T. Jenkins Hains
Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed
Mate of the Ship "Pirate"
By T. Jenkins Hains
Author of "The Wind-jammers," "The Wreck of the Conemaugh," etc.
To _All Hands under the lee of the weather cloth this is inscribed_
By some means, needless to record here, I found myself, not so many years
ago, "on the beach" at Melbourne, in Australia.
To be on the beach is not an uncommon occurrence for a sailor in any part
of the world; but, since the question is suggested, I will say that I was
not a very dissipated young fellow of twenty-five, for up to that time I
had never even tasted rum in any form, although I had followed the sea
for seven years.
I had held a mate's berth, and as I did not care to ship before the mast
on the first vessel bound out, I had remained ashore until a threatening
landlord made it necessary for me to become less particular as to
It was a time when mates were plenty and men were few, so I made the
rounds of the shipping houses with little hope of getting a chance to
show my papers. These, together with an old quadrant, a nautical almanac,
a thick pea coat, and a pipe, were all I possessed of this world's goods,
and I carried the quadrant with me in case I should not succeed in
signing on. I could "spout it," if need be, at some broker's, and thus
raise a few dollars.
As I made my way along the water front, I noticed a fine clipper ship of
nearly two thousand tons lying at a wharf. She was in the hands of a few
riggers, who were sending aloft her canvas, which, being of a snowy
whiteness, proclaimed her nationality even before I could see her hull.
On reaching the wharf where she lay, I stopped and noticed that she was
loaded deep, for her long black sides were under to within four feet of
her main deck in the waist.
Her high bulwarks shut off my view of her deck; but, from the sounds that
came down from there, I could tell that she was getting in the last of
I walked to her stern and read her name in gilt letters: "Pirate, of
Philadelphia." Then I remembered her. She was a Yankee ship of evil
reputation, and although I wanted to get back to my home in New York, I
turned away thankful that I was not homeward bound in that craft. She had
come into port a month before and had reported three men missing from her
papers. There were no witnesses; but the sight of the rest of the crew
told the story of the disappearance of their shipmates, and the skipper
had been clapped into jail. I had heard of the ruffian's sinister record
before, and inwardly hoped he would get his deserts for his brutality,
although I knew there was little chance for it. He belonged to the class
of captains that was giving American packets the hard name they were
getting, so I heartily wished him evil.
As I turned, looking up at the beautiful fabric with her long, tapering,
t'gallant masts, topped with skysail yards fore and aft, and her
tremendous lower yards nearly ninety feet across, I thought what a
splendid ship she was. It made me angry to think of what a place she must
be for the poor devils who would unwittingly ship aboard her. Only a
sailor knows how much of suffering in blows and curses it cost to
accomplish all that clean paint and scraped spar.
"Kind o' good hooker, hey?" said a voice close aboard me, and looking
quickly aft I saw a man leaning over the taffrail. He was a
strange-looking fellow, with a great hairy face and bushy head set upon
the broadest of shoulders. As for his legs, he appeared not to have any
at all, for the rail was but three feet high and his shoulders just
reached above it; his enormously long arms were spread along the rail,
elbows outward, and his huge hands folded over the bowl of a pipe which
he sucked complacently.
"Not so bad to look at," I answered, meaningly.
"She _is_ a brute in a seaway, but she keeps dry at both ends," assented
the fellow, utterly ignoring my meaning. "It's always so with every
hooker if she's deep. Some takes it forrad and aft, and some takes it
amidships. It's all one s'long as she keeps a dry bilge. Come aboard."
I hesitated, and then climbed up the mizzen channels, which were level
with the wharf.
"Short handed?" I suggested, reaching the deck.
"Naw, there's nobody but me an' the doctor in the after guard; we'll get
a crew aboard early in the morning, though; skipper, too, if what they
say is kerrect."
"Where's the captain?" I asked.
He looked queerly at me for a moment; then he spread his short legs
wide apart, and thrust his great hands into his trousers pockets
"Ain't ye never heard? Limbo, man, and a bad job, too." Here he made a
motion with his hand around his neck which I understood.
I hesitated about staying any longer, and he spoke up.
"Got a hog-yoke, I see," he said, "Be ye a mate?"
I told him I had been.
"Well, sink me, my boy, that's just what I am aboard here, and they'll be
looking for another to match me. I saw what ye were when I first raised
ye coming along the dock, and sez I, ye're just my size, my bully."
As he could have walked under my arm when extended horizontally, I
saw he had no poor opinion of himself. However, his words conveyed a
ray of hope.
"Is the mate with the skipper?" I asked.
"The second mate is, yep; but he won't raise bail. The old man might
though, _quien sabe_? The agents will hail us to-night and settle
matters, for we're on the load line and nigh steved. We can't wait."
I reflected a moment. Here was a possible chance for a mate's berth, and
perhaps the skipper would not get bail, after all. In that case I thought
I could hardly manage better, for my fear of the little mate was not
overpowering. I was not exactly of a timid nature,--a man seldom rises to
be mate of a deep-water ship who is,--but I always dreaded a brutal
skipper on account of his absolute authority at sea, where there is no
redress. I had once been mixed up in an affair concerning the
disappearance of one, on a China trader--but no matter. The affair in
hand was tempting and I waited developments.
The little mate saw my course and laid his accordingly.
"S'pose you come around about knock-off time. The agents will be
along about then--Sauers and Co.; you know them; and I'll fix the
thing for you."
"All right," I said, and after a little conversation relating to the
merits of various ships, the _Pirate_ in particular, I left and made my
way back to my lodgings.
I notified my landlord of my proposed voyage, and he was as gracious as
could be expected, at the same time expressing some wonderment at the
suddenness of my good fortune.
The more I thought of the matter, the more I felt like trying elsewhere
for a berth; but the time flew so rapidly that I found myself on the way
to the ship before my misgivings took too strong hold of me.
As I turned down the principal thoroughfare, feeling in a more humorous
frame of mind at the many possibilities open to me, I heard a shout. The
sound came from a side street, and I looked to see what it meant.
Through the door of a saloon a man shot head-long as if fired from a
gun. He struck in the gutter and staggered to his feet, where he was
immediately surrounded by the crowd of men that had followed him. This
promised much in the way of diversion, and I stopped to see what hidden
force lurked behind the door of the saloon. As I did so, a short fellow
with a great bushy head emerged, struggling with half a dozen men who
bore down upon him and tried to surround and seize him. The little man's
face was red from exertion and liquor, but when I caught a glimpse of
his great squat nose and huge mouth I had no difficulty in recognizing
my acquaintance on the _Pirate_. He backed rapidly away from his
antagonists, swinging a pair of arms each of which seemed to be fully
half a fathom long while every instant he let out a yell that sounded
like the bellow of a mad bull. Suddenly he turned and made off down the
street at an astonishing pace for one with such short legs, still
letting out a yell at every jump.
The men who had set upon him hesitated an instant before they realized he
was getting away; then they started after him, shouting and swearing at a
great rate. He was up to me in an instant, and as he dashed by I narrowly
missed a clip from his hand, which he swung viciously at me as he passed.
I saw in a moment he couldn't escape at the rate he was moving, in spite
of his tremendous exertions, so I stepped aside to watch him as the crowd
rushed past in pursuit.
The little mate's legs were working like the flying pistons of a
locomotive, and his bush hair and beard were streaming aft in the breeze
as he neared the corner. Suddenly he stopped, turned about, and dashed
right into the foremost of the crowd, letting out a screech and swinging
his long arms.
"Git out th' way! Th' devil's broke loose an's comin' for ye," he
howled as he sent the foremost man to the pavement. "Don't stop me. I
ain't got no time to stop. Don't stop a little bumpkin buster what's
got business in both hands. Stand away, or I'll run ye down and sink
ye," and he tore through the men, who grabbed him and grappled to get
him down. In a second he was going up the street again in exactly the
opposite direction, having hurled over or dashed aside the fellows who
had seized him.
"Soo--oo--a-y!" he bellowed as he passed. Then he rushed to a doorway
where stood a boy's bicycle. He jumped upon the saddle with another yell
as he pushed the machine before him, and the next instant was whirling
down the thoroughfare with the rapidity of an express train, bawling for
people to "Stand clear!" In another moment he was out of sight, in a
cloud of dust, and his yells fell to a drone in the distance.
I was in no hurry to get down to the dock, so I strolled around the
streets for some time. Then, thinking that the little mate had about run
himself out, I made my way to the wharf where the _Pirate_ lay.
As I drew near the ship, I was aware of a bushy head above her port
quarter-rail, and in a moment the little mate, Trunnell, looked over and
hailed me. He was smoking so composedly and appeared so cool and
satisfied that I could hardly believe it was the same man I had seen
running amuck but an hour before.
"Have a good ride?" I asked.
"So, so; 'twas a bit of a thing to do, though I ain't never rid one of
them things afore. They wanted me to cough up stuff for the whole crowd.
But nary a cough. One or two drinks is about all I can stand; so when I
feels good ye don't want to persuade me over much. Come aboard."
He led me below, where we were joined by the "doctor," a good-looking
negro, who, having washed up his few dishes and put out the fire in his
galley, came aft and assumed an importance in keeping with a cook of an
American clipper ship.
We sat in the forward cabin and chatted for a few minutes, becoming
better acquainted, and I must say they both acquitted themselves very
creditably for members of the after guard of that notorious vessel. But I
had learned long ago that there were good men on all ships, and I was not
more than ordinarily surprised at my reception.
The forward cabin was arranged as on all American ships of large
tonnage,--that is, with the house built upon the main deck, the forward
end of which was a passage athwartships to enable one to get out from
either side when the vessel was heeled over at a sharp angle. Next came
the mates' rooms on either side of two alleyways leading into the forward
saloon, and between the alleyways were closets and lockers. The saloon
was quite large and had a table fastened to the floor in the centre,
where we now sat and awaited the appearance of the agents. Aft of this
saloon, and separated from it by a bulkhead, was the captain's cabin and
the staterooms for whatever passengers the ship might carry.
While we were talking I heard a hail. Mr. Trunnell, the mate, instantly
jumped to his feet and sprang up the companionway aft, his short, stout
legs curving well outward, and giving him the rolling motion often
noticed in short sailors. In a moment there were sounds of footsteps on
deck, and several men started down the companionway.
The first that reached the cabin deck was a large man with a flowing
beard and sharp eyes which took in every object in the cabin at a
glance. He came into the forward saloon, and the "doctor" stood up to
receive him. He took no notice of the cook, however, but looked sharply
at me. Then the mate came in with two other men who showed in a hundred
ways that they were captains of sailing ships. The large man addressed
one of these. He was a short, stout man with sandy hair; he wore thin
gold earrings, and his sun-bronzed face showed that he had but recently
"If you don't want to take her out, Cole," said the large man, roughly,
"say so and be done with it. I can get Thompson."
