickly trip this has been. We've had to put some of them on
double tricks at the wheel already, and as for getting any painting
done, or having the ship cleaned up a bit, why, I can see we shall go
into Liverpool as dirty as a Geordie collier. Besides, Mr. Strake, I
believe I've told you once or twice already that you're not much use
yourself, but anyway you're the best that's left, and I'm having to
stand watch and watch with you as it is. If the mate gets out of his
bed between here and home, it'll be to go over the side, and the second
mate's nearly as bad with that nasty blackwater fever only just off him;
and there you are. Mr. Strake, if you have a penn'oth of brains stowed
away anywhere, I wish to whiskers you'd show 'em sometimes."
"Old man's mad at losing a nice lump of salvage," thought Strake.
"Natural, I guess." So he said quietly: "Ay, ay, sir," and walked away
to the other end of the bridge.
Captain Image followed him half-way, but stopped irresolutely with his
hand on the engine-room telegraph. On the fore main deck below him his
old friend, Captain Owen Kettle, was leaning on the rail, staring
wistfully at the derelict.
"Poor beggar," Image mused, "'tisn't hard to guess what he's thinking
about. I wonder if I could fix it for him to take her home. It might set
him on his legs again, and he's come low enough, Lord knows. If I hadn't
given him a room in the first-class for old times' sake, he'd have had
to go home, after his trouble on the West Coast, as a distressed seaman,
and touch his cap to me when I passed. I've not done badly by him, but I
shall have to pay for that room in the first-class out of my own pocket,
and if he was to take that old wind-jammer in somewhere, he'd fork out,
and very like give me a dash besides.
"Yes, I will say that about Kettle; he's honest as a barkeeper, and
generous besides. He's a steamer sailor, of course, and has been most of
these years, and how he'll do the white wings business again, Lord only
knows. Forget he hasn't got engines till it's too late, and then drown
himself probably. However, that's his palaver. Where we're going to
scratch him up a crew from's the thing that bothers me. Well, we'll
see." He leaned down over the bridge rail, and called.
Kettle looked up.
"Here a minute, Captain."
Poor Kettle's eye lit, and he came up the ladders with a boy's
Image nodded toward the deserted vessel. "Fine full-rigger, hasn't she
been? What do you make her out for?"
"'Frisco grain ship. Stuff in bulk. And it's shifted."
"Looks that way. Have you forgotten all your 'mainsail haul' and the
"I'm hard enough pushed now to remember even the theory-sums they taught
at navigation school if I thought they would serve me."
"I know. And I'm as sorry for you, Captain, as I can hold. But you see,
it's this: I'm short of sailormen; I've barely enough to steer and keep
the decks clean; anyway I've none to spare."
"I don't ask for fancy goods," said Kettle eagerly. "Give me anything
with hands on it--apes, niggers, stokers, what you like, and I'll soon
teach them their dancing steps."
Captain Image pulled at his moustache. "The trouble of it is, we are
short everywhere. It's been a sickly voyage, this. I couldn't let you
have more than two out of the stokehold, and even if we take those, the
old Chief will be fit to eat me. You could do nothing with that big
vessel with only two beside yourself."
"Let me go round and see. I believe I can rake up enough hands somehow."
"Well, you must be quick about it," said Image. "I've wasted more than
enough time already. I can only give you five minutes, Captain. Oh, by
the way, there's a nigger stowaway from Sarry Leone you can take if you
like. He's a stonemason or some such foolishness, and I don't mind
having him drowned. If you hammer him enough, probably he'll learn how
to put some weight on a brace."
"That stonemason's just the man I can use," said Kettle. "Get him for
me. I'll never forget your kindness over this, Captain, and you may
depend upon me to do the square thing by you if I get her home."
Captain Kettle ran off down the bridge and was quickly out of sight, and
hard at his quest for volunteers. Captain Image waited a minute, and he
turned to his third mate. "Now, me lad," he said, "I know you're
disappointed; but with the other mates sick like they are, it's just
impossible for me to let you go. If I did, the Company would sack me,
and the dirty Board of Trade would probably take away my ticket. So you
may as well do the kind, and help poor old Cappie Kettle. You see what
he's come down to, through no fault of his own. You're young, and you're
full to the coamings with confidence. I'm older, and I know that luck
may very well get up and hit me, and I'll be wanting a helping hand
myself. It's a rotten, undependable trade, this sailoring. You might
just call the carpenter, and get the cover off that smaller lifeboat."
"You think he'll get a crew, then, sir, and not our deckhands?"
"Him? He'll get some things with legs and arms to them, if he has to
whittle 'em out of kindling-wood. It's not that that'll stop Cappie
Kettle now, me lad."
The third mate went off, sent for the carpenter, and started to get a
lifeboat cleared and ready for launching. Captain Image fell to
anxiously pacing the upper bridge, and presently Kettle came back
"Well, Captain," he said, "I got a fine crew to volunteer, if you can
see your way to let me have them. There's a fireman and a trimmer, both
English; there's a third-class passenger--a Dago of some sort, I think
he is, that was a ganger on the Congo railway--and there's Mr.
Dayton-Philipps; and if you send me along your nigger stonemason,
that'll make a good, strong ship's company."
"Dayton-Philipps!" said Image. "Why, he's an officer in the English
Army, and he's been in command of Haussa troops on the Gold Coast, and
he's been some sort of a Resident, or political thing up in one of those
nigger towns at the back there. What's he want to go for?"
"Said he'd come for the fun of the thing."
Captain Image gave a grim laugh. "Well, I think he'll find all the fun
he's any use for before he's ashore again. Extraordinary thing some
people can't see they're well off when they've got a job ashore. Now,
Mr. Strake, hurry with that boat and get her lowered away. You're to
take charge and bring her back; and mind, you're not to leave the
captain here and his gang aboard if the vessel's too badly wrecked to
He turned to Kettle. "Excuse my giving that last order, old man, but I
know how keen you are, and I'm not going to let you go off to try and
navigate a sieve. You're far too good a man to be drowned uselessly."