"There's nothing in it without the freight money. Halve it and
it's a go."
"Andrews has the whole of it according to contract."
"But he's jugged."
"He'll need it all the more," put in the other captain, who was one of
the agents. "Colonel Fermoy has put the rate as high as he can."
"I'm sorry, colonel," said the stout skipper, turning to the large man.
"Halve or nothing."
"All right, then, nothing. Mr. Trunnell," he continued, turning to the
mate, "Captain Cole will not take you out in the morning as he promised.
I'll send Captain Thompson along this evening, or the first thing in the
morning. I suppose you know him, so it won't be necessary for me to come
down again. Is this your mate?" And he looked at me.
"Yessir, that's him," said Mr. Trunnell.
"Got your papers with you?" asked the colonel.
I pulled them out of my pocket and laid them upon the table. He glanced
at them a moment and then returned them.
"All right; get your dunnage aboard this evening and report at the office
at nine o'clock to-night. Eight pounds, hey?"
I almost gasped. Eight pounds for second mate! Five was the rule.
"Aye, aye, sir," I answered.
"Done. Bear a hand, Mr. Trunnell. Jenkinson will have a crew at five in
the morning. Good night." And he turned and left, followed by all except
the "doctor," who remained with me until they were ashore. Mr. Trunnell
came aboard again in a few minutes, and after thanking him for getting me
the job I left the ship and went to attend to my affairs before clearing.
I had my "dunnage" sent aboard and then stopped at the office and signed
on. After that, the night being young, I strolled along the more
frequented streets and said farewell to my few acquaintances.
I arrived at the ship before midnight and found the only man there to be
the watchman. Trunnell and the "doctor" had gone uptown, he said, for a
last look around. I turned in at the bottom of an empty berth in one of
the staterooms and waited for the after guard to turn to.
The mate came aboard about three in the morning, and as there was much to
do, he stuck his head into a bucket of water and tried to get clear of
the effects of the bad liquor he had taken. The "doctor" followed a
little later, and fell asleep on the cabin floor.
"Has the old man turned up?" asked the mate, bawling into my resting
place and rousing me.
"Haven't seen any one come aboard," I answered.
"Well, I reckon he'll be alongside in a few minutes; so you better stand
by for a call."
While he spoke, the watchman on deck hailed some one, and a moment later
a steady tramp sounded along the main deck, and a man came through the
port door and into the alleyway.
He hesitated for an instant, while a young man with rosy cheeks and
light curly hair followed through the door and halted alongside the
The stranger was tall and slender, with a long face, and high, sharp
features, his nose curving like a parrot's beak over a heavy dark
mustache. His face was pale and his skin had the clear look of a man who
never is exposed to the sun. But his eyes were the objects that attracted
my gaze. They were bright as steel points and looked out from under
heavy, straight brows with a quick, restless motion I had observed to
belong to men used to sudden and desperate resolves. He advanced into the
cabin and scrutinized the surroundings carefully before speaking.
"I suppose you are Mr. Trunnell," he said to me, for I had now arisen and
stood in the doorway of the stateroom. His voice was low and distinct,
and I noticed it was not unpleasant.
"I have that honor," said the little mate, with drunken gravity, sobering
quickly, however, under the stranger's look.
"There are no passengers?" asked the man, as the younger companion opened
the door leading into the captain's cabin and gazed within.
"Not a bleeding one, and I'm not sorry for that," said Trunnell; "the old
man wasn't built exactly on passenger lines."
"You wouldn't take a couple, then, say for a good snug sum?"
"Well, that's the old man's lay, and I can't say as to the why and
wherefore. He'll probably be along in an hour or two at best, for the tug
will be alongside in a few minutes. We're cleared, and we'll get to sea
as soon as the bloody crimp gets the bleeding windjammers aboard. They
ought to be along presently."
"Em-m-m," said the man, and stroked his chin thoughtfully. "He'll be
along shortly, will he,--and you are all ready. I think I can hear the
tug coming now, hey? Isn't that it?"
"S'pose so," answered the mate.
"Well, just let me insinuate to you politely, my boy, that the sooner you
clear, the better;" his voice was low and full of meaning, and he leaned
toward the mate in a menacing manner; "and if I have to speak to you more
than once, my little friend, you will find out the kind of man Captain
Thompson is. Can you rise to that?"
Trunnell shrank from the stranger's look, for he stuck his face right
into the mate's, and as he finished he raised his voice to its full
volume. The liquor was still in the stout little fellow's head, and he
drew back one of his long arms as if about to strike; then quickly
recovering himself, he scratched his head and stepped back a pace.
"How the bleeding thunder could I tell you were Captain Thompson, when
you come aboard here and ask for a passage?" he demanded. "I meant no
disrespect. Not a bit. No, sir, not a bloody bit. I'm here for further
orders. Yessir, I'm here for further orders and nothin' else. Sing out
and I go."
It was plain that the little bushy-headed fellow was not afraid, for he
squared his broad shoulders and stood at attention like a man who has
dealt with desperate men and knew how to get along with them. At the same
time he knew his position and was careful not to go too far. He was
evidently disturbed, however, for the little thin silver rings in his
ears shook from either nervousness or the effects of liquor.
The tall man looked keenly at him, and appeared to think. Then he
"Well, you are a clever little chap, Trunnell," he said; "but for
discernment I don't think you'd lay a very straight course, hey? isn't
that it? Not a very straight course. But with my help I reckon we'll
navigate this ship all right. Who's this?" and he turned toward me.
"That's Mr. Rolling, the second mate. Didn't you meet him at the office?
He was there only a couple of hours ago. Just signed on this evening."
"Ah, yes, I see. A new hand, hey? Well, Mr. Rolling, I suppose you know
what's expected of you. I don't interfere with my mates after I get to
sea. Can you locate the ship and reckon her course?"
I told him I could; and although I did not like the unnautical way this
stranger had about him, I was glad to hear that he did not interfere with
his mates. If he were some hard skipper the agents had taken at a pinch,
it was just as well for him to keep to himself aft, and let his mates
stand watch as they should on every high-class ship. The young man, or
rather boy, who had come aboard with him, looked at me curiously with a
pair of bright blue eyes, while the captain spoke, and appeared to enjoy
the interrogation, for he smiled pleasantly.
"Everything is all ready, as I see," the captain continued. "So I'll go
to bed awhile until my things come aboard. This young man will be third
mate, Mr. Trunnell, and I'll put him under your care. He will go ashore
now and see to the trunks. But let me know the minute the crew come down,
for I won't wait for anything after that. You can let the tug take the
line and be ready to pull us out."
Then the skipper went into the captain's cabin, and we saw him no more
for several hours. The young man went back up town, and half an hour
later returned with a cab containing a trunk, which was put in the
after-cabin. The skipper heard the noise and bade them not reawaken him
under any circumstances until the ship was well out at sea.
"If I have to get up and see to our leaving, some one will be sorry for
it," he said, in his menacing voice, and Mr. Trunnell was quite content
to leave him alone.
At five in the morning the boarding master brought down the men, and a
sorry lot of sailors they were. They counted nineteen all told, and half
of them could not speak English. I went among them and searched their
dunnage for liquor and weapons, and after finding plenty of both, I
bundled the entire outfit into the forecastle and let them sort it the
best they could, with the result that they all struck a fair average in
the way of clothes. Those who were too drunk to be of any use I let
alone, and they made a dirty mess of the clean forecastle. The rest I
turned to with some energy and soon had our towing gear overhauled.
There was now a considerable crowd collecting on the dock to watch the
ship clear, and as it was still too dark to see objects distinctly, I
couldn't tell what was taking place in the waist, for I had to attend
sharply to the work on the topgallant forecastle. Mr. Trunnell bawled for
the tug to pull away, and the ship started to leave the dock.
At that instant a man rushed through the crowd and sprang upon the rail
amidships, where, seizing some of the running rigging, he let himself
down to the main deck. He looked aft at Mr. Trunnell, and then seeing
that the mate had command of the ship, he looked into the forward cabin
and came to where I stood bawling out orders to the men who were passing
the tow-line outside the rigging. I called to him and asked who he was
and what he wanted, and he told me quickly that he was the twentieth man
of the crew and had almost got left.
"What?" I asked; "after getting your advance money?" And I smiled as I
thought of his chance of getting away without being caught.
"I never welsh, sir," he replied, "and as I signed on, so will I work. I
never skinned a ship yet out of sixpence."
"Most remarkable," I sneered; but the fellow had such a frank, open face
that I felt sorry afterward. He was a young man and had probably not
learned enough about ships to have such delicate scruples. He had a
smooth face and looked intelligent, although it was evident that he was
not much of a sailor.
"Well, don't stand gaping. Get to work and show what you are made of.
Stow those slops of yours and get into a jumper quick. Where's your bag?"
"I haven't any."
"Well, lay up there and help loose the maintopsail. Don't stand here."
He looked bewildered for a moment and then started up the fore rigging.
"Here, you blazing idiot," I bawled. "What are you about? Don't you know
one end of a ship from another?"
The fellow came to me and spoke in a low voice.
"I have never shipped before the mast--only as cook, or steward," he
"Well, you infernal beggar, do you mean to say that you've passed
yourself off as a seaman or sailor here?" I cried.
"Then, blast you, if I don't make a sailor of you before you get clear of
the ship," I said with some emphasis; for the idea of all hands being
incapable made me angry, as the ship would be dependent entirely upon the
sailors aboard, until we had taught the landsmen something. The whole
outfit was such a scurvy lot it made me sick to think of what would
happen if it should come on to blow suddenly and we had to shorten down
to reefed topsails. The _Pirate_ had double topsail yards fore and aft
and all the modern improvements for handling canvas; but her yards were
tremendous, and to lift either of her courses on the yards would take not
less than half a dozen men even in good weather.
The fellow hung about while I dressed him down and told him about what a
worthless specimen of humanity he was. Finally I sent him aft to help
where he could, and he lent a hand at the braces in the waist under the
direction of Mr. Trunnell, who stood on the break of the poop, with the
young third mate beside him, and gave his orders utterly oblivious to the
In a short time we made an offing, and as the pilot was on the tug, we
had only to let go the line and stand away on our course. The t'gallant
yards were sent up, then the royals sheeted home, and by dint of great
effort and plenty of bawling we got the canvas on her fore and aft and
trimmed the yards so as to make each one look as if at odds with its
fellows, but yet enough to make a fair wind of the gentle southerly
breeze. Then we let go the tow-line and stood to the westward, while the
little tug gave a parting whistle and went heading away into the rising
I will say now that when I look back on that morning it is evident there
was a lack of discipline or command on board the _Pirate_; but at the
time it did not appear to me to be the fact, because the lack of
discipline was not apparent in my watch. Trunnell and I divided up the
men between us, and I believe I laid down the law pretty plain to the
Dagos and Swedes who fell to my lot. They couldn't understand much of
what I said, but they could tell something of my meaning when I held up a
rope's-end and belaying-pin before their eyes and made certain
significant gestures in regard to their manipulation. This may strike the
landsman as unnecessary and somewhat brutal; but, before he passes
judgment, he should try to take care of a lot of men who are, for a part,
a little lower than beasts.
If a man can understand the language you use, he can sometimes be made to
pay attention if he has the right kind of men over him, but when he
cannot understand and goes to sea with the certain knowledge he is on a
hard ship and will probably come to blows in a few minutes, he must have
some ocular demonstration of what is coming if he doesn't jump when a
mate sings out to him. Often the safety of the entire ship depends upon
the quickness with which an order can be carried out, and a man must not
hang back when the danger is deadly. He must do as he is told, instantly
and without question; if he gets killed--why, there is no great loss, for
any owner or skipper can get a crew aboard at any of the large ports of
trade. Of course, if he takes a different point of view, the only thing
for him to do is to stay on the beach. He must not ship on a sailing
packet that is carrying twenty percent more freight than the law allows
and is getting from three to four dollars a ton for carrying it some ten
or fifteen thousand miles over every kind of ocean between the frigid
zones. My men were surly enough, perhaps because they had heard what kind
of treatment they should expect; so after I had told them what they must
do, I bade them go below and straighten out their dunnage.
Mr. Trunnell, after separating his men from mine, cursed them
individually and collectively as everything he could think of, and only
stopped to scratch his big bushy head to figure out some new
condemnations. While doing this he saw me coming from the port side, and
forthwith he told me to take charge of the ship, as he was dead beat out
and would have to soak his head again before coming on watch. He smelled
horribly of stale liquor, and his eyes were bloodshot. I thought he would
be just as well off below, so I made no protest against taking command.
"Ye see, I never am used to it," he said, with a grin. "I can't drink
nothin'. Stave me, Rollins, but the first thing I'll be running foul of
some of these Dagos, and I don't want a fracas until I see the lay of the
old man. He's a queer one for sure, hey? Did you ever see a skipper with
such a look? Sech bleeding eyes--an' nose, hey? Like the beak of an old
albatross. He hasn't come out to lay the course yet, but let her go.
She'll head within half a point of what she's doin' now. Sink me, but I
don't believe there's three bloomin' beggars in my watch as can steer the
craft, and she's got a new wheel gear on her too. Call me if the old man
comes on deck." As he finished he staggered into the door of the forward
cabin and made for his room, leaving me in command.
I went aft and saw the lubber's mark holding on west by south, and after
being satisfied that the man steering could tell port from starboard, I
climbed the steps to the poop and took a good look around. It was a
beautiful morning and the sun shone brightly over our quarter-rail. The
land behind us stood boldly outlined against the sky, and the lumpy
clouds above were rosy with sunlight.
The air was cool, but not too sharp for comfort; the breeze from the
southward blew steadily and just sent the tops of the waves to foam, here
and there, like white stars appearing and disappearing on the expanse to
windward. The _Pirate_ lay along on the port tack, and with her skysails
to her trucks she made a beautiful sight. Her canvas was snowy white,
showing that no money had been spared on her sails. Her spars were all
painted or scraped and her standing rigging tarred down to a beautiful
blackness. Only on deck and among the ropes of her running gear was shown
that sign of untidiness which distinguishes the merchant vessel from the
I managed to get some hands to work on the braces, and finally got the
yards trimmed shipshape and in the American fashion. That was, with the
lower yards sharp on the back-stays, the topsails a little further aft,
the t'gallant a little further still, until the main-skysail was almost
touching with its weather leach cutting into the breeze a point or more
forward of the weather beam. The fore and aft canvas was trimmed well,
and the outer jibs lifted the ship along at a slapping rate. She was
evidently fast in spite of her load, and I looked over the side at the
foam that was seething past the lee channels in swirls and eddies which
gave forth a cheerful hissing sound as they slipped aft at the rate of
six knots an hour. The man at the wheel held her easily, and that was a
blessing; for nothing is much worse for a mate's discomfort than a wild
ship sheering from side to side leaving a wake like the path of some
When I looked again on the main deck I saw the figure of a man whom I
failed to recognize as a member of the ship's company. He was standing
near the opening of the after-hatchway, which had not yet been battened
down, and his gaze was fixed upon me. He was a broad-shouldered fellow,
about the average height, and was dressed in a tight-fitting black coat
which reached to his knees. On his head was a skull cap with a long
tassel hanging down from its top, and in his mouth was a handsome
meerschaum pipe, which hung down by its stem to the middle of his breast.
His beard was long and just turning gray, and his eyebrows were heavy and
I stood staring at the figure, and I must say I never saw a more
brutal expression upon a man's face. His large mouth and thick lips
appeared to wear a sneering smile, while his eyes twinkled with
undisguised amusement. His nose was large and flat like a Hottentot's,
and while I gazed at him in astonishment, he raised it in the air and
gave forth a snort which apparently meant that he was well satisfied
with the way affairs were being carried on aboard the ship and he was
"Here! you man; what the deuce are you doing aboard here?" I asked as I
advanced to the break of the poop and stared down at him. He gave another
snort, and looked at me with undisguised contempt, but disdained to
answer and turned away, going to the lee rail and expectorating over the
side. Then he came slowly back across the main deck, while my spleen rose
at his superior indifference. I have always been a man of the people, and
have fought my way along to whatever position I have held on the
comprehensive rule of give and take. Nothing is so offensive to me as the
assumption of superiority when backed solely by a man's own conception of
his value. Therefore it was in no pleasant tone that I addressed the
stranger on his return to the deck beneath me.
"My fine cock," said I, "if you haven't a tongue, you probably have ears,
and if you don't want them to feel like the grate-bars of the galley
stove, you'll do well to sing out when I speak. Can you rise to that?"
The man looked me squarely in the eyes, and I never saw such a fiendish
expression come into a human face as that which gathered in his. "You
infernal, impudent--" he began; and here for a moment followed a string
of foul oaths from the man's lips, while he passed his hand behind his
back and drew forth a long knife. Then without a moment's further
hesitation he sprang up the steps to the poop.
The fiendishness of the attack took me off my guard, for I was not
prepared for such a serious fracas during the first half hour in command
of the deck; but I saw there was little time to lose. There were no
belaying-pins handy, so the thing for me was to get in as close as
possible and get the fellow's knife.
As he came up the steps, I rushed for him and kicked out with all my
strength, when his face was level with my knees. The toe of my heavy shoe
caught him solidly in the neck, and he went over backward almost in a
complete somersault, landing with a crash upon the main deck just outside
the window of Mr. Trunnell's room. He was stunned by the fall, and I
hastened down to seize him before he could recover. Just as I gained the
main deck, however, he gave a snort and started to his feet. Then he let
out a yell like a madman and closed with me, my right hand luckily
reaching his wrist below the knife.
It was up and down, and all over the deck for a time, the men crowding
aft around us, but fearing to take a hand. The fellow had enormous
strength, and the way he made that knife hand jump and twist gave me all
I could do to keep fast to it. Soon I found I was losing ground, and he
noted the fact, exerting himself more and more as he found me failing.
Then it dawned upon me that I was in a bad fix, and I tried to think
quickly for some means to save myself. In another mad struggle he would
wrench himself clear, and his ugly look told me plainly how much mercy I
could expect. I gave one last despairing grip on his wrist as he tore
wildly about, and then I felt his arm slip clear of my fingers, and I
waited for the stroke with my left arm drawn up to stop its force as far
as possible. I could almost feel the sting of the steel in my tense
nerves, when something suddenly caught me around the middle and pressed
me with great force against my enemy. His face was almost against mine,
but his arms were pinioned to his sides, powerless, and then I was aware
that we both were encircled by the ape-like arms of the mate, Mr.
Trunnell. How the little fellow held on was a marvel. He braced his short
legs wide apart, and giving a hug that almost took the breath out of me,
bawled lustily for some man to pass a lashing.
Suddenly a man rushed aft and passed a line around the stranger, and I
saw that the young landlubber to whom, earlier in the morning, I had been
so harsh was a man to be depended on. The young fellow tied my enemy up
in short order, although the knots he used would not have done any credit
to a sailor. But I was more than thankful when I had a chance to wring
the long knife out of the murderous stranger's hand, and I spoke out to
the smooth-faced fellow. "You'll do, my boy, even if you don't know a
yard from a main-brace bumpkin. Pass a line around his legs and stuff a
swab into his mouth if he don't stop swearing."
"Steady," said Trunnell, "none of that," as the swab was being brought
up. "But, Captain Andrews, if you don't belay your tongue we'll have to
do something." And the little mate squared his shoulders, and gazed
calmly down upon the prostrate stranger who foamed at the mouth with
"So," I said, "this is the ruffian who jumped his bail and is aboard here
on the sneak? I reckon we'll tack ship and stand back again to put him
where he belongs."
I was breathing heavily from the fight, and stood leaning against the
cabin to recover, while Mr. Trunnell and the fellow Jim, who had helped
tie the skipper up, appeared to be in doubt how to proceed. The noise of
the scuffle and our conversation had aroused the captain in the cabin,
and as I finished speaking he came to the break of the poop and looked
down on the main deck. I was aware of his hooked nose and strange,
glinting eyes almost before I turned, as he spoke. He placed his foot
upon the rail and gave a dry cough.
"I reckon there ain't any call to tack ship," he said slowly; "a pair of
irons'll do the rest. Jest clap them on him, hand and foot, Mr. Rolling,
and then rivet him to the deck away up forrads. If he don't stow that
bazoo of his, you might ram the end of a handspike in his mouth and see
if he'll bite."
"Who are you, you molly-hawk, to give orders aboard here?" roared
Andrews, from where he lay on deck. "What's happened, Trunnell, when a
swivel-eyed idiot with a beak like an albatross stands on the poop and
talks to me like this?"
"He's Captain Thompson, in command, owing to the little--the little
fracas you was mixed into last v'yage. We didn't exactly expect to have
ye this trip, sir," said the mate.
"Well, I'm here, ain't I? Sing out, can't you see me? Has your hair
struck in and tickled your brain so you don't know who's boss aboard
here? Who's this galoot you've just kept from being ripped to ribbons?
I'll settle matters with you later on for meddling in this affair, you
kelp-haired sea-pig. Sink you, Trunnell; I never expected you to turn
rusty like the miserable swab you are."
"Don't you think it would be best to stand away for port again, sir?"
said the fellow Jim, looking sharply at the skipper on the poop as he
spoke, and then to myself and Trunnell.