The word was "Hurry," now that the final decision had been given, and
the davit tackles squeaked out as the lifeboat jerked down toward the
water. She rode there at the end of her painter, and the three rowers
and the third mate fended her off, while Kettle's crew of nondescripts
scrambled unhandily down to take their places. The negro stowaway
refused stubbornly to leave the steamer, and so was lowered
ignominiously in a bowline, and then, as he still objected loudly that
he came from Sa' Leone, and was a free British subject, some one crammed
a bucket over his head, amidst the uproarious laughter of the onlookers.
Captain Kettle swung himself down the swaying Jacob's ladder, and the
boat's painter was cast off; and under three oars she moved slowly off
over the hot sun-kissed swells. Advice and farewells boomed like a
thunderstorm from the steamer, and an animated frieze of faces and
figures and waving headgear decorated her rail.
Ahead of them, the quiet ship shouldered clumsily over the rollers, now
gushing down till she dipped her martingale, now swooping up again,
sending whole cataracts of water swirling along her waist.
The men in the boat regarded her with curious eyes as they drew nearer.
Even the three rowers turned their heads, and were called to order
therefor by the mate at the tiller. A red ensign was seized jack
downward in her main rigging, the highest note of the sailorman's agony
of distress. On its wooden case, in her starboard fore-rigging, a
dioptric lens sent out the faint green glow of a lamp's light into
The third mate drew attention to this last "Lot of oil in that lamp," he
said, "or it means they haven't deserted her very long. To my mind, it
must have been in yesterday's breeze her cargo shifted, and scared her
people into leaving her."
"We shall see," said Kettle, still staring intently ahead.
The boat was run up cannily alongside, and Kettle jumped into the main
chains and clambered on board over the bulwarks. "Now, pass up my crew,
Mr. Strake," said he.
"I'm coming myself next, if you don't mind," said the third mate, and
did so. "Must obey the old man's orders," he explained, as they stood
together on the sloping decks. "You heard yourself what he
"Well, Mr. Mate," said Kettle grimly, "I hope you'll decide she's
seaworthy, because, whatever view you take of it, as I've got this far,
here I'm going to stay."
The mate frowned. He was a young man; he was here in authority, and he
had a great notion of making his authority felt. Captain Kettle was to
him merely a down-on-his-luck free-passage nobody, and as the mate was
large and lusty he did not anticipate trouble. So he remarked rather
crabbedly that he was going to obey his orders, and went aft along the
It was clear that the vessel had been swept--badly swept. Ropes-ends
streamed here and there and overboard in every direction, and everything
movable had been carried away eternally by the sea. A goodly part of the
starboard bulwarks had vanished, and the swells gushed in and out as
they chose. But the hatch tarpaulins and companions were still in place;
and though it was clear from the list (which was so great that they
could not walk without holding on) that her cargo was badly shifted,
there was no evidence so far that she was otherwise than sound.
The third mate led the way on to the poop, opened the companion doors
and slide, and went below. Kettle followed. There was a cabin with state
rooms off it, littered, but dry. Strake went down on his knees beneath
the table, searching for something. "Lazaret hatch ought to be down
here," he explained. "I want to see in there. Ah, it is."
He got his fingers in the ring and pulled it back. Then he whistled.
"Half-full of water," he said. "I thought so from the way she floated.
It's up to the beams down here. Likely enough she'll have started a
plate somewhere. 'Fraid it's no go for you, Captain. Why, if a breeze
was to come on, half the side of her might drop out, and she'd go down
like a stone."
Now to Kettle's honor be it said (seeing what he had in his mind) he did
not tackle the man as he knelt there peering into the lazaret. Instead
he waited till he stood up again, and then made his statement coldly and
"This ship's not too dangerous for me, and I choose to judge. And if
she'll do for me, she's good enough for the crew I've got in your boat.
Now I want them on deck, and at work without any more palaver."
"Do you, by God!" said the mate, and then the pair of them closed
without any further preliminaries. They were both of them well used to
quick rough-and-tumbles, and they both of them knew that the man who
gets the first grip in these wrestles usually wins, and instinctively
each tried to act on that knowledge.
But if the third mate had bulk and strength, Kettle had science and
abundant wiriness; and though the pair of them lost their footing on the
sloping cabin floor at the first embrace, and wriggled over and under
like a pair of eels, Captain Kettle got a thumb artistically fixed in
the bigger man's windpipe, and held it there doggedly. The mate, growing
more and more purple, hit out with savage force, but Kettle dodged the
bull-like blows like the boxer he was, and the mate's efforts
But at this point they were interrupted. "That wobbly boat was making me
sea-sick," said a voice, "so I came on board here. Hullo, you fellows!"
Kettle looked up. "Mr. Philipps," he said, "I wish you'd go and get the
rest of our crew on deck out of the boat."
"But what are you two doing down there?"
"We disagreed over a question of judgment. He said this ship isn't safe,
and I shouldn't have the chance to take her home. I say there's nothing
wrong with her that can't be remedied, and home I'm going to take her,
anyway. It might be the one chance in my life, sir, of getting a balance
at the bank, and I'm not going to miss it."
"Ho!" said Dayton-Philipps.
"If you don't like to come, you needn't," said Kettle. "But I'm going to
have the stonemason and the Dago, and those two coal-heavers. Perhaps
you'd better go back. It will be wet, hard work here; no way the sort of
job to suit a soldier."
Dayton-Philipps flushed slightly, and then he laughed. "I suppose that's
intended to be nasty," he said. "Well, Captain, I shall have to prove to
you that we soldiers are equal to a bit of manual labor sometimes. By
the way, I don't want to interfere in a personal matter, but I'd take it
as a favor if you wouldn't kill Strake quite. I rather like him."