"We don't keer for your suggestions, young feller," said the skipper,
leaning over the rail above us. "When there's any orders to be given,
I'll attend to matters myself." He spoke in a low, even tone, and his
eyes seemed to focus to two sharp, bright points at the sailor, making
his great beak-like nose more prominent.
"Cast me adrift, Trunnell," commanded the ruffian Andrews, with an oath.
"I'm a-going to kill that lubber you've got for mate anyhow, and it might
as well be done at once as any other time. We'll settle the matter about
who's skipper afterward."
"I hears ye well enough, Cap'n Andrews," said Trunnell; "but I ain't
eggzactly clear in my mind as to how ye have authority aboard. If I was,
I'd cast ye adrift in spite o' the whole crowd, an' ye could rip an' cut
to your bloody heart's content. Ye know I'd back ye if 'twas all right
and proper; but I never disobeyed an order yet, and stave me, I never
will. I don't care who gives it so long as he has the right."
"Spoken like a man an' a sailor," came the sudden sharp tones of the
skipper on the poop; and as I looked, the skipper drew forth a watch in
one hand and a long revolver in the other, which clicked to readiness as
it came in a line between his eye and the body of Andrews. "You have just
a few seconds less than a minute to get that fellow forrads and out of
the way," he said slowly, as if counting his words, I made no movement to
drag the ruffian away, for at that minute I would have offered no
objection whatever to seeing the skipper make a target of him; but
Trunnell and the sailor Jim instantly seized Andrews, while he cursed the
captain and dared him shoot. He struggled vainly to get free of his
lashings, but the little bushy-headed mate tucked him under his arm,
while Jim took his feet, and the crowd of gaping men broke away as they
After I had recovered from my somewhat violent exertions, and bound up
the slight cut that Andrews had made in my hand with his knife, eight
bells had struck, and the steward brought aft the cabin hash. The skipper
went below, and Trunnell and I followed.
Captain Thompson seated himself at the head of the table and signed for
us to take our places; then it suddenly occurred to me that I was only
second mate, and consequently did not rate the captain's table. Trunnell
noticed my hesitation, but said nothing, and the skipper fell to with
such a hearty good will that he appeared to entirely forget my presence.
I hastily made some excuse to get back on deck, and the little,
bushy-headed mate smiled and nodded approvingly at me as I went up the
alleyway forward. I was much pleased at this delicate hint on his part,
for many mates would have made uncalled-for remarks at such a blunder. It
showed me that the little giant who could keep me from being carved to
rat-line stuff could be civil also.
I was much taken with him owing to what had happened, and I looked down
at him as he ate, for I could see him very well as I stood near the
mizzen on the port side of the cabin skylight. The glass of the hatch was
raised to let the cabin air, and I watched the bushy head beneath, with
its aggressive beard bending over the dirty table-cloth. The large squat
nose seemed to sniff the good grub as the steward served the fresh beef,
and Trunnell made ready with his knife.
He laid the blade on his plate and heaped several large chunks of the
meat and potatoes upon it. Then he dropped his chin and seemed to shut
his eyes as he carefully conveyed the load to his mouth, drawing the
steel quickly through his thick lips without spilling more than a
commensurate amount of the stuff upon his beard, and injuring himself in
no way whatever. The quick jerk with which he slipped the steel clear so
as to have it ready for another load made me a trifle nervous; but it was
evident that he was not a novice at eating. Indeed, the skipper appeared
to admire his dexterity, for I saw his small, glinting eyes look sharply
from the little fellow to the boyish third officer who sat to starboard.
"Never had no call for a fork, eh?" said he, after watching the mate
apparently come within an inch of cutting his head in two.
"Nope," said Trunnell.
They ate in silence for some minutes.
"I like to see a fellow what can make out with the fewest tools. Tools
are good enough for mechanics; a bit an' a bar'll do for a man. Ever been
to New York?"
"Nope," said Trunnell.
There was a moment's silence.
"I might 'a' knowed that," said the skipper, as if to himself.
Trunnell appeared to sniff sarcasm.
"Oh, I've been to one or two places in my time," said he. "There ain't
nothin' remarkable about New York except the animals, and I don't keer
"Oh, I was closte into the beach off Sandy Hook onct when we was tryin'
to get to the south'ard, an' I see an eliphint about a hundred feet high
on the island acrost the bay. There was a feller aboard as said they had
cows there just as big what give milk. I wouldn't have believed him, but
fer the fact that there ware the eliphint before my eyes."
"Stuffed, man,--he was stuffed," explained the captain.
"Stuffed or no; there he ware," persisted Trunnell. "He would 'a' been no
bigger stuffed than alive. 'Tain't likely they could 'a' stretched his
hide more'n a foot."
The skipper gave the third mate a sly look, and his nose worked busily
like a parrot's beak for a few minutes.
"You believe lots o' things, eh?" said he, while his nose worked and
wrinkled in amusement.
"I believe in pretty much all I sees an' some little I hears," said
"'Specially in eliphints, eh?--a hundred feet high?"
"But not in argufying over facts," retorted Trunnell. "No, sink me, when
I finds I'm argufying agin the world,--agin facts,--I tries to give in
some and let the world get the best o' the argument. I've opinions the
same as you have, but when they don't agree with the rest o' the world,
do I go snortin' around a-tryin' to show how the world is wrong an' I am
right? Sink me if I do. No, I tries to let the other fellow have a show.
I may be right, but if I sees the world is agin me, I--"
"Right ye are, Trunnell. Spoken O.K." said the skipper. "I like to see a
man what believes in a few things--even if they's eliphints. What do you
think of the fellow forrads? Do you believe in him to any extent?"
The third mate appeared much amused at the conversation, but did not
speak. He was a remarkably good-looking young fellow, and I noted the
fact at the time.
Trunnell did not answer the last remark, but held himself very straight
in his chair.
"Do you believe much in the fellow who was skipper, especially after his
tryin' to carve Mr. Rolling?"
"I believe him a good sailor," said Trunnell, stiffening up.
"Ye don't say?" said the skipper.
"I never critisizez my officers," said Trunnell; and after that the
skipper let him alone.
I was pleased with Trunnell. His philosophy was all right, and I believed
from that time he was an honest man. Things began to look a little
brighter, and in spite of an aversion to the skipper which had begun to
creep upon me, I now saw that he was an observing fellow, and was quick
to know the value of men. I didn't like his allusion to a bit and bar for
a man, but thought little about the matter. In a short time Trunnell
relieved me, and I went below with the carpenter and steward to our mess.
The carpenter was a young Irishman, shipped for the first time. This was
the first time I had been to sea with a ship carpenter who was not either
a Russian, a Finn, or a Swede. The steward was a little mulatto, who
announced, as he sat down, after bringing in the hash, that he was bloody
glad he was an Englishman, and looked at me for approval.
This was to show that he did not approve of the scene he had witnessed on
the main deck in the morning, and I accepted it as a token of friendship.
"'Tis cold th' owld man thinks it is, whin he has th' skylight wide
open," said Chips, looking up at the form of Trunnell, who stood on the
poop. There was a strange light in the young fellow's eye as he spoke, as
if he wished to impart some information, and had not quite determined
upon the time and place. I took the hint and smiled knowingly, and then
glanced askance at the steward.
"Faith, he's all right," blurted out Chips; "his skin is a little off th'
color av roses, but his heart is white. We're wid ye, see?"
"With me for what?" I asked.
"Anything," he replied. "To go back, to go ahead. There's a fellow
forrads who says go back while ye may."
"An' it's bloody good advice," said the steward, in a low tone.
"I'm not exactly in command aboard here," I said.
"D'ye know who is?" asked Chips.
"His name is Thompson, I believe," I answered coldly, for I did not
approve of this sudden criticism of the skipper, much as I disliked
"See here, mate, ye needn't think we're fer sayin' agin the old man, so
hark ye, don't take it hard like. Did ye iver hear tell av a sailorman
a-callin' a line a 'rope' or a bloomin' hooker like this a 'boat'? No,
sir, ye can lay to it he's niver had a ship before; an' so says Jim
Potts, the same as passed th' line fer ye this mornin'. Kin I pass ye the
junk? It's sort o' snifty fer new slush, but I don't complain."
"What's the matter with the meat?" I asked, glad to change the
"Jest sort o' snifty."
"That's what," corroborated the steward, looking at me. "Jest sort o'
smelly like fer new junk."
"What has Jim Potts got against the old man?" I asked. "You said he
didn't believe the skipper had been in a ship before."
"Nothin' I knows of, 'cept he was hot fer turnin' back this mornin' an'
tried to get th' men to back him in comin' aft."
"Do you mean it's mutiny?"
"Lord, no; jest to blandander ye inter tackin' ship. He most persuaded
Mr. Trunnell, an' wid ye too, 'twould ha' been no mutiny to override the
new skipper, an' land th' other in th' caboose."
Much as I would have liked to get ashore again, I knew there was no
immediate prospect of it. The skipper would not hear of any such thing.
As for Trunnell acting against orders, I knew from what I had seen of
this sturdy little fellow he would obey implicitly any directions given
him, and at any cost. There was no help for it now. We would be out for
months with the ruffian skipper forward and the strange one aft. I said
nothing more to the carpenter or steward, for it was evident that there
had been some strong arguments used by Jim Potts against the regularity
of the ship's company. The more I thought of this, the more I was
astonished, for the young landsman was not forced to come out in the
ship, and had almost been left, as it was. I went on deck in a troubled
frame of mind, and determined to keep my eye on every one who approached
me, for the voyage had the worst possible beginning.
There was much to be done about the main deck, so I busied myself the
entire afternoon getting the running gear cleared up and coiled down
shipshape. The skipper stood near the break of the poop much of the time,
but gave no orders, and I noticed that Jim the sailor, or landsman, kept
away from his vicinity. Sometimes it seemed as though the captain would
follow his movements about the deck forward with his keen eyes.
It was Trunnell's dog-watch that evening, and by the time the bells
struck the vessel was running along to the westward under royals, with
the southerly breeze freshening on her beam. She was a handsome ship. Her
long, tapering spars rose towering into the semi-gloom overhead, and the
great fabric of stretched canvas seemed like a huge cloud resting upon a
dark, floating object on the surface of the sea, which was carried along
rapidly with it, brushing the foam to either side with a roaring,
rattling, seething, musical noise. At least, this is the picture she
presented from the forecastle head looking aft. Her great main yard swung
far over the water to leeward, and the huge bellying courses, setting
tight as a drumhead with the pressure, sent the roaring of the bow-wave
back in a deep booming echo, until the air was full of vibration from the
taut fabric. All around, the horizon was melted into haze, but the stars
were glinting overhead in promise of a clear night.
I left the forecastle head and came down on the main deck. Here the
six-foot bulwarks shut off the view to windward, but little of the cool
evening breeze. The men on watch were grouped about the waist, sitting on
the combings of the after-hatch, or walking fore and aft in the gangways
to keep the blood stirring. All had pea coats or mufflers over their
jumpers, for the air was frosty. The "doctor" had washed up his pots and
coppers for the evening, and had made his way toward the carpenter's room
in the forward house, where a light shone through the crack of the door.
On nearly all American ships the carpenter is rated as an officer, but
does not have to stand watch, turning out only during the day-time or
when all hands are called in cases of emergency. The cook, or "doctor,"
as he is called, also turns in for the night, as do the steward and cabin
boys; the steward, however, generally has a stateroom aft near those of
the mates, while the "doctor" bunks next his galley. The carpenter having
permission to burn a light, usually turns his shop or bunk-room into a
meeting place for those officers who rate the distinction of being above
the ordinary sailor. Here one can always hear the news aboard ships where
the discipline is not too rigid; for the mates, bos'n, "doctor," steward,
and sometimes even the quartermasters, enjoy his hospitality.
Trunnell was on the poop, and the captain was below. I had a chance to
get a little better insight into the natures of my shipmates if I could
join in their conversation, or even listen to it for a while. My position
as second mate was not too exalted to prohibit terms of intimacy with the
carpenter, or, for that matter, even the bos'n.
I took a last look to windward, over the cold southern ocean, where the
sharp evening breeze was rolling the short seas into little patches of
white. The horizon was clear, and there was no prospect for some time of
any sudden call to shorten sail. The sky was a perfect blue vault in
which the stars were twinkling, while the red of the recent sunset held
fair on the jibboom end, showing that the quartermaster at the wheel knew
his business. I edged toward the door of the house, and then seeing that
my actions were not creating too much notice from the poop, I slid back
the white panel and entered. The fog from damp clothes and bad tobacco
hung heavy in the close air and made a blue halo about the little
swinging lamp on the bulkhead. Chips, who was sitting on his sea-chest,
waved his hand in welcome, and the "doctor" nodded and showed his white
teeth. The bos'n was holding forth in full swing in an argument with one
of the quartermasters, and Jim, the fellow I noticed in the morning, was
listening. He arose as I entered, as also did the quartermaster, but the
rest remained seated. I waved my hand in friendly acknowledgment and lit
my pipe at the lamp, while they reseated themselves.
"Yah, good mornin' to ye--if it ain't too late in the day," said Chips.
"Sit ye down an' listen to me song, for 'tis a quare ship, an' th' only
thing to do is to square our luck wid a good song. Cast loose, bos'n."
We were all new men to the vessel except the carpenter, and had never
even sailed in the same ship before on any previous voyage. Yet the
bos'n "cast loose" without further orders, and the "doctor" joined in
with his bass voice. Then Chips and the rest bawled forth to the tune of
"Blow a man down," and all the dismal prospect of the future in an
overloaded ship, with bad food and a queer skipper, was lost in the
effort of each one trying to out-bellow his neighbor. Sailors are a
strange set. It takes mighty little to please one at times when he
should, with reason, be sad; while, again, when everything is fair,
nothing will satisfy his whims.
When the yarn spinning and singing were over, I turned out for my first
watch well pleased with my shipmates.
During the following days all hands were so busy bending new sails and
reeving running gear for our turn of the Cape that there was little time
for anything else. Much of this work could have been avoided had the ship
been under better command when she cleared, but Trunnell had no authority
to do anything, and the agents were waiting until the skipper took
command and could attend to the necessary overhauling.
At meals I saw little of either Trunnell or Captain Thompson and his
third mate, but in the short hours of the dog-watch in the evening I had
a chance to talk with them upon other subjects than those relating
immediately to the running of the ship.
The dog-watch is the short watch between six and eight o'clock in the
evening. This is made short to keep one watch from turning to at any
regular time and consequently getting all the disagreeable work to be
done during those hours. For instance, if one watch had to be on deck
every night from twelve until four in the morning, it would mean that the
other watch would be on deck from four to eight, and consequently would
have to do all the washing down of decks and other work which occurs upon
every regulated ship before breakfast. So the dog-watch divides a
four-hour watch and is served alternately. As second mate I had access to
the poop and could come aft on the weather side like any officer, all
sailors, of course, being made to go to leeward.
Trunnell grew to be confidential, and we often discoursed upon many
subjects during the hours after supper; for there was little time to turn
in when not on dog-watch, and the skipper allowed me aft with much more
freedom than many second mates get. He seldom ventured to join in the
conversations, except when discussing shore topics, for his ignorance of
things nautical was becoming more and more apparent to me every day, and
he saw it. I wondered vaguely how he ever managed to get command of the
ship, and set the reason down to the fact that the agents were glad
enough to get any one to take her out. He, however, checked up Trunnell's
sights every day and commented upon their accuracy with much freedom,
finding fault often, and cautioning him to be more careful in the future.
This somewhat perplexed the mate, as he always made his reckoning by rule
of thumb, and could no more change his method than work out a problem in
trigonometry. The third mate, on the other hand, was quite shy. I noticed
what I had failed to note before, and that was the peculiar feminine tone
of his voice and manner. He never swung his hands or lounged along the
deck like a man used to the sea, and as the regulations call for at least
two years' sea experience certified to by some reputable skipper before a
mate's certificate is issued, this struck me as strange. Besides, he
walked with a short mincing step that failed to swing his rather broad
hips, and his knees were well set back at each stride, that went to show
more conclusively than anything else that he was not used to a heaving
deck. An old sailor, or a young one either, for that matter, will bend
his knees to catch the roll and not try to walk like a soldier.
One evening after we had been out about a week, Trunnell and I
happened to be standing aft near the taffrail looking up at a royal
"D'ye know what th' old man called this cleat?" asked Trunnell, pointing
to where it had been made fast.
"No," said I. "What did he call it?"
"A timber noggin."
"Well, that don't prove there is anything wrong with him, does it?"
"Either that or the timber noggins has changed summat in character since
I seen them last," said Trunnell. "What in Davy Jones would a skipper of
a ship call a cleat a timber noggin for unless he didn't know no better?"
"A man might or might not have many reasons for calling a cleat a timber
noggin besides that of not knowing any better than to do so," I
responded. "For instance--"
But Trunnell cut me short. "No, Mr. Rolling, there ain't no use
disguising the fact any more, this skipper don't know nothin' about a
ship. You'll find that out before we get to the west'ard o' the Agullas.
Mind ye, I ain't making no criticism o' the old man. I never does that to
no superior officer, but when a man tells me to do the things he does, it
stands to reason that we've got an old man aboard here who's been in a
ship for the first time as officer."
I agreed with him, and he was much pleased.
"A man what finds fault an' criticises everybody above him is always a
failure, Mr. Rolling," he went on. "Yes, sir, the faultfinder is always a
failure. An' the reason so many sailors find fault all the time is
because they is failures. I am tryin' not to find fault with the skipper,
but to pint out that we're in for some rough times if things don't change
aboard in the sailorin' line afore we gets to the west'ard o' the
Agullas. Sink me, if that ain't so, for here we is without half the sails
bent an' no new braces, nothin' but two-year-old manila stuff what's wore
clean through. Them topsails look good enough, but they is as rotten with
the lime in them as if they was burned. No, sir, I ain't makin' no
criticism, but I burns within when I think of the trouble a few dollars
would save. Yes, sir, I burns within."
Mr. Trunnell here spat profusely to leeward and walked athwartships for
some moments without further remark. The third mate came on deck and
stood near the lee mizzen rigging, looking forward at the foam swirling
from the bends and drifting aft alongside at a rapid rate. The
phosphorus shone brilliantly in the water, and the wake of the ship was
like a path of molten metal, for the night was quite dark and the heavy
banks of clouds which had been making steadily to the westward
over-spread the sky. It was nearly time for the southwest monsoon to
shift, and with this change would likely follow a spell o' weather, as
Trunnell chose to put it. The third mate had never given an order since
he had come aboard, and I noticed Trunnell's sly wink as he glanced in
the direction of the mizzen.
"Mr. Rolling," said he, "wimmen have been my ruin. Yes, sir, wimmen have
been my ruin, an' I'm that scared o' them I can raise them afore their
topmast is above the horizon. Sink me, if that ain't one." And he leered
at the figure of the third mate, whom we knew as Mr. Bell.
"What would a woman be doing here as third mate?" I asked; for although I
had come to the same conclusion some days before, I had said nothing to
any one about it.
"That's the old man's affair," said Trunnell; "it may be his wife, or it
may be his daughter, but any one can see that the fellow's pants are
entirely too big in the heft for a man. An' his voice! Sink me, Rolling,
but you never hearn tell of a man or boy pipin' so soft like. Why, it
skeers me to listen to it. It's just like--but no matter."
"Like what?" I suggested gently, hoping much.
But it was of no use. Trunnell looked at me queerly for a moment as if
undecided to give me his confidence. Then he resumed his walk athwart the
deck, and I went forward to the break of the poop and took a look at the
The night was growing darker, and the breeze was dying slowly, and I
wondered why the skipper had not come on deck to take a look around. He
was usually on hand during the earlier hours of evening.
I reached the side of the third officer, and stood silently gazing at the
canvas which shone dimly through the gathering gloom. As we had always
been separated on account of being in different watches, I had never
addressed the third mate before save in a general way when reporting the
ship's duties aft.
"Pretty dark night, hey?" I ventured.
The third officer looked hard at me for the space of a minute, during
which time his face underwent many changes of expression. Then he
answered in a smooth, even tone.
"Sorter," said he.
This was hardly what I expected, so I ventured again.
"Looks as if we might have a spell o' weather, hey? The wind's falling
all the time, and if it keeps on, we'll have a calm night without a
draught of air."
"What do you mean by a ca'm night without a draft of air?" asked the
young fellow, in a superior tone, while at the same time I detected a
smile lurking about the corners of his eyes.
If there's one thing I hate to see in a young fellow, it is the
desire to make fun of a superior's conversation. Being an American
sailor, I had little use for _r_'s in every word which held an _a_
but I had no objection to any one else talking the way they wished. I
was somewhat doubtful just how to sit upon this nebulous third mate,
so I began easily.
"Do you know," said I, "there are a great many young fellows going out in
ships as officers when they could be of much more benefit to people
generally if they stayed home and helped their mothers to 'bark cark,' or
do other little things around the nursery or kitchen."
As I finished I thought I heard some one swear fiercely in a low tone. I
looked over the poop rail down to the main deck beneath, but saw no one
near. The third officer seemed to be lost in thought for a moment.
"It isn't good to be too clever," said he, in the tone which was
unmistakably a woman's. "When a person is good at baking cake, or
'barking cark,' as you choose to call it, the sea is a good place for
them. They can look out for those who haven't sense enough to perform the
I had a strong notion to ask him outright if he was fitted to perform the
function, but his superior air and the feeling that I might make a
mistake after all and incur the displeasure of the beak-nosed skipper
deterred me. But I was almost certain that our third mate was a woman.