"Anything to oblige," said Kettle, and took his thumb out of the third
mate's windpipe. "And now, sir, as you've so to speak signed on for duty
here, away with you on deck and get those four other beauties up out of
Dayton-Philipps touched his hat and grinned. "Ay, ay, sir," he said, and
went back up the companion.
Shortly afterward he came to report the men on board, and Kettle
addressed his late opponent. "Now, look here, young man, I don't want to
have more trouble on deck before the hands. Have you had enough?"
"For the present, yes," said the third mate huskily. "But I hope we'll
meet again some other day to have a bit of further talk."
"I am sure I shall be quite ready. No man ever accused me of refusing a
scrap. But, me lad, just take one tip from me: don't you go and make
Captain Image anxious by saying this ship isn't seaworthy, or he'll
begin to ask questions, and he may get you to tell more than you're
"You can go and get drowned your own way. As far as I am concerned, no
one will guess it's coming off till they see it in the papers."
"Thanks," said Kettle. "I knew you'd be nice about it."
The third mate went down to his boat, and the three rowers took her
across to the _M'poso_, where she was hauled up to davits again. The
steamer's siren boomed out farewells, as she got under way again, and
Kettle with his own hands unbent the reversed ensign from the ship's
main rigging, and ran it up to the peak and dipped it three times
He breathed more freely now. One chance and a host of unknown dangers
lay ahead of him. But the dangers he disregarded. Dangers were nothing
new to him. It was the chance which lured him on. Chances so seldom came
in his way, that he intended to make this one into a certainty if the
efforts of desperation could do it.
Alone of all the six men on the derelict, Captain Kettle had knowledge
of the seaman's craft; but, for the present, thews and not seamanship
were required. The vessel lay in pathetic helplessness on her side,
liable to capsize in the first squall which came along, and their first
effort must be to get her in proper trim whilst the calm continued. They
knocked out the wedges with their heels, and got the tarpaulins off the
main hatch; they pulled away the hatch covers, and saw beneath them
smooth slopes of yellow grain.
As though they were an invitation to work, shovels were made fast along
the coamings of the hatch. The six men took these, and with shouts
dropped down upon the grain. And then began a period of Homeric toil.
The fireman and the coal-trimmer set the pace, and with a fine contempt
for the unhandiness of amateurs did not fail to give a display of their
utmost. Kettle and Dayton-Philipps gamely kept level with them. The
Italian ganger turned out to have his pride also, and did not lag, and
only the free-born British subject from Sierra Leone endeavored to shirk
his due proportion of the toil.
But high-minded theories as to the rights of man were regarded here as
little as threats to lay information before a justice of the peace; and
under the sledge-hammer arguments of shovel blows from whoever happened
to be next to him, the unfortunate colored gentleman descended to the
grade of nigger again (which he had repeatedly sworn never to do), and
toiled and sweated equally with his betters.
The heat under the decks was stifling, and dust rose from the wheat in
choking volumes, but the pace of the circling shovels was never allowed
to slacken. They worked there stripped to trousers, and they understood,
one and all, that they were working for their lives. A breeze had sprung
up almost as soon as the _M'poso_ had steamed away, and hourly it was
freshening: the barometer in the cabin was registering a steady fall;
the sky was banking up with heavy clouds.
Kettle had handled sheets and braces and hove the vessel to so as to
steady her as they worked, but she still labored heavily in the sea, and
beneath them they could hear the leaden swish of water in the floor of
the hold beneath. Their labor was having its effect, and by
infinitesimal gradations they were counteracting the list and getting
the ship upright; but the wind was worsening, and it seemed to them also
that the water was getting deeper under their feet, and that the vessel
rode more sluggishly.
So far the well had not been sounded. It is no use getting alarming
statistics to discourage one's self unnecessarily. But after night had
fallen, and it was impossible to see to work in the gloomy hold any
longer without lamps, Captain Kettle took the sounding-rod and found
He mentioned this when he took down the lanterns into the hold, but he
did not think it necessary to add that as the sounding had been taken
with the well on the slant it was therefore considerably under the
truth. Still he sent Dayton-Philipps and the trimmer on deck to take a
spell at the pumps, and himself resumed his shovel-work alongside
Straight away on through the night the six men stuck to their savage
toil, the blood from their blistered hands reddening the shafts of the
shovels. Every now and again one or another of them, choked with the
dust, went to get a draft of lukewarm water from the scuttlebutt. But no
one stayed over long on these excursions. The breeze had blown up into a
gale. The night overhead-was starless and moonless, but every minute the
black heaven was split by spurts of lightning, which showed the
laboring, dishevelled ship set among great mountains of breaking seas.
The sight would have been bad from a well-manned, powerful steamboat;
from the deck of the derelict it approached the terrific. With the seas
constantly crashing on board of her, to have left the hatches open would
have been, in her semi-waterlogged condition, to court swamping, and
after midnight these were battened down, and the men with the shovels
worked among the frightened, squeaking rats in the closed-in box of the
hold. There were four on board the ship during that terrible night who
openly owned to being cowed, and freely bewailed their insanity in ever
being lured away from the _M'poso_. Dayton-Philipps had sufficient
self-control to keep his feelings, whatever they were, unstated; but
Kettle faced all difficulties with indomitable courage and a
"I believe," said Dayton-Philipps to him once when they were taking a
spell together at the clanking pumps, "you really glory in finding
yourself in this beastly mess."
"I have got to earn out the salvage of this ship somehow," Kettle
shouted back to him through the windy darkness, "and I don't much care
what work comes between now and when I handle the check."
"You've got a fine confidence. I'm not grumbling, mind, but it seems
very unlikely we shall be still afloat to-morrow morning."