We remained standing together in the night for a few moments while
neither spoke. My advances had not received the favorable acknowledgment
I had expected, and there was a distinctly disagreeable feeling creeping
upon me while in this neutral presence. I was young and hot-headed, so I
spoke accordingly before leaving the field, or rather deck, in retreat.
"I wish you had the distinction of belonging to the port watch."
"I think I might strengthen your powers of discernment regarding the
relative positions of second and third mates."
"We'll see who has the better insight in regard to the matter without my
being bored to that extent," said the third officer in his softest tones,
and again I fancied I heard the voice of a man swearing fiercely in a low
voice as if to himself. Then I turned and went aft.
"It's something queer," said Trunnell, shaking his great shaggy head and
glancing toward the break of the poop. A step sounded on the companion
ladder, and the skipper came on deck.
"Pretty dark, hey?" he said, and his quick eyes took in both Trunnell and
"Looks like we might have a spell o' weather if the wind keeps fallin',"
"Well, I don't suppose a dark night is any worse than a bright one, and I
call to mind many a time I'd give something to see it a bit blacker. Do
you know where you're at?"
"She's headin' about the same, but if ye don't mind, I'll be gettin' her
down gradual like to her torps'ls if the glass keeps a-fallin'. Short
commons, says I, on the edge o' the monsoon."
"Short it is, my boy. Get her down low. The more she looks like you, the
better she'll do, hey? What d'you think of that, Mr. Rolling? The shorter
the longer, the longer the shorter--see? The sooner the quicker, eh?
Supposen the question was asked you, Mr. Rolling, what'd you say, hey?
Why is Mr. Trunnell like a lady's bouquet, hey? Why is the little man
like a bunch of flowers? Don't insult him, Mr. Rolling. The sanitary
outfit of the cabin is all right. 'Tain't that. No, split me, it ain't
that. Think a minute."
Trunnell walked to and fro without a word, while the captain grinned. The
fellow at the wheel, Bill Spielgen, a square-cut man with an angular face
and enormous hands, stared sullenly into the binnacle.
"It's because he's a daisy," rapped out the skipper. "That's it, Mr.
Rolling, he's a daisy, ha, ha, ha! Split me, if he ain't, ho, ho, ho!
Shorten her down, Trunnell; you're a daisy, and no mistake."
There was a distinct smell of liquor in the light breeze, and as the
skipper came within the glare of the binnacle lamp I could see he was
well set up. Trunnell went to the break of the poop and called out for
the watch to clew down the fore and mizzen skysails. He was much upset at
the skipper's talk, but knew better than to show it. The captain now
turned his attention to the man at the wheel.
"How d'you head, Bill?" said he.
"West b' no'the," said Bill.
The skipper came to the wheel and stuck his lean face close to the
quartermaster's. His glinting eyes grew to two little points and his
hooked nose wrinkled on the sides as he showed his teeth while he drawled
in a snarling tone:--
"D'you set up for a wit, Bill, that you joke with your captain, hey? Is
that it, you square-toed, lantern-jawed swab? Would you like me to rip
you up the back, or lam some of the dirt out of your hide, hey? Is that
it? Don't make jokes at your captain, Bill. It's bad business."
Then he went on in a more conciliating tone:--
"Just remember that I'm a knight of a round table, or square one either,
for that matter, while I'm aboard this boat, and if you forget to mention
my title of 'Sir,' every time you speak of me, you'll want to get your
hide sewed on tight."
"I beg pardon, sir," said Bill, taking a fresh grip upon the spokes with
his great hands.
"That's right, my son; you're a beggar aboard this here boat. Don't
aspire to anything else."
"Aye, aye, sir," said the quartermaster.
"And now that you've got to your bearings, as Trunnell would say, I'll
tell you a little story about a man who lost a pet dog called Willie."
I saw that it was high time for me to get forward, and slipped away. I
turned in ready for a call, thinking that perhaps Trunnell was right in
regard to our future prospects in the South Atlantic.
When I turned out for the mid-watch that night, Trunnell met me at the
door of the forward cabin. It was pitch dark on deck, and the wind had
died away almost entirely. The canvas had been rolled up, as it had begun
to slat heavily against the masts with the heave from a long, quick swell
that ran rapidly from the southward. The running gear was not new, and
Trunnell was a careful mate, so the ship was down to her upper topsails
on the fore and mizzen and a main t'gallant on mainmast, the courses fore
and after being clewed up and left hanging.
"He's out for trouble to-night," said the little mate. "Blast him if he
ain't touching the boose again."
"Who, the skipper?" I asked.
"He's been below twice during the watch, an' each time he's gettin' worse
an' worse. There he comes now to the edge of the poop."
I looked and saw our old man rolling easily across the deck to the poop
rail. There he stopped and bawled out loudly,--
"Lay aft to the main-brace."
The men on watch hesitated a moment and then came crowding aft and began
to cast off the weather-brace from its belaying-pin.
It was so dark I couldn't see how many men were there, but I noticed Bill
the quartermaster, and as I stood waiting to see what would happen, a
little sailor by the name of Johnson, who had a face like a monkey's and
legs set wide apart, so they never touched clear up to his waist, spoke
out to a long, lean Yankee man who jostled me in the darkness.
"Don't pull a pound on the bleeding line. The old cock's drunk, an' we
ain't here to be hazed around decks like a pack o' damned boys."
The skipper, however, didn't wait to see if his order was carried out,
but came down from the poop and asked for Trunnell and myself. We went
with him into the forward cabin, and he motioned us to sit down.
"Did you ever see such a lot o' confounded fools?" he said. "Here I calls
for to take a pull in the main-brace, and the whole crowd of duff-eaters
come layin' aft as if the skipper of a ship should blow them all off to
drinks. Blast me, Trunnell, I'd 'a' thought you'd get them into better
discipline. It's come to a fine state o' things when the whole crew turns
to every time I get thirsty. But never mind, sing out as you says, and
tell the steward what kind o' pisin you'll mix with your blood current.
Mine's the same old thing."
"It's my watch below now," said Mr. Trunnell, "an' if you'll excuse me,
I'll turn in. The third mate's gone below some time ago."
"Oh, the boat's all right. It's dead calm, and she can't hurt herself
floating around this ocean," said the old man. "You can take a drink
before you go. Steward! Ahoy there, steward!"
"Yessir," said that active mulatto, springing out of his cabin. "Yessir;
I hears yo', cap'n."
"What'll you have?" asked Thompson, addressing the mate.
Trunnell scratched his big bushy head a moment, and then suggested
that a bottle of the ginger pop which the steward had in the pantry
would do for him.
"Hell'n blazes, man, take a drink o' something," cried Thompson, turning
upon him with his fierce eyes. "What's the matter with you?"
"Nothin', only I drinks what I drinks or else I don't drink at all," said
Trunnell. "Ye asked me what I'd have, an' I says it."
"All right, Shorty," said Thompson, in mock gravity. "You drinks what you
drinks. What's yours, Rolling?"
"As I've just turned to, a little soda will do for me," I answered. "I'd
rather take my grog in the morning at regular hours."
Thompson let his hand fall upon the table with a crash, and then sat
motionless, looking from one to the other, his long, beak-like nose
"Steward," said he, with a nasal drawl which made his hooked nose
wrinkle, "get Mr. Trunnell a drink o' ginger pop, or milk, if he prefers
it, and then, steward, you may get Mr. Rolling a drink o' sody water.
It's hot, but I reckon it'll fizz."
"Yessah. What's yourn, cap'n?"
"You don't think there's a priest aboard here, do you, steward, hey?"
"No, sah, 'tain't likely, but I ken find out, sah. Shall I get yo' drink
"Well, I dunno, I dunno, steward; I can't think what I kin take what
won't offend these gentlemen. You might see first if there's a priest,
an' if you find one you can bring me a pint or so o' holy water. If it's
too strong for you," said he, turning toward Trunnell and myself, "I can
get the steward to dilute it for me, hey?"
Trunnell made no remark at this. The steward brought in our drinks and
informed the skipper loudly that there was no one in the crew who had
held holy orders.
"Never mind, then, steward," said Thompson. "I'll wait till it rains and
get it fresh from heaven."
In a moment Trunnell rose and went into his room with a rough "good
night." Thompson arose and passed through the door in the bulkhead, and I
went on deck to take charge.
The night was quiet, and I leaned over the poop rail, looking into the
water alongside, which appeared as black as ink. The _Pirate_ had little
or no headway, for it was now dead calm. Forward at the bends a sudden
flare of phosphorescent fire would burn for a moment alongside when the
heavy ship rolled deeply and soused her channels under. The southerly
swell seemed to roll quickly as if there were something behind it, and
the topsails slatted fore and aft with loud flaps as they backed and
filled with the motion. It was a bad night for wearing out gear, and I
was glad Trunnell had rolled up the lighter canvas. Chafing gear had been
scarce aboard, and nothing is so aggravating to a mate as to have his
cotton or spars cut by useless rolling in a quiet seaway. If sails can be
kept full of wind, they will last well enough with care; but let them
slat for a few days, and there is more useless wear than would take place
in a month of ordinary weather, with no headway to pay for it.
While I looked into the dark water I noticed a long thin streak of fire
moving slowly alongside. It wavered and snaked along, growing brighter at
times and then dying out almost completely. Suddenly it turned at the
fore channels and came slowly aft. I looked harder at the black surface
below me and tried to see what caused the disturbance. In an instant I
beheld a huge shadow, blacker than the surrounding water, outlined
faintly with the phosphorescent glow. It was between twenty and thirty
feet in length, and had the form of a shark. The grim monster swam slowly
aft and rounded the stern, then sank slowly out of sight into the
There is something so uncanny in the silent watchfulness of these giants
of the deep that a sailor always feels unpleasantly disposed toward them.
I thought how ghastly would be the ending of any one who should get
overboard that night. The sudden splash, the warm water about the body,
and the heads of the fellows at the rail starting to pull the unfortunate
aboard. Then the sudden grisly clutch from below, and the dragging down
out of sight and sound forever.
I began to actually reckon the amount of arsenic I should put into a
chunk of beef to trick the giant at his last meal.
"Sharp lightning on port bow, sir," came the news from the forward; for,
although I was supposed to be able to see well enough, I had taught the
men of my watch to sing out at everything unusual, more to be certain
that they were awake than anything else.
I looked up from the black depths and my unpleasant reflections, and
gazed to the southward. As I did so, several sharp flashes showed upon
the dark horizon. It looked as if something were raising fast, and I
stepped below a moment to see the glass. It was down to twenty-eight.
Going on deck at once, I bawled for the watch to clew down the
main-topgallantsail. In a moment the men were swarming up the main
rigging, and the sail was let go by the run, the yard settling nicely,
while the clews, buntlines, and leachlines were hauled down in unison.