"We shall pull through, I tell you."
"Well," said Dayton-Philipps, "I suppose you are a man that's always met
with success. I'm not. I've got blundering bad luck all along, and if
there's a hole available, I get into it."
Captain Kettle laughed aloud into the storm. "Me!" he cried. "Me in
luck! There's not been a man more bashed and kicked by luck between here
and twenty years back. I suppose God thought it good for me, and He's
kept me down to my bearings in bad luck ever since I first got my
captain's ticket. But He's not cruel, Mr. Philipps, and He doesn't push
a man beyond the end of his patience. My time's come at last. He's given
me something to make up for all the weary waiting. He's sent me this
derelict, and He only expects me to do my human best, and then He'll let
me get her safely home."
"Good Heavens, Skipper, what are you talking about? Have you seen
visions or something?"
"I'm a man, Mr. Philipps, that's always said my prayers regular all
through life. I've asked for things, big things, many of them, and I'll
not deny they've been mostly denied me. I seemed to know they'd be
denied. But in the last week or so there's been a change. I've asked on,
just as earnestly as I knew how, and I seemed to hear Him answer. It was
hardly a voice, and yet it was like a voice; it appeared to come out of
millions of miles of distance; and I heard it say: 'Captain, I do not
forget the sparrows, and I have not forgotten you. I have tried you long
enough. Presently you shall meet with your reward.'"
Dayton-Philipps stared. Was the man going mad?
"And that's what it is, sir, that makes me sure I shall bring this
vessel into some port safely and pocket the salvage."
"Look here, Skipper," said Dayton-Philipps, "you are just fagged to
death, and I'm the same. We've been working till our hands are raw as
butcher's meat, and we're clean tired out, and we must go below and get
a bit of sleep. If the ship swims, so much the better; if she sinks, we
can't help it; anyway, we're both of us too beat to work any more. I
shall be 'seeing things' myself next."
"Mr. Philipps," said the little sailor gravely, "I know you don't mean
anything wrong, so I take no offence. But I'm a man convinced; I've
heard the message I told you with my own understanding; and it isn't
likely anything you can say will persuade me out of it. I can see you
are tired out, as you say, so go you below and get a spell of sleep. But
as for me, I've got another twenty hours' wakefulness in me yet, if
needs be. This chance has mercifully been sent in my way, as I've said,
but naturally it's expected of me that I do my human utmost as well to
see it through."
"If you stay on at this heart-breaking work, so do I," said
Dayton-Philipps, and toiled gamely on at the pump. There he was still
when day broke, sawing up and down like an automaton. But before the sun
rose, utter weariness had done its work. His bleeding fingers loosed
themselves from the break, his knees failed beneath him, and he fell in
an unconscious stupor of sleep on to the wet planking of the deck. For
half an hour more Kettle struggled on at the pump, doing double work;
but even his flesh and blood had its breaking strain; and at last he
could work no more.
He leaned dizzily up against the pump for a minute or so, and then with
an effort he pulled his still unconscious companion away and laid him on
the dry floor of a deck-house. There was a pannikin of cold stewed tea
slung from a hook in there, and half a sea biscuit on one of the bunks.
He ate and drank greedily, and then went out again along the streaming
decks to work, so far as his single pair of hands could accomplish such
a thing, at getting the huge derelict once more in sailing trim.
The shovels meanwhile had been doing their work, and although the list
was not entirely gone, the vessel at times (when a sea buttressed her
up) floated almost upright. The gale was still blowing, but it had
veered to the southward, and on the afternoon of that day Kettle called
all hands on deck and got her under way again, and found to his joy that
the coal-trimmer had some elementary notion of taking a wheel.
"I rate you as Mate," he said in his gratitude, "and you'll draw salvage
pay according to your rank. I was going to make Mr. Philipps my
"Don't apologize," said Dayton-Philipps. "I don't know the name of one
string from another, and I'm quite conscious of my deficiency. But just
watch me put in another spell at those infernal pumps."
The list was of less account now, and the vessel was once more under
command of her canvas. It was the leak which gave them most cause for
anxiety. Likely enough it was caused by the mere wrenching away of a
couple of rivets. But the steady inpour of water through the holes would
soon have made the ship grow unmanageable and founder if it was not
constantly attended to. Where the leak was they had not a notion.
Probably it was deep down under the cargo of grain, and quite
unget-at-able; but anyway it demanded a constant service at the pumps to
keep it in check, and this the bone-weary crew were but feebly competent
to give. They were running up into the latitude of the Bay, too, and
might reasonably expect that "Biscay weather" would not take much from
the violence of the existing gale.
However, the dreaded Bay, fickle as usual, saw fit to receive them at
first with a smiling face. The gale eased to a plain smiling wind; the
sullen black clouds dissolved away into fleckless blue, and a sun came
out which peeled their arms and faces as they worked. During the
afternoon they rose the brown sails of a Portuguese fishing schooner,
and Kettle headed toward her.
Let his crew be as willing as they would, there was no doubt that this
murderous work at the pumps could not be kept up for a voyage to
England. If he could not get further reinforcements, he would have to
take the ship into the nearest foreign port to barely save her from
sinking. And then where would be his sighed-for salvage? Wofully
thinned, he thought, or more probably whisked away altogether. Captain
Kettle had a vast distrust for the shore foreigner over questions of law
proceedings and money matters. So he made for the schooner, hove his own
vessel to, and signalled that he wished to speak.
A boat was slopped into the water from the schooner's deck, and ten
swarthy, ragged Portuguese fishermen crammed into her. A couple pushed
at the oars, and they made their way perilously over the deep hill and
dale of ocean with that easy familiarity which none but deep-sea
fishermen can attain. They worked up alongside, caught a rope which was
thrown them, and nimbly climbed over on to the decks.
Two or three of them had a working knowledge of English; their captain
spoke it with fluent inaccuracy; and before any of them had gone aft to
Kettle, who stood at the wheel, they heard the whole story of the ship
being found derelict, and (very naturally) were anxious enough by some
means or another to finger a share of the salvage. Even a ragged
Portuguese _baccalhao_ maker can have his ambitions for prosperity like
Their leader made his proposal at once. "All right-a, Captain, I see how
you want. We take charge now, and take-a you into Ferrol without you
being at more trouble."
"Nothing of the kind," said Kettle. "I'm just wanting the loan of two or
three hands to give my fellows a spell or two at that pump. We're a bit
short-handed, that's all. But otherwise we're quite comfortable. I'll
pay A.B.'s wages on Liverpool scale, and that's a lot more than you
Dagos give amongst yourselves, and if the men work well I'll throw in a
dash besides for 'bacca money.'"
[Illustration: HE PICKED UP THE MAN AND SENT HIM AFTER THE KNIFE.]
"Ta-ta-ta," said the Portuguese, with a wave of his yellow fist. "It
cannot be done, and I will not lend you men. It shall do as I say; we
take-a you into Ferroll. Do not fear-a, captain; you shall have money
for finding sheep; you shall have some of our salvage."
Dayton-Philipps, who was standing near, and knew the little sailor's
views, looked for an outbreak. But Kettle held himself in, and still
spoke to the man civilly.
"That's good English you talk," he said. "Do all your crowd understand
"No," said the fellow, readily enough, "that man does not, nor does him,
"Right--oh!" said Kettle. "Then, as those three man can't kick up a
bobbery at the other end, they've just got to stay here and help work
this vessel home. And as for the rest of you filthy, stinking,
scale-covered cousins of apes, over the side you go before you're put.
Thought you were going to steal my lawful salvage, did you, you
The hot-tempered Portuguese was not a man to stand this tirade (as
Kettle anticipated) unmoved. His fingers made a vengeful snatch toward
the knife in his belt, but Kettle was ready for this, and caught it
first and flung it overboard. Then with a clever heave he picked up the
man and sent him after the knife.
He tripped up one of the Portuguese who couldn't speak English, dragged
him to the cabin companion, and toppled him down the ladder.
Dayton-Philipps (surprised at himself for abetting such lawlessness)
captured a second in like fashion, and the English fireman and
coal-trimmer picked up the third and dropped him down an open hatchway
on to the grain in the hold beneath.
But there were six of the fishermen left upon the deck, and these did
not look upon the proceedings unmoved. They had been slow to act at
first, but when the initial surprise was over, they were blazing with
rage and eager to do murder. The Italian and the Sierra Leone nigger ran
out of their way on to the forecastle head, and they came on,
vainglorious in numbers, and armed with their deadly knives. But the two
English roughs, the English gentleman, and the little English sailor,
were all of them men well accustomed to take care of their own skins;
the belaying pins out of the pinrail seemed to come by instinct into
their hands, and not one of them got so much as a scratch.
It was all the affair of a minute. It does not do to let these little
impromptu scrimmages simmer over long. In fact, the whole affair was
decided in the first rush. The quartette of English went in, despising
the "Dagos," and quite intending to clear them off the ship. The
invaders were driven overboard by sheer weight of blows and prestige,
and the victors leaned on the bulwark puffing and gasping, and watched
them swim away to their boat through the clear water below.
"Ruddy Dagos," said the roughs.
"Set of blooming pirates," said Kettle.
But Dayton-Philipps seemed to view the situation from a different point.
"I'm rather thinking we are the pirates. How about those three we've got
on board? This sort of press-gang work isn't quite approved of nowadays,
is it, Skipper?"
"They no speakee English," said Kettle drily. "You might have heard me
ask that, sir, before I started to talk to that skipper to make him
begin the show. And he did begin it, and that's the great point. If ever
you've been in a police court, you'll always find the magistrate ask,
'Who began this trouble?' And when he finds out, that's the man he logs.
No, those fishermen won't kick up a bobbery when they get back to happy
Portugal again; and as for our own crowd here on board, they ain't
likely to talk when they get ashore, and have money due to them."
"Well, I suppose there's reason in that, though I should have my doubts
about the stonemason. He comes from Sierra Leone, remember, and they're
great on the rights of man there."
"Quite so," said Kettle. "I'll see the stonemason gets packed off to sea
again in a stokehold before he has a chance of stirring up the mud
ashore. When the black man gets too pampered, he has to be brought low
again with a rush, just to make him understand his place."
"I see," said Dayton-Phillips, and then he laughed.
"There's something that tickles you, sir?"
"I was thinking, Skipper, that for a man who believes he's being put in
the way of a soft thing by direct guidance from on high, you're using up
a tremendous lot of energy to make sure the Almighty's wishes don't
miscarry. But still I don't understand much about these matters myself.
And at present it occurs to me that I ought to be doing a spell at those
infernal pumps, instead of chattering here."
The three captive Portuguese were brought up on deck and were quickly
induced by the ordinary persuasive methods of the merchant service
officer to forego their sulkiness and turn-to diligently at what work
was required of them. But even with this help the heavy ship was still
considerably undermanned, and the incessant labor at the pumps fell
wearily on all hands. The Bay, true to its fickle nature, changed on
them again. The sunshine was swamped by a driving gray mist of rain; the
glass started on a steady fall; and before dark, Kettle snugged her down
to single topsails, himself laying out on the foot-ropes with the
Portuguese, as no others of his crew could manage to scramble aloft with
so heavy a sea running.
The night worsened as it went on; the wind piled up steadily in
violence; and the sea rose till the sodden vessel rode it with a very
babel of shrieks, and groans, and complaining sounds. Toward morning, a
terrific squall powdered up against them and hove her down, and a dull
rumbling was heard in her bowels to let them know that once more her
cargo had shifted.