"Mizzen topsail!" I cried.
The watch came up the poop ladders with a rush and tramping of feet that
sounded ominously loud for the work on so quiet a night. The yelling of
the men at the braces coupled with the tramping aroused Captain Thompson
in spite of his liquor, and he came up the after-companion to see what
was the matter.
"Hey, there, hey!" he bawled. "What are you doing, Rolling? Are you
coming to an anchor already? Have I been asleep six months, and is this
the Breakwater ahead? No? Well, do you expect to get to port without
canvas on the ship? Split me, but I thought you knew how to sail a boat
when you signed on as mate. Don't come any of these grandmother tricks on
me, hey? I won't have it. Don't make a fool of yourself before these men.
Get that topsail up again quicker'n hell can scorch a feather, or I'll be
taking a hand, see! I'll be taking a hand. Jump lively, you dogs!" he
roared, as he finished.
The topsail was swayed up again, the men silent and sullen with this
extra work. Then came the order for the t'gallantsail, and by the
time that was mastheaded, the skipper followed with orders for
royals, fore and aft.
During the time these affairs were going on upon the ship, the southern
horizon was lit up again and again by vivid flashes. It appeared to sink
into a deeper gloom afterward, but in another moment we heard the distant
boom of thunder. Before we could get the topgallantsail set there was a
blinding flash off the bow-port, followed by a deep rolling peal of
thunder. I was standing in the waist and sprang to Trunnell's room--
"All hands!" I bawled.
Then I rushed for the mizzen rigging, yelling for the men to clew down
the t'gallantsail and let the topsail halyards go by the run. At the cry
for all hands the men tumbled out, looking around to see what had
happened. It was dead still, and the only sounds were the cries of the
men on deck to those aloft, and the rattling of gear. Trunnell was on
deck in a moment, and as he rushed aft I went for the main rigging with
the intention of saving the upper topsail if I could. It was quick work
getting up those ratlines, but even as I went I heard a deepening murmur
from the southward. The yard came down by the run as I gained the top,
owing to Trunnell having cast off everything, trusting that we might get
some stops on the sail before too late. I heard the skipper roaring out
orders to "hurry there," followed by curses at the slowness of the work.
He appeared to realize now what was happening, and it sobered him.
As I crawled out to starboard with a couple of hands, Jackson of
Trunnell's watch and Davis of mine, the murmur to the southward swelled
rapidly in volume. I glanced into the blackness, and as I did so there
was a blinding flash. My eyes seemed to be burned out with the
brightness, and a crashing roar thundered in my ears. Instantly afterward
I heard Trunnell's voice:--
"Hard up the wheel. Hard up, for God's sake!"
Then, with a rush that made the mast creak with the strain and laid
us slowly over amid a thunder of thrashing canvas, the hurricane
struck the ship.
There was nothing to do but hold on with both hands and feet. Jackson,
who was outside of me, gripped the jackstay and threw his feet around
the yard-arm which was springing and jumping away at a terrific rate
with the shock of the cracking topsail. I did likewise, and noticed
that the canvas was bellying forward, which showed that we were not
aback. If we were, I knew our lives were only questions of seconds.
All sounds from below were silenced in the roar about us, but flash
after flash, following rapidly in succession, showed me momentary
glimpses of the deck.
We were far over the water as the _Pirate_ was laying down with her
topgallant rail beneath the sea. The mizzen topsail had disappeared, as
though made of vapor, leaving the mizzen clear. Forward, the two topsails
and fore topmast staysail were holding, but between the flashes the upper
canvas melted away like a puff of steam, the ragged ends flying and
thrashing into long ribbons to leeward. Three men were on the yard when I
looked at first, and then, almost instantly afterward, the yard was bare.
Whether they had gone overboard I could not tell, but the thought made me
look to myself while I might.
Pulling myself along the jackstay until I reached the bunt, I managed to
grasp a line that was tailing taut downward toward the deck. This I
grasped quickly with both hands, and bawling with all my might to Jackson
and Davis to follow, I swung clear of the yard. Looking below, the sea
appeared as white as milk in the ghastly light, with the ship's outline
now dimly discernible in contrast. I breathed a prayer that the line was
fast amidships and slid down. There was a terrific ripping instantly
overhead, and I knew the topsail had gone. The line bowed out with the
wind, but led toward the deck near the mast, and in a moment my feet
struck the fife rail. I was safe for the present. Jackson followed close
upon me, but Davis was unable to get the line. He was never seen again.
Making my way aft by the aid of the weather rail, I reached the poop and
climbed up the steps. The wind nearly swept me from my feet, but I
managed to crawl aft to where I could make out by the flashes the forms
of Trunnell and the skipper.
"She'll go off soon," yelled the mate in my ear. "Nothin' gone forrads
"Only the canvas and a couple of men," I yelled in reply.
The wind began to draw further and further aft, showing that the ship was
gradually gathering headway in spite of her list to starboard. Soon she
began to right herself in the storm-torn sea. All was white as snow about
us, and the whiteness gave a ghastly light in the gloom. I could now make
out the maintopsail, dimly, from where I stood, and the outline of the
hull forward. Evidently the fore lower topsail was holding still.
Jackson, who was tall and strong, and who was an American by adoption,
was put to the lee wheel, as his knowledge of English made him quick to
obey. John, a Swede, built very broad with stooping shoulders, and
Erikson, a Norwegian with a great blond head and powerful neck, grasped
the weather spokes. Bill, the other quartermaster, had not shown up, and
we found later that he was one of the missing from the fore topsail yard.
Trunnell and Captain Thompson called the men aft to the poop, and away we
went into the gloom ahead.
She was doing a good fifteen knots under her two, or rather one storm
topsail; for we found out afterward that the fore had gone almost
instantly after she had payed off. The water was roaring white astern,
and the wind blew so hard that it was impossible to face it for more than
a moment. The sea was making fast, and I began to wonder how long the
vessel could run before the great heave which I knew must soon follow us.
Thompson stood bareheaded near the binnacle, and roared to the men to be
careful and keep her steady. It was plain he knew nothing of seamanship,
but could tell that a thing must be done well after the mate had given
orders. He was apparently perfectly sober now, and as cool as though on
the beach. It was evident the man feared nothing and could command. I saw
that I could be of little use aft, so I started forward, hoping to be
able to keep a lookout for a shift of wind and get some gear ready to
heave the vessel to.
On reaching the main deck, things showed to be in a hopeless mess.
Everything movable had gone to leeward when she was hove down, the
running rigging was lying about, and no attempt had been made to coil
it. The sea, which had been over the lee rail, had washed that on the
starboard side into long tangles which would take hours to clear. I
stumbled over a mass of rope which must have been the fore topsail
brace. I saw a figure moving through the gloom along the bulwarks and
called for the man to lay aft and coil down some of the gear. The man,
however, paid no attention to me, but made his way into the forward
cabin, and as the door opened and the light from within flashed out I
recognized the third mate.
A man named Hans answered my hail, and I started forward again. The sea
by this time was running rapidly. The ship was so deep that I knew she
would not keep her deck clear, and I started to gain the topgallant
forecastle where the height would make it safer.
Just as I gained the highest step, a tremendous sea following broke clear
along the top of the rail in the waist, and went forward a good five feet
above her bulwarks, the entire length of the main deck.
It was terrific. The thundering crash and smothering jar nearly
paralyzed me for a moment. In the dim glare I could see rails,
stanchions, boats, rigging, all in the furious white rush. The _Pirate_
settled under the load and seemed to stop perfectly still. Then another
huge sea went roaring over her and blotted out everything to the edge of
the forecastle head.
I stood looking down at the main deck in amazement. How long would the
hatches stand that strain? Everything was out of sight under water, save
the top of the forward house. I looked up into the roaring void above me
and breathed a parting prayer, for it seemed that the ship's end must be
at hand. Then I was aware that she was broaching to, and I grabbed the
rail to meet the sea.
Every stitch of canvas had gone out of her now, and nothing but the bare
yards were left aloft. How they ever stood the frightful strain was a
miracle and spoke volumes for the Yankee riggers who fitted her out. The
wind bore more and more abeam, and under the pressure she heeled over,
letting the great load on her decks roar off in a torrent to leeward,
over the topgallant rail and waterways. A sea struck her so heavily that
the larger portion of it went thundering clear across her forty feet of
deck, landing bodily to leeward as though the ship were below the
surface. I could hear a bawling coming faintly from the poop and knew
Trunnell was trying to heave her to. Something fluttered from the mizzen
rigging and disappeared into the night. Part of a tarpaulin had gone, but
it was a chance to get another piece large enough on the ratlines to hold
her head up. I tried to make my way aft again to help, for I saw it was
about our only hope, and started to crawl along the weather topgallant
rail. Then a form sprang from the black recess under the forecastle head
and seized me tightly around the body.
The suddenness of this attack and the peculiar position I was in when
seized, put me at a disadvantage. The quick breathing of the man behind
me, and the strong force he put forward as he rushed me toward the ship's
side, made me aware that I was in a bad fix. The assassin was silent as
the grave, save for his panting, but his bearded face against mine was
visible enough to show me the former captain of the ship.
I was carried half over the rail in an instant by the power of the rush.
The foam showed beneath me, and for a moment it seemed that the man would
accomplish his deadly purpose. It was with a horrid feeling of certain
death before me that I clutched wildly at the forecastle rail. Luckily my
hand caught it, and I was saved from the dive over the side. Then with
frantic strength I twisted around enough to seize the fellow, and dropped
on my knees with a grip around his middle. It was up and down and all
over that side of the forecastle head for some minutes, until we were
both getting tired. We were apparently alone forward, and the fight would
be one of endurance, unless the ruffian happened to have some weapon
We struggled on and on in the gloom, with the hurricane roaring over us,
carrying the spray and drift in a smothering storm into our faces. A hand
would slip with a wet grip only to take a fresh hold again, and strain
away to get the other under.
We rolled with the ship and after a particularly hard rally, in which I
had my hand badly bitten, we eased up near the edge of the forecastle
head. During this breathing spell I managed to get my foot braced against
a ring-bolt. This gave me a slight advantage for a sudden push. In an
instant I shoved with all my might, driving us both to the edge. The
ruffian saw what was coming and tried to turn, but it was too late. One
single instant of frantic fighting, half suspended in the air, and then
over we went, myself on top.
We landed heavily upon the main deck, and the shock, falling even as I
did upon the body under me, stunned me for several moments. My captain
lay motionless. Then, when a sudden rush of cool water poured over us, I
came to my senses and started to my feet. In another moment I had passed
a line around the desperado, and was dragging him under the lee of the
windlass, where I finally made him fast to the bitts.