For the moment, even Kettle thought that this time she was gone for
good. She lost her way, and lay down like a log in the water, and the
racing seas roared over her as though she had been a half-tide rock. By
a miracle no one was washed overboard. But her people hung here and
there to eyebolts and ropes, mere nerveless wisps of humanity, incapable
under those teeming cataracts of waves to lift so much as a finger to
Then to the impact of a heavier gasp of the squall, the topgallant masts
went, and the small loss of of top-weight seemed momentarily to ease
her. Kettle seized upon the moment. He left the trimmer and one of the
Portuguese at the wheel, and handed himself along the streaming decks
and kicked and cuffed the rest of his crew into activity. He gave his
orders, and the ship wore slowly round before the wind, and began to pay
away on the other tack.
Great hills of sea deluged her in the process, and her people worked
like mermen, half of their time submerged. But by degrees, as the vast
rollers hit and shook her with their ponderous impact, she came upright
again, and after a little while shook the grain level in her holds, and
assumed her normal, angle of heel.
Dayton-Philipps struggled up and, hit Kettle on the shoulder. "How's
that, umpire?" he bawled. "My faith, you are a clever, sailor."
Captain Kettle touched his hat. "God bore a hand there, sir," he shouted
through the wind. "If I'd tried to straighten her up like that without
outside help, every man here would have been fish-chop this minute."
Even Dayton-Philipps, sceptical though he might be, began to think there
was "something in it" as the voyage went on. To begin with, the leak
stopped. They did not know how it had happened, and they did not very
much care. Kettle had his theories. Anyway it stopped. To go on with,
although they were buffeted with every kind of evil weather, all their
mischances were speedily rectified. In a heavy sea, all their unstable
cargo surged about as though it had been liquid, but it always shifted
back again before she quite capsized. The mizzen-mast went bodily
overboard in one black rain-squall because they were too short-handed to
get sail off it in time, but they found that the vessel sailed almost as
well as a brig, and was much easier for a weak crew to manage.
All hands got covered with salt-water boils. All hands, with the
exception of Kettle--who remained, as usual, neat--grew gaunt, bearded,
dirty, and unkempt. They were grimed with sea-salt, they were flayed
with violent suns; but by dint of hard schooling they were becoming
handy sailormen, all of them, and even the negro stonemason learned to
obey an order without first thinking over its justice till he earned a
In the throat of the English Channel a blundering steamship did her best
to run them down, and actually rasped sides with the sailing-vessel as
she tore past into the night; but nobody made an attempt to jump for
safety on to her decks, nobody even took the trouble to swear at her
with any thing like heartfelt profanity.
"It's a blooming Flying Dutchman we're on," said the coal-trimmer who
acted as mate. "There's no killing the old beast. Only hope she gets us
ashore somehow, and doesn't stay fooling about at sea forever just to
get into risks. I want to get off her. She's too blooming lucky to be
quite wholesome somehow."
Kettle had intended to make a Channel port, but a gale hustled him north
round Land's End, "and you see," he said to Dayton-Philipps, "what I get
for not being sufficiently trustful. The old girl's papers are made out
to Cardiff, and here we are pushed round into the Bristol Channel. By
James! look, there's a tug making up to us. Thing like that makes you
feel homey, doesn't it, sir?"
The little spattering tug wheeled up within hail, tossing like a cork on
the brown waves of the estuary, and the skipper in the green pulpit
between the paddle-boxes waved a hand cheerily.
"Seem to have found some dirty weather, Captain," he bawled. "Want a
pull into Cardiff or Newport?"
"Cardiff. What price?"
"I wasn't asking to buy the tug. You're putting a pretty fancy figure on
her for that new lick of paint you've got on your rails."
"I'll take L80."
"Oh, I can sail her in myself if you're going to be funny. She's as
handy as a pilot-boat, brig rigged like this, and my crew know her fine.
I'll give you L20 into Cardiff, and you're to dock me for that."
"Twenty wicked people. Now look here, Captain, you don't look very
prosperous with that vessel of yours, and will probably have the sack
from owners for mishandling her when you get ashore, and I don't want to
embitter your remaining years in the workus, so I'll pull you in for
"L20, old bottle nose."
"Come now, Captain, thirty. I'm not here for sport. I've got to make my
"My man," said Kettle, "I'll meet you and make it L25, and I'll see you
in Aden before I give a penny more. You can take that, or sheer off."
"Throw us your blooming rope," said the tug skipper.
"There, sir," said Kettle _sotto voce_ to Dayton-Philipps, "you see the
marvellousness of it? God has stood by me to the very end. I've saved at
least L10 over that towage, and, by James! I've seen times when a ship
mauled about like this would have been bled for four times the amount
before a tug would pluck her in."
"Then we are out of the wood now?"
"We'll get the canvas off her, and then you can go below and shave. You
can sleep in a shore bed this night, if you choose, sir, and to-morrow
we'll see about fingering the salvage. There'll be no trouble there now;
we shall just have to ask for a check and Lloyds will pay it, and then
you and the hands will take your share, and I--by James! Mr. Philipps, I
shall be a rich man over this business. I shouldn't be a bit surprised
but what I finger a snug L500 as my share. Oh, sir, Heaven's been very
good to me over this, and I know it, and I'm grateful. My wife will be
grateful too. I wish you could come to our chapel some day and see her."
"You deserve your luck, Captain, if ever a man did in this world, and,
by Jove! we'll celebrate it. We've been living on pig's food for long
enough. We'll find the best hotel in Cardiff, and we'll get the best
dinner the _chef_ there can produce. I want you to be my guest at that."
"I must ask you to excuse me," said Kettle. "I've received a good deal
just lately, and I'm thankful, and I want to say so. If you don't mind,
I'd rather say it alone."
"I understand, Skipper. You're a heap better man than I am, and if you
don't mind, I'd like to shake hands with you. Thanks. We may not meet
again, but I shall never forget you and what we've seen on this
murderous old wreck of a ship. Hullo, there's Cardiff not twenty minutes
ahead. Well, I must go below and clean up after you've docked her."
TO CAPTURE AN HEIRESS
The _Parakeet_ had discharged the last of her coal into the lighters
alongside, had cast off from the mooring buoys, and was steaming out of
the baking heat of Suez harbor on her way down toward the worse heat of
the Red Sea beyond. The clatter and dirt of the-working ships, with the
smells of hot iron and black humanity, were dying out astern, and
presently she slowed up to drop the pilot into his boat, and then stood
on again along her course.
A passenger, a young man of eight or nine-and-twenty, lounged on a
camp-stool under the upper bridge awning, and watched the _Parakeet's_
captain as he walked briskly across and across, and presently, when the
little sailor faced him, he nodded as though he had decided something
that was in his thoughts.
"Well, sir?" said Captain Kettle.
"I wish you wouldn't look so anxious. We've started now, and may as well
make up our minds to go through it comfortably."
"Quite so," said Kettle. "I'm thinking out how we are to do this
business in comfort--and safety," and with that he resumed his walk.
The man beside him had introduced himself when the black workers were
carrying the _Parakeet's_ cargo of coal in baskets from the holds to the
lighters alongside; and Kettle had been rather startled to find that he
carried a letter of introduction from the steamboat's owners. The letter
gave him no choice of procedure. It stated with clearness that Mr. Hugh
Wenlock, solicitor, had laid his wishes before them, and that they had
agreed to further these wishes (through the agency of their
servant--Captain Owen Kettle) in consideration of the payment of
The _Parakeet_ was a cargo tramp, and carried no passenger certificate,
but a letter of recommendation like this was equivalent to a direct
order, and Kettle signed Mr. Wenlock on to his crew list as "Doctor,"
and put to sea with an anxious mind.
Wenlock waited awhile, watching squalid Suez sink into the sea behind;
and then he spoke again.
"Look here, Captain," he said, "those South Arabian ports have got a lot
worse reputation than they really deserve. The people down there twenty
years ago were a pack of pirates, I'll grant you, but nowadays they know
that if they get at any of their old games, a British gunboat promptly
comes up next week and bombards them at two-mile range, and that's not
good enough. They may not be honest from inclination, but they've got
the fear of the gunboat always handy, and that's a wonderful civilizing
power. I tell you, captain, you needn't be frightened; that pirate
business is exploded for now and always."
"I know all about the piratical hankerings of those South Arabian
niggers, sir," said Kettle stiffly, "and I know what they can do and
what they can't do as well as any man living. And I know also what I can
do myself at a push, and the knowledge leaves me pretty comfortable. But
if you choose to think me frightened, I'll own I am. It's the
navigation down there that gave me cold shivers the first moment you
"Why, it's no worse than the Red Sea here, anyway."
"Red Sea's bad, but you can get good charts of it and rely on them.
South Arabian coast is no better, and the charts aren't worth the paper
they're printed on. There are bad tide-rips down there, sir, and there
are bad reefs, and there's bad fog, and the truth of it is, there's no
handier place to lose a ship in all the big, wide world."
"I wouldn't like you to wreck the steamer down there. It might be
awkward for me getting back."
"Quite so," said Kettle, "you're thinking of yourself, and I don't blame
you. I'm thinking of myself also. I'm a man that's met a great deal of
misfortune, sir, and from one thing and another I've been eight years
without a regular command. I had the luck to bring in a derelict the
other day, and pocket a good salvage out of her, and my present owners
heard of it, and they put me as master of this steamer, just because of
"Nothing like luck."
"If you don't lose it. But I am not anxious to pile up this steamboat on
some uncharted reef just because luck has left me, and have to wait
another eight years before I find another command."
"And, as I say, I'm as keen as you are not to get the steamer wrecked,
and if there's any way she can be kept out of a dangerous area, and you
can manage to set me ashore where I want in a boat, just you say, and
I'll meet you all I can. But at the same time, Skipper, if you don't
mind doing a swap, you might give me a good deal of help over my matter
"I haven't heard your business yet, sir. All you've told me is that you
want to be set down in this place, Dunkhot, and be taken off again after
you've stayed there four-and-twenty hours."
"Well, you see I didn't want it talked over beforehand. If the
newspapers got hold of the yarn, and made a lot of fuss about it, they
might upset a certain marriage that I've very much set my heart upon."
Captain Kettle looked puzzled. "I don't seem to quite follow you, sir."
"You shall hear the tale from the beginning. We have plenty of time
ahead of us just now. You remember the wreck of the _Rangoon_?"
"She was coming home from East Indian ports, wasn't she, and got on fire
somewhere off Cape Guardafui? But that'll have been twenty years back,
in the old overland days, before the Ditch was opened. Only about ten of
her people saved, if I remember."
"That's about right," said Wenlock, "though it's twenty years ago now.
She was full of Anglo-Indians, and their loss made a great sensation at
the time. Amongst others was a Colonel Anderson, and his wife, and their
child Teresa, aged nine; and what made their deaths all the more sad was
the fact that Anderson's elder brother died just a week before, and he
would have come home to find a peerage and large estates waiting
"I can feel for that man," said Kettle.
"I can feel most for the daughter," said Wenlock.
"How do you mean, sir?"
"Well, Colonel Anderson's dead, and his wife's dead, but the daughter
isn't, or at any rate she was very much alive twelve months ago, that's
all. The whole lot of them, with others, got into one of the _Rangoon's_
boats, and after frizzling about at sea till they were nearly starved,
got chucked on that South Arabian coast (which you say is so rocky and
dangerous), and were drowned in the process. All barring Teresa, that
is. She was pulled out of the water by the local niggers, and was
brought up by them, and I've absolutely certain information that not a
year ago she was living in Dunkhot as quite a big personage in her way."