When I started aft again, I found that Trunnell had managed to get a
tarpaulin into the mizzen rigging, and by the aid of this bit of canvas
the _Pirate_ had at last headed the sea within five points. It now took
her forward of the beam and hove her down to her bearings with each roll
to leeward, the sea breaking heavily across the main deck, keeping the
waterways waist deep with the white surge. In this rush objects showed
darkly where they floated from their fastenings until they drifted to a
water-port and passed on overboard.
I finally managed to dodge the seas enough to get aft alive, though one
caught me under the lee of the fore rigging and nigh smothered me as it
poured over the topgallant rail.
Trunnell stood near the break of the poop, and beside him were the
skipper and third mate. I noticed a look of surprise come upon the young
officer's face when I came close to them. It was much lighter now, and
the actions of this young fellow interested me.
"I thought you might have been drowned," he cried, in his high female
voice, but with a significant tone and look at the last word which was
not lost on me in spite of the elements.
"Everything is all snug forward," I answered, bawling at the captain, but
looking fairly at the third mate. "You can let a few men go and rivet
irons on the convict by the windlass bitts. He seems to have little
trouble unlocking these." And I held up the unlocked irons I had picked
up under the forecastle.
As I held the irons under the third officer's nose, he drew back. Then he
took them and flung them with an impatient gesture over the side into the
sea. I thought I heard a fierce oath in a deep voice near by, but
Trunnell and the captain were both staring up at the fringe flying from
the maintopsail yard, and had evidently said nothing. There was little
more to do now, for as long as the ship held her head to the sea, she
would probably ride it out, unless some accident happened.
I was worn out with the exertion from handling canvas and my fracas
forward, so after bawling out some of the details of the occurrence into
Trunnell's ear, I took my watch below to get a rest. The men who
preferred to stay aft clear of the water were allowed to lie down near
the mizzen. Some took advantage of this permission, but for the most part
they stood huddled in a group along the spanker boom, ready for a call.
I had made it a rule long ago, when I had first gone to sea, that I would
never miss a watch below when my turn came if I could be spared with
convenience. It is a question always with a sailor when he will be called
to shorten sail for a blow, and the best thing he can do is to keep
regular hours when he can, and stand by for a crisis when all hands are
necessary. With a captain it might be different, for the entire
responsibility rests upon him. He also does not have to stand watch, and
consequently has no reason to be tired after several hours on deck. But
with a sailor or mate who stands his four hours off and on, he must take
care he is not pushed beyond his time, for the occasion will certainly
come sooner or later when he will have to stand through several watches
without a rest. Then, if he is already tired out, he will be useless.
I turned in with a strange feeling about the matter forward and the
third officer's conduct. Although I knew Trunnell would take care that
the ruffian would not get loose again that night during his watch, I
took out a heavy revolver from my locker and stuck it under the pillow
of my bunk. Then I saw that the door and port were fast before I jammed
myself in for a rest.
I lay a long time thinking over the strange outfit on board, and the more
I thought over the matter, the more I became convinced that the third
officer had taken a hand in letting Andrews loose to try his hand on me
again. There was something uncanny about this officer with a woman's
voice, and I actually began to have a secret loathing not entirely
unmixed with fear for him.
When I turned out for the morning watch, Trunnell met me in the alleyway.
He looked wild and bushy from his exposure to the elements, his hair
being in snarls and tangles from having a sou'wester jammed over his
ears, and his great flat nose was red from the irritation of the water
that struck and streamed over his bearded face. His whiskers gleamed with
salt in the light of the lamp, and he spat with great satisfaction as he
breathed the quiet air of the cabin.
"It's letting up, Rolling," he said; "there's a little light to the
easterd now. Sink me, but we've a job bending gear. Everything gone out
of her but her spars, and Lord knows how they stand it. How'd you come to
get caught with all that canvas on her?"
"Look here, Trunnell," I answered, "you know I'm a sailor even if I'm not
much else, and you know how that canvas came to be on her. I'm almost
glad it's gone. I would be if it wasn't for the fact that we'll be longer
than usual on this run, and I've about made up my mind that the quicker a
decent man gets out of this ship, the better."
I was buttoning up my oilskins while I spoke, and Trunnell smiled a queer
bit of a smile, which finally spread over his bearded face and crinkled
up the corners of his little eyes into a network of lines and wrinkles.
"I heard the outfly," said he, "and I was only joking ye about the
canvas. It's a quare world. Ye wouldn't think it, but if ye want to see a
true picture of responsibility a-restin' heavy like upon the digestion of
a man, ye'll do well to take a good look at the old man a-standin' there
on the poop. 'What for?' says you; 'God knows,' says me; but there he is,
without a drop o' licker or nothin' in him since he heard ye bellow fer
"I should think he'd feel a little upset after the way he caught her," I
answered; "he probably has the owners' interests a little at heart."
But Trunnell shook his head until the water flew around.
"Ye're off agin, me son. It ain't that at all. That man don't care a
whoop for all the owners livin'. Not he. Sink me, Rolling, I got a big
head, but nothin' much in it; in spite o' this, though, I knows a thing
or two when I sees it. That man has some other object in bein' nervous
about this here hooker besides owners. Don't ask me what it is, 'cause I
don't know. But I knows what it ain't."
"The whole outfit is queer," I answered, "and the sooner I get out of
her, the better satisfied I'll be. No decent sailor would ship in the
craft if he could help it."
Trunnell gave me a queer look. Then he saw I meant no offence and shook
his great head again.
"Did it ever occur to ye that ye had a duty to do in the world beside
huntin' soft jobs?"
"Certainly not that of hunting hard ones," I answered, fastening my belt.
Trunnell's face underwent a change. He was serious and waited until I had
strapped my sou'wester under my chin before saying anything.
"Mebbe I'm wrong, an' mebbe I ain't," he said. "But I believes a man has
duties to stick to while he's on watch above water. One of these is not
to turn tail and scud away, a-showin' your stern to every hard thing as
comes along. No, sir, when ye runs into a hard gang like some o' these
here aboard this hooker, stick to her, says me. If every man who's honest
should turn his stern to a wessel that's got a bad name, what would
happen to her? Why, any suckin' swab of a cabin boy kin tell that she'd
get worse an' worse with the bad ones what would take your place. Ain't
that reason? There's got to be some men to man a ship, an' if no honest
ones will, then the owners can't do less than hire raskils. Ye can't sink
a ship just because things have happened aboard her. Oh, Lord, no. Think
a bit, Rolling, an' tell me if ye ain't blamed glad ye ware here, an'
bein' here, ye must 'a' saved some poor devil of a sailor from getting
killed this voyage?"
"I'm blamed sorry I ever--"
"Well, now, suppose'n I had a been ashore the day ye had the fracas on
the main deck. Where'd ye been now, hey? A hunderd fathom deep, sure as
Andrews is aboard this here ship, if I knows anything o' his ways, an'
I've sailed two voyages with him afore. No, man; brace up and do yer
dooty as ye may. If every good man was to stay out of bad ships, they'd
get so the devil himself would be afeard to go to sea in them."
I smiled at the little fellow. Here was a man, who had the reputation of
being but little better than an unhung pirate, preaching a most unselfish
doctrine. We had been below for several minutes, and I could hear the
captain's voice bawling out some order on the deck overhead. The bells
were struck by the automatic clock in the cabin, and I turned to go.
"You're a good Christian, anyhow, Trunnell," I said as I started.
Trunnell gave a snort and threw his quid in a corner near a cuspidor. "I
ain't never seen the inside of a church. I only tries to do the square
thing to whoever is a-runnin' of the sea outfit--same as ye'll do if
ye'll take the trouble to think a minit--"
I was out on the deck, and the wind almost blew me into the scuppers. The
captain was standing right above me on the poop watching the growing
light in the east. The waist was full of foamy water that roared and
surged and washed everything movable about. Above, the masts and spars
looked dark in the dim, gray light of the early morning, the strips of
canvas stretching away from the jackstays and flicking dismally to
leeward. All the yards, however, were trimmed nicely, showing Trunnell's
master hand, and on the mainmast, bellying and straining with the
pressure, was a new storm spencer, set snug and true, holding the
plunging vessel up to the great rolling sea that came like a living hill
from the southwest. Forward, a bit of a staysail was set as taut as a
drumhead, looking no bigger than a good-sized handkerchief. Aft, a
trysail, set on the spanker boom, helped the tarpaulin in the mizzen to
bring her head to the sea.
I climbed up the poop ladder and took a look around.
It was a dismal sight. As far as the eye could reach through the white
haze of the flying drift the ocean presented a dirty steel-gray color,
torn into long, ragged streaks of white where the combers rolled on the
high seas before the gale. Overhead all was a deep blank of gray vapor.
The wind was not blowing nearly as hard as it had during my last watch on
deck, but the sea was rolling heavier. It took the _Pirate_ fair on the
port bow, and every now and again it rose so high above her topgallant
rail that it showed green light through the mass that would crash over to
the deck and go roaring white to leeward, making the main deck
uninhabitable. Sometimes a heavy, quick comber would strike her on the
bluff of the bow, and the shock would almost knock the men off their
feet. Then the burst of water would shoot high in the air, going
sometimes clear to the topgallant yard, nearly a hundred feet above the
deck, while all forward would disappear in the flying spray and spume.
"Fine weather, Rolling, hey?" bawled the skipper to me as I gained the
"Oh, it isn't so bad the way she's taking it now. If she hangs on as
well as this during the watch, she'll make good weather of it all
right," I said.
"I'm glad you think so, my son. Just call down to the steward to bring me
a bracer. Whew, just look at that!"
As he spoke a huge sea rose on the weather bow and bore down on the
staggering ship. It struck her fair and rolled over her so heavily that I
had to grab a line to keep from being knocked down. The main deck was
full of water, and as it roared off through the ports and over the lee
rail, I looked to see if anything had gone with it. Then I realized how
well we had been washed during the night.
From the forecastle aft to the poop there was nothing left except the
hatches and deck-house. The boats were all stove to matchwood except one
that was lashed on the forward house. The bulwarks were smashed for many
feet along both sides, but this was no real damage, as it allowed the sea
to run off easier, relieving the deck of the heavy load. The whole main
deck, fore and aft, was as clean stripped as could be, and the hatches
alone were saving us from filling and going under.
It was a dismal sight, and the men who stood huddled on the
forecastle and poop looked, in their yellow oilskins, like so many
yellow ghosts. I went aft to the wheel and found that Hans and
Johnson were steering without much difficulty, although they had all
they could do to hold her when a sea struck aft. Far astern the light
seemed to be growing brighter, and while I looked there appeared some
long streaks in the heavy banks of vapor which showed a break or two.
I took the glass which hung on the side of the grating and cleaned
the lens with my hand. Sweeping the storm-torn horizon to the
southward, nothing showed but rolling seas and haze. I turned the
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