"And she's 'My Lady' now, if she only knew?"
"Well, not that. The title doesn't descend in the female line, but
Colonel Anderson made a will in her favor after she was born, and the
present earl, who's got the estates, would have to shell out if she
turned up again."
"My owners, in their letter, mentioned that you were a solicitor. Then
you are employed by his lordship, sir?"
Mr. Wenlock laughed. "Not much," he said. "I'm on my own hook. Why, hang
it all, Captain, you must see that no man of his own free will would be
idiot enough to resurrect a long-forgotten niece just to make himself
into a beggar."
"I don't see why not, sir, if he got to know she was alive. Some men
have consciences, and even a lord, I suppose, is a man."
"The present earl has far too good a time of it to worry about running a
conscience. No, I bet he fights like a thief for the plunder, however
clear a case we have to show him. And as he's the man in possession and
has plenty of ready cash for law expenses, the odds are he'll turn out
too big to worry at through all the courts, and we shall compromise.
I'd like that best myself. Cash down has a desirable feel about it."
"It has, sir," said Kettle with a reminiscent sigh. "Even to pocket a
tenth of what is rightfully yours is better than getting mixed up with
that beastly law. But will the other relatives of the young lady, those
that are employing you, I mean, agree to that?"
"Don't I tell you, Captain, I'm on my own hook? There are no other
relatives--or at least none that would take a ha'porth of interest in
Teresa's getting the estates. I've gone into the thing on sheer spec,
and for what I can make out of it, and that, if all's well, will be the
"But how? The young lady may give you something in her gratitude, of
course, but you can't expect it all."
"I do, though, and I tell you how I'm going to get it. I shall marry the
fair Teresa. Simple as tumbling off a house."
Kettle drew himself up stiffly and walked to the other end of the
bridge, and began ostentatiously to look with a professional eye over
Wenlock was quick to see the change. "Come, what is it now, Captain?" he
asked with some surprise.
"I don't like the idea of those sort of marriages," said the little
Wenlock shrugged his shoulders good-humoredly.
"Neither do I, and if I were a rich man, I wouldn't have dreamed of it.
Just think of what the girl probably is: she's been with those niggers
since she was quite a kid; she'll be quite uneducated; I'm in hopes
she's good-looking and has a decent figure; but at the best she'll be
quite unpresentable till I've had her in hand for at least a couple of
years, if then. Of course you'll say there's 'romance' about the thing.
But then I don't care tuppence about romance, and anyway it's beastly
unconfortable to live with."
"I was not looking at that point of view."
"Let me tell you how I was fixed," said Wenlock with a burst of
confidence. "I'd a small capital. So I qualified as a solicitor, and put
up a door-plate, and waited for a practice. It didn't come. Not a client
drifted near me from month's end to month's end. And meanwhile the
capital was dribbling away. I felt I was getting on my back legs; it was
either a case of the Colonies or the workhouse, and I'd no taste for
either; and when the news of this girl Teresa came, I tell you I just
jumped at the chance. I don't want to marry her, of course; there are
ten other girls I'd rather have as wife; but there was no other way out
of the difficulty, so I just swallowed my squeamishness for good and
"It was Miss Teresa Anderson I was pitying," said Kettle pointedly.
"Good Lord, man, why? Isn't it the finest thing in the world for her?"
"It might be fine to get away from where she is, and land home to find a
nice property waiting. But I don't care to see a woman have a husband
forced on her. It would be nobler of you, Mr. Wenlock, to let the young
lady get to England, and look round her for a while, and make her
"I'm too hard up to be noble," said Wenlock drily. "I've not come here
on philanthropy, and marrying that girl is part of my business.
Besides, hang it all, man, think of what she is, and think of what I
am." He looked himself up and down with a half humorous smile--"I know
nice people at home who would be civil to her, and after all, hang it,
I'm not unmarriageable personally."
"Still," said Kettle doggedly, "I don't like the idea of it."
"Then let me give you an inducement. I said I was not down here on
philanthropy, and I don't suppose you are either. You'll have my
"Two and a-half per cent of it is my commission. The rest goes to the
owners, of course."
"Very well, then. In addition to that, if you'll help this marriage on
in the way I ask, I'll give you L50."
"There's no man living who could do more usefully with L50 if I saw my
way of fingering it."
"I think I see what you mean. No, you won't have to wait for it. I've
got the money here in hard cash in my pocket ready for you to take over
the minute it's earned."
"I was wondering, sir, if I could earn it honorably. You must give me
time to think this out. I'll try and give you an answer after tea. And
for the present I shall have to leave you. I've got to go through the
ship's papers: I have to be my own clerk on board here just now, though
the Company did certainly promise me a much better ship if I beat up
plenty of cargo, and made a good voyage of it with this."
The _Parakeet_ worked her way along down the Red Sea at her steady nine
knots, and Mr. Hugh Wenlock put a couple of bunk pillows on a canvas
boat-cover under the bridge deck awnings, and lay there and amused
himself with cigarettes and a magazine. Captain Owen Kettle sat before a
table in the chart-house with his head on one side, and a pen in his
fingers, and went through accounts. But though Wenlock, when he had
finished his magazine, quickly went off to sleep, Captain Kettle's
struggles with arithmetic were violent enough to keep him very
thoroughly awake, and when a due proportion of the figures had been
checked, he put the papers in a drawer, and was quite ready to tackle
the next subject.
He had not seen necessary to mention the fact to Mr. Wenlock, but while
that young man was talking of the Miss Teresa Anderson, who at present
was "quite a big personage in her way" at Dunkhot, a memory had come to
him that he had heard of the lady before in somewhat less prosaic terms.
